Liz Asch Greenhill w/ Zaji Cox

At Corporeal Writing we’re all about opening the platform, continuously working on new ways to expand participation and experience, and breaking open what writing means.

We’ve created this new series of visiting writer workshops with some pretty phenomenal mammals. We are delighted to have humans in our community interview the writers who will be leading these collaborative workshops at Corporeal Writing Center.

In this second installation we present writer, artist and acupuncturist Liz Asch Greenhill interviewed by Corporeal Writing comrade, Zaji Cox.

Photo of Zaji by Don’t Blink PDX

Photo of Zaji by Don’t Blink PDX

ZC: You currently engage in what seem like very different types of artistic expression—writing and visual art. How does your creative process differ between these mediums? How is it similar?

LG: I tend to write personal lyric essays and to make abstract multi-media 2D art. In some ways I think of those as opposite approaches in representation: figurative writing and nonfigurative/poetic art. In both writing and visual art, I like to explore the senses, that's my favorite way to work, so I might make an abstract painting based on a poem or music or a conversation. With writing, I want the language to capture taste and movement and scent—that's what I aim for. I try to shake up the senses. I'm very interested in trying to stretch language to explore other art forms and to challenge/allow myself to return to classical methods of painting that scare me because I have limited training and it's been a long time. I also wrestle with resistance and fear more around art than writing because I'm more critical of my visual art and that critical voice can be very damaging to my creative practice.

ZC: Are there similarities between your approach to acupuncture and your approach to art?

LG: Yes, there are. Thanks for asking that question. My training is in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is very by-the-book and by-the-map, grounded in pattern recognition, sort of like following recipes. That informs my work with a body greatly, kind of like the background layer in a painting. Upon that I build up other layers of metaphor from Chinese Medicine as poetry, using my hands with acupressure and various forms of energy work, acupuncture needles, and language (I integrate impromptu guided visualizations to help the mind shift the body's energetics). Each session is a design-based experience that leaves the patient with a new composition. Working with patients feelslike making art. I love it.

ZC: What made you want to pursue something like talk-based artist support?

LG: Before I went to acupuncture school, I worked as an artist's assistant to some very beloved artists in New York City. I really loved that work. I find a sense of purpose in being a backstage helper to artists so they feel supported to make their work. It's so fulfilling. I decided, after many years in practice as an acupuncturist, that I was not done being an artist's assistant. I even looked for jobs here in Portland working hands-on as an artist's assistant, but it's so different here from in NYC. Those jobs don't really exist here. I realized that with the knowledge I've gained from working with and studying the body, I could help artists get unlocked in a new way: using energetics and embodiment techniques that stem from my acupuncture practice. I think of it like Artist Assistance 2.0—with a new and improved skillset. I'm not just organizing your files and washing paint rags and tidying up the studio anymore. I am working with artists now collaboratively, mind to body, body to mind, to help artists get aligned internally and more in touch with their voice and imagery and process.

ZC: Do you think there are commonalities to be found among artists when it comes to the process of working past being stuck, or is it more often specific to the person?

LG: A lot of us fall into the same patterns: self-doubt, self-criticism, self-sabotage, comparison to others, elevated standards and unrealistic timelines, and so on. These patterns of thought match patterns of organ disharmony in the body. We can look to the metaphors that shape Chinese Medicine as tools to unlock these kinds of limitation, and utilize them to propel us forward and outward. Once we activate the senses and engage the imagination into the corporeal experience, we find movement and insight—which are antidotes to stuckness.

ZC: Have your methods of dealing with being artistically “stuck” in your own projects changed over your career as an artist?

LG: Yes, a lot. I fall ill to stuckness just like everyone else, and I too, learn new methods each time, and that's when I get the opportunity to practice the exercises I discover with others. It can feel uncomfortable and disappointing to feel flat on a project, but now I remind myself when I feel that way it's okay, it's part of the process, everything ebbs and flows. I now practice adjusting my pace and my expectations, and I look inward, when I usedto look outward and put so much pressure on myself. I still wrestle with my demons, but I have more strategies and tricks now. I've also come to accept that sometimes stuckness is just stillness; or, it's a buried emotion or unmet need to discover. I'm not a therapist so I don't go the route of psychology as my method, but rather, I use metaphor and energy medicine and language, which are my chosen tools. ::

Liz will be leading a workshop “Breaking Up Stuckness Together ” on Sunday, August 25 :: 10am-2pm Corporeal Writing Center 510 SW 3rd Avenue Suite #101 97217
Save your seat in Liz’s workshop here.

