Non-Binary Superpowers!

Non-Binary Superpowers!

This isn’t new, but somehow I had never put a link into a blog post!

I’m sharing it here now, in honour of Trans Day of Visibility.

Last year, my beloved colleague Rosie and I collaborated on a project – we met with non-binary youth in Adelaide, SA, and also with non-binary youth in Calgary, Alberta. Then we created a collective document bringing together the insider knowledges shared in those conversations.

This collective document has since been published in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, and you can download the PDF here.

Linking self-care to community

Linking self-care to community

This is a lesson from the Integration and Care module in An Unexpected Light. (Each of the six themes in An Unexpected Light includes a narrative therapy module, a curated reading module, a writing module, and an integration and care module. This lesson comes from the Kinship and Community theme.)

I thought that this exercise might be helpful for those of us who are in isolation or physical distancing, because it invites us to think about the connected histories of our self-care actions. When we’re feeling alone, and floating through our houses with a sense of detachment or powerlessness, it can help us narrate the history of the small actions of care that we are relying on, and can reconnect us to small actions of care that might sustain us through this hard time.

These videos were recorded months ago, and don’t directly reference COVID19. They also both reference inviting someone over for tea – obviously this isn’t accessible to many of us right now! But video calls, phone calls, or across-the-street teas might be.

The full transcripts for the videos are included at the end of this post. If you find these videos helpful and you’d like to sign up for the next round of the course, you can find that information here. (As of March 25, there are still 15 spots available in the upcoming session of An Unexpected Light. All scholarship spaces are filled, but sliding scale is always available.)

An Unexpected Light – Actions of Care

This video introduces the idea of “actions of care” – all of the actions that we take that care for ourselves and others. This video challenges the idea that “self-care” happens in isolation, and instead locates it within a history and a community of caretaking and caregiving actions. This is part one of the lesson.

From the video:

Drinking tea is sort of a trope when we talk about self-care: “Make yourself a cup of tea”. Tea and writing is also something we think of as going together. That’s one reason why I wanted to use London Fogs as the example. 

Even if making a cup of tea is what you do for self-care while you’re writing, sometimes it can be helpful to go through a process of mapping how you learned to use tea as a self-care strategy. 

Who taught you that? 

Do you remember the first time someone sat you down with a cup of tea? 

Do you remember seeing relatives or friends or strangers looking serene in a coffee shop and thinking ‘oh, maybe I could use that skill for myself’? 

Is there a way that you can take your actions of self-care that often happen on your own and link those to your community; link them to a history and a legacy of using those skills? 

What does it mean to be tied to many other people who also use this skill? 

Is that a way that you can feel connected, and are there ways that your self-care skills and tools can actually help integrate you into your communities? 

Are there ways that you can do those together? 

Even if that just means talking about them on social media? Or texting a friend and saying ‘hey, I’m gonna have a bath. I haven’t had a bath in a while, I was thinking maybe you would want one too’. That was a really weird example; I apologize for going off the rails there, but, maybe bathtime with friends is a thing? 

But, is there a way that you can take your self-care strategies and connect them so that it’s not about you as an island; an individual isolated person having to care for yourself in a way that cuts you off from other people, that puts your needs ahead of other people’s when actually we’re all working together. Or ideally, we can all be working together. 

There are lots of things that you are doing during this time of isolation and physical distancing, both for yourself and for others.

You may be limiting your time on social media – how? why? are you connected to other community members who have taught you the value of this, or who support you in this?

You may be doing drive-past visits and chatting across a safe distance – why? whose idea was this? who is involved? how does this make you feel? what does it make possible?

You may be baking, or brushing your teeth every morning, or setting timers to keep yourself focused – how? why? where did you learn it? who does it connect you to?

Any action, no matter how small, has a history and exists in a social context. Mapping that out can be a powerful antidote to feelings of powerlessness and loneliness.


If you really enjoyed that first video, this next one expands on it to offer a deeper-dive into the narrative practice behind this idea.

An Unexpected Light – Histories of Care

Part two of the lesson introduces the narrative therapy practice that will guide you through tracing the history of your own actions of care, and putting these into a social context.

Linking actions to histories

There is a foundation of skills, dreams, and values in your history.

Although this is a bonus narrative practice, it sets the foundation for the final month in An Unexpected Light, which focuses on legacies of action. Think of this as an invitation to start thinking about your own legacies of action!

Think of a circumstance in your life that has been challenging for you; something that has required you to access self-care or coping skills. Give the problem a name. (For many of us, this problem right now might be named coronavirus, or capitalism, or isolation. If the problem you’re facing is brand new, like coronavirus, you might want to think about times in the past that have some resonance with this experience – other times you’ve felt isolation, other times of scarcity, other times when you have worried for your or your community’s health.)

The actions that we’re connecting to here do not have to be big, impressive actions. For me, it was London Fogs! They can be small things – a letter, a practice of self-care that keeps you going. The idea is to connect to the history of these actions.

The action: creating a unique outcome

As you think about this problem, has there ever been a time when you faced this problem, or a similar problem, and you responded differently than usual? Think of a time when this resulted in a unique outcome. What did you do differently?

