Trauma (present tense)

child in vest

I’ve been thinking about the hippocampus lately. I did a web search and found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s tesimony. I’m pasting it below.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford says, her voice cracking. “The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

“You’ve never forgotten them laughing at you,” Leahy says.

“They were laughing with each other,” Ford replies.

“And you were the object of the laughter?” Leahy asks.

“I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed,” Ford says.

In an essay I wrote about my childhood sexual abuse, as I shaped and shaped the narrative, it became clear that most of the piece should be told in the present tense. I did this to replicate how trauma works in the memory.

The brain stem, the so-called lizard brain—the part of the brain that registers trauma—has no sense of time. The lizard-brain is the part that keeps us alive, eliciting a fight, flight, or freeze response. Because of the lack of time involved with the lizard brain, when long-ago trauma is triggered, it is remembered outside of time. The sensation is as if it is happening now.

Dr. Ford was questioned 36 years after she claims to have been assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, but on September 27, 2018, when questioned, she says, “They’re having fun at my expense.”

Present tense.

A grammatical slip. But also true.

Because that’s how it feels.

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from Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

several short sentences about writing--book cover

 

 

From Page 131:

“You may feel uncomfortable with the word

‘authority.’

Perhaps is sounds dominant, overbearing, ‘authoritarian.’ You may need to work on the problem of self-deprecation,

Self-distrust,

Especially when it comes to noticing the world around you

And what you’re able to say about it.

You may be used to denying your perceptions and dismissing your awareness.

You may be caught in a constant state of demurral

Or have the habit of belittling yourself.

 

Watch for the chronic language of self-disparagement,

The moments when you say, ‘My problem is…’

Or ‘It doesn’t matter what I think.’

If you say these kinds of things, you probably say them out of habit, almost unconsciously.

This is a product of your education too, at home and at school.

Pay attention to it.

Recognize how harmful it is.

Its message—subliminal and overt—is that your perceptions are worthless.

 

Do everything you can to subvert this habit.”

 

 

Interview posted on Antioch University website

photo of RK at Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan, July 2018

I’m so grateful that Antioch University asked me what the Ohio Arts Council grant means to me. You can read the interview here.

Reframing (being open)

Laite Memorial Beach, Camden, ME, August 2018

Laite Memorial Beach, Camden, ME, August 2018

Each week, I email the week’s writing goals to my friend Diane. I’m grateful for this practice, because it helps me focus. (Thank you, Diane!) Today I wrote the following, which I thought I’d post here. I’m reframing a couple of things that have been getting in my way as I work on the memoir about my childhood house, 318.
Goals for this week:
1. Remind myself that I’m doing this for me, not for the publisher whose contest I plan to enter in January. The thought of pleasing someone else has become a huge, anxiety-producing barrier (someone I don’t know, someone who may want something very different from what doing, whose wants I cannot anticipate, etc.), so I am reframing thusly: I am doing this for myself. I need to please myself. It’s not an assignment someone else gave me.
2. I keep repeating “I’m lost” in the writing process. When I talk to people, I say, “I’m lost.” It is how I feel, but saying it again and again seems to be self-fulfilling. It doesn’t feel good to say “I’m lost.” I’m tired of saying I’m lost. It’s not a good kind of lost, like when you’re walking around Venice and you have no idea where you are, but you’re on vacation and there’s a gelato place so you get some melon gelato, let’s say, and it’s so delicious, and you walk a little bit more and you end up somewhere you recognize. This writing-a-memoir-lost is NOT like Venice lost. This lost feels kinda bad. So I realized this morning (as I did the morning pages from The Artist’s Way) that maybe I’m not lost, maybe I’m just OPEN. I have never been much of an outliner in my writing—it’s always been messy and organic. In that way, I’ve always been open. So maybe instead of “lost” I will start saying “open.” Being open feels much better than being lost. Being lost describes a struggle. I want to alleviate the struggle, the powerlessness.
Being open feels much calmer.

I am doing this for myself.

I am open.

Black Wave by Michelle Tea

Black Wave by Michelle TeaThis book. So beautiful. A delectable collision of intelligent prose with the viscera. So visceral, and so smart—the sentences hold an intelligence beyond any I can think of, even, in a way, beyond Didion’s. But the sentences aren’t overly smart in a told-you-so kinda way. They’re smart in a way that has faith, more faith than most sentences have, in the reader. The book, the story, is so dark and so light. It’s a gift, really.

Black Wave was my first encounter with the work of Michelle Tea, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. For now, all I can do is urge you to read Black Wave—knowing that it’s written for adults, and has a lot of very specific, intense detail about sex and drugs—and today I offer this passage.

Michelle Tea, Black Wave, p. 151:

“Where did your own story end and other people’s begin? Michelle wrestled with this question. After her first book came out she’d been invited to give some lectures and teach some workshops, and always the people who came were females, females who wanted to tell their stories. Their stories being female stories, there was a lot of hurt inside them—abuse, betrayals, injustices, feelings. They were all worries about getting in trouble for writing the truth. They didn’t want people to be mad at them. It’s Your Story, Michelle would insist.