Liz Asch Greenhill is a writer, artist, acupuncturist, and artist's assistant. She's been helping artists since the '90s in one capacity or another. These days she's upgraded her approach to integrate methods of somatic healing and bodily energetics into the writing room. Liz will help you access the wild imagination of your artist self to learn new insights about your creative process and projects. Fun facts: Liz did an MFA under Lidia's magical mentorship. And, you might have heard Lidia sing her praises as an acupuncturist.

Zaji Cox has been creating stories since she began reading at age three. She discovered her passion for writing when she wrote her first short story at nine years old, and began seriously considering it as she went on to write and self-publish a fantasy/adventure novel by the time she was thirteen. She wrote a collection of short stories for her high school senior project in 2012, which she went on to compile into a book that she self-published in 2016. Her prose and poetry have been published in Pathos Literary Magazine and The Sunflower Collective. She is currently working on a children’s book as well as a memoir in poetry and prose. Along with being a writer she is also a dancer, Portland State alumna, and animal lover.

Rene Denfeld w/ Kelly Jeske

At Corporeal Writing we’re all about opening the platform, continuously working on new ways to expand participation and experience, and breaking open what writing means.

We’ve created this new series of visiting writer workshops with some pretty phenomenal mammals. We are delighted to have humans in our community interview the writers who will be leading these collaborative workshops at Corporeal Writing Center.

In this first installation we present bestselling and award winning author, Rene Denfeld interviewed by Corporeal Writing comrade, Kelly Jeske.

Rene Denfeld :: Photo by Owen Carey

Rene Denfeld :: Photo by Owen Carey

KJ: Hi, Rene! I’m excited for the chance to engage with you about your writing and process.

Given your multiple roles as a writer, parent, and investigator, how do you manage to give breath to your writing practice? Do you craft a consistent practice or do you experience seasons of varying engagement or productivity? Are you at peace with your own rhythm or do you wish it were different?

RD: I wrote my first novel, The Enchanted, while in the middle of a massive death row case. I took my laptop with me everywhere: to the prison to visit my client, into the field to find witnesses. I wrote outside trailer courts and sitting in jail waiting rooms. I found ten minutes here, a half hour there. I also wrote in the evenings. My second and third novels were written in much the same way. It’s important to prioritize the writing. For women especially, this means pushing back at societal expectations we take care of everyone but ourselves. I'm a single working foster mom with a tough job. It was either going to be I martyred myself or I was going to be genuinely happy, writing and doing what is good for me. So I let chores go. I had the kids help out, and I expected them to be part of the family unit. Honestly, I think it was better for the kids. The boys especially grew up respecting that women have artistic and professional lives. Everyone learned to pitch in, and if the house was a bit messy at times, so what? I say, do what is good for you. Let go of the expectations of others.  

KJ: I appreciate that you offer a blueprint for making art amidst intense lives, Rene. Yes, if we push against martyred social expectations, we offer our children explicit examples of authenticity and joy. You've commented that you waited a decade to write about your children--awaiting their ability to give consent for your reflections to be shared with the larger world. I respect your choice to provide this protection and I wonder how it felt for you to hold this line? Can you speak about your process of deciding how and when to share your stories about your children's lives? 

RD: Actually, I waited over twenty years from when I first became a foster mom before I wrote anything that even mentioned my kids. I wanted them to be teens and adults first, so they could give meaningful consent. I don't so much as post a picture of them on facebook without asking their permission. I felt it was important to honor that their story is their story. I never share personal details about their histories. Those stories are for them to tell. I focus more on my experience, and even then I am very careful about privacy. I worry that writing about our children can be exploitative. It is important to recognize the power imbalance. Yes, we might think it is important to educate others about special needs or other issues. But is it our choice to make? This is especially true for children who are too young to consent. 

KJ: This is an issue that I’ve thought about a lot as a writer who is also a parent. My story entwines with my child’s, of course, and I struggle with extricating the pieces that belong to me. I really value consent and I’ll remember your words in my desire to avoid exploiting my child’s story. 

RD: Well, I could be wrong too. I'm all about being wrong. I think there is great power in admitting we might be wrong. 

KJ: What do you think about the idea of the redemptive potential of justice-oriented literature? There's no doubt that writing and reading can inspire personal transformation. Do you see ways that writing can shift culture or create larger systemic change? Does this bring you hope?

