Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Why I Didn't Report, or Hey that was wrong, how can I be part of healing this?

Stencil: Ananda Beattie
Photo: Robyn Beattie
*If you too, are feeling inundated and triggered by the current news cycle focusing on Christine Blasey Ford’s brave decision to challenge the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, feel free to skip the rest of my blogpost. I wrote it to stand in alignment with her and so many other women coming forward at this time. Here’s a great article from Lifehacker, How to Cope With the Current News Cycle as a Sexual Abuse Survivor by Deb Schwartz (thank you Michelle Wing). I'd love it if you would take a moment to add links in the comments to any other articles or resources you’ve found to be healing during this stressful time.

When I was in seventh grade, during a recess time game of chase, I found myself under a pile of boys, some in seventh, some in eighth grade. They ripped the shirt I was wearing in half to expose my breasts. While some thirty-plus years later, I can haul up the face and name of the eighth grader who said, “If you tell on us, I’ll kill you,” and the seventh grader who said, “Congratulations, you have the nicest tits in the seventh grade,” I wouldn’t be able to give you the name of every single boy on top of me that day, nor the name of the kindergartener who saw it all and fled to tell the principal.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I could tell you the color of my shirt (blue) and what kind it was (satin tube top) and that it had rows of elastic that left marks across my back and top of my chest and across my stomach above my belly button and that I had scratch marks on top of the elastic marks after the boys left, laughing.

I can also tell you I was laughing and having fun while we were playing chase, until cornered in the gym, until my head hit the concrete in the gym below the cafeteria door.

I can tell you I sat across from the principal as he motioned to my ripped shirt which was sitting on top of his desk, and that when he asked me, “Can you tell me what happened here?” I replied, “It was an accident. I think someone’s fingernail caught my shirt.”

He asked me if I was hurt. “No,” I said, and left his office, full of shame and adrenaline.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I count myself as fortunate that I had a beautiful, caring female teacher who pulled me aside and spoke lovingly to me about what happened, told me it was wrong. I remember that she also pulled the boys aside separately and spoke to them. And then we got on the bus and went home and the sun went down and the sun came up and we got on the bus and went to school the next day as if nothing happened.

I share this story because I know so many of us are reverberating suddenly to the gong of the personal past, struck by the MeToo movement and most recently, the "Why I Didn’t Report" hashtag trending on social media inspired by the bravery of Christine Blasey Ford bringing forward her memories of what allegedly occurred with Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I would wager we all are going through a massive accountability scan, male and female alike, even if we’ve made peace with past wounds or, on the perpetrator side, vowed to change behavior. 

Stencils: Ananda Beattie
Photo: Robyn Beattie
And for every one of us with a story like Christine Blasey Ford’s, it is excruciating to witness the painfully immature and damaging process of the response to unchecked years of abusive patterns of behavior that have dominated our culture. And it is especially disorienting to watch it played out day after day across media outlets as our trusted public servants prepare to decide if the accused, Kavanaugh, should be voted in to a position for which, for life, he will have incredible power to dictate consequences for future survivors and future perpetrators.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
How can we begin to heal, any of us, if we can’t even validate the women and their accounts? Bringing the behavior to light is the first brave step, and I am grateful to every woman telling her story today and every man telling his. If nothing else, on couches in private homes across the United States, in therapy offices, out on running trails—wherever—I hope friends and couples are sharing their honest memories of what went down in their childhoods with a willingess to say, Hey, that was wrong. How can I be part of healing this? Our children’s future depends on it.

And of course, as a writer, I'd be remiss not to suggest that at the very least, if conversing is too much, one can try to take up the pen and journal through it (with the support of other survivors, trusted friends, partners, or therapists). And as the article I linked to above suggests, remember to take a break from it all. Go on a news diet. Take time in nature to restore, walk by the beach, touch the trees. Call that friend, the one you can count on to make you laugh. Make sure you eat. And breathe. 

A Note on Process:

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I initially hesitated about sharing this post, but then my poetry movie collaborator Robyn Beattie's beautiful images came over the email transom. She had no idea what I was working on; she just sent me these photos of beautiful stencils made by her late sister, Ananda Beattie. The leaping figure for me captures the way I’ve often felt seeing life through survivor lens: I want to leap forward but part of me holds back, stained by fear of trespass. As I heal, I move forward anyway in the company of loving and trusted friends and family. My prayer for us all is that we stop and really look at what's going on here with love, compassion, empathy, and courage. We can heal these outdated ways of relating to one another, I believe we can. Let’s work together.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
Related Event: Songs of Survival, Chicago

I’m honored to take part in Awakenings Gallery’s Songs of Survival, a concert series featuring originally composed or re-envisioned music and poetry and dance by, for, and about survivors on October 18, 2018 from 6:30-9 p.m. in celebration of the one year anniversary of the MeToo movement. I’ll be reading “Peer Counselor” (published originally by Chaparral and included in my first poetry collection, November Butterfly (Saddle Road Press, 2014) and a new poem, “Opossum,” set to music by my father, Stephen Pryputniewicz.

