Category Archives: Uncategorized

Everything reminds you of what happened

multi-color fabric partial quilt front, shape of face and moons, etc.

detail from a quilt I made in college, never finished

(That thing that happens when something is consuming you, how you see it everywhere. My memoir is everywhere, apparently. Here’s one place I saw it the other day.)

by May Swenson

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?


Letter to Senator Portman

Senator Rob Portman
37 West Broad Street
Room 300
Columbus, OH 43215

February 16, 2018

Dear Senator Portman,

I understand that over your career, you have benefitted from more than three million dollars worth of support* from the National Rifle Association. That is a lot of money. And I also understand that political careers require a lot of money.

But now, after yet another horrifying school shooting, I am begging you: Take a bird’s eye view for a moment. Pause and think about the sanctity of human life. Think about those families whose innocent children were murdered this week. And think about the entire community of Parkland, their shock, grief, loss.

Think about all the other communities that have lost children due to senseless gun violence.

Think about the child-shaped holes in the lives of these families, friends, and communities.

I am the mother of a ten year old girl. She is vibrant and amazing and beloved, and when she goes to school, I believe she should be free to learn and grow. When I start to imagine how those grieving parents must feel, and will feel forever…

Senator Portman, you are in a unique and powerful position to lead one of the most humanitarian missions of our time. On your watch, Senator, what will you do to protect innocent lives?

At what point will you step forward and lead our nation by rejecting money attached to the organization which, directly or indirectly, is responsible for these innocent lives?

What will it take? Will it take you losing someone who is close to you? (I hope not, because I do not wish that grief on anyone.)

How many tragedies are too many? When do you say ENOUGH?

Please, please use your position of power for good: Stand up to the gun lobby and say no. Tell them you will find other ways to sustain your career.


Rebecca Kuder

*(source: NYTimes, 10/4/17, “Thoughts and Prayers and NRA Funding”)

(writing about math & the bones)

photo of papers on the floor, writing process

Working at Omega, October 2017

…when you hand yourself over to an hour freewrite about numbers and math, and it all adds up to the shape your bones will be when your body goes to the fire. (& instead of scrawling your usual “thank you” at the end of your freewriting, which Laraine Herring taught you in her workshop—thanking yourself and your writer self for showing up—you write “mic drop.”)


The Art of Misdiagnosis, by Gayle Brandeis

The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis

An exceptional act of humanity is discoverable between these covers.

Sometimes I encounter a book I know I want to reread again and again, to understand grief, and humanity, and move my psyche toward wholeness. Among these glittering narratives is The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, by my friend Gayle Brandeis. (Gayle Brandeis and I met when we both attended the Antioch Los Angeles MFA program—and then, as now, she seemed an angel in the world, though with the beauty of authenticity shining through.)

In her memoir, Gayle captures the static that is chronic worry about a damaged loved one…when someone close is suffering in an inescapable stew of chaos, the background noise of concern is constant…and Gayle depicts the grim throb that can be brought on by the phone’s ring…she shows how complicated is the very human wish for relief…

As I read her memoir, I imagine I’m sitting alongside the narrator in the patrol car of the heart, witnessing firsthand the human struggle between connection and release, touching the complicated fiber of existence as we intersect with & knock against other broken humans…how we each bend into the shape necessary to survive the life we’re born into…how we try not to drown as we reach (often involuntarily) toward the drowning beloved…

I’ve been obsessed lately with how trauma shapes our bodies: literally, the physical body, and the spirit/psyche. The Art Of Misdiagnosis meditatively walks this terrain, and also somehow inoculates against trauma and grief, or at least wakens antibodies for understanding those parts of a life.

I read Gayle’s memoir for pleasure, allowing myself not to take notes, just to take it all in…and as I’m processing some of my own traumas, the book provides a balm, strangely reassuring. (None of us are alone.) Taking notes sometimes pulls me from the reading experience, but couldn’t I resist this part, near the end, on p. 222, after the narrator has experienced an intense physical release of trauma…

“When I am ready, Celia helps me up and hugs me back into the world.

‘Thank you,’ I tell her, but the words don’t feel strong enough. How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart? For helping release a burden you’ve carried all your life? For resurfacing just when you need her? For saving you again, almost twenty-four years after she saved you the first time?”

This memoir appears at the perfect time in my life. And as my body types Gayle’s words (above), I notice they echo how I feel about her memoir, and her writing in general: How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart?

An apology I owe Dylan Farrow (what bends/what breaks)

thumb_IMG_9602_1024In the past, when talking to my classes about comedy, I’ve used a clip from Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors: Alan Alda’s character being interviewed by Allen’s character, and Alda talking about humor. (“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.”) It’s part of a discussion about discerning when something has gone just far enough but not too far, and where the boundary resides (highly subjective and context-dependent, but worth considering). Much as the clip makes a good point, and much as I adore Alan Alda (despite his not having disavowed Woody Allen, yet), this time, I didn’t use the clip. I didn’t want to elevate or even look at Allen, and didn’t feel equipped to have the necessary discussion about why.

