Why I Don’t Dance on Graves.

I thought I would happily dance on his grave. I had the quote all ready for this year’s calendar.

“Every step I take for survivors feels like I’m dancing on his grave.”

Jena and I lined up the shot. I was going to walk like a bad ass between some headstones in an old cemetery. The lighting was perfect and I asked Heather to use her hair and makeup artistry to make me look like I wanted to get into a fight.

Whatever that means.

It was in this moment that I realized that I am not the kind of girl that goes dancing on graves. I don’t make a habit of adding insult to injury. I love restoration, healing and connection. I wish the bad guys well in their fight against their personal demons.

Every year, the Soulfire Project brings new revelations. This is why I have decided to honor the stories of survivors through the online collaborative story telling series of Why I told again this year.

RSVP on Facebook!

Last year, many of you shared what inspired you to disclose the sexual trauma you endured. You spread the word across every social media platform. You inspired and encouraged survivors and allies to break the silence.

Let’s do it again!

Where: Share your #WhyItold story on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

When: Midnight on October 20th until Midnight on October 21st.

How: Join me on Sunday, October 18th at 4 p.m. EST in a Google Hangout. Click here to sign up. I’ll be there with ideas, prompts and guidelines. You must be over 18 to participate.

For those of you who have never shared your story before, I’ll be there to encourage you. I’ll also likely have a glass of wine, some light snacks and a comfy place to sit. I suggest you do the same.

Can’t make it? Sign up anyway and I’ll send you some sweet info to get you started.

The Twist: I will be turning this year’s collection into an Anthology! If you’re interested in contributing something you’ve written, you can check a box during sign up and I’ll send you guidelines shortly.

I will be reflecting on why I don’t dance on graves. What will you share?

Sincerely,

PS – Need some inspiration? Check out these powerful images from Soulfire 2015. These 12 Survivors All Battled Sexual Trauma with the Same Secret Weapon

Soulfires: Notes on taking it all in.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

― Alice Walker, The Color Purple

I have been in a haze for the past 48 hours. Trying like hell to take it all in. To consider the accomplishments of the evening, of the year, of the past 18 months. I have been trying to grasp what it was to look around the room of our gallery and see the faces of strangers change as they saw soulfires, as they read their stories, their words.

I saw them breathless. I saw eyes brimmed with tears and hands held.

I saw freedom.

Click here to see a gallery of images from #Soulfire2015!

The logo for the foundation wasn’t going to be a tree. It was going to be a child’s hands holding light. A friend changed it. Her insight became my truth. From the roots to the tree, let it be.

And so it was and is.

I am never going to be able to take it all in. There is no measurement of what the survivors experienced. There is no yard stick for 4 children heard and treated by a loving therapist.

There’s a reason why I have to go place my hand on a big tree when I am overwhelmed.

Old, thickly rooted, wildly growing trees remind me that I am small.

This work is big but I am still small. I am still here feet on the ground, breathing deep and fine with letting the sparks fly beyond where I can see them fall.

I can’t measure it. I can’t hold it in my arms. I can’t define it. There is no vocabulary for this thing that I find myself in. This role of healer and heartbreaker. This job as fierce advocate. This magical vocation that allows me to whip generous beings into a frenzy of deep love and respect for survivors of sexual trauma.

Whenever I try, I weep. Because I cannot believe my absolute luck.

I cannot believe that I have the privilege of enjoying the confidence of these survivors.

I cannot believe that I was able to find my teacher 25 years after she set me on this path.

It astounds me that I get to share grilled cheese sandwiches, cupcakes, the floor of a bathroom stall, warm hugs, the best coffee in town, post cards, yoga poses, the office dog Lucy and hundreds of sparklers with all of you.

This is my honor.

I am heart tired and mentally dialed back.

I am connected and encouraged.

I am ambitious and cautiously optimistic.

Here it is.

Soulfire,

You are the purple. You are the purple and I believe that God is just pissed off that someone hurt you and kept walking. You are the purple and I am only calling attention to what the world should have been in awe of in the first place.

You, my dear soulfire, are the purple.

Thank you for bringing your vulnerability, your truth, your pain, your experience, your support of one another, your tenacious faith – your being-ness to this amazing, community changing project.

And today, I am resting in red lipstick and stretchy pants. I am drinking from a mug that carries the image of a caped and masked squirrel. I am enjoying that my truth, my purpose gets to be my life and you play a role in giving me this gift.

I accept.

