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Winter ’18 Workshop Schedule: We’re Back!

Companer@, I know that you are hurting but you are still alive you will survive and together we will dismantle the systems that broke our heartsHello writers & writers-to-be!

I am delighted to announce that we’ll be offering a full workshop schedule beginning next year! While it’s been good to have a break from the work of running a business while I was in school, I have very much missed the energy and power of the groups — and given all that’s happening in the world these days, there’s just about no place I’d rather be than in a room full of powerhouse writers laying claim to their own voices and words.

As we move into this time of fertile dark and reflection, you may find yourself seeking a space that can hold the fullness and complexity of your deepest stories. At Writing Ourselves Whole, we believe in the power of story, the joy of writing, and the breadth of human creative resilience. We believe that community can hold, witness and celebrate the stories that we have been told are unspeakable.

Here are the writing opportunities we have coming up this beginning next year at Writing Ourselves Whole:

~Write Whole: Survivors Write
Open to all trauma survivors
8 Wednesday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm, beginning January 10

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 $375; partial scholarships are available for all trauma-centered writing groups. 

~Meridian Writers
A general-topic group open to all writers!
8 Wednesday mornings, 9:30am-12:00pm, beginning January 10

o *Meridian Writers* invites you to join a community of writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. Find your center and write your story. Coffee and/or tea will be provided, as well as light snacks (sometimes even including homemade bread). At the end of our eight weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of new writing. Spaces are limited to 9 writers per workshop session. Fee: $425. Fees from this workshop support scholarships for Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.

~Writing the Flood
Drop in and write!
Third Saturday of every month, 1-4:30pm
Upcoming groups meet on November 18, December 16, and January 20

o *Writing the Flood* is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice. Fee for this workshop is $25-50, sliding scale.

~ Dive Deep
An advanced, manuscript-centered workgroup
First 2018 cohort opens to new members on Thursday, January 4

o The *Dive Deep* workgroup is for those who have delved into (or are ready to commit to) the deep dive of a large writing project, such as a novel, memoir, or poetry collection. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, no writer has ever completed a long work alone: Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in and accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support. This group can help you meet your writing goal, and provide community and encouragement as you go deep into a writing project. The fee is $225/month, with a three-month commitment required; the group will remain closed for those three months, in order to give Divers the opportunity to set long-term goals in an established and supportive community.

~ Write Whole Online
Open to all sexual trauma survivors
6-week online writing group begins on Sunday, January 7

o *Online Writing Groups* are designed for those unable to attend in-person workshops, or for those uncomfortable with or less inclined toward joining us in person. Participation in the writing groups is all asynchronous: you access exercises and readings, write and post your responses, and offer feedback on others’ writings as works best for your schedule. No special software required–just a web browser, Internet connection, and desire to write into your deepest stories. Fee: $250 (sliding scale).

Join us!

No previous writing experience necessary! All groups meet near BART station and other public transportation options. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! 

Questions or concerns? Write to me at jennifer(at)writingourselveswhole.org.

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the violence they hold in their sticky fingers

Stencil graffiti on a blue background, a woman's symbol with an A inside, next to the words "Make feminism a threat again"
(Yep, I’m pissed today. Aren’t you?)

Good morning, good morning. How are things where you are this morning? It’s quite chilly in my house today — I’ve got the heater on my feet, trying to thaw out my toes. (Please note: this is my California-acclimation talking — in Midwest or Maine-winter terms, it’s balmy today.)

***

I feel like I should be responding to each new story, each new guy, each new revelation of some prominent figure’s past (or present) sexual violence. Of course I am grateful they are being called out, called forward, called to account, and I am grateful that a certain portion of society has decided that these reckonings are worthy, that we should pay attention now when (some) victims come forward with their stories. We tell ourselves that we are in a moment of change. And maybe we are. I hope we are. It would be a powerful thing if we are. But I keep thinking about the number of tellings that are still ignored, denied, squashed, the number of victims and survivors who have told and are telling now and are being denied or punished.

In Sacramento, there are male politicians who are refusing to take meetings with female staffers or lobbyists — because they are afraid of what will be said about them after. This means that they believe the women who are telling about their experiences of assault and harassment and abuse are lying. that they, as men, must protect themselves from these lying women. And they are punishing the women who have told. They are communicating exactly this: ok, if you don’t want to play our game by our rules, then we’re going to shut you out. Again.

Those in power do not like to be told that they cannot do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.

And yet women and men and folks of all genders are taking courage from the survivors who have spoken up already and are, at least for the moment, being listened to and (mostly — well, sometimes) believed.

I feel doubtful. I wonder, what’s happening under the surface, behind the scenes. Whose voices are we not hearing? Who do we still not believe?

Last night I listened to part of an interview with Caitlin Flanagan, who has written about Bill Clinton getting away with rape and harassment for years, and reminded us that powerful women and feminist leaders excused his behavior. We look at the voters in Alabama who are excusing R.M.’s actions and ask, how could you? We look at the people who voted for Trump and ask, how could you, when you know what you know? But we who call ourselves Democrats or leftists, if we excused Bill Clinton or thought of Paula Jones that she was a liar and a gold digger and a white trash slut or we listened to Hilary Clinton call Monica Lewinsky a — what did she call her? Oh yes, a loony toon — and didn’t call foul, we are the same.

You can see, right, that we are all the same? We want to excuse the one we believe in. We want to make excuses for them. We want to believe that they didn’t really mean it. that they will do better next time, that they said they were sorry, that they won’t do it again, that they didn’t do it at all. We want to believe the lies. The folks in Alabama who are supporting R.M. — I want to judge them — and, of course, I do. I am enraged that anyone would listen to a woman (and then another, and then another, and then…) describe this man’s actions toward her when she was a child or a very young woman and make excuses drawn from religion (Well, Mary was just a teenager when God raped– I mean, when she had Jesus) or call the woman a liar or decide that nobody actually holds on to experiences of terrible assault or shameful harassment for decades without reporting it or telling anyone (which is, of course, patently absurd — and how many of the men who are accusing R.M.’s victims of being liars are at the same time sending veiled or not-so-veiled threats to the women and girls that they themselves harassed once upon a time?)…

Take a deep breath, Jen. If we are going to hold men to account for their behavior, it has to be all men, not just the ones we aren’t politically aligned with. I remember being astonished and disappointed that left-wing women excused Clinton his assaults and harassment. 

Women across the political spectrum have shamed and silenced women who came forward to tell the truth about men we admired and wanted to believe in.  If we want to see a change, if we want this to be a moment of real change in our society, a moment in which we can see the tides of history begin to turn, the moment when it stopped being acceptable or even positive for a man to harass, assault, or otherwise wield sexuality as a weapon, when men stopped treating this violence as just part of masculinity, part of being a man; when men said no to other men, when men began to push back against this particular aspect of masculinity, and when men also began to fear the larger consequences of his harassing , assaultive behavior and actions, when it became too risky to take the action — not because he didn’t want to do it, not because he didn’t still feel the desire, but because he was too afraid of the actual consequences in the eyes of other men (it will be an even greater step when one day men care about the opinion of women, but that’s not a day we’ve reached yet) — then we have to hold all perpetrators accountable. Period. Bill Clinton doesn’t get a pass. Fucking Al Franken doesn’t get a pass. The Pope doesn’t get a pass for covering-up rape in the Catholic church system. Men across the political spectrum engage in these acts. Spiritual leaders, social justice warriors, queer folks, transmen, men taking women’s studies classes, men who call themselves feminists, men who say things we really want to hear men say, men who are standing up in public for women — folks who will perpetrate sexual violence show up all around us all the time.