This omission is a tiny act, almost unnoticeable.

I am not above reproach: for years, since the accusation that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, I’ve been in denial, thinking HOW COULD HE HAVE DONE SOMETHING SO AWFUL? (For Buffy fans, it feels like that “Wait, Ben is Glory?insta-forgetting…as if my brain cannot contain the possibility that someone whose work I admire—and whose work provided me an early understanding of what art could do—could have molested a child. And then essentially married a child, another of his children. If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks…)

I grew up watching Allen’s films. His movies were formative to me, the early ones, the funny ones. Since hearing Dylan Farrow’s initial accusation back in 1992, I have been ambivalent enough, or in denial enough, or self-loathing enough to not boycott Allen. I haven’t actively defended him, but I’ve seen Wild Man Blues (featuring Allen and Soon Yi Previn) smore than once. I own the soundtrack to Everyone Says I Love You.

My own broken psyche apparently couldn’t excommunicate the filmmaker…was I passively accepting the notion that Dylan Farrow imagined her abuse, or had been brainwashed? As a seven-year-old child? At any rate, I was minimizing her pain. I looked the other way, just kept singing along to those catchy tunes, because HOW COULD HE? (Ben is Glory?)

I worked at the summer camp from which Soon Yi Previn was fired (a few summers before she was fired) and heard stories from friends about that big mess. I’m ashamed that I am only now thinking about this, and wondering what I can or should do (or not do), as a sentient being in the world, a person who believes the victims.

I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. Why did it take me this long to stop with the Woody Allen apologies? Why have I turned away?

By continuing to celebrate Allen’s art, am I complicit in the abuse, by not condemning the artist?

A couple weeks ago (the same week I read about Eliza Dushku’s stunt man, and the Michigan State University nightmare), I read the NY Times piece, Dylan Farrow Accuses Woody Allen of Sexual Abuse in TV Interview.

That was a very triggering week.

And I started drafting this distant apology to Dylan Farrow. Believing the reality of abuse is hard enough for survivors. To paraphrase Bessel van der Kolk, from his book, The Body Keeps The Score, a big part of healing is feeling what we feel, and knowing what we know. Moving away from dissociation, from minimization, from forgetting. From looking away. It’s not as easy as it sounds, when a body has been violated. We don’t want to feel what we feel. We don’t want to know what we know. It is an ornate and twisty thing, memory. It’s hard enough without the disbelief of everyone else. We start to feel like we’re living a fiction, or we’re invisible, or don’t even exist.

People—usually those who disbelieve, or minimize, the stories of victims—often claim that if a person’s not coming forward or speaking loudly enough, it must mean memories are false.

I asked Dylan if there was any chance that this was a false memory, that she had been brainwashed.

“No,” she said flatly. “I think it’s more logical almost that the people who accuse me of being brainwashed are brainwashed themselves by the celebrity, the glamour, the fantasy, the pull they have to Woody Allen, their hero on a pedestal.”

The larger point, she said, is not her own suffering over the years, but the need to listen to victims.

And later in the same piece, Kristof continues:

One demographer’s new estimate is that at least three-fourths of women worldwide have been sexually harassed.

I am sorry for any time I have looked away, or minimized someone’s pain and suffering.

I’m left with the question of what to do about the art of perpetrators.

For now, I’ll find another way to talk about what is bending and what is breaking.

(because there’s always more.)


More than 160 women say Larry Nassar sexually abused them.

Who are likely many, many more than 160…because we don’t always feel safe coming forward. Because it’s sometimes too unsafe for our bodies to feel what we feel, and to know what we know. Because sometimes it’s scarier to speak than to remain silent. Because we were warned not to speak, because others who knew minimized our experiences, or looked the other way, or (fill in the blank). Because we don’t remember. Because why would we want to remember. Because because because a million times because, just because.

The exuberant reaction to the conviction of Larry Nassar, which I heard in the voice of the woman reporting it on NPR last week, which was impossible to hide, because she is a woman and who knows, maybe a survivor herself…that exuberant reaction is a feeling that’s been shimmering for me, below the surface of #metoo and among groups of women I talk to who are horrified but not shocked about these stories, these minimizations, these erasures, this looking away.

(The other day, I was writing the above blog post about several recent headlines dealing with child sexual abuse, and then I saw I was right, sadly, there’s even moreLarry Nassar, Sentenced in Sexual Abuse Case, Is Back in Court.)