Where were you when you took this action? 

Were there other people supporting you? If yes, who were those other people? 

What made it possible for you to respond differently in this way?

Why was it important for you to respond to the problem in this different way? What might it say about what you want for yourself and your life? 

What were you standing for when you responded differently? Can you give a name to what you are standing for, or to what you were valuing? 

The history

Have there been other times when you’ve done something similar to this?

Have these previous actions also reflected the hopes or values that allowed you to respond differently to the problem? 

When was the first time you took an action like this?

Where did you learn that this kind of action is possible?

If you’ve never taken an action like this before, can you see other times in your life when other actions have reflected your values? (For example, your action may have reflected a value of “community” or “integrity” or “caring for others” or “creativity” – are there other times when you’ve taken actions that reflected this value?)

The witness(es)

Out of all the people you’ve known, who might be most pleased to know that you’ve stood up to the problem in this way? 

Why would they be pleased? 

What might this say about their hopes for your life? 

Are there people who also hope for the things that you hope for yourself? 

Would this person say “I knew you could do this”? 

What might they know about you that inspires their confidence that you could do what you did? 

Would this person be surprised that you did this? If yes, what might they be learning about you that they didn’t know before? What might you be learning about yourself? 

The future

What are you taking with you from this exploration of what might be a very small thing? What are you going to take into the future from this exploration of one experience of responding to a problem differently? 

If you wrote up this takeaway and posted it in a place where you’d be reminded of it, what effect might that have on your future? 

If you had a way to remind yourself that you have these skills, that there are people who know you have these skills and who support you, that there’s a foundation in your history of these skills, what might that mean for you? 

(Adapted from work by Jill Freedman and Gene Combs.)


Transcription of An Unexpected Light – Actions of Care

Okay. This is a video about care-taking and care-giving and actions of care, and how our self-care is something that’s connected to our communities and to our histories.

In this course, I’d like to really challenge some of the ideas about self-care being something that we do in isolation, as little islands; making tea for ourselves, or having a bubble bath, and this being framed as somehow contrary to community care or meaning that we need to prioritize ourselves over our communities or our histories. I’d like to think about care as something that happens within our social context; something that we learn to do together; something that we do in community even when we’re doing it on our own. 

I’m going to use London Fogs as an example *gestures towards cup of tea on the table*. London Fogs are a tea beverage. They’re one of my most important self-care tools. A London Fog is basically strong Earl Grey tea. I use vanilla sugar and vanilla extract and some kind of frothed milky beverage. You can use milk, but you can also use coconut milk or almond milk; whatever, but that’s the basic recipe. 

I learned how to make London Fogs when I was in the year between my fibromyalgia symptoms becoming debilitating and when I got the diagnosis of fibromyalgia and started figuring out how to navigate that experience of chronic, ongoing pain that occasionally and at that time frequently flared into something that kept me basically in my house and on my couch. It was quite a socially isolating experience, and I found that London Fogs were something I could do even on a high pain day. I could usually bring a chair into the kitchen and go through those steps of making tea, frothing milk with a little battery-powered handheld thing and making something that was soothing. There was a ritual around it, and it was something that people would come over and we would have a London Fog together. It gave me a sense of my ability to still have value in my community despite what was at the time a new experience of disability that I’d found really challenged my sense of who I was. 

Drinking tea is sort of a trope when we talk about self-care: “Make yourself a cup of tea”. Tea and writing is also something we think of as going together. That’s one reason why I wanted to use London Fogs as the example. 

Even if making a cup of tea is what you do for self-care while you’re writing, sometimes it can be helpful to go through a process of mapping how you learned to use tea as a self-care strategy. 

Who taught you that? 

Do you remember the first time someone sat you down with a cup of tea? 

Do you remember seeing relatives or friends or strangers looking serene in a coffee shop and thinking ‘oh, maybe I could use that skill for myself’? 

Is there a way that you can take your actions of self-care that often happen on your own and link those to your community; link them to a history and a legacy of using those skills? 

What does it mean to be tied to many other people who also use this skill? 

Is that a way that you can feel connected, and are there ways that your self-care skills and tools can actually help integrate you into your communities? 

Are there ways that you can do those together? 

Even if that just means talking about them on social media? Or texting a friend and saying ‘hey, I’m gonna have a bath. I haven’t had a bath in a while, I was thinking maybe you would want one too’. That was a really weird example; I apologize for going off the rails there, but, maybe bathtime with friends is a thing? 

But, is there a way that you can take your self-care strategies and connect them so that it’s not about you as an island; an individual isolated person having to care for yourself in a way that cuts you off from other people, that puts your needs ahead of other people’s when actually we’re all working together. Or ideally, we can all be working together. 

I don’t know if this video turned out the way I was hoping it would, but that’s what I was wanting to talk about. 