Why am I reiterating all of this? I know I’m preaching to the choir, as it were. I guess I’m disgusted this morning with women across the political spectrum who excuse the behavior of assaultive men in order to get their own political capital, for expediency’s sake, women who will throw women under the bus or step on their heads just to get a leg up. We do it to ourselves. We do it to each other. We don’t want to listen. We don’t want to have to believe this thing about daddy, about our husband, about that nice guy we liked so much, about our friends, about our pastor or priest or minister or rabbi or imam or guru or leader. We don’t want to have to believe it about the actor who is so pretty and seems so nice. We don’t want to have to believe it about the nice guy up the block who just doesn’t act like a bad guy when we’re around him — how could he do all those things that women are saying?

But men are doing all these things that women are saying. That children are saying. That other men are saying. That folks of all genders are saying. If this is a tipping point, that would be a beautiful thing. Only time will tell. We’ve certainly got a long way to go before women aren’t walking armored into every interaction they have with men.  A far better solution, in Sacramento and everywhere, would be for women to stop taking meetings with men until men prove they can “behave themselves” — that is, not engage in sexually harassing, dismissive, hostile, or violent behavior. Let this be how it works in business, in the media, in Hollywood, in politics, let women rise in power while leaving the perpetrators behind. Let those men scramble to prove themselves. Let those men feel left out in the cold. What a day that would be. Can you imagine it? I can imagine it. I think we can get there. Of course, ideally, we would all rise together. But let’s be honest. There are some rapists and abusers who are not going to want to or be able to let go of — and those men are going to have to be left behind. 

Be easy with yourselves today. Write if you can get to it. Play music loud in the car or in your room and sing along. Let the tension, the rage, move through your body however you need to. I’m going to try to do the same. Thank you for your power and your ferocity today. Than you for your words.

 

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all violence is domestic violence

stencil graffiti showing a spray-painted fist with leaves, flowers, and roots going out of it, surrounded by the words (There’s language of domestic and racially-motivated violence in this post. Just be easy with you, ok?)

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sky like where you are today? Here it’s still grey with night fog. The sun’s coming though, I think. The sun’s coming.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness month, and just this week another man killed a lot of people out of what looks like domestic-vioence-related rage. That’s got me thinking about the larger systems at work in our country right now.  I’m trying to work something out in this post today, something that feels complicated, that has to do with what’s happening in our country to support the escalation in extreme violence that we’re seeing. Here goes:

Whenever an abuser thinks they’re beginning to lose control, they will often escalate their violence in an effort to keep their victim or victims in line. I don’t say last-ditch effort, because the abuser never believes it’s last-ditch — they don’t think the victim will ever get away from them, will ever leave. They believe they have the victim or victims so far under their control, so terrified, so manipulated, so brainwashed, so gaslit, so unable to think clearly or make decisions, and so isolated — and on top of that, so afraid of the physical manifestations of the abuse, the physical and sexual violences enacted on themselves and/or those they love — that the victim will never be able to go. The abuser will sometimes call this love or dependence. They could never leave — they need me too much. They love me too much. They’re mine. I own them. I control them. They’re mine.

And when the victim begins to show signs of slipping this grasp in spite of all the forms of violence marshaled around them, the noose will often tighten — by which I mean, to avoid using the passive voice, the abuser will often tighten the noose. Make scarier threats. Assault more violently, more brutally. Threaten to kill or actually kill. Most folks know (right?) that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they leave the relationship — move out, or otherwise escape. This is the time when most victims who are murdered by abusers are killed.

The abuser feels well within his (and sometimes her, and sometimes their) rights to do whatever he wants with what he believes is his to control, his property. He feels entitled. 

So I’ve been seeing this in our country for a while now when it comes to male supremacy and white supremacy: systems that experience themselves as losing control, and escalating their tactics in order to rein in those they would subjugate. When a perpetrator believes he is about to lose control of his victim, he will nearly always escalate; so what does male supremacy do when it feels its losing control of its victims, losing its rank at the top of the heap, losing access to what it was promised in the form of bodies and control? It escalates: it makes, let’s say, weapons of mass destruction of various forms available to those who would use them to kill, whether indiscriminately or targetedly.

There is nothing coincidental about the way our lawmakers, lobbyists, manufacturers, and citizenry are working together to desperately keep a hold on this male supremacist system. (I’m not speaking only of gun manufacturers; I’m also speaking of tech/online-systems developers, among others).

The system has been under attack for decades — women are working outside the home, women have more control over their reproductive systems than ever before in history, there are laws against most forms of rape (even if those laws don’t deter most rapists and would-be rapists, given the systems still in place to produce, encourage, protect, and replace them); women have access to some positions of power in this country, more women than men are receiving college educations, women are controlling some percentage of wealth and resources; there are powerful female leaders of governments and countries…

And so, at least in the US, what do we see? A steady increase in mass shootings; a nostalgia for the “good old days”; the development of online systems in which women are consistently harassed  or perceive the threat of harassment; among other escalations of violences toward women.

Many, many people who benefit from and support the ideas of white supremacy, whether intentionally or subconsciously, are doing the same thing. White folks feel that their control is slipping. And so what happens? How does white supremacy reassert its power and control, in a desperate attempt to keep its subjects under control? It fosters racial animus around the country, taps into the same old bullshit fear-mongering it’s used (and used effectively) since Reconstruction (or before) to whip up fear and hatred among white folks. Legislators work with manufacturers work with lobbyists to make their weapons of mass disruption and destruction available to a citizenry that will wield them in such a way as to terrorize and harass and threaten and even kill. To say that the escalation of murders of Black folks by the American police force isn’t a manifestation of white supremacy trying desperately to hold on to power is to be naive and willfully ignorant of the systems of control we live (and struggle) within. 

So where am I going with all of this? Folks called and continue to call Trump an abuser. And he is, of course, But he is also, further, a tool wielded by the larger structures of power and control, a form of violence thrust upon us, a threat made good — you think you’re going to get free? Just wait and see what I do to you next.

Male supremacy and white supremacy, in a frenzied and desperate attempt to hold on to control, play their constituencies like marionettes, creating frenzy, fomenting violence and assaults, increasing the violence among those meant to protect and serve, currying fear, depression, and hopelessness, fostering the conditions in which an obvious abuser like DT could be installed as president. DT is not the ultimate abuser; those who wield him are.

***

When you are working as a advocate with victims of domestic violence, you are trained to help folks develop safety plans, particularly when they are getting ready to leave, to escape their relationships. Do they know where their keys are, can they keep a bag of clothes in their car, make sure their car is tuned up and that the tank is always full, talk with a trusted friend to ask if you can come to their house to stay for a while, keep some of your kids’ things in the car, too, hidden, ready; have money there, your kids’ birth certificates, whatever documents you need, listen to your gut, because your gut will tell you when it’s time to go. 

