OUTLAW SOCIAL WORK (the unsecret poems and stories)
Educating the potential contributors about those themes is also vital. How do you communicate an ‘emerging’ and ‘organic’ theme? How do you facilitate the vibrancy and intensity but also maintain some coherence and sustained focused flow? My experience of all this is almost like that of facilitating a therapy group. A lot of cyber writing and phone calls can be necessary. These could also be seen as a subtle form of manipulation and coercion. Our ethics and integrity challenge us.
There also, it now seems to me, needs to be a ripeness for the theme area. The timing and the resonance of a topic are central to the successful fruition of these books. Having a soulful ear to the wind and letting your fingers dabble in the stream for a long time before the beginning of the construction of a theme area is important. Finding appropriately stimulating but not overwhelming ‘guide’ quotes or poems or newspaper articles can be a sign that a readiness exists in your community and in your circles of conversation.
Trust seems to be a complex and central dimension to these book-creation stories. People need to trust that the product will make them proud. They need to feel they can trust the facilitatior and the other authors to enhance their writing/ deepen their thoughts; enrich their creative forces. They need to trust that they will be respected and honored. They need to feel that they are in the right circle of creativity at the right time in their lives doing the right things. Outlaws has been very successful in every way possible. I feel that it has been as smooth; effective; memorable; distinctive; and productive as any project like this could be.
THIS AIN’T YOUR PATRIARCH’S POETRY BOOK;
At this moment there are two other projects underway. One is going
to be launched on Father’s Day, 2003: This Ain’t Your Patriach’s
Poetry Book and the other is going to be launched on Mother’s
Day 2003: Candles; Comrades; Connections. There are already ten interested
authors who’ve begun collecting their work for each of these two
The Candles... book is going to be a collection of women sharing how other women/ female energy/ female authors, etc have mentored them. They will speak about how they’ve been re/connected through their relationships with other women. Some of the women from the previous projects have ‘grown’ the theme for this book with me. A sociology professor/ activist/ poet; a poet/bookkeeper/ activist; a journalist/activist; a professor from education; a student in community psychology; a hospital social worker/activist; a social worker in women’s organizations; an activist/ educator working with HIV issues; a counselor in a center for First Nations students; a retired professor from a management program; and an administrator/ activist with First Nations organizations have all expressed interest in being involved with this project. Some of them have already been sending pages of their writing.
These two books are going to go forward more smoothly than any of the others. Quite obviously now the potential contributors can all see examples of the previous five books and they can judge how they might contribute best to those kinds of conversations. Also, given that these next two books have already got a larger circle of committed participants the costs will be decreased for each author. This facilitates participation. Each of the future potential authors (in addition to the previous authors who are interested to do so) will get a copy of this paper and they can read it. This will inform them of what my internal process has been and, perhaps, better equip all of us to respond to glitches and disharmonies.
WHAT HAVE THESE EXPERIENCES MEANT
Atwood (2002) describes her shift from being “not a writer to being one” as “instantaneous” (p. 14). Although I have been publishing poetry and other forms of writing now for fifteen years I would rarely call myself a “writer”. It is only in the last year (and because of these collective projects) that I can feel myself moving closer to truly deeply owning that word; “writer”.
My sense of immediacy has become more validated and solidified. The usual turn-around time for publishing a book of poetry might be two years - or longer. In my own writing process I am invigorated by the feeling of ‘now-writing’; writing done in an almost ‘foreign journalistic’ way. Enormous satisfaction comes to me from seeing the material out there and being read while it still feels fresh. If the process forces me to wait more than a year then I usually do not feel like seeing the piece published. It no longer feels accurate. It no longer feels appropriate. Too much has changed. Instead of publishing it I want to revise it; reshape it; reconsider all of the parts of it. The style, intention, philosophical assumptions, contents, etc. are always slightly shifting. I like to write while the pulse is most intense and then see the piece of writing claim it’s own independent unpredictable life -- separate from my own now-evolved again life. Organic intellectuals doing this kind of writing must be served fresh and serving freshness.
