Guest in Your Heart / Writing

Open NOT Broken

Month: February, 2014

Warrior Writers Workshop or the Beauty of Nakedness

Last night, this civilian got to go to a Warrior Writers event at Bridgewater State University usually only available to veterans.

There was a middle-aged man with grown kids and a veteran who brought her spouse. A few guys brought their young children. The civilians were teachers or students or artists, writers and invited guests.  Together, we wrote to prompts and shared words and experiences as Rachel McNeill of Warrior Writers. http://www.warriorwriters.org/ guided us.

There is something sacred about being in a group and sharing words written on-the-spot and during a meeting. Immediately, reading words creates intimacy and honesty that isn’t often accessible in the polite conversation had sharing a meal or making small talk. Though given the same prompts to write to for each of us a tiny new flame was sparked. A fresh insight. A new memory or emotion. Perhaps a glimpse of understanding.

To hear experiences of a total stranger in his or her own voice travels inside of me like an aroma. Without thinking it gets to the center of my being. It is not mine but it becomes part of me.

It’s like watching a baby bird coming out of his shell or a flower only a day into her blossom. It’s not just seeing or witnessing another human being but also being present while something fresh emerges.

People don’t come in with prepared speeches or rehearsed lines. They don’t have go-to stories. No one knows what will get birthed when a prompt is given. Sometimes stunning stories come out whole while others are gifted with poetic fragments. Sometimes people circle the subject they are writing about and it is their tentativeness that is shared.

People might tear up or laugh hard or write something they’ve never even admitted to themselves. Always there is a delicious nakedness. It is not the overexposed kind of shock but the graceful purity of live vulnerability. People share not knowing if anyone has ever had a similar thought, experience or feeling and still they offer up their words.

It is so brave and tender.Sometimes they tremble and read quickly. Other times they are eager and devour the experience of being heard.

It is not the writer in me who is touched most but the primal human animal getting a glimpse of soul.

Leaving last night I felt enlarged and expansive, opened up and more awake. I had taken in and considered entire perspectives I had not even known existed. Reading fabulous writing can and often does the same thing but when we select books and movies we are often still consumers deciding what flavor or type of meal we choose to ingest. When strangers gather to create in the same time and space there is mystery.

The middle-aged man might say the most rebellious or idealist thing while a young woman might say something so wise it as though she has given a sermon.

In fact, I wrote about my homeless-veteran-alcoholic father and not really understanding what the phrase “he never really came home” from the war even means and how I’d love to know what and when his center pulled apart so that he couldn’t function or father. How I’d like to know and understand that phrase and him not just as an overgrown daughter but as a woman.

A student, maybe twenty said to me how she didn’t think of veterans as damaged but as people who know more truth. She said this as she sat next to her veteran father. She added something like “if that even makes sense” after. I looked right at her. I smiled because it made beautiful sense. It doesn’t matter if I understand or agree with her words, not really, because what I felt is how much she loved her father. And also, how she wanted to give some words and how much she had thought about life and learned to consider scars and trauma with fresh vision. She also seemed to be protecting her father or her view of the world as she rebuked any notion of veterans as damaged.

I was touched. If my writing existed only to evoke a response like that and enabled me to have that moment in a room of total strangers, how can I not be joyful? This young girl and her genuine and unrehearsed response to my words stretched the shape of my heart.

It’s not always so profound or magical, so artistic or thought-provoking. But there is always a line or a gem or a nugget. Maybe it is only the way the face of the person reading opens up and their shoulders unclench just a bit so that they can hear the words of others more. Always though, without fail, during a free-write something happens and moves and shifts. Incremental or monumental – that can vary – but the movement is indisputable.

I thought I’d write a post about all I have learned about veterans and the different veterans who shared. There is so much but I can’t do justice to what I learned without sharing war stories that aren’t my own.

Instead, I praise the universal way words reach in, educate, awaken and inform.  I love it when people put down defenses and scripts and the guardedness to risk true connection. I don’t do or allow this often enough. I listened and I sat and I scrawled and I shared.

Today, there are words and stories and feelings residing in me that weren’t there yesterday. All day, I pick at them like sea glass in my pocket, picking up different pieces, holding one to the light, one to the window and another under a magnifying glass to study it more.

I will never tire of the process of writing that is basically free and available to most everyone. One not feel “good” at it or especially talented to create new words out of air with just an invitation, a prompt and willingness. The process is as sacred as the product.

Amen.

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True Detective: The Terrifying Show I Can’t Stop Watching

True Detective is my new favorite show but it’s so damn disturbing I wish it wasn’t.

It’s the kind of show where one character says something seemingly insightful and in the next moment, another blows that sentiment to bits. And they both make a point. You are often left with your head shaking and unsure.

