This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the first ever Naked Heart Festival, an LGBTQ2S literary festival organized by the world’s oldest queer bookstore, Glad Day Bookshop. I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about the relationship between trauma and creativity alongside the incredible brilliance of other writers, art&magic makers, Zahira Kelly, Jaene Castrillon, Amber Dawn and moderator Kim Katrin Milan. To be on this panel with these wise souls and generous audience lifted my heart and spirit. It was so important and meaningful to me that this topic was given the time, care and value that it deserves, and I personally wish that we would engage with the topic and experience of trauma with far more respect than is usually given in activist, literary, or different community settings. While I feel relatively lucky to have found myself a little bubble to live, work and create in, with people who take this topic seriously, it struck me how much resistance, shaming tactics and silencing other panelists spoke about experiencing when trying to incorporate the issue of trauma into their creative or organizational work.
Additionally, I performed a piece from my upcoming book, Medicine for Survivors: a year of heartbreak and magic, at “Grit Lit” a night of unapologetic and unashamed writers and readers. It was a fantastic night full of many laughs, tears, finger snapping and fist pumping moments.
I had the chance to check out other panels, workshops, readings and interviews, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Right now I am extremely proud of the wealth of talent, ferocity and commitment of queer writers in this city, and feeling blessed that so many of us had the chance to share ourselves with one another. Check out the Naked Heart website (linked above) and what happened as part of this first time organized event – stay in touch and support the festival for next year!
For the sake of this post I wanted to share my opening remarks that I prepared for the panel on “The Crucible of Trauma.” Each of us took about 10 minutes to share initial thoughts, and for the rest of the time we engaged in conversation. I hope that someone recorded the whole thing so that I might one day be able to share that too.
To introduce myself I would say first and foremost I am a storyteller and a creator. Within this I am a writer, dancer, multidisciplinary theatre artist, video-maker, burlesque artist. I am also a showcase producer and curator, mentor, teacher, arts-programmer, because I believe that my life and journey as a storyteller/creator is made infinitely better when I am sharing my knowledge, resources and skills with others. I am also an astrologer, intuitive counselor, healer, justice-seeker, an advocate of change both internal and external.
My role as a healer is given form by my work as an artist, and vice versa. Sharing what I learn from both these processes is done through my work as a community organizer. So all of these things for me are very tightly intertwined and inseparable.
The topic of trauma is at the center of how I engage with all that I do. I talk about trauma quite constantly, even to the point of talking to myself about it quite constantly (gemini problems!), so I am very happy to be on a panel where we are giving dedicated time to this complex conversation.
I will start by talking about how trauma shows up in my creative work. Much of my work is autobiographical, or usually a mixture of myth, imagination and myself. And even if I am creating a piece of fiction, I always start by going really deep into me.
As someone who is a survivor of many different kinds of systematic and interpersonal violence, navigating the realms of trauma is a necessary and inevitable part of my creative process.
In 2010 I wrote a collection of poetry titled The Erasable Woman. Writing this collection was my way of having a conversation with pain and trauma I held in my body, but that I couldn’t figure out the origins of, as well as making sense of how, as women of colour specifically, do we respond to various kinds of systemic violence.
Between 2011-2014, I developed The Erasable Woman into a multidisciplinary one woman show. The live performance version became a story of coming to terms with the intergenerational trauma that is passed around in my family, specifically in my feminine lineage. A surprising and incredible gift that I received through working on this piece, with the support of many different healers, artists and community members, was the opportunity to learn how to harness my powers of listening and communicating with my ancestors and the spirit realm. In other words, the main character’s journey in my play of learning how to talk to ghosts (as a metaphor for navigating intergenerational trauma), was being made real in my own life as well. Currently, I am working on developing The Erasable Woman from a one woman show into a QTPOC(alypse!) cabaret extravaganza! Now with a new title, Letters to the Universe. I am planning to present this show in June 2016.
Over the last few I have been involved with co-creating and co-producing Unapologetic Burlesque along with kumari giles, a burlesque showcase and arts mentorship series described as queer, consensual, anti-racist, not your average burlesque. I joined the collective organizing team of Making a Stage for Our Stories, an LGBTTQI2S dance conference and showcase series. And I have been involved as a participant, mentor and choreographer in ILL NANA DiverseCity Dance Company’s Right 2 Dance. The most striking thing for me to notice happening out of all of these spaces, is the amount of people who have been and are putting their most fearless and vulnerable stories and selves on stage for others to witness (including Jeane, another panelist!), and committing to the most unapologetic parts of who they are, often digging into the depths of their own trauma or relationship to systemic and/or interpersonal violence, and expressing resilience, anger, pain, joy, self-love, or whatever they are moved to express by going into these deep places. There is something that I can’t yet put into words that happens when many folks are collectively sharing, healing and growing through their trauma in these artistic spaces. But I do know there is something revolutionary about it.