Transcription of An Unexpected Light – Histories of Care

Okay. So, let’s say you watched my earlier video about linking your self-care strategies to a history and community, and you think that sounds exciting but you don’t know how to do it. This video is a bonus narrative therapy practice for you. I’m going to walk you through the same questions that I would ask someone in a narrative therapy session, and the questions that were asked of me when I was in my Master’s program that actually helped me recognize my connection to London Fogs for being as complex and nuanced and beautiful as it is. I will also write these up in a handout for you, but I thought a video might be kind of fun. 

Think of a circumstance in your life that has been challenging for you; something that has required you to access self-care or coping skills. 

Do you have a name for it? You can name it whatever you want. It might be “depression”, it might be “anxiety”, it might be “interacting with a challenging family member”, or whatever. It could be a feeling or relationship variable, or a cultural or social problem like racism, or heterosexism, or fatphobia, or ableism. Or, it could be a unique metaphor that has meaning for you. It might be, you know, “the gloom”, or “the blues”, or “the zoomies” if you have that sense of frenetic energy that becomes problematic for you. 

As you think about this challenging context, has there ever been a unique outcome? A time when whatever it is could’ve taken you over, but you managed to get the upper hand or you managed to escape from it, or you managed to shrink it down to a manageable size. Where were you when this happened? Were there other people around? If yes, who were those other people? 

So, really think in some detail about a time when that problem has been managed in a unique way. What do you think made it possible for that to happen? 

When I was asked this question, I was thinking about pain as the problem. My unique outcome was a very specific memory of inviting someone over to my house that I really cared about; that I actually had quite a significant crush on, and making that person a London Fog, and knowing in that moment, even though the pain was still present, I had an experience of feeling myself having a little bit of control and agency in my life. 

You want to make sure that the unique outcome represents a preferred experience. It is valuable to talk about times when the unique outcome has been uniquely terrible, but that’s not what we’re looking for here. We are looking for times when it’s gone unexpectedly well. And then, we want to give that some meaning. 

So, why was it important for you to respond to the problem in this different way? What might this say about what you want for yourself and your life. What does it say you stand for? Can you give a name for what you are standing for? 

For me, when I was talking about London Fogs it was important to me because I was feeling really isolated. And in that moment of making a choice to invite someone into my space and to offer to share this new skill with them, I was valuing community and connection. I was also valuing reciprocal care. I think of all those things as being connected to a really strong value of community. 

So then, once you’ve kind of mapped out this unique outcome and what it says about you, think about a past time that has something in common with that unique outcome. Were there other times when you’ve done something that reflected these hopes, values, or commitments? Describe one of those times. It might not be connected to the problem; now we’re thinking about how it connects to the skills or values or commitments that you used in responding to the problem. 

Then, you try and link that unique outcome (for me that was when I invited this person over for a London Fog and had an experience of feeling like despite the presence of the pain, I was able to act in ways that brought community into my life) to past experiences where I was also valuing community. I was able to think about the fact that I’ve been a community organizer for quite a few years before the pain showed up in the same way that it had. That means that my value of community and connection has a foundation that predates the pain in my life. Then we link that unique outcome and those skills and the foundation to significant other people in your life. 

Out of all the people you’ve known, who might be most pleased to know that you’ve stood up to the problem in this way? Who would be pleased that you are standing for whatever it is. For me that would be community. Why would he/she/they be pleased? What might this say about their hopes for your life? Are there people who also hope for the things that you hope for yourself? Would this person say “I knew you could do this”? What might they know about you that inspires their confidence that you could do what you did? 

When I was thinking about this in relation to the London Fogs, I was thinking about that, at the time I had two partners, and they had both been very confident that I would figure out what was happening. They never wavered in their support for me. And, although I don’t think either of them would’ve said: “London Fogs are gonna be the key to this unique outcome”, I know they believed in me. 

Would this person be surprised that you did this? If yes, what might they be learning about you that they didn’t know before? That can be really important, too. If you were doing something; if your skill or your foundation is something that cherished people in your life might not expect, what are they learning about you? What might you be learning about yourself? 

And then you can bring this into the future. What are you taking with you from this exploration of what might be a very small thing? Making a fancy cup of tea is quite a small thing, but it connects me to a whole history, and maybe it will connect you to a whole history as well. What are you going to take into the future from that conversation? 

And, importantly, if you wrote up this takeaway and posted it in a place where you’d be reminded of it, what effect might that have on your future? If you had a way to remind yourself that you have these skills, that there are people who know you have these skills and who support you, that there’s a foundation in your history of these skills, what might that mean for you? 

So, yeah! That comes from my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work documentation from the Dulwich Centre. It’s adapted from work by Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, who are fantastic. I will include a link to that with this video. 

Responding to problem-saturated stories

Responding to problem-saturated stories

This is a narrative therapy post! 

It’s about how we respond to recurring stories that focus tightly on a problem or complaint, whether the storyteller is ourselves or someone else. What I hope to do with this post is to describe how we might use narrative therapy practices in our responses to ourselves and each other, in order to help the storyteller feel stronger in their story. This might mean strengthening the storyteller’s connection to their own values, or inviting the storyteller to tell the story of how they responded to the problem in addition to telling the story of the problem’s influence on them.

