Reflect upon the issues raised in Jenny Horsman’s essay on literacy and trauma with your own facilitation experiences in mind. Do you see trauma entering into the writing at your site? How? I am often struck by the personal nature of the pieces that writers share, that they perhaps feel they must share now that the door has been opened. How do we respond to such work? Or, as Horsman queries: how can literacy programs teach most effectively?
Consider Horsman’s ideas alongside the practical strategies Kay Adams’ offers for using writing as a means of understanding ourselves and our relationship to the world. Select one of Adams’ exercise ideas and speculate on its use in your workshop.
The selected readings for this post made a lot of sense to me. There were a lot of connections made that I didn’t know could exist, let alone affect myself and those I write with. Trauma is very present at my site, to the point that I am never sure what each session will bring nor how to deal with it. Horsman’s essay was an eye opener, a much needed one. Writing that was written outside of our weekly sessions often has trauma embedded in it and the source is often explicitly mentioned in the work; writing within the session also has shadows of trauma. Poetry seems to be the favorite format for the writers I am with (poetry is also my favorite way to write too) and offers the most freedom to express and release the experiences these writers deal with – in bold, vivid language. Our group never negatively reacts to these intense moments, though there is a lingering silence afterward (which I often feel I need to fill). I felt the power in the things that they shared and it was courageous of them to be able to share it with the group. I try to make sure I thank the writer (and sometimes the reader, as some of the more shy writers prefer to have a friend read the work aloud). I often feel trite but I do mean it when I thank them for sharing because it is a very brave thing to share such injurious experiences.
This is mostly based in my own experiences and preferences. Knowing someone is listening, someone who thanks me for sharing and letting them listen is such a boon. Having someone who also doesn’t pry or dwell on it is also a gift though; because it doesn’t put me on the spot as both a writer and as someone sharing a work that is the product of my existence, my experiences. I try to extend that to the writers on my site, the knowledge that I have heard and the low pressure of not picking at what I heard. I do want them to know that if they do want to discuss what is shared and to further explore it, then I am very willing to do so.
Even so, these readings touch upon may of the fears that have risen since I began this internship. The thanking, the responses I give often seems insincere, though I truly mean it. I must quote Horsman, as it sums up my thoughts better than I could frame them myself; as I too feel what I “offer is inadequate”(Horsman, Examining the Costs of Bearing Witness). I worry that all this time I have been minimizing and marginalizing the trauma, the pain that haunts people daily because I have tried to exclude ‘making more trauma’ or ‘dark’ prompts that might lead to a bad space for the writers. But Horsman’s essay makes me reconsider, worry “about how rarely the many dimensions of issues of violence were discussed” in past and present writing sessions (Horsman, Examining the Costs of Bearing Witness).
How to address this more effectively in writing sessions and in the program as a whole? I know that one little thing I do is mimic Dr. Jacobi: in that if something resonated strongly or brought out a lot of emotions, I try to just check in during the start of the next session and see how everyone is feeling, if there are things that need to be expressed. Also I try to just let what happens happen, not to zero in on someone’s emotional moment and make it a production (which is awkward for everyone) but to just make sure they can have that moment in peace. Other than these things, I am utterly stuck on how to approach the daily and intermittent appearance of trauma.
I love the idea of a dialogue with an inanimate object; I written to the similar prompt of write from the objects perspective or write an ode about the object. The dialogue is a natural direction for these ‘object’ based prompts to move to. The only thing I might do a little differently would be to either make it a kind of unsent letter to the object/ one-sided dialogue; or to narrow the focus down to the weirdest object, a favorite object, etc. Some times the writers in my group seem to be daunted by too much openness in a prompt. I think they would enjoy this, although it might lead to unexpected (traumatic?) writing. I think a time limit would help to minimize that risk…