Tuesday, April 29, 2008

straining my voice.

*i started this post almost a month ago, and promptly lost it among the drafts here. it's still totally valid, still totally appropriate, so here we go again. updated, finished, published, done.*

i've been developing an intense knot in my shoulder/back over the past month or so (ever since dinner with my parents, now that i think about it.)

i've been noticing it as it's gotten worse and worse, but i've been mostly unsure about what it was stemming from. i had some ideas, mostly related to the cafe and the rest of the general stressors in my life, but none of them were all that convincing to myself.
still, i was ready to dismiss it as your general sore muscles, as general stress-related tightness.
(aside: it's times like these that i especially wish i had the funds for massage/bodywork on a regular basis. my friend tried to help me out, work it out a little bit at work, but there was only so much she could do for me. a full massage, though? where i could get to the bottom of what's really causing this ever-growing knot? would be amazing. so, those of you who know me: this isn't a bad idea for a birthday (or any-day) gift.)

this morning, though, i noticed a distant soreness in my throat. i pressed down near my larynx, above where my vocal cords lie, and...
i felt the pressure of my fingers on my throat...directly in the center of this knot in my shoulder.

my vocal cords connect to this pain, this soreness, this tightness.


i'm still a little unsure as to what exactly this means.
is my voice/body sore from speaking these things i've kept such a tight lid on for so long?
or is my voice/body sore from still not speaking those things i'm still pushing down, under that tightly sealed lid?

i wanted to lean toward the first. a big part of me wanted to believe that this work i'm doing, this incredibly hard, painful, excruciating work, was actually doing damage instead of good. a big part of me was searching - is always searching - for a reason to abandon all of this entirely.
...but after therapy a couple weeks ago, the large, large knot loosened a little. not a lot, barely enough to be noticeable, but still, enough.

and so this, i guess, is what speaking does. the act of speaking those unspeakable things, those unspeakable truths, is going to make you sore.
but keeping those unspeakable truths unspoken and pushed down underneath that ever-tightening lid...that is what causes the most pain.

i've tested this theory recently, this theory that keeping silent causes this pain, this bundling of energy into a painful little knot.
i went to Rowe Camp & Conference Center up in Rowe, MA (in the hilltowns/berkshires) last week for a self-designed personal retreat. despite the miles i spent hiking (including accidentally hiking up Todd Mtn) and the unfamiliar mattress/pillows, when i returned to northampton, that huge knot was significantly smaller. despite spending almost the entire 25 hours i was at rowe thinking about and speaking (to myself/in writing) my truths about family, trauma, abuse, love, all of these things that are so hard to think, the knot that's tied to my speaking parts (my vocal cords), was alleviated.

in the past couple days, i've thought a lot about the prospect of removing my parents from my life, of really & truly prioritizing this more real chosen family here in northampton. which means i've thought a lot about what it would mean to NOT do it, to take the easier(?) route of continuing with the self-sacrificial peacekeeping of the family, to continue caretaking my parents and the rest of the immediate family.
and the knot has re-emerged. with a vengeance.

keeping it quiet, squelching it, smothering it beneath this happy-family pillow of so-called "protection" and "peacekeeping" is painful. actually causes pain.
the process of starting to compose letters of separation to my parents, of facing and writing and really acknowledging the truth of my life was heartbreaking...but it was a welcome soreness.

to analogize:
sports aren't always apt metaphors, because the athlete culture is usually one of self-sacrifice, but in this case, i think it's appropriate:
when you pull a muscle, it fuckin' hurts. i pulled my groin last fall playing soccer. i tried to play a full game when i hadn't taken the time to get back into soccer-playing shape. bad idea. i rocked that game, sure, but i could barely walk the next day. i spent most of the day sitting on a chair in my kitchen, rotating between bags of frozen corn & frozen peas. i only got to play one or two more games for the rest of the season, at half-speed it seemed, because i'd pulled my muscle. i'd actually hurt myself.
when you wake up the day after going for a long, intense run, your muscles are sore. even if you've spent the time to cool down, to stretch before bed, to get that acid out of your muscles, there's going to be a little soreness. but it feels good. so good. it hurts, but not in a painful way. it hurts in an accomplished, satisfying way.

i don't want to be out of commission for weeks like i was when i pulled my groin muscle. i don't want to suppress my own truth to the point that i seriously hurt myself and have to take months of extra time to get back to a place where i can start to even think about my truths again. the heart-soreness that i felt at rowe hurt, sure, but in that same really good way that my calves and quads feel the day after a long run. i want more of that. i want more people to feel more of that. i think our culture would be a much more welcoming one if people weren't so incapacitated by their refusal to tell/face their truths, if people felt the growing/muscle-building pains of what it meant to tell/face their truths more often.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

family is.... (take two)

i'll start this post the same way i started this post, last month:
new memories are fuckin' hard.