Many of us have experienced recurring stories that focus on a problem. These recurring stories tell the story of an experience, a person or a relationship, where the problem has significant power and is central to the story. Problem-saturated stories are notable because they tend not to leave room in the story for recognizing agency, choice, and response. The problem happens to the storyteller, and throw the storyteller off course in a way that is disruptive and distressing. They are often stories of injustice, or of a social context that suddenly goes off the rails.

These stories can be distressing to hear, even if we’re just hearing them from ourselves! It can be hard to know how to respond, and sometimes we respond by shutting the story (and the storyteller) down, changing the subject without engaging in the story, asking (or demanding) that the storyteller focus on the positives, or downplaying or dismissing the impact of the problem because we don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of the problem story again. Sometimes these responses are based in self-preservation, but they are not often helpful for the storyteller. The goal of this post is to offer us some other possible responses.

A problem-saturated story tells the story of an experience in a way that makes the problem powerful and visible and leaves the values, skills, choices, and responses of the person experiencing the problem less visible. Our goal with these responses is to flip that around, and make the values, skills, choices, and responses of the person experiencing the problem more visible. People are not passive recipients of hardship – we are always responding. This post is about how we help the storyteller make those responses visible.

I want to add some really important caveats right at the beginning of this post:

First, this practice is at the heart of narrative therapy. I think this is at the heart of all therapy, really, though different therapeutic methods approach it differently. This practice is about listening with compassion and care, and asking questions that invite a shift in the narrative focus. It is hard and important work, and it is not only trained therapists who do this work. Many of us, therapists or not, have deep skills and insider knowledge when it comes to listening and responding to the stories of problems, and all of us have skills and knowledge when it comes to responding to problems – one of the core beliefs of narrative therapy is that nobody is passive recipient of trauma or hardship.

In sharing this post, I’m not suggesting that we should all become therapists for each other all the time. Even though this practice is at the heart of narrative therapy, and it can be a therapeutic process, it’s also just part of how we can be in relationship with each other. We listen to each other tell the stories of our lives, and the stories of our problems, all the time. The goal of this practice, especially when we’re bringing it into our non-therapeutic relationships, is not to “fix” the problem and it is definitely not to “fix” the person. 

The goal is to invite the storyteller to tell the story in ways that feel strong. It is about highlighting and making visible the skills and values and responses that already exist within the story. That’s a really important orientation to the story (and the storyteller) because it involves curiousity rather than education. This practice invites us, as listeners, to locate the storyteller as the expert in their own experience, and and it invites us to carry a pre-existing belief that there are skills, values, and responses already present in the story. 

Second, I want to acknowledge the importance of complaint in our lives. Complaint is not a bad thing, and telling stories of complaint is also not a bad thing. Complaints, including retelling stories of problems in our lives, are often critical steps in standing against injustice. So when we respond to each other’s complaints, or to our own complaints, it is important to keep in mind the value of complaint, and to honour the insight that allows someone to say, “this happened and it was not okay.”

Sometimes it takes time to get to the point of saying it so clearly, and what can come across as “whining” or “fixating on the negative” can be part of an important process of sifting through an experience to understand what happened and why it feels bad.

As Sara Ahmed points out, “A feminist ear picks up on the sounds that are blocked by the collective will not to hear. The sounds of no, the complaints about violence, the refusals to laugh at sexist jokes; the refusals to comply with unreasonable demands; to acquire a feminist ear is to hear those sounds as speech.”

So, before I invite you to use these practices to respond to complaint in a way that shifts from the problem to the response, I first want to invite you to listen with care to the complaint. Is the story being told over and over to you because the storyteller (perhaps yourself!) has been “blocked by the collective will not to hear”? How can we “acquire a feminist ear” in our listening to each other (and ourselves)?

If it is the case that the storyteller has not had the opportunity to tell the story without being “blocked”, then the storyteller first needs to be witnessed in the grip of the problem and the complaint. For example, if the problem story is about experiencing racism, transantagonism, queerphobia, fatphobia, ableism, misogyny, or any other problem related to structural oppression, chances are very good that the storyteller has been “blocked” by the collective ear, and naming the injustice is a critical part of that person’s survival and self-affirmation. In those cases, it is so important to listen compassionately and with the “feminist ear” that Sara Ahmed invites us to develop in ourselves.

That act of listening carefully to the problem story is one of the most important practices of narrative therapy (in my opinion).  Michael White referred to it as “lingering with the problem” and it can be deeply uncomfortable, but also incredibly valuable. Often, only once we have been witnessed in our struggle, and the harms and injustices that we are facing have been named, can we consider moving past this to other stories.

So, if you’re the listener, and you recognize that the storyteller might need to be witnessed in the struggle before they can move to other stories, and you just do not have the bandwidth to hear the story (sometimes for the fiftieth time – some stories are very sticky, and we try many times to find the right audience or the right way of being witnessed!) it is absolutely okay to say, “I don’t have the bandwidth to talk about this right now. Can we switch the topic?” 

