the next phase of write it anyway

graffiti

 

 

 

 

 

 

From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

-Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks

Good morning, good morning. The birds are awake and insistent this morning. the BART train trails across the lower half of my sky. I can hear it long after it’s gone. That’s the way dreams are sometimes, isn’t it? The fog is still covering, thick and tensile, dusting my skin with leftover starlight. This is what happens when the romantic lifts up from the dreams and suffers into the daytime.

Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, writing is. Sometimes it’s worse than that. Sometimes you can’t get to the writing at all. Sometimes you sit down with the pen and notebook and what comes instead is blank, is empty, is forget, is nothing. Sometimes when you open the laptop all you can allow to be available is reruns of old tv shows on YouTube because social media isn’t a place, really, that you should be anymore, so you don’t go there to write — social media isn’t a place anyone should be any more, in your opinion — but certainly the thing you aren’t doing, the thing you can’t do, is opening up a new blank window and letting words come. Is what used to be called writing. You aren’t doing that anymore, apparently.

Sometimes it’s like the pain has settled over your brain and you forget that you used to be called writer. Sometime there are too many months of all the other worries — the family worries, the money worries — that take up all the space in the necessary brain, whose tendrils encroach into the creative brain and you are stuck making hamburgers over the stove or roasting gravensteins or asking over your shoulder why you shouldn’t just spend your nights reading Calvin and Hobbes once more time for old times’ sake.

Maybe you are back to keeping other people’s secrets and you are hard and heavy with them. Maybe you are again negotiating within yourself what’s all right to say, what’s not. Sometimes there’s so much else to do, and the words won’t come anyway, so you just put then pen down and pick up the sponge the spatula the car keys the people-tempering-smile and try and forget about writing for one more day.

You are forge and temper and loss and grief. You are old sorrow, and you remember — oh yes, writing doesn’t undo old sorrow. Writing doesn’t save me. Writing doesn’t take away the people who say yes to the men who rape and pillage. Was there some little-girl part of you (by which I mean idealistic hopeful wanting part of you) that thought it could, that thought the words could make a big difference like that?

You think, oh fuck, one more story about the guy getting away with rape (or murder or…), and you are overwhelmed with the old feelings and you think, just let the dust settle here and I can get back to writing, but then you wake up the next day and the same thing has happened again. Another man, another rape or murder, this is the country, the planet, the people we live in. You understand that you can’t just let the triggers settle and ease back before you write again because you are apparently living once again in a state of ever-present triggeredness and rage.

So you put the pen down. You don’t miss it for awhile. You don’t remember ever going to long without writing, without feeling the daily need to write, that thick hunger in your belly, that ache in your shoulders, that thing in you that needs to speak to something, somewhere, even if just to the blank and empty page. Maybe the urge is shifting, clouding. Maybe it’s just grieving. Maybe it’s lost and confused and so disappointed it doesn’t have words to speak about it anymore.

Maybe it is back in the old remembering, twenty-five years ago, when you sat in a bare and dirty room in a farm house in New Hampshire on the phone with a mother who said to you, Yes, I know he is doing those things to you, what else did you want to tell me? And you remember the first time a mother said that the rapist was worth more than you, than your heart and needs, than your well-being and life.

What I want to say is that you remember the first time you were stung silent with grief and loss, when words didn’t just not respond. They weren’t there at all. When there were no words for how awful a thing was, when there were no words for all that you’d lost, all that you’d have to shed in order to keep on living. The difference was, that time, you didn’t know how important writing was going to be to that keeping alive of you. You had ahead of you all of that discovery.

This time, you have been writing for years. You know what it can do. And now you have learned another layer of what it can’t. All the writing in journals and blogs and newspapers and newscasts and letters and fingertip scars and on bus stop walls and along the undersides of thighs and bellies can’t make the people you love unchoose the man who would take off your skin and slice the insides of you up for his entertainment. Can’t make the people of your country, your community, your home love, unchoose a violent, raping, stupid, dickless wonder of a troll who is ‘leading’ our country right into the toilet, supported, it seems, by all the rest of our country’s so-called governing bodies. And it can’t make people recognize a rapist when more than 50 women come forward to tell us he is one. And it can’t make people demand accountability from a police system so steeped in racism that we can (and do) literally watch officers murdering citizens in cold blood, over and over and over, and still not find them guilty of crimes against individual humans and humanity as a whole.

There are still those among my people who will say rape is not a  thing, racism is not a thing. There are serious discussions on the radio: Is it too late, in graduate school, to be teaching male students not to sexually harass or assault women when they get out into the real world of business, tech, work, whatever? And I yell at the radio, Do you honestly think they need another sexual harassment training? When the whole world around them is situated to favor their penis over all else? There are still those who are asking, do I really have to stop liking the art/books/movies/comedy/apps of the men who have raped or beaten women? There are still women asking those questions.

