An Alternate Way to Present Poetry?

Hey friends!

I’ve spent most of the week packing, since I’m moving in a week, so the super awesome blog post I had planned isn’t ready. What I do have instead are pictures of me. Those are pretty great, but what’s different about these pictures is that I’ve combined them with my poetry. I’ve been searching for interesting, alternate ways to present my poetry (that don’t involve leaving my house or putting pants on) and I thought to myself, “hey, people seem to like looking at me, people seem to like my poetry, I will combine them INTO AN ARTISTIC VOLTRON OF AWESOMENESS.

Ahem.

Without further ado, here you are.

black widow three filter poem

trickster hymn portrait

Owl and Squirrel: Tanka

Nothing Gold Poetry.

I’m prey, you, hunter,

We dance the ancient tango

I fear your talons

You fear only my bones

Catching in your throat.

Author’s Notes: Last summer, a great horned owl was perched on the power line outside of my house. I’m still beating myself up for not getting any pictures. A little squirrel happened to be running on the wire and stopped in it’s tracks when it saw the owl, and my family and I watched as the squirrel would tentatively approach the owl and then run back as the owl sat and watched, waiting for the squirrel to get within talon range.   I was describing the predatory way my rapist (R.)  treated me from the beginning of our relationship to my therapist, and a mental image of the owl and the squirrel came into my head and I knew I had to write a poem about it. I…

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PTSDiaries 8: Big Hero Six

Who here hasn’t seen Big Hero Six?

Then you need to leave, because here there be spoilers.

Thanks for stopping by, Baymax.

For those of you who don’t listen (you know who you are), or for those of you who haven’t seen the film in a while, here’s the scoop. Big Hero Six is the story of a young genius (Hiro Hamada) who assembles his friends and his brother’s helper robot, Baymax, into a superhero team in order to stop a nanobot-wielding bad guy.

Oh yeah, and the bad guy (whose name is never given, but promotional materials call him “Yokai”) killed Hiro’s brother. Who is the last remaining member of Hiro’s immediate family.

This movie is funny and beautiful and full of great messages and all that fun stuff. It’s really a great movie. There’s a lot about it that speaks to me. The thing that speaks to me the most, however, is that Hiro has a chance to kill Yokai (through Baymax), and has to be physically stopped.

 

In most media when this happens, the hero decides on their own to spare the villain, realizing hidden strength. This is fantastic and beautiful…but not how it all works.

I’ve long struggled with questions of how deep my own darkness runs. How bad could I hurt R if I had the chance? Would I be able to take his life and feel bad about it? It’s true that the opportunity probably wouldn’t come, but getting into feeling like you can decide who lives and who dies is dangerous territory.

I relate directly to the pain and rage that Hiro feels. Though Yokai didn’t physically harm Hiro’s person, he took something away from Hiro that wasn’t his to take, and forced Hiro to grow up faster than he was meant to. Yokai killed Hiro’s brother, but in many ways killed Hiro’s youthful naivety. Hiro doesn’t know how to face his new life without his brother. His tragedy is amplified by the fact that he previously experienced trauma at a young age, but had Tadashi around to help him.

Like Hiro, I was forced to grow up early, and was left without a way to cope… or so I thought.

Hiro, like me, is confused in this scene and is lashing out with anger. Like me, Hiro is hurting the people around him as much as he’s hurting himself, and here’s the kicker: he doesn’t actually know if killing Yokai will help him. He only wants to do it to hurt Yokai as much as he’s hurting.

Of course, Big Hero Six is a Disney movie and not a Punisher film (though the next one of those will technically be a Disney movie…) so Hiro doesn’t violently take his revenge. Hiro finds peace in his therapeutic relationship with Baymax, and his relationships with his friends. Instead of forgiveness, Hiro finds understanding of Yokai when he sees that he’s motivated out of suffering and loss too.

Of course, no movie is going to truly show the whole recovery process, because that would be a really long movie, but Big Hero 6 shows that recovery and healing comes as much from the people around you as it does within yourself. I’ve given up on actively trying to forgive R. I’m not ready, and I still feel like he doesn’t deserve it and he never will. What I am working on is understanding him as another human being.

I started thinking about this idea when I read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick,  and I really developed it when I read Conversations with A Rattlesnake by Theo Fleury and Kim Barthel. In Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock becomes suicidal after he’s raped by his best friend, but also realises that his rapist was probably abused by someone he trusted. In Conversations, Theo Fleury discusses some of the less-monstrous aspects of his rapist, Graham James, with therapist Kim Barthel. I explained to my therapist that understanding is as much or more important than forgiveness. To forgive someone, you have to stop seeing them as an abstract construct made up of bad memories and pain. To stop this, you have to see them as human. Understanding R., to me, means that I see him as a human being, and that I see his trauma, and I see his flaws, but that I also see the good in him.

