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Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff…

Sunday, September 13, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

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Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone.”

– Alan Wilson Watts

I have a theory

My theory is that telling forbidden stories, telling the stories that have previously been untold – or perhaps more accurately – unacknowledged, is a profound form of activism.

Every seismic shift in our cultural and social landscape has been preceded by telling new stories. The feminist movement was, first and foremost, a movement of claiming space for – and the sacredness of – women’s stories. But telling new stories takes new depths of courage, and sometimes even new language.

What kind of bravery does it take to show up for real on the page when we’re afraid we’ll be judged or misunderstood?

How might our writing, our lives, and our world change if we were courageous enough to tell the truth?

How do we begin to tell stories that we don’t yet have the language for, but which we need to tell anyway?

How do we compassionately hold ourselves as we tell these important stories?

Exploring forbidden territory together

After spending a lot of time thinking about these questions – reflecting on the power of stories in my activism work, and the impact of my own forbidden stories – I decided to get together with writer and teacher Laurie Wagner to create a workshop that is specifically designed to help you tell your forbidden stories.

Forbidden Territory is a workshop for any of us whose stories sometimes bring us up against scary, controversial topics and territory. Over two days, Laurie and I will safely guide you into giving voice to these stories, helping you to find the language and the courage to move into the places we are afraid to tread.

But if our stories scare us, or others, why tell them? Why not just pack them away, tuck them out of sight?

  • Firstly, because when you write into what scares you you have more skin in the game. Your writing will matter to you more. You’ll be writing from the edge, and that’s where the juice is.
  • Secondly, when one person writes with this kind of courage, they show other people how big the territory is – they open the space for everyone to step in and write their big, edgy stories. This is how you build community and put an end to loneliness.
  • Thirdly, if something is true in your life, it’s true for someone else as well. By writing about it we give it air and take away the sting and the secrecy of it. We normalize it so we can write about it.
  • Finally, we need to write the stories that scare us because our stories don’t only shape us, they shape our world.

Forging new territory. Crafting new language.

Sometimes in order to tell our stories, we have to forge new territory, carve out new language. Sometimes our stories require us to be pioneers, to be courageous and to set out on a new path.

Brave writing is required when you ‘sort of’ know where you are going, but you don’t know how you are going to get there, or what could happen along the way.

This is a weekend where we’ll courageously claim our tough stories, creating an environment of curiosity and safety so we can stumble into the new language we need to navigate these unchartered lands.

What kinds of stories are we talking about?

The stories are as varied as our lives, but could include: race, sex, power, money, aging, bodies, intimacy and relationships. Here are some examples of these kinds of stories – some you’ve probably come across already, some you may not have:

On poverty

On the refugee crisis

On mental health

On racism

On God

On alcoholism

On injustice and anger

Whatever the terrain of your stories, this workshop will help you find the courage, the tools and the support to follow them wherever they lead.


Dates: 3-4 October 2015

Time: 9.30-4.30 each day (lunch catered)

Place: 27 Powers, Alameda, California

Cost: $375

More details and registration here:

Have questions? Get in touch with Laurie –

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