Finding Home: Collected Stories from Salt Spring Island Circles of Women. Circles of Women Press, 2018.
Edited by Wendy Judith Cutler
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 away 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.
Stories by: 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 | Yarrow Sheehan
Available locally at: Salt Spring Books, Treasures of the Heart and the Waterfront Galley. In Victoria at: Triple Goddess.
Wendy’s Introduction: Our Circles of Intimacy
“Yesterday afternoon, the women’s writing community that I have helped create met for an amazing gathering in which we shared some of the stories we have written about how each of us came to live on Salt Spring Island. It is quite thrilling and heartwarming to be sharing our lives and coming together to write ‘alone and together’ throughout this time. I feel so grateful to be part of this community of women who write together and feel that I am doing the work that I am supposed to be doing, which is soulful, heart-connected engagement and living my feminism through community-building and feminist practice.”
Bringing women together to write their lives is my passion and, for me, a necessity. I have been writing my life since starting 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 Nations, I have been able to manifest my intention to create a sacred space for women to feel safe, supported and nourished, encouraged to express their creativity and to form connections with other women. These circles give me a sense of intimacy that I so crave.
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. I find that something magical occurs as women are drawn to these circles.
The invitation to join other women to write, read aloud, share (always with choice) and witness their writings inspires ever-deepening connections and a sense of community through sharing our words, our hearts and our lives. It always feels like a gift, offering these circles and the workshops that synchronistically feed into the circles, enticing women to write about and from their lives. I am always inspired and enriched whenever we come together.
To further ensure the continuity of our connections, I have created monthly women’s writing circles, composed of women who have taken a previous workshop. One of these circles has met for a decade and another for close to eight years. Our ages range from nineteen to seventy-nine. Some of us write regularly and have been published. One of us is prepared to launch her completed memoir into the world. Others of us write more sporadically, spurred on and inspired by our monthly gatherings. We celebrate our unique experiences, ethnicities and countries of our births, among them, in addition to Canada, are: Australia, Great Britain, India, The Netherlands, South Africa and the United States.
We gather together in each other’s living rooms, bringing treats to share, our journals, a pen (or laptop) and a previous invisible collection of stories. During the next three hours, we alternate between writing, reading aloud what we’ve written and sharing. We allow our writings and our creative selves to come forth. It is a process of deep listening, vulnerability and active trust-building.
Sometimes we pull a 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 flight, drawn from the well of our unconscious minds, to be birthed on the living page.
Our writings reveal the ephemera of our lives and the varied paths towards finding ourselves on this island. We are activists, actors, artists, bakers, business owners, counsellors, dancers, educators, electricians, ferry workers, filmmakers, gardeners, graphic designers, herbalists, jewelry designers, journalists, life coaches, massage therapists, musicians, organizers, photographers, set directors, singers, teachers, mothers, grandmothers, partnered and singled, amongst other identities. Two of us have passed away and we miss them terribly.
This collection of our stories about how each of us came to live on Salt Spring Island flowed organically (with a little direction from myself) from gatherings during the winter and summer solstices. Binding stories together is a symbolic and powerful recognition — of our lived experiences, our achievements as writers, alone, and our power as circles of women, together. We are creating this collection mostly for ourselves, as a way to continue to share our writings and our lives with one another. If you find yourself reading these stories, please know that we offer them with gratitude for the lives that we are living at this precious moment on this precious island of ours. I am honoured to be part of these sacred, sensitive, trusting, courageous, wise and wondrous circles of women.
Photo from Book Launch at Salt Spring Island Public Library on September 26, 2018
“Finding Home” By ANDREA PALFRAMAN in Aqua March/April 2019
The boundaries of our island community are defined by the ocean that surrounds us. That may explain the underlying affinity that flows through Salt Spring, made manifest in how long it takes to get from one end of the Saturday Market to the other. Though we come with different origin stories, island living brings a sense of shared identity: regardless of where we come from, we’re all finding home here on the rock.
It’s that ineffable interconnectedness that is captured in a new collection of stories written by island women.
Each of the authors of the collection, called Finding Home, have been members of monthly women’s writing circles. Skillfully guided by Wendy Judith Cutler, the circles are comprised of women who have previously taken a “WomenWriting” workshop. Many workshop attendees choose to keep meeting every month long after the class is over. Inspired by Cutler’s very first memoir writing workshop — offered following a teaching career in the U.S. — small, overlapping circles of women writers have been convening consistently, month after month, for over a decade.
