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extra:ordinary – a letter

I have exciting news to share today: I wrote a letter to the editor of The New Yorker magazine (about this idea of some survivors’ resilience being treated as more extraordinary than that of other survivors) — and they have published the letter!

You can read the letter here (mine is the third letter down); you can also read part of the article (“Gone Girl”) that I responded to — this article inspired our extra:ordinary community story project, which you should also read!

Here’s how the letter reads:

ORDINARY AND RESILIENT

Margaret Talbot’s article about Elizabeth Smart offers a profile of a strong survivor and advocate, who, after what is for many an unimaginable trauma, is now able to extend a nonjudgmental message of hope and strength (“Gone Girl,” October 21st). Her story shows, in part, what trauma survivors are capable of when they are given the resources and support they deserve. The article, however, bills Smart’s resilience as extraordinary. As the founder of Writing Ourselves Whole, an organization that works with survivors of trauma, and as a survivor myself, I believe that this message can undermine recovery. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are survivors of sexual and other intimate violence, and resilience takes more than one form. Many who seek help are silenced or shamed. It is within the context of these additional experiences of violence and hostility that most survivors of intimate violence live out their lives, and most attain a measure of happiness, connection, and personal achievement. That, to me, is extraordinary resilience.

Jennifer Cross
Oakland, Calif.

 Keep writing, and keep on sharing your words with the world: you don’t know how far those words can go.

 

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tea kettle wisdom

Sometimes when we write into the absolutely ordinary we find some surprises.

One of the prompts I gave at the last Writing the Flood prompt was to make a list of very common household items, and then I read the poem “Towels.” We let an item from our list choose us (my list included: toothbrush, towels, old shoes, coffee cup, pillow, tea kettle, bird feeder…) and then we wrote for about 10 minutes. This is what came for me:

The tea kettle is all stain and whistle, occupying a permanence in the finite space on top of the stove. You bought it years ago, with an old lover, when the relationship was new – then, just out of the box, the kettle was all stainless shine, reflected what was fresh and possible between you wen you set it atop the angled burner in the tiny kitchen of the first apartment you shared.

It did its part – holding a boil, calling the alarm – and over the years that shiny surface got sludged with grease spatters and then began to rust. You waited for the day when the bottom would drop out. You didn’t understand that the kettle was what would come with you to the next apartment, instead of the lover. You took harvest and haven in its stained heft, occupying space on the stove top, steady and volatile. At least the kettle would stop screaming when you removed the flame.

Turn on the gas, put a teabag in the handmade mug, light a candle, and wait – this was your morning ritual. This was your meditation, your centering. No lover or love’s lack could threaten that particular dark serenity, the space that emerged around you in he earliest hours when everything in the world was asleep except for those two flames – even your hand, trying to remember how to hold a pen and make it make words on a blank page, seemed still to be pulling from sleep. The low rise of that whistle called you to your feet, demanded attention. Tea kettle like wailing infant, tea kettle like wise refrain, tea kettle that morning coda: stop the screaming, fold hands over handle, bury the tea in the boil, release that day’s scent into the room.

The kettle isn’t needed – you can boil water in a pot if you have to – so it becomes a small luxury for you who have relinquished your hold on such possibility. You put your hands around what’s too hot, and you wait.

Make your own list of everyday objects, and choose one to write about today. Give yourself at least 10 minutes — 15 if you’re really going — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for all the ways you find beauty in the ordinary and the everyday. Thank you for your words yesterday, this weekend, and today.

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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 “I believe in the topology of regeneration”