Image description: A pug wrapped in a blanket against green grass. Text reads: Make everybody feel sensational. A text box in the lower right reads: Exploring ‘too much of a good thing’: a narrative practice project. The bottom of the image reads: Contact Tiffany Sostar to participate: firstname.lastname@example.org. Original image credit (pug+’sensational’ text) – Inspirobot
Have you ever experienced “too much of a good thing” in your life?
Maybe you care what other people think, and sometimes this means you are empathetic, compassionate, and kind, but other times it means you have a hard time prioritizing your own needs or making decisions for yourself. It can be “too much of a good thing.”
Or maybe you have a strong work ethic, and this means that you are able to complete projects and get things done, but maybe it also means that you find it difficult to relax. It can be “too much of a good thing.”
Or maybe you are slow to trust people, and this keeps you safe but also keeps you isolated. Another “too much of a good thing.”
Or maybe you, like the pug in this Inspirobot image, like helping people feel great and this means that you are a kind and generous friend and colleague, and maybe it also means that when you’re unable to “make everybody feel sensational” you struggle with feelings of failure and guilt. Again, “too much of a good thing.”
As part of my Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work degree, I am undertaking a “practice innovation project” – looking at one aspect of narrative therapy, and trying to figure out how to do it differently, in ways that might help communities or individuals who are not currently being helped in this way.
The topic of “too much of a good thing” has come up again and again for the folks I’ve been working with in the last six months. It’s come up in relation to being rational, to caring what people think, to being productive, to being kind and empathetic, to being slow to trust – so many areas where a cherished or treasured or valued part of our skills or beliefs can sometimes slide over into something that we don’t enjoy or appreciate as much.
I’m interested in figuring out how we can talk about these experiences in ways that don’t turn them into a binary, that don’t demand that we completely get rid of or denounce our cherished part of ourselves, but that also support more agency in how we express these skills, beliefs, or traits.
If you’d like to participate in this project by talking with me about your own experiences with “too much of a good thing”, please get in touch!! You can find me on Facebook and Instagram (@sostarselfcare), or via email (email@example.com). We can connect in person, through text, or over Skype.
Friends, there’s a lot of discussion of suicide happening online right now.
Take care of yourselves.
Give yourself permission to not engage, if that’s what you need.
Give yourself permission to engage, if that’s what you need.
As is often the case, the discussion of suicide ends up being so individualized – framed as something internal to the person experiencing suicidality, something to be fixed within them. (Within us, for those of us who have been or are dealing with suicidality.)
There are other ways to talk about this issue.
There are ways to talk about this in non-individualizing and non-pathologizing ways – despair as a response to injustice, as a response to trauma, as a response to social and cultural context.
Individual therapy does not fix systemic oppression.
Systemic oppression is not an individual problem – experiencing the effects of systemic oppression is not an internal failing.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t resist the influence of suicidality in our lives, or that we can’t support each other in resisting it.
I absolutely agree that we need better access to better therapy (and by that I mean many things, not least of which is access to trans therapists, therapists of colour, queer therapists, Indigenous therapists, *peer* support systems – not only so that there is culturally sensitive therapy available *but also* so that marginalized and oppressed communities can see pathways into healing roles for themselves – the fact that marginalized communities are often framed as always accessing help and never offering help, always the “client” and never the “expert”, is a further injustice).
I agree that we need better healthcare, that we need to include mental health in our healthcare coverage and discussion.
I agree that “if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, storebought is fine.”
I agree that if you need help, reach out.
But I *do not* agree that this is primarily a problem of individuals.
I think this is a systemic problem.
It is a structural problem.
It is a response to injustice, and we will not solve it by placing the responsibility on the individuals who are experiencing the problem.
If you are suicidal, and you want to talk about it in ways that contextualize and externalize rather than individualize and internalize, know that you’re not alone.
The way the individualizing narrative can grate… that’s not just in your head.
