Scene & Heard
I’m Writing a Play! Fall 2020
Application Essay for Playwrights Theatre Centre’s Block A Workshop (I was selected.)
I am writing a play. (Gasp.)
I am writing my first play.
I am a writer writing my first play.
I am a playwright. (Yeah, right!)
For many years, I thought I was writing a memoir of the lesbian-feminist nineteen seventies. (Memoir of an Undutiful Daughter.)
This play, An UnDutiful Daughter, is in large part drawn from journal entries I recorded in my twenties and thirties.
My singular focus, at this time, is towards bringing this play into existence. (I am determined.)
I am a Jewish lesbian feminist teacher, writer, activist. I turned sixty-eight this year. (Wow.)
After immigrating to Canada in 2006, I gratefully live on the Tsawout First Nations’ unceded and unsurrendered territories (Salt Spring Island). Living and working and playing and loving on this island is, indeed, a gift.
I have created sacred circles of women and queers writing together. After years and years of teaching others, and my commitment to empowering people to write their lives, I am thrilled to be writing mine in the form of a play. (I do most of my writing in my study, that I call my “playroom.”)
I am passionate about storytelling and performance: the alchemy, the interplay and collaboration between writers, performers, directors and audience. I am especially enraptured by the ways in which every single element of a production is interdependent. Collaboration with an ensemble of actors creates a richness and depth beyond what I have experienced in other collaborative projects.
Inspirations for writing this play:
Being selected as a participant in the 2017 Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. The non-fiction workshop was a rich tapestry of perspectives, identities and styles. I brought my entire workshop onto the stage when giving a reading of my essay, “Radical Lesbian Feminism in Practice.”
A two-day playwriting workshop two summers ago, registering at the last minute. After the first 3-hour session, I wrote the beginnings of “An Interrogation Story.” My intention was to create a deeper understanding of my (difficult and disappointing) relationship with my brother (who is deceased) by putting him on trial (he was an attorney).
Continuing to write more scenes.
Three staged readings (so far):
SaltFest: Mini Festival of Performing Arts (SSI July, 2019).
Pride Opening Night: (SSI September, 2019).
Scene and Heard Play Reading (Victoria, February 2020).
Scenes: (Revisions and re-writes) (Epilogue still to come.)
Scene 1: “A Reckoning” (previously called “An Interrogation.”)
(A BROTHER is interrogated about his relationship with his SISTER.)
Scene 2: “Bedroom Confrontation”
(A DAUGHTER is confronted by her parents about her lesbianism during a visit home.)
Scene 3: “Let’s Hop This Train”
(A DAUGHTER, her MOTHER and FATHER interact as old wounds, hostile attacks and tender moments coincide within the confines of her father’s hospital room.)
Scene 4: “She’s My Baby” (Scene submitted for this application)
(This is my most recent in which a MOTHER and MOTHER’S FRIEND discuss events after the MOTHER’S husband’s funeral.)
I have no doubt that BLOCK A will give me foundations and fundamentals of writing for performance. The intimate size and guidance of a mentor will support me to bring this play to fruition. Although my preference is always “in person” engagement, I am grateful that these sessions will be offered on-line. (During these crazy “mishugena” times.)
Salt Spring Island Pride Parade 2019
The First Pride Parade on Salt Spring Island
Written by Corrie Hope Furst and Wendy Judith Cutler
Parade Marshals for Salt Spring Island Pride Parade 2019
In the summer of 2007, the 3rd year of celebrating Pride on SSI, a year after we moved here full time, we met with a few south-end queer friends at the (now demolished) Fulford Inn for pizza night. We started talking about next year’s Pride and we said, half kiddingly, “What about a parade?” At first we all thought it was just a crazy fantasy. At some point, we all thought “Why not?”
We showed what a small number of people who come together can do.