That is so hard

Like Hiro, it’s easier to see R. as a man in a mask who does bad things because he’s an intrinsically bad person. It’s hard to see R. as a little boy who was emotionally abandoned by his mother and raised in a broken home, who never learned how to treat people the right way. This, in no way shape or form, negates what he has done to me and to many other girls. What he has done is still wrong and always will be.  But it helps me understand that he’s not evil, and that he is human, just like me.

It’s easier to understand a flawed human being, and maybe, some day, it will be easy to forgive this broken, pathetic human

I am Christian, but I appreciate the Taoist view on good and evil. In Tao there is no good and evil: there is balance and imbalance. Imbalance is like dirt on a window and can easily be fixed so light can shine through. I believe that understanding R. is like wiping the dirt off of a window, but not for him. I believe that understanding R. will allow me to find balance and to cope with the darkness inside of me.

Writing as Conversation

Hi everyone,

My life is still moving at breakneck pace, but today I stole a few moments to do some writing and blogging. I realised that I haven’t posted anything about writing for a while. Let’s fix that.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet (oh me, so cheeky) but I’ve been working on plotting two novels. I’ve already started writing one, albeit for a class. I’ve been encountering fears about pacing, characterization and just how the hell to end the story, which I’ve come to understand are pretty normal fears for a first time novelist. I think that, if you don’t have these fears, you either are some kind of super writer and we need to break down your genome and create an army of super writers to change literature forever, or you’re in denial. I’ve been told Egypt is lovely this time of year.

This undercurrent of existential fear has given me pause, but at the same time has forced me to think deeply about what it means to be a writer. I thought that, since I haven’t been posting about writing lately, I’d share some of my thoughts with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the misconceptions about writing. One of the biggest ones that I’ve noticed is that writing is presumed to be a solitary activity, wherein the only conversation is between characters on paper. I’ve come to realise that this could not be more false. Writing is a constant conversation.

Conversation, defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people: the act of talking in an informal way. Other definitions include the stipulation that the exchange is oral, but I feel that those definitions are outdated in the advent of instant messaging and email. By that definition, writing is a conversation. It can be as formal or as informal as the author chooses it to be (and before y’all get uppity about the informal part of the definition, remember that some conversations can be formal despite the informal medium). Conventional writing wisdom says that writing is a conversation between a writer and their reader. It is the way the reader reads between your lines, interprets your allusions and metaphors, and, of course, what they feel as they read.

I’ve come to realise that this isn’t the only conversation going on. Even if your work is never published, and the only people who read it are your pets, you’re having a conversation. Who with, you may ask, because Mr. Fluffums and Mrs. Snickerdoodle won’t tell me if they think the third act drags?

You’re having a conversation with everything you’ve read up to this point. Everything you’ve read, even if you don’t realise it, has influenced you. Everything you’ve read has taught you something about writing, whether great examples of craft or flaming examples of how not to end a novel. And when you write, you’re having a conversation with everyone who will write afterwards. In this conversation, you will teach them something

This is the ultimate conversation. This is a conversation that will continue when we are unable to speak. It transcends space and time.

And I think that’s one of the most beautiful things in the world, and it’s why I keep writing. I want to be part of that conversation.

PTSDiaries Seven: Therapy

While on my temporary hiatus, I (finally!) began my PTSD treatment. Here’s how it’s going:

Part of my therapy is exercise. I have been working out on the treadmill for 45 minutes at a time. What this therapy has really been teaching me is how resilient my body is. I now warm up at the speed I was going full throttle at a month ago. I’ve noticed how much better my sore knees have gotten, because the muscles around them have become stronger. I haven’t noticed weight loss, but I have noticed a lot of muscle toning. Personally, I would rather be a sumo wrestler than a model: I’d rather have big muscles under a layer of fat than no muscles and the “perfect” body.

Because my therapist doesn’t want me to listen to music, I spend most of my time on the treadmill plotting my stories, and I’ve been getting so much work done because of it. I would recommend exercise to any creative person. The only thing is that  don’t know if I’ve seen reduction in my symptoms yet.

The main part of my therapy is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy basically works by forcing you to confront aspects of the trauma that you have been avoiding. It’s a form of CBT, coginitive behaviour therapy, which means it’s addressing both distressing thoughts and avoidance behaviours. For example, I cannot consciously recall R.’s face. I can think about it right now, as I’m writing this, but all I see is a blob on top of a body. When I think about his face, I have distressing, occasionally violent thoughts. So, when I see it, I feel the need to run away. I’ve written about this before. Most people hear this and think “isn’t that a good thing, that you’re avoiding possible violence, or staying away from this clearly bad person?” Well…no. This need to avoid my feelings has caused me to miss out on my life. I’ve missed out on events, I have trouble trusting people to the point of creating difficulties in my relationships, and it clearly hasn’t been making me feel safer.

Lots of people have probably seen exposure therapy on TV when therapists try to help people with extreme phobias. There are two types of exposure therapy I’ve been doing: imaginal and in-vivo. Imaginal therapy is reliving the trauma in your mind, and in-vivo therapy is confronting safe situations that you’ve been avoiding due to trauma. What this is supposed to do is force you to think about the trauma, and as my therapist says, figure out where it belongs and make sense of it. It also teaches your brain that thinking about the traumatic event isn’t the same as it happening, which is what your brain thinks when you think about the trauma with PTSD. It also is supposed to teach you how to handle your trauma symptoms with the goal of symptom reduction.

