I love the comic about how we are basically houseplants with complicated feelings, and it got me thinking about how isolation means we need to be succulents, able to survive and thrive in conditions of scarcity and intensity, and how fear also turns out lives into deserts, and how precarity does the same.
So, I thought we could use that metaphor, and make a little zine about what gets us through, and how we get each other through.
What are our skills of survival?
What are our strategies of mutual aid and collective action and care?
How are we keeping ourselves going, and what can we teach each other?
Many of us are in communities with generations-long histories of succulent lives in deserts of ableism, transantagonism, queerphobia, colonialism, white supremacy. Oppressed and targeted communities know the way forward.
So many folks responded to this invitation,
and what I imagined as a “little zine about what gets us through” is actually
over 90 pages of poetry, art, essays, and narrative projects. I am incredibly thankful
for these contributions, and honoured to have been able to bring them together
in this work.
Each contributor took the time and energy to create something that they shared with this project. This time and energy is precious, especially right now as we all deal with scarcity, precarity, uncertainty, and rapidly changing expectations and pressures.
There is abundance in these pages. Richness despite scarcity.
If you would like a printed copy of the zine, please get in touch for pricing. The PDF is available at no charge, and can be shared.
Tiffany Sostar. Canada. Finding Succulence and When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing (contributor) Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist, writer, editor, community organizer, and workshop facilitator. They collected and formatted the zine. This is their webpage! (My webpage? What even is authorial point of view in collective documents?!?!)
Brianna Sharpe. Canada. Neverlings Brianna Sharpe is a writer and parent. She writes beautiful, moving, well-researched articles for The Sprawl, among other places. Find her website here.
Kalina Wolska-Chaney. Canada. Little Rock and cat art. Kalina is a young writer and artist.
Sophie Cao. China. How a Wandering Cat Survived During the Coronavirus Outbreak and Dear World, Dear Friends. Sophie is a narrative practitioner in mainland China, and has been involved in projects for the Dulwich Centre. Dear World, Dear Friends formed the basis of the Exchanging messages with Chinese narrative practitioners, which can be found here.
Lyn Janelle. Canada. Cat art. Lyn is a seamstress, artist, and crafter-of-all-sorts.
Neko. Canada. Huohuo and Momo Neko is a young writer and artist.
Agnieszka Wolska. Canada. A Pandemic Correspondence with a Challenging Presence and I am Tired of Sitting and When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing (contributor) Agnieszka Wolska is a narrative therapist and parent in Calgary, Alberta. You can find her therapy work, Calm at the Centre Therapy, here.
Bryan J. McLean. Canada [ Lights in a Dark Landscape ] Bryan McLean is a poet, musician, writer, and artist. You can find his website here.
Anupa Mehta. India. Toolkits For Trying Times. Anupa Mehta is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in India. Her website is here.
Josiah Ditoro. Canada. Become the Borg of Your Favourite Things Josiah is a writer, disability justice advocate, and one of the engines behind the Calgary Wrimotaurs, Calgary’s NaNoWriMo group. You can find the Calgary NaNo site here.
Rei. Canada. Allow Yourself to Start Again and Cheerio Upside Down Rei is a writer, artist, and disability justice advocate in Calgary.
Lori Helfenbaum. Canada. A Pandemic Passover Haggadah and When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing (contributor) Lori is a narrative therapist in Calgary. You can find her website here.
Nicole Marie Burton and Hugh Goldring. Canada. Take Care: A Community Response to Covid-19. Nicole and Hugh run Ad Astra Comix and publish smart, funny, political comics. You can find their website here.
Hugh D.A. Goldring. Canada. Anarchism and Pandemics
Kay Fidler. Canada. Sober in Isolation and Novel: A Pandemic Love Poem Kay is a Metis writer and perfumer in Calgary. They are working on a graphic novel, and it’s going to be amazing!
Beatrice Aucoin. Canada. Good Leadership in the Time of Corona Beatrice is a writer and cat sitter in Calgary. You can find her site, Cat Mom Calgary, here.
Callan Field. Canada. Mixed media pair Callan is a visual artist in Calgary. Callan’s website is here.
Anisha Uppal-Sullivan. UAE. Cat art Anisha is an artist in the UAE.
And the narrative practitioners group! We each contributed to the conversations that formed the basis of When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing Tiffany Sostar Agnieszka Wolska Lori Helfenbaum Joel Glenn Wixson (see his website here) Amy Druker (see her website here) Mim Kempson (see her website here) Sonia Hoffman Rosie Maeder Julia Scharinger Marisa Barnhart J. L.
This is our monthly Shiny! speculative writing group letter. Our first regular letter! I’ve been thinking about who we are as a group, and what we’re trying to do, and the obstacles that we might need to navigate.
I decided on magpies, because I love magpies.
