recognizing what’s already helping

graffiti of a fat purple Italian eggplant

(ask someone from the first Declaring Our Erotic workshop about the importance of the eggplant picture…)

Good morning and good morning. Here in the southern part of northern California it’s bright this morning, if not clear, and sunny if not exactly warm. The puppy is enjoying the sunshine, and the puppy-mama is, too. How is it where you are? How is it with your heart?

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This Saturday is the 10th anniversary benefit and celebration for Writing Ourselves Whole! There are so many folks helping to bring this event together — donors and volunteers and writers offering their words for the sharing — though by far the one who deserves the most thanks is Renee Garcia, our program assistant and organizer extraordinaire. She is gathering together one hell of an event, and I am tremendously grateful to have her on our team.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years in this good and tenderizing work. In the fall of 2002, I led my first workshop out here in the Bay Area, which was an erotic writing workshop for queer women survivors of sexual trauma. Now it’s ten and a half years since that first group which was so earth-shaking for its facilitator — and we are still going.

You’ve heard me tell this story before, most likely: I came out to San Francisco to run my practicum project for my MA in Transformative Language Arts. My assignment was to gather together a group of folks with whom to run a transformative writing workshop. So here was our intrepid Jen, newly fallen into the middle of San Francisco during a hot and dry August, posting ads on craigslist and hoping that folks would be willing to risk joining a group with a brand new facilitator who was not a therapist who wanted them to come together in all their raw survivorness and write about sex. Talk about audacity. But folks did come forward — many brave and brilliant writers met with me weekly at the LGBT Center in the middle of the city, and set that room on fire. We laughed and wept together, we shuddered through our triggers and worries, and they were unbelievably patient with my fumblings as I began to learn what it meant to hold (with a group of others) the sort of space we were endeavoring to create.  They shared their thoughts and feedback with me, offered ideas for prompts, and then gave me copies of their writing so that I could include it in my thesis. These women were my beginning, my lift off. Many of them went on to continue their creative eruptions: publishing their writing, going on to grad school, diving into their music or visual art, starting their workshops.

For the first many years of facilitating groups, I experienced myself as doing all the work alone. I told myself: it’s me doing all the promo, finding the space to run the groups, coming up with all the prompts, holding the space, supporting the writers. It’s me schlepping the materials from my home to the workshop spaces, buying the snacks, getting us all set up and broken down every week.

And while that’s not a bold-faced lie, it’s also not at all true. I have had tremendous help and support from individuals and community every step of the way. The writers have always helped with set up and break down (if I say yes when they ask!), taping pictures to the walls of spaces so as to claim the empty rooms for our purposes, or filling the bowls of carrots and nuts and fruit; the facilities folks at LGBT Center (Cat and Mike (may he rest in peace)) gave an unknown community member a discounted rate on the room rental for that first workshop and have continued to support us unconditionally; the folks (particularly Rope) at Butch-Femme socials supported us from the jump, passing on the word about workshops and encouraging the community to check us out. One of our writers provided the meeting space for our second group, and consistently provided freshly-baked snacks for every meeting. Workshop participants have talked about the workshops with their friends and communities, passing the word and encouraging new writers to attend. Friends pass on poems; other workshop facilitators share writing prompts. These are, without a doubt, community-built workshops.

Sure, I did most of the physical schlepping. Still–I bet if I’d asked for help, I would have received it.

It’s easy, and sometimes more comfortable, to perceive myself as isolated. As survivors, we are consistently trained to believe that we are alone: no one is with us, no one will believe us, no one will help us. We have to save ourselves, and when we do, we spend a long time (at least this is true for me) still believing that no one cares or wants to help. Therapists are paid to listen, friends get tired of hearing our problems, family were the ones who let us down in the first place — at least, these were the stories I told in service of holding tight to my sense of isolation.

It’s true that I was isolated while I was being abused — it’s also true that I have had strong and consistent support ever since I got out, which has been terrifying to allow myself to receive. I am still struggling to understand why it’s so scary to get help. It means I’m in community. It means I’m good enough to support, that I deserve it. It means, maybe, that I’m accountable and responsible to others — that I get to show up as a part of the human race.

I’m getting so much help around organizing the Fierce Hunger benefit — and I’ve been overwhelmed about that: do I really deserve this sort of support? I get to wrangle with that question while people go on supporting me and Writing Ourselves Whole, whether I think we deserve it or not. How’s that for generosity. I don’t have enough thank yous.

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What about this for a write today: wrangling with isolation and support. Do you deserve to receive help and support, from friends or family or community or the universe? Do your characters believe they deserve support?  Give yourself ten or fifteen minutes with this write today — follow your writing wherever it wants you to go.

Thank you for reading, for the generosity of your eyes and mind, for your good good heart and your good good words.

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