So I’ve been remembering the first time R. sexually assaulted me over and over again. I’ve noticed that I’ve been having more nightmares since this began. I’ve also noticed a very slight increase in panic attacks. My theory is that, while my conscious brain is learning how to process the trauma, my subconscious mind is still struggling to make sense of it and is taking it out on me. My subconscious mind is a real dick like that. What’s also been happening is that I’m starting to get angry at the memory. I am angry at it for being such a problem in my life, and I’m angry that he is forcing me to do this to heal. I think that this could either force me to hunker down and power through it OR make me too mad to continue.

My in-vivo is more of a pain in the ass. It’s relatively harmless things, like listening to R.’s favourite music and looking at his Facebook profile. So far my laptop is intact, so I’ve been able to control my “punch the face” reflex. I’ve found that I enjoy some of the music R. likes, and I am a music addict so I don’t consider this a bad thing at all. However, some of the music R. likes sounds like a cat being kicked in the testicles as five year old hits a cheap drum until it breaks—and then keeps hitting it. Some days, I hate my therapist for making me listen to shitty music.

However, I still struggle with my anger through the process. One of the songs R. enjoys is about domestic violence, specifically how much the lead singer wants to kill men who treat their wives and children badly. It makes me angry because it tells me that he wasn’t just a stupid kid who had no idea what he was doing. He knew what domestic violence did to people, and he chose to be abusive anyway.

I also struggled with my anger on Facebook. It made me mad that we liked some of the same things, because I have come to associate everything that he likes with him and therefore it becomes evil and bad. It also made me mad that we have so many mutual friends on Facebook. Kevin Kantor says it better than I can:

Yeah. To be frank, it’s a real bitch.

But I’m glad that I’ve finally taken this step. Nothing worth having comes easily, not in my experience. It’s hard, but I tell myself that I survived R. I tell myself that I survived a man who sexually assaulted me, belittled me and threatened my dog. I can survive exposure therapy. I can survive anything.

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Here are some more resources about exposure therapy and PTSD:

Veteran’s Health Administration is just awesome! They provide such accessible and well-researched information on their youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaW28mX6gCpTuWYJyPfWd-Q

http://ptsd.about.com/od/treatment/a/ExposureTxPTSD.htm

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/PTSD/public/treatment/therapy-med/prolonged-exposure-therapy.asp

On Finishing Things.

This post doesn’t have a lot to do with writing. Or mental illness. Or even big sad alien robots. You have been warned.

So my subscribers may have noticed that I’ve been radio silent for the past few weeks. I’ve been okay, don’t worry.

Oh, you weren’t worried? Well then.

It was for a good reason, at least. I was neglecting any notion of fun to finish my degree. I finished the last two classes that I needed to complete my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in English, specializing in Creative Writing.

Is that a good enough reason? Am I forgiven?

No? Okay then.

From what I understand, I am supposed to take this as a rite of passage. My parents and older relatives are treating finishing my degree like one of the final gates to full adulthood. My friends are telling me how great it must be to be done.

I don’t feel great, or more like an adult.

I don’t know why this is—I imagine part of it is due to not receiving my piece of paper that says I learned stuff diploma until October. I think part of it is because I made the mistake of getting a psyche degree, which means that I can’t do what I want to do (art therapy) until I get another degree, so my job prospects with my psych degree haven’t changed since I was a psych student. Except now I can’t get student discounts on subs.

Remember up there, when I said this post didn’t have a lot to do with writing?

Here is where it has something to do with writing.

Finishing my degree feels a lot like finishing a story. According to google, Leonardo DaVinci once said that Art is never finished, only abandoned. That is how I feel about my stories. There’s a brief high when I finish the first draft, because all the ideas are on the paper and there’s one less story crowding my brain. Then there’s a lot of drafting, and then there’s finding someone to take my misshapen word-child and parade it around like a severely disabled show-dog (I’m in one of those “I hate my writing” phases, can’t you tell?). I read the story later and see so many places to improve, but I can’t be bothered to. I am done with it.

This is also how I feel about my degree. I put a lot of work into the papers, I did all the courses, wrote all the tests and now I have a piece of paper to show for my heart and soul. But now I have to find somewhere who will give paper and I a good home, and then use the paper to get another paper. I look back on my university experience and see so many things I should have done or I should not have done but it’s too late, because I am done with it. I just have to do better next time.

What I have come to understand as the truth, after four years of university and many, many years of creating, is that “finishing” something is inconsequential. I’m not going to say that “life is the journey, not the destination”, because that’s too cliché. What I will say is that life operates in cycles. Nothing is finished forever. And that’s beautiful, because it means that no mistake is forever, no regret is forever, and that we have countless opportunities to change and grow.

That’s enough waxing poetic for me.  Back to our regular scheduled programming.

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Kelsey J.