Collective letter to Dr. Ford

Collective letter to Dr. Ford

Image description: An addressed envelope to Dr. Ford, c/o Palo Alto University.

The following is the collective letter to Dr. Ford, the result of October’s Witness and Respond event in Calgary, Alberta, and the contributions of people elsewhere. It has been mailed to Dr. Ford, who is, as of yesterday, still receiving threats. We hope that she will also continue receiving support.


Dear Dr. Ford,

This letter is the collective work of a group of people who met in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in October to watch your testimony and talk about what it meant to us and made possible in our lives. It also includes the contributions of people in Calgary and in Adelaide, Australia who watched your testimony on their own and sent in their thoughts. This letter represents the responses of almost a dozen people, each of whom was moved by your actions.

We want to express our appreciation for your actions. We were inspired to do this by Anita Hill’s sharing that receiving support was helpful to her following her own experience, and also by the work of narrative therapists at the Dulwich Centre using letter-writing as a way of showing support.

As we watched your testimony, we were curious about what it was that allowed you to take these actions; to say the name of your assaulter after so many years, to write the letter to your representative, to meet with political aides, to describe the assault again and again despite the fact that it was so difficult for you, to come forward publicly with your story, and to stand in front of a Senate committee and, as you said it, “relive this trauma in front of the world.”

We saw each of these actions as a choice that you made, and we wondered, how did you make those choices? What values were you holding onto? Who supported you in these actions?

We heard you say that “sexual assault victims should be able to decide when and where their private details are shared”, and that it was important to you to describe the assault in your own words. It was clear to us watching that you have held this value close, and that despite the intrusion of reporters into your life, forcing you to tell the story in ways you may not have chosen otherwise, you kept this value centered in your opening statements. For those of us watching who have felt pressured into disclosure or ashamed of our stories, your strong assertion of our right to tell our story in our own time, in our own way, in our own words, was powerful.

Witnessing you tell your story allowed one person in our group to identify an incident from her own high school years and enabled her to speak about this incident with people in her life.

Another person said, “The courage to speak up is significant to me, when so many people don’t. When I myself have not. At the time it was a fear of the mocking, and the being pulled apart and condemned. I did not have the strength to endure that process at the time on top of what I experienced. Now I would maybe feel differently. Maybe because I am stronger now and maybe because of these stories. Dr Ford’s testimony in shaking voice made me want to cry with pride that she did speak up.”

Your shaky voice was something that many of us noted. Some of us also speak with a shaky voice, and have felt worried that we will be dismissed because of it. Hearing you speak in a voice that shakes like our own was a moment of validation that some of us had never experienced before. We saw that it is possible to speak in a shaking voice and still speak with confidence and calmness. Some of us also recognized within ourselves that hearing your shaking voice did not make us doubt you or dismiss you. We had feared that if we spoke in a shaky voice, nobody would hear us or believe us. But you did, and we did hear you, and we do believe you. Rather than seeing weakness, we saw the strength it took for you to speak. We feel closer to our own shaky-voice strength, having witnessed yours.

We also saw you adding to the community knowledge of what trauma is, and how it can operate in the brain. Your references to norepinephrine, to the hypocampus and amygdala, and to other scientific knowledge was validating for some of us. We wondered if this indicated a way that you were “re-valuing” yourself, and claiming space for science as a celebration. One of us wanted you to know that she, too, is a scientist and that seeing you use “science as a safe place” was validating for her.

We also saw that you spoke even though you didn’t know what the outcome of your speaking would be, and this is important. One of us said, “Just because you’re good, doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded. But she did whatever she could to stop [the confirmation] from happening.” This makes it possible for us to also take action even when we may not see the outcome that we want.

We also heard you say, “It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. It is my responsibility to tell the truth.” In this, we saw you valuing integrity over outcome, and as we each move into what promises to be a difficult time for marginalized communities in the United States, in Canada, in Australia, and elsewhere, we are better able to hold onto our own integrity even when it seems that we might not get the result we are looking for.

We saw you acknowledge your fear without expressing any shame for it. Throughout the testimony, we saw you declining to engage with any invitations to shame. So many of us have felt afraid to share our own stories, and have felt ashamed of that fear. Your actions make it possible for us to shift our relationship to fear, and to see it as something that we do not need to be ashamed of. It is okay for us to be afraid, just like it is okay for you to be afraid. You described your fear so clearly, and also described the very real outcomes of your actions – even worse than you had feared! In your testimony, some of us felt for the first time that fear does not have to be accompanied by shame.