Blessed be. ~FC

 

Soulfire 2015 spark pic

#WhyItold: Solidarity

You did it.

#WhyItold flooded the world with your stories.

Everyone wants to know how I am. It can be a difficult thing to bear the weight of so many stories.

I had a little bit of tummy ache. I was anxious. I was bursting with pride, anger and sadness.

It’s like an emotional kaleidoscope. Brilliance and darkness tumbling together, inseparable and sadly gorgeous.

The stories make my heart ache but the thing that makes me shake in  my boots is worry.

Are you going to be okay?

You shared vulnerably, publicly and brazenly. You followed my example. You trusted me.

Thank you. I am honored.

Click here for some tips a Tumblr full of self-care tips.

Dear God, let them be loved. Let their family and friends believe them and hold them. Let their words be heard and their journey honored.

Days like this find me praying under my breath before I’m aware I’m doing it.

Because of you.

However, I watched. I read every word and then I read the comments. Holding my breath, I placed my faith in your community. I waited to see if I bet on the right horse.

I did.

Your friends posted little hearts, solidarity fists, kind words and offers of support. Your allies said they heard you and that they believed you. They congratulated your bravery and some stood with you by posting their own pledge in your honor.

Do you see?

Do you see how loved you are?

Of course, these were just the public responses. I am not naive enough to believe that the private response will always match.

If you were not met with compassion or if you just need a listening ear, check out this list of local and national resources.

Today, as I sit in my favorite coffee shop with a hot mocha in my hand, I choose to bask in the steady stream of tiny emoticon hearts posted underneath all of our storytelling.

I heard you. I believe you. I support your journey towards healing. #Solidarity

A few of you registered late and have been wondering if you can share.

You are in control of your own destiny and your wardrobe choices.

I do not own the idea of sharing.

Your story is like your silence; you don’t owe it to anyone.

You do what serves you. I’ll do the same.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – Don’t forget the bonus prompt! Please help me spread the word about #Soulfire2015 by sharing this link: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/soulfire-2015-the-firecracker-foundation-calendar-project-tickets-13463998181

 

 

Capturing Soulfires

Yesterday afternoon, I received an unexpected phone call.

It was Mrs. P’s.

“‘Hi honey. Will you have Jena call me?”

I’m sorry? What?

My 5th grade teacher just called me up to ask if one of my dearest friends would call her.

Strange.

“Do you trust me” she asked.

“Yes.” I answer.

Because seriously, I do. More now than ever before.

More now than when I unburdened myself of that dreadful secret.

More now than the day that she said, “I believe you. It happened to me too. You’re going to be okay.”

Because since then, I’ve spoken to her regularly and she’s given me the advice of someone who knows.

She’s sent me newspaper clippings and letters of her own from the days when she trail-blazed advocacy work in my hometown of El Paso, TX.

You know, just in case it would spur an idea or an inspiration for me.

She’s sent me a yearbook from the time I knew her and a card telling me how proud she is of me.

Actually, that’s the one thing she tells me the most.

“Oh honey, I’m just so proud of you.”

And now she is pouring out of my heart and into Jena’s all the way from Colorado.

Why?

Well, because Jena and I are being spirited away on an adventure.

It’s time to shoot another calendar of survivors and this year the theme is solidarity. This year we are asking survivors to invite someone who was invaluable to them as they struggled to heal.

Click here to see last year’s photos.

This year, I offer an opportunity for us all to say,

“Thank you. You saved me. I felt rescued. Blessed be.”

My path was clearly lit by the souls of many strong women willing and able to pour good things into me.

There was and still is Catrina, Jude, my mother, my grandmother and my Aunt Debbie.

I have never been alone. Not ever.

For this project, I’ve chosen to invite Mrs. P’s – or Lisa as I now call her (because I’m a grown up, ya’ll!) because she is where my healing all began.

She put me on the path that led straight to the others.

On August 4th, Jena and I will fly to Colorado to meet Lisa together.

So as of yesterday, Jena McShane and Lisa Griffin have some kind of secret. I’m not allowed to know and Jena is not telling.

Stinkers.

That’s why she’s coming along.

Sure. She is a talented photographer. Supa dupa talented doesn’t even do her justice.

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You should totally vote for her in this competition. #ShamelessPlug

Jena creates images from a place of empathy. We shared a wadded up handkerchief with another survivor. We are committed to eating burritos and going hiking if my emotions get the best of me (or us both). I’m sure their will be cocktails, hugs, selfies and truly intimate moments but Jena is special.1236309_10151927620928824_1726302796_n

She’ll get it.