RD: It gives me great hope. We are seeing a shift away from books that pander to racist and sexist tropes about crime—basically, the white supremacist crime books of the past few decades—into more nuanced, politically engaged and realistic novels examining the realities of mass incarceration, racism, and injustice. I am heartened that books like American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which focused on a man falsely convicted for rape, have become more popular. I think readers are hungry for these stories, because they reflect their lives. One in four Americans now has a criminal record. Millions have been disenfranchised. Families have been destroyed, lives ruined. Homelessness is rampant, and those with mental illness and addictions don't get treatment. We are watching our country burn. We don't need more books that speak to the imagined fears of a tiny bubble of entitled white people. What we do need is a path to a better place. We need books by people who have experience and insight. These are the books that are going to light the way to a better future, and this is why I invite others to write. We need all our stories. 

KJ: Your reflections provide a way of understanding writing/stories as vehicles toward world-making or cultural transformation. Thank you for connecting with me and sharing your insights with the Corporeal Writing community.

Rene will be leading a workshop “Writing From the Margins” on Sunday, September 8th :: 10am-4pm Corporeal Writing Center 510 SW 3rd Avenue Suite #101 97217
Save your seat in Rene’s workshop here.

You can also pre-order her forthcoming book, The Butterfly Girl here.

Rene Denfeld is the author of novels The Enchanted, The Child Finder and the forthcoming The Butterfly Girl. Her books have won prestigious awards, including a French Prix, an ALA and Carnegie listing, IMPAC listing, Center for Fiction finalist and more. The Child Finder was an international bestseller, and Margaret Atwood has praised her writing as "astonishing." The child of a traumatic history, Rene was homeless as a teen and credits books for saving her life. Rene lives in Portland, Oregon. In addition to writing she works as a death row investigator and is the happy mother of several children from foster care. (Author photo credit: Owen Carey, 2019.)

Kelly Jeske is a queer femme, mama, and social worker who engages love, connection, art, and activism as agents of cultural change. Kelly's writing has appeared in several anthologies including Who's Your Mama: The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers; and in The Adoption Constellation; Brain, Child; The Rumpus; and Nailed Magazine. Kelly was a finalist for the 2016 Orlando Creative Nonfiction Prize.

Kelly Jeske :: Photo by Domi Shoemaker

Kelly Jeske :: Photo by Domi Shoemaker

Domi Shoemaker, w/ Lidia Yuknavitch

LIDIA: So you've been with Corporeal Writing since the beginning. Your presence, voice, passion, and body gave me a grounding that was not possible on my own at the time. What evolutions have been most meaningful to you and what are you most excited about in the Corporeal present tense?

Domi headshot 2.JPG

DOMI: The most important evolutions to me are the ones that involve expanded accessibility. That is almost a non-answer, because accessibility has been in the conversation from the get-go, and is part of our overall mission. One example is our commitment to offering multiple ways in to our collaborations, via scholarships and work-trade. I also like that we strive for accessibility even in terms of the language we use to talk about what it is that we do. Using accurate terminology, like "collaborations" rather than "workshop," for instance. That's meaningful. And hot! But I digress.

The thing I am super excited about presently is having a physical space. Corporeal Center is such a warm and grounding place, and it makes my mouth water to think of all the ways we can use the space to be an accessible hub for people to create and share their work. We are in such an interesting and pivotal time, that having a physical space to bat ideas around and CV challenge ourselves through our art feels crucial.

LIDIA: Your own writing explores multiple genders, identities, experiences, and bodies as articulations of experience. You often amplify what is ordinarily unseen or unheard, those voices and bodies underneath the surface of the dominant culture. How does Corporeal Writing help people to discover and explore those stories, experiences, voices and bodies in the "underneath" or at the edges of culture? 

DOMI: As someone who identifies as a superfat Kinky genderflexing queer who has some distinct internal consciouses and rides a scooter, I have experience with edges of things and how to traverse them. I have been in prominent writing groups and through an MFA program, and what we do here is different. Not claiming better or perfect by any means, but different.

Corporeal Writing does these super cool Jedi mind tricks that bypass the cerebral and get people to drop down into the less than conscious workings of our brains. We hold onto memory through all the senses, so we might start with an image, a sound, a smell, a tactile memory, you get it. So we start out there, with the body. Corporeality. And we write INTO it by taking these small bites. And when we you get a word or a phrase that pops out, we just keep digging by asking, in a number of ways, "what's underneath that?"