And if you are part of the communities that have already been dealing with suicides and suicidality – Indigenous folks, trans folks, queer folks, disabled folks, poor folks – and it hurts to see the conversation flare up when privileged folks experience suicidality in a way that just doesn’t happen when your folks deal with it… that’s not just in your head, either. It is an injustice.
These conversations are hard, and there is so much fear and grief embedded in them. But we can have these conversations. We can talk about these issues in ways that don’t shift the burden onto individuals, in ways that help us strengthen our connections to each other and to our own stories of resistance and resilience.
We can respond to this problem in ways that reach towards collective liberation.
Resources and further reading:
Metanoia’s If You’re Suicidal, Read This First
Eponis : Sinope’s Everything is Awful and I am Not Okay: Questions to Ask Before Giving Up
Locate a crisis line near you
Loree Stout’s Talking about the ‘suicidal thoughts’: Towards an alternative framework (this is an academic paper, link is to the PDF, but it is readable and gives an idea of a narrative therapy approach to suicidality)
Image description: A close-up of a cat baring their teeth.
This is a guest post by X.
X is a full service sex worker living in Montreal and dreams of one day writing fiction with realistic portrayals of sex work in it.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.
I logged into Facebook on March 21st and felt my insides turn cold and heavy.
“The fuckers sold us out,” I hissed at my computer screen. Everything I and my community had tried to raise awareness about, attempted to fight against, had come to fruition. SESTA-FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), legislation intended to hold website publishers responsible for content such as sex work advertisements posted by third parties, had passed.
We braced ourselves as we entered into a new era of prohibition.
Almost immediately, various platforms began self-censoring in preparation for the bill to be signed into law. Craiglist removed their personal section wholesale rather than deal with sorting through listings that might be ads. Reddit removed any subreddits having to do with escorting or sugaring. Google began deactivating the email accounts of sex workers and removing anything deemed pornographic from Google drives. Websites used for blacklisting bad clients also disappeared rather than face legal consequence. While the concept of a free and open internet dissipated, sex worker communities went into panic mode. With the addition of the disappearance of Backpage, a major advertising platform internationally, livelihoods and lives are in danger.
I am a Canadian full service sex worker and am in my fourth year of working in the industry professionally, though I have engaged in other kinds of sex work throughout my life. I am in a privileged place, white, able-bodied, and living in the grey area of Canada’s Nordic model approach to prostitution. The immediate aftermath of SESTA-FOSTA left me feeling anxious and stressed – I would have to find a new server for my website, register a .ca domain name, and with the loss of Backpage I would have to fall back on other, less dependable avenues of advertising. But as multitudes of regional advertising platforms in the USA began disappearing, many of my colleagues have been pushed to the streets. Acquaintances and friends are facing homelessness, and accounts of the missing and the dead circulate regularly. Smelling weakness, pimps and blacklisted clients have started moving in to pick off the vulnerable. Legislation such as this, while frustrating for me, is deadly for the more marginalized of our community. So why is it being touted as protection?
How did this happen?
When speaking to friends outside of the industry about the current legal climate, they expressed sympathy and cursed Trump. However, this was a bipartisan effort, voted in with a majority of 97-2. Kamala Harris, a democrat, was instrumental in bringing down Backpage. I watch the likes of Amy Schumer and other celebrities, campaign “for” us, “for” our safety.
The sentiments are clear: Who could do such a job? Who would willingly lower themselves to participate in such a disgusting and denigrated occupation. Surely sex work must be synonymous with exploitation!?
And no wonder the general public must think these things about us, when dead hooker jokes are a mainstay of comedy, when we are perennial victims and easy targets to be gruesomely abused and killed in every kind of fiction. SWERF (sex work exclusionary radical feminist) organizations use misogynistic and dehumanizing rhetoric to push through agendas that diminish our dignity and limit our ability to work safely, all in the name of advocacy and liberation. No wonder the greater public is ignorant of and confused about our situations and realities.
