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Writing Prompt: Affected Bodies, Trauma, and Non-Human Encounters by Janice Lee

Posted Thu, 8/01/2019 - 9:45am by  |  Category: , , , , ,

What really exists is not things made but things in the making.

—William James

How other kinds of beings see us matters. That other kinds of beings see us changes things.

—Eduardo Kohn

In my upcoming class, Memory Space: Inherited Trauma & the Failure of Language, we will explore how writing opens up space for processing trauma or grief and investigate personhood and interspecies communication through exercises in seeing, writing, breathing, and sensing. Working through notions of how memories of trauma are constructed/reconstructed and might be disruptive to identity and narrative, we will explore various methods of seeing, healing, and writing via meditation, shamanism, divination, and articulation.

In the meantime, here is a writing prompt. You might work through this as a single extended prompt, or a series of various, individual prompts. Use your intuition and engage in a way that feels productive for you.

  • Place yourself in an encounter with a non-human person. 

    Remember that in any encounter, we do not remain unchanged. Remember that seeing, representing, knowing, and thinking are not exclusively human affairs. Remember that humans are not the only ones that interpret the world. Because we allow others to change in our view, consequently, we allow ourselves to change, to be affected.
  • Investigate the ways in which we may be colonized by certain ways of thinking about relationality. 

    Wonder about the implications for our understanding of what it means to be human in a world that extends beyond us.
  • Form a relationship during this encounter. 

    Think about who influences and who is influenced, or, how we affect each other and in turn are affected by the affect we have on the other, or how we are affected to be affected differently in order to affect differently. What is it in this other that you also see in yourself? Or, what is it that they see, that you wish you could understand?
  • Write the encounter from the vantage point / point of view / perspective of the non-human person, or, observe yourself from the other side of the encounter.
  • Think about the relationship between fragment and archive, between narrative and sustainability, between incompletion and prophecy, between uncertainty and what gets left behind.
  • Consider the question: Where are you from?
  • Consider how you answer questions like: Who are you? / How do you feel? / How do you feel? / What is the world you want to leave behind? / How do you move? / What desires do you carry in your body? 

    How are your answers linked to your wounds and past events? What needs to happen to unbind yourself from your trauma?
  • Rather than the question of what do our dreams tell us about our lives, consider the question: What do our lives tell us about our dreams?
  • Ponder on the practice of telepathy (coined in 1882 by English psychologist Frederic Myers, from tele– + –pathy. literally “feeling from afar” or “feeling at a distance”). 

    What is the language of telepathy? In what ways do we already communicate outside of language, outside of our typical five senses? What are the difficulties of translation? What are the impossibilities? What is a question do you believe to be unanswerable? What do you believe to be inarticulable?
  • Using a practice of telepathy, listening, or tracking, attempt an answer to something that is impossible. 

    Step out, momentarily, of your rational thinking self, and transcribe/translate something impossible.
  • Draw a single card from an animal medicine deck

    In Native American traditions, “medicine” is anything that improves one’s connection to the natural world and to all life. This includes the healing of body, mind, and of spirit, anything that brings personal power, strength, and understanding, and the constant living of life in a way that brings healing to the earth and to all of our associates, family, friends, and fellow creatures. 

    Over the course of several days, call upon the power of that animal, gain information from this animal with humility and intuitiveness, and listen to the lessons of being human, of being vulnerable, and of seeking wholeness with all that is.

    It is up to you to decide how to be intuitive and how to seek the lessons from this animal. You may communicate with this animal in a meditation, in a dream, or call upon a specific power or lesson from this animal.
  • In your writing, explore what this animal brings out in you. 

    What do you see of this animal in yourself? In what ways do they challenge you? What are the lessons you can learn from them? In what ways do you connect or have trouble connecting with this animal? What can you learn about your past, present, and future from this animal? What can you see about the patterns in your own life, what is working for you, what is working against you, your relationship with the world around you, etc.?
  • Throughout everything, always remember to breathe. 

    Allow yourself a few moments of silence and gather up all the pieces of you that are scattered in various places, time zones, etc. and re-center your awareness on your own body’s center by following your breath in and down to your belly. Keep breathing.

Join me on Saturday, August 17, in Memory Space: Inherited Trauma & the Failure of Language to explore these themes in more depth.


Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). She writes about the filmic long take, slowness, interspecies communication, the apocalypse, and asks the question, how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy? She is Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, Co-Publisher at Civil Coping Mechanisms, Contributing Editor at Fanzine, and Co-Founder of The Accomplices LLC. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Portland State University. She can be found online at janicel.com.