My judgements around what I approve of in my own writing has changed. I now ask myself if I have really told the truth (versus reproduced that which is fed into our minds from the dominant cultures/dynamics) about the details and the version of my world that is precisely centered in/ voiced from my own incomparable location. And that is always shifting and morphing. This is also how I am more likely to assess other people’s writing for inclusion in the next books. Have they expressed their own authentic complex world view/ experiences with an accuracy that impels? Even if that world view is contrary to my own; challenging to my own; unattractive according to my own values and preferences, etc.- I’m most interested and valuing of the authentically nuanced voice. I do not want to be judged by the rules of pre-existing genres that were formed without my considerations and consents.
My mind is increasingly located to challenge and question the tiniest
components of the process. I recognize that we have all been subconsciously
(and consciously) positioned to engage with text according to far-away
designed formulas that have existed for, perhaps, generations. Even
our vocabularies and base-line assumptions have a million minds; colonies;
gender roles; racism; etc. carved and constituted right into them. We
must aerobically engage with our imaginations to hope to extricate the
things we desire to be free from or to express and experience differently.
Spreading the not-news that writing and reading are incredibly powerful resources for personal change and healing has become a blessing and a ‘cause’ for me. These writing circles are sometimes like therapy groups in that the writers explore and share their sentiments and perceptions and find new ways to reframe what may have been old problems for them. For some of us some of the time this writing could be the thing we do instead of creatively cutting our own forearms/ binge eating/ drinking/ etc. Our problems continue finding some kind of an orderliness from the chaos in our minds/spirits/pragmatics. And even after the original author of a thought has left the room or the conversation or the sequence of comments in cyberspace there are others who may pick up the themes and take them where they need to go next. Further, there is glory and a gorgeousness in how the eventual readers (clients, students, colleagues, strangers, media representatives...) again touch up against a theme or idea in a book and experiment further with it. In some ways, through these writing projects, we have all become therapists for each other. And we continue to do so (whether through direct contact or through the ‘stability’ of the writing). Atwood says, “Nobody hates writers more than writers do. The most vicious and contemptuous portraits of writers, both as individuals and as types, appear in books written by writers themselves. Nobody loves them more, either (p. 97-98).” My experience of writers and writing with writers has been almost entirely positive. The few uncomfortable moments usually evolved around disappointment that someone’s life circumstances were taking them away from the shared conversation.
Some of this writing is just casual bathroom graffitti. It’s intention is to just leave a small mark that notes a name or a passage of some experience. These writings can be promises from our present selves to some imagined future selves. No refund is possible on our past or our present but we can exchange bits of our flawed or flailing selves for a stronger more grounded future self. Exchange of identity bits which are problem saturated or just dreary can be made for future-oriented, and differently-oriented, identity bits which are more success saturated or pleasing. Some of this is the bathroom graffitti that we didn’t get to compose somewhere along the way because we were disallowed to bring a pen; didn’t know to bring a pen; were too afraid to declare our inner thoughts.
Most of the writers in these circles have also used this space as a
type of counter-judiciary. It is a place in which we can bring forth
our own version of the unfolding world and make our judgements. This
is our court. These writings are our exhibits. And we ‘publicize
the proceedings’ (i.e. we read our poetry in all kinds of community
forums such as Take Back the Night Marches; International Women’s
Day Events; Union rallies; Anti-poverty marches, etc...). In Decolonizing
Methodologies Smith Tuhiwai (1999) insists that organic intellectuals
(although she doesn’t use that precise label) have an obligation
to bring their insights to the community -- and to bring that information
forward in comfortable accessible ways.
Every one of the participants in each of the books has done a variety of readings in a variety of community forums. Our ‘jury’ is the community or communities we want to connect with and believe we have comradeship with. In a mainstream courtroom our ‘cases’ might be defined as weak; thrown out. Our dramas would be assessed as mundane or wrongly scripted. Sometimes, in the mainstream courtrooms, we (organic intellectuals) often believe criminals are running the system. In these forums (such as the seven books discussed in this paper) using our creativity, our insights from cultural studies, our kindness and comradeship we can potentially have fun AND heal. We can produce pedagogical resources, propaganda, and pride-full-ness. We can heal and we can help others heal. We can accomplish this through our own authentic ways and means.