virtually yours

With the Desert Split Open Mic, like all in-person literary gatherings, still on hold, I miss that live energy exchange, the intimacy of truths told in confidence to those who will hear. I miss watching us step up and swing and sometimes miss, but always try to listen hard to each other and ourselves. I miss my physical response to words read in halting voices that grab me and shake.

Reading to you from my office, alone, is not the same, but it is something. I am interested in how video might share our work more widely and creatively. Why not, I suppose. Video allows me to deliver my work in autobiographical context. I made a YouTube channel.  I’ll update it now and then.

I’ve followed social distancing recommendations for about 10 weeks. It feels like so much longer, doesn’t it? Maybe because it’s been 10 weeks of chaotic change and uncertainty, underlain with faint, abstracted, persistent fear. Even in the flurry of creativity I retreat into in order to cope, I feel the worry slip in. I catch it in the corner of my eye, a reminder that I might as well make the art I want to make, now.

I can be dramatic—I already knew this. 10 weeks in relative isolation isn’t making that less true! I suspect the videos I record in this strange time will become a visual diary of deconstruction or transformation. I will try to embrace my changes, for lack of another choice. We are all, already, different. Nothing is the same, but we are something.

Playlist: virtually yours

Tea in the Mojave with You

I wasn’t sure I could articulate what had, until now, been an instinctive process for me: a search for abstracted inspiration through visual cues. So it was incredibly special, the moment I realized the group not only understood what I meant, but used it to launch into their own beautiful, nuanced writing. Like—instantly. Instant poetry. As if effortless. Maybe it was the magic of Joshua Tree National Park, or the magic of gathering creative souls in a joint endeavor. In any case, it was an honor to do this and a cool experience and I hope I get to do stuff like this again soon.

 

The Desert Split Open

At the end of 2018, as the Feckless Cunt Anthology promotional tour wound down, I thought about how much I wanted to continue that conversationabout politics, feminism, the patriarchy, race, class, gender, binaries, queerness, oppression, everyday abuses, and the moments that change everything, forever. I hoped that others in my local community of Joshua Tree, California, wanted to talk about the things we can’t ignore. The Desert Split Open Mic was born. One evening a month, we meet in a cozy, funky lounge and share words and work in progress. We keep it simple: read your own poetry or prose–or the work of a favorite writer–8 minutes max. Our first meeting was in January 2019, and we met again in February, March, April, and May. We took off June, as we helped plan Joshua Tree Pride. We love seeing some of the same faces return each month, and there are always a few new faces, too, which is thrilling. The evening is shaped by the truths each reader brings, and there always seems to be a balance.

The Desert Split Open Mic allows me to continue in the role of facilitator of other writers’ words, which I have come to realize is a role I love. It also gives me motivation to keep writing my own new work in this vein. I am grateful to those who have or soon will publish work written for this open mic:

My satirical, imagined conversation, “What’s Your Problem with Joe Biden?” recently ran at The Weeklings, just days after Joe announced his 2020 candidacy.

My furious, feminist, flash rant, “Ingrown Rage,” is set to appear in Cliterature‘s forthcoming HAIR-themed issue.

On Saturday, June 29, I will perform “ID, please,” a piece about fluidity, contradiction, and queerness, at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, for OUT LOUD: A Cultural Evolution.

These pieces exist because The Desert Split Open Mic exists.

Joshua Tree goes quiet in the summer, thank goodness–or quieter, at least. We slow down, conserve energy in the staggering heat. Should we resume The Desert Split Open Mic in July? Or wait until September? We’re still considering. But, soon or very soon, we will meet again. Please join us, if you can. Everyone is welcome. We’re listening.

C U N T

I get it. Some of you are uncomfortable with the word “cunt.” You certainly don’t want to hear it said aloud. You don’t even want to see it written, each letter just sitting there, brazen, unashamed, like a naked body sprawled across the floor you have to step over and can’t avoid:

C U N T.

Here’s the thing: I’m not sorry. I won’t apologize for Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. Never. I will not tiptoe around your discomfort. I will not even soften it by inserting asterisks where letters belong. Although, of course, I realize that some people and publications will require asterisks, I will never use them. Words are powerful, yes. If a word makes you uncomfortable, look at it harder. Your discomfort is the point. If you’re not a member of a marginalized group that has had “cunt” used to oppress you: YOU DON’T GET A SAY. If it has been used against you, I’m sorry. And, also: I think you’re going to want to read this book. These 36 fierce contributors have the guts to confront this word, and—more importantly—the sexist culture that defined and weaponized it. These contributors take back “cunt.” They take control of the narrative of our own lives.

These 55 lean, feminist pieces (poems and very short prose) don’t back away from controversy. They run headlong toward what we’ve been told not to say, think, be. They reject the patriarchal idea that we’re forbidden to speak the words used against us. I invite you to join us.

It’s okay if you’re not ready. But do not ask me to spend time and energy explaining or excusing myself. The time for that sort of endless, unpaid, emotional labor by women is over. Read Feckless Cunt to understand why I think it is not only okay but necessary to write and say

C U N T

as many times as it takes to change the world, a little. You do not have to listen. You do not have to stay in this room where C U N T is sprawled across the floor. I just ask that you let us speak and write and confront what needs confronting. I am not afraid of words or your disapproval. I am afraid of losing my freedom of speech—an understandable fear, I think, considering how the current administration makes daily noise against the free press and dissent. Speak now or forever…better yet, listen: Feckless Cunt will be available for order in the next couple of weeks. I will let her have the final say, without asterisks or apologies.

