When I met Marianne at Muse Camp, six weeks ago, I wanted to be her friend. It felt exactly like it did back in first grade when standing next to another kid in the lunch line and, despite never having met, a significant enough part of you already knows her enough to want to put a stamp on it. She and I don’t live the kind of lives that will overlap very often, so we won’t be handball partners, but it feels good to know there is a Marianne Elliott in the world.

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So when Marianne invited me to a writing workshop she was co-teaching in the San Francisco bay area with Laurie Wagner, I said yes. I trusted her teaching style, and it helped me get over the barrier of taking risks with my writing, especially the risk of caring about writing enough to take a workshop. The workshop was called “Writing into Forbidden Territory” and was essentially to help women get over the shame and fear of telling the stories that we aren’t supposed to tell. Stories that touch on motherhood, addiction, mental illness, power, money, sex, gender, race… and learning not only the ways to tell the truth in those stories, but the importance of those stories being told for ourselves, for our communities, and for the world.

Telling stories like this is extremely hard. Not necessarily technically difficult, but physically and emotionally challenging in ways that block the words from coming out. The safety and trust the teachers nurtured in that room for two days was crucial. When I would read my writing to the group, I would shake uncontrollably as I got to the vulnerable parts, and even more afterwards in my chair when the listeners told me “where the heat was” for them. I shook when I got to my hotel at the end of the day. I would feel “fight or flight” symptoms when others would read their writing. The things that hit me hardest were the things with the most truth, but once they were spoken they lost a lot of their power over me, and I felt changed. I felt more empathy for things I didn’t understand and more empathy for myself. It was a reminder of how little truth we read nowadays, and it explained why Ta-Nahesi Coates’s new best-seller exploring race, Between Me and the World, has left me deeply impacted every day since. I can’t possibly recommend that book enough, by the way, for helping develop a richer understanding of what it means to be, or call yourself, black or white today, and why it still matters, a lot. Simply reading that book will give you an idea of the power of speaking your own truth.

In Marianne’s book, Zen Under Fire, she dives into her life as a Peacekeeper for the UN in Afganistan, a career filled with passionate people who are expected to be unaffected in the face of unspeakable tragedies. Showing any signs of cracking, doubting the value of the work, and many of the coping mechanisms that naturally arise in these situations are considered forbidden territory to discuss. Admitting to depression could destroy your career; the isolation makes you ripe for diving into unhealthy or destructive relationships. Her work made it safer for others to say “me too” and opened a door for improvement by humanizing things that were previously forbidden, and it is an eye-opening read.

As for my writing, I knew I wasn’t ready to take whatever I learned and write a book, so I almost didn’t go to the workshop. But Jesse was available to watch Jude all weekend so I jumped on the chance. That’s the thing about being a parent. You take your moments when they are available, not when you are ripe for them. But one thing I’ll take away immediately is shutting down the inner critic (and outer critic) who tells me that this type of vulnerable truth telling is narcissistic, whiney, or unimportant. Sometimes I fall victim to those insecurities in my blog writing, and it blocks me from going deeper, or writing at all. If my writing makes someone uncomfortable, that’s ok. There are plenty of other things on the internet.

Special thanks to Laurie Wagner at 27 Powers and Marianne Elliott and the amazing group of women who showed up fully over the weekend. And a big huge thank you to Jesse for organizing family life and help for three days so I could dive in. I feel very privileged to be supported and able to do something like that. Add it to the list of things I never would have discovered if I hadn’t been injured.