They are inquisitive, curious, and creative. These are skills we need in this group, as we explore and investigate the complexities of the present in order to imagine more hopeful futures.
And they are forever seeking out the shiny hiding in the gutters and the trash and the deepest, thorniest thicket. We need this skill, too. The little bits of sparkle that we find together in this group will help us build nests for the future. (It is important to note that magpies aren’t actually more drawn to shiny objects more than any other bird – if you are a sparrow or an eagle or robin or a turkey vulture, you, too, are valuable and necessary and you, too, will help build the nests to hold the future.)
And magpies are brilliant and adaptable – recognizing the faces of allies and threats, using tools, adapting to hostile contexts. Magpies are one of the species that have fully adapted to urban living, and that thrive in spaces that have been fundamentally altered by human intrusion. This is another skill – to adapt, to recognize threat and to thrive despite it. (And perhaps to swoop at the heads of a threat, like Australian magpies do!)
So, my lovely magpies, let’s dive into this letter.
You’ll find the craft lesson first, then shared writing from the February session, some recommended reading, the writing prompts for March.
Shiny! is open to writers of all experience and confidence levels, and the reason we are not engaging in craft lessons at our in-person meetings is because, although ‘steering the craft’ (to borrow from Ursula K. Le Guin) is important, first we must be invited in. First, we gather up our words and our threads of story. First, we learn the sound and feel of our own voice. That’s what we’re doing in the in-person writing sessions. Once we have gathered a rich pile of words and stories, then we can figure out what to do with them.
Then we learn how to string those words together in ways that are most effective, and how to use our voice in ways that are most accessible to our audience. That’s what we’re hoping to do in these craft lessons.
You do not need to engage with these craft lessons in order to participate in either the in-person or the online group. They are entirely optional. However, if you do decide to engage with the craft lessons and would like to chat about them or receive feedback on your work, you can bring them to the group or email them to me. (We will eventually have a dedicated online space, most likely a Discord server, but since this is all volunteer on my end and I’ve got a bit of a learning curve to get that set up, we don’t have it yet. Bear with me!)
So, our first craft lesson!
We are starting with dialogue, since this was one of the requested topics at our launch party in January.
One of our participants shared that they have lots of character sketches and settings and narrative ideas, but they struggle with how to write dialogue between these characters.
This was a shared experience for many of us!
There are whole books written on the topic of writing dialogue (including a wealth of books on screenwriting, which offer insights that can be translated over to other forms of writing). Many of us speak all the time – to each other and to ourselves. We play over conversations in our minds, remembering or rehearsing. We listen to other people engaging in dialogue, too. We are surrounded by dialogue!
But it remains challenging to write, partly because we are so immersed in conversation throughout our days, and what we write on the page sounds off if it is exactly like what we say and hear throughout the day. Our writing needs to capture the feel of conversation, and that means that we need to learn which parts of spoken conversation need to be cut away in order to leave the core intact and convincing.
Here are a couple exercises to work with:
Practice rewriting dialogue
Record yourself having a conversation with a friend. This works best if the conversation is about something, so that you have some clear themes to work with. I suggest recording five minutes of rich conversation (which may mean setting your voice memo recording and then chatting for twenty minutes, and choosing the richest five for this exercise).
Transcribe those five minutes of conversation.
As you’re transcribing, pay attention to all of the filler in the conversation, and all the bits that could be edited out in order to make the dialogue easier to read.
Once you’ve done this, rewrite the conversation. Keep the core of it – the meaning, the flow, each person’s separate voice. Work on shaping that dialogue into something that reads smoothly but remains true to the actual conversation you had with your friend.
Dialogue or description?
(This exercise is adapted from the book Writing Dialogue by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto.)
Put two characters in a setting where they’re stuck together. (The book recommends a car, but I’ve also found waiting room, plane ride, or ticket line settings useful.)
Write the same scene twice, once using only dialogue (what are the characters saying to each other?) and once using only description or summary (what is happening around the characters?)
Which works better?
That wasn’t the plan!
Write a two-part scene.
In the first, have your character imagining what they will say in a conversation that they’re anticipating.
In the second, write them actually having the conversation.
We’ve all had the experience of anticipating a conversation and then having that conversation actually happen, and it rarely works that it goes exactly as planned. (When it does go exactly as planned, this is its own kind of shocking!)
If your character’s conversation does not go as planned, what are the variables that push the conversation off the anticipated track? What is the result of this?
If the conversation goes exactly as planned, what is the outcome of this? How does your character feel? What are the effects on their life or the lives of those around them?
One of our writing prompts was rolling three Magic & Fairytale Story Cube dice. We got a wizard, a treasure chest, and a knight. Agnieszka wrote three haikus, and has allowed me to share them here.