 

 

15 Minutes for My 2 Cents

In Joshua Tree, California, we have a community lecture series called “Teddy” Talks, a take on the famous TED talks. They’re held at Beatnik Lounge, an art space and JT’s unofficial community center. This month I appeared with two other authors, Rose Baldwin and Gabriel Hart. We had a blast. The crowd was kind and interested, the conversation stimulating. My talk was titled: Rejecting the Rules and Criticism that Derail Writers. The subject is dear to me. I also discussed both my novel Not On Fire, Only Dying and my brand-new, flash fiction chapbook, Swap / Meet.

So if you have fifteen minutes for my two cents, click below.

Thanks,
Susan

Listen for what I don’t say.

Sometimes I wonder if I have the face of a woman who needs help. I am frequently offered advice. I do ask lots of questions, and I can see how that might seem, to some, like I want answers. Probably I’m just being polite. Or I’m after your stories. I want to get you talking so I can watch. I want to hear what you don’t tell me. Keep talking. I’m not listening, but I am.

Now, days before my 50th birthday, I look in the mirror and see a face with deepening lines, silver hair, and eyes that have seen love and marriages and travel and motherhood and shitty jobs and rescued animals and exhilarating art and my own writing published and grief and failure and a second, solo, cross-country move that finally convinced me I might be kind of a badass. I see the face of a woman who has a word or two of advice to GIVE, in fact.

Not that you asked. So go ahead and ignore me. Or listen for what I don’t say.

Lighten Up, Francis. Humor is a survival skill, especially in dark times like these we’ve lived since November 2016. Some of us can’t stay afloat without it. Humorlessness is tiresome. It does not prove your commitment to the resistance. In fact, since humor disarms and draws others in, it can be a useful tool. Not everything is a fight to prove your position is the correct one. Life is hard and brief, so maybe just crack a smile. It’s good for you, and the rest of us, too.

I Would Prefer Not To. It’s okay to say NO, and you don’t even have to come up with an excuse. NO to going to that thing you dread. NO to small talk with that acquaintance you don’t trust. NO to gatherings where you’re expected to play an old role. NO to staying where it’s safe but not happy. You deserve joy in every shade of the spectrum: comfort, safety, friendship, support, bonding, duty, desire, lust. And everything in between. Move towards joy, always. Move away from anything less.

It’s Going To Be A Beautiful Wall. You’re the architect of your life. Get your hands on those blueprints ASAP. Construct your present, add on, renovate, tear it down to sticks and start over. Point yourself in the direction of a future you’d like, but understand it’s like a note added to a dinner reservation: “Quiet table by the window, please.” We regret to inform you that requests are not guaranteed. However old you are, you’ve been hearing it all your life—how things should be done. What you ought to do, and in what order. How you must behave. Has it occurred to you that it might be bullshit? You have one chance to experience life. Take a big bite, a wide view. Be a good enough friend to yourself to build and fortify your boundaries. Make them beautifulopaque, if not transparent. Sturdy.

People Are Strange When You’re A Stranger. It’s not wrong just because it’s unfamiliar to you. We all have a different way of being in the world. Notice your resistance—when you feel defensive, you’re bumping up against one of those “shoulds” you were taught and maybe believed. Breathe, listen. You, too, can live any damn way you please.

 “Not EVERYTHING is a metaphor, Mom.”

This, from my laid back, pragmatic 18-year-old. He’s very wise, but on this he is wrong. EVERYTHING, for me, is metaphor.

Maybe I can blame my decades-old English degree, earned by dissecting books as if fetal pigs, prying loose each pickled piece to be parsed and analyzed, examined microscopically. Maybe it’s just who I’ve always been, a hopeful cynic, a nature-worshiping atheist in search of…what? Not answers. I don’t trust those, generally. Insight, maybe. Instinctively, reflexively, I seek to make some sense of my fellow humans or maybe even myself. I want to understand this human condition with which we’ve all been afflicted.

A few weeks ago the sky fell. Or rather, the ceiling did. Water worked its silent destruction. A ruined roof shingle developed a pin-sized hole, and quietly, invisibly, over who knows how short or long a time, the rain did its worst. There were no hints or portents. One day we had a thunderstorm, no different than any before, but this time the pressure proved too much. The ceiling gave way. What should be held outside was suddenly in. Sodden sheet rock and insulation hung from the gaping, dripping hole like spittle from a monster’s mouth. The ceiling had just been there, firm and clean. Now it was a mess.

My life, metaphorically. How could I see it any other way?

It had been a difficult few weeks, even before the sky fell. I’d struggled to solider on as always, like the Strong Woman™ I am. That label is a triumph and a burden. Lately the burden had grown heavy. I’d taken hits that slowed my momentum. Changes were constant and discouraging. I’d begun saying things like “I’m hanging on by my fingernails,” “white-knuckling it,” “circling the drain.” This is not helpful self-talk. But even Strong Women™ have a breaking point. When it is reached, if we dare tell, we may find ourselves disappointed by the response. Our loved ones are used to our self-reliance, our resilience. We look okay: the exterior appears as firm and clean as ever. There are no hints or portents of the mounting pressure. But one day: just one drop too many. Everything collapses. Everything is exposed.

Barn’s burnt down—
now
I can see the moon.
-Mizuta Masahide

It was a relief. I could no longer pretend to hold everything together. I had to confront the fact that this was never possible—too much is out of my control. In wreckage there is truth. It hangs like eviscerated innards for all to see, like dripping wet insulation. For a moment, I wasn’t strong. I fell all the way down. From the floor I stared up at everything I could not control and thought of metaphors. The collapse was mine, just in the nick of time.