We also saw that your actions are part of a collective, and you are part of a community of women speaking up. Anita Hill also spoke despite not knowing the outcome of her speaking, and although it took many years, her actions are part of the legacy of speaking that you are now part of, and that we are invited to join. Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement a decade ago, and we see her as another part of this long legacy of speaking the truth even without knowing the outcome. This helps us locate ourselves within a collective, and as part of a long history of resisting injustice. Your actions have helped us find each other, to find the history of this resistance, and have helped us open up conversations that otherwise might not have occurred.

We are actively searching for each other now, looking for other people who want to take similar actions, who want to speak out. As one person put it, we hope that “speaking the truth will be contagious over time.”

Dr. Ford, we watched your testimony together after your assaulter had been confirmed to the Supreme Court, and so we knew what the outcome of your actions would be.

Rather than diminishing the impact of your work, this allowed us to see that what you have made possible through your actions extends far beyond one unsuitable man’s appointment to a position of power. You have mapped out actions that will allow more of us to speak, and to keep acting in alignment with integrity despite the actions of people in power.

With warmth, respect, and appreciation,

Tiffany and many others

(Although there were many names signed to the physical letter, I didn’t want to expose anyone online, even by first name.)

Solidarity: A Possibilities event for TDoR

Solidarity: A Possibilities event for TDoR

Image description: An ornate pink, blue, and white background. Text reads – Solidarity : a Possibilities Calgary event in solidarity with the trans community : Nov 20, 2018 | Loft 112 | Writing a collective letter in support of the trans community on Trans Day of Remembrance

November’s Possibilities event falls on Nov. 20, Trans Day of Remembrance. (The official Transgender Day of Remembrance event happens in Calgary on November 18 at 1:30 pm at CommunityWise.)

Possibilities, although we are a group for and by the non-monosexual communities (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and otherwise non-monosexual), has always been trans-inclusive, and many of our founding members are trans. This year, we will host a conversation with the goal of writing a collective letter of support from our community to the transgender community.

This is particularly important this year because transgender rights are under increased threat, very actively in the United States and looming on the horizon if conservatives gain power in Alberta and in Canada. This is a hard time to be a trans person looking to the future, and the goal of this event is to document our collective support for our trans community members and for trans folks beyond our bi+ community.

This event is open to transgender and cisgender members – we will be expressing our support both for and as transgender folks, and support from many parts of the community is important.

This collective letter will be part of the ongoing Letters of Support for the Trans Community project.

Notes about Possibilities:

There is a small fee associated with renting the space, and you can support the event by either donating at the event or becoming a Patreon supporter.

We have a focus on self-care and self-storying for the bi+ community (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, two spirit, with an intentional focus on trans inclusion), and a new framework for sustainability (you can now support this work by backing the Patreon).

There is no cost to attend.

This is an intentionally queer, feminist, anti-oppressive space. The discussion will be open, as they always were, 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!

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.

Witness, Respond, Resist handout

Witness, Respond, Resist handout

On Friday, I hosted the Witness, Respond, and Continue to Resist event. At this event, we watched Dr. Ford’s opening statements, as well as an interview with Ana Maria Archila and Tarana Burke, and the video of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher confronting Jeff Flake. We had dinner together, and talked about what watching these powerful statements meant for us, and is making possible in our lives.
I will be turning the notes from that event into collective letters that we will send to Dr. Ford, Ms. Archila, and Ms. Gallagher, and that will also be shared publicly. I will also be writing up a reflection on the event and sharing it here.
If you would like to contribute to this project, or if you are interested in how to write acknowledging witness letters to other people, you can download the handout here. Although the handout was created for this event, the information about how to be an “acknowledging witness” (meaning, someone who sees and validates both the hardship and the response to hardship in someone’s story, and who goes beyond simple praise and appreciation), can be used in other situations as well.
If you would like your responses included in the collective letter, please get them to me as soon as possible, ideally by Friday, October 19.
If you would like to send your own letter, I have included addresses in the handout.

Narrative Practices: Therapeutic Letters

(This is an expansion of a post that was shared with my Patreon patrons earlier this month.)

