The chaos going on in my own life at the time certainly leaks through the pages of text. I am now embarrassed and awkwardly proud that I put so much of my vulnerability and disorder into those pages. I can see certain pieces as ‘pure’ displays of my own angst and the angst of clients I was working with at the time. I can remember so many conversations with the other women in writing circles who were sharing their wounds and courage and I can see where they have been added to the text of Escaping Beauty. Perhaps, I am the only person on the planet who sees where their imprints and voices are simmering.
A major learning that I have from the Escaping Beauty experience is that people will read your material in ways that you hadn’t expected. The extreme subordinations that are displayed in the pages of Escaping Beauty are renditions of what a woman in that location might feel – and some of the lines are also making mockery of the phenomenon. In some ways this book could be thought of as a ‘mockumentary’. In regards to human expression of these emotions: both - and more - and other- can be true at the same time.
As ‘tortured’ lovers we can see ourselves as ridiculous and infected with all of Hollywood’s dumb lies and at the precise same moment we can feel totally distracted, confused, lost because our loved person hasn’t returned our phone call. As a therapist and a writer I know that a love-sick woman can feel a hundred emotions all in the same day. The majority of readers of the text though are not therapists - and neither are they creative writers. The average reader’s gaze has been conditioned to respond to text in a certain way. As we wrote and published Escaping Beauty I hadn’t fully realized the mono-dimensionality that most readers were likely to bring to such a document.
My multiple roles in the community, I thought, were explicated and
communicated with an array of nuance in the text of Escaping Beauty
but there were professional peers who just felt shocked and puritanical
about what I’d written (they didn’t necessarily see the
humor or the complexity that we had intended - and our clumsy writing
might have lacked the power to direct these readers more precisely).
There were clients who thought every single word was totally true and
that I’d lived every single word of Escaping Beauty all by myself.
They felt worried and sorry for me. This certainly complicated my role
as a therapist. There were feminists in the community who thought I’d
lost all my political scruples and militant enlightenment. A local reporter
found all of this way more facinating than the fact that I’d published
a variety of scholarly writing; had finished my doctorate; was moving
to another province, etc. He, of course, picked up and bounced around
the lurid pleasure dimension of Escaping Beauty. Only my grandfather
never said a word about the book. Almost everyone else I encountered
made some reference to it. It was a tidy coincidence that I was leaving
Partially because of the above complications of connection with the subject matter and fears around confidentiality there were unclearly stated assumptions. The printing costs were entirely my own responsibility. Some of the women involved directly (minimally or extensively) wanted to be paid by the hour for their contributions as editors or ‘brain-stormers’. Some women just took delight in having these ‘backstage’ conversations about such an emotionally entangled topic. And, of course, during the year that these circles of activity were happening each of the women shifted slightly or significantly in regards to their comfort with the theme; their comfort with the creative displays of these issues; the tasks involved in production of another text. And as I began that year of activity I was intending to remain in that town for the rest of my life; to continue in my roles as therapist/ activist/ professor/ etc... By the time the book was printed I had accepted an assistant professorship at the other end of the nation and this meant that themes of ‘abandonment’ and ‘grief’ may have been simmering in the subconscious of any of us at any moment.
Escaping Beauty taught me to be much more overt about every single dimension of what we are doing with our process, our product, our promotions of the material. The organic diffuse connections to each other and to the project and to the theme can benefit from being made vigorously explicit. Who is doing what for what reasons and for how long? What is motivating each person to stay with the activity and what is their need? How will we speak to each other and shift if there are conflicts/ disappointments/ evolutions/ and exits? Pre-existing relationships that did not get fully renegotiated and re-clarified became awkward. For example; some of the people involved in Escaping Beauty had been involved in Battle Chants and they may have been semi-consciously inclined to reproduce the same relationships / responsibilities that had been in place within that first writing/publishing circle but they were now “employees” for the project versus during the Battle Chants experience in which we had all been equally responsible for paying for the production of the book, etc. Each circle is a brand new circle even if people have done things together before. Start fresh. Start clear. Speak it all through.
In summary, Escaping Beauty taught me that there needs to be one solidly committed person at the center of the circle and she needs to be strong and vivid in her sense of what is being done. Relatively equal levels of commitment and participation are vital for the success of the project. A single theme needs to be known and it can’t be one that is too slippery or too diffuse. The boundary between who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ needs to be constantly affirmed. Those who are ‘in’ need to be known publicly as ‘in’ participants. A firmer assessment needs to be made between when something is ‘writing for healing’ and when the healing is done and the product can now be constructed (i.e. the book) and this will now capture the theme but in a coherent way.
STRESS (FULL) SISTER (HOOD)
This book was different in that the roles were more clearly defined but they became even more vividly articulated toward the end. I assumed control of many dimensions of the process and communicated that to the others who, it seemed, were comfortable with that. The control factor initially gave me ambiguous feelings because that was quite a different ethic than the emergent-organic flow that had been characteristic of the first experience.
Pragmatically (and accidently), I had some time for facilitation and the other contributors did not. In a common-sense way I moved forward chunk by chunk with the process and sought feedback from the other four authors, the people who might give quotes for the back, the designer of the cover, etc Among feminists and other social activists there have been many conversations about the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’. I tried to not be a tyrant against the tyranny but I did want to see the book come out and so I took the reins. This quickly became satisfying for everyone (I infer this satisfaction existed because these authors have continued to network and work with me) and the book did get done.
Pragmatic issues emerged in this book that hadn’t been there for the other two books. Some of which were caused because of the geographical distance now between myself and the other authors. Who would organize shipping and how would that be paid for? How would the feedback be sought before the final version went to the printer (that was easy before because we could all meet in the same room during a writing circle or people could drop by my practice any day - but a ten hour plane ride was not a realistic option!). These were surmounted but they left room for discomfort because these ‘rules of process’ weren’t articulated in advance and they were just bumped up against as these problematics appeared.
GROPING BEYOND GRIEF
In Groping Beyond Grief, our fourth book, I took a very central role in identifying the theme; recruiting the authors; seeking their alliance with the theme; providing them with quotes or paragraphs of text to brainstorm or dance around with. It was known from the beginning what the financial costs would be (we hadn’t enough experience among any of us in the first three writing/publishing adventures to accurately predict this at the beginning so people didn’t always know what they were consenting to). The cyber circle was more fluent in that all of the participants were able to keep their offerings gracefully moving around and moving forward. The process was much tidier; much more predictable. Time lines were expressed right up front.
In Groping... three women left the circle during the process. Their entrance and exit was cleaner and less disruptive than the leaving in Stress.... Also, it was an anticipated loss this time. After the experience with Stress... I knew there would inevitably be exits and respected that pattern as one of the unavoidable manifestations of patriarchy’s/ capitalism’s interferences with the well-being of vulnerable populations’ lives. Someone would leave, I knew, because of a loss of financial support; because of the illness of a loved one; because of job stress; etc. Having recognized and accepted that the exits were gentle and conducive to future re-connecting on other projects. Exit was normalized and politicized - rather than problematized and psychologicalized.
The response we received from the community for Groping was just as
I had hoped. We’d timed the publishing of it so it could be available
for the December 6th Mourning Ceremonies. We read from it on December
6th at the university and at a First Nations Friendship Center. The
radio station interviewed us and I was able to read a poem that spoke
specifically to the sentiments we had about violence against women.
This quote below is from an email I received from a social activist/writier
in our community.
Clearly by this, the fourth book, the multiple political intentions
were fulfilling themselves. Also, the personal dimensions of healing,
promotion of self-esteem, and validation of our powerful potential for
creative resistance have been achieved in the book. Below, one of the
authors in this book describes her experience of receiving her box of
These comments were sent around to all of the writers and activists
involve d. This essay was also sent around to the writers involved and
their ongoing comments and contributions to my understanding of the
process and our products continues to evolve. The conversation continues
and continues in different ways; in different formats; in different