good morning good morning from the chilliness. I was not up nearly as early this morning as I was yesterday, and that’s all right. I did wake up with a bit more motivation and energy than I’ve had in a few days, and that feels good. I have come to trust and lean-into the sinking-down that happens for me in December; I get quiet, move more slowly, read a lot more.
A year ago, today, I wrote here in this blog:
I didn’t let you help, not then, and I’m sorry. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that, these 15 and 20 years later: how to lean, how to say, Yes, I’m not ok. Yes, I need you. Please, I need help.
After the arrest, my mom wasn’t legally allowed to contact me or my sister for about six months or something. She had to sell the house during that time; she didn’t know what to do with our things up in the attic — most of it, she got rid of. All the papers and things I’d saved from jr high and high school: gone. I save things so that I can keep my memory. And that’s why I wrote, too, for years: so there would be an external(ized) memory. What to hold on to? What to release? What to take back in?
It’s fascinating, painful and also connecting, to go back a year and find that I was tackling then what I’m still tangled up in now: how to honestly reach out to friends and those who love me and who I love, how to be vulnerable with them, risk connection, risk being all of myself and trusting that they won’t turn away (trusting, too, that if they do turn away, that I’ll be all right). And that part about letting go. Not a single step, a single action, is it? Another (goddamn) process. Whew.
I have been thinking again about survivor identity, and how to let it shift — even, maybe, how to put it down. I’ve written about this before, I know, and probably will again: how survivor has been a core identity for me, first before anything (before woman, before queer, maybe even before writer) and how I’m not sure who I am or could be without that badge on my chest. There’s the sense I have of lying if I don’t say it, passing as something I’m not — and what is that something? Normal? Even though I know, intellectually, that the vast majority of women, maybe the majority of folks of all genders, have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives — still, that fact, that experience, doesn’t (normally) enter into regular everyday conversation, does it? It’s one of the things we smooth over, don’t mention, don’t bring up, so that we can move through the work of the day. That elision is a part of the lubrication necessary to most social interactions.
You could say that I just need to change the whos and wheres of my social interactions. It’s true that there are some communities where folks talk about the realities of sexual violence and other forms of oppression as a part of everyday conversation — and that those conversations aren’t downers, necessarily, they’re just a sharing of the realities of our lives. I’m talking about communities (of friends, let’s say) where we can be all of who we are — survivors, yes, and writers, too, and gardeners and potters and funny and great cooks and bookmakers and clothes-artists and candle-light writers and cat lovers and parents and lovers and fucked up and silly and and and… where survivor doesn’t have to be a brand or a shield or a badge anymore. Where it doesn’t have to be the only lens to see the world through. Where we can trust others to look through that lens sometimes, so that we can look through another lens.
Those communities exist. I am finding them. But, more, I’m letting myself out into them.
There’s another piece, too, about shifting the whys of writing: writing for more than just an externalized memory, a declaration of old story, a litany. Writing to create something new. What about that?
Once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives. it creates a mind-set that is potentially limiting. It is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times. While survivorship can make a woman tough as beef jerky, at some point it begins to inhibit new development.
When a woman insists “i am a survivor over and over again once the time for its usefulness is past, the work head is clear. we must looen the person’s clutch on the survivor archetype. Otherwise nothing else can grow. I liken it to a tough little plant that managed–without water, sunlight, nutrients–to send out a brave and ornery little leaf anyway. In spite of it all.
But thriving means, now that the bad times are behind, to put ourselves into occasions of the lush, the nutritive, the light, and there to flourish, to thrive with bushy, shaggy, heavy blossoms and leaves. it is better to name ourselves names that challenge us to grow as free creatures.
(page 197, 1992 edition, emphasis mine.)
Once the time for its usefulness is past. Only each of us can know when that’s true for different parts of our own survivorship — when is a good time to set that banner down or just let it rest on our side for awhile, not releasing it forever, because it saved us, that sense of ourselves, claiming the power of survivor. But there comes a time (doesn’t there) when it’s ok to set it down without knowing what will arise in its place.
(I myself am a little weary of the survivor-to-thriver language — maybe the easy rhyme just gets on my nerves. I do like this language of “put[ing] ourselves into occasions of the lush” — yes, please.)
What about this for a write for today: both what “survivor” means or has meant for you/your character in your life, and, too, what it could mean to put yourself or your character “into occasions of the lush.” 10 minutes (or more, if you want!) — and follow the words wherever they seem to be pulling you.
Be easy in your writing today. Thanks for your shifting over time, the way you make space for yourself and others to grow. Thanks for how you are easy with others as they change, how you allow others to be easy with you, too. Thanks, yes, for your words.