Of the characters.

Of the truth.

Of what you believe.

Let me be clear: this is not an easy show to watch. Two detectives are tracking a serial killer. Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (played by Woody Harrelson). There are two other detectives following up, over a decade later, when there’s another murder from a supposedly closed case.

You aren’t sure if one of the original detectives is the serial killer or is desperate to solve the case himself. You aren’t sure if the new detectives with an open case are trying to solve a case or part of a conspiracy.

The serial killer’s methods of killing are particularly gruesome. I generally sleep on the couch instead of my bed after watching an episode. It’s creepy enough that downing episodes of Downton Abby and Girls do nothing to clear my mental palette after the show.

And the sculptures of the serial killers, made from dried twigs and branches, are so strongly associated with the psycho and his murders that now all driftwood art is ruined for me.

Still I return to watch.

Will they catch the bad guy? What happened between Rust and Marty? After an entire episode I am left with more questions than answers. Maybe that’s the draw. 

In no one scene, episode or character can you get a complete picture of what is going on in the past, present or future. Like life. But unlike real life, there’s open examination of the shadow side of people. There’s pondering of big issues such as the nature of time, life and death, religion and the fourth dimension, during an interrogation.

And also, the grief and regrets of middle-aged men who have lost or are losing family life. 

The heavy and dark material is made much easier to watch because the dialogue is incredible, the filming interesting and scenes with Matthew McConaughey in a tank top or something which reveals ripped arms and vulnerable shoulders. It’s not as superficial as eye candy (though there’s that). McConaughey transforms from clean-cut, shell-shocked and disturbingly introspective and antisocial to chain-smoking, beer guzzling haggard man who appears drained of his energy, color and drive but doesn’t stop talking.

It’s difficult to figure out how or why he’s still around and what’s happened to him. You wonder about the time covered as Marty’s partner. You wonder about his married life and the death of his daughter. You wonder about his childhood and relationship with his own parents. All is left mysterious. And relevant. And Marty is a puzzle as well.

Sometimes likable. Usually despicable. Always entertaining.

He’s seemingly less complex than Rust but only at first. Family life is an ideal he embraces but a reality he fails to measure up to or deprive satisfaction from. Rust, the antisocial loner is paradoxically “against” love but seems to more decent in his actual interactions with Marty’s family than Marty does.

It’s hard to know which character you like more or trust less but the ambivalence doesn’t keep you from being drawn into each of their personal lives as well as the case they are working. I spend a long time trying to guess at where the plot is going, feeling highs and lows and finding myself attached to and repulsed by the main characters.

The show reminds me a bit of Rescue Me, not plot wise, but because of the moments of great humor and questionable jokes, the “good” characters who betray and the “bad” ones who have moments of heroism. The chaos, recklessness and self-destructive tendencies of those characters eventually got old but not before several seasons of enjoying striking contradictions.

It too had lots of men in various stages of nakedness which is a refreshing change since it’s usually on the women on TV who are scantily clad.

Shows like True Detectives, Rescue Me and even the Sopranos and In Treatment have excellent dialogue. All have (or had) messy and raw real life dramas, personal lives on the periphery and the backdrop work life (as firefighters, shrinks, detectives and mobsters) strong enough to be a main character. The only major network TV show that has similar elements, that I watch, is the Good Wife.

Cable shows are employing fabulous writers. Some of the most memorable scenes end with a great one liner. For example, Rust is the morose and pathologically antisocial one. Marty is the sociable “family man” who seems happier. Early in the season the Marty character defends his drinking and womanizing as something needed to balance the impact of the job, as though the blowing off the steam is almost a service he performs to keep from bringing the job home. Rust says to Marty, “People incapable of guilt usually have a good time.”

Suddenly, Mr. Happy doesn’t seem so up. And Mr. Morose has an unexpected moral compass as he challenges Marty’s dogged pursuit of his own gratification. Is Rust so miserable because he’s good at the core? Is Marty even truly satisfied? Of course not. But it sneaks up on you. And him.

Rust on the other hand makes other detectives in the office uncomfortable but also you as the viewer as well. He’s self-righteous and dismissive of most of the human race. Despite being smart he is often arrogant.  He can come across as Mr. Insightful one minute and disturbed in the next. Is he brilliant, crazy or both?

I don’t think Rust is the killer but I don’t think he’s entirely innocent either. His hunting of the serial killer seems to be some sort of personal quest for redemption related to the death of his young daughter. Of course, that may just be wishful thinking on my part. Who wants to find anything likable or interesting about a killer even if he’s fictional? It’s easier to watch and believe there is some big organized cover up by the police or some overzealous preacher on drugs leading people to murder. That feels more distant. Less intimate. A little less disturbing at least.