And so this is what happens when you sit down to write: All the anger, old and now, gets clogged in your throat, at the back of your brain. Along the single track that’s supposed to lead the thoughts from just-consciousness down into your fingers and onto the page, well, that track gets snarled in a wreck of everything that wants out right now right now right now. Everything is insistent. You don’t matter if you aren’t responding to this exact moment.

You watch others respond more effectively. There are others who seem somehow capable of engaging in this larger cultural conversation through their writing and words, who aren’t getting snarled in the old loss, who can articulate their feelings without it tangling into the branches of yesterday’s trauma inside your chest and heart. You try not to hate yourself for not being like them, for not being able to do what they can do.

You remember what you used to say: just write it, and you will feel better. But now you know that once you write it down, you’ll walk back out into the world and there will still be neighbors of Arab-descent, of Mexican- and Latin-American-descent, who are afraid for their lives, their children’s lives, their family’s lives. You’ll walk back out into a world in which men can say they think women like to be harassed. In which men young and old, who have been raised in a culture which is talking continually about the rights of women, can still turn over a drunk friend and press their penis into her body and think they did something right that day.

So this is the next layer of learning, the next phase of write anyway. Write anyway. It won’t fix anything out there. It won’t make the rapist-in-chief unchosen. It won’t make the rapists-in-entertainment somehow less powerful or less rich or less acceptable to a society that seems to value celebrity and shitty behavior over all else.

But this is what your writing, your having written, will do: it will remind you of the yes in your own heart and hands. It will be one more plaice you found to say no to the insistent demands of violence and terror. It will be one more time you told that young one in you, we can choose to do something different. It will be a telling the truth in a place that could accept that truth, your complicated and beautiful and real truth, without apology, without fear, without shame.

Write anyway. And thank you every day for every one of your hard-won words.

uprooting and untangling the binds of rape culture

Squash seedlings, damp, spreading out in morning sunlight

Squash seedlings almost ready for transplant!

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sun doing where you are right now? How is it feeding your heart?

Even though it’s possible, here in California, to garden year-round, I still live with the rhythms I learned growing up in zone 5 out in the midwest, where one had to take a break in gardening overwinter because, you know, snow. But every late February, something about the quality of light changes, and I get called back out into the garden. We moved last fall, so I have a new garden to build here. I’ve put in some carrot and radish seeds, have peas and chard and onions and herbs and nasturtium and sweet pea growing, and I can just barely see the tips of gai lan seedlings. It’s hard not to want to do it all right now, to have the garden bursting with color and fruit and flower that we left behind in Oakland. I’m re-learning the slow work of cultivation.

I had to dig out some kind of tenacious weed yesterday — California burclover, I discovered — and, while I dug my fingers around a particularly obstinate stem, I got to thinking about the work of uprooting rape culture.

The burclover, right now, is lovely, tender, with clover-like leaves and small yellow flowers. You can just barely see the buds of the fruit next to those flowers; the green pods are covered with a fine fringe that, when they get brown and dry, will turn into spines that dig into any bare feet or paws that go walking through the lawn. I know from past experience how difficult it is to get rid of these plants once they’re established in a garden, so I started pulling them out of this new yard as soon as I realized they were what was matting the area around my garden bed. But they don’t come up easy — though each plant just has one white taproot (like a dandelion) holding it in place, aboveground it sends out suckers and vines that also put down little roots in the soil as they spread. If you can get the whole rosette in hand and twist up, often you can pull up the taproot, too, but the sucker branches twist into those of other plants, growing over and under, through and around. Untangling those as best as possible, trying to save other small plants caught in between, becomes the slowest part of the weeding process.

I spent more than an hour on this yesterday, and still only managed to clean out a couple of square feet, barely noticeable if you’re not paying close attention. The ground I’m working with is clay-y and hardening — often, instead of getting the taproot out, I just tore off the surface greenery, leaving the slick greenbrown stems. I got out tools, used the hand cultivator and trowel, spent several minutes on each one of these plants, trying to dig out the root.

It was good and patient work, centering, calming.

While I was at this, I thought, This is what the struggle against rape is like — this is what it takes to end or change a cultural mindset that says that some people (mostly men) should get to have sexual access to the bodies of the people (mostly women and children) whenever they want. This mindset has deep roots, is well-established, can look harmless at first, in certain lights or seasons or when young or early in relationships, say, and gets twisted into and through the rest of society, choking the life from other things — both wild and cultivated — that need air and light and room to grow.

A bucketful of burweed

I can’t pull out one plant and be done with it. I have to try and get them all. But I can’t do it all at one time, nor can I do it all alone, as burweed certainly has a presence in every neighbor’s garden and in the wildlands back behind the house. I have to be vigilant, return to the same spots that I worked over yesterday to pull up the plants that I missed or whose roots kept hold. And during the time that I live here, I won’t eradicate all the California burclover. But I’m also choosing not to lean on the easy solution of poison, which will damage the soil I’m trying to reclaim and make it less hospitable for other life, will kill other plants also deemed weeds by a certain type of gardener and the gardening industrial complex, but that I want to nurture and save.