You can say this to someone else, and you can also say this to yourself. Being a supportive friend (to others and to ourselves!) does not mean that we have to always extend ourselves past our limits. Being able to say, “I don’t have it in me right now” can invite consent and accountability into our relationships, allowing us to say yes to the hard conversations more openly and intentionally. This is particularly important if we are also feeling weighed down by our own contexts or problems.

So, with all those caveats and assuming that you have the bandwidth to spend some time in the problem-saturated story and you’d like to try and engage in a narratively-informed conversation with the storyteller and try to shift the story a bit, here are some ideas.

As I mentioned, the goal of responding to these problem-saturated stories is to make those values, skills, choices, and responses visible, or at least to invite the storyteller to reflect on them. This means that we’re not trying to change the topic (though that’s valid – it’s just a different thing!), we’re trying to change the lens on the topic.

Note: the storyteller might be yourself.

Additional note: This might be incredibly difficult and uncomfortable.

Third note: If the storyteller, especially if it is not you, appears uncomfortable with your questions and with this approach, take a step back. If you feel like you have to push to get anywhere with this, it’s best to stop. Narrative questions can be so valuable and so rewarding, but they can also be so full of pressure and friction. If it feels hard and bad for either of you, take a breath and pause. The storyteller may not be ready to shift the story, and that’s okay! That’s not a failure on their part, and it’s not a failure on your part. And it also doesn’t mean that you have to listen to the same story again – you have the option to decline the conversation, to change the topic, to take care of the relationship in other ways.

So, the actual practice.

Listen to the story and think about the following questions, and consider asking them if an opportunity arises:

What skills made it possible for the storyteller to get through that experience? 

For example, if they are telling the story of a relationship that has ended, and they are lingering in the stories of pain that they experienced, what skills allowed them to keep going in their life despite that pain? How did they get through the relationship up to the point of it ending? Where did they learn these skills? Who taught them, or showed them it was possible? When did they first realize that they had these skills?

As you listen to the story, you might notice moments when the storyteller did something in response to the problem. Is this connected to a skill that can be named, and whose history can be traced?

In an example like this, be mindful of not cooperating with victim-blaming discourses by suggesting that they should have had different skills, or that the hurtful situation was a “blessing in disguise” because of the skills they developed in response.

What values did the storyteller hold onto as they moved through that experience?

For example, if they are telling the story of how workplace bullying has invited problems into their life, what have they held onto that allows them to get through that experience? What do they value or cherish about themselves in a work context – do they have a value of integrity or collaboration or justice that has allowed them to keep showing up for work despite the problems? Can you see these values evident in the story, such as in the way they choose to treat coworkers with care, or in the way they do their work? What do their choices say about what is important to them?

Sometimes problem-saturated stories are so sticky because they are stories of times when our values have been violated – if we have a value of integrity or honesty and we have been lied to, this can feel like a very sticky problem! Sometimes the complaint itself highlights the value, and it can help to witness this actively. This might sound like, “it sounds like you really value treating people with compassion, and that value was not extended to you in this situation.” If this is the case, then you can ask about the history of that value – where does it come from? Is this a value that they share with anyone in their life? Have there been times when they’ve really seen this value being expressed in actions?

In an example like this, be aware of the fact that talking about our values can invite feelings of guilt or shame if we have acted out of alignment with our own values or if we feel that we’re not able to express our values through our actions. Focusing on what is important to someone, and framing it in terms of how they have held on to that being important despite contexts that don’t support it, can be one way to sidestep the shame. 

How has the storyteller responded to the problem?

For example, if they are telling the story of how sickness or disability has impacted their life, how have they responded to the ableism that they’ve faced, and to the changes in their body and social context? 

In an example like this, be especially conscious of not downplaying the impact of sickness or disability on a person’s life within our ableist culture. Naming ableism, capitalism, lack of social supports, and other structural and systemic problems is so important, because sick and disabled people are so often invited to view ourselves and our bodies as the problem. To quote Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, our bodies are not the problem, ableism is the problem. 

And also, when our ability changes, this can bring grief and loss, and those feelings are valid! But the person, and the person’s body, are still not the problem. 

If you are looking for stories of response, you might ask things like – what do they do when the problem shows up? How did they respond when the sickness or disability arrived, or as it has changed over time? What has allowed them to respond to the problems that have come? 

Who has witnessed the storyteller experiencing this problem? Who has supported them?

This is such an important question, because the problems in our lives can isolate us, leaving us feeling alone. But we are not alone. Even if the only person we see on our team is a fictional character, a pet, or an ancestor… still, we are not alone. We are always in relationship, and there are always ways to find connection.

So, for example, if they are telling the story of being hurt by someone else, were there any kind witnesses to this hurt? Even if nobody witnessed the hurt, are there any people in the storyteller’s life who, if they had witnessed the hurt, would have recognized why it was so hurtful? Have they seen anyone else hurt in this way? If so, what did they think of that? How would they respond to seeing someone else hurt in this way? Who has supported them, or responded in the way that they would want to respond?

All of these questions focus on finding the moments of agency, choice, and response. 

It’s about finding the strong story that already exists as a shimmering thread in even the most sticky, muddy, problem-saturated story.