Still, I have to close my eyes at the violence. 

I don’t mean metaphorically look away, as in denial, but literally. The way in which the bodies of women and children are depicted by the people who make this show makes my stomach turn. That’s probably intentional but it’s frightening. I wonder if men who make shows like this or watch it have any idea of how fear inducing it is for women to watch? We know, in real life, how often women are savagely objectified and violated and threatened. 

And as hard as that is to watch, the violence to children is more shocking. It too sends off primal alarms.

There’s violence to men as well, gun shots to the head at close range, that come so fast you can’t avoid them. But so far the violence to men is usually “justified” or something that is made “understandable” because of how horrific they have behaved whereas the bodies of women and children are often littered in the scenery like props. Those are the images that linger too long and evoke fear.

I try to close my eyes to prevent ingesting the violence without missing any of the plot. It’s disquieting but never so much that I don’t return for the next episode. Which is annoying. I’m hooked to a show that makes it hard to fall asleep. I’m not sure what that says about the show or me.

But I’m in it now and have to know who is the killer and what happened to Marty and Rust? To their relationship and their lives. Is Maggie somehow involved? What will happen to the daughter?

And what’s up with the crown of Marty’s daughter going up in the tree? That was the brilliant television because it implied to much without being graphic or disgusting. That crown in the breeze over the heads and in the tree looking like the wooden sculptures…

A clue? A commentary? Chills…

 

 

Ms. published “Ending the Silence” article & New Website Coming!

I’m so torn. On the one hand, it is gratifying to see my name under the Ms. Magazine Online masthead. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/02/10/childhood-sex-abuse-silence-equals-shame/

I have admired Gloria Steinam’s writing, activism and work forever. My boss met her and got her to sign my copy of Revolution from Within YEARS ago when I worked at Little, Brown and Co. I was so proud to be employed by the place that published her work. The writer and activist in me is happy.

The difficult part (the other hand) is reading the comments section after my writing on Facebook and the Ms. site and hearing about so much pain, abuse and childhood trauma. One woman, 69, talked about people who are in their 90’s who are still struggling with abuse issues. Some have told no one til now and are speaking up for the first time. Some have admitted that they were abused but can’t say who abused them.

The reach of childhood can be so long it’s staggering. Women mentioned hurts from not being believed or supported. Some are still carrying the shame that isn’t theirs. It’s tragic.

One person wrote to say it’s great that people are telling their stories but more needs to happen. I agree. And that is one of the reason I will be retiring this blog and blogging at my website (almost done) http://www.healwritenow.com where the focus will be on healing, writing and mindfulness.

Another comment I received publishing my story in Ms. was “You are so brave.” But honestly, at this point, it’s not that brave. And for that I’m grateful. The substance of my life doesn’t change no matter what I write or what activism I do. I don’t have to worry about my job security or housing or what others think. No matter what I do or don’t share, I’m going to get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and find out if my daughter wants pancakes, a bagel or yogurt with peanut butter. I’ll still be shoveling later today like everyone else. That’s a beautiful truth.

The main thing that has changed is I walk lighter, feel less shame and am excited and motivated to connect with others who embrace healing, wholeness after trauma and who want to make the world a better place.

Individual healing isn’t enough. We live in a culture where violence to women and children is still too common and requires activism. Women didn’t get the right to vote from men who said, “This is just ridiculously unfair. Where is my daughter? Sister? Spouse? Aunt? Mother? I won’t stand for it for another moment.” First a few people have to say, “Wait a minute, why aren’t I allowed to vote? That doesn’t seem fair, feel good, is wrong.” Then, people start congregating and brainstorming.

When Dylan Farrow’s letter went viral, some of the responses were shaming and silencing, but many were not. Many people started talking to each other, in person and online, to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes and the “that’s private” nonsense said to an adult woman who voluntary asked for a public conversation about her father’s actions.

Because we have social media we can reach each other directly. I’m thrilled to live in a time when people can speak directly without being silenced. We can get courage from one another online as well as in person.

When total strangers are sharing on their Facebook pages and dozens of people I have never met comment and share and get active about speaking up and feeling empowered, it makes me happy to my core. Writing truthfully about our lives is a form of activism and is healing. Also, I no longer have the feeling I need to do what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like I am. And that makes me enjoy EVERYTHING and EVERYONE in my life that much more. I used to be haunted by a feeling that I was off track and not on course somehow and I no longer am. It’s blissful.

The topics are hard. The issues are big. But there is so much joy in my heart and peace in my life. Yay!

P.S. Elephant Journal published my piece on self-care as a second language as well. Yay. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/02/self-care-as-a-second-language-christine-cissy-white/

I Believe Her

I thought a grown woman wrote a letter last week that put to rest speculations about whether or not her father, Woody Allen, sexually abused her.