Here’s the link to the website for Awakenings Art for more information and to sign up to attend the event.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
Related posts:

Words as Spiral Path: Owning Your Story at Women of Wonder, my survivor story told through poems and explication with a few ideas for healing writing exercises (with gratitude to Ginny Lee Taylor for encouraging me to share both of these blogposts).

Revising Guinevere, Ten Writers Transforming Rape, or When Trees Mattered More Than Boys, about the process of writing the poems in November Butterfly and links to a terrific line up of writers.

Come Write:

We start Poetry Basics online Wednesday October 3. I'd love to have you; we write and play, meeting weekly over video call to share our work. All level of writer welcome.

Tarot for Joy is back--if there's enough interest, I'll be starting a Tuesday video call group where we work our way through the Tarot deck journaling to one card a week. We will focus on our experiences of joy in relation to that particular card. Let me know if you are interested! I'll put up a post about it shortly.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Fortnite Widow: A Fortnite Poem

Fortnite Widow

“Dinner’s ready, come to the table when you die,”
my refrain, arrived home from another two weeks

of caring for my mother. I’ve lost my sons, my
husband too. He’s nicknamed himself The Medic,

tiny voices of six-year-olds from Canada, New York, 
England asking, Are you a boy or a girl? a fair 

question, my husband’s character a buff female
who wears black and white camouflage, a pink 

backpack, her hair in a pony-tail. He stationed
our couches in rows like airplane seats and bought 

a second screen, his gold controllers at the ready.
He used to sit behind my sons and shout Navy SEAL

tactical advice. Which they tolerated, then shortly
met with sincere pleading: Shut up, Dad. Once they

confided they played worse when he watched,
I told my husband, You can’t give advice

unless you learn to play. Regrettably, he does
just that. Here he is again, doling out Band-Aids

to the wounded, swearing now that he’s visible
and knocked by snipers, outraged when pick-axed

to death, Why can’t they just leave me crawling?
most often taken out by the storm itself, lamenting

the treasure he’ll forfeit as the cone of light
descends to claim his Medic’s soul, his plate

of meatloaf and peas congealed under
dewed plastic-wrap on the kitchen counter.

This poem is dedicated to my mother, Mary (1947-2018). And every other mother listening to the sound of Fortnite day, night, dreamtime, and all the hours between. Seven months after my mother passed away (we lost her in January to cancer), I was finally able to write poems during the Write Like You’re Alive 31- day challenge hosted by Zoetic Press this July. And after dashing off thirty somber poems, I needed a little comic relief. 

Rest assured I passed the poem by my husband; he is no stranger to starring occasionally in blogposts, whether it was the time he brought home a puppy without warning (Hopeless Carnage: Sisu the Siberian Husky and the Song of Sednaor the time he fell in the ocean with a chainsaw and a cell phone (Feral Wife: Two Chainsaws, the Ocean and an Untended Husband) or the time someone called the cops on him when our child was having a tantrum (Car Tantrums, Non-parental Observers, and the Cops). I am not proud of the Fortnite mayhem under our roof, but we are in negotiations to stem the take-over, one day at a time, and isn't the first step just to admit the feral reality? How are you coping with Fortnite Fever? 

Fall Poetry Classes

I love teaching at San Diego Writers, Ink on the second Saturday of every month in the Inspirations Gallery. I am blessed to meet with a fabulous group of writers; we speak from the heart and give our best feedback to encourage the strongest incarnation of your writing self. Here’s a link to the class: Second Saturdays: Poetry Read and Critique. Walk-ins and all level of writer welcome; bring a poem of your own to share with us and you’ll come away with worksheets, submission targets, and example poems to keep you busy until we meet the following month. Our theme for next month is the wide wide world of sports and we meet next on Saturday, October 13.

Or if you prefer, join me online for Poetry Basics which starts *note amended start date: Wednesday, October 3. Whether you are a seasoned poet or just finding your way, come examine the building blocks of poetry. We use the question “What is poetry?” as our guiding inquiry and take a close look at how sound, imagery, comparisons, voice, revision, and titles work together to create your best poems.

Fall Readings

I’ll be reading from the anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After 50 in New Mexico with Renate Golden, Barbara Rockman, Marcia Meier, and Lisa Rizzo at The Society of the Muse of Southwest on September 29, and Op.Cit on September 30. Visit my Events page for more information. Here's a blurb about the anthology by Gloria Steinem:

“Sex for women after fifty is invisible for the same reason that contraception, abortion, and sex between two women or two men has been forbidden: sexuality is supposed to be only about procreation. This lie was invented by patriarchy, monotheism, racism and other hierarchies. Sexuality is and always has been also about bonding, communicating and pleasure. Unmasked helps to restore a human right.”

         -- Gloria Steinem

And if you can't make it to the reading, here's a link to the original version of the story I first shared here on Feral Mom: From the Unsharable Files: Self-Care, Hammers and Sex in a House with Three Children. The rest of the anthology is full of such a fabulous range of experiences, forays, failed and consummated dates, the choice to abstain, and more from women aged fifty and on up. It's a beautiful read, full of perspective and wisdom, definitely something I wish I'd read when I was younger so I'd realize just how wide the spectrum of choices is that we have before us when it comes to love, self-love, risk, and joy.