So this morning I am wondering how we safety plan when living inside a country, a society, that is abusive and controlling? The vast majority of us aren’t planning to escape to another country. We plan to stay. (There are those in other countries who will look at us with astonishment — why are they staying? Don’t they know the danger they’re in? What’s wrong with them? How can they say they love that country? don’t they know that’s not what love is supposed to look like? Love is not supposed to be fearful or extracted with threats of violence…but remember that to shame the victim for staying is only to drive her further into the arms of the abuse, and there are many many victims who are simply unable to leave for financial reasons, or because they would lose access to family and other loved ones, or because they fear harm coming to those they’d leave, or because they don’t believe they deserve anything better–they have been brainwashed to believe that what they’re living in and through is the best possible option (no one will ever love you as much as I do, the country says) —  or they truly believe that things can change.

All violence is domestic violence. At a time when so many of us are triggered constantly by the news, are reminded of our own experiences of physical or sexual assault, harassment, the times we feared for our safety or the safety of those we loved at the hands of those who held some position of power or control over us — we remember that the seeds of violence are planted at home. Home is the place in which each citizen is trained into the systems we live within,  where we are trained into silence or self-protection. Home is where many of us are trained to understand that there is no safety if we do not follow the rules, and that those who harm and cause pain are lauded by others, and not expected to account for the harm they cause.

And we who stay resist in the ways we feel safe resisting. We mount small and large insurgencies, we speak up, we show that the emperor has no clothes, we hope that others are looking. We seek out large and small ways to protect ourselves and those we love. We cultivate strength and trust in our intuition, in our creativity, and we encourage those we love to do the same. We tell our true stories and listen to the true stories of others. We learn to hear what is painful to hear. We learn to hold and support one another on a battlefield, in the midst of a war that is not likely to end in our lifetimes — but we act anyway, to stand up for those who live now, and to plant new seeds, to create the possibility for new conditions for the next generation, or the next. We teach our children history, teach them how to navigate the maze of hostilities and violences out in the world, we teach our children how to stay safe and we teach our children how to resist. We create art, we write, we spray paint walls, we feed the hungry, we seek nourishment of our own hungers, physical and emotional and spiritual. We seek restorative justice, well-being for all, a fundamental change in the systems we live within and in which we participate. 

Be easy with yourselves today. Thank you for the safe space you help to hold for others; thanks for allowing others to help hold open safe space for you. Thank you for your stories today, your creative genius — thank you for your words.

 

 

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in the aftermath of more mass violence, how do we grieve?

Not again.

I’m sending you love and gratitude on this Monday morning after yet another mass shooting in America. These are difficult days in this country and around the world. It seems that every day we are confronted with another — often more than one — report of atrocity, violence, or hatred. We witness hostility in our own communities, both online and off. Somehow, we are expected to just keep going — go to work, go to school, keep appointments with friends, get together for beers, act like everything is normal.

Yet, many of us insist that this is not what we want our normal to look like. We don’t believe that violence should be normal. We don’t think we should be able to just pick up where we left off in our conversation when we hear the news that twenty-six people were shot at church. We believe something should come to a halt, there should be a moment or more of silence, we as a people should acknowledge the tragedy, acknowledge what it does to us as loving human beings  to live in a place where such actions are considered acceptable.

(Because, of course, if they were not acceptable, more would be done — both by those who are ostensibly in power and we the people — to undermine the conditions necessary for such violence. We would demand that our legislators make changes in our gun laws. We would rise up as a country seeking to keep our neighbors and children safe. We would shout down those who insist that automatic weapons are necessary safeguards for the average citizen. We would vote out of office any legislator who had refused to vote for even the most basic restrictions on gun access. We would insist that all men and boys in our country be taught, over and over again, how to deal with their anger and shame, how to grieve, that violence toward others doesn’t make them a man, that other men will no longer celebrate their “accomplishments” when they attack, brutalize, murder, harass, or otherwise violate the lives of others. It would be men who drove this struggle to change the definition of American masculinity, American manhood. It would be men who, so ashamed at what they’d become, would stand up and finally say, “No more. We don’t want to be this. We don’t want to do this to others. We are ready to stop.”

Just imagine if that were true.)

But as a country, as a people, we don’t make this kind of time for grieving or even deep acknowledgement of each tragedy anymore. There are so few moments of silence in the classroom or workplace. Newscasters are don’t break down as they read reports of children killed, folks of all ages and genders sexually-assaulted at work and at home, people of color murdered by police… they cannot break down. They have to keep it together, to report the next bit of terrible news.

So how do we take care of ourselves? How do we speak of what’s unspeakable? How do we create the space around ourselves and those we love to honor loss, to create room for horror and grief to move through our bodies, to take the time to even understand how we feel? How do we create the space to remove the armor we must wear just to walk out into the world (again, both online and off) and come home again relatively unscathed?

One of the ways I create this kind of space is to freewrite about it. I sit down in the dark morning hours, light a candle, open the notebook, and find room on the page for all that sorrow and rage and horror. I allow myself not to make sense, not to censor or edit as I write. I allow myself to be more vulnerable than my country seems to want me to be these days. I let the words fall out the mouth of my pen, messily or gently, and I do not judge — not my words, not my feelings. (This is the intention, anyway.)

If I am part of a community of writers, I can take the risk to write what I am feeling and struggling with and share it with the room, knowing that they will respond to my words, my creativity, and bear witness to what the words communicate with tenderness and gratitude.

See if you can give yourself ten minutes, even fifteen, to write however you are feeling, whatever you are thinking on this first Monday of November. What if you gave yourself that sort of time, to be more vulnerable, more real, more free? What if you held open room for those you love to do the same?

Thank you for your words today, and everyday.

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Announcing our launch party to celebrate Writing Ourselves Whole!

Image shows a hand holding the Writing Ourselves Whole book

Please help us to spread the word – the Writing Ourselves Whole is finally getting its launch party! 

If you’re in the SF Bay Area, I’d love to have you join us for a night to celebrate the power of writing as a practice of resistance and healing for sexual trauma survivors.

What: Book launch celebration for Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma
Where: Avenue, 3361 Mission St., San Francisco
When: Tuesday, December 5, 6:30-9:00pm
Free!

Portion of proceeds from book sales will go to San Francisco Women Against Rape

At a time of daily challenging conversation about sexual violence in our society, join Jen and the Writing Ourselves Whole community to celebrate the release of her book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover and Heal from Sexual Trauma (Mango, 2017). The evening will include a reading, Q&A with a special guest, and book signing — plus books for sale on site. We will have light refreshments (including some homemade baked goods!) and drinks.

In her book, Jen brings a message of hope and possibility about the power of creativity and writing in community as a path to transformative healing and personal liberation. Writing Ourselves Whole is full of support and advice for anyone who wants to tap into their creativity as a means to grow and heal.

Writing Ourselves Whole is a book about power and possibility, hope and transformation, and expertly weaves anecdotes from Jen’s own journey of self-exploration and recovery through writing with rich guidance and encouragement garnered from her fifteen-year career leading writing groups in the SF Bay area and around the country.  She has experienced and witnessed first-hand the power of writing – alone and in creative community – to manifest transformative change in the lives of those who embrace its possibilities.

 

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#metoo #havewesaiditenoughnow? #doyoubelieveus?

stencil graffiti of a women's symbol with a fist in the center of the circle, surrounded by the words, Good morning. No birds outside yet this morning, just BART and smoke.

I open the notebook, write for a few minutes, then turn to the laptop. Here’s the place that wants me to spin and groove.

