this buoyancy: workshops, holding space, and the netting we create for one another

spilling tea graffiti
the description of this image says its spilled coffee, but look at the tea bag tag hanging off the side -- let's say it could very well be tea.

a lovely way to wait for the tea water to boil: wandering around the kitchen, grabbing allspice berries, clove buds, breaking off bits of Mexican cinnamon stick, cracking open cardamom pods and coriander, all to put into the tea ball for spiced green tea. Now it’s simmering next to me and smells like goodness, smells like cool mornings, smells like something clean and differentiating and sharp.

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I walked into the office this morning, still a little dusky with sleep, and went to move yesterday’s mail off my chair.  In the mail was a priority mail package, a little battered, something boxy inside.  More flyers for the Power of Words conference?  Something else to be hung up or spread around?  I opened the package after getting the computer warming up (this poor old kid needs warming the way cars do in Maine in winter — in, like, thick winter, when you go out a half-hour before you have to be on the road and crank the engine, get it finally rumbly and alive, and then you put on the defroster to high and run back inside thru the snow and chill,your breath already iced, to eat your oatmeal. Ok, maybe a little it of an exaggeration — sorry computer; you’re not so cold in the mornings, I know — but, still, an easy remembering to sink into) and inside the package I found a review copy of a book. The first unsolicited review copy I have received (I think, unless any of you out there suggested that the folks at Seven Stories suggested that they send this book on to me,in which case, thank you!) and I’m extremely excited. Like, heart-thumpy, bouncy-house-on-my-birthday, first-date excited.  Like, talking back to that young Jen who wanted to be a writer, and before that, who wanted to spend all day reading (much to my sister’s chagrin (I’m sorry!)): look, I say to the young Jen, all that’s what we get to do now.  Reading and writing: that’s our job. And we both get a little clappy-excited, grinning into each other’s eyes, our own.

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faded, scarred blue spiral graffitiThe chai is pretty well spiced now. No milk or sugar with this one, but maybe I’ve got some soymilk somewhere.  The spice is good with some emollients flowing through to soften and smooth the bite at the edge of my tongue.  I’m not sure why I’m giving you a play-by-play of my tea drinking experience — but I think it’s because I’m feeling good this morning.  Like, I woke up feeling ok. That’s a time for sharing, for gratitude and celebration: look, the cycle’s gone around again, and brought with it this buoyancy. Thank you.

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It’s Tuesday, and I want to start a weekly blog calendar, or routine: like, on Mondays I freewrite (we get a pass at 5:30 on a Monday morning to write about whatever we want to because it’s a reward for getting ourself out of bed) and on Tuesdays the topic is Write Whole (WW) and Wednesdays the topic is Declaring Our Erotic (DOE) and Thursdays the topic is Voz Sutra and on Fridays, maybe, writing about the business of workshops or how strange it is to find myself running a business (such as it is) and growing it, or working to, and so on.  We’ll see how this all shakes out, but that’s it for today, and so it’s Tuesday, which means Write Whole.

The Write Whole workshops were the first workshops I facilitated for survivors of sexual trauma where we didn’t also (only) write about sexuality.  Initially, I’d offered the Declaring Our Erotic workshops, which were sexuality/erotic writing workshops for women survivors of sexual abuse, incest, rape — spaces where we who’d been wounded, trampled, split apart exactly at the same site as our desire lived, in/on our bodies — could write our adult, lived, consensual and complicated desire. I focused on writing fantasy, imagining new possibility in these bodies or in/for the bodies of others; we wrote the now, the future, the possible — we rarely wrote the past in those workshops.  We wrote the way the past infused our now, we wrote some of our struggle with sex, yes: we wrote our fully complicated longing, which included loss, triggers, fear, body memory, flashbacks sometimes. But more often than not, in the survivors DOE workshops, we wrote an enraptured erotics of the possible in a space where everyone knew how fragile that rapture was, how easily ruptured and torn, and there was so much beauty in the collective holding of that space.

(Note how I am writing DOE on a WW day: sneaky!)

It took a number of years after starting those workshops before I felt ready to hold a survivors workshop where the focus was our sexual trauma, and not our desire — and by hold, I mean be capable of holding the energy, holding the workshop focus, being present with the stories without being so scared that I can’t do my work as facilitator. Over and over, at the beginning, I had to go through this internal conversation: but I’m not a therapist; what makes me think I can/should do this work? And I’d respond to me (or my good good friends and colleagues would respond to me, when I was smart enough to talk these fears out loud): folks come to the writing workshops because they want a writing workshop,  not because they want a therapy group.  There are lots of therapy groups for survivors of sexual trauma.  There aren’t that many places where we can write just exactly as much as we want to tell of our stories (however we want to tell them: through memoir, fiction, poetry, sci-fi…) and be met as resilient survivors and strong, fierce, worthy writer-artists. My job was to trust that, and focus on the method, and come up with prompts.

Over and over, at the beginning (both of the DOE workshops and the WW workshops) I walked into the workshops afraid I wouldn’t be enough, and then got reminded, through the doing of the work, that it wasn’t me alone who would be enough: first, each one of us as folks living in the aftermath of trauma knows how to take care of hirself, and by holding our focus on the writing, we get to honor our instincts, our resilience, take care of ourselves and one another; and here’s the other thing: in the workshops, we net our energies together — it’s not just one person ‘holding the space.’ It’s something we do collectively, out of care for one another’s being and stories.

I get to be a part of that net, that holding, thank goodness.

Thank you for being there, a part of this netting, this holding us up: all of us.