Additionally right now I’m writing a book called Medicine for Survivors: a year of heartbreak and magic. 2015 was a year that I was really slammed into deeper and bigger trauma than I had previously reckoned with, a year that I had to learn what it means to own my own madness and magic. This book is a compilation of poems, short stories, letters to ancestors (some of who I’ve only met or discovered in my imagination or meditation), rituals, spells, essays about de-colonial magic, or strategies to tend with all kinds of intense feelings including betrayal, jealousy, grief, regret, etc. This book is my way of sharing my knowledge as a survivor with other survivors or, as I write on my website, folx who are highly sensitive because they’ve been dealing with 2000+ years of ancestral/past life trauma or some similar shit.
I don’t think of ‘healing’ work as being about ‘fixing’ myself so that I am no longer broken. What I’ve committed to myself this year is that I am already whole, I am just in a process of meeting my own needs. (this quote was a nugget of wisdom given to me by a healer and clairvoyant named Free Woman.) I define healing, rather, as engaging in a process of ongoing change. Ultimately this is how I define creation, and pursuits for justice as well.
Both healing and justice for me are about being curious about who we are, what we’ve been through, what our ancestors have been through, what has happened in our childhoods, homes, relationships, work places, histories, and what the impact of all of that is on our spirits, minds, bodies, and present day life. Healing and justice are about the commitment to get to know ourselves, as we change a little bit, or a lot, every day. It is looking at the places where we can note – this is a pattern that I’m stuck in, this is a habit I have, this is the impact on myself and others, and it no longer works for me. I no longer choose this. It doesn’t help me or the state of the world. It keeps me stuck somewhere that I don’t want to be, and I am committed to change. Healing and justice is the opposite of denying our feelings, hiding who we are from ourselves; it is thanking ourselves for surviving and wanting something more.
The systems of colonization and capitalism are directly in conflict with the knowledge and pathways of the earth’s cycles and solar system that give us a home here. That’s why I believe for everyone, there is violence and trauma. Even for those who experience comfort and luxury from historical patterns of taking power over others, of gaining material cultural wealth at the expense of others – there is the reality of what would happen if they/we were to look honestly at ourselves and really be real with the amount of harm, suffering and violence that has been done in our name – that is soul crushing traumatic to contend with. There are such deep, strong legacies of denial and forgetting of ourselves and our own trauma, that make it possible for so many people to wake up every day and be totally fine with state of our global community. But the result of a collective group of people who are committed to moving through their trauma, inevitably will lead to change, internal and external.
And lastly I come back to creation, storytelling, art. I believe that we come to these things, either to make or to witness – in order to change. We want to be moved. When we close the book or leave the show, we don’t want to be the same person as when we started. The most meaningful stories are the ones where we see characters go through a journey, where they learned something, they went somewhere, they are different than when they began.
To me this is the most beautiful thing about art as a portal that has the capacity to rip through the stuck-ness of trauma and colonization and lead us to remember the inherent movement, balance, reciprocity, sustainability and resilience of the earth that holds us, and the stars and planets that witness us.
I will also add some of my notes from the preparation questions I was sent before the panel; the conversation didn’t follow these questions exactly, but the themes we covered were similar in spirit.
What is the relationship between trauma and creativity:
*creation is about movement. It is about birthing. Creation is “allowing what the universe wants to move through you” (rough quote from the “Reception” Card from the Collective Tarot Deck)
*trauma, is when movement gets stuck. It’s when something extreme happened that didn’t get the space to be acknowledged, or reconciled, or expressed; When we learned something awful and untrue about ourselves and we get stuck in a cycle of believing this half-lie or half-truth.
*healing from trauma is about making space for movement; space to change and learn something new. So creation is for me, is about healing trauma. When I create, I connect to the universe, my highest purpose, the place in my spirit that is so connected to the movement of the planets, the knowledge of the earth, a sacred divinity in all of us that legacies colonization attempt to suppress
How does trauma affect the production and completion of your creative projects
*When I was a younger writer, I often felt like I couldn’t write poems or songs unless I was either really sad or really pissed off. I turned to creation as a way to cope, manage, escape or heal from trauma. Part of my journey as a creator has been working on changing my relationship with creativity so that I can always access it no matter what emotional state I am in. And so I don’t always have to be in crisis in order to write a poem. This is about learning how to own my own creativity, know that it’s always mine and that it is never going to leave me. It is the work of self-trust, one that is our birth right, even if as survivors we are taught that we shouldn’t trust ourselves. I have learned to shift my own perspective around and ask, is my trauma the boss of me, or am I the boss of my trauma? I’m the boss of my trauma.
What do you wish someone had told you about trauma years ago:
*your madness is your magic
*you can’t be responsible for anyone else’s healing other than yourself
*your feelings are gifts, they will not squash you or end you
*as someone who has always been highly sensitive, you absorb other people’s trauma and that is why sometimes life feels so hard. It is okay to create boundaries, even with people you love
*you can’t save anyone else’s life but your own
*you deserve to be here
*you deserve to be joyful, at peace and experience stability; your relationships and emotional landscape don’t have to be a never ending roller-coaster
*you can femme-i-fest your dreams, you can have everything you want ❤