Where Are We Without Transformative Justice?: An Update for the Dear Sister Anthology

The manuscript was ready.  The pieces were tightened, the writers were satisfied.  I was eager to move on.

The bones were solidified and the pitch – oh, the tedious and pain inflicted pitch – to select presses was finished.

And then two things happened.  1. I got feedback and 2. I had a feeling

My vision for Dear Sister was to offer the world a piece of literature of survivors to take on their journey.  And, metaphorically, when they reach one of the many summits of their hike they will be equipped to breathe; to have the knowledge, trust, and belief in themselves, their lives and community to fly again.

The anthology had a hole.  The hole was transformative justice.  The glaring hole that would not cease its relentless burning until I acknowledged that it was not finished after all and, incredibly, I had more work to do.

It was NOT back to drawing board.  It was more like, “I have to add another canvas to this work.”

The canvas is justice, and what it looks like outside the judicial system.  What does justice look like for those survivors who choose NOT to report, who do NOT find justice through the legal system that so often fails survivors of trauma?  What IS justice for those who previously thought incarceration for the perpetrator was the only way to feel free again?  What does sexual violence look like when you take a step back and see that processes and legality do NOT address healing?  What does it mean to say that justice IS and can be healing for all of us in community with one another?

Vision.  Justice.  Transformation.

This canvas is being painted with those ideas and so I am working with a handful of essayists who are drawing this out.  These voices are closing the anthology.

This book is not and would not be complete without transformative justice.  WE are not complete without it either.

Without transformation, without justice, where would our paths lead us to?

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A Question of Forgiveness

I think about forgiveness a lot.  I even took a class in graduate school about it.  “Violence and Forgiveness” was one of the most compelling and challenging courses of my life.  It wasn’t the texts, or the papers.  Or listening to how one Rwandan took it upon himself to try and forgive the Hutu militia who murdered his entire family.

Forgiveness.  What is it?

That was the question that led every class – twice a week for 13 weeks – down a twisting, controversial path of exploration and examination.

Is it the same as letting go?  Turning the other cheek, even offering the other cheek?  Is forgiveness when you forget?  Does it happen with time?  Is it always necessary?  Is it divine grace?  What does it look like?  What does it feel like?  How do you ask for it?  How/When/If do you give it to those who seek it from you?

Within the field of sexual violence, it’s often the word “forgive” is associated with the survivor contemplating forgiving the perpetrator.  Some have claimed it’s a healthy part of the process.  Others have adamantly stated it’s purely optional and not a mandate for moving on with one’s life post-trauma.

About half the time, though, that I see survivors struggling, it’s often not over whether or not to forgive the perpetrator (if that’s even possible or necessary is always in question), it’s more that the survivor needs to find a pathway to forgive oneself.  For whatever reason, survivors – with two hands – take a large chunk of responsibility for their trauma, as if somehow they were in control of the violators’ actions.  It’s probably one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking elements of healing: self-forgiveness and acceptance.

When survivors accept that what happened was not their fault (this is especially difficult of adult survivors of child abuse), they are free to rightfully channel that anger and energy toward the person who committed the act: the perpetrator, and thus begin a two footed walk toward healing.  It’s awfully scary to accept that we are only in control of so much and we have minimal control (if any) over the universe, people, and other people’s actions.

When we do self-forgive, it opens up a wonderful door to a greater depth of freedom and understanding of what true power is.  We have ultimate and pure power over who and what we are in response to the experiences life hands us.  Nothing more, nothing less.  What we ingest might be sewage, but what agree to internalize is entirely up to us.  Choosing to forgive or choosing to stay in the grey of the unknown is a radical act of self-actualization, one that most dare not confront.  To own up to our power, we must first face ourselves. To do that we must, paradoxically, see that we actually have very little control, but what we do have control over is quite monumental: ourselves.

The Clocks’ Arms: Companionship, Time, and Loving a Survivor of Sexual Violence

Many survivors do not have the luxury of using the phrase, “time flies” because oftentimes survivors find each day is slower than the last.  Each hour, sometimes minute, seems to pass at an excruciatingly tedious pace.  Pain simply does not make time go faster.  Trauma puts survivors in worlds where the clocks’ hands do funny things.  Clocks’ arms tend to be heavy and lazy, taking minutes to move one minute and hours to move one hour.  Sometimes it even appears that the clocks’ arms have stopped moving altogether.  Survivors live in timeless worlds because the focus is more on getting through the nightmares at night and triggered memories during the day.

Friends and families of survivors have often asked me how to be a better friend, sister, mother, father, confidant, partner, person to a survivor.  Allies want concrete strategies to help their loved ones “get through this time” and want to boost their spirits in any way possible.

My advice for loving friends and families, for concerned activists and advocates, for anyone who finds themselves in a position to truly witness the healing of a survivor is to try and walk in their world of timelessness.  Healing has no clocks, no magic, no pills, no quick fix.  Look at the process of a deeply cut wound.  Even when the bleeding has stopped, a slight tap to the wound can prompt a gush of new blood.  Even as the days pass, it is raw, sensitive, and needs intense care and vigilance.  And isn’t it true that those deep wounds, the ones that we think will heal on their own and “in no time,” are the ones we end up looking at even weeks later and finding ourselves surprised that it’s still healing and not yet ready to be a scar?