If only I could find a way to write about every single sex assault story. I could be that person, that journalist, that commentator. Right? You’re supposed to become an expert in your niche, that’s what all the business coaches say. And so I try. I search for “sexual violence.” If there’s a worse mistake, it’s just searching for “woman” when looking for images to include with the blog post (and I say to myself, you should know better, Jen, like somehow I’m to blame for the fact that Google has algorithmed pictures from porn shoots and autopsies into the results, has tagged those as, simply, “woman.”)

Yesterday, while at work, I was scrolling through the Facebook feed of my department’s page, looking for things to share with the community — upcoming events, important stories, anything of use. Instead I scrolled through lots of photos with quotes on them and news stories about violence against women. I’m used to that, though, so I kept going, until I hit the one that made me hit the ceiling. There’s always one, isn’t there? No, there’s always way more than just one.

What if I started a new trend: sharing, in these social media spaces, detailed stories about women doing violence to the men who attack them. We can include graphic photos and deliberately-devastating/misleading/horrific headlines. Could we possibly make a dent in the stream of stories about violence against women — to which I myself contribute! — whether on social media or on the nightly (what does that even mean anymore, nightly news?) or on tv or in the movies?

My heroes today are Aileen Wuornos, Valerie Solanas, Lorena Bobbitt. I’m not supposed to say these things. I’m not supposed to want violence. I’m not supposed to want to kill the men who harm women, children, other men. I’m not supposed to want them dead. I’m supposed to want them rehabilitated. I’m supposed to want them contrite and apologetic, so that I can expend the precious energy of this lifetime helping them to learn from their “mistakes” so they can “do better next time.” I’m supposed to want to take a job making $12 an hour working for some crisis line so they can call and ask what they were supposed to do when they saw her lying there in the snow, drunk and passed out; were they really supposed to just walk by? “No,” I say, “you could call someone to help her get home safe.” “Oh,” they say. “I didn’t think of that.”

I’m supposed to model something different for the boys in my life, the boys who are coming up around me. I’m supposed to be the safe thing, the woman. I’m supposed to be the place where violence doesn’t happen — well, the place that doesn’t create violence. I mean, I’m a woman — of course violence happens here in this place of me. It’s almost a redundancy. Doesn’t woman mean violence-done-to?

It’s so fucking ridiculous. The anger rides me like I’m some kind of animal — and yes, in fact, I am some kind of animal. Civilization is about reigning that animal in. Is about saying, Sure, you’re angry, but you’re a woman. You’re better than that. You take the high ground. You go high when they go low. Because if you try to go low with them, they’ll kill you. They haven’t been civilized like you’ve been.

I’m supposed to make a statement here of apology, of clarification. I’m supposed to open the door and clear out a space for the men who haven’t done harm to women, and who are actively working to end violence against women. Those men, of course, must have their own unleveled, unwashed anger toward other men. I would like to read their angry writing someday. I can imagine those men can understand this anger here. Those men who have been harmed by other men — they recognize themselves in this anger. They understand that they are not its target — and, too, they see how they carry the same surface tension, the same potential privilege of the men who do harm, and they wonder what they do with that privilege, how they walk in the world with it, how they use it to make things better instead of making things worse. They are not the sort of men who tell an angry woman to shut up because their anger is frightening them. Anger is a frightening thing if you have been raised with men, with any people who treat their anger as an excuse to go in the world (or, much more often, stay in their homes) and do harm.

The headline that sent me over the edge when I was scrolling through FB yesterday said, and I’m not going to look it up to confirm or link to the fucking thing for you, “Father stopped from abusing daughter says, ‘Well, it was fun while it lasted.’”

(I’m going to pause here for your shouting and righteous outrage.)

Someone thought that was a good headline. Someone thought, That’s clickbait if I ever fucking saw it. Someone saw dollar signs with that headline. Someone thought of it, showed it to an editor, and the editor hollered with joy — that’s perfect! And so I scroll through the newsfeed of a spirituality program, come across a posting from the woman’s news network, and they have decided to share a post with this headline. They are doing the violator’s work for them.

It’s all I can do not to start screaming in the office.  I stand up, I say, “Ok, ok, that’s enough,” I talk to myself within hearing of others, I become the embodiment of the borderline crazy girl. I log out of FB, I turn off the computer, I stand up, I have to move. I manage to stay in the building — here’s the crazy part! — I stay in the building. I go downstairs to watch the Tibetan monks who are building a sand mandala in the art gallery/foyer/first floor of our building. I listen to them rub metal bars against the ridges of the sand-dispensing cones. I watch them and wonder, which of your disciples have you harmed?

I can’t stay there for long but I don’t leave the building. I take a deep breath and I swallow the rage because we can’t always go crazy when we get mad, right? This is what always triggered looks like these days — I manage to stay in the building, and go back to fucking work. I don’t slam out of the doors, stomp down the street, screaming at the top of my lungs, are you fucking kidding me?

So many of us are restraining this longing, this urge: to kick down the doors, to do violence where violence has been done, to disrupt business as usual. That’s what Occupy was about, in part: disrupting business as usual. But we have been constraining this desire for years, for decades, haven’t we? And so we swallow the rage and become the face of depression. We are the unhappy voice on the other end of the phone when you call for tech support, we are the sharp side glance when you shove past us on the BART, we are the horizontal hostility, we are the isolated, we are the ones curled up on the bed, we are the chronically ill, the chronically in pain. That shit is anger. It’s fury. It’s rage. And we don’t know what to do with it. So we swallow it, just like we were trained.

Who gets raised with the ability to express anger well in this country? What does that even mean?

I’m not going to kill anyone, and I don’t want you to kill anyone either. It feels important to declare this in this era of extreme and everyday violence. But I can look with some appreciation and gratitude at women who decided they weren’t taking anymore.

Here’s what I do instead. I pound out these words and I say the unsayable things and that helps.

I wonder what the use of certain social media is. Yesterday my FB feed was filled with stories of violence done to the bodies of women (or folks thought to be women at the time of the violence). We want to prove to anyone who doesn’t yet understand (who doesn’t understand?) that sexual violence is so prevalent as to be almost every woman’s norm, so we (one more time) haul out our stories of the violences done to us.

It’s not that I don’t think sharing our stories, when we choose to, can be deeply cathartic and transformative. It’s that when we’ve been called to share these intimate and painful stories in yet another attempt to prove to some naysayer that this violence is a constant in our lives (because they need the details in order to believe us, they need to hear it, give me more details, show me the video, please), then I just feel taken advantage of.

I’ve seen this happen several times on FB, where we (women and folks thought to be women when assaulted) are expected to jump on a hashtag bandwagon with our story of violence in order to prove that sexual violence is happening to everyone around us all of the time.

Because of the work I do, and because FB only feeds me the faces and voices of people who they deem agreeable to me based on my posting history, I didn’t come across the voices of the naysayers yesterday, the voices of folks claiming sexual harassment isn’t common. I did come across men who seemed astonished at the numbers of their female (or once thought to be female) friends who have faced this violence and walk around the world with it holding on to them like a leash. These are activist friends, these are folks who have been in the work of undoing violence in the world — and they can still be surprised by these stories? Have they been willfully ignoring this information? Why listen to us now?

Anita Hill told us this is a constant in the workplace for women. But she wasn’t believed, and still we are demanding that women give us the juicy details before we’ll deign to consider possibly believing them.

