Monday, July 27, 2015

For Ashley: On truth and bearing witness

This weekend I was among the faculty at the Midwest Writer's Workshop. It is a very good workshop. Smart and dedicated people. Writers who love writing and want to get better. And the faculty was truly amazing. One of whom was Ashley Ford. I have been a fan of Ashley for quite some time. I appreciate her authenticity and honesty and her willingness to speak about difficult things. And I was very much looking forward to meeting her for the first time.

I think I've mentioned that I'm an awkward hugger who doesn't let go.
But I had a question. One she really only got to half-answer, so don't hold her to this. :) One that I've been thinking about over and over again when it comes to writing personal essays, to telling your truths online and in public forums. How do you tell your truth, be authentic and courageous, and protect yourself at the same time? Protect yourself from people's toxicity or blame or hatred or disbelief.

And Ashley answered beautifully. She explained that telling her truths have opened doors and windows so we're not locked into a house of shame. That readers write her and say, "yes, me too, thank you, I'm so glad I'm not alone." And for Ashley, enough of that happens that it makes everything worth it.

This, I understand. This, I feel so much. Every letter I get feels like a gift. I am humbled by people telling me their stories. I feel deeply grateful to have garnered that level of trust. If the New York Magazine Cosby piece this morning did nothing else, I hope that it opened people's eyes to the solidarity of survivors. To the power of multiple voices coming together and saying, NO MORE. And even as I say this, even as I'm so proud of this chorus, I'm equally devastated that it's taken so many voices for people to finally pause.

Which brings me to my second question. The harder question, in some ways. The question about vicarious trauma and carrying the stories of survivors in our own skin. Because I think to a certain extent we all do that. We all read something that breaks our hearts and we all take a little piece of that on. We slip it into our selves and it hurts for a while, and then it becomes something we know now. And I believe it's important that we know these things. I think the choice to bury our heads in the sand is a poor choice, one that stops change from happening, one that perpetuates pain and suffering. Knowledge has always been my base of power. It is for most of us. But sometimes, reading the stories of 35 women who have been assaulted by one man hurts so incredibly much. And I don't know what to do with that hurt. Where to put it.

So I asked Ashley that too. And she answered beautifully again. She said, "When people tell you their stories, they aren't asking for anything from you therapeutically. They're asking you to bear witness. So you take a moment and you honor their story. And you bear witness to their truth. And that is all they need from you."

Which is all to say, survivors who have shared their stories, privately, publicly, in whatever way you have been able to: thank you. I hear you. I sit in solidarity with you. I am your witness.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Five Things...Or What I've Been Up To

I haven't blogged in forever. And you know the farther you get away from something, the easier it is to keep ignoring it. It isn't like there hasn't been stuff to say. There is so much stuff I want to say about the world. So much stuff I want to say about publishing. So much stuff I want to say about my life. And yet, I stay silent and I listen to the voices of others and I keep my head down and I work.

So here's the past few months in a nutshell:

1. I've been writing. Somehow I've pushed myself into a place where I don't revise, I rewrite. So I've rewritten a book a couple of times. It probably needs to be rewritten again. Writing is happening, but it is a far slower process for me now. I think this is a good thing. I think I'm getting better. I'm considering going back to school to get my MFA in a few years. I like the idea of constantly getting better. I have a new agent, Barry Goldblatt. He has made me a much better writer in the past 5 months, more than I could have ever imagined. He is a very, very good agent.

2. I am editing. I am editing for my day job and I'm editing my collaboration project and I'm doing some freelance editing. I've been immersed in words on a lot of fronts. I would like to be less immersed in words, but that may not happen until September. That's okay, I think. There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel which means fall will be a good time for rest.

3. I'm trying to be a good parent, a good wife, a good citizen of the world. Mostly my heart hurts over what has happened this year. Ferguson, Charleston, France, Syria. I want to pour love all over everything, but I can't seem to find a way in beyond talking, talking, talking, listening, trying to inch toward getting better, understanding, trying to fight harder. My kids and I have had good and very, very hard discussions this year. I want something different for them, but I am also happy to know they want something different for our world.

4. I am gearing up to be part of the Voices and Faces Project testimonial writing workshop for incarcerated teen rape survivors. We are hopeful to take the model from Cook County's Dept of Corrections and bring it to other states/communities. I'm not sure how all of this will go, but I'm looking forward to this process.

5. I've been podcasting with Carrie Mesrobian. It's actually been my favorite new thing. We talk about sex stuff and books and basically have fun girl chats (which we have almost every day anyway) and the two of us with our Midwestern accents sound like the dirty version of A Prairie Home Companion and it's pretty spectacular, if you're into that sort of thing.

I hope all of you are well and having a great summer so far.




Sunday, May 10, 2015

Being the world's most okay human...

This week, my oldest child turned 13 and my husband turned 45 and my sister turned 43 and I got the chance to see my dear friend Carrie and I got the chance to see my 3 moms on Mother's Day. And I spent time with writers I love for an excellent conference.

This week I edited a book for my day job and finished revising my YA book and filled out 7 cover art forms for my authors and read 3 books. This week I went to 2 baseball games and my kids' opera. And cooked dinners and soaked in a lot of love.

There was a LOT going on this week. At the onset, I felt like crying because I was so overwhelmed. But then I realized that the only real thing I had to do was show up for my own life. That I didn't need for it to be perfect. That I didn't need to write it all down or get it just right. I needed to show up and take in all the great things that I have.

It has been a hard winter. Most winters are hard and I forget that every year. As if I'm suddenly not going to have bad seasonal depression and go to bed every night at 8:30. As if I'm suddenly going to feel like moving or clearing the fog from my eyes to see anything beyond my own bubble.

Spring has been a welcome break. I get a lot done in spring. My body moves a lot in spring. Everyone in my house is happier because I'm happier.

The other day when I told my friend Jules that I had forgotten to bring snack for the soccer team again and that I didn't realize we were supposed to buy school opera tickets and that I was late turning in taco lunch money and that my inbox was full of notes from different people telling me I was behind, Jules said, "Christa, I love you. Keep being okay."

Which is our joke. Me being the okayest parent, friend, writer, editor, book club participant, spouse, sister, daughter, soccer/baseball mom, etc. For some reason, I can't seem to tip myself past okay. There are days when I look around and think, "Why am I the only person in the world who doesn't seem to have their shit together?" and then I look at all the things I managed to be okay at in a single week and I realize that having one's shit together is probably relative. That if I just peel back a few layers of Facebook, I could probably see that a lot of people had a hard winter and maybe forget soccer team snack and haven't turned in their taco lunch money yet.

A few days ago, Jojo crawled into my bed and said, "I know you feel like you drop balls all the time, but you're really a great mom for us." My kids. They amaze me every single day. They make my heart so full. They make me feel like I did something right along the way.

Happy Mother's Day to all of those who are caretakers in the world. And to all of those who laugh with us through our most okay times.