We formed a small sub-group of GLOSSI, our own anarcho-splinter group, and started meeting: Wendy, Corrie, Kareno and Kimi, Juli McDonnell and Michael Bushby. We operated by consensus, were non-hierarchical and used feminist collective process. We did all the things we had to do. Also, Corrie got the Vancouver Gay Band to join in with some members of the SSI Concert Band that she was in at the time. Wendy contacted “Businesses Against Bigotry” and organized parade contingents to show up. The Unitarians somehow got a huge rainbow banner sent from across the country. We decided, of course, to begin the Parade on Rainbow Road.
We encountered some fears and resistance from some in the queer community about how the larger community would react. Caffyn Kelley, one of the co-founders of GLOSSI, led a workshop to allay people’s fears and also one to make signs and posters.
We were adamant that the parade would be people-powered (no cars), political, peaceful, raucous, inclusive, celebratory and pure Salt Spring Island, welcoming all. We think there were about 3-400 people and many more watching and loving it.
Rowan Percy, a member of our community, wrote about the parade:
“It takes us beyond everything, into a world where we can envision things, think a bigger world, a more inclusive world, a world with more breathing space.”
And Kimi Hendess in a Letter to the Editor wrote:
“May all of us feel proud, carry this into our lives the rest of the year and continue to march not only for ourselves but for the freedom of all beings everywhere.”
***We are grateful to be part of this wonderful island community.
Thanks to DAISSI and all who planned and participated in this year’s Pride.
Upcoming Summer Writing Retreat
The Intimacy of Community Arts Engagement
The Intimacy of Community Arts Engagement
community communing collaborating connnection coming together circles creativity compassion
“When we plant, when we weave, when we write, when we give birth, when we organize, when we heal, when we run through the park while the redwoods sweat mist, when we do what we’re afraid to do, we are not separate. We are of the world and of each other, and the power within us is a great, if not invincible power. Though we can be hurt, we can heal; though each one of us can be destroyed, within us is the power of renewal. And there is still time to choose that power.” —Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark
Circles of Women
Bringing women together to write their lives is my passion and, for me, a necessity.
I have been writing my life since starting to write in a journal when
I was nineteen, inspired by reading the diaries of Anais Nin and the memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir. The tumultuous 1970s transformed my life, as I was radically guided by the “personal is political” and entered into a lifetime of radical politics, feminism, writing, teaching and activism.
Since arriving on this magical Salt Spring Island, the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish First Nation Peoples, I have been able to manifest my intention to create a sacred space for women to feel safe, supported and nourished. We can only be open, honest and vulnerable with ourselves when we feel safe and trusting.
These circles give me a sense of intimacy that I so crave.
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I nd that something magical occurs as women are drawn to these circles. The invitation to join other women to write, read aloud, share and witness their writings inevitably leads to a kind of intimacy that deepens as we continue to meet together. It always feels like a gift, offering these workshops and circles, encouraging, enticing women to write about and from their lives.
The intimacy that is generated within these circles is profound and moving. Coming together regularly—being in one another’s presence— creates the potential for authentic sharing, dialogue and vulnerability that is so necessary to individual and collective growth. As we share our words, our thoughts, our lives, we see one another in our fullness. This inspires ever-deepening connections and a sense of community through sharing our words, our hearts and our lives.
We gather together in each other’s living rooms, bringing treats
to share, our journals, a pen (or a laptop) and a precious invisible collection of stories. During the next three hours, we alternate between writing, reading what we’ve written and sharing. We allow our writings and our creative selves to come forth. It’s a process of deep listening, vulnerability and active trust-building. Sometimes we pull tarot or other divinatory cards to stir the creative embers. Other times we hear passages from recent or long ago memoirists, essayists or novelists (mostly always women) to inspire our own inner rumblings. Then, the room grows quiet and we write and write. Through the ritual of sitting and quietly writing together (and alone), the stories within us take ight, drawn from the well of our unconscious minds to be birthed on the living page.
To further ensure the continuity of the connections that we are creating, I have created monthly women’s writing circles, composed of women who have taken a previous workshop. One of these circles has met for almost a decade and another for close to eight years. There has been some uidity of participation, and two other circles have not, yet, materialized into monthly gatherings. Our ages range from late twenties through eighties. We have recently been collecting our stories about how we each came to live on Salt Spring Island. We are hopeful
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to create a book, give readings and continue to share our writings and our lives with one another.