(seriously? new memories every month? is this going to become a trend? 'cause i'm not sure i'm really up for that.)

with that said, on to "family."

i was reading a piece in Skin, Dorothy Allison's collection of essays, today. her keynote from OutWrite 1992, "Survival is the Least of My Desires." i think i need to transcribe for you/for me the paragraph that spoke directly to my heart:
I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics - and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised. We are not supposed to talk about our real family lives, especially if our families do not duplicate the mythical heterosexual model. In a world in which only a fraction of people actually live in that "Father Knows Best" nuclear family, in which the largest percentage of families consists of women and children existing in poverty, we need to hear a lot more about those of us who are happy that we do not live inside that mythical model. But I also believe in hope. I believe in the re-made life, the possibilities inherent in our lesbian and gay chosen families, our families of friends and lovers, the healing that can take place among the most wounded of us. My family of friends has kept me alive through lovers who have left, enterprises that have failed, and all too many stories that never got finished. That family has been part of remaking the world for me. (p. 215-216)

sometimes, it seems like dorothy allison takes the words directly from my heart and places them on paper, visible so that i can read them back to myself.

to illustrate d.a.'s point....
tell me which one of the following families sounds like a real family to you. tell me which one sounds as though it has the capacity to heal wounds.

Family 1.
i share their genetic structures. they fed me and clothed me and gave me physical shelter and some financial (loan) assistance for college.
when i came out about the abuse at 15, my birth parents acted shocked, told me that they had no idea that this was going on. told me that they would of course have stopped it if they knew.
but when i was 9, my birth parents walked in on it. (i've told this story for years until now as: my mom walked in, my mom scolded me for "teasing my brother," my mom failed to protect me. i realized today that i don't have to protect my dad, and i don't have to protect myself from the truth that he was there too. i learned today that i can't deny reality just to save myself that one "good parent," because i can't keep hoping that he'll come through as such.) my mother told me i couldn't tease john, because "boys can't always control themselves." my dad hovered in the doorway to my bedroom as my mom told me this. they believed my brother when he said he didn't know what i was doing, what i was thinking.
and they continue to maintain that they knew nothing. my mom continues to believe that she would protect me if she knew someone (her fantasy "husband" for me) was abusing me.

Family 2.
have never blamed me for the abuse. have extended love and compassion and non-judgment. when i've told them about what happened, they get angry, or sad, or both. when i put up defenses like excessive sarcasm or laughing off my pain or dismissing painful situations or shutting down entirely, they call me on it. they don't try to control it, they just point it out and let me do my thing.
they push me, past what i think are my limits but not further than what my actual limits are. they see those limits. they care that i have them.
they think i'm a good person.
they trust the decisions that i make for myself.
some of them i work with, some of them i work for, all of these members of my family give me far more as an employee/co-worker than financial support, and they all make this post-smith-college food service job something i look forward to going to at 5am every day.
every member of my family, in some way, relies on me, but they aren't co-dependent. most of them are aware of why they do the things they do. most of them are willing to look at that and change.

they love me, unconditionally. i feel that love deep in my heart.

i think it's probably pretty obvious which one fits into the category of "family." it's clear which family is more family-like.
it's not hard to tell which family has more potential to re-make the world. to revolutionize the world, abolish these structures of abuse that undermine the revolutionary potential of the idea of "family." that undermine "family" in general.

like dorothy allison said, family should be a site of re-making the world. making it into one that's not only free from abuse and neglect, but full of love and support. families (biological AND chosen) are exactly where our children should be learning these values - of love, support, awareness, etc - so that they can go forth and create their own (biological + chosen) families and communities in which to perpetuate these ideals.

changing the world through love, on a grassroots, familial/community level.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

what is family, anyway?

i've recently come to the conclusion that the family i was born into - in particular, the parents i was born to and the brother i grew up with - does not constitute a "family."

my brother, for obvious reasons. ("family" doesn't do that to family.)

my parents, for somewhat more covert reasons.
i share their genes, yes.
i appreciate that they fed me and clothed me and kept a roof over my head.
i appreciate, also, that they took out loans for about half of what was left to pay for my B.A. after grants and scholarships.
i understand that they love me in the way they know how to love. and i totally get that they truly believe that they know how to love in a loving way.