We are always responding to the hurts and injustices and traumas that we face. These responses come from somewhere. They might come from witnessing someone else respond in a way that we want to emulate, or in a way that we don’t. From our own past experiences. From the values that we learned in our favourite books or games, or from our family members or culture. From so many places!

Telling the story of our response can help us find a sense of agency and choice – we did respond to that injustice, even if that response was to roll our eyes or go complain to a friend. We did something in response!

We all have values – things that we consider precious and worth holding onto even in the face of obstacles. These values have histories. Those histories can help us feel connected to others who share our values, and can help us feel less alone.

We all have skills – ways of acting that allow us to respond to the problems in our lives. These skills also have histories! And they may be connected to our values, and together these values and skills shape our responses.

We all have connections and community, even when we are distant from these. We all come from somewhere, and we all have people who have been a positive influence in our lives (even if those people are pets, or celebrities, or fictional characters). We are not alone.

These questions aren’t about downplaying the problem or the impact it has had on the storyteller’s life. They are about making visible what the storyteller has done in response, and what has allowed them to do this.

If you end up using some of these strategies and questions in your life, I’d love to hear about them!

If you’d like to learn more about narrative therapy, the Dulwich Centre has two free online courses – an intro to narrative therapy, and a free online course focused on Aboriginal narrative therapy (taught by Aunty Barbara Wingard, who coined the phrase “telling our stories in ways that make us stronger”). You can find those courses here.

Our current economic, environmental, and political devastation offer plenty of problem stories for many of us. I offer An Unexpected Light, a six-month online narrative therapy and speculative fiction course focused on telling stories of futures full of care, collaboration, justice, liberation, and possibility. The next session starts April 2, 2020. Find more information and register here.

Great Unexpectations: A Possibilities Calgary event

Great Unexpectations: A Possibilities Calgary event

I’m putting some of the material I’ve been generating for An Unexpected Light to work in other spaces. I’m proud of this, because one expectation I often apply to myself is that everything must be fresh and new, that it will have less value if it is something I created for another purpose, and that it reflects “laziness” on my part if I don’t come up with something brand new every time.

In the spirit of this month’s event, I am formally resigning from this expectation, which does not serve me and does invite me into significant feelings of failure and anxiety.

With the time and energy that would previously have gone into meeting this expectation, I will make myself a London Fog this afternoon – an act of solidarity with myself that I haven’t made time for in far too long.


You can find the Facebook event here. We are meeting on November 19 from 6:30-8:30 pm at Loft 112 in the East Village.

I am still working on getting an event calendar up on my website – hopefully this month!


In November, Possibilities will be borrowing an activity from An Unexpected Light, the six-month online course in narrative therapy and speculative fiction that I have been running.

We’re going to be resigning from some expectations of normality!

We all live under a significant (and growing) weight of normative expectations – to look the right way, to work the right jobs in the right way, to do our gender right, to do our orientation right, to be in our relationships in the right way, to not be too loud, too sad, too needy, too dependent, too … whatever! And also to not be deficient – not enough energy, not enough enthusiasm, not enough productivity, not enough independence, not enough self-care (how dare we be burned out – take a bubble bath and get back to normal!)

This month will be a bit of an experiment – rather than our usual facilitated-but-freeflowing conversation, we’re going to have a more structured event with a few exercises to work through together, some conversation about the role of normative expectations (and our “failures” to meet them), and a final exercise to formally resign from a few of these expectations and to start imagining the acts of solidarity that could take their place. (David Denborough defines acts of solidarity as “acts of justice or actions of care toward yourself, others, or the natural world”.)

We may collect some of these resignations from normal and commitments to solidarity into a small document to be shared with the rest of the community, because I think that this exercise might be helpful for folks as we head into the holiday season with its many demands and expectations.

Please RSVP so that I know how many handouts to print off.

(If you are participating in the current round of An Unexpected Light, this will give you a one-week-early sneak peek into the Integration and Care module exercise for November! And if you’re curious about An Unexpected Light and debating whether to join the next round, this will give a peek into one of the four modules in the course.)

There is no cost to attend this event.

You can support the event by either donating at the event or by backing the Patreon at www.patreon.com/sostarselfcare.

We have a focus on community care and narrative discussions for the bi+ community (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, two-spirit, with an intentional focus on trans inclusion).

This is an intentionally queer, feminist, anti-oppressive space. The discussion is open to all genders and orientations, as well as all abilities, educational levels, classes, body types, ethnicities – basically, if you’re a person, you’re welcome!

We will meet at Loft 112, which is wheelchair accessible through the back door, and ASL interpretation can be arranged. If you require ASL interpetation, please let me know asap so that I can make arrangements.

These discussions take place on Treaty 7 land, and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

It is important to note that Possibilities Calgary is a community discussion group and not a dating group.

NEW! Polyamory and non-monogamy workshop for support providers

NEW! Polyamory and non-monogamy workshop for support providers

Supporting non-monogamous and polyamorous community members: a workshop for therapists, social workers and other support providers.