“The invitation to join other women to write, read aloud, share what we’ve written and witness one another’s writings inspires deepening connections and a sense of community,” says Cutler.
After decades as an instructor in writing and women’s studies at Portland State University and UC Santa Cruz, she immigrated to Salt Spring with her life partner Corrie Hope Furst. Since 2006, Cutler has focused on her own writing projects and on leading women’s journalling and memoir workshops.
The structures of the circles are drawn from the book called Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection. Cutler and her co-authors, Ahava Shira and Lynda Monk, collaborated for seven years to create this resource for writers and mentors. “The Four Practices” outlined in the book are: writing freely (without censoring); reading aloud (always with choice); listening deeply (to oneself and others); and witnessing.
“These practices create the foundation for the writing, sharing and intimacy that occurs each time the circles meet,” says Cutler.
This sharing of words, hearts and lives can feel more like therapy than literature, although, in the course of over a decade of writing together, honed by mutually supportive feedback and consistent practice, some poetic gems have emerged from Cutler’s magic circles.
Each month, the members of the circles gather together in each other’s living rooms, share food (a necessity), bring journals and pen (or laptop) and the as-yet-unwritten words. During the next three hours, members alternate between writing, reading aloud and sharing, allowing their creative selves to come forth.
According to Cutler, “It is a process of deep listening, vulnerability and active trust-building.”
They write from a prompt — a word, phrase, question, quotation, or a theme that emerges from the discussion. Cutler shares passages from recent or long-ago memoirists, essayists and novelists (mostly women) or pulls a divinity card to stir the creative embers. Then the room grows quiet and people write and write. Through the ritual of quietly writing together and alone, the stories take flight to be birthed on the living page.
It’s out of this process that the Finding Home collection came to life.
At a winter solstice writing gathering in 2016, the writing prompt “How did you come to live here?” spawned an outpouring of stories. People wrote about crawling ashore after divorce, bankruptcy or a tragic accident. Some described coming to Salt Spring deliberately, in search of a handmade life. Some chose Salt Spring by closing their eyes and stabbing randomly at the map, while some came to spend one afternoon and vowed to someday, somehow, return. Still others were born here, meandered awhile, and felt the magnetic pull draw them back.
As women took turns reading aloud around the table, it became clear that they were assembling a superb mixture of stories, styles and experiences. None had yet imagined publishing anything collectively, but many were beginning to find their grooves as writers. There were also notable absences in the circle; two treasured members had passed away. That awareness of impermanence prompted members to take some of the intangible magic contained in their scrawled journals and make it legible to the wider world.
Thus began the work of polishing their stories, turning to one an- other for revisions, editing and constructive critiques.
Key themes thread the Finding Home collection. A search for a sense of belonging, the stirrings of creative awakening and a thick streak of self-reliance run through the stories. Says Cutler, “Through the process and practise of writing alone, together, we start to see our lives writ large. Our stories are containers that allow us to make sense of our experiences.”
The 17 contributors to the collection, women between the ages of 19 and 79, represent a diversity of voices and experiences. They are: 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 Darling, Melanie Gregory-Worsell, Penny Berton, Premilla Pillay, Simone Fidelman, Yarrow Sheehan and Wendy Judith Cutler.
“The intimacy within these circles is profound and moving,” says Cutler. “While writing in circles is more about the process than the product, binding our stories together is a symbolic and powerful validation — of our lived experiences, our achievements as writers, alone, and the power of circles of women, together.”
Out of the ashes of a houseboat fire, one woman rebuilds a life centred around her passion for cello; a nomadic wanderer finally unpacks in a 10’ x 10’ cabin; a wicked storm drops a small family on the shores of Salt Spring. Sometimes, they come for love. Rarely, they come for money. Usually, ferries are involved, and always, there is a moment of revelation that home is not so much a place as it is a state of mind.
The move from manuscript to perfect-bound paperback was also a collaborative effort. Angela Waddington provided design and typesetting services while Cutler gathered the stories, encouraged revisions, edited and wrote the introduction. Joan Ayles provided the art for the cover — an original painting that honoured one of our departed circle members, Rain. Penny Berton provided expert final proofreading for every story.