but they've never protected me.
i gave up on my mom being a mother a long time ago. i was ok with that, with seeking out maternal figures in increasingly healthy ways. there's still a small (and shrinking) part of me that still holds out hope for her, hopes that she'll change of her own volition, but i know i'd never accept her attempts at mothering me anymore. it's well past that.
i've found mothers outside of, beyond, better than her.

i didn't give up on my dad until this past monday. when i finally shattered the illusion of my dad as the Good Parent, the one who actually unconditionally loved and supported me, who actually knew how to parent in a truly loving way.
i thought he could do these things.
i know now that i was wrong. quite wrong.

so yes, i am, in some ways, now an orphan. i am parentless. at 22, i shouldn't need parents anymore, but when you've never really had them, you still long for it. maybe i'll always long for it. even parenting myself, or doing what i can do to parent myself...i still miss it.

and it still fucking hurts. i'm still grieving that loss, even though i lost something i never had in the first place. i still grieve.
maybe i always will.

where i want to go with this:
family does not mean blood. family does not mean genetic ties.

maybe this is totally radical, but i think maybe it would do us good to completely sever those two aspects. make "family" mean something else entirely, make "family" mean all of the things it already means/is supposed to mean, but not have it dependent on or default to the genetic link.

i know i haven't thought this through, and there'd be all kinds of complications, and it's totally not realistic.

but it's appealing, to think up a cultural meaning behind family that would support - not attack, not challenge, not simply tolerate - a cutting of ties with abusive biological families. a complete cutting of ties.

as things stand now, i see absolutely nothing wrong with a person, in an attempt to (finally) take care of herself and not neglect her own needs, cutting off the ties that hurt her. that have traumatized/still traumatize her.

i'm so fucking sick of hearing people talk about how it's selfish to do so, to take care of yourself when your "family" needs you (i.e. needs to be able to continue to abuse you). i'm fucking sick of hearing people talk about "rash decisions" of cutting out your biological family. i'm fucking sick of hearing people speak of that decision as if it were the most radical thing you could do.
(i'm sick of hearing the people i thought supported me buying into this bullshit about family being primarily biological and using that line to judge me.)

here's my dream: a world where making this decision did not ostracize you, did not make you vulnerable to attacks based on "selfishness." a world where this decision was fully supported by everyone around you, where your chosen family - the people who actually love and support you, unconditionally - holds a lot more prevalent position in your life than the people who birthed/raised you.

i dream about a world where it is understood that the definition of family is dependent not on biological connections, but on spiritual/heart-connections. on the giving and receiving of unconditional, no-strings-attached love and compassion and support.

that's family.
the people who share my genes and witnessed (or denied/ignored/neglected) my growing up? they absolutely do not count under that category.

somewhat related, and really important reading:
Concerning Forgiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth, by Alice Miller.

Monday, April 14, 2008

speaking out, speaking truth, speaking the unspeakable

just fyi...there are a couple other posts in the works right now, still in draft form (one is about straining / finding my voice, one is about anger). they'll still be posted in chronological order, based on when i started them, so there may be two more recently posted pieces below this one.

i went to smith's sexual violence speakout last night, the cap of their Sexual Abuse Awareness Week.
it was small, not incredibly well-attended, but it was still a great event.

almost everyone who was there got up and spoke. it was beautiful to see people giving voice to the places they hadn't expected to be able to speak from.
as happens most years, though, there was one woman who especially struck a chord in my heart.

i am totally in awe.
and in shock.
my mind? mostly blown.

a very young (but very old) first-year got up to speak last night. this, in itself, isn't astonishing - there are a ton of first-years who are victims/survivors, just as there are a ton of sophomores, juniors, seniors, and alumnae who are victims/survivors. her age didn't surprise me. the fact that almost every person there had something to say also didn't surprise me.
what astonished me was what she spoke. what she gave voice to.

speakouts are for talking, for telling your truth. that's the point.
there are certain truths that are spoken, certain ways of telling your story, certain "rules" of speaking that are generally followed. most people don't deviate from that, despite its limitations and shaming capacities. i, personally, have never seen anyone really deviate from that prescriptive speech. at a speakout, you do some or all of the following things: you tell of your victimization, with or without details. you demonize and vilify your abuser. you express anger or grief -- but only toward those outside of yourself. usually (but not always), you end with something along the lines of "but now, i'm empowered, i'm keeping myself safer, i'm standing up to him/her/them, i'm doing advocacy for other victims."
this is all well and good, and these are all important words to be spoken, but they do tend to (quite effectively) cover over all of the many more complicated realities.

this first-year, though, told something else. about her older brother. (this, itself, isn't so common at speakouts. just as in every other dialogue about sexual violence, sibling abuse is usually unspoken or very quietly spoken at these events.)