I am learning how to do narrative therapy, how to be a narrative therapist, how to engage with my clients in ways that are narratively-informed. But what does that mean? What is narrative therapy? What does a narrative therapist do? What benefit does narrative therapy offer?

In this series of posts, I’m inviting readers to join me in the learning process. The first of these posts was shared in April, and was about using narrative practices of collective documentation as it was used in a group exercise of Connecting To Our Skills. This post is also about documentation! (I really love generating documents, in case you couldn’t tell!)

This post is about therapeutic narrative letters.

Narrative letters are an important part of narrative practice, and have been part of the field for years (and therapeutic letter writing is also present in other disciplines). I had written some letters to community members who consulted with me, but my recent trip to Sacramento to learn from the therapists at the Gender Health Center really encouraged me to explore this practice further. The therapists there, particularly David Nylund, use narrative letters regularly – both with community members and also between therapists and supervisors. I was able to hear some of those letters, and it was a moving experience.

Shortly after I returned from Sacramento, I ran a two-hour narrative group therapy session at Camp Fyrefly, and I wrote narrative letters to the participants. Each of the participants gave me permission to share these letters.

I learned a lot through this process of writing, and one thing I learned is that it takes a long time to write a narrative letter! I knew this from my earlier efforts, but writing to a group like this really brought home for me how challenging this practice is. And yet, despite that challenge, it is a practice I will be incorporating more regularly into my narrative work. This is not only because I value opportunities to create documents, but also because I think a letter can be a powerful thing and I want to offer something back to the community members who consult me. Something that, hopefully, offers them a tangible reminder of the ways in which they are responding to the problems in their lives, and that connects them with the stories of their lives.

This isn’t just my own gut feeling, though. Other narrative therapists have written about the power of therapeutic letter writing.

In a 2010 paper, published in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Susan Stevens wrote:

Letter writing has been a wonderful way to assist my growing understanding of narrative practices, particularly in learning the various maps. Crafting a letter has required me to carefully reflect on conversations in a similar way to reviewing recorded sessions. I have found it has given me some space to really examine my practice and facilitate further learning. I have discovered opportunities that I have missed that I can then pursue in the letter, as well as positive moments that can be developed further.

Letter writing following counselling sessions has created many more possibilities for working together than I initially envisaged. It has been a great privilege to work alongside people as they revise their relationships with significant problems in their lives. Hearing how the letters have supported people to construct preferred storylines of identity and celebrating their achievements toward this has been incredibly exciting.

In 2016, also in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Renee Butler wrote:

Letter writing in a counselling context has a long history (Watts, 2000) and in particular, the use of narrative documents has been heavily influenced by the field of anthropology (Myerhoff, 1992). Myerhoff talks about how we can be ‘nourished by our stories being fed back to ourselves’ (Myerhoff, 2007, p. 25), and one of the ways in which this can be done richly in practice is through offering documents that honour and acknowledge the stories we hear from the people who consult with us. In a narrative context, these types of therapeutic documents have been used with the purpose of creating double-story development, where the listener provides an acknowledgement of the problem as well as a rich description of an alternative story that was hidden within the dominant ‘problem’ story (White & Epston, 1990). White and Epston were interested in the value of therapeutic documents and because of this they undertook some informal research into the usefulness of this practice. They established that a good therapeutic document (or letter) was worth 4.5 sessions of good therapy (White, 1995) and concluded that engaging in this process was worth the time and energy needed by the therapist.

David Nylund (at the Gender Health Center, which I visited last month) has participated in research into the therapeutic efficacy of narrative letters. From a 2015 paper:

At the present time, there is not much evidence for the effectiveness of therapeutic letters in narrative therapy. However, both David Epston and Michael White (Freeman, Epston and Lobovits, 1997) have conducted informal clinical research, asking clients questions such as these:

1. In your opinion, how many sessions do you consider a letter such as the ones that you have received is worth?

2. If you assigned 100 per cent to whatever positive outcomes resulted from our conversations together, what percentage of that would you contribute to the letters you have received?

The average response to Question 1 was that the letter had the equivalent value of 4.5 sessions. In response to Question 2, letters were rated in the range of 40% to 90% for total positive outcome of therapy.