So I keep going in with my bare hands, now, when the fruits are still young — before they dry into hard burrs that are intended to dig into feet and feathers and fur, get carried away to establish new colonies elsewhere — and root out what I can.

The work of change is like this — slow, persistent, requiring patience and tenacity and vigilance. And with as many people as there are tangled up in the binds of rape culture, uprooting it is going to take time, as we try and help untangle the thoughts and beliefs and behaviors and entitlements and shames from the other stuff inside that needs room to breathe but has been choked of light and air — kindness, creativity, vulnerability, humility, grief, tenderness. The work is slow. It may take our combined lifetimes.

But I’ll tell you that yesterday, when I took a break, I noticed how good my body and mind felt, being at this labor, how grateful I was to be outside, my hands embedded with dirt, back sore, the work begun—incomplete, sure, but begun.

milkweed seedlings

My mother taught me the rhythm out of weeding, which, inadvertently taught me the rhythm of change work. She cleared out her huge garden a little bit every day, pulled a few weeds, tended the loosed soil, planted something new – until eventually she had the messy gorgeous beauty that is her sprawling wildflower-herb-vegetable garden. It’s a rhythm, a daily practice, something that can sustain us as we engage in the work of uprooting ideas and mindsets (of say, patriarchy and white supremacy) that have overtaken much more than their fair share of the earth, digging out space for more beauty, more birds and butterflies and bees, more sustenance, more space where it safe to walk on a spring morning in your bare feet.

Is there something in your life that needs some room to grow, to breathe? What would you be cultivating right now, if you gave yourself permission? Take 10 minutes with a notebook, open to a new page, and just write whatever comes when you think about these questions. Try not to edit or think too much about it, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Be easy with you today, ok? And thank you for your good words.

Write Whole: Survivors Write — new group begins on May 1!

After a two-year hiatus, I’ve scheduled a new session of our survivor-centered group, Write Whole: Survivors Write to begin next month. Please let me know if you’d like to join us!

~Write Whole: Survivors Write
8 Monday evenings, 6:00-8:30pm, beginning May 1
For women survivors of sexual trauma

o In the Write Whole: Survivors Write workshop, you’ll gather with other survivors of sexual trauma to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. We freewrite together in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing, and deal with such subjects as: body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words in a supportive, transformative, and survivor-centered community.

This group is open to all who identify as women, and ‘survivor’ is intended to be self-defined as well. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re worried about whether or not you’d “fit.”

Pre-registration is required. The fee for an 8-week session is $375. (I can generally work out payment plans; please contact me if you have question or concerns about payment.) Please register early! A $75 deposit will confirm your space in the workshop.

No previous writing experience necessary. We’ll meet in El Cerrito in a beautiful garden space, 1.5 blocks from BART and close to other public transportation.

Please contact me with any questions. I’m looking forward to writing with you!

PPO & Locker Room Talk: April readings and more!

April is both National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault Month — and, as a result, I’ve often thought of it as Writing Ourselves Whole month. I’m beginning to come out of my hibernation — here’s a little of what’s coming up around these parts:

April 23: Locker Room Talk: Confronting Sexual Assault in the Age of Trump – For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Locker Room Talk” presents motivational speakers, an expert panel discussion, and artists’ performances to address how electing a sexual predator to the Presidency impacts our social climate… especially efforts to curb the sexual assault epidemic. With Culture of Consent, Planned Parenthood Mar MonteBAWAR(Bay Area Women Against Rape), The Body Is Not an Apology, and featuring Mona WebbMelanie HamlettSonya Renee TaylorKitty Strykerand Austin Willacy, and Writing Ourselves Whole (among others!). Sunday, April 23, 4 PM – 8 PM, East Bay Community Space, 507 55th St., Oakland, CA 94609. Tickets and more details here

April 29: Perverts Put Out – PERVERTS PUT OUT!’s MAYDAY! EDITION: The First of May is traditonally Workers’ Day and this year marks a national day of resistance. And hey, it’s spring and the sap is rising! Perverts Put Out! celebrates all that…and more. Co-hosts Dr. Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard and some of the world’s most brilliant pervert performers will fly the flag of lust-soaked resistance. Join us! Saturday. April 29th, 2017. Doors 7:00, show 8:00. At The Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco, $10-20 sliding scale, no one turned away. (Show’s always a benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture).