Despite all the effort that’s been expended to paint us as helpless and without agency, unable to consent or make choices for ourselves, the sex work community is large, international, and very connected.
Like any other diverse community, we are far from perfect, but we share information on bad clients, exchange knowledge, and do our best to look out for each other. We run our own organizations and community outreach programs, we hold conferences, network, raise funds for those in need.
What we want is pretty simple: safe and clean places to work, an environment amenable to screening clients, legal recourse should we be assaulted or otherwise harmed.
And these demands aren’t by any means secret or hard to find – we are on Twitter (in numbers so large, we literally call it Switter), we have blogs, we do interviews. How interesting that this legislation will serve to drive us off of public platforms, sever our lines of communication and silence our experiences. Had anyone thought to consult us, listen to us, we could tell you that structural oppression is what creates the conditions for exploitation; Racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism, systems of power embedded into the fabric our society. But radical resistance and confrontation of systemic oppression is not on the agenda here. This is just digital NIMBY-ism: They just don’t want to see us, think about us, they need to keep us as the Other.
So tell me again how we’re being saved?
Learn more! Read Tits and Sass, full of writing by and for sex workers. (You could start here, with Sex Workers Are Not Collateral Damage: Kate D’Adamo on FOSTA and SESTA.)
This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!
Also check out the other posts in the series:
Friends! Where did May even go?! Wherever it went, it’s gone. Here we are in June! And here’s my review/preview post, which was posted for Patreon patrons on the first. It’s a miracle.
Okay, let’s start with May:
The new Patreon rewards have launched, and the first hand-drawn art cards have gone out! I’ve gotten really great feedback on them, and I had a lot of fun designing and drawing them. (If you’ve received your card and feel like sending me some feedback, I’d love to hear it!) The next batch of art cards will be going out in August to all patrons at $10 and up.
I’ve also created my first zine! It’s a tarot-themed zine, not in line with most of what I post here, but I’m really happy with it. I sold it at my first-ever “reading tarot at a fair” event. I think I was the only tarot reader there who wasn’t doing any kind of mediumship or divination – not telling the future, just using the cards to invite the person in front of me to think about their narrative in new ways. I am actually really interested in how tarot and narrative work can work together – I find the metaphors and symbolism in tarot so rich and inviting. Even though I was reading tarot differently than most folks, it worked for me and I got some good feedback, and it’s the only way I can feel ethical about using this tool. And it was a lot of fun! If you’re interested in that zine, it’s available for $5 in either digital or physical form. Send me an email and I’ll send you the zine!
The next zines will be more clearly in line with my narrative work – check the bottom of this post for the call for contribution links! These zines are both open to contributors, and will also feature my original content. All of the zines I’m creating (I am aiming monthly-ish) are sent out to anyone who supports my Patreon at $20 and up, and they will also be available for sale on my website.
My first blog post for the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services went up. You can read it here! It’s about how to support your partner if they have experienced sexual violence.
In the Masters program, I got a ton of work done. There were five assignments due in May:
– A 15-minute segment from a narrative therapy session
– Transcription of that segment
– A 1000-word analysis of the segment (these three not posted for reasons of confidentiality)
– A 1000-word reflection paper on the topic of re-membering conversations (posted for $5 and up patrons here)
– A 1000-word reflection paper on the topic of ethics and partnerships (posted for $5 and up patrons here)
The May Possibilities meeting was fantastic. We talked about media representation, and I’ll have the shareable resource completed and posted next week.
I did not get any blog posts written, but I did get the Feminism from the Margins May contribution up, and that was quite a bit more effort than usual since Mel Vee wrote four pieces rather than one. Those pieces of writing are powerful and deeply personal reflections on living as a queer Black woman. You can read them here, here, here, and here.
I did make progress on the Possibilities Youth project. I had two meetings with folks to talk about the logistics of running a youth group, and I have a space booked for a six-week pilot group. I’ll be announcing more details within the next month.