It can’t just be one woman. It has to be five, seventeen, thirty, a hundred, several thousand all telling you the same fucking story, and still you’re going to sit there and be astonished when your friend tells you that her boss, her twenty-seven year old boss at the tech start up (where she is “so lucky” to have been hired, because there were so many good guys in line for the position, but she came across like one of the guys in the interview and laughed at the joke he made about getting their numbers of women up), she tells you that this guy (this young guy, raised in the aftermath of Antioch, ostensibly raised to know which way is up and righteous when it comes to women, raised to respect women, right?), this guy wants her to put on something low-cut when the investors come in for a site visit. Or he wants to know I she’ll bring some of her dumber girlfriends to the holiday party so he can get some of “his guys” there in the office laid. Whatever. Did you think something is changing?

I understand the impetus behind #metoo, the need for critical mass, and one thing this sort of campaign can do is give survivors a sense of solidarity. Even if you don’t post your own #metoo story, you can scroll through your friends and beloveds and see that you are not alone. If that’s what this is for, then I am behind it 100%.

If it’s to prove something to men, or to those folks of all genders who are rape(-ist)-apologists, then I say fuck that.

It’s like the good friend who really wants to believe you when you say that your partner has been abusing you, but they’ve never seen it, and nothing like this has ever happened to them, and they’ve known your partner fora  long time — can’t you show them some evidence? Can’t you prove what you’re saying? Because your word isn’t enough.

When will our words be enough?

Your words are enough today, and they are important, and they are necessary. Just for this moment, if not for longer, today, consider not apologizing for your rage. I’m grateful for the ways you make room for others’ rage as well. And I am grateful, every minute, for your words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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in which jen loses her sh*t

Painted on a white wall, graffiti of a person wearing a tank top and mask and holding a bat, under and next to the words: It’s all I can do this morning to keep myself together.

I make black tea for the day, because I’m out of my loose green; Irish breakfast, to go with the soda bread I made last night. All I can do these days is eat. That’s a thing I’m good at: the decisions don’t ruin my life, and I don’t get paralyzed trying to figure out what to eat next. The eating helps me feel just bad enough about myself, but also kills the other awful feelings, the anxiety, the triggeredness.

My editor tells me she wants me to write about this Harvey Weinstein thing. Write about the latest story of a sexual predator that everyone is surprised about. Wait, the guy who promoted Hunting Ground is a sexual super-predator? Are we supposed to act shocked, we who live our lives in the aftermath of manhandling by people like these? Are we supposed to believe all the shock and dismay from various high-powered folks in the entertainment industry? What kind of story can I write about this?

It’s not that I’m cynical — it’s that our country was founded and run by men who believed it was acceptable to own other humans — who believed they ought to have sexual access to whatever they wanted, access to the bodies of other humans they deemed somehow other or less than human — and by the women who stood by their side. And so here we are now, some two-hundred and forty-five years later, wondering why a guy like this can go on assaulting women for thirty years without being stopped. Fox News is sounding the alarm — Hollywood is full of sexual hypocrites! Fox News, ladies and gentlefolks – yes. That’s the world we live in, that the guy who has been accused of sexual predation can point his finger at the last or the latest guy to be accused and somehow we’re supposed to wipe the slate clean, like we can only have rom in our tiny brains for one predatory bastard at a time, like we’re supposed to believe it’s a right-wing or left-wing problem. Of course we’re supposed to believe it’s not a problem on the left — which is why so-called liberal sexual predators like Bill Clinton and Woody Allen and … let’s just not continue the list. It’s too fucking long, too fucking depressing. Why they are allowed to go on doing the work that they love, why people go on lauding them?

I don’t know if I belong here anymore — where is here, Jen? America? the planet? Where can you go, where’s the country where people aren’t excusing acts of sexual predation? Where people aren’t making films with rape at the heart of them and we call them comedies? Where we don’t see rape as sport or simple sexual miscommunication or misunderstanding or an acceptable weapon of war? (As though there’s such a thing as an acceptable weapon of war.) Where we don’t politicize the latest revealed rape so as to advance our political cause?

I am tired today. I don’t want to have discussions about how to end rape culture, what women can do, what the victims are supposed to do.

Do you want to end rape culture? Here how that goes: men, stop raping people.

How about that? Just don’t. Just don’t. Stop believing that the people around you are there to service your sexual or power needs.

How’s that going to work, America? Do you think we can do that?

Parents, stop teaching your masculine-leaning children that they get to do what they want to and with the bodies of others. Stop teaching your feminine-leaning children how to navigate the sexually-predatory expectations of others — teach them self-defense instead. Don’t teach them to bow their heads and walk in shame. Teach them to scream.

Women who are harassed or assaulted by extremely powerful men and then manage to rise in their industry of choice: once you have power, it’s your responsibility to hold that predator accountable. Jane Fonda says she’s ashamed she didn’t say anything about this harassment sooner. Angeline Jolie was assaulted by this man. But they said and did nothing, not even after years and after they rose in stature and power, and so more women, many many more women after them had to suffer, many of them leaving the work they loved.

We are not to blame for the violence done to us. We are not to blame for the actions of others. We are responsible for our own behavior, however. It’s not victim-blaming to believe that people in any community who know that there’s a predator in their midst ought to pass the word to newcomers to the community, if they’re not going to raise the alarm otherwise. (Of course, we see what good it did when folks raised the alarm to the so-called authorities — thank you, NYPD and LAPD).

My editor wants me to write about this, but I’d avoided reading any of the articles about this story because I didn’t want the fucking details. I didn’t want to know the kinds of things these women were expected to do for decades that no one held H.W. accountable for, that he was given a pass on over and over and over again. But, I think, she thinks I should do it, so let me just skim through the headlines. Let me look at a few of the stories. My breath gets shallow, my body gets tight. I ignore these things because I think this is something that I’m supposed to do. If that’s not triggering, I don’t know what is — well, until I get into one of the stories and in the first paragraph, maybe in the first two lines, read a detail of his assault on one woman that leaves me in a flashback/body memory so strong that it’s all I can do not to throw everything around me — my computer, my monitor, my cup of tea, the lamp, the mirror, everything — against the wall, shattering it all, making as much noise as possible and screaming as loud as I can just to get this shit out of my body again. But it’s there, and I’m a responsible adult who doesn’t do those things, and so I go upstairs as soon as the other people in my house leave for the day, and I eat. I make many pieces of toast, I get a bag of popcorn, I eat until I am full, until the feeling that hurts is in my belly and I am awash in the shame again of eating too much because that is easier for me to deal with than the memory of the predator my mother married doing just the same thing to me.

Patton Oswalt says, in an interview this week, that he can’t imagine how women do it, how they walk around with such rage, how they function. First, I wonder who he’s harming behind closed doors. Then I want to tell him, we eat. We stuff. We shop. We cut. we pretend. We fuck. We act nice and exercise too much, starving ourselves. We do anything and everything we can not to go crazy every fucking time we watch another man treat another women like shit, watch another woman apologize for that man and pretend like what he’s doing is ok. Just to keep from tearing the whole fucking thing down.