And watch this space for more information about upcoming writing groups, including the first Write Whole: Survivors Write since 2015…

is it dystopian if it’s happening now?

stencil graffiti of woman's symbol with a fist in the circle, beneath the words (cw: discussion of rape and current events)
 
This weekend I finished reading Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” a speculative novel about a poor Chicana, Consuelo, in the 1970s who is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution when she beats up her niece’s pimp — labelled crazy because she doesn’t accept the way things are, struggles against her lot in life, isn’t playing the role of happy woman. She is contacted by a woman from the future, and, over the course of the book, is able to see and experience two possible futures: one in which the people have taken power back from white supremacy and corporations, work cooperatively and live communally, share resources, and use technology for the betterment of all; and one in which society has been even further fragmented into layers of have and have-not than our is now — Consuelo meets a woman in this latter reality who is kept in an apartment for sexual companionship, her body so modified to exaggerate her breasts and ass that she can barely walk. This woman tells Consuelo about the television programs now available (for the cost of organs, apparently harvested from the very poor), available in what we would call high-definition virtual reality: full-stim, they say — the viewer is able to experience every action. She gives Consuelo a program guide, and we see that the programs are intensely violent, with rape and gore emphasized as enticements for the viewers.
 
Of course, I read this with dismay, understanding that it’s a not-altogether-unlikely dystopian future for our power-and-violence obsessed culture. But a future, surely – who is tuning in for “full-stim” experience of another person’s violation?
 
Then I turned on the radio. Teenage boys rape a young woman and live-stream it on facebook. Forty people tune in to watch, and none of them contact authorities. Forty people. Forty.
 
That’s the part that keeps ringing in my head. Forty people tuned in to watch.
 
Is there such a thing as dystopian fiction anymore? Don’t we just call it realism now?
 
(Because I don’t want to just link to a news story about the crime, I just tried to look up a site with info about how to help this young woman, and discovered that you have to be specific about WHICH woman whose rape was live-streamed on fb you want to learn about. And so now I’d like to know what the hell FB is doing to help with investigations and shut this shit down.)
 
Be easy with yourselves and your beloveds today. Remind your sons not to rape anyone as they go out into the world. Remind everyone to please call the fucking police if they find that a friend of theirs is being raped on a live-stream somewhere.

announcing Writing Ourselves Whole: the book <3

Cover of book - Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the power of your own creativity to recover and heal from sexual trauma

The book! Now available for pre-order!

Good morning, good morning. Outside my window, it’s still dusky, but the light is coming. Yesterday the puppy barked several times at neighbors walking by below the second fence in the backyard — she was talking to the deer that use that treelined stretch as a safe boulevard from one bit of preserved land to another. I said to the puppy, I wish you’d just say hello to them, maybe make them feel a little more welcome, a little less harassed. I’d like to say that to the folks in and around the White House these days, too, but I think they’d be less receptive than my dog.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a struggle for me not to just hide inside my shell a lot for the last several months. Things often feel hopeless right now. Maybe you feel triggered all the time, or a lot more often than usual. Maybe you’ve been going to every protest you hear about. Maybe the protests don’t work for you. Maybe you’re like me—spinning, anxious, unable to stay focused on one thing for very long. I tell my therapist that I’ve been more irritable lately, more impatient, quicker to anger — she says that she’s hearing this from many, many people. I think that we are so afraid, and so sad—and really fucking angry.

In order to get through this time of madness, I think we’re going to have to be more creative, more inventive, take more risks, and find deeper pathways into “right relationship” with our creative intuition, that steady inside voice that so many of us have been trained to ignore. We’re going to have to write and sing and dance and paint and sculpt and craft and build and climb and grow.

I want to tell you that, this summer, my book, Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the power of your own creativity to recover and heal from sexual trauma, is coming out from Mango Media. (I’m incredibly excited and terrified about this.) It’s a collection of essays that tangle with the most important topics to my heart: writing as a practice of healing and transformation for survivors of sexual trauma, what I’ve learned in more than ten years (now almost fifteen!) writing with survivors (and others), and about kindness and generosity—what do we as a country need now more than a deeply-held ethic of kindness and generosity?

In some ways, the book is as easy and hard to describe as the groups are — they sound simple, straight-forward: writing groups for survivors of sexual abuse. Nothing unusual or even new about that. But once folks are in the room—something like magic happens. There’s connection and grace, openness, love, hope, a space for creativity and even wanting that had been shut down, sometimes for years. There’s space for those stories we were told never to tell, space for us to find and share our truest languages, space for our hiddenest parts to be witnessed, and to get to offer witness to others—space to experience ourselves as creators, as artists, as wordsmiths, as writers.

This is the presence and invitation I hope the book can offer to readers as well.

I think we’re going to need each other even more to get through these difficult times, to sustain ourselves, to nurture and support, and one of the ways we can do that in community is to create together. Writing Ourselves Whole is also for survivors who want to start peer writing groups in their own communities. There are many exercises, of course — one of the hardest things was to winnow down almost fifteen years’ worth of prompts.

My hope is that the Writing Ourselves Whole will feel like a companion voice, will help survivor-readers to feel less isolated, and, above all, will spur readers to write, to open their own notebooks and start to spill out the words that have been building up inside. It includes essays about my own experience of long-term trauma survival, how writing has been the thing I could hold on to when nothing else seemed to work, or when I was too broke for (or too scared about) therapy, or when I felt lost and alone and abandoned: writing been the one steady thing in my life over the last twenty-some years since I got away from the man who’d been abusing me.

