It was my honor to emcee this recent multimedia event in Joshua Tree. We celebrated poet and artist Tamara Hattis and her newly-published collection, Colors of My Pain. The topic was the lived experience of chronic pain and illness, and it was a tremendously moving afternoon. The quality of work was outstanding. How lucky we were, those of us in the audience! And how grateful, to be covered in the Hi-Desert Star:
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.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, I made my first zine! A FLY ON THE STONEWALL recounts the revolutionary events of June 28, 1969, from the perspective of a (literal) fly on the wall. It premiered on Sunday, June 16, Joshua Tree Pride’s “Lit Day.” Now, locals can pick up a copy from Joshua Tree, CA’s Space Cowboy Books, or contact me at susan [at] susanrukeyser [dot] com and I’ll mail you a copy for $5 + $1 shipping. $1 from each sale will be donated to the Transgender Community Coalition. This zine is dedicated to Sylvia Rivera and was written with boundless love and respect.
At the end of 2018, as the Feckless Cunt Anthology promotional tour wound down, I thought about how much I wanted to continue that conversation—about 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.
Huge thanks to Read Her Like an Open Book for allowing me to explain how Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology came to be. As Editor Bill Wolfe said on Twitter: “When enough is enough, it’s time to take out the bullhorn.”
From Not Feckless: How a Writer Becomes a Publisher in a Moment of Rage: “I became a publisher impulsively, in this moment of rage. My own words failed. But I knew there were writers who still had theirs, who could articulate their fury, indignation, sorrow. That’s how it works, in this resistance marathon: we take turns. We share, and our collective words carry us. … I had no idea how to publish a book. I figured I would learn.”
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.
In a couple of months I’ll move from Georgia, where I’ve lived for 11 years and never belonged, to the California desert. This isn’t my first time moving across country. It’s not even my first time moving alone to California. At 22, fresh out of college in New York, I was fucking fearless. I remember my parents expressing concern about my plan—what plan? But I felt infinitely strong. I rented a studio apartment in San Francisco for about $400/month. It was small enough that I could lie diagonally and almost touch the walls. It was on a gritty block behind the opera house, before that neighborhood was transformed, for better or worse. There was often shouting from the street. I just took it all in. Inhaled sights and sounds and smells and people and experience, like I do.
I got a job working in a group home for profoundly troubled young kids, victims of the most horrific abuse, usually at the hands of their parents. Sometimes they were violent—of course they were. I was paid $7/hour. I didn’t have a car, just a bike. I rode it everywhere, including to the grocery store. I’d load up two saddlebags, then churn the pedals up and down San Francisco’s hills, my legs draining with the effort. Everything was hard. I was deliriously happy.
Now I’m 49. Lately my body hints at its inevitable deterioration with more frequency. Subtle changes with a whiff of more to come: stubbed toes that fracture, a sprained rotator cuff that never fully healed, a tricky knee, and a neck, stiff from the effort of holding still when I want to RUN. So now I’m running. While I can. I won’t get stuck here, frozen like my neck on a cold, rainy night. I’m fleeing to California, again. Older, maybe wiser. Still pretty fucking fearless. This time I’m moving to where it’s hot and dry and my bones feel good. My brain feels better out there, not bombarded by stimuli. I am strong but not as strong as I was: I will drive to the grocery store. I will take it easy on my toes, shoulder, knee, neck—but you’d better believe I’ll be out there hiking and scrambling around, inhaling that wide open blue-sky silence. I will resist deterioration, to a point, while also celebrating what aging brings, including the confidence to stand up sometimes and declare: Next Chapter, To Be Continued.
WHEN: Wed, May 6, 7-9 PM.
WHERE: Barnes & Noble – Upper West Side, 2289 Broadway at 82nd St.
WHY: Come on, you need to ask? Mothers and motherhood. Real talk. Gorgeous words. And ME!
I plan to read a tiny (really tiny) excerpt from my forthcoming novel Not on Fire, Only Dying. Lola is a mother who lost custody of 3 older children and now reports a newborn kidnapped. She has a long history of mental illness and self-medication, and no one’s seen or even heard of this baby, so people are suspicious and they have questions: Did Lola imagine this baby? Did she do something terrible? Even Lola herself and Marko, the man who loves her and her sole defender, aren’t sure.
Back in 2012, Mom Egg Review was kind enough to publish my flash nonfiction piece, Our Bloody Secrets, which addressed pregnancy loss. But as Lola says at one point: “There are lots of ways to lose a baby.”
Hope you can come (yes, all of you). I love and miss NYC and I’m thrilled that I’ll there, however briefly.
Yesterday’s mail brought something beautiful: Cobalt’s Volume 3, with its robin’s egg blue cover and pretty interior design and especially its content—oh, the words in there. You want this.
It includes my creative nonfiction piece, “Believe It, She’s Tried.” It’s about the novel I wrote and almost published, the years I didn’t write at all and how the words returned. It’s about celebrating the fact that we are writing and publishing, even if we receive few rewards beyond the relief of expression. Of saying out loud, as it were: “Hey, this is me.” It’s about divorce and why I hate the movie Forrest Gump.
“Believe It, She’s Tried” and its publication will always be especially important to me. Exactly two decades after the events described, I was able to confront disappointment and mistakes and finally, finally let them go. Writing this piece effected change, I truly believe that. It shifted the air.
Very shortly after Cobalt named it a finalist, I learned that my novel Not On Fire, Only Dying had been accepted for publication with Twisted Road. Just as I’d made genuine peace with the possibility that I might never have a novel published. And it would be okay. I would be okay. I’d keep going, which is all that any of us can do. Keep going, keep writing. Stay hopeful but flexible. Dreams adapt on their way to coming true. Forgive yourself. Celebrate other writers’ success. Celebrate your own. Be grateful. Breathe. Believe it.