It was all I could do yesterday not to lose my shit. This is one of those weeks. I just have to sit here with the adrenaline in my arms and back and jaw, grinding my teeth, trying to decide what to do when someone makes a joke about this guy or calls it “casting couch behavior” or calls the women stupid, or when I read about one woman telling another, this is just the way it’s done here. If you want to get ahead, go ahead and just give him the fucking massage. Because I’m going to guarantee you that women said that to each other. My sister went through this shit in a different segment of the entertainment world in LA — just suck it up, she was told, that’s part of the game. And when she wanted to call foul on the game, went to the authorities, tried hold accountable the man who had been harassing and predatory towards her, not one woman would stand with her. And so she left the industry that she loved

Now I want to throw the machine against the wall again. This is a difficult morning for writing.

How do we do it how do we do it how do we do it on the days we are so angry we could destroy everything around us, we who have been taught to take our anger out on ourselves rather than on the people who have harmed us and harmed those we love? How do we do it when what we know is to stuff, to drink, to cut, to depress, to starve, to run too hard or lift too much, otherwise punish ourselves for this righteous rage?

Of course we have every right to be outraged, to be furious — so very many of us do, for so very many different reasons. But we are supposed to be polite and show that we are assimilated to polite white culture which was designed and cultivated to protect white men and women in power, and so we don’t come into to the room raving. We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. We don’t want them to question our sanity — because of course, it’s insane to be outraged that a man, one more man (among the how many more, let’s be serious, now we’re talking about Hollywood/politics/spiritual community/military/tech/on and on) has been allowed to continue his fucking disgusting until the winds shift just enough and someone finally feels brave enough to come forward and politics are such that she will be listened to and suddenly the people who’ve been holding his silences for him come forward, too, and pretend like they’re shocked, perform this dance of public shaming.

We should be shaming all of them. The men who do this are only able to continue for as long as they do because of other’s silences. Period. Our silences create the bubble in which they continue to act. We hold their power for them We create it. And we can take it away from them.

We can hold these people accountable. We can say no more. We can say, we’re not going to buy your music or watch your shows or vote for you or go to your movies or read your books or listen to your comedy albums we’re not going to reward you for gaining fame and power on the backs of the people you have assaulted and shamed.

I’ll tell you what, Patton Oswalt — I don’t know how we do it either. I just don’t know. There is not a single fucking place women can go that is safe from predatory male behavior. Not one. Every industry you can name has men who have risen the ranks while smearing their grease and filth and bodily fluids and smarmy bullshit on others along the way, and people turned their heads because they wanted to come along for the ride. We see the same fucking thing happening in Congress, in the US government — all these men who stood up and pretended to be shocked, shocked!, that a man so close to the presidency could so proudly and easily name his entitlement to women’s bodies, and then they turned around, swallowed that outrage, walked over to the corner of the room labeled “locker room talk,”and said, well, it’s not so bad, and anyway, it was such a long time ago, I mean, no more tapes have come forward — which means, of course, that nothing else has happened.

No tape, it didn’t happen. Got a  tape? Who cares. Assaulted by a man in power? Better hope he assaulted fifty other women just the same way he assaulted you, and that those women are willing to stand up with you, because otherwise, there’s not a goddamn thing anybody’s going to do for you. The voice of one woman telling the truth? Muriel Rukeyser is weeping — it doesn’t do a fucking thing in this particular America. We’re too worried that the perpetrator’s rights might get trampled on. We don’t want to obstruct their right to assault with freedom, Their right to assault over decades, their right to assert their manhood. We don’t want emasculated men in this country, do we? We want our men to be men! We want cowboys! We want soldiers! We want rapists!

But were going to turn around and pretend like the rapists are coming in to the country from the outside, as though we don’t grow our own right here,

I’m tired today, my friends. I’m so fucking angry and tired. It’s not a difficult problem, rape culture, it’s simply that this behavior has been entrenched in our definition of manhood for maybe as long as we’ve understood there to be such a thing as a man. And I’m tired of women bending over backwards trying to figure how to explain it, how to make sense of it for the assailants and their apologists. The assailants know exactly what they’re doing. No one needs to be educated — they know what they are doing, they are doing it because they can, and will continue doing it as long as they can. We have not made it painful enough to be called rapist, to be called sexual predator.

When do we say Enough? With our sons? With our son’s sons? When will there be enough good men that they turn the tide? That they set down this male/masculine privilege to beat and punch and shame and shit on and put hands on and and rape and discard? When do we stop shaking our heads and saying, well, boys will be boys — when? How much longer?

How can I read the news? How can I see it over and over again, this one, that one, violating student, daughter, infant, choir boy, soldier, new employee, intern, coworker, partner, wife…? I’m so tired of having to walk through the world like this is all acceptable somehow, like every woman, every man, every person of any gender whatsoever shouldn’t be screaming in the middle of the street, just fucking stop. Just stop acting like the bodies of other people are those to use and dispose of as you wish. I’m talking about rape culture and I’m talking about misogynist culture and I’m talking about white supremacist culture.

I wrote, in a piece that was published earlier this month, that I would love it if, for just a  moment, every survivor of sexual violence was illuminated by a bright glow — so we could all see each other, so we could see how many of us there are, so we could revel and grieve in our numbers, and our power. Then would we smash the church and smash the state?

But what if, then, for a moment, the same was done for the perpetrators, those who believed, at any point and in any way over the course of their lives, that it was ok to sexually touch or grab or speak to or assault another being. How much overlap would there be? Would we be surprised at their numbers, at the “good” men who stood there awash in the sickly greenish light, at the numbers of women, at the numbers of queers? What would we do with them, if we knew who they were?

How hard is it to decide to stop harming other people? Just ask the white folks who run the country, the folks in the police departments, the folks who run the prisons, just ask capitalism. We love money and power more than we love our families, more than we love our fellow human or any other animal, more than we love the planet that is just about done, it seems these days, sustaining us. And those with the money and power just only want to keep it.

Just stop. It would be so easy to stop. But these people are raised to be addicts — they are addicted to the privilege and the blinders and bodies that come along with it. They don’t want to take the blinders off and they don’t want to have to put the privilege down. When do we who are or have been harmed by them say Enough?

I’m grateful for your rage today, and the ways you make room for the righteous rage of others. Be easy with you — think about turning the rage out of your body in ways that don’t harm others, and don’t harm you. Shout, scream, write, paint, draw, tear up pillows, smash plates, scream again. Just for one minute, don’t turn it back inside yourself, the way you were trained to. I stand with you in your rage. And I am grateful for your words.

 

 

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we show up for our creative beauty

graffiti painted on a wall that of a village at night,stars and moon overhead, trees in the foreground
Homage to a Starry Night, Santa Monica (flickr)

Good morning, good morning. What’s the day opening up like where you are? Here there’s a chill in the air after a too-hot yesterday, and the birds are still recuperating, I think — I haven’t heard a single one wake up yet. Wait, there they are…

It’s been hard to write recently. I sit down at the desk in the morning and all the words evaporate from my head. I try to sneak up on them, the way you might with a skittish cat or a butterfly or a hummingbird resting at the tip of a bottlebrush tree branch, but they slip away from me as soon as I get close enough to see what they might look like. The writing just isn’t coming.

Still, I dutifully show up at the desk most mornings, I sit down with the candle and notebook or this quieted keyboard.  I come down here anyway, even though I’m not feeling the urgency. This is the part about showing up anyway, about being true to the thing in you that’s going to want to sing eventually. I’m not sure what stories or essays are going to want to come next, but I hold the channel open, that’s what someone suggested once: You have to keep the channel open.