“Thank you for bringing together women of such diversity of age, background, and life experiences. It is through your love and skillful guidance that we prosper in our writing and the con dence to share our stories. What a wonderful experience it was, women celebrating our stories as we move out of darkness into the light. I brought home with me the warmth, the joy, and the stories of phenomenal women joining in circles to write, to share, to inspire, and to grow as far as our wings of creation will expand and soar.” —Premilla Pillay, member of Circles of Women writing group
Our Island Communities
I am passionate about community.
I crave communing and gathering with others. It is an ardent need of mine. From the time I moved here with Corrie, my lovergirl-life partner, I have been engaged in community and the arts.
Communities are living, changing entities reliant upon the energetic and intentional commitment to be of service to others. Much as with our friendships and even our relationship with ourselves, communities require continued engagement, practice and renewed commitment.
The increasing anonymity of living in a city was becoming a regrettable feature of urban living. This became more apparent when we were visiting Salt Spring Island and returning to our lives in Portland, Oregon.
Moving to Salt Spring Island has opened up avenues that never would have existed had I remained living in the city. I have been offered opportunities to be part of the cultural, theatrical, musical, artistic life, not only as a participant but also as an organizer.
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Being surrounded by water is also a naturally creative element to island life, inspiring, and supporting creativity and expressions of all kinds. Living on an island, even one of the size of Salt Spring, facilitates a kind of intimacy simply from interactions that come as you go about your life. Whether you want to or not, you are bound to pass someone you know, even if brie y or super cially. This, by its very nature, creates the potential for connections and friendship.
Creativity and Collaboration
“Part memoir, part writing practice, part inspiration, this book is a multi-voiced creation of three passionate and committed journal writers…reveals the depth and complexity that emerges from going to the blank page, transforming the act of writing into a catalyst for meaningful conversation, storytelling, mindfulness, personal growth, creative self-expression and mutual support.”
—Wendy Judith Cutler, Lynda Monk, and Ahava Shira,
Writing Alone Together
It is still quite amazing to me that I co-authored a book on journalling since I have lived here. After seven years of collaboration with two other island women, Lynda Monk and Ahava Shira, we birthed Writing
Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection.
We rst met to journal together and then, intuitively, decided that we were writing a book that could be a resource to other women who wanted to write “alone and together.” I don’t feel that I could have created anything like this unless I was living here and connected with these two other writing sisters. All three of us continue to implement the practices in the diverse creative and community projects we’re involved with.
“When we feel that we are part of the world, we feel empowered and more hopeful. We are able to connect with others and feel part of a community. Acknowledging these connections creates the energies
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that move us towards living more conscious lives.” —Wendy Judith Cutler, Writing Alone Together
The Creative Arts
Salt Spring Island embodies a vibrant arts community, perhaps due to its size (larger than some islands and much smaller than most cities) but also through the vital contributions of artists and creators. Practically each week, rehearsals and performances are occurring, art exhibits and shows are mounted, readings, meetings and gatherings of all kinds are occurring. The main venues are well used, including community halls, schools, churches and homes.
“Corrie brought me to this magical island the year after we became lovers. We camped at the most beautiful campground in the world, overlooking the shimmering ocean as seals, herons, orcas and graceful ferries passed by. We returned nearly every summer after that, in early September, after the tourists and students left…. We both felt energetically pulled—to the beauty, the elements, the intimacy of living on an island, and fantasized living here.”
—Wendy Judith Cutler, “Crossing Boundaries”
When we were still visitors, I remember stepping into Salt Spring Books. On one row to the left of the entrance were books published by writers living here. This single row of books has expanded into
an entire bookshelf of offerings. Writing Alone Together has a place on this shelf. The anthology from a small Vancouver Island press, Rebel Mountain Press, Breaking Boundaries: LGBTQ2 Writers on Coming Out and Into Canada, with Corrie and my co-written story, “Crossing Borders:
A Lesbian Immigration Story in Two Voices,” was recently delivered to the store. It sits on the bookshelf across the aisle along with the Vancouver Island literary journal’s Island Writer Magazine, which has a poem of mine in it titled, “We Wise Writing Sisters Gather Together”
Since 2010, through the “Artist in the Class” Program, funded by Salt Spring Arts Council, I have been bringing Creative Journalling
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Figure 32: A Salt Spring Island women’s writing circle from 2017 led by Wendy Judith Cutler. Photographer: Wendy Judith Cutler. Courtesy of the author.
