A Word on Identity, Transparency, and Accuracy

DSC_0138Not every contributor in the anthology is a survivor of sexual violence.

The call for submission went out in 2010 and clearly indicated it was open to both survivors and allies.  I thought it would be important to include both populations in the outreach.  Through several stages of the anthology that lasted over two years, it morphed into identifying heavily as a survivor-written manuscript.  While the overwhelming majority of the contributors openly identify as survivors, there are some contributors who are not survivors.  This is an important detail.

If you are reviewing the anthology or in any way promoting the book and have the opportunity to clarify that point, it would be appreciated.  The book centralizes and prioritizes the survivor, but it is not authored entirely by survivors.

Stopping to Remember What It’s All About

screen-shot-2013-08-20-at-9-46-51-am.pngIt’s hard to believe that all the work that has gone into this book will shortly be unveiled in a matter of weeks. The contributors’ voices and bravery to write, edit, and share their hope reminds me everyday that this book will go where it most needs to be: into the hands of survivors and into the hearts of their communities.

Two weeks ago, I was inundated with tasks to ready for the release. In preparing for a national book tour and also for local launch party, the To Do list rapidly morphed into an anxiety provoking reminder of all the work that needs to be done.

One morning, I went to research a local space for the Cleveland launch and met with a restaurant manager who owns the funky urban space I was eyeing. He was from Ireland and landed in Cleveland by way of New York and after going through the details of space and timing of the event, asked me what the book was about.

I took a breath, bracing myself for the typical raised eyebrow and silence that has usually met my response when I say, “It’s an anthology by survivors of sexual violence, written for other survivors and their communities.”

But this man was different. He dropped his arms, calmly placed one hand over the other and lowered his voice, “You know,” he shook his head sadly, “I’ve been working in restaurants for all my life. I treat my staff respectfully and I like to have a relationship with them. I’ve learned to listen and some of their stories, especially from the girls on staff, are just…” He shook his head.

I nodded, knowing where he was going.

He looked like he was trying to understand something beyond his or our realm of understanding, “There were just so many of them who told me that THAT had happened to them.”

“They were survivors.”

“Yes. They are survivors.”

It reminded me why this book is so powerful. It reminded me that these small wonderful details are necessary tracks to lay before the power dialogues can begin. Survivors are everywhere. Listeners are everywhere.

Now we just need to connect.

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A Guide for Writers: How to Write About Sexual Violence; Reaction to “Mellie’s Rape” on Scandal

For Writers Who Write about SV

It was horribly done.

Last night’s handling of sexual violence.  Scandal writers “explaining” the history of Fitz and Mellie’s marriage, how Mellie came to be how she is now.  The writers took us back 15 years ago and gives evidence of how Mellie came to be the kind of First Lady that she is.

There are many ways to interpret the script and delivery, but how I took it in and how I’m seeing the aftermath on social media is troubling.

First, there was no trigger warning whatsoever.  I guess after so many years of editing the anthology about sexual violence, I knew it was coming.  The scene opened with a drunk father in law, power obsessed, in a dimly fireplace lit den with a young, bright eyed “asset” of a wife, Mellie.  My writing brain scans the scene in seconds.  My first thoughts rushed forward to predict what was going to happen.  Flash thoughts were:

1. Why is this scene going to be important? There are no mistakes in television.  Every second counts toward the story line.  Scandal doesn’t do subtle.

2. What would mainstream writers do to try and bring sympathy for a female shark character?

3. Why do I feel like something horrible is about to happen?

I was right.  They wrote a rape scene into Scandal last night and it was terribly done.

The next morning when Mellie smiles and says she will never mention it again, she then wields the familial and political gavel from Jerry’s grip and the story moves onto her pregnancy.

As much as I suspected Mellie’s rape, it still bothered me, all the way up until I fell asleep.  Eyes woke up this morning still troubled by the way it was handled.  Perhaps it’s triggering for all of us – survivors and allies alike – to have visuals of rape so suddenly thrust into our homes.  A violence so strangely normalized in media and yet so profoundly sickening when it echoes in our living room, a mere few feet from our sleeping children.

What has the narration of rape become?  How is being so callously and nonchalantly written about, show in the beloved characters of stories that circulate every watercooler conversation the next morning, “Can you believe last night’s episode?” and thus unfolds more notions and missed opportunities to deconstruct the cultural problems that bolster sexual violence and rape.