I have been feeling very bad about the fact that I’m not “really” writing — developing nothing much new for publication or sharing on this blog, no new submissions, no new words. I rage regularly when listening to the news or reading the paper, but then I show up here at the keyboard in the mornings, and the words slip out from under my fingers, they pull away like a shadow under sunlit scrutiny, they hide under the folds of depression, under the fragments of despair, they leave me to walk in the nightmorning alone. I have been stuck for weeks in the old story, in a painful story, in the story that says I am worthless and nothing I do matters. I have been afraid and lost ever since well before the book came out. And when I’m not writing, I tend to feel even worse about myself. Somedays I come down and just sit in the dark and listen to the nightsounds outside, watch the candle, some mornings I can just rock in the chair and sip my tea. Then I spend the day beating myself up for not writing.

I read a story this weekend about Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night: apparently people are visiting the MOMA in New York  just to take selfies with the painting, not to look at it. Not to see it. What caught my attention in the piece, though, were Vincent’s words, his hopelessness, how he felt unseen, unwanted, unappreciated as an artist: “One comfort for someone who loves Van Gogh,” the author says, “and can’t see over the crowd’s shoulders and heads is to recall the artist’s deep misery that his work would never be noticed. ‘What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity,’ he despaired, ‘an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have.'”

I thought I should cut those words out and hang them over my desk, to see when I am feeling low, when I am in the dark times, when I am in the trough, to remember how many of us feel this way, and how often.

What am I realizing this morning is that, even though the it’s been hard to create much recently, I have still kept faith with the writing. I have kept to my part in the covenant. Even when depression fills me to the brim, even when I am feeling so hopeless that writing can accomplish anything at all — just look at the world; what can this writing possibly do? — I still get up before the dawn, make my tea, light the candles, and open the notebook to a new page or open a blank notepad document here on the computer. I try again. Maybe this morning will be different. Maybe this morning the words will come.

Sometimes I have to force myself to write my three pages. Sometimes I can’t or won’t even do that. But my body is here. The channel is open. I remain faithful to something hopeful in me that wants to be with the words, that trusts they will come back, that still believes in what words can do — for me, and in the world.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been walking with the puppy out by the bay in the mornings after I write. At about 7, she gets up, shakes the sleep off her fur, and walks over to me, leans her head hard into my calves. It’s time, it’s time. So we get ready and go out into the early sunrise. We walk on quiet morning fields, we watch sea lions in the swelling bay water scoop up fish for breakfast, and pelicans land like splashing-down space capsules before gliding off like swans. I move this good body that I have spent so many years beating up. I think about how I’m going to Write More Now Goddamnit. And then I throw the ball again for the puppy, who launches herself up to retrieve it out of the air with so much delight in the Right Now.

I put one foot in front of the other, I keep going, even when everything looks hopeless. And this morning I can recognize the faith inherent in that. the hope there. I can beat myself up for not doing enough, or I can look around the edges of those old voices and see how I have been keeping faith with my creative self, showing up for her even when she is (justifiably) scared that she won’t be listened to or certain that her words won’t do any good — the world is still going to be an awful place when she gets up from the keyboard and blows out the candle. Sure, I think, but somewhere, maybe, there’s someone who wanted companionship in the midst of this awfulness. Somewhere there is a story that wants to live in the world.

We keep going. We show up even when the words are rough going. We show up even when everything tells us not to bother. We show up for truth and our creative beauty even when the world around us looks like all and only devastation.

Thank you, this morning, for the times you take a deep breath and have faith in something tender and necessary: the generosity of your voice, the playfulness your words can bring, the brilliant beauty that wouldn’t exist if you don’t let it emerge through your fingers (and any other creative mode in which you discover beauty and truth). Thank you for your spaciousness with this process, with yourself. Thank you, today, for your words.

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teach them toxic masculinity is not their due

red stop sigh with a white hand in the middle of the red, and an eye drawn in the middle of the hand.(Just a heads-up: there’s language about rape and sexual violence in this morning’s post. Be easy with you, ok?)

It’s morning on a Monday, and I’m at the computer again. I open the window to get a little feel of the outside. And to try and hear the owls. It’s rush outside right now, just road.

Yesterday in the paper I read an opinion piece by a man who, when he was in college, worked with the rape crisis center and led trainings with frat brothers. The writer described the need for education, that the young men he worked with, as much as they didn’t want to see him there — he called himself the ultimate buzz kill at the party — they still, many of them, needed what he was selling: they didn’t know what rape meant. They didn’t know that a drunk woman couldn’t consent to sex. They didn’t know a woman could say she wanted to have sex and then change her mind. They didn’t know that a woman shouldn’t have to physically fight them off in order to communicate her desire not to have sex.

The op-ed was responding to Betsy DeVos’s recalling of the “Dear Colleague” guidelines for dealing with rape on college campuses, because she wants to make sure that the rights of assailants (I’m sorry, of “the accused”) are well tended to. As though perpetrators of rape haven’t been tended to and cared for and given all benefits, in the law and society at large, since forever. But good, now they can be assured of greater protection (again) at college — as though most rapes (on college campuses or anywhere else) still don’t go unreported. As though anyone who is raped doesn’t blame themselves for getting drunk, for wearing the wrong thing, for not saying no soon enough or loud enough or enough times or enough enough enough.

We are not even close to the place where perpetrators (whether on college campuses or in Silicon Valley) need to be concerned that their rights don’t have pre-eminence in society.

I read the op-ed by the rape educator with the same rage that rises up in me whenever someone claims that, if we want to end rape, we just need to teach men how not to rape. I just don’t buy it. Men know that rape is not ok. We all know that rape is not ok. Don’t tell me that, by the age of 18, anyone in this country (or, frankly, anywhere in the world) doesn’t know that it’s not all right to fuck someone who doesn’t want you to fuck them. These are lessons we get as children — hands are not for hitting, don’t take what isn’t yours, take no for an answer, be gentle and kind with one another. This has got to be the most consent-aware generation of men, of people, that there has ever been. And yet assault on campus continues to be wildly prevalent.

Educate these men about patriarchy instead. Educate them about the history of societies that have indoctrinated them down to their bone structure and cells with the idea that women (and children, and other men) are theirs for the taking, the breaking open, for their use. Let them speak of their own violations at the hands of men, what it took for them to become men, what they are afraid of, what they think masculinity means, how they got the idea that rape is their right.   Let men have spaces in which to grieve their perceived (and real) losses, that they are no longer allowed to have what their fathers and grandfathers had or took, that they are expected to behave differently if they want to participate in society. Let them learn to view toxic masculinity with a critical eye. Teach them that toxic masculinity is not their due.

I don’t believe that men need to be told what rape is and that it isn’t ok. I do think men need support not to follow the pack, not to do what they think is expected of them as men. I do think we need to continue to change our socialization away from the violence and physical manifestations of power that we expect of maleness and masculinity. We aren’t there yet. 

There are lots of (mostly white) men who are tantruming these days over the fact that they have to behave like decent citizens if they want to get an education or have a job. They are mad that they can’t act out however they feel like, that they are going to be held accountable (by other men, even!) for their behavior. They are hurt and disappointed they don’t get to wag their penis or their fist with impunity anymore. (At least in some places, at some times. If he wants pure impunity to assault, let him become a catholic priest.)