And I facilitated a lunch-and-learn at Chevron on the topic of “Pride 101: LGBTQIA2S+ Terminology” (the handout for that has been posted for $5 and up patrons here), and the feedback was fantastic! (One person wrote, “Thank you so much for organizing this incredibly interesting and very meaningful event. Tiffany was amazing! I learned a great deal and plan to work hard at being a good ally.”)
Sadly, I did not get the grant that I applied for. I’m going to keep trying, though. I just need to find some other ones to apply for!
And now, what’s coming up in June:
The first, and most exciting/terrifying thing for me, is that I’m finally taking this “figure out the marketing” thing seriously. I’m going to get the shop set up on this site, update my page to reflect all of the new services I’m offering, and revise my social media strategy. This won’t happen quickly, but it’s ramping up.
Figuring out my marketing honestly should have been at the top of my priority list a long time ago, but sometimes we don’t make progress until we’re forced to, and that’s okay. It’s not like I’ve been slacking, I just haven’t been focusing on marketing (because marketing is not a natural fit for me, and gives me the Bad Capitalism Feels).
What does that mean for what’s coming up?
I’m going to be posting more often on the Facebook page, here my blog, and on the Patreon (mostly cross-posting, but I’m curious about whether folks have a preference in that regard!). Since I’m going to be posting more often, I’m going to start writing my posts in advance, sharing them on the Patreon early, and then posting them on the blog and the Facebook page. I’m working on getting a little stash of posts written so that I can get that ball rolling. I’m hopeful that this will build interest in the Patreon, and also allow me to engage with my social media audience more effectively.
I’m also going to figure out how to actually be present on Instagram in a more meaningful and effective fashion. And on LinkedIn. And maybe Medium? This is literally me:
Image description: A five panel comic. In the first panel, a person with a beard says, “keep going! you’re almost there!” In the second, a person with a ponytail is running towards a ball labeled “goal”. In the third, the ponytailed person is still running towards the goal and, a shiny golden ball labelled “new goal!” rolls past. In the fourth, the ponytailed person looks after the shiny new goal. In the fifth, the ponytailed person is running after the new goal, and the bearded person says off-screen, “noo, finish the other one first!” This comic is by Catana Comics, and they are so cute!!
And I’m going to figure out this networking thing. I have a coffee date in June with the person who brought me in at Chevron, and she’s going to give me some advice on networking into more lunch-and-learn opportunities.
I’ve also sent a message to a friend of a friend, who has reached out to a few of her connections in HR positions, to see about bringing me in for lunch-and-learns. I still need to figure out how to start networking into more narrative therapy work, but… I’ll get there.
The two blog posts I had hoped to write in May, I will be writing in June. So you can look forward to a post on Self-Care and Caring What Other People Think About Us, and an interview post about major life transitions. I’m also going to be writing a post on re-membering conversations, similar to the post about connecting to our skills that I wrote in April. I’m aiming for once-a-month-ish “intro to a narrative practice” posts.
I’ll be recording and sharing a short series of videos answering questions about narrative therapy. If you want to submit a question, send it to me this week! I’m working on this video series now, and am using it as an opportunity to learn some editing skillz.
The questions I have so far are:
– How do I explain narrative therapy to someone?
– Is it counselling or writing your life story?
– Why would I pick narrative over cognitive behavioural therapy?
– How do I know if narrative therapy is right for me?
– What are the risks, if any, of narrative therapy?
– Isn’t it just pretending that things are different? Isn’t that just avoidance or delusion?
– Do I need to be a writer / creative type person to benefit from narrative therapy?
– How would someone with dissociative tendencies be able to use narrative therapy around periods of time when they weren’t present?
– Can I use narrative therapy to get dates? (This was submitted as a joke, but I’m legit considering answering it because we could certainly talk about what it is you are valuing in the desire to “get dates” and what your previous experiences has been in this regard, and why you are looking for therapeutic help in this way. It’ll be a funny but informative answer, is what I’m hoping.)
