Three years ago, I was in the midst of struggling with a new diagnosis of a unilateral headache disorder that affects the trigeminal nerves in my face and learning how to navigate a new relationship with my body. I had spent a few years being so angry at my body as my headaches became debilitating and affected my life to the point where I was constantly exhausted and worried that I might lose my position as an adjunct professor at a local college.
As a writer, I was also struggling to learn to how to write about my body. I knew that writing, even if it was just for myself, had always been a way to process and heal from pain and trauma, but being vulnerable about a body that always seemed to be malfunctioning seemed to have me writing in circles about how I really felt. I also realized that my relationship to community and friends was changing, as not everyone in my life could hold space for the chronically ill me. I wanted to be in community with chronically ill and disabled writers who were having vulnerable, nuanced conversations about their bodies.
I pitched a new writing class to a local writing space that held evening workshops and was looking for more remote or virtual classes. I created Reconnecting to the Body as a way to both hold space for writers of all experiences who were trying to have conversations with their bodies. Three years later, I have just finished facilitating my third virtual Reconnecting to the Body six-week series. I wanted to share some of the books and resources from this 2021 Spring workshop in case other writers who are navigating complications with their bodies due to chronic illness, pain, disability, trauma and more might benefit from their readings and exercises.
Here are some of the works we studied during this 2021 workshop:
The Most Spectacular Mistake by Anatalia Vallez
I love this book but recommend the poems we read, “Shedding” and “How to have a good cry.”
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
This book was very helpful to begin understanding the multidimensional nature of schizophrenia as someone with several family members who are living with varying severities of this mental illness.
Wound From the Mouth of a Wound by torrin a. greathouse
This book will rip you open and make you rethink the stories that you tell yourself about your body. The author explores trauma, abuse, gender, disability and mythmaking I can’t choose just one piece to recommend, just get the book!
World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
This beautiful book weaves together personal experiences from the author with her love of different organisms and creatures in the natural world to understand her relationship to self, place, family and her culture. I especially liked “Touch-Me-Nots.”
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
This books was fundamental for me in learning how to reflect radically and write about my body. I was really excited to teach some pieces from this book and from The Body is Not an Apology Instagram. It is a difficult book that makes you question a lot about yourself, but I was most excited because Taylor published a new addition this year with a workbook that I am excited to dig into.
Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson
A gorgeous book, and I love that Gibson has resources on their website, including writing prompts to accompany their work.
Femme in Public by Alok Von Menon
This poetry chapbook by Alok, an internationally acclaimed gender non-conforming writer, performer, and public speaker, has some beautifully tender poems about loving their body and self outside of gender norms.
Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
I was able to interview Hernandez Castillo previously about this book and I greatly appreciate the way that he talks openly about anxiety and depression as a result of being surveilled at a young age by the US government as an undocumented person.
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
Fairytales, fables, myths and traditional tales can be great ways to explore our relationships to our bodies and the stories that we tell about it. This memoir and analysis of how fairy tales navigate disability is one I have really enjoyed.
Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles by Taisia Kitaiskaia
I love this book and the advice column Instagram of the same name, especially the entries from people seeking advice about their health, their body, and how to be more free when illness takes away people’s freedom.
Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber
I love the playful humor and absurdity of a lot of the pieces in this collection, and it is a great way to explore having conversations with your body.
Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar
I think that reading the book as a memoir of the body, rather than a “travel memoir,” where Jarrar and her body find home after migration, displacement, abuse, motherhood, consensual sex and love across destinations and communities is what made me connect most with the story. One of my favorite essays in the collection is, “Taking the Knife.”
In addition to these readings, here are some sample writing prompts used in the workshop should you want to explore writing about your body further.
Some books and readings that I hope to continue to explore for myself this year is The Body Keeps Score, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness — Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller, The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce, edited by Angie Manfredi, Why We Sleep, The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson, and much more! You can also listen to the Spotify playlist we created as a workshop!