Figure 33: Cast of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, 2018. Photographer: Metta Rose Photography. Courtesy of the artist.
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into high school classrooms and mentoring girls and queer students in small workshops. Journalling unleashes and cultivates creativity of all kinds and the skills of self-awareness, re ection and courage. It encourages students to pay attention to the moment-at-hand, release anxieties, fears and worries. What is most important is that this is writing for themselves, not others.
“Journalling with other people is such a freeing, honest experience. It’s given me freedom to express and share my thoughts and feelings through writing. There’s a peaceful harmony that lls the room when we can listen and share with one another. Journalling has helped me grow as a person. It’s there for me when no one else is.” —Melanie Gregory-Worsell, former GISS Student
My passion for intimacy and connection inspires me to participate in and create community, in all its various forms. Living on this island, I am able to merge many of my deep passions, dreams and concerns.
Theatre and Performance Arts
The magic of performance never fails to excite me, since my rst ballet performance in The Nutcracker as an eight year-old with the Los Angeles Junior Ballet Company so many years ago. When we made Salt Spring Island our permanent home, I knew I would be offering women’s writing workshops. Little did I know that I would become part of the theatre community through performing, assisting and even organizing events and performances.
Performing and dancing in several theatre productions has been something that would never have happened if I had continued to live in a city. I have been in the casts of local productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cabaret. Corrie and I were also a couple in a production of The Hard Times Hit Parade, a re-creation of the dance marathons of the 1930s, an exciting venture with a Vancouver-based company, Dusty Flowerpot, directed by Kat Single- Dain.
As I am writing this, Corrie and I are performing as “Ball Dancers” in the revival of a Salt Spring Island classic, Christmas with Scrooge, an original creation of Ray and Virginia Newman, rst performed in 1971. It is lovingly directed
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and divined by their multi-talented and open-hearted daughter, Sue Newman, whose parents’ integration of social justice and theatre arts live on within Sue.
“In the words of the Ghost of Christmas Past, ‘What power we have to make others happy or unhappy!’ It’s so simple, eh? We all have that power! That’s what social justice is all about and Dickens beautifully spells it out for us.”
—Sue Newman, program notes for Christmas with Scrooge
Being part of this production created a widening of my sense of “community”
and a gratefulness for experiences like this to bring out the true spirit of “Christmas” for these two Jewish lesbian feminists, who usually feel somewhat
depressed during this time of year.
The Queer Community
Knowing there was a substantial “out” queer community on this island was an important factor in us choosing to move here. We have been involved
in various ways throughout our years living here. Showing up for LGBTQ Pride events has certainly been a priority. We’ve helped plan and participated in many of these and were part of a small group that conceived of and organized the island’s rst Pride Parade in 2008. Our LGBTQ organization recently transitioned from GLOSSI (Gay and Lesbians of Salt Spring Island) to DAISSI (Diverse and Inclusive Salt Spring Island), re ecting the need to be more inclusive, diverse, intersectional and political in opposing and educating against oppressions of all kinds.
Just after Corrie and I arrived on the island, we participated in a staged reading of The Laramie Project about a town’s reactions to the homophobic murder of
a young gay man in Laramie, Wyoming. It was a unique collaboration between high school theatre students, the queer and theatre communities. As I write this, we are in rehearsals for another staged reading of The Laramie Project:
Ten Years Later, which I am organizing and is directed once again by the high school drama teacher, Jason Donaldson. Collaborations such as these are fruitful models for future events.
