Trauma Queen–choose a righteous crown!

Crown Neck Tattoo - 50 Meaningful Crown Tattoos  <3 <3Yesterday I started working on a webinar series called Trauma Queens.  It will be short writing lessons and prompts for getting into and through writing about really dark episodes in your life.  To tell the truth artfully and with  heart.  That’s why I’m calling this series, Trauma Queen. I’ll be the self appointed queen of writing openly about the confusing, debilitating, ridiculous effects that shit storms have on our lives.

Sometimes,  when we write to get to the heart of the truth,  we are engulfed  in intense feelings and, then, dammit we lose our words. Trauma makes us speechless and writing about past trauma can throw even the most articulate writer back to that state of cliche and clumsy expression.  That is the muttering of unprocessed grief.  

When I wrote my memoir, The Accusation, about having been falsely accused of child sexual abuse, I learned a lot about how to find my way to the truth, to reliving fear, betrayal and heartbreak as I was writing.  

For years, at some time during the day, I would hear myself say, out loud:  “What happened to me? What happened to me?” (Thank god I live alone, right? )  Of course,  I wasn’t talking about the facts;  I knew the chronology of fear and loss that went on for so long.  I was talking about identity.  I had become unrecognizable to myself.   That the woman I was, before the accusation and the losses that followed, including my father’s suicide, was no where to be found.  

Writing, as always, saved my ass and helped me rebuild my identity.  It took lots of methods to keep going, which I will share. It wasn’t pretty.  But when I got a couple of drafts done, I started to see more clearly just what the dam of unspoken truths was holding back.  Better, I started to be able to forgive myself for not living up to my standards of being able handle everything.  Best of all, my sense of the absurd returned and brought my sense of humor with it.  Then the drafts got better as I could apply more craft and less fear and tears.  Trauma Queens honor all the sleepless nights,  self-pity,  and solitude it takes to get clear of whatever horror befell us.  And though I know it’s cliche, I am so grateful that writing teachers and writing itself were there for me in ways I wouldn’t have been able to imagine.  

So now, I’ll trade in my  Day of the Dead, full face helmet for a crown.  Or better still, wear them together. Like the good Trauma Queen I am.

Timing

The future, the present and the past walked into a bar. Things got a little tense.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about time.  Time passing.  Time management. Finding time.  Finding the time to write might be the most common problem that writers have.  For me, the key to finding time was to break everything into small chunks.  At the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference last week, I was reminded at what can happen in 20 minutes.  

I took a wonderful short essay workshop from Sayantani Dasgupta, author of Fire Girl.  One of the best writing workshops ever.  Everyday in class she gave us at least one complex prompt and 20 minutes to write.  At the end of one week, I had the start of ten short essays.  I was reminded that I have always done my best work when there was a time limit.  By the way, Dasgupta is a gifted teacher with some kind of magic brain that works so fast and so brilliantly, that after the first day, the whole class was writing at a very high level.  It was one of a handful of excellent workshops I’ve taken.  I’ve taken a lot of workshops.  A lot.  

Setting time limits or goals got me through the hard business of writing my memoir, The Accusation. Because the subject matter was so deeply personal and dredged up pain, part of me wanted to avoid it.  Another part knew I had to tell my story, get it out, explore it more fully, to be done with it.  I found that having very short goals for daily writing really help.  So I took my kitchen timer into my writing area and set it for twenty minutes.  My only purpose was to write something about the story of my having been falsely accused of child abuse.  Anything, and no matter how boring or troubling it was, I just had to keep typing for 20 minutes.  

Some days that is all that I wrote.  Some days I did that several times.  Bit by bit, I got it all on paper and could begin the process of adding craft and humor, and transforming it into a piece of art instead of a boring journal-y entry.  I encourage anyone to try this approach to writing, especially when you are doing the sloppy, dirty work of exploring the dark side of life.   

Breaking Through

For me, writing, especially memoir writing,  has been about digging a tiny, narrow tunnel down where I think the truth is.  In doing careful digging, I can create a way for it to crawl, or every once in awhile, scramble up through the earth.  Then it breaks through the surface of the terrible silence that had become habitual.  Finding a way to get all the way down there, when you have a secret that you are afraid to share, is tricky business.  The consequences are high.  But those little tastes of fearlessness are a mighty reward. 