What needs to change is something deeper than a freshmen orientation that includes bits about not getting so drunk that you can’t consent to sex and learning (again, again, again) that no means no. It’s got to be something deeper, a societal shift that will allow the valuing of well-being of women and children not in some chivalrous fashion but fundamentally, that sees women and children as as human as men are. That sees us all as worthy of existing. That values kindness and respect.

Kindness and respect. Can you imagine? If only that weren’t such a hard sell in America.

Thanks for being here today, for reading. Thank you for the space you create for others to be all of who they are, in their messy and honest humanity. Thank you for all the new lessons you teach by holding open space for yourself, for your own complicated beauty, for your creative resilience, for your words.

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poems can blossom truth inside our hearts

Stencil of a woman in a dress, dancing, head thrown back, hair hanging down, next to the words
(Poetry is an extreme sport – Miss Tic)

Good morning, good morning.

Outside, it’s traffic and crickets. I’m waiting to hear whether the owl will be back this morning – she was here on Friday, and instead of writing a post I got distracted by her.

Well, by her and some old morning writes. I went looking for what I was saying here–to myself, to you–five years ago, or seven. That’s one thing about regular journaling–getting to look back, see what you were saying before, what you felt like before, what you’re struggling with that’s the same  and what is new — you get to see how far you’ve come.

In my case, I got to look back on a relationship that felt unfixable at the time I was writing, that felt like kudzu or like I was in the ocean at a rising tide stuck in seaweed. I spent so many years trying to communicate with someone who literally could not understand the things I was saying — and, let’s be honest, in the converse, I also couldn’t, it seems, understand the things he was saying. I could never quite understand what he wanted. And  I kept trying, kept getting smaller, tightening myself up until I was knotted into a ball at the bottom of a bookbag, just a sticky thing with dust and hair and old gum wrappers stuck all over me.

And then I got the idea that maybe , that maybe, I didn’t have to stay there. Maybe my job wasn’t to stay in this relationship until the end of my (or his) life. Maybe I didn’t have to walk a hundred miles on my knees, repenting. I only had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loved. And then poetry started to sneak in to the sides and corners and crevices of my skin, my psyche, touched the parched places inside me, the places that told me I had to stay, I had to keep working, I had to keep trying to be the right thing for this person. 

(The chimes sing a little in the early breeze.)

Slowly, so so slowly, it came to me that I didn’t have to keep beating my head against a brick wall. Neither one of us deserved to be this unhappy all the time. He deserved someone who didn’t have to turn herself inside out in order to be right, feel right, be what he said he wanted. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to deny fundamental parts of herself in order to stay with him. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to swallow her tongue most days, or risk getting into yet another fight.  

There were poems that opened my eyes , the eyes inside my heart, or that turned my eyes back away from looking into a future that felt bleak. There was a Rilke poem that shifted things in me. John O’Donohue. And Mary Oliver, of course, Poems can do things that regular prose can’t. Poems sing in through the side door. They tell all the truth but tell it slant. They don’t hit us straight on, but blossom truth inside our hearts, our bellies, anyway. 

What I’m trying to get to is the fact that something that feels so entrenched, unchangeable, a situation you feel so utterly stuck in — that situation can change. And what’s true, at least for me, is that the first part of changing the situation was changing my mindset, my lenses. I had to allow myself to shift how I was seeing myself, and that relationship. Just very gently, I began to ask myself, What if I’m not wrong or bad or crazy or broken here? And what if he isn’t either? What if we’re just two very different people with very different needs and it’s ok to stop trying — after 8 years, to stop trying — to force ourselves to be something that didn’t fit?

(and then I feel myself wanting to say, hey, out here, if you’re having to tuck important and tender parts of yourself away in order to fit into a relationship, maybe that relationship isn’t the right one for you.)

I look back in those old journals, those old writes in the mornings from San Rafael or Tiburon, and I want to tell that woman, You’re ok. He’s ok. You’re just not ok together. Don’t worry about waking up tomorrow and picking up the threads of the same old fight you’ve been having since you first got together. Just set down those threads, pack your bag, and leave. I urge my hands in her direction, gesturing. Just go. But she won’t go. She’ll stay for another three years, another two. She’ll take small steps as she builds the muscles she needs to be able to leave. She — I — had to build the muscles I needed to be able to trust myself, to trust my own perceptions, my own vision, my own view of the world.

So much old stuff got triggered in that relationship. Old stuff about trusting myself, really — isn’t that at the core of it. Letting my needs be even a fraction as important as the other person’s? At some point you have to set down the old ghosts, step out of the maelstrom of voices yelling selfish, mean, thoughtless — bend your head down, duck underneath, and step out to the other side. It’s like taking off a pair of sunglasses and noticing that the world looks really different than you’d come to be used to. It’s allowing yourself to step outside of somebody else’s narrative and notice, sometimes for the first time, that you don’t fit anymore, that the story they’re telling you about you doesn’t match who you know you are. And that small voice inside you, your instinct, your intuition — becomes something you can hear again, you can attend to, you give some weight to.

The shift for me was allowing myself to imagine a reality outside of my ex’s worldview, he worldview he wanted me to live within. There were poems that helped me look at the world, and myself, anew. And writing practice helped me imagine new ways of being.

(Some animal is rushing around in the woods. At first I thought it was the wind, but the chimes are silent.)

You should never have to make yourself small in order to keep your partner happy (or your boss, or your parents, or…) And though I went into the relationship knowing that was true, intellectually, I still had to learn it in my body.

I still had to learn to trust it, trust myself.

I still had to learn to face a very old fear, one I got from my home as a young person — that If I stand up for myself, I’m going to get in trouble, and then I’m going to get hurt. And I did get in trouble in that relationship, let’s be honest. But I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I could walk away. I could say no to his demand that I see the world in such a way that minimized me, or that left me feeling crazy and literally unable to communicate effectively much of the time. I could step out, take a deep breath, and take off the glasses he said I looked so good in, in order to see the world in a different way.

We get indoctrinated, as children in abusive homes — we get trained into particular ways of seeing and understanding ourselves. So it takes a lot of work, in our adult relationships, to not listen to the old voices, especially when/if our partners say things that echo what our abusers used to say, in some form or another. They may not be intending to do so, they may not be abusive at all, but still those old messages, and those old survival strategies, are triggered within us. and so we just continue the long work of trying to dislodge that old learning, that old way of thinking that said I have to let you define reality for me because if I don’t I’ll get hurt

It took the time it took for me to move through that learning in my second marriage. I’m working to be easier with that woman I was then. The other thing that happens, over time, is that I can read these old notebook entries and not beat myself up, I can feel more compassion for the self I was then, the things I was struggling with, the complaints I kept echoing.

(And I believe, too, there are some relationships we can’t settle into until we have done deep work to heal some of these old wounds. These are mature adult relationships, people we wouldn’t be able to stand up next to until we have done the work to know and trust and like who we are–otherwise how can we love someone else who knows and trusts and likes us? They’re not going to stick around if we just spend all the time telling them how stupid they are for loving us, for liking us, for finding us smart or funny or clever or creative or kind … )

So today I’m grateful — for time, for poems, for writing, for that small quiet voice within that never stops whispering You deserve joy in this lifetime, that small voice that keeps whispering, even through days, months, years, when I can’t hear it singing inside me.

And I am grateful for you, today, too, for all the ways you make room for those around you to grow and change, and the ways you are easy with yourself in your own growing, too. And for your words, of course — I’m always grateful for your words.