Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Jan 24, 2020

MOTHerview with Storyteller Sarah Jane Johnson

by Suzanne Rust

Sarah Jane Johnson

I think of it a little like B.C. and A.D., but with my sense of humor, it’s B.R. and A.R. There is the me before I was raped and the me after I was raped. I’m strong and this is me; this is all of me.

What did it mean for you to be able to share your story on the Moth stage? 

There are so many layers to this question! I have been in awe of Moth storytellers for a long time, so I found the thought of it absolutely terrifying - and I have a Master’s in acting! Despite my background, there was something so utterly frightening about stripping everything away to get to the simplicity and the honesty of storytelling. I had worked for The Moth for a few years before I started developing my story with our Artistic Director, Catherine Burns, and it took me a really long time to really find it. I put so much pressure on myself but was only met with incredible support and love for my story; I was just so honored that I had the opportunity. I will never forget the first time I told it.  The first minute or two, I could barely hear, my heart was beating so loudly in my ears, but then I hit my stride and the rest was thrilling. I felt incredible pride that I was able to get up on that stage.

You say that, for years, you thought your assault was the center of your story, and then your son Harvey became that center. Where is the center now? Has there been any shift since you shared your experience?

I would say that my center is tethered in the middle of the three of us, my wife included. I think it’s a healthy place to be. There is so much about your life that changes when you become a parent, it is all about the baby. And it still is very much today, but now there is a balanced amount of my own life,my career and space that I’ve taken back. I would say the center shifts daily in some way, there’s a little give and take, push and pull depending on what the needs are of our whole unit. I think some of this is in reaction to overparenting trends; I’m a little allergic to helicopter parenting. I want Harvey to feel 100% secure and loved and in the very center of our family, but not that he is the center. That is a big difference for me. As for myself as a survivor, there will always be an ebb and flow in my life, and keeping my eye and heart on our collective center helps me maintain my footing. 

Your story gives us so much insight to the many things, big and small, that survivors of sexual assault have to live with. One thing you said in particular really struck me, “How was I supposed to make a baby in the same exact place in my body that I had received so much violence?” I’m not sure that people who haven’t experienced this kind of trauma understand how much of your life it can affect.  What is the most important thing that you’d like people to know about survivors? 

That your assault and being a survivor is not something you “get over” or get beyond. Yes, you learn to hold your trauma differently. Yes, you gain healing and understanding and tools to help you move through the world in your body, but the trauma will always be with you in some form or another. I also have to make sure to say that, if you are a survivor, I hope this doesn’t overwhelm you. Please don’t let this make you afraid, or think that you will always be wounded or not whole that is not the case. For me, there is freedom in knowing that I’m not waiting for a day that will never come or some box to check. I think of it a little like B.C. and A.D., but with my sense of humor, it’s B.R. and A.R. There is the me before I was raped and the me after I was raped. I’m strong and this is me; this is all of me.

What has motherhood taught you about yourself?

Why is this such a tough question? Reading that sentence flooded me with a million thoughts in a million directions. I have learned that trying to achieve perfection is a waste of time and takes me away from being present with my child. Being a working mom, you really fight for quality time in the mornings and that precious hour between when you get home and when they go to sleep. It’s so easy to try and cram in too much, or always be distracted or tidying, when it’s more important to embrace the mess and just get on the floor and play. Motherhood has taught me how fun and fresh it is to see the world through the eyes of your child, and this is very helpful right now when it feels like we are surrounded by so much darkness. Motherhood has taught me to dig deep. Motherhood has taught me that my heart is expansive, and motherhood has taught me that I have close to infinite patience. Oh wait, cancel that...we started potty training.  

Who are your favorite storytellers and why? 

I am too in love with too many storytellers from The Moth’s stage over the years to possibly choose any favorites. Instead, I’ll talk about the storytellers who influenced my path and person. I come from a family of artists who tell stories in a myriad of ways, from my grandmother’s still lifes and Hardanger needlework, my sister’s landscape paintings and my brother’s street photography, to the beauty and oasis my mother creates in her garden and my dads terrible--ok, sometimes hilarious--lengthy jokes. The value of art, connection and story has always been very important to me. 

You used to be a cheerleader. How are your moves these days, how's  your “Herkie?" (Which, by the way, I had to Google!)

To do a Herkie well is insanely hard. Let’s suffice it to say I haven’t tried one in a few years. I would definitely have to start a rigid stretching protocol or I would take myself out. However, if you would like to see me do a Tabletop Jump, all you have to do is ask.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?  

 I heart Suzanne.

And I heart you too, Sarah Jane.  Please finish this sentence: Storytelling is important because….

...it has the power to heal.

To keep up with Sarah, check out her website sarahjj.com, or follow her on Twitter (@sjj), Instagram (@sarah_jane_johnson) and on Facebook, Sarah Jane Johnson (sarahjanejohnson4)

Batter Up

by Sarah Jane Johnson

In her journey to start a family, Sarah Jane Johnson also finds herself facing her past. 

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