Given the difficulty we’re living in and through, I hope this book can encourage survivors to take care of ourselves, trust our instincts, take risks, let our voices out, to trust and recognize that our voices are needed. Your voice is needed. I want to encourage us to keep on taking care of our bodies, to take care of our hearts, to trust and appreciate that desire is still allowed—if we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot sustain the struggle for the long-term. And this is long-term struggle we’re engaged in, whether we’re battling this so-called government or we’re just talking about living with trauma.

I’ll be sharing excerpts from the book, to give you all a sense of what’s going to be inside — but if you’ve participated in any group with me, I think you’ll recognize the voice in this book. It’s a voice that adores you and your words (for real, though), that is so grateful that you’re there with a pen, that cannot wait to hear what you have to say.

when the (white) mothers choose the abuser

Graffiti image of child spray painting the word MOMThis is a hard thing to write.

It’s been a painful few months. For you, too? I’ve been trying to get to the root of the heavy depression–despair, really–that I’ve been stuck in since November. Or even before November, but 11/9 is when it really took hold of all the insides of me, squeezed tight, shuttered me in with its bleak outlook: nothing is ever going to be all right again.

This, of course, is not true. So many of us have made it through impossibly painful times, and we have built up skills and tools for navigating the horrors of our world: governmental ignorance and abuse, a society that treats women and all folks of color like animals to be used and then discarded, that treats the earth like a garden to be plundered and then abandoned. My sweetheart last night reminded me of how scared we all were at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when no one really knew what was happening–and then, once we did know, the folks in power alternately pretended like nothing was happening and tried to force us to be even more terrified of sex than we were already supposed to be. But we got through it together, with rage and sex and laughter and art and community.

It does seem like life under this Rapist-in-chief (and his so-called administration) will be worse than anything most of us have had to confront in this country, and that we’ll have to build a whole new set of tools for surviving, for helping one another survive. But that’s work we can do, all while resisting and struggling for justice and change.

But knowing this wasn’t getting to the root of my despair. I’ve been isolating mostly, trying to get some writing projects done, but also just wanting to be alone in my house with the blinds closed. Maybe it will all go away. A child’s way of thinking. Maybe when I open the blinds back up, maybe when I wake up tomorrow, everything will be better.

But things kept not being better when I woke up the next morning. I sat on the couch and watched the rains come in over San Francisco bay, and every loud, low plane I heard I was afraid would turn out to be the Rapist’s first bombing raids on too-liberal San Francisco. When would the attacks begin?

This is old fear. I realized my behavior bore a strong resemblance — this despair, this fear, this isolating — to the ways I acted in the first months after I broke away from my family, when I was in my early twenties. I was honestly terrified that my stepfather would make good on his oft-repeated threats to send someone to harm or kill me and those I loved; every noise at night the old New Hampshire farmhouse where I lived with my then-boyfriend was the spy-friend of les’ climbing up the outside wall, about to break through the bedroom window with his weapons: the one attached to his body and the ones clipped to his belt.

So there’s the ache and memory of this terror, arising now because this Rapist now installed in the highest office of the land talks and acts so much like the man who terrorized my sister and I through our adolescence. The demands for loyalty, the gas lighting, the abusive teasing, the Orwellian-Newspeak changes in message or tone, the racism, the elitism, and, of course, the misogyny and sexual violence that he downplays as teasing or helpful or consensual — these were all tactics my stepfather used as well. These are the tactics of the common abuser. So many of us talked about this before the election. We talked about The Rapist’s  abusive behavior toward his opponents during the primary, his horrific language about and threats toward various communities of color, his malignant teasing of a journalist with arthrogryposis, his predatory behavior toward Clinton during the debates. We talked about the difference between “locker-room talk” and bragging about sexual assault.

Folks who supported the Rapist didn’t want to hear it. Folks often prefer to be on the side of power, the side of the abuser. Don’t we who have been through abuse — as children or as adults — know this?

So here’s the other abuser’s tool the Rapist-in-Chief wielded, one my stepfather also brandished, of course: he convinced the mothers that he’s the one in the right. That they shouldn’t listen to their daughters, their children.

That they shouldn’t listen to reality.

A week or so ago, I realized that was the link to this deep grief I was feeling — a grief so big I couldn’t even cry about it. The link had to do with that 53% of white women who voted for this man, this now our Rapist-in-Chief: these women sided with the abuser.

Just like my own mother did.

I remember sitting on the futon in the bedroom of that old New Hampshire farmhouse, just a couple of months, I think, after I first told my stepfather that I wanted to end the “sexual part of our relationship.” He’d moved quickly to get me to agree that what I was really saying was that I wanted to break contact with my whole family; it was his way of further isolating me from my mother and my sister. He threatened to harm me if I contacted them, which I didn’t do for awhile, but then I changed my mind. I thought, it has to be that my mother just doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what he’s been doing to her daughters when she is away at work, or over the phone, or at his office.