Sometimes…okay, all of the time, we refer to each other as #McCracker because obviously.

She told the survivors who have already volunteered for #Soulfire2015 that as our photographer,

“Instead of capturing souls, I will capture soulfires.”

I told her that we are just beginning the Sisterhood of Traveling Soulfires.

And then we giggled. And teared up. And geeked out because that was super cheesy and I don’t even care.

I know. I know.

I can’t even stand myself right now.

I’m not even sure what this means for me. I get a little choked up just thinking about it.

All I know today is that I am following a journey of gratitude.

My good life is a testimony to the way I was loved.

Today and everyday, that love is gifted to those around me.

It expands. It surrounds. It grows.

It inspires the creation of the foundation now and into the future.

So this is the cat. I release it from the bag.

And in a few weeks, I take it on the road.

Boom. #McCrackered.

Faithfully,

Tashmica

PS – To keep up with us, follow the hashtag #Soulfire2015 or #McCracker. You know, what evs.

Believe me. I know.

Today I woke up to heartbreak.

Clear and strong, like a window cracked into giant glass slivers.

Another survivor, bearing the burden of proof.

A family chanting and then berating. Pushing for a more palatable story and when not rewarded with what they wanted, they turned to petty attacks and cutting words.

I won’t repeat them here. It’s not my story to tell.

I did have advice though.

Every time I tell my story, there are consequences for the people in my family.

I fear my mother will never release the guilt she feels about her inability to see what was hidden so expertly.

My brother mourned a father I only know in pieces and parts that don’t reconcile themselves to one another.

My father’s family experiences a range of emotions and reactions that I will never understand.

It is my story.

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It is my truth but sharing it hurts. It hurts others and sometimes – damn it – it hurts myself.

Even though I wish it didn’t any more.

However, I did not conjure up this pain. I did not bring this upon us all like some plague.

My father did this.

He made choices that turned his only daughter into his victim.

He ruined his own reputation and sullied his own good name.

I am only telling the truth.

It’s not an easy truth but my story belongs and I have rarely been made to feel otherwise.

Your story belongs too.

This morning, I recognized a truth being stifled. I saw a true story being shoved out into the open where it was insulted and scolded in an effort to change the truth.

It was heartbreaking.

And it will happen again. It’s probably happening right now in some corner of the world and just down the street.

I’d like to say I don’t understand why families of victims behave this way but I do.

Deeply, in my heart, I also wish that my father had lived up to his good reputation. I wish it were as simple as the wrong outfit, the wrong place, too many cocktails, flirty behavior or unclear boundaries.

If only.

I recognize, deep in my heart that when you see that no one is safe, you start to realize that it could happen to you and you panic.

Stop it.

Those excuses only take the focus off of the only person in the situation who deserves to be shamed, punished and seeking repentance – the perpetrator.

If someone has enough faith in you to share the burden of their most terrible story, please, please believe them. Please.

Give faith in return for faith.

If you fail a loved one in this manner, it will have dire, long-lasting and sometimes irrevocable consequences for you both.

Believe me. I know.wpid-img_20140502_073144.jpg

True story.

Love,

Tashmica

PS – I had to add this sassy picture to drive home the point. Ya dig?

Open & Emptied Out

Today I draw my knees into my chest and protect my heart.

I recognize that my normal posture is one of an open heart. I stretch my arms behind me and lift my chest, sharing that space with the world. A Care Bear stare, if you will.

Today, my heart needs to be encased and covered.

The weight it has been bearing through the creation of The Firecracker Calendar Project was great and beautiful. I have the names of survivors written on my heart like tattoos. I can see the letters scribbled along the walls beating my blood.

Their stories were heartbreaking and their bravery overwhelmingly courageous.

My breath was stolen, tears came often and I found it difficult to speak.

I am making this sound so terrible. It was not. It was truth cracking open and spinning through the rooms we shared. It was acceptance of the horrific and a moving into the brilliant.

I am probably not making any sense.

All I know is that although in reality the Creole Gallery was a perfectly appropriate space for our gallery showing, it was not large enough for the emotions in the room.

There wasn’t room enough for Chelsea’s spoken word piece. There wasn’t room enough for the moment a survivor’s foster parent thanked me for what I had done.

I replied, “Thank you for loving her.”

He said, “Loving her was easy. What you did for her was hard.”