The whole thing feels like alchemy when we are all in a room doing it together. Each of our experiences are so different, but the human emotional, cerebral, and ethereal landscapes are something we can all visit and relate to.

That's what I love doing! Getting people you would never think would be in a room together, and watch as they recognize themselves in the other. I keep an eye out for those moments. When things click. And our bodies are so magnificent at protecting us, not everything works for everyone, so I make it my mission to watchand idenrify when someone is just not getting to what they really want to say. And I use multiple methods to facilitate these discoveries. If verbal or written words aren't working to facilitate tunneling, I like using things like light, color, and sound. The most beautiful thing is watching collaborators surprise themselves with what they find.

LIDIA: How do you work with people to come into their own voices and stories? 

DOMI: Essentially, I listen and attend to sensory input. Bodies will tell you a lot more about someone than the words they put out into the room. So telling stories that center on and around body? That's the Jedi stuff right there.

LIDIA: Tell us about the offering you and Ruth Bryant will be doing (PUT dates here), Transmutation. 

DOMI: We will be doing the Transmutation Collab June 30th and July 1st. It is my first Corporeal Writing Collaboration that I will lead and I am really excited. Accessing our stories through alternative forms is my gig. I love it. I kicked around a few ideas which I plan to pursue, but when I met Ruth and saw her work, I knew instant that I wanted to work with her. We had met briefly at a book event, then actually got to talk at this really cool event created by Margaret Malone and Katheen Lane, called SHARE. It's here in Portland, and what they do is get a bunch of creative types together from different disciplines, and offer up a prompt and 2 hours to create something. At the end, new people "share" their work and returnees draw names and some of us share. It's super cool. Anyway, Ruth was there for the first time and shared a very cool little book she made. We started talking and decided to meet up. She showed me her work, and I was absolutely smitten with it. She had incredible things to say about bodies and books and and her conviction that the book itself is a narrative. I was convinced that we could collaborate on a workshop that would explore narrative from multiple perspectives. The making of the book, the body of the book, and the words in the book all make their own narratives. We are eager to lead participants through mining and combining words and their vision into a physical thing they can take with them at the end of the weekend. How delicious is that?

LIDIA: Why be a writer? 

DOMI: I have known since that I was a storyteller and by 14, I knew I wanted to be either a writer, a radio DJ, or a social worker. I did DJ and social work and wrote the whole time. Most poetry and a few articles at a stint at a now defunct little gay newspaper.

But WHY Be a writer? Especially now, we need the stories of people and bodies we have not heard enough of. The people who are misfits, disenfranchised, disillusioned, or just plain fed up and ready to tell stories that matter!

LIDIA: Why collaborate with others inside artistic practice? 

DOMI: A different thing happens when you are in a room with a bunch of other people, creating. We are all a part of each other's stories no matter what. And another thing is that we often convince ourselves that our stories do not matter. And when we collaborate inside art, we can see how our stories impact and strengthen the larger story we are creating together. Just think about the #metoo movement. All of these stories make a much larger narrative that can have a real and lasting impact as long as we keep telling them.

LIDIA: In The Misfit's Manifesto you shared a story about growing up inside a repressive city, how you had to get out in order to become. Given that we are living in something like a repressive regime just now, how do individual mammals sustain their passions and dreams in the face of fuck? Does writing help? (this seems related to the question above it)

DOMI: Ha! As you said, it is related to the question above. Staying in that oppressive environment WAS killing me. While I was stuck IN it, writing was the only constant that kept me alive. Through alcohol, drugs, risky sex, dangerous people, I continued to write and read fantasize about writing as a life. I moved away as quickly as I could, which was when I was 22. 1986. It took a lot of years to find my people, and that's one of the reasons I am committed to helping hold a safe space for people who need some relief from this constant assault on decency and humanity. The current administration is just the catalyst for the lid coming off of this shitshow illusion of some inherently great "America" (U. S. Of...) that has never existed. The bigots and hateful chickenshits are squirming their way from under the floorboards, and igniting a bonfire that has been brewing for a couple centuries, but has been tamped down, beaten down, silenced, and swept under. I know that sounds really dramatic, but I have known too many people who were killed, quieted or left to their own torment and killed themselves all because they could not find a way to participate in the telling of their own truth. With art, in whatever form, we have power. And I want us to use that power now.

#wearetherestofyou #revolutionsinskin #genderisahoax.