but she didn't only vilify and demonize him (although she did acknowledge how many boundaries he crossed). she also spoke of the love she felt for him. and the anger, too. she talked about how he coerced her -- she was excited to receive his attention, and so she went along with it.
she actually spoke that part.
out loud.
at a public speakout.
she spoke that truth. (that truth that's almost always unspoken, but is so fucking common for so fucking many of us.)

she talked about silence, too, but not in the usual way (that is, of the rape culture silencing all victims in general). she spoke to the silence within and of the survivor movement with regards to sibling abuse. she spoke to that, to the shortcomings of this survivor movement that we're supposed to be a part of, to the shortcomings that are so, so rarely named.

she spoke. she spoke all of these things. (seemingly) unafraid.
and it blew my mind.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


i haven't had much time to write in this past week. or, i have, but i've been reluctant to delve too deeply into any thoughts, because this week, i'm a little afraid of where those thoughts would go.

it's sexual abuse awareness week at smith. it took over my life and swallowed me up last year. and to a lesser degree the year before.
i've had a wonderful, fantastic couple of weeks. there was that wonderful, fantastic, inspiring CLPP conference. i wrote a check for the awesome, fabulous new apartment (house, really) that we move into in may. i've been in charge of the cafe while the boss is on vaca this week, and it's gone so well. i'm reconnecting with a lot of women, sisters of mine, who i'd lost touch with, some from as far back as high school.
it's been great.
but this week brings with it a lot of reflection. on the things that haven't been so great.

and also, given that it's SAAW, the clothesline project is up at smith. so it's brought a lot of reflection on not only the very personal difficult things, but also reflection on what it means to break silences, what it means to speak, when and where it's ok to speak. (there's a whole lot of controversy around and resistance to the clothesline at smith. long, long story.)

on top of all of that, i'm still totally unsettled on what my idea of "home" is.

funny how this process of re-definition / re-processing never seems to actually end.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

in which jessica hoffmann blows my mind.

in such a good way.

An Open Letter to White Feminists.

this is exactly what we've been talking about all weekend at this CLPP conference.
this is also exactly what i'm afraid will never stick in the minds of white feminists, the mostly white, mostly student activist attendees of this conference.

but here's hoping.

and here's hoping that Jessica Hoffmann's open letter reaches someone who needs it.
i can't imagine how it could not.
it's one of the best, most incisive, insightful, concise critiques of white feminism i've read since the last INCITE! anthology i held in my hands.

read it read it read it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

clpp conference: healing, arts, & activism.

quick recap from the first day of the super-awesome, super-amazing, super-inspiring CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference, here in western MA at Hampshire College:

there was one workshop session today. i chose the Arts & Activism one. it was fucking incredible.

Cara Page, Tanya Karakashian, and Olga Candelario were the speakers.
(Tanya & Olga are both local, Cara lives in Atlanta.)

they were all wonderful, of course.

but i was especially blown away by Cara Page.
she's the national director of CWPE (Committee on Women, Population, & the Environment), which is sweet. what was totally incredible, though, was hearing her talk about this new project she's doing.

my renewed purpose in this social justice thing is to bring healing into the movement, make it part of this struggle toward social change. to help people understand how crucial it is to heal, and how self-defeating all of this unhealthy energy around, and unrealistic expectations of, organizing is killing our organizers. it's burning out our activists, and it's making them jaded and cynical instead of inspired and hopeful.

cara's new project?
has to do with exactly that. well, that, plus art. which is a totally logical addition, since the following equations are absolutely true:
healing=an art.

she's calling it Deepening the Dialogue, and she's interviewing healers who are also organizers. i talked to her a bit afterwards, and i'm going to be emailing her soon, i think. but she was saying exactly what i'd been thinking about the state of our movement. how none of us take care of ourselves, let alone take care of others. how crucial this healing aspect is, so that our movement can be sustainable. and how art - whatever form of art it is that heals and moves you - is a perfect avenue to integrate this kind of healing into activism.

of course, i didn't think that i was the only one who had ever had a thought regarding the traumatized, wounded status of a large portion of our movement. but it's not something that's talked about at the high, mainstream level. and so, to meet someone who's invested in it, invested in documenting it, invested in making it more a part of our movement?
it was mind-blowing.
(i hope to have my mind blown many more times this weekend. i think it will be.)

i wrote about how broken my heart was yesterday.
and it's still broken. that much doesn't go away.
but now, it's also full. and swelling with inspiration and community.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

heartbreak. (blog against sexual violence 2008)

Blog Against Sexual Violence logo this is how i started this post:

i noted, in the about page of this blog, that my story as linked (here) was a little outdated.