(Never mind that there was plenty of awful that she did see, that happened right in front of her– that happened to her — that wasn’t enough to push her through her fear (or whatever else it was that kept her tied to him) and get her to leave.)

So I decided to call and tell her. I was terrified. I brought the phone over to the bed, sat crosslegged at the far end, and dialed her number at work. Their secretary transferred me to her office, but she was about to go into a therapy session with a client; could she call me in an hour?

I spent the hour trying not to throw up from fear. She told my stepfather about the call, and so they spent the hour (I found out later) talking with my sister about how to contain Jen’s most recent “attack” on the family. My mother called me back. I took a deep breath and asked whether she knew what her husband had been doing to us.

She said, Yes.

This took all the air out of my body.

“What do you mean, yes?”

She gave me specific acts, which, I found out later, my stepfather had told her to specify. She said, “He told me about it.” And, “He’s sorry. He knows he crossed a line.”

I didn’t have any words. What could I say to this? Here was my mother, calmly telling me that she knew her husband had been sexually abusing her daughters. She wasn’t raging. She wasn’t telling me that she’d hit him with a paperweight when he told her, then called the police and was leaving him immediately. She just said, “I know.”

I don’t remember now how the call ended. But I remember the enormous blanket of grief that overcame me. What could be done now? Wasn’t that my last possible attack on this man who’d destroyed my childhood and family? Hadn’t it been my belief, all through my adolescence, that if I could just get up the courage to tell my mother what was happening, she would be outraged, she would take our side finally, she would make it stop?

But it wasn’t true. She chose him. She would keep on choosing him for another year or so, until my sister broke contact with them, and even after that — until we called the police and they were both arrested.

She chose him over us.

This is the sorrow that is so big it doesn’t have anywhere to fit in my body. This is  the grief that is too big for tears. This is the heavy lead blanket of despair that has covered me since the release of that fucking tape from 2005 of our-now-Rapist-in-Chief bragging about what he could do to any woman he wanted, and I heard (white) women from around the country excusing him. White men, too, of course — isn’t that to be expected? (Think about what Brock Turner’s father said about his son’s rape; the men so very often stand up for their own.) But here I was, still the abused girl, hoping my mother would step up for me, us, the country, when she heard the truth.

But she didn’t. More than half of the white women in the country, again, chose the abuser over the abused, for reasons I will never quite be able to understand, even though I can articulate some of them: Security? Defiance? Fear? Having spent many years working in domestic violence prevention, I know the dangers of calling out the abused women who stay with abusers — I know how quick we as a society are to blame women for their own abuse. And, too, as an abused child of an abused woman, I know how painful it is to have your mother turn her back on you in favor of the man who has been hurting her as well as you.

So, it’s complicated, this work.

As a white woman who voted against him, who spoke out against him, who joined with others in calling out his abhorrent behavior, what can we say to these women, some of them mothers, to get them to choose their children, and the children of others, over the Rapist?

Of course, women of color, all folks of color, have their own deep, historical (and present!) grief about white women choosing, repeatedly, to side with violent white men.

What will these women tell their own daughters, their sons, their children, about how to behave in the world? What can they say that will ever contradict they message they sent when they explicitly chose this man? It’s likely that their daughters will have to do the work for them.

My mother eventually walked away from her second husband. She eventually got out from under him, when he was sent to prison. But we have never quite reconciled that moment when I told her what he’d done to me, to us, and she said, “I know,” like it was nothing. Even if she was speaking out of her own brainwashing, her own abuse, her own terror (and I do believe now that she was) — that doesn’t undo the wounding to our relationship, the way it unhooked something inside me from what Mother was supposed to mean, from the possibility of having a mother.

What do we do when the mothers seem not to care about the abuse of the fathers? Here’s how I got through those early years of grief — well, I drank a lot then, which I’m not doing anymore. Bad tv helped, and movies that made me laugh, and then movies that made me cry hard. Long walks helped. And speaking out helped: telling the truth to people who could hear me, receive my words, who helped me to understand that I was not crazy — that yes, in spite of how my mother had reacted, what my stepfather did was not ok. Not even a little bit at all ever.

And so my work is to join with all the voices around the country, around the world, committed to speaking up over and over and over: no matter what the (white) mothers and fathers are telling you, this Rapist-in-Chief’s behavior is not ok. We are not crazy to be terrified and furious. We are right to be outraged and to work for change.

Take 10 minutes if you have the chance today and write what you want to tell the women, tell the mothers, who keep on choosing abusers over their children’s or even their own well-being. This might be a letter to your own mother, a character’s mother, or mothers in general. We need all the words of all the people now. Please keep writing and speaking, and be so easy with you–which, I don’t know about you, but has been hard work for me recently, this being easy with myself, but I keep trying, returning to center. Gentle course correction is the name of the game these days, I think. And hot tea. And chocolate. 