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Arts Accessibility and Accountability
Community and local projects must be enthusiastically supported by Salt Spring Islanders and resources must be made available. Our theatre and community halls must be accessible and affordable so that artistic, cultural, political, social, educational and spiritually inclined artists are able to share their creativity and creations. Many cannot afford the nancial cost of renting venues and producing events. The Salt Spring Arts Council offers grants and professional development funds, but these funds are limited. Much more needs to be available to nurture and support arts projects. It is incumbent upon the organizations and structures that highlight the arts to support as many community arts projects as possible.
Many of us take pride in all that Salt Spring has to offer us, but scores of us are unable to bene t. Those of us with the time and skills must willingly offer these precious commodities to those most in need of support and resources. Many on this island have unmet and unrecognized needs, often living in marginal or non-existent housing, forced to move when homeowners evict them to make room for higher paying guests or seasonal visitations. Some have to choose between rent, food, gas or other essentials, trying to make a living, relying on low wages and often unstable employment.
The “we” of us must include the most vulnerable and unsettled of us. In this exceedingly technologized society that seems to privilege speed and ef ciency over traditional wisdom and practices, meeting face-to-face is one of the most important things we can do. Face-to-face, direct contact is what feeds me. On-line communication does not allow one to perceive and receive the more subtle nuances, engage our senses and exchange energies.
The more we come together, honour one another’s pursuits and physically show up and support the various events occurring daily and weekly, monthly and annually, the more enlightened, informed and compassionate we will be, individually and collectively. The combination of politics and the arts are an essential feature on this island. Nothing takes the place of this.
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We need to listen to, honour and support the voices and experiences of
those whose lives have been marginalized and, even worse, silenced. There
is so much richness to draw from and yet in many ways a dearth of concrete mentorship and sharing of resources. This must also extend to the youth in our midst. Support of all kinds must be extended out to them so that they can feel acknowledged, respected and seen as an essential part of our communities.
As a lesbian feminist and social justice educator and activist, I have a commitment to collaboration, critical thinking and social justice. When I arrived as a permanent resident, with my lovergirl-life partner, I knew we would be laying down roots and connecting with others. That is a huge part
of the reason we moved to this precious island. We feel that we are, nally, home and are so grateful to be living the lives we are living. I hope to continue to inspire others to honour the wisdom, power and potency of their words, creations and hearts.
The fact that “feminism” has been named “word of the year” by the American Merriam-Webster Dictionary hopefully indicates that more and more of us
(of all genders and preferences) will identify as feminists. It is my fervent hope that our island, our communities, our collaborations, our creativities, our lives will be moving towards honouring this earth and all of its inhabitants.
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Iris McBride is a painter and retired nurse living in Duncan, BC,
who formerly lived on Salt Spring Island. Between 1964-1967, she was a registered nurse at Toronto Western Hospital, and later worked Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island. From 1986 to 1989, Iris attended the Victoria School of Art in Victoria, BC. Under Salt Spring artist Kathy Venter, Iris studied clay sculpture from 1990-1993, and then later took workshops in 2004 at Emily Carr School of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC. Her work is available on Salt Spring Island at Rhubarb Design.
Regan Shrumm is an independent curator who is currently an uninvited guest on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen peoples. She received a master of arts in art history and visual studies from
the University of Victoria. She is currently an assistant curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. She has previously held curatorial positions with Open Space and Legacy Art Gallery in Victoria,
British Columbia, the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington, and the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Her essays have been published in academic journals and exhibition catalogues such as The Art of A. Banana Unpeeled (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Open Space, 2017) and Indigenous In uences (Museum of Northwest Art, 2017).
Wendy Judith Cutler is a longtime radical teacher, writer and Jewish lesbian feminist activist who has taught women’s studies and writing for more than thirty years. She was a contributor to The Coming Out Stories (Persephone Press, 1980), the rst lesbian anthology of coming- out stories. She has been involved in grassroots lesbian feminist and queer politics, community-building and culture for several decades. She is co-author (with Lynda Monk and Ahava Shira) of Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection (Butter y Press, 2014). Her poems have been published
in We’Moon 2011 and the Island Writer Magazine. Her essay (co-written with Corrie Hope Furst), “Crossing Borders: A Lesbian Immigration Story in Two Voices” is published in the anthology, Breaking Boundaries:
Contributors | 58
LGBTQ2 Writers Coming Out and Into Canada (Rebel Mountain Press, 2017).