Writers are responsible for their creative power.  And just as we do do research in fields before we write details about the who what when and why — we should have standards that evoke sensitivity and tact when writing about this issue.  Here is a brief guide for writers out in the world contemplating writing sexual violence into their story.

And, please Scandal writers – USE TRIGGER WARNINGS.

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Sneak Peak! Briarpatch Magazine Features Two Letters from the Dear Sister Anthology

Look!  Briarpatch magazine has published two letters from the anthology.  Wonderful excitement!

Note: This is no longer the cover of the book, still gorgeous, however.

We're in Briarpatch Magazine!

We’re in Briarpatch Magazine!

When Healing From Rape, There are No Right Answers

IMG_2257There’s more to healing than finding the right book.

I write that as Dear Sister, an anthology about healing from sexual assault, comes out in five months.  So many times over the past three years, the book was held together by a prayer.  On the wings of something unnamed, I sent out the call for submission hoping for a great response from the world.  The world did respond.  On the wings of something unnamed, I sent thank yous and congratulations to the contributors whose pieces were accepted into the book while I sent gratitude and support to the writers whose pieces were not included in the manuscript.  I asked for their understanding.  I made mistakes along the way.  On the wings of something unnamed, I sent out the book proposal to seven independent presses.  Two replied with interest.  One made an offer.

And now, on the wings of something unnamed, it is being carried back and forth in cyber world in the copy editing stages, layout, and design.  At night, when I’m tired and wonder if the book will fly to the places it needs to fly, the wondering turns into worry.  The worry turns in anxiety.  The anxiety turns into cold stone walls of fear.

Although it is not yet released, I receive questions about the book.  The most recent inquiry was concerned over how the book addresses accountability, community, justice, and perpetrators.  I thought a lot about the questions the email raised.  Like many others inquiring about the book, they want to know what kind of stand the book makes in regard to healing from sexual violence.

Does it advocate reporting?  Well, there are two contributors who reference using the judicial system in the prosecution of their perpetrator.  Two others outline the strengths and uncertainties of transformative justice.  One of them explores disability justice.  Another writer adamantly declares that survivors should bear no guilt in choosing NOT to report because it is not up to one survivor to “save” another person from being raped.  They’re all truthful. No one is wrong.

Short answer: it depends on what you’re looking for and what is helpful in your own process of healing.  The contributors are simply offering what was helpful to them in their experiences.  Offering them in a collection doesn’t advocate ONE way.  It advocates that there is a way to find healing, regardless of situation.  It advocates hope.

How readers approach anthologies is critical to its function.  I hope that readers find the anthology in the spirt of searching for hope, not for answers because when it comes to healing from rape, there is no one answer that will work for everyone.  I didn’t seek out to tell one truth with Dear Sister, I sought to create a space for survivors to tell multiple stories with overlapping and contradicting truths.  How one survivor found empowerment and peace through chosen celibacy is her story alone.  Just like how one survivor shares her techniques for living and surviving as a sex worker.  That is her story alone.  The introduction touches on the critical role reproductive justice and abortion access played in her survival while another contributor writes from her experience as a child born from rape.

I cannot speak for the 50 contributors of this anthology, but I doubt any of them would say they have the absolutes or answers to healing from sexual violence.  What they have is their own truth and they are generous and brave to share that truth with the world on a page.  What this book offers is multiple truths.  Multiple routes.  It features a variety of ways survivors have gone on to live lives of joy, laughter, intimacy, empowerment, activism, bravery, and love.

I hope you join the movement to #BelieveSurvivors.

New Breath, New Air

Lots has happened in the past several months.  Most of it has been around readying the path for the Dear Sister book launch.  It’s so exciting!  Check back here for details.

The most exciting update is the webpage where you will be able to order the book!  Check it out and like it on Facebook, tweet it out to your buds, and spread the love!

And in the meantime, remember, #BelieveSurvivors.

What Is There Left to Say About Rape? Ask Survivors.

Many times I crawled to my computer, trying to formulate words about reports of rape and sexual violence in 2012.  Each time I found my through-line of how I wanted to write it, a new headline caught my eye.  First it was the high school rape story from my home state of Ohio, the Steubenville football rape case, located just a few hours north of me.