Thank you, always and every time, for your words.

 

 

*I think I’ve mentioned in the blog that I refuse to use this man’s name, and intend to refer to him as The Rapist or Rapist-in-chief (I preferred Rapist-elect) for the next four years

the other half of the country said No

No (SFSU Sticker graffiti)

What is there to say? What can we who didn’t want this possibly say?

I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning.  I was up until after 1am, just scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds, trying to find something. Solidarity. Hope. Someone announcing that there had been a mistake, that a cache of uncounted votes had been located, that disenfranchised people were going to get their constitutional rights back just in time to make a difference in this election. That this was a mistake. That he announced immediately that it was a joke, he was just kidding, god, he never actually wanted the job. I wanted someone to announce that it wasn’t really happening. That I was dreaming.

I got more and more numb as the evening went on. I didn’t want it to be true — this isn’t really happening, is it? More than half of the American people who voted weren’t actually voting for this man, were they? Weren’t actually telling him that his actions were acceptable, even admirable? Weren’t telling him that it was just fine for a man who said “I could shoot someone on Fifth avenue and still get elected” to actually hold the highest office in the land? I don’t have to list all the horrors for you. You know what they are. They’ve been in the news endlessly, repeated, mocked, memed, lampooned, shared with disgust, fear, astonishment — and still, here he is.

What can be said this morning? That people love to be on the side of the bully? I get stuck there — people love to be on the side of the bully. And he is nothing if not that, the man who stands in front of the whole world and openly mocks just about everyone who is not him. He’s even mocked his own supporters (I was about to write followers — this looks so much worse than a presidential election to me: more like half the country said yes to a cult leader.) More than half of the country said yes.

White people voted for him overwhelmingly. This wasn’t a landslide of sexism. Last night a friend said that more men had turned out to vote in this election than in any other in American history — and that they were voting for this man. But have you seen the infographic making the rounds that shows whites overwhelmingly voting red, and people of every other race voting blue? We can talk about sexism and misogyny, of course we have to talk about sexism and misogyny, but we also have to talk about racism. This was (is — goddamnit, I don’t want to have to use the present tense) a victory in our country for white nationalism.

I have felt horrified and disgusted after elections before. I called W. “Resident Bush” for all the years he was in office. I woke up after the Supreme Court made their decision similarly furious that Bush and his cronies got to gloat, got to win, got to stand in front of the American people and pretend like they earned something.

But something about this morning is different, of course.

This is a man, openly endorsed by the KKK, is going into the white house. There’s something I want to say about never underestimating power’s rage, how hard power will fight, how hard people will fight to keep their power. Can it be  that millions of American citizens love and admire the fact that this man stands up in front of them and openly mocks his opponents, threatens to harm them, encourages violence against them? Can it be that they want an America that looks and sounds more like what this man does and says?

My limbs are numb. I am too afraid to even be aware of feeling afraid. But under that, I am so fucking angry.

This is a vindication for Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen — this is a vindication for all the rapists. Let’s be clear: there have been rapists in the white house before. Probably most of the time that there’s been a white house. But can we at least state with certainty that there hasn’t ever before been a president who stood in front of the country and, when it was revealed that he had bragged about sexually assaulting women, bragged that he would and should have sexual access to any body that he wanted, said it was ok because other people (a former president) had done worse. He hid behind the stories of women who Clinton assaulted, and then he threatened to sue the women who came forward to tell their stories of his assaults. So, it’s a new thing to have an out, admitted rapist in the white house. I’ve decided to call him Rapist in Chief. How grand for us as a nation.

Of course, we’ve also never before had a president who has never held any kind of elected office. We have decided as a country that we value someone vulgar and unprepared for the office over someone who has been learning the ins and outs of the american governmental system for forty-plus years. We want someone who has filed many times for bankruptcy, we want someone who fought to keep from paying his workers even four dollars an hour, who would regularly refuse to pay people with whom he had contracts — this is the man who is going to bring jobs? Are there truly people who believe this?

What is the point of saying all of this this morning? Of rehashing what we already know?

The hope I have this morning, if I have any at all, is that the other half of the country didn’t think this guy was a good idea. The other half of the country said No.

Here’s what I thought last night: we are going to have to fight like hell for the many communities who are now under threat. Let’s not make any mistake — these are the same communities who have been under threat in this country forever: folks of color, women, immigrants. But our rapist-elect has said explicitly and openly and repeatedly that violence against these communities is acceptable. Who knows what the next four years will bring? Any of us with any measure privilege are going to have to put ourselves on the line, to stand with those who will be under assault. We have already seen violence done explicitly in this man’s name — what will happen now?

This is what we as a country have reaped – white supremacy (back) in the white house. What are we going to do about it?