She was a Lambda Literary Fellow in 2017 and her essay, “Hello Dear Ones,” is in the upcoming Emerge: 2017 Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology (Volume 3), 2018. Through WomenWriting, she facilitates women’s journalling and memoir workshops and creates sacred circles of women writing together. Her work- in-progress is Memoir of an Undutiful Daughter: Lesbian Feminist Transformation in the 1970s. She lives on magical Salt Spring Island, the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, where she resides with her lovergirl-life partner of 31 years, Corrie, and their constellation of intimates.
Breaking Boundaries: LGBTQ2 Writers on Coming Out and Into Canada (2018)
“What does it mean to be LGBTQ2 in Canada? The only possible answer to that question is one given in many voices. That is exactly what this book offers. There is struggle in these stories and poems, but there is also strength and resilience, compassion and determination. Woven together these voices leave me with a sense of hopefulness: a belief that the creativity and fierce commitment of our community will carry us forward as we work to create a Canada that lives up to the dream of freedom and safety it represents to so many people around the world.” -Robin Stevenson, author of Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community
Authors: Teryl Berg, Kyle Chen, Wendy Judith Cutler, Corrie Hope Furst, Kevin Henry, Anne Hofland, Chantal Hughes, Masaki Kidokoro, Dale Lee Kwong, Austin Lee, JL Lori, Eka Nasution (narrator), Adam Nixon, Rainer Oktovianus (narrator), Gail Marlene Schwartz, Caelan Sinclair, LS Stone, Sosania Tomlinson, E.T. Turner, Hayley Zacks
Autumn Workshop: Women Writing Memoir
Finding Home: Book Launch and Reading
Book Launch and Reading:
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 7pm @ Salt Spring Island Public Library
Produced by members of long-standing circles of women writers, this collection of our stories is about how each of us came to live on Salt Spring Island. The collection celebrates a diversity of voices and experiences of women from the ages of 19 through 79. This collection is a way to share our writings and our lives with one another and with our community. We offer them with gratitude for the lives that we are living at this precious moment on this precious island.
Aly Coy | Andrea Palframan | Christine Clair-Rein
Corrie Hope Furst | Diana Morris
Ellie Langford Parks | Emma-Louise Elsey
Jane Phillips | Joan Ayles | Linda Hilyer
Lisa Dahling | Melanie Gregory-Worsell
Penny Berton | Premilla Pillay
Simone Fidelman | Wendy Judith Cutler
Lambda Literary Retreat
“Hello Queer Ones” in EMERGE: Lambda Literary, 2018.
The following writing was inspired by a prompt during our magical non-fiction workshop. It began as an “epistolary” and I drew from some other writings written during the workshop. It is a love-letter of sorts, having spent a precious and transformative week amongst other queer writers with whom I have so deeply bonded, an experience I will never forget. At the end, I have included excerpts of some of the comments we shared with one another (in emails) after the retreat.
Here I am amongst a gathering of writers—we queer ones—to commune and collect our thoughts and goals and express our passions which pour onto the page. Sitting in our places in the circle, created by pushing several tables together, close enough for contact yet also firmly situated in our own selves. We continue to occupy the same seat in this room during our mornings writing and sharing together. A bonding ritual of sorts, generated from the first evening we came together. Diana conjured us, summoned us to appear. The first night she reassures us that we are the ones who are supposed to be here. It is fated.
We queer writers, critical thinkers, dreamers, cultural boundary interrupters, in our particular diversities and textures, we are the voices that need to be heard, to contribute to the dialogue, the discussion, the insights that are so desperately needed. We may be the very ones to articulate the moans and sighs and exaltations, to confront and celebrate, discover and disseminate. We are the hope givers, the rhythm and change makers, the seers.