She wanted to free them all, all the girl writers. Girls needed to tell the truth about what the fuck was going on in this world. It was bad. It was brave of the girls to let themselves stay so raw, though Michelle worried that some of them had had to conjure personality disorders in order to cope. Sometimes the girls were too much even for her, Michelle wondered if she could handle another piece of writing about sexual abuse or sex work. But it seemed that this was to be her job upon the earth. If you don’t tell your story, who will? It was important. Our stories are important.”

**

Read the whole book and you’ll understand its uplift.

 

 

“Writing is a head game.” –Connie Schultz

tree roots at the edge of the river

I am putting this here so you all can read it, and so I can remember it, because it’s wise and true:

Connie Schultz, giving the keynote speech for this year’s Antioch Writers’ Workshop, said:

“The first one who needs to believe you are a writer is you. Writing is a head game.”

FREE Inner critic workshop (YS library, Oct. 22)

sculpture garden, Ogunquit Museum of Art (Maine)

sculpture garden, Ogunquit Museum of Art (Maine)

Please spread the word! It’s going to be fun!

For more info: https://greenelibrary.bibliocommons.com/events/search/fq=types:(5a65fa90866d942f009e3ae4)/event/5b5c9ebe31b1973100abb846

Inner Critic Workshop

 

Monday, October 22, 2018 (6:30PM – 8:00PM)
Yellow Springs Community Library
Virginia Hamilton Meeting Room

Description

Rebecca Kuder is offering this engaging workshop that will allow people to rediscover and liberate a sense of play; unleash the creative spark; and demystify & disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding us back! Please wear comfortable clothing (always!). Please bring pen and paper.

Heartberries, by Terese Marie Mailhot (“The work of ‘never done’: therapy and writing.”)

9781619023345-256x413A thousand thanks to my friend Dr. Kelli Zaytoun for recommending this distilled and beautiful memoir. From the publisher’s description:

“Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.”

This book is among a few gems I’ve read lately, written by women, that grant permission. Permission to reveal the self, in all its tatters and glow. Permission to speak the truth even when it isn’t convenient or dainty. I can’t recall where I heard this, but somewhere, a wise human referred to writing memoir as a kind of alchemy: how a writer metabolizes her experience into a distilled piece of art. Mailhot does so here, with grace and wisdom.
A couple shimmery passages from Mailhot’s memoir:

Page 72: “[My mother] taught me that I didn’t own things. I really liked the idea of possession. We don’t own our mothers. We don’t own our bodies or our land—maybe I’m unsure. We become the land when we are buried in it. Our grandmothers have been uprooted and shelved in boxes, placed on slabs of plastic, or packed neatly in rooms, or turned into artifact—all after proper burials. Indians aren’t always allowed to rest in peace. I want to be buried in a bone garden with my ancestors someday. I’d like to belong to that.”

And: 

 

Page 97: “I can’t believe my reserve of water—from my nose and eyes. I have dormant fluid in my body, every woman does. I don’t know if I am a cavern or a river.”

In the back of the petite volume, Mailhot is interviewed by Joan Naviyuk Kane. In the conversation, Mailhot says things about writing that I know will stick with me (and will help, in working on memoir):

About women writing our stories:

Page 131: “I know the book isn’t simply an abuse narrative, but then it is. I was abused, and brilliant women are abused, often, and we write about it. People seem so resistant to let women write about these experiences, and they sometimes resent when the narrative sounds familiar. It’s almost funny, because, yeah—there is nothing new about what they do to us. We can write about it in new ways, but what value are we placing on newness? Familiarity is boring, but these fucking people—they keep hurting us in the same ways. It’s putting the onus on us to tell it differently, spare people melodrama, explicative language, image, and make it new. I think, well, fuck that. I’ll say how it happened to me, and by doing that maybe it became new. I took the voice out of my heat that said writing about abuse it too much, that people will think it’s sentimental, or pulling at someone’s pathos, unwilling to be art. By resisting the pushback, I was able to write more fully and, at times, less artfully about what happened.

I remember my first creative writing professor in nonfiction asked his class not to write about abortions or car wrecks. I thought, You’re going to know about my abortion in detail (if only there had been a car crash that same day). I don’t think there is anything wrong with exploring familiar themes in the human experience. When the individual gets up and tells her story, there’s going to be a detail so real and vivid it places you there, and you identify. I believe in the author’s right to tell any story, and the closer it comes to a singular truth, the more art they render in the telling.”

And about work that is never really finished:

Page 132: “Cathartic or therapeutic—those words are sometimes used to relate a feeling, like a sigh of relief, or release, but therapy is fucking hard. My therapists didn’t pity me, not the good ones; they made me strip myself of pandering, manipulation, presentation—they wanted the truth more desperately than I did, and they wanted me to speak it—live it every moment. I feel like writing is that way. Writing can be hard therapy. You write, and then read it, revise your work to be cleaner, sharper, better, and then, when you have the best version of yourself (not rhetorically, but you’ve come close to playing the music you hear in your head)—you give it time and re-read it—you go back to the work—it seems endless. Nothing is ever communicated fully. The way being healed is never real unless every moment of every day you remind yourself of your progress and remind yourself not to go back, or hurt someone, or do the wrong thing—it’s not healing unless you keep moving—you’re never done. The work of ‘never done’: therapy and writing.”