When: July 25, 2019, 6 – 9 pm
Where: 2632 24 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Cost: $60, with sliding scale available.
Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite and on the Facebook event.
Since space is limited, please do register ahead of time.

Do you work with polyamorous or non-monogamous community members? Do you want to? This workshop is for you!

In this workshop we’ll talk about what polyamorous and non-monogamous community members might need their providers to know, as well as some of the concerns that non-monogamous and polyamorous community members might bring into therapy sessions.

We’ll touch on:

  • Discourses of monogamy, some of the history of these discourses (including their link to colonialism and the suppression of Indigenous and other kinship structures) and how these discourses show up in people’s lives (including our own)
  • Marginalizing discourses within polycules (ableism, racism, sexism, cis- and hetero-normativity)
  • Beginning polyamory
  • Polyamorous families
  • Abuse within polycules

This workshop will also introduce some helpful narrative therapy practices, although it is open to practitioners from a wide range of therapeutic models.

The cost for this workshop is $60, with sliding scale available. If you would like to attend but the cost is an issue, please get in touch!

Accessibility:

This location is *not* wheelchair accessible – there are stairs to get to the boardroom. If you would like to attend but will not be able to access the physical space, please get in touch and I will try to arrange to have the workshop set up on Zoom so that you can log in. There are gender inclusive washrooms at the location.

This is part of an on-going project creating resources and supports for polyamorous and non-monogamous community members seeking therapeutic support, and for narrative therapists and other providers who are engaging with polyamorous and non-monogamous community members. Some of this work was presented at the Horizons: Polyamory, Non-monogamy, and the Future of Canadian Kinship conference last year.

Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and community organizer on Treaty 7 land. They are a white, non-binary, queer settler with eleven years of lived experience within the polyamorous community.

Tharseo Counselling is providing the space, and suggested this event. Thank you, Jill!

Climate change thoughts

Climate change thoughts

content note: climate existential dread, mention of suicidality

An earlier version of this post was available last week to supporters of my Patreon.

The other day, I made a really delicious salad for dinner, and as I sat there eating it, and enjoying it, and thinking about all of its components, I was, again, overcome with dread about the future of food security as climate change worsens.

This is a post about how fears about climate change are showing up in my life these days, and about how I hope to use narrative practices to respond to these fears in my own life and in the lives of community members who consult me. Many people in my communities, myself included, are experiencing a pervasive sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.

Narrative therapy suggests that we are never passive recipients of hardship or trauma. That people are always responding to the problems in their lives. I believe this is true, even when the response is not outwardly (or sometimes inwardly) visible. I want to find ways to speak about climate grief, climate fear, climate anger, in ways that honour our values, our skills, and our legacies of response. This post is one effort in this direction. I hope that there will be more. I hope that you will join me on the journey.

I think about climate change, and about how it will impact food security and the necessities of life, so often.

I think about the wealth gap that already exists and is worsening globally, and I think about how so many of my communities are already living with financial precarity. I think about what the salad I made should cost if we paid what we need to for carbon, and I think about how drastically my diet would need to change. I think about self-sustainability and I feel my aching body and I know that I will not be able to grow food to feed my family.

And this line of thought draws me into thinking about sustainability and self-sustainability. Self-sufficiency. Independence. I think that “self-sustainability,” expressed as individualism, is just another tentacle of violent neoliberalism and I reject it. Community care forever. But still. How? And so, bumping up against another problem (the influence of individualism on our dominant narratives), I encounter again The Dread.

I have nightmares about the next generation starving. My stepkids, my neiphlings, the children in my extended community, and in the vulnerable communities I witness from a distance.

Starvation is the most frequent recurring nightmare I have when it comes to climate change. It haunts me at least once a week.

It also makes me think about how environmental racism and environmental violence are not new; how Indigenous children and Black children have already been facing the kind of food scarcity that I have nightmares about. How the Black Panthers instituted school meal programs to try and address these issues long before climate change became such an urgent issue. But even though environmental racism and violence are not new, the people who have already been facing these harms will also mostly likely face the escalating harms more quickly and more directly. We can’t look at the past through idealistic lenses and pretend that children haven’t already been starving, but we also can’t use that as an excuse to ignore how much worse it will likely get.

Again, the dread.

But also threads of hope, and delight. The Black Panthers have descendants in Black Lives Matter, and food justice efforts exist in projects like Food Not Bombs, and in the Health At Every Size movement, and in Black urban growers (some of whom you can read about here) and Indigenous communities who understand how to care for the Earth in ways that capitalism and colonialism have tried (and failed) to erase.

I just bought adrienne maree brown’s new book, Pleasure Activism, and I am starting to read it. I think that pleasure is necessary, joy is necessary. How will we resist oppression and injustice, and respond to the challenges in front of us, without pleasure, without joy, without hope?

I want both: the fear that tells me what is at stake, and the hope that allows me to keep moving forward.

Right now I have a disproportionate amount of fear, and not a lot of hope.

There are reasons for this, and I refuse to disavow or invalidate my own fear and distress, or the fear and distress of my community members. But as much as I resist the pressure towards “positive thinking” that says feeling fear is the “real” problem, the fact is that I want pleasure and hope, too. I want joy. I want the full range of my emotions, and I want to be able to imagine a future for myself, for my communities, for the children coming after us. I want that for all of us.