Then it was the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi, India.  Then it was the news of her death.

What is there to say about rape that hasn’t already been said?

What moronic statements are left to utter about how women’s bodies have a way to “shut that whole thing” down?  Or how rape is comparable to having a child out of wedlock?  And these are just the national headlines.

One thing I am certain is that most rape survivors do not turn on the news to understand rape culture, they need only look at their own lives, their own communities.

What is there to say about rape that hasn’t already been said?

How many US-centric statements are there to make about India’s uproar, as if the United States stands at a pristine pulpit to judge?

The only thing left to say about rape has to come from survivors themselves.  And that was the Dear Sister Anthology does. It gives the first and last say, it gives what is not often ignored: the voices and stories of the survivors who want to share their stories with other survivors and the world.

I had a whole blog post planned, a gathering of thoughts about all the sickness of rape, the harrowing world we live in that teaches our young children to accept despicable violence, but I don’t think the world/internet/readers need that.  You don’t need to hear more of the same.  You need to hear from survivors.

Wait for the Dear Sister Anthology (Fall/Winter 2013, AK Press) and hear from them yourselves.

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The Sisterhood of Trauma: Sandy Hook, Violence, and Community Support

There’s a saying, “none of us are free until we’re all free.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot.  And how the blood spilled from the victims of Sandy Hook elementary seems to have spilled onto the entire conscience of the western world causing high emotions, panic, and parental hysteria.

And it’s all appropriate.

Hundreds of miles away on at 9:35am on Friday, I looked at the time and thought, “It’s just past 9:30am.  What a beautiful open day in front of me.  I wonder what is happening in other parts of the world at this moment.”

Later that night, when I turned on the news, I found out what was happening at 9:35am.

Language exists to communicate, but there also must be understanding that communication does not guarantee perfect specificity of the meaning.  During times of such profound torment and suffering, there are no language skills, words, or even poems to describe the horror of Sandy Hook.  There are no words.

One might read this and wonder what it has to do with sexual violence.  What does the Dear Sister Anthology have to do with any of this?

The anthology is about community and love, engagement and addressing fear.  The anthology explores violence and oppression, cultural patterns that allow rape and violence to thrive in our communities.  How is it not connected to Sandy Hook?  How are we not all impacted by violence on such a large, horrific scale?  Rape survivors are never free from their trauma, the memories linger for the rest of their lives.  The victims’ families will endure a pain no one can walk alone and, like survivors of any trauma, must lean on community to move forward.

No one is free until we are all free.

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Dear Sister Anthology News! It’s Going to be Published!

It’s something of a miracle to write this piece of news: I’ve accepted an offer to publish the Dear Sister anthology.

I’d like to say that the road was high and long, but that’d be a lie.  There was no road.  There was only an organic hope and prayer that this project would lead by its own light.  There was no path, just a community of supporters with bottomless wells of patience.  There was no foundation, just a lot of hands to help shape it into the manuscript it is today.

For the past twelve years, I have thought about rape everyday.  Every day it has crossed my mind in some fashion.  Whether it was working with a client, yelling at the television when a politician made an asinine remark, or closing my eyes as more stories invaded my conscience, reminding me that  violence, ignorance, oppressive forces, and misogyny are, sadly, everywhere.  There’s no escaping it.

I wish I could anthologize a book that ended sexual violence.  I wish I could have pieced together a preventative book that outlined 1-2-3 steps to protect communities or a blueprint on how to teach that sexual activity can be good, wonderful, and amazing when consent is clearly given.  But, I can’t write that book.  I don’t think anyone can.  Instead, I created a book for the aftermath.  A book that doesn’t pretend. A book about survival.  It is a collection of stories and letters for the survivors who have not yet found their way from survivors who somehow did.  Dear Sister is the letter no one wants to write, but so many need to recieve.

Listening, believing, uplifting survivors is the only way forward.  Our political and societal ethos have created an illusory world where rape is inevitable, almost permissible, making us believe that we have to accept the violence, exist in fear, and criminalize the survivor to make order of the chaos.  Rape culture tells us that this is the real world and we must exist in it. Abide by it.

I, for one, want out.  This is one step toward the exit sign.

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