Is there a room big enough for those words?

There wasn’t space enough for the youngest survivor in the room to smile under the crook of my arm and to be so loved by the other participants helping her down her own path towards healing.

The ceiling should have broken open and the walls should have fallen down to mirror all of the growth that was inspired by the experience.

Even in the midst of all of that incredible hope, light and empowerment, my heart ached. I still want to burn down the house and keep the foundation. For all that I am capable of changing; I cannot change the past for the beautiful men and women featured in Soulfire 2014.

I cannot change our past.

That hurts a little.

Okay.

It hurts a lot.

I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.

I have been side swiped. That car came out of nowhere. I didn’t really expect to love them so.

And now I do.

So of course, because I love them, my heart breaks for them and the things I want for myself, I want for them too.

I wish to honor their bravery but more than that, I wish I didn’t have to. I want to go back in time and rescue them. I want to barricade the entry to the path they were set on by force because none of them deserve to be here. None of us ever do.

I look at their intelligent, compassionate, determined, strong, brave, beautiful faces and I cannot accept that they were hurt.

It has been lovely to be the only survivor I know. It has allowed me to live in a quiet place where my wounds never brushed up against anyone else’s. It has afforded me a space where I only had to be intimate with my own injuries.

Isn’t that the strangest thing? I was completely caught off guard – heart open – and in they walked.

To know them, is to love them. Isn’t that a saying?

So my knees are pulled into my chest today. I am coaxing my heart back like turning egg whites into a fluffy, white puff.

Fear not.

It’s always better to know and by my calculations, that means it is always better to love.

Open and emptied out,

Tashmica

Soulfire Photoshoot
Photo Credit: McShane Photography

 

Come Dance With Me

It has been nearly two months since #Stargazing2013.

I wore my Joanie dress. That’s what I love to call the green dress that I feel channels Joanie’s style from Mad Men.

The room was filled with family, friends and even a few strangers. I was nervous. I nearly lost my temper looking for my other earring. Emotions were running a little high.

Don’t worry. I founded it and kept my cool.

Once I arrived, warmth, love, hope and encouragement seemed to be hanging from the ceiling. It tinkled like crystal chandeliers and inspired hugs that rose out of the ground and up through entire bodies.

I told my story. I cried. I even got that verklempt voice. You know the one that sounds like a duck. I kept it together. Breathed. Paused. Continued.

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It was not easy but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. Love is a funny thing that way. It inches stepping stones closer together and opens bolted doors to meadows filled with fireflies.

I shared my big and scary dream.

I started an organization that aims to –

Honor the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma with a community invested in the healing of their whole being.

It’s called The Firecracker Foundation.

I want to make sure that children who survive what I did, have the love, therapy and support they need to have a healthy and happy future. I think our community should be invested in their healing.

I know that we should not leave them behind to fend for themselves.

I asked everyone who attended #Stargazing2013 to join our community. I told them – you belong with us.

Everyone agreed.

Some donated. Some pledged. Some volunteered.

Offerings of gifts I do not own.

And then we set some stuff on fire.

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You are looking at a very bad idea.

Sparks flew. The fire launched and it seems to be heading for a steady blaze.

Just a few days after the event, Louise Knott Ahern told my story in the Lansing State Journal and then it was picked up by the Detroit Free Press.

Thirteen men and women volunteered to share their stories and images in a calendar project that will be sold as a fundraiser. Their vision turned art photography will impact the hearts of fellow survivors and gift others a deeper understanding of what it means to have to live with the consequences of sexual trauma.

FC - Survivors 2013

Yoga studios around town are offering donation based classes to fund yoga classes for trauma survivors. The first one was yesterday and you can view a full schedule here.

My board of directors is training, strategic planning and committee building. Grants are being researched and programs are being built with the honor of our youngest survivors in mind.

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Holy cow.

And how do I feel?

It’s taken me a few exhausted days of stumbling about to figure that out.

I am proud.

I am proud and deeply in love with what is happening around me.

I am proud, in love and filled with so much gratitude, I can hardly contain it.

And, if I were being completely honest, I would admit that I’m a little frightened.

A good healthy fear never hurt anyone. I’ve heard that pride goes before a fall but perhaps if it’s tempered with crashing waves of gratitude, I’ll be able navigate this sea without too many shipwrecks.

Most of all – more than anything – I feel…

Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange

I want the whole damn world to come and dance with me. 

Dancing so hard,

Tashmica