and it is. i wrote that post for Blog Against Sexual Violence Day 2006.

today is Blog Against Sexual Violence Day 2008.
i would not tell my story in the same way today.
i do not speak my truth in the same way.

the facts, of course, remain. the truth around them has evolved.

so, for 2008's BASV, i will re-tell my story. as it has evolved.

but that's not what i'm going to write.

i can't write that.

in fact, i can't write much right now.

because right now, my heart is too broken to come out in words. right now, that heartbreak can't come out in much of anything but dry tears.

my heart aches for the family that shattered it. my heart aches for the family - the blood-family - that will never be what i wanted them to be, that will never love how i needed them to love.
(my very wise friend t said that the grief would come. that the sadness of never having the mother & supportive family that i needed would eventually hit me. i think this is the start of it.)

so i guess my Blog Against Sexual Violence post comes to this very simple, very emotive statement:

this is what sexual violence does.
this is the result.
the broken hearts that you see in millions of women around the world, the broken hearts you don't see, the broken hearts that are hidden behind very well-designed shields...those are what comes of this rape culture.
this heart, its brokenness, its woundedness...this is what comes.

(...awareness of the brokenness is just the beginning. the healing of it is next. but that, i think, will need to come another day. another week. another month.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

i'm trying to find hope here, an opportunity for some healing....but i've got nothin'.

for a while there, i was mostly avoiding the news. i'm still currently almost totally avoiding the primary election coverage, because it only breeds frustration. but for a while, i was avoiding it all - even most of the stories posted on my fav feminist blogs.
but recently, i've been sucked back in.
first, there was that story out of South Africa, about the "rape me" games children were playing on the playgrounds.

and now, there's this.
out of Maryland.
(out of Silver Spring, MD, actually, which is where I lived when I was in DC for the summer a couple years ago.)

A man with severe mental health issues drowned his three children in a bathtub.

This man, Mark Castillo, should have had a restraining order against him.
but he didn't.
his wife, Ann Castillo, tried to get one. she even had a hearing.
she was denied a restraining order, despite her husband's repeated threats to her and the children.
because, according to this judge, she was still "having sex" with him.
read this, and tell me if it sounds like consensual sex to you:
After the hearing, Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. declined to issue a permanent order. Dugan noted that Amy Castillo said she had continued to have sex with her husband, including twice on the day he allegedly talked about killing the children. Amy Castillo testified that she had sex with her husband because she was frightened of him and was worried that if she didn't, he would "assume something was wrong" and suspect that she was trying to get a restraining order against him.

that's funny.
that sure sounds like rape to me.
apparently, it doesn't sound like anything out of the realm of typical marriage to Judge Joseph Dugan:
"I am not satisfied," Dugan said, "that indeed there is clear and convincing evidence of abuse in this case."

so Dugan didn't issue the restraining order.
no restraining order because Ann Castillo was "having sex with" (read: being repeatedly raped by) her husband.
and so Mark Castillo drowned each of his three children, Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 3.

it's these stories that make my heart break, over and over.
and over.
and over again.

it's these stories that make my belly ache. and my jaw clench. and my head pound.

and yet.
it's these stories that never, ever surprise me.

finding/discovering/creating "home."

my good friend, e, asked me to contribute to her final project. i'm more than thrilled to do so; E is an incredible friend, and i'd be happy to do anything for her, but even more than that, E's project is a lovely one. it's an art piece, centered around the concept of "home." i don't want to give away too much of what it is, so i'll just leave it at that.

i want to contribute - i intend to contribute - but: my concept of "home" is unstable, at best. in one part of my mind, home is unsafe, a place of danger and lies and deceit and abuse. but then, i think of the home i'm creating here, in northampton. the family i'm creating here. the love that fills the home space i'm slowly forging in this town, in what's become my town. my home town.
home is in the heart, yes, but it's not just centered around my heart. it's in the connections to the hearts of the women around me. it's in the hearts of the women i admire, the women i love.
home is, traditionally, a place of oppression. of familial shame and secrecy and silence.
bucking that tradition, creating a home that's a place of love and silence-breaking and openness and honesty, then? that makes "home" a place of feminism. that makes "home" a site of this revolution that we're working towards.

but even with all of this, all of this positivity surrounding my concept of "home," i'm torn. because even with this home i've created, this home that's actually made up of and centered around love, home is still also the place where all of this heart-pain originated. and so i feel as though i have to be honest about that, as well.

i guess my point is:
my sense of home is still very much in fragments.
fragmented into pieces of love and pieces of abuse.
how do i condense my fragmented self into a contribution for E's art project? can "home" be a conglomeration of fragments?