I saw many posts last night in my Facebook feed encouraging folks not to grieve, but to organize. Protest. Fight back. And we will organize. We will fight back. We will spend a generation fighting back against what he and this congress is about to unleash. And we must grieve also. We must mourn.

It’s ok to take some time to sit in whatever emotions are up for you this morning. Write them, if you have it in you to do so — maybe not publicly, if you don’t want to, maybe in your notebook. Scrawl it out. Shout into a pillow. Consider how you’re going to do holiday meals with people who voted for this man, this government, if you have to — my home state went quite red, and I’m sure there are those among my kin who voted for this now rapist-elect. What will I say to them? How do we as a country so horrifically divided find a way to speak across these divides? I heard a reporter on NPR last night speaking to a Republican official; this official was wondering how the rapist-elect (he didn’t use that term) was going to reach across and help to heal the divides in this country. And the reporter said, “But does he really want to do that? Does he really want to heal anything? Isn’t this divide part of what got him elected? Isn’t this part of what he worked for, what he wants?” The government official didn’t have a good answer for that.

I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning, though I know that I have to. I know I’m going to have to see his face, hear his voice, now, for the next four fucking years, listen to him gloat about winning the country on a platform of exactly nothing. So much for his brand being ruined. So much for polls, predictions, all those pundits who told us this wasn’t going to happen.

I guess what I want to say today is that I’m outraged, and I am not surprised, and that lack of surprise is a terrible feeling. I didn’t want it to be true, that our adolescent country would go for brash bullying and farcical pretense over any kind of substance whatsoever. The white men won yesterday (and the white women stood with them, and helped).

 

This morning I am turning to Sharon Welch’s book, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, for words to help me remember how to hunker (back) down for the battle — this battle isn’t new. It has been going on for hundreds of years. Welch says that our “situation calls for an ethic of risk, an ethic that begins with the recognition that we cannot guarantee decisive changes in the near future or even in our lifetime. The ethic of risk is propelled by the equally vital recognition that to stop resisting, even when success is unimaginable, is to die.”

In the next paragraph she says, “As we, too, resist the evil of racism, seeing its connections with other forms of structural oppressions, we need to learn that failure to develop the strength to remain angry, in order to continually love and therefore to resist, is to die […] for if we cease resisting, we lost the ability to imagine a world that is any different than that of the present: we lose the ability to imagine strategies of resistance and ways of sustaining each other in the long struggle for justice.”

We cannot give up. Many, many people were galvanized last night (I can only hope). Many more will be. We will have to raise our children with the language of resistance, with the models of social justice warriors who came before.

We need your words today — and tomorrow, and for the next four years. We need your songs and your plays and your paintings and your many. many acts of artistic truth telling and resistance.Thank you for all of your words, today, tomorrow, and all the days after.

Writing the Flood and LitCrawl on 10/15!

Happy rain, Bay Area!

Just a quick note to remind you that our monthly generative writing group, Writing the Flood, meets tomorrow, 10/15, from 1-4:30pm. We’ve got a couple of spaces left, so let me know if you’d like to join us. (More information about Writing the Flood below.)

And whether or not you join us for Writing the Flood tomorrow,  grab your umbrellas and head for the Mission to take part in LitCrawl 2016! I’ll be joining Carol Queen and five phenomenal others for the LitCrawl edition of Perverts Put Out during Phase 2 (7:15 sharp!) at GoodVibes on Valencia. Happy Crawling!

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Writing the Flood
Every third Saturday of the month

The next Writing the Flood generative writing group meets on October 15, 1-4:30pm. Join us for powerful new writing and a fun, supportive community!

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. Unless otherwise noted, this group meets on the third Saturday of the month. $50 (sliding scale available). Limited to 10 writers.

No previous writing experience necessary! Groups now held in an accessible space in downtown San Francisco, 1.5 blocks from Embarcadero BART. Pre-registration is required — please write to the address above with questions or to register.

(Can’t make it this month? Mark your calendars for the next Flood Write on November 19.)

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Good Vibrations: Perverts Put Out
Saturday October 15, 2016 7:15pm – 8:15pm
Good Vibrations 603 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

This diverse, filthy, thought-provoking, surprisingly charming, long-running San Francisco spoken-word treasure, now held quarterly at the Center for Sex & Culture, comes to Valencia Street for Lit Crawl!

With Readers:
Greta Christina • Jen Cross • Marlo Gayle • Daphne Gottlieb • Carol Queen • Simon Sheppard • horehound stillpoint

Art of Love – 10/3 (today!) from 11am-1pm

Please join San Francisco District Attorney’s Office Victim Services Division in kicking off National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Art of Love: Looking through the different lenses of Domestic Violence is an event to bring awareness, safety, prevention, and resources to our community. Featuring presentations from San Francisco’s District Attorney George Gascón, Leslie Simon, and Jen Cross. Performances by Lyrical Opposition.

McLaren Conference Hall
University of San Francisco
2345 Golden Gate Ave
San Francisco, CA 94117

artofloveflyer