Are their threats on the surface?  That’s the hardest of all and it takes soul-searching and care to weigh the worth of being honest.   When I tell the truth, how many people will I hurt?  Will it open up old wounds that were better left untouched?  For me, the worst thing was imagining that all the hell I went through before I went silent, was just lurking around, ready to jump me.   It was epic.    I didn’t think I was super hero enough to bust through.   So I started by moving just a  tablespoonful of crap at a time. 

I think being disciplined helped a lot.  I tried a lot of methods.  Here is what worked. 

  • Go away.  At first I took my vacations in places where I didn’t know anyone.  I put notes on my door to not be disturbed. 
  • What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  I played around with having a persona of a temperamental artiste who needed SILENCE.  I asked that the housekeeping people leave the towels and toilet paper outside the door. 
  • Make small, concrete steps.  I figured out the smallest thing I could write and feel like I accomplished something.  Sometimes is was one small scene.  Later it became a number of pages, three, then five.  Other times it was an amount a time that I set on a timer.    If I can just get started facing that dark hole, I was usually fine.
  • Keep track. I have a more sophisticated system, now.  But when I started messing around with these ideas, I just had a piece of paper, with the dates of the week.  Next to each date, I put the number of minutes I wrote.  Or the page count. 
  • Reward yourself. At the end of every week, I rewarded myself for meeting my goal.  Flowers.  Light reading.  A beeswax candle to light each time I sat down to work.  I love the smell of beeswax.   Pretty soon, I was surrounded by reminders of my little successes.

I had heard these and other ideas about the importance of establishing a writing practice and just had to mess around with them until I found the right combination.  It’s all higher stakes when you are telling a painful personal story and you have no idea how people will respond.  No characters to shield you.  But as I did it, I was reminded of what I had lost by keeping my mouth shut.  Each time I clumsily told a bit of my story, I got a piece of my real self back. 

So, If you’re in a similar place, do whatever you can to feel safe enough to go all the way to the terrible truth.  Uncover what shames you and let the stink fill the room.  Describe it before it clears.  Then light that beeswax candle and soak in the truthy paragraph you just wrote. 

Silencing the Truth

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Like many of us, I watched Trump, as he made his way to the presidency, with growing anxiety.  The more I watched the more I shook and then realized that his behavior was targeting my heart in a deeply personal way.  It was so similar to what I experienced so many years ago, when a man, not unlike Trump, came after me with terrible false accusations.  When I was being investigated, no one seemed interested in the truth.  After all, here was a powerful white man pointing the finger at a motorcycle-jacket-wearing, self-proclaimed revolutionary feminist.  Who was telling the truth?

My accuser twisted the truth, as did the investigators, in the same way that Trump does.  Trump tells the same lie so often, that he begins to normalize what he is saying.  “Obama is not a citizen.” “I love women.”  His supporters say he tells it like it is.  What it is, is evil at work.  

He’s been called a bully, but that trivializes the terrible harm he has done and is doing.  He lies to silence the truth.  The truth is that he is a dangerous sociopath who will do anything to keep the sights off of who and what he truly is. 

I lost a lot as I fought to prove my innocence and keep my life together.  The thing that took me the longest to recover was my voice.  

As I was writing The Accusation, I had slips of paper up on my white board to help me keep going as I opened up about what happened to me.  I’m looking at them now.  One says, “The number one job of evil is to silence the truth.”  Another says, “To silence the truth, they make you invisible, they shut you up, they blame you for their terrorizing.”

I’m not going to shut up. 

New Year Go Double Dare Yourself!

WIN_20160110_132744 (2)Each year, I make a resolution to dedicate the year to something, usually a characteristic I want to focus on.  Something I want less or more of in my life.  2016 and the upcoming year of the Metal Monkey is all about being less careful.  Jumping off a ledge, real or imagined, and laughing as I land it.
The jump this year is to being public.  Fingers crossed!