Such findings were replicated in a small-scale study performed at a large medical facility in California. Nylund and Thomas (1994) reported that their respondents rated the average worth of a letter to be 3.2 face-to-face interviews (the range was 2.5–10) and 52.8% of positive outcome of therapy was attributed to the letters alone. As supported by this research, the amount of time it takes to write letters seems worth the effort.

So a narrative letter can be the therapeutic equivalent of 3.2-4.5 narrative therapy sessions. And it can assist in my own development as a narrative therapist, and enrich the experience of the community members who consult me. That seems like a really important practice to develop, especially since a lot of the folks consulting me do not have the finances to sustain frequent or extended therapeutic work.

But it’s hard work! And it takes a long time. For me, as a newbie to the practice, these four letters took me almost 12 hours, and many drafts.

I’m not sure exactly how this practice will develop in my work, since I won’t be able to write a narrative letter for every session. But it’s certainly something that I am considering, and if you are interested in working with me and are particularly keen on letters being part of our therapeutic relationship, let me know!

I’m sharing these four letters for two reasons.

First, because I think that the insider knowledge shared during our group conversation was valuable and might help other folks. Sharing these letters means that you have an opportunity to read and respond, and if anything particularly resonates for you, you can send me your response and I can share it back with the community members.

And second, because I’m “showing my work” and inviting you to see what happens behind the scenes as I learn.

Anyway! Here they are!

The letter to the group:

Dear A., E., and J.,

It has taken me a while to get these letters written.

Every time I sat down to write, I got lost in the wealth of information and insight that was shared during our conversation. I could write you each a whole novel! But that wouldn’t be a very good narrative letter.

Each draft of the letter that I wrote just didn’t seem to work. I couldn’t figure out how to make it coherent, how to shape it into something meaningful. I wanted to answer some critical questions:

What stands out the most to me when I think about our conversation?

What moved me in our conversation?

What do I want to note, and hopefully in a way that offers something meaningful back to you?

You were each so generous with your time, your energy, and your stories.

After many attempts, I realized that the problem was in trying to write a single letter to the group, rather than specific letters to each of you. Although there was so much resonance between your stories, you each brought something unique to the conversation. In trying to compress my response into a single letter, I kept losing the richness of the diversity in your contributions and your shared stories. And, since camp is so much about honouring and holding space for diversity, I finally realized what I needed to do! So, four letters. This one, and one to each of you.

As I mentioned during our conversation, this practice of writing narrative letters is new to me – I have done a lot more work in collective documentation. In collective documentation, I take a group conversation, and then generate a document or resource that shares the insights and stories with a broader audience. In those documents, I am sharing outward from the group, and a single document makes sense!

What I found as I tried to write this letter (now ‘these letters’) was that it is a bit of a different thing when I am writing inward, to the group, rather than outward, from the group.

One of the things that everyone in the conversation shared was the commitment to holding space for complexity, and for valuing the well-being of the people around us.

This was true for each of you, and it belongs here, in the group letter.

There was an ethic of care that extended in multiple directions – from the counsellors to the campers, from the campers to each other, from the campers to the counsellors, and from the counsellors to each other. This multi-directional, complex, compassionate care was beautiful to see.

My favourite quote from our conversation, and the one that has stuck with me, was this – “Giving up hope on a solution by generating hope for a process.”

I think that throughout our conversation, we found very few solutions. We talked about problems that are ongoing, that are supported and strengthened by the oppressive and marginalizing systems around us. Problems with deep roots and wide-ranging impacts. We did not solve these problems in our conversation – Imposter Syndrome (supported as it is by capitalism, by individualist culture, by hierarchies of knowledge, by a culture that values “expertise” and “productivity” in very specific ways); Guilt (supported internally and externally, by our desire to take care of each other, and also by social contexts that leave very little room for imperfection, failure, and growth); Comparison; and others.

So, no solutions.

But so many steps towards process, and so much hope for process.

These processes include harm reduction, disconnecting from value-judgements, holding and curating space for ourselves and each other, imagining ourselves and each other with complexity and compassion, naming our memories, seeking external validation and choosing to receive it, recognizing the potential for growth in failure, and so much more.

These processes, informed by your insider knowledge into navigating the problems in your lives, are full of hope.

I feel fortunate to have been able to particulate in such a rich and hope-filled conversation.

And I appreciate your patience with how long it has taken me to work my way through this process. I am incredibly thankful for this learning opportunity.

