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Speaking up and out > silence. Photo by Flickr user Tom Woodward (Creative Commons license).

Speaking up and out > silence. Photo by Flickr user Tom Woodward (Creative Commons license).

Last night, I Skyped with a graduate creative nonfiction class that I sort of feel I should be taking instead of guest-lecturing to. That “Who let me adult? I can’t adult!” meme comes to mind.

My friend Jen, an awesome writer and teacher, invited me to talk to her class “about CNF.” That’s it. No other parameters. I put on my grateful face and accepted, but I will admit now to having been scared about how little nonfiction I’ve published. Jen and I talked about how I would focus on switching back and forth between the genres of poetry and nonfiction prose, but also about two of my essays on domestic violence—one published, one unpublished. I thought we could compare the two and talk about risk, victim-blaming, community-building and support systems, and how, you know, haters gonna hate no matter what you do.

The class is comprised of eight women, all of whom had insightful questions. And listen, people who talk to classrooms say that a lot: oh, the students were so insightful! But these students really were. Without us even having to articulate why, the questions about craft and about DV wove together to make its own commentary on the first-person narrative: to talk about craft, we literally have to talk real-world stuff. They asked me about form in the same breath as they asked me for life advice. What advice would I give to women in DV situations? (“Build your support system. Tell someone you trust. Call hotlines, daily if you have to. Stay safe, above all else.”) What advice would I give to abusive men? (“STOP BEING ABUSIVE. Get REAL help, the kind that forces you to acknowledge and change your deeply ingrained sense of entitlement to controlling and being catered to by everyone around you, especially your partner. Let her walk away.”) By the end of the Skype session, they were sharing personal stories and asking me for lists of resources and nonfiction recommendations.

This is why I speak up. I would miss out on these types of connections if I didn’t. I’m not ashamed of what’s happened to me, and I think my lack of shame is somewhat atypical and therefore possibly important to debunking some of the myths about DV.

I want to point to the phenomenon of getting a bunch of people in a room (notably and typically women, but really, anyone who has gone through some crap, who has felt silenced, marginalized, literally or figuratively beaten down), and how it only takes one person sharing something personal and painful, and soon the rest of the group is taking a turn, championing each other, nodding emphatically…it’s so beautiful. People are beautiful sometimes.

I want to point to how every single time I talk to a group, formally or informally, about this topic, I count heads and remind them how many of them, statistically, will experience domestic or intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. People may be beautiful sometimes, but the world remains very ugly. I point out the statistic and they nod and look down, and it’s poignant in a sad and enraging way. I got a little enraged myself when I told them, “I just read that the number one cause of death of women age 25-44 is murder by an intimate partner. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?” Long pause while I checked their faces for disbelief. Not scoffing disbelief, but disgusted disbelief. There it was.

And one more thing. I read a few new pieces of nonfiction to this class and they applauded me. Sweet mother universe, how amazing that felt. Thank you.

Do you ever speak to classrooms or groups about either your writing or your personal experiences with trauma, or both? I welcome such stories about connection in the comments.

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