voice is a practice

graffiti on the side of a house -- speak the truth, even if your voice shakes

This is the morning.  Today is Thursday, and that means MedEd Writers at UCSF, and it also means a VozSutra post.

(Tea update: the tea this morning’s spiced, again, and today with a little sugar and a little milk — we got milk last night for yogurt, which I made with a little bit of vanilla bean again, to give it some flavor, and which is still setting up.)

Ok: what is VozSutra? (I mean, besides my Twitter-self and the title of our eventual online lit-zine?) For me, it’s (about) the practice of voice. A sūtra is a teaching (from a word meaning thread), an instruction for practice. Voz is the Spanish word for voice or opinion. (And, as an aside, also the Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian word for train!)

I wanted, a year or so ago, to find some language that began to thread together the various workshops I was doing — sexuality writing workshops, writing with survivors of sexual violence, of extreme and ritual abuse, workshops with adults living with cancer and other life altering illnesses. How do these groups connect?

Actually, initially, I wanted to find language to make sense of an organization (writing ourselves whole) that offered sexuality writing workshops and sexual trauma workshops. I think when folks came to visit my website, they could, somewhere inside, understand or maybe grok how these two went together: yes, it makes sense that folks who’ve experienced sexual violence might want to engage with their sexuality through this form of practice, this writing process — and, too, it makes sense that someone might offer both these kinds of workshops.  I worried, though, too, that folks would come to the website to look at information about the sexuality workshops or the survivors workshops and be put off that I offered the other one as well — and yes, in the thickness I worry that someone thinks I’m conflating sexuality and sexual violence. And that’s not what I/we do.

So what I wanted was language that brought together what happens in these varying workshops, and what arose for me after some discussion and play was this combination of ideas, this janky, makeshift concatenation of ideas: vozsutra — voice practice, voice lessons: refinding and holding on to the thread of our own voices.

(I’ll admit here that I have an affinity for Katasutra, the mascot of boingboing once upon a time and a secret agent of the NeoWobblies, and so the phrasing, I’m sure, comes from there, as does the bringing together of culturally disparate yet potentially related ideas into one word or phrase.)

graffiti -- using a bullhorn to shout and holding up love/heart in the other handWhat I’ve found is a desire to bring difficult stories to voice, to practice finding and claiming our (writing) voice, our true and complicated voices, over and over again.

This is the thread: voice is a practice. Over and over, we have to step up into telling our own truth, in poetry, in fiction, in memoir, in slams, in conversation, in action.  Over and over: each time, each day, it’s new again, this capacity we have to be true to ourselves and our desires, our histories and our presences.

I believe in the power of finding voice for difficult stories, the stories that others don’t want us to tell, the stories we most don’t want to tell because they are too painful, shameful, scary, gross, messy, real. Difficult stories are often, in my experience, also gorgeous stories — they are rich with detail and honesty, they are riveted with attention and energy. Dorothy Allison, and others as well, describe the importance of going after the fear in your writing: that’s where the energy is. When I talk about societally-difficult stories, I mean stories we’re afraid to tell because one or more of our communities don’t want to hear them, because they’re stories that complicate what we (can) mean, to ourselves, to our families, to our friends, to our organizing groups, our affinity groups, our identity groups —

VozSutra is returning to that practice of our own voice: telling our own truths, over and over, complicating ourselves anyway in the service of finding our own deep truth, and making that complicated, complexly-human space available, through our modeling, to others as well.

And the thread? What’s that poem that I first heard from John Fox?

The Way It Is
William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

What are the threads for you today?  What are the apparently-disparate pieces that make up your whole?  What pieces are you not letting go of?

Thank you for being there, for reading and for writing —

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