As I enter this third floor, passing through the halls, I am struck by its similarity to other campus floors, especially the spanking new ones, like in Santa Cruz where I was a graduate student and teaching assistant and, briefly, an instructor so many years ago. And the last college I taught at, a private one on Vancouver Island, with its mixture of just-built and original buildings, much like the different eras represented on the Berkeley campus of my undergraduate years. Schools and classrooms have been openings to me, as a student awaiting to be in collaboration with others, as a teacher breaking down the divisions and barriers between my students and myself.
Feelings of familiarity and uncertainty wash over me, as I search for the correct room. My heart races as I acknowledge the trepidation I feel about attending this retreat. Ambivalence and insecurities flood my thoughts as I wonder what I am doing here and why did I even want to attend. I craved the validation of being accepted into this utterly unique gathering of queer “emerging” writers and, at the same time, unsure of what I am going to find.
Where am I from, I am asked. Sort of from here. I return to my birthplace, this city of angels, from where I so desperately needed to escape. After high school, moving northward to attend university in Berkeley—I often credit this as the most significant decision I ever made in my life—entering into the tumultuous and frenzied anti-war movement filled with demonstrations, arrests and radical politics. Then, I journeyed across the continent for a brief detour to the middle of Vermont to attend a wildly progressive and permissive college and my introduction to feminism, sex with boys and marijuana. Then my return to the Berkeley campus (knowing I could re-enter after the departure) into the radical criminology department, which focused on the crimes of racism, sexism and imperialism. While critiquing the (unjust) criminal justice system, I became part of an anti-rape collective, a member of a socialist-feminist women’s union and experienced the beautiful and sometimes painful ramifications of coming out as a lesbian and entering into my first lesbian relationship. After heartbreak and graduation, moving two hours south to enter an interdisciplinary graduate program at U.C. Santa Cruz in the redwoods by the sea. And later, moving northward into Oregon and to the city of roses and rivers in Portland with another lover. After a few years, leaving her and traveling back and forth again, to Santa Cruz and then Oakland and commuting to another graduate program in San Francisco that I completed as I entered into a long-distance relationship (between Oakland and Portland). And, with my master’s degree, returning to Portland to live with my lover-girl life-partner. Then, finally, immigrating together to another country on the island paradise of our dreams in British Columbia.
We are asked during our retreat workshop to write about the main purpose of our writing. “Community” is the word that comes to me—creating community. This is perhaps the most vital aspect of what I am writing about. That without other folks, communing with others in whatever way you are, you’re not doing the work that needs to be done. We’re doing some of it here, amongst one another, our bodies on our chairs in this room, exchanging breaths, exhale, inhale, our fingers tapping on the keys or sliding our pens across the pages. This is so important to me and I would not be able to exist without it, without you and your ancestors and all of those you touch. We are a humongous circle of energies, bringing who we are into connection, communication, community.
And I know that the internet is a resource (I get it), but it doesn’t take the place of THIS. I am a junky for THIS. I feel that we are supposed to be doing THIS. Here and now and where we now live. And it is messy and it hurts, but I also know that I feel accepted here, that my heart feels open, more sometimes than others, but still open. I feel that life is somewhat worth living, yes, definitely worth living, to be able to feel alive in this moment, even as we are all tapping away on our screens or gliding our pens along the pages.
I reflect upon the “queerness” of this, our coming together as queer-identified people that I am convinced is such an immense part of the magic of our being together. This mixture of our genders, sexualities, racial, ethnic, class, generational identities—such a rich and potent cauldron. And this combined with the astute and incisive intelligence, insight, perception and experience that we each bring during our discussions, interactions, critiques. A rare kind of richness and depth of feeling that is so foundational to the hearts, minds and spirits we share within this brief week of being and coming together.
This is the thing—we must feel part of something so that we can feel wholly accepted, which is utterly different from being merely tolerated, and truly accept ourselves. When we share who we really are, our pains and pleasures, the fullness of our experiences and the richness of our coming together, we are being truly alive and we are being activists. I hope that we continue to feel this kind of opening, even if not everyone this room feels this at this exact moment. I am being moved and you are moving me and I am part of this. This is the essence of collectivity, of collaboration, of truly creating community with one another and amongst others.