Cloaked in patient leadership,
They stand with courage
An alchemy of wisdom
The Knight (for Tiffany)
The pursuit of truth,
Through deepest sorrow of loss,
Your shining armour
Oh, the joyful abundance
Of being open
To the beauty of pleasure
If we are going to, as Walidah Imarisha suggests, write “fantastical literature that helps us to understand existing power dynamics, and helps us imagine paths to creating more just futures,” then we must be actively and intentionally working to decolonize, to be actively anti-racist, to be working towards justice. And I think that if we want to write good speculative writing, in any genre, we also need a sense of hope and possibility – sometimes our efforts towards justice, especially if we are writing from a place of privilege and trying to be in solidarity, can feel stripped of playfulness and joy. I think we need to find that joy. Our selected links for this month are tied to these ideas.
With the colonial violence being enacted against Wet’suwet’en by the Canadian government, knowing what is happening and how to be in solidarity is important, even if our writing is on other topics. These big moments in our collective narrative are important for speculative writers because in these moments, possibilities for other ways to be in the future open up. So our first link is not related to writing speculative fiction, but it is related to our goal of imagining more just futures. The Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit offers a wide range of ways to support, including links to further resources. As you read through this, what becomes possible in your writing? Does the history shared here, and the story of resistance and resilience, change how you might write possible futures?
Our second reading is Kate Heartfield’s article at Article Magazine, Decolonizing the Future: How a new generation of Indigenous writers is changing the face of science fiction. This is a beautiful read, full of recommendations for books and articles and to read, and clearly articulating why Indigenous science fiction is so important. One thing I love about this essay is that it makes clear that Indigenous communities have been imagining possible futures for themselves that have always stood against colonization, and have affirmed Indigenous rights. Written a couple years ago, I think that this essay is a beautiful pairing with the Supporter Toolkit – the land defenders are holding the future, and Indigenous speculative writers have been imagining that future into possibility. “The concept of “the future” only exists in the present. It can be shaped by the same colonial structures and narratives that shape the North American present, or it can affirm Indigenous land and sovereignty.”
Our third reading is for those of us who want to write, and may not be sure what stories are ours to tell, and how to tell them in respectful ways. Amal el-Mohtar offers a brilliant and comprehensive answer to the question, “How can writers represent people on the margins in their stories? How do writers know when they are being allies and when they are talking over people who could be speaking for themselves? How can I tell, as a writer, when I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell?” It can be found in her essay, Writing the Margins from the Centre and Other Moral Geometries.
And lastly, the joy and playfulness, and how friendship makes the future possible. Read more from Amal el-Mohtar in her story Pockets, at Uncanny Magazine. The thing I love most about this piece is how it demonstrates what friendship can mean – the care that Tessa and Nadia and Warda take with each other, the way they check in about what they each need… it’s beautiful. It reminds me of some of my own friendships, the ones that make it possible to stay in this world even when the world is hard and terrifying. The friendships are my favourite thing about this story, but I also love the pockets!
In addition to the readings, I have an announcement!
The Spring 2020 round of An Unexpected Light is open for registration! Participation is limited in this six-month online narrative therapy and speculative fiction course. Shiny! is an offshoot of the first round of this course, which has been really well-received! If you’re enjoying this group, you might enjoy the course, too.
You can find out more (including a link to download the updated syllabus) here.
Our next in-person writing session will happen on March 1, 2020, from 4-6 pm at Loft 112 in Calgary, Alberta. We’ll be writing on the following prompts (probably not all three, unless we are a very small group!) Since our craft lesson this month was dialogue, our writing prompts are loosely themed around communication.
Shiny! is explicitly a speculative writing group, but “speculative writing” can encompass a vast diversity of genres and styles. Whatever you write, keep an eye on the speculation of it. What are you imagining to be different than what is currently known of reality? And Shiny! is also an explicitly justice-focused group, hoping to write our way into more just, more liberated, more possible futures. So if the dread rises up in you and the only future stories feel dystopian, reach in for your inner magpie, wise and adaptable and possible, and find even the tiniest sparkle to grab onto. Bring that sparkle into your story.
If you will be attending the March event, you can choose whether to write on these ahead of time and then polish them at the event, or write another piece on the same prompt at the event.
If you’re following along at a distance, you can write along with these prompts and share them by email if you’d like them included in next month’s letter. To write along, set your timer for 20 minutes and write! Feel free to edit and rewrite or keep writing past the timer, but also don’t feel obligated. Sometimes it’s worthwhile just to get a little bit of writing done, even if it’s not perfect or complete.
“I trust that help will come eventually if I persist in my curiosity, my investigation.” – Susan Power. Write about the help that comes to your character, and about the curiosity and investigation that made it possible.
A hand-written note from another time. (Note, you can take this in many directions – a note found in a book far in the future, a note sent to the past via time travel, a note from or to an ancestor, a note never meant to be found and discovered somehow, etc.)