Lately I have noticed my thoughts sliding sideways over into, “it would be good if I just died right now,” more often than I am happy about.

Last week I sent a message to Nathan Fawaz, one of my beloved humans, and said:

“Do you have a spoon for a big but short vent? I don’t need a solution but it is just sitting in my chest.

I just really struggle when I think about climate change. I don’t want to live through what is coming. I feel so hopeless and sometimes even suicidal. I won’t, because I think there is a role for people with my skill set in getting through what’s coming and I want to help, and I also think about the impact of that on my communities, but my desire to live does not coexist with my awareness of climate crisis. They do not overlap. When I think about climate change, my desire to live is gone.”


They replied, generously offering me the same kind of response that I would hope to offer someone who brought that vulnerability to me:

I am seeing such a strong value for supportive environments and our roles in cocreating them.

And such an affinity between environment and lifeforce/vitality.

Such a keen and important sensitivity.

I am sorry you are sad and that this is so hard.

I am sorry that there is so much detritus — both human and human-made.

I am sorry for all the disequilibrium.

Every word you wrote resonates so strongly.


They shared an idea that part of what is happening is akin to “ecoableism” – not being able to imagine any future without some expectation of wholeness or perfection on the part of the planet. An inability to see value or hope in an injured and ill planet. As people who are both in “painbodies,” we have faced this kind of ableism and have valuable insider knowledges into how to resist it. We have both felt the pressure of ableist narratives that frame bodies like ours (trans bodies, pain bodies, ill bodies) as less vital, less worthy. We have both resisting those narratives. We resist those narratives on behalf of our communities and other groups, too. (In fact, we talked about this in episode two of Nathan’s podcast, which you can listen to here.)

We cannot deny that we are causing harm and destruction to the Earth through our actions, that we are making a painbody for the Earth, but maybe we can find ways forward from within the crip and disability communities. What becomes possible if we could, as Nathan suggests, “think about my painbody. Your painbody. And all the painbodied people I know. The shimmering that is there. The incandescent connections. The community. The care. The skills that are exclusive to us.”

What becomes possible if we imagine ourselves in relationship with this struggling and suffering and overheating planet, as collaborators as well as defenders and protectors and destroyers. What if we imagine that there is something unique that we can offer, some gift of care or presence.

What if we imagine the unique insider knowledges that each marginalized community brings; the knowledges of persistence, resistance, healing, nurturing, tending, defending, adapting, restoring, remembering?

I am still figuring out what to do with this conversation and with these feelings. I suspect that in practice, this will mean that I keep tending my house plants and thinking about climate change. I’ll keep reading and talking about it. I’ll keep reaching for hope. And now, with this new language, I’ll start watching for where my insider knowledges into ableism might offer me new paths forward, new life-affirming and life-sustaining choices.

Imagining myself into a story of relationship with this planet, even this planet in a new painbody of our thoughtless design, feels hopeful in a way I had not previously had access to. Maybe it will also feel hopeful for you.

Here is another hopeful thing – this article by George Monbiot, “The Earth is in a death spiral: It will take radical action to save us.” Despite the title, this is one of the most hopeful articles I’ve read recently.


I also wanted to share some narrative questions that you can answer on your own. These are some of the questions I might ask someone who is consulting me for narrative therapy and expressing the kinds of experiences and feelings I’ve been describing here.

  • What is it about this situation that is causing you so much distress? Is there something that you hold to be precious or sacred that is at stake?
  • How did you learn to cherish whatever it is that is at stake?
  • What is your relationship with this cherished idea, location, person, or planet? What is one story that comes to your mind when you think about your relationship?
  • Have you ever felt hopelessness or distress like this before? How did you get through that time?
  • Is there a legacy of responding to hardships like the one you’re in right now, that you can join? Have other people also felt what you are feeling, or something like it?
  • Do you have friends or family members or role models who know what you are experiencing, and may be experiencing similar?
  • What is it that keeps you in this situation? What are you holding onto, what are you valuing, that has prevented you from ‘checking out’?
  • Is there anyone in your life who knows how much you are struggling with this? Do you think it makes a difference to this person that you continue to resist the problem?
  • What does your distress say about what you cherish or consider valuable?

I ask myself these questions, and they are not easy to answer.

But I also know that I have strong values of justice and access and collective action. I know that these values can sustain me. And I know that you, too, have strong values and that connecting to these values is possible.

And I know that we can choose to welcome our despair as much as we welcome our actions of resistance and resilience. We can bring curiosity to The Dread, and ask what matters, what’s at stake, and remind ourselves of why we care so deeply. We can honour the depth of our fear and our grief and our anger.

Our despair is as valid as our resistance and resilience. The two can coexist.

We are multi-storied people, with many equally true and sometimes contradictory stories. And this is a multi-storied time. There is no need to flatten it down to a single narrative. Hope and fear. Pleasure and despair.

There is space for all of it.

The whole complex salad of it.