Do you have questions about narrative therapy? Send them to me, and I’ll answer them in a video!
I have two assignments due in the Masters program, both 1000-word reflections that I’ll post on the Patreon after they’re written. (Update since this was posted – the first of these is up! If you want to read my Masters program papers, you can get access to those exciting pieces of work for just $5/month.)
And! Very exciting news! Back in April, Cheryl White (one of the directors and founders of the Dulwich Centre) sent me an article that was going to be published and asked for my thoughts. I sent her my thoughts, including some critique. She appreciated the critique and….
*pause for dramatic effect*
… the Dulwich Centre is sending me and another narrative practitioner to Sacramento on a two-day trip to meet the author of the article, David Nylund, and tour the Gender Health Centre and do some narrative sessions with the therapists there, so that I can then share my learning with the Dulwich Centre and help support their increased trans-inclusivity and awareness, and also co-author a paper that will be included in next year’s course readings.
Let’s just pause for a second before freaking out about this, and then freak out about this, because this is amazing. This is exactly what I want to do with my life – travel, meet and interview people, create content that will increase justice and decrease marginalization in the world. This is what I want for my life! (Just imagine if this Patreon grew and I could do this kind of work with crowdfunding. *wistful sigh*)
Because May was so challenging in my personal life, I am going to head down to Sacramento a few days early and take a few days to write, read, and recover.
I will definitely post the paper that I write, and any other documents generated as a result of this trip, on the Patreon and probably also on the blog.
I am pretty excited.
And, I’ve also got a couple events coming up in June:
On Sunday, the Self-Care Salon will be running, this month with a focus on Justice and Access to Support. I am very excited about this discussion and the resulting collective document. (Update: This event was fantastic and I will be generating the collective document following the conversation within the next couple weeks.)
On June 19, Possibilities will be talking about Queerness and Parental Relationships (both relationships with our parents, and as parents ourselves).
Now, the zines! (You can also find all of the open calls for contributions in a new album on the Facebook page.)
Image description: A rusty lock and chain on a wooden door. Text reads “Restraint: A zine about small, silent, and subversive methods of responding to injustice. Send submissions or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submission deadline July 31, 2018.”
1. a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits.
How do we experience restraint?
How do we resist injustice?
How do we break free, break open, break stigma, break barriers?
How do we speak?
Many of us are resisting injustice from a place of external or internal restraint. Either being controlled or controlling ourselves, or both.
We may not “come out” because it wouldn’t be safe, or because it isn’t the way we want to move through our world, or because it would jeopardize our relationships or our work.
We may not “speak up” to bullying, abuse, or injustice because it would put our career in danger, or it would put people we love in harm’s way, or because other people have power over us and we can’t afford to antagonize them, or because we have other ways of resisting those injustices.
(Disabled folks who can’t speak up to injustices committed by their carers because of the power differential, racialized folks who can’t speak up to injustices in the office because they’ll be labelled “angry”, trans folks who can’t speak up to injustices in the medical community because it would put their access to transition support in jeopardy – there are so many of these situations!)
But despite these restraints, people are never passive recipients of trauma or injustice. As David Denborough says in the Charter of Storytelling Rights, “Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.” (https://dulwichcentre.com.au/narrative-justice-and-human-rights/)
There are many ways to resist, challenge, and respond to injustice.
This zine celebrates and recognizes the small, silent, and subversive responses to injustice.
It is inspired by the April Possibilities bi+ community discussion of “the closet”, and by the March Self-Care Salon discussion about being a professional on the margins, as well as other conversations and experiences of restraint (both restraint that is painful and externally imposed, and restraint that is joyful and internally chosen).
Do you have a story of restraint?
Send your submissions of art, comics, short fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or essay to email@example.com before July 31, 2018. You can also send your questions.
(Depending on the number, size, and content of submissions, some may be edited. Nothing will be put into the final zine altered without the author’s consent.)