Take that process and multiply it by a thousand.

There are some wounds that will surprise you with its need for timelessness.  Step into that world with a survivor.  Put away your expectations, your ready and practiced sayings and understand that violation, at this level, cannot be put back together according to your timeline or an expert’s approximation.

If you want to be a true companion, a true advocate, a true friend, the best thing to do is to put away your clock.  Sit.  Be flexible to what s/he needs.

Love without time restrictions.

Summer Peaks

July is a big push.  Can you hear what’s being birthed?

For me, it’s the sound of 40 contributors going through their final edits in the next several weeks.  I’m beyond excited.  I have heard so much goodness and healing occuring because of radical conversations centering on healing – inch by inch, day by day – and sharing their story with those who need to hear it.

For July, I have taken a personal hiatus from social media (Facebook) and socializing in general (good bye weekends) and restricting my time in the evenings after my son goes down for the night, to serious communication with the contributors.  With 39 writers and 1 artist, it’s a tall order to have everything and everyone in order by August 1st, but I’m an ambitious one.  And, most importantly, I believe it can and will be done.

By August, the words will be in the final stages and I’ll be knocking on the doors to publishers.  With all of my heart, I believe this work that is being done is not only necessary, but sacred.  And what is sacred will be held with steady hands and hopeful hearts.

May July be with you!

The Gravel Road

You can always hear your footsteps on the gravel road.  The tiny pebbles moving beneath you with each step, each stone bearing a small portion of your weight.

That’s Dear Sister.  A collection of beautiful stones to shift and bear the weight of the steps someone is taking to get from one place to another.  Individual pieces, we are not glued.  A road leading somewhere, different for each traveler.

But if there is one sure thing: the gravel road will stay with you every step of the way.  You are not alone.

A Final Word About Submissions

Each contributor has or at least should have received an email from me regarding the status of their work.

As difficult as this is to convey over a screen, with my hand on my heart in gratitude, I just want to express my sincere Thanks for the time and heart each person gave for their art, letter, poem, and essay.  It was one of the most difficult tasks of my life! to choose and separate and ponder the vision of each submission.

This project is not about the best writing, the best grammar, and punctuation.  It’s not about which piece was “best” or how each one compared to the last.  This project is about healing.  And the process as a collaborative editor is not to say which is best or on top, but which ones speak in harmony.  Each piece was about finding its place, like a puzzle.

Measure your work not by what I say or decide.  Its value is found in what YOU put into it.  The life you put into words.

For the bravery and love you put out there for other survivors and for this project, my deepest, and most heartfelt thanks.

Where We’re At…

It’s the middle and December and, in case you are wondering, the final stages of decisions are being decided as I write this.  All contributors will hear the status of their work in the next few days.  Thank you for your work, heart, and patience.

All is a labor of love!

Moving and Moving Through Letters

There’s something about a letter that goes beyond a note, an email, a text.  Perhaps it’s the symbolic offering of a letter that carries more meaning than other forms of communication.  Perhaps it’s because letters are so much more personal, more directive, and much more substantial that I find myself overwhelmed with the beautiful stories and narratives of the submissions process.

For those of you waiting, hold on a little more.  The letters are moving and moving through them with the respect and care that they deserve is a privilege, but also a demanding privilege.  It’s taking time.

If you submitted, you should receive an email from me by mid-December.

Until than, a million thank yous for your bravery and healing.

With careful hands,

Lisa

It Can Be Our Secret…Me and You and the Internetz

Yes, the call for submission ended yesterday, but if you have something you began and want to submit – go right ahead and send it along.  I’m not doing a public blast through Facebook, Twitter, or listserves.  My hunch is if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re looking for evidence that your slightly late submission will still be accepted.

Shhhh, it’ll be our secret:  IT WILL BE CONSIDERED IF YOU SEND IT BEFORE NOVEMBER 15th.

We’re all in this together and if you’ve got something that you want to share with the world and it’s coming from your heart — do you really think I’d let a measly little detail like November 1 stop you from sending it along?

Send your heart by November 15th.

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I Can Promise

I cannot promise it will be selected for the anthology,

but I can promise it will be held with love and careful hands.

I cannot guarantee it will change the world, or even the world of one,

but I can guarantee its words will be transformative.

I can’t promise perfection, I promise it will move your spirit.

Dear Sister is not about magic, it’s about healing.

It will never be about avoidance or dancing around the issue,

it will always be centered on love, need, truth-telling, and the power of the narrative.

I cannot assure you of anything except remind you that the time you spend talking about how you wish you could do one thing to help another person could be spent writing a letter to uplift a human soul.

I can confirm more than the reception of your submission.  I can confirm that it will be read with open, wide eyes. 

The editing will be a collaborative relationship.  This project is about healing and voice and the process will reflect that.

I hope that answers your questions and maybe provides a temporary seat for your fear so you sit in your own chair

and write.

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