Warmly,

Tiffany

The letter to A.

Dear A.,

Thank you for being part of the narrative therapy conversation. I know that you said there are not many places where you’re able to talk about your feelings openly, because you’re worried about how that might impact the people around you.

As I worked on this letter, I kept thinking about what it means that you have maintained a connection to your desire to share, which you said is healthy for you, despite the fact that you have fewer spaces for that sharing.

What has allowed you to stay aligned with that desire to seek out safe spaces to share your feelings, while also looking out for the people around you?

I also wonder if you were able to find more of those spaces for sharing while you were at camp, and how you navigated those opportunities and conversations.

One of the stories that you shared, that has really stuck with me, had to do with how you’ve responded to and resisted one of the problems in your life. This problem is related to Comparison. There are moments when you witness friends laughing together and you might get thinking, “I should have been the one to make them laugh.”

A., you mentioned that sometimes you really get in your head about it, and even when it starts as a small thought, this feeling of Comparison can get pretty big and loud. In navigating these hard situations, you’ve developed a skill of Naming Memories, to quiet the mean voice that tries to convince you your friends might not care about you if you aren’t the one who always makes them laugh, or if you aren’t always their first choice for an activity.

This skill of Naming Memories lets you stay connected to your knowledge that you’re still important even when someone else is busy.

I wonder if there are any people in your life, either now or in the past, and either real or fictional heroes and inspirations, who might support you in this skill of Naming Memories? Do you have cherished memories that you return to more often when you are resisting Comparison and Fear?

In all of your stories there were so many references to caring for the people around you, even when expressing that care meant making hard choices; giving space to a friend even when it’s the hardest thing, and reaching out to other friends even when you might want to keep just one person close.

Your hard work is paying off, and I wonder what else might become possible as you continue to do the hard thing in order to care for yourself and the people around you.

I also wonder, do you think there might be a time when the “hard thing” becomes less hard? What might that look like?

It was really inspiring to hear about how you have taken action to respond to the problems that show up in your life.

You shared the story of going to an event, and chatting with a totally new person, despite the fact that you have a hard time talking with new folks! Your friends were enthusiastic and proud of you. J. also shared a story of receiving validation from her community, and how helpful that was. E. pointed out what an active process it is to receive validation, and to choose to believe that what someone says is true. When you shared this story of attending the conference and reaching out to a new person, it touched on a shared experience in the group of reaching for and finding validation in the people around us.

One other thing jumps out at me when I remember our conversation – you mentioned a few times that you are learning to “stop thinking in black and white”, and we talked a bit about what that means, and how there is now more range of colour in your life, and more possibilities.

What does it look like, when you can see your life in this expanded range of colours?

It was an honour to share narrative space with you, and I hope that camp offered you a rich range of experiences and possibilities.

Warmly,

Tiffany

The letter to J.

Dear J.,

First, it was such a pleasure to meet you, and a gift to have you endorse my work to A. and E. When you mentioned that my work has been helpful for you, it meant so much to me. Thank you.

I so appreciated your willingness to open up our conversation by sharing about how Imposter Syndrome has sometimes got you thinking that you aren’t worthy of taking up space, that you don’t belong, and that you aren’t qualified.

This Imposter Syndrome has shown up for you at various times in your life, and this resonated for all of us in the conversation.

You had really noticed it showing up for you at camp.

You’d seen other counsellors making connections and demonstrating how attuned they are to their campers, and you’d felt that as a gap in your own experience so far. You hadn’t had that chance for a one-on-one sit-down with a camper, and that had been hard. It was discouraging.

I wonder if you did get that chance to have a one-on-one sit down with a camper before camp ended?

I also wonder what it might mean to the campers, if they knew that you were paying such close attention to their needs, and so committed to making sure that campers who needed a one-on-one chat were able to access it?

I saw this awareness and commitment to community care put into action when you witnessed E.’s story and immediately responded by sharing that you had heard from campers that E. offered “the queer space to feel safe in.”

When you were talking about the effects of this Imposter Syndrome and the dreams you had of showing up for your campers and connecting on a personal level, I heard a strong commitment to community care, and an awareness of the people around you and what they might need. I heard you wanting to be part of creating safer spaces, and offering campers the opportunity to have their experiences even when those experiences might be uncomfortable or challenging. Rather than simply looking for solutions, you were, as E. framed it, “generating hope for the process.”

