being willing to fiercely hold power

graffiti: three figures, pulling and pushing together at the bars of a barrier, so they can get out

Only together...

Good morning and happy Friday!  It’s almost time to take a book to the beach and read while leaning back up against a rock, listening to the waves pounding, maybe, too, there’re kids screaming and laughing somewhere, but mostly it’s sea gulls, sea lions, and water. Right? Yes.

So, on Fridays I wanted to write about workshop-business stuff: such a strange thing! I am a Pisces and a survivor and an introvert*, and it’s a strange thing to find myself at the helm (helm?) of something like writing ourselves whole, a strange thing to find myself working to grow a business, an organization, paying attention to things not only like writing exercises and holding workshops and making sure there are enough snacks, but also tax forms and accounting records.  Over these years, I’ve slowly learned (with lots of friend-/love-support, of course!) to trust myself enough to hold writing ourselves whole as it grows beyond just me.

I’ve wanted to write for some time about being both a survivor and someone running/holding an organization, about the ways that I’ve struggled with power.  Holding writing ourselves whole means being willing to fiercely hold power, because I believe in what we do together and how we do it. That’s taken me a long time.

“Power is the ability to take one’s place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one’s part matter.” -Carolyn Heilbrun, Writing A Woman’s Life.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 1988, p. 18.

I’ve had to learn about owning my power in a positive and empowering way. For a long time, I didn’t want anything to do with power: to me, power equaled abuse. But we are all imbued with power, we have deep knowledge and skills to share, information and creativity to be shared and learned from. Power in and of itself is not abuse. The question is what we do with our power: Do we use it to attempt to control other people, or do we stand up in it, understanding that our power is our strength to speak out, to work with others to effect change, to sensitively hold space; do we behave with blind entitlement or do we hold ourselves accountable, ask others to hold us accountable, believing ourselves to be entitled to respect when we give respect, entitled to generosity when we are generous, entitled to kindness and space to offer our wisdom.

It’s early and I’m not writing about this the way that I want. Here’s something I wrote back in the beginning, about my struggle with power:

The erotic writing groups that I facilitate are not therapy groups. They are non-clinical TLA writing groups, in which I, as facilitator, am also a participant. This is a role that requires a good deal of ongoing negotiation and soul-searching for me: I have responsibility for keeping the group flowing and structured, yet I abdicated the role of “leader.” Together, we who participate in these groups engage in the creation of a safe space that allows for risk, performance and play. As a participant, I struggle to make clear for the rest of the participants: I will take the same risks you will. I will trust you to cherish what of myself I offer, and I will be open to your feedback.  I have something at stake here, personally, just as you do. This, in my experience, allows for a leveling of the power in the room–which is transformative in itself.  It is also fraught with its own difficulties.

I have, since, reconsidered this abdication, have stepped up to more fully meet the role of facilitator, which means leading sometimes, holding us all our agreements, naming things that need to change in order for all to be held, and being present with folks who are testing the limits of our method or who seem to want something different from the group.  The struggle for me has been wanting always to be different from the therapist group facilitator, first, because I’m not a therapist, and second, because I came into this work with such anger, still, at therapists and their power/impotence, given what my stepfather was able to do as a therapist in his community back home. Yes, I washed a whole community with his actions — I’m still undoing that in myself. Now my sister is a therapist, and so we can have different conversations about holding power, about being accountable and about boundaries and engaging in the holding of spaces where we and others can risk, together, and also find ourselves in safety and change.

There’s so much more to say about power (and em-power-ment), but I’ll stop here for now.  Thanks for your fierce work, your extraordinary power, the way you’re living your life like it’s golden

* Folks tend not to believe me when I say I’m an introvert, because I can be outspoken, because I perform publicly, because I can be big and loud and gregarious and effusive. None of these negate the possibility of introversion, however: I’m someone who likes a lot of time alone, and for whom big crowds can be draining — I like to replenish with time alone after being with large amounts of people (c.f., having to take last Saturday morning to myself after being at the Femme Conference on Friday, and with people all the rest of the week); I like to call it being on people-overload. It isn’t about not loving people, but about how I get fed: I get fed/replenished after interactions with just one person or small groups, and with time alone.  Then I can do big groups again. I resonate with this definition: “Extraverts feel an increase of perceived energy when interacting with a large group of people, but a decrease of energy when left alone. Conversely, introverts feel an increase of energy when alone, but a decrease of energy when surrounded by a large group of people.”

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