To have hope in times of despair is the very thing we all need, every single one of us. Queers and peoples of colour and the disenfranchised and the invisible–those of us on the margins, which is actually the majority of us, though we are led to believe differently–we are the ones who are creating the stories and leading the struggles and calling out the contradictions and working to save our planet and our world from homogenization and a really bleak power-over that will destroy our lives and life as we envision it could be.
The lesbian feminist revolutionaries of the seventies inspired me to see the reasons for massive transformational social, political and personal change. Feminists could not have existed without the models of protest and challenge that came before. The civil rights movement for racial and economic equality (because poverty was and is also a major concern) spawned other liberation movements including those for women’s liberation, latino/a rights, native rights, disability rights, welfare rights, prisoner rights and, of course, the gay, lesbian, queer, trans and now LGBTQ+ movements and all the vibrant and inspirational movements for change that followed and flowed throughout the decades since I was born.
We are all doing what we are doing because other brave, courageous and regular folks have resisted, spoken out, gathered with others, protested or just said “no.” They had the resilience to continue to live their lives, show up, take stands and feel that they are part of something larger, more vast than themselves.
I, for one, want always to honour these, our ancestors, our mentors, our activists and know that every day, each moment, we have the opportunity, the possibilities to bring these life-robbing systems down and listen to and learn from those who can show us other ways. Are we listening?
I hear Audre Lorde’s voice, that is as potent and relevant as it was when she voiced it forty years ago, in a talk she gave (in person) at the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel”:
“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?…The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of the differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
Today, in my black buddha-covered book, I found words I copied from last December 2016’s Lambda Literary Review by Justine Torres, a past Lambda Literary fellow:
“To my mind, queer literature is about the respect of difference, not the seductive respectability of sameness. To my mind, queerness has always been about identification and solidarity with the objected and the devalued the tossed off. Queernesss has always been attracted to the forbidden.”
What we are doing here, and at our desks and in our offices and at our workplaces and workshops and classes and meetings and demonstrations and protests and homes and beds is vital to sustaining and nurturing queer voices. I pledge to re-member each one of you and the exquisite mixture of just the perfect people to create our magical, meaningful, enriching, inspirational queer non-fiction writing circle. We are witnessing one another and, as queer writers, we are breaking the silence by doing what we are doing.
This is the power of the circle, that we are all here together, open, opening, receiving, witnessing. I hope we can hold this connection within and continue to move it out into our worlds, into other worlds, directly, fervently, passionately. This is our gift, our artistry, our response-ability, our inheritance as the queer writers that we are.
What follows are some messages from our communication with each other after the retreat. (There are thirteen of us.) Put that in your cauldron!
We gave each other so much. And I am grateful.
Back to civilization, and it is NOT even remotely close to the comfort and sophistication of being around you all. So much love—let’s keep it going year round.
I feel like I have a new found confidence and sense of purpose that I would not have without you all. I’m here for you and I know you’re there for me.
I have so much regular life stuff to catch up on and it is all so boring compared to being with our group. I miss you guys. What a strange yet awesome thing to be together all day every day.
Just sending some love out. And just generally missing our 9am to noon magic. xoxox
So much busy & not enough “comfort and sophistication” of you all! I’m also happy to keep sharing work, inspiration and encouragement.
As I sit here and write, I can literally feel you all around me.
I hope you all are doing well. Miss you more than you could ever know.
But now, at least, I have last week, to remind me of what’s possible, that my voice is not like anyone else’s, and that our stories need telling.
THANK YOU SO MUCH. Also, send me your shit! I want to read it and give you feedback.
I still hear your voices and feel your support here. Missing you all very much.
I’ve been reflecting a lot and I am just so thankful for the space that we shared. Community often looks and feels different than I expect it to. Thank you for being brave queer folk.
I am missing EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU! So much love and inspiration from you. With so much love, longing and queerness.
Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. New York: Crossing Press, 1984.
Justin Torres. “Don’t Get Used To It: Queer Literature in a Time of Triumph.” Emerge: 2015 Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology (Volume 1), 2016