I also want to honour that you had experienced some disappointment, and even some guilt, about not having had those opportunities for one-on-one connection yet. In those moments when Guilt shows up, sometimes it has you wanting to disappear in order to make things better, because you are valuing other people’s experiences and their well-being.

This really seemed to resonate with what A. said about sometimes feeling like a downer, and Guilt showing up in those moments. E. also seemed to connect with this idea.

I was really interested in the story that you shared about receiving validation from your coworkers, and how this was a bit of an antidote to the Imposter Syndrome.

You actually went into social work (amazing!) because of the feedback that you got from your coworkers – they saw something in you, and encouraged you in this direction. You actively sought out that feedback, and chose to accept it. As E. pointed out, receiving validation is an active process of choosing to believe that what someone says is true.

I wonder what it means to your coworkers that you valued their opinion so much?

And I wonder if it makes it possible for them to feel connected to your work in the world, knowing that they were part of that process?

What might you say to Imposter Syndrome if it shows up for you again?

Do you have any ideas for how you can resist Guilt when it makes you want to disappear?

Are there ways that you can strengthen your relationship with Trusting Validation?

I would love to hear how things go for you as you continue to resist and respond to these problems, and cultivate your values of community care, connection with others, and doing justice in the world.

I hope that the rest of your camp experience was rich and rewarding.

Warmly,

Tiffany

The letter to E. 

Dear E.,

Thank you for being part of the narrative conversation at Camp fYrefly.

I really appreciated your contributions to the conversation, and some of what you said about holding complexity has really stuck with me and informed some of the narrative sessions I’ve facilitated in the last week.

I’m new to the process of narrative letters, and still trying to figure out where my voice is. I’ve left your letter to last, because I want to respond with my Big Feelings, and I’ve been worried about whether that’s how I’m “supposed” to do narrative letters. But I’m taking some advice from you, and removing my value judgement from these Big Feelings.

E., when you spoke about feeling like you were not able to be fully present because some of your own big stories had been brought up at camp, that really hit me. I struggle with this myself, and with the guilt over it. I want to make a difference in the world, and I want to create spaces and facilitate conversations that open up a wider range of possible responses for people who are responding to the problems in their lives. Michael White, who was a founder of narrative therapy, said that “deficit-focused stories present a narrow range of potential responses” and I really agree with this. But it can be so difficult to move away from a deficit-centered story when painful history intrudes into the present.

It was so encouraging and inspiring for me to see you show up, be present, despite the stories that had come forward for you. Even though you said that you were struggling with being present, your contributions were still so compassionate, insightful, and resonant.

This made me think about whether we make a difference even when we feel ourselves to be at a distance. It got me thinking about the value of my own work, even in the moments when I feel so far away from the self and the work that I most want to be and do. Thank you.

During the conversation, you shared your insider knowledge into what an active process it is to receive validation, and to choose to believe that what someone says is true.

This is a valuable insight, and I became curious about how you came to this knowledge. Have there been people in your life who made this work, which is often so overlooked, visible? How have you learned to see and validate this work in your own life, and in others’ lives?

You also shared that you have worked hard to value your big feelings, which happen in lots of directions. You’ve had some help in this work from skills like Introspection and Challenging Ideas, but you’ve also worked on holding space for feelings even when they are “bad” ones. You talked about how much growth and opportunity exists in failure, and how failure makes things possible but it still sucks.

I really appreciated how each of your comments demonstrated your close relationship with complexity and space-holding.

I also appreciated what you said about how you’ve worked with reimagining yourself as the villain. I’m really interested in this idea.

What villains have inspired you? Which villains have offered you insights into holding space for your own complex story?

It was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope that camp offered you a rich, and deliciously complex, set of experiences.

Warmly,

Tiffany

May review/June preview

May review/June preview

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.

Okay.

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*)

Anyway.

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.

*muffled squealing*

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 sostarselfcare@gmail.com. Submission deadline July 31, 2018.”

Restraint –
1. a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits.
2. self-control.

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 sostarselfcare@gmail.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.)

AND!

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 sostarselfcare@gmail.com 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 sostarselfcare@gmail.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

Prioritizing: guest post

Prioritizing: guest post

Image description: A black and white close-up of wood, twigs, and metal twine, with dry grass in the background. Photo credit: Mel Vee. Mel Vee is an aspiring photographer and her guest post series will feature her photography.