A History Of Hands, by Rod Val Moore

9781625340962

(Read this book.)

With vigor, I recommend Rod Val Moore‘s novel, A History of Hands.

Rod was my first grad school mentor at the Antioch Los Angeles MFA program. At the first residency, his seminar had us reading Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, and taking a field trip to the Museum Jurassic Technology. Immediately, I knew that Rod’s aesthetic was complicated and hypnotic, not unlike the MJT’s cabinet of curiosities. A History of Hands has a similar kind of curiosity about it…it’s a fully realized world, familiar, but also skewed enough to accumulate into a question rather than an answer.

Here’s the novel’s description from the University of Massachusetts Press website:

 “This powerful novel begins with the ambiguities of illness and moves on to explore both the reasonable and the absurd actions of those who suffer and those who exploit suffering. The setting is a failed farm on the Central California coast during a time of rural isolation and decline. Virge, the protagonist, is an awkwardly introspective young man living with his parents, suffering from lingering effects of an accidental childhood poisoning, including a lack of coordination and the possibility of mental weakness. Within the first few pages, Virge trips, falls, and finds that his hands have become paralyzed—a potential disaster for someone unable to afford a doctor’s visit.

Soon, however, an elderly and possibly criminal doctor, offering free therapy, moves in, much to the dismay of bedridden Virge. While the physician endeavors to restore the patient’s hands with a series of highly suspect injections, Virge recovers his sense of autonomy and an urge to escape the suffocating domestic circumstances that have perhaps caused his illnesses in the first place.

A History of Hands is a novel that invites the reader into a richly and eccentrically detailed world where fevered imaginations and dark comedy prevail, but where the determination to escape the ambiguities of illness leads to the equal ambiguities of health and freedom.”

Lately when I read, I just want to be steeped in the book, in the life of the words (story and sentences/lines). While here on the blog I always feel some self-imposed responsibility to write a mini-review, that impulse (“I must say something all-encompassing and salient!”) often stops me from writing anything. And I just want to crow about this book. So I’ve been collecting passages that fill me with wonder. Here’s one from A History of Hands.

I think you don’t really need context (though you should read the whole book!), so for now, just sit back and enjoy.

From p. 154, A History of Hands, by Rod Val Moore:

            “And then, because nobody makes a move, Almy visibly relaxes, and, after taking a tiny sip from Stuart’s flask, opens up, and talks and talks, and tells a story of her own, one Virge has never heard before. It’s all about how she used to come to the farm as a child when her grandparents owned it, and how she was their guest, not to mention their darling, and their pearl of great price. How every day she was allowed to go out riding, because of course they had horses then, everyone in the world had dozens of horses then, and the one Grandma and Grandpa kept there for her was a gelding named Dime, and she could ride old Dime, best horse in the world, along the beach, clapping up the water into froth, his hooves nearly silent in the damp spongy sand. But then comes the sad part of the story, about how the farm failed one year in a drought, and the crops died and the horses, even Dime, had to be sold to the glue factory, and how then there wasn’t much to do at the place for years except mope around, though Almy kept coming, summer after summer, trying to recapture the good times of the past, splashing in the waves as if she were a horse, but it was never the same.

And then there’s the much sadder part about how her grandparents got to be old aged, and infirm, and finally it turned out that both them passed away on the same day, which happened to be Almy’s sixteenth birthday, dying from the same run-in with the flu, a day when it wouldn’t stop raining and they had to take both coffins to the cemetery in the downpour in the back of an open wagon, and how the two graves were so full of water by the time they got there that the coffins, when they went in, just bobbed there like wood canoes, until somebody drilled some holes in them, and they sank. And it’s interesting, she explains, how a year later, after getting married in San Grande, and moving permanently into the old house with Virge’s father, she found a box all wrapped up in gift paper in the back of a closet, a birthday present they’d hidden there just before they died, and when she opened it what did she find but an old German chocolate cake, now turned to nothing but a collapse of dust and hard candy, her name still spelled out in icing on the top, along with the vague and broken image of what might have been a horse. And she still had to wonder, was the cake supposed to mean that they were going to get her a new horse, or was it just the memory of the days when she did have a horse? Or was it a horse on the cake at all, or maybe a dog or nothing at all?”

 

 

Shadows & Tall Trees 7 wins Shirley Jackson award for Edited Anthology!

paperback_shadows

paperback!

Congratulations to Michael Kelly at Undertow Press! His anthology, Shadows and Tall Trees 7, won the 2017 Shirley Jackson award. I’m so thrilled to be part of the weird things they’re doing at Undertow.  (This volume contains my story “Curb Day” which was also selected for Year’s Best Weird Fiction vol. 5.) You can find the anthology here.