This is the text of the introductory email sent out to participants in the Shiny! speculative writing group. The email is a digital version of the launch party we hosted in Calgary on January 26, 2020. (This email will also be sent out to new participants who sign up for the email list.)
The goal of this post is to let you know what to expect from the group, set out the various ways to participate, and share the schedule for 2020. This email also includes some writing generously shared by participants at our first Shiny! writing group meeting on February 2, 2020.
Our monthly emails (the first of which will be coming out mid-February, 2020) will not include quite so much background, and will not be as long.
So, first, introductions.
The first introduction is for the group itself.
Shiny! a speculative writing group is an offshoot of An Unexpected Light, a six-month online course in narrative therapy and speculative fiction. Although Shiny! extends the work that we’re doing in that course, and exists because course participants asked for it, you do not need to be a past or present (or even future) participant in the course in order to be part of this group. You can download the syllabus and find out more about upcoming rounds of the course here.
An Unexpected Light was created in response to a growing sense of hopelessness and despair within my communities, and Shiny! extends this work into an ongoing, inclusive, joy-and-justice oriented writing group.
Hello! I’m Tiffany. I will be our facilitator.
I’m a white settler on this land, and the in-person events for Shiny! will happen at Loft 112 take place on Treaty 7 land. This is the traditional and ongoing home of the Indigenous signatories of Treaty 7, which include the Blackfoot Confederacy, including the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani First Nations; the Stoney Nakoda, including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations; and the Tsuut’ina First Nation. This land is also home to the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, and to all of the Indigenous folks who live here. The ongoing effects of colonization and capitalism mean that this land is home to many Indigenous folks whose traditional land is elsewhere or unknown. Shiny! is explicitly an anti-colonial and anti-racist group, and recognizing the ongoing effects of the colonial project is part of that work.
I am non-binary, and use they/them pronouns. I co-facilitated a Non-binary Superpowers narrative therapy group with my colleague Rosie Maeder in Adelaide, South Australia, and we published a collective document in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. You can read a PDF of that document here.
I’m also fibromyalgia-enhanced, and constantly working to make peace with my inner demons.
I have degrees in English (Hons) and Women’s Studies (Hons) from the University of Calgary, and a Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work from the Dulwich Centre and the University of Melbourne. I’ve been published in a few places, and have worked as a professional editor for quite a while. I’ve been facilitating writing workshops and groups for over a decade.
We will be getting together in person most months in 2020, with the opportunity to write together, and to share our writing and respond to each other.
The next introduction, you!
This group is open to participants of every gender, orientation, ability, neurotype, race, class, body size, and experience with writing. Youth over 12 are also welcome.
You do not need to be a published or experienced writer to join us – everyone has a unique and valuable voice, and imagining possible futures is work for everyone.
You do need to be interested in and invested in justice and liberation in order to participate in Shiny! The goal of this group is to write possible futures that are more just, more inclusive, more free than what we have now. The status, as Doctor Horrible so rightly put it, is not quo. I hope that this group will help us find ways to challenge the status quo, to find ways forward into futures that are more colourful and more liberated. Futures that refuse patriarchy, colonialism, racism, fatphobia, ableism, ageism, transantagonism, heteronormativity, and all the host of other systems and structures of harm that surround us in the present.
I am so excited to share this space with you!
So, what can you expect from this group?
The in-person meetings will include time to share snippets that we’ve read and appreciated over the last month and to reflect on writing that has really resonated for us, time to write together, and time to share our writing.
These meetings will happen on the first Sunday of most months at Loft 112, from 4-6 pm.
Our confirmed 2020 dates are:
March 1 (at Loft 112)
April 5 (location and time TBD – this will also be the launch party for the spring round of An Unexpected Light!)
May 3 (at Loft 112, tentative)
June 7 (at Loft 112)
July and August dates TBD
September 6 (at Loft 112)
October 4 (at Loft 112)
November 1 (at Loft 112)
December 6 (at Loft 112)
Participants are welcome to write between sessions and bring that writing to the group if they want.
The emails will hopefully support that writing! And also be a way for people to fully participate from a distance.
The Shiny! online component exists in order to make the group accessible to participants who can’t make it to the in-person meetings because of work schedules, childcare, disability, distance, or any other reasons.
There will be two emails per month. The first will be short, and will be sent out the day of the in-person writing group and will share the writing prompts that set for that session.
The second will be more substantial and will go out mid-month, with the first email going out mid-February 2020.
The longer emails will include:
Some reflections on our topic for the upcoming month.
A couple writing prompts.
Selections of writing shared by participants in the last month.
A small link roundup relevant to our topics.
And a craft lesson each month!
These lessons are entirely optional, and nobody will be grading you! But if you want to fine-tune your craft, hopefully these lessons will be a resource. The craft topics requested at the launch party are:
Narrative voice and perspective
How to write short fiction
How to write mystery
These longer