I thought in the letter, 28-year old Dylan Farrow, wrote clearly about her life, father and the sexual assaults that happened when she was seven.

I thought the one person who knows best gave a first-person account.

Why don’t people believe her?

People aren’t saying directly, “Dylan Farrow is a liar,” instead, they are saying she believes she was abused even though she wasn’t which is so offensive and patronizing my head hurts.

Apparently, some believe the abuse is an idea, implanted so deeply into her brain that she doesn’t know she has been brainwashed. Apparently, she is a victim, just not of abuse but of stupidity or insanity or of mind control.

In other words, we don’t need to hear her experience of herself when we can make our own judgments or believe the spin of others. Just yesterday Woody Allen’s lawyer said Dylan is being used as Mia Farrow’s pawn. Notice how Allen’s lawyer didn’t say Dylan’s sister, Soon-Yi Previn, has also been brainwashed, exploited or is a pawn in Woody Allen’s twenty-year plot to protect his career and reputation.

And honestly, I’m glad people aren’t speaking for Soon-Yi Previn about her experience because she is a woman in her thirties who can and does speak for herself. She has been interviewed and said she never saw Woody Allen as a father figure. I believe her. That’s her experience she is talking about.

I also believe how pained and traumatized Mia Farrow’s other children were by their father’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. After all, she is their sister, was twelve when he met her at the start of his twelve-year relationship with Soon-Yi’s mother, Mia Farrow, who was their mother too. 

The relationship between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow ended when Mia Farrow found “pornographic” (not my word but the words of the court in the ruling of Woody Allen’s custody appeal case) photos of Soon-Yi at Allen’s apartment. That is relevant because it those pictures, as well as concerns about his intense relationship with Dylan and then her disclosure which made Mia Farrow consider Woody Allen a pedophile.

When I read that Woody Allen said, just a few years ago, of his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, which started when she was 19 or twenty, and him in his fifties, “What was the scandal? I fell in love with this girl, married her,” I felt sick. He still doesn’t seem to care about the pain he caused his own children and their siblings.

I know that Woody Allen denies the allegations. I know that one of her brothers believes her and another does not. 

I believe Dylan Farrow is capable of knowing her experience and speaking about it with clarity. Her experience of herself and life is actually the most relevant one.

It was her I was thinking about when Woody Allen got a tribute at the Golden Globes. It is her I think about when I can’t watch his movies. When I hear people say he’s a genius or gets women, I don’t agree.

He doesn’t speak for me.

This isn’t fiction or a movie and we don’t get a vote in how it ends or need a director’s version of the story.Dylan talked about having been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder not compulsive lying.

Woody Allen, the father she has accused, doesn’t get to direct her part.

He doesn’t get to tell Dylan Farrow how to play the role of his daughter.

He doesn’t get to tell the “audience” what her motives are or what her words really mean. He can speak to his experience of being her father. That’s it. He can’t speak for her.

I believe Dylan Farrow was abused because she said she was abused. 

I have no reason to believe she is making it up. What she is saying is serious. Too serious to disregard as though it’s a political opinion from the side I didn’t vote for. A crime was committed against her which makes it more than an agree to disagree issue.

She knows best what happened in her body, house and childhood. 

Her words, at least for me, are enough.

*

P.S. The Mama Bear Effect posted this link today from an article from 1976. In it, Woody Allen said, “I’m open-minded about sex. I’m not above reproach; if anything, I’m below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him.” Allen pauses. “Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone,”he ventures helplessly. “I admit to it all.” I admit that I had to go read the entire article to make sure it wasn’t out of context or in reference to a character. It wasn’t. He was talking about himself.

I guess I believe him too. Just not his denial.

Relevant Articles and Sources:

From Feb. 2014

http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/an-open-letter-from-dylan-farrow/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/dylan-farrows-letter-tells-us-what-our-culture-needs-to-learn-to-believe-survivors

http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/woody-allens-good-name/

http://themamabeareffect.org/1/post/2013/08/the-abcs-of-keeping-abuse-a-secret.html

http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/02/i-believe-dylan-farrow.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/02/why-young-sexual-assault-victims-tell-incoherent-stories/283613/

http://www.thewrap.com/woody-allen-abuse-allegations-dylan-farrow-timeline

From 2011

http://www.ontheredcarpet.com/Woody-Allen-on-marriage-to-Soon-Yi:–What-was-the-scandal-/8209443

From 1995

http://www.leagle.com/decision/1995352215AD2d137_1310

From 1993

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/02/23/reviews/farrow-verdict.html

From 1976

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20066950,00.html

 

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