Image description: Cut daisies are scattered on pavement. Text reads, “Everything happens for a reason? a zine about making our own meanings. send submissions and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 14, 2018”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“The universe must have a lesson for you.”
As a response to grief, to loss, to pain, to injustice, these phrases that are meant to be comforting can end up being incredibly hurtful.
Although people do always respond to the traumas, injustices, and hardships in their lives, and these responses often leave us with valuable skills and insider knowledges, the idea that we experience trauma, injustice, and hardship because we’re meant to, or because it’s “good for us”, or we have somehow attracted it, or we need to experience it, is often a bitter pill to swallow.
So spit that pill out!
Let’s write, draw, poem, collage, photograph, paint, and talk about the meaning we make from our hard times (the lessons we learn, skills we develop, knowledges we gain), and the nonsense of our hard times (the *lack* of lesson, the pain that we just feel and do not ever appreciate), and let’s resist the idea that these hard times are somehow necessary, or “good for us.”
Send your submissions to email@example.com by June 14, 2018!
And if you have thoughts but aren’t comfortable writing them out, let me know and we can do an interview!
My big collective document projects – extroversion, self-care for queer geeks, financial self-care on the margins, and bad gender feels project, as well as my on-the-to-do-list smaller documents – self-care and the closet, the write-up of the first professionals on the margins meeting, are all in limbo. I hope I’ll have time to get to them in June, but I’m trying to keep my goals reasonable. They will happen eventually, but I’m not entirely sure when!
I really need to book more narrative therapy clients, too. So, if you know anyone, or if you’re interested in working with me, let me know!
Anyway! That’s the review/preview!
Thank you so much to each of my patrons and supporters. The vast majority of what I do is not funded and I don’t charge for the work, and without your support, I don’t know if I could keep going. You make this work possible. <3
Image description: A large airplant on a wall of plants. Text reads: “Do not be afraid. Do not be cynical. Continue to trust in yourself and others. Continue to dream of collective liberation. – scott crow”
I rarely say anything like, “Do not be afraid. Do not be cynical.”
I believe in the radical power of the gloom and the shadowed heart. I believe that negativity has a place in this world, and that when we reject it in favour of forced and weaponized positivity, we lose out on so much – we lose the richness of our sadness, our grief, our rage, our despair.
There is hope to be nurtured and cultivated in the moments of hopelessness – we become hopeless because we want better for ourselves, hope is embedded in the hopelessness.
There is desire in despair – we become despairing because we desire something better, something more just, something sweeter and more sustainable.
Today, I flipped open Joyful Militancy, and read scott crow’s quote – “Do not be afraid. Do not be cynical. Continue to trust in yourself and other. Continue to dream of collective liberation.” – and it hit me right in the heart.
Instead of landing as a weaponized admonition, as I often find these kinds of directives, this came as a reminder of the self that is absent but implicit in my fear, my cynicism, my distrust, my scarcity feardreaming. I think that so many of us are experiencing so much fear these days.
As Nick Montgomery and carla bergman write in Joyful Militancy, “Many people’s impulse is to mistrust others from the start, and it makes sense, given that many of us have been living Hobbes’ dream, made real, for centuries. Most everyone we know has been touched by some kind of oppression and abuse, and Empire’s oppressive divisions often lead people to betray even their most intimate relations.”
But they also write about the radical potential of trust and responsibility, and about how trust and responsibility can be a powerful antidote to the mistrust and violence of life under oppression.
This quote reminds me, today, that I am capable of joyfulness and hope, even in moments of despair and fear.
There is a self who is not afraid – who is willing to act with courage even when fear is present.
There is a self who is not cynical – who is willing to open to joy even when disillusionment is present.
There is a self who trusts, myself and others – who is willing to allow for mistakes and imperfection, and to come back to trust, to do the work of building, sharing, and repairing trust even when betrayal or hurt is present.
There is a self who dreams of collective liberation, even when incredible oppression is present.
Maybe that self exists for you, too.
(This post is an expansion of today’s Tender Year post.)