And p.s. to any predators out there:

“Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”—Aly Raisman, gymnast and six-time Olympic medalist

“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”—Kyle Stephens, family friend



Letter to the Inner Critic (11/19/17)

photo of book, confessions of a prairie bitch

Spotted at Dark Star Books

Here’s a leftover I meant to post from my November inner critic letter-a-day challenge (to myself). Uncooked, raw, basically how it came out. Also: in the letter below, where I write “I was born to fly”, I would clarify that we were all born to fly.:

November 19, 2017

Dear Inner Critic,

Well, apparently you are a risk manager and I’m curious what’s the risk? What is it that is on fire? The house already burned down, it’s gone. What are you afraid of? You seem to be afraid I’ll make any noise, that I’ll embarrass you or be noticed (or just seen) and that somehow scares you. You don’t want me to stand out, you want me to fit in & do what the world seems to want safe people to do. But I was born to fly. It’s not a safe thing, but I can try and work and fail and try again. I am a survivor, you know that, and if I fail, or get ignored, or rebuffed, or insulted, I will be okay. I’m stronger than you think I am. Also, I do appreciate your care—I know it’s a twisted kind of caring, the risk managing, the alert and hyper-vigilant posture. I know it’s because you want to protect me. But I need to follow the call and take risks and I need to be allowed to make a fool of myself, and I need to jump off the cliff and trust my strong wings. I’ve been flapping them and practicing with a helmet long enough. The helmet blocks my vision, the pads are too heavy. I don’t need them. I am strong and my body can sustain a fall. Because we work in metaphor and I’m not literally going to jump my unwinged human body off a cliff, I need you to know I’ll be safe, I am safe. I am using my words and my heart for this work, and my body is safe, and my spirit can only be fulfilled if I try and don’t shrink down from your alerts and warnings. I need you to know that I understand the alerts and warnings come from your wounded love for me. How you remember all the hurts and how they feel like they are happening now, but I survived those nasty in the woodsheds, and I can survive what’s to come, so I can do my work, and soar.

I love you.


Yet another reason I love teaching

Yesterday my students and I brainstormed on the board to get what poet Cathy Smith Bowers has called the lump of clay to start (writing anything, but in this case) making poems. We got lots of words on the board, narrowed things down and ran out of time so I said I’d write up something which, tomorrow, we will shape into poems (if possible).

Here are the two lumps of clay:

(This one is from the original phrase “burning house” which landed on cat eating tinsel, and there was something about getting attention, and then my cat inspired me in the middle of the night, so timely, so thank you, Zlateh. These line breaks were my first pass/how it came out. We will negotiate all and deal with the repetition, etc. tomorrow.)

Come, cat
come to where the hands are
or dance around the bed half the night.
I don’t need sleep.
It’s fine, but so much simpler if you would come to where the hands are,
or eat tinsel from the tree,
anything, anything to get my attention
but wouldn’t it be nicer
if you came to where the hands are,
to pleasure us both?

Traverse (or travel) the ridge of my body
bleating your needy meow.
It’s fine, it’s okay, I can’t sleep anyway.

Dance around the bed half the night,
the other half, walk the ridge of my body,
bleating your flat meow.
It’s okay.

I can’t sleep anyway.


(This one is from the original word “snow” which ended on glitter demon, idolized but evil. This one was extra fun for me, ahem. We’ll see about line breaks & whatever tomorrow in class.)


You consider yourself beautiful, all shine and polish and perfection. You stand upon that pedestal with such a casual air, as if you couldn’t fall from there. Every day you are reset, like a piece of machinery, you get up and just start a new day. You claim to be immortal. Silver and gold wrap the warp of your vile insides, and not one of us notices the cruel cutting you do, until it’s too late, until we’re bleeding in the glittery, hard diamond snow of this four-year winter. How much blood and history will we lose without knowing it before we wake up and knock you off that stool. You make me want to hate, if I could. I want you to shatter, I want to shave off all that lying gloss and sparkle, I want you to bleed like we are bleeding, I want instant karma, I want a recount, I want changes of hearts, for all of us, if not for you.

Yoga, Somatics, and Creative Play workshop (Feb. 10)

Dear all,

Melissa Tinker, Amy Chavez and I are again offering this workshop on Feb. 10 at the Antioch College Wellness Center. This is a beautiful, embodied, fun, and healing practice. More information is below…
Facebook event page:
Yoga, Somatics, and Creative Play: A Path to Authenticity 

Saturday, 2/10/2018
From12:30 pm – 5:00 pm
with Amy Chavez, Melissa Tinker & Rebecca Kuder
Our lives reside in our memories, bodies, and bones. Using yoga, ReStoryative Somatics (TM), and expressive writing and drawing, we will harvest our inner narratives, becoming authors to our own stories. We’ll support each other in releasing what is no longer relevant or was never true. Please wear clothes for yoga and bring a light snack.
$60 for Members, $70 for Non-members

Silent all these years…

(…which is a line from a Tori Amos song.)

I recently read Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger, which is kind of amazing in many ways, one being its unvarnished truth-telling. Lots of thoughts about the memoir, but today in the words of Roxane Gay (p. 45):

“He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”