This is a guest post by Mel Vee.

Mel Vee mesmerizes, captivates and incites with her spoken word. She is a passionate advocate for the power of narrative to heal and liberate. A general disturber of shit, Mel Vee seeks to blur and disrupt all kinds of distinctions. She is a core member of the Uproot YYC, a grassroots collective for artists of colour dedicated to uprooting systemic barriers in the arts community. She was a member of Calgary’s 2017 slam team, who were semi-finalists at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and co-creator of The Unlearning Channel podcast.

This post is the first is a four-part series, one per week for the month of May. Together, this series will comprise the third entry in the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for suicidality, illness, and threatened violence.


Wake up early for a change. Stop being such a lazy fuck.
Go to morning meditation – it is important for you to be there.
Make your partner breakfast and lunch.
Try to make breakfast for yourself but you’re distracted. Will get back to it later.

Your friend is suicidal and she needs help – she doesn’t have much support.

Brush teeth.
Put on clothes.

Another friend lost her job – she might be homeless soon. You have to help somehow.

Put on shoes. Walk out door.

Another ambulance is at the house across the way. Last week there was a man covered in blood wielding a knife. Need to look for a new apartment. Another item on the to do list.

Your friend could stay with you if she needs to. You don’t just leave friends like that.

Walk back from meditation. The community is struggling and needs money. You decide you should probably volunteer more.
Do dishes.
Plan for the next meal. You have no energy to cook but cannot afford to eat out.

You remember the days where there wasn’t enough food in the house and you ate peanut butter for dinner; sardines if you were lucky. Curse yourself for being so damn ungrateful – at least you have food to cook! Hear your father’s voice remind you of how ungrateful you are.
Feel shame.

Think of resources for your suicidal friend.
Know mental health resources for LGBTQ folks are often a joke – but you try anyway.

Realize you should exercise – it’s important for your health. Promptly delay exercising by answering emails. They never stop coming; someone is always itching to hit send.
It’s the same old – “We need you to volunteer. This is an important cause. We can’t afford to pay you but we appreciate your time. You can build up your profile. It’s only temporary.

Your aunt is sick again. Her no-good kids keep hitting her up for money. She needs someone to talk to even though you could use a quiet moment but you love her and it’s the least you can do.

The timer you set to write for 10 minutes has 8 seconds left. Guess you won’t be writing today.

Deadlines are piling up. All the shit you said yes to is finally catching up. You vow not to say yes to anything else EVER AGAIN and yet you say yes to even more.
You still need to exercise.

Go to work. Radiate warmth and kindness to people with a pathological sense of entitlement.
Be expected to have read every book written in the span of human civilization. Get cussed out for daring to manage others expectations and refusing to tolerate abuse. The customer is always right. Fight back tears in the washroom. Remember this job is all you have and your mother told you never to rely on anyone for money, especially a man. Smile even bigger at the next customer.

Yet another friend is about to be out on the street. You want to help but you just cannot. Feel helpless. Useless.

Go to your second job.
Meet one friend for coffee after.
Go to that show tonight. You need to show your face or else people will think you don’t take this seriously and that you’re not paying your dues.

Your partner is tired from their job so they cannot really help with chores. You try not to get upset because they are not trying to make your life difficult on purpose. But still…
More emails and texts.
A friend you rarely see becomes upset and demands to know why you don’t have time for them.
You cannot think of a good reason to say no and they are not that bad. It will only be an hour.
Schedule her on the only day you had free.

Another friend is having a breakdown. They simply want to talk.
Your partner is in the mood even though you barely have the energy to keep your eyes open but you can’t remember the last time you two had sex. Feel ashamed.

The laundry is piling up. The floor needs to be vacuumed. That’s for another day.
Try to go to sleep. Spend at least an hour wondering how your life got like this. Wondering where you went wrong, if you went wrong, if you should be more selfish. What should you cut?
Realize you’ve already cut everything extraneous from your life.

*Sigh*

Realize you don’t even have time to appreciate the irony in this.
Know you will do it all over again the next day. And the day after next. And the day after that.
Know you will keep doing this and know you can’t stop. Know that you want to stop but also know you never will.


This post is the third in 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: