This project is the most disappointing of the five. It was embarked upon too soon after Battle Chant. Psychically and financially I was too drained to be the foremost/overt/lead voice in such an intensive experience. Escaping Beauty attempted to make spoof, make spectacle of heterosexuality, authentically document some of the dimensions of ‘obsessive affections’ for another person, and explore issues around non/monogamy and women’s desire. These are volatile and potentially troubling topics. I was examining these questions in my own life and some of the women in the then evolved again (i.e. the specific women were always changing) healing circles were exploring them also. As were many of my clients. The voice that is explicitly presented in the book is only my own but the implicit understanding while the book was being produced was that it was the ‘portal’ through which many women’s voices would be expressed. In some unformed ways I was acting as a ‘ghost writer’ without fully knowing the consequences that might arise from that location/task. The other women in the circles (obviously) often wanted their confidentiality protected and I was positioned that I could be the ghost writer for their curiosity, their confusions, their contradictions – and my own. A lot of raw emotional messiness was present in this whole experience. In some ways our ‘innocence’ made us potentially incoherent to a reader of the text.

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 town.
The multiple voices and intentions underpinning the text in Escaping Beauty should have been made more vivid and unambiguously known. As amateur or innocent writers/ producers of text we fumbled. To have produced this differently would have meant that the people who assisted in producing the voices might have been made into overtly declared composites. For example, I might have said that I was going to speak on behalf of two clients and put some of the writing in their voice by placing their names at the bottom of some pages. Maybe the whole book could have been reconfigured into a discussion between three women: a therapist, a friend of hers, and a client (using false names, of course). Sexual and sensual politics exist as a terrain of subtle - and somewhat mysterious - resistances and reassessments - versus the somewhat more crisp political issues taken up in the other books: poverty, social workers’ responsibilities, anti-racism, etc.

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... brought together women who were now in my old geographical community and women in my new community. This text became a bridging experience for me for my past and my present/ future. The process of pulling this book together also made profoundly clear to me how important cyberspace could be as a resourced ‘geography’ for women.
Spender (1995) describes many of the ambiguities and complexities of cyber but she recognizes the potential to liberate women in rural or isolated (geographically or intellectually) communities. Even though each of the authors were in different geographical locations we could be in touch every day. Affordably. Each of the women participating in this one has multiple commitments (employment, community, family, education...). Also, the 3 hour time lags were not barriers for us respond to each other’s work. Often, one of us would compose a poem or prose piece in the middle of the night, go to bed, wake up and find fresh comments from those at the other end of the nation (because they were just waking up and starting their day as the writer went to bed). Also, someone could ‘drop out’ of the process for a long time and then ‘hop in’ where they’d left off because they could read their backlog of emails. No problems with childcare expenses. No meetings had to be harmonized among all of us. This process was liberating.

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.

Atwood (2002) talks about the meaning of writing about our shadows. “Possibly, then, writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light. (p. xxiv) ” This bookspace became a grieving ground; and a location from which to rise up again. There were many women around me who were very disenchanted and depressed.

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.

Thank you for my copy of Groping, I think it is beautiful. If these experiences are not recorded then they are lost forever, and not shared with others who can benefit from these poems and stories. Why should society be dictated to by mainstream publishers and Hollywood types, as to what is acceptable and what is not. Books like this one are, in effect, a statement of non conformity. Take back the write!

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 books.

Today I finally had a moment to open the boxes of books that arrived in the Sudbury postal station..... I wheeled them, with my son, to the car on a borrowed trolley and we joked about the loud, scaping noises we were making on the street just like compelling poetry. Loud, in your face, moving, motion, scratching and comforting; getting you somewhere and nowhere all at once!! I am startled and delighted by the ray of light that has flooded out from these pages. Thank you so much for making this happen and for being a part of this. Everyone! It is more difficult to be a virtual (distance/computer telecommunicative) part of a writing circle process but now that this beautiful little book has been born, the stretch marks of distance and landscapes are healing and feeling worthy. I am unable to put the book down. I flip round and round across and between the pages and hear the voices of the brave, to see that I am among them and feel the power of the project as an impetus for my life. The book has made me feel able, sad, whole, in tatters and moved again to write and write. It makes me deeply wish that I could brew a pot of tea and invite you all into my home to read, laugh. cry, write and bask in this thing we have done.....and start on the next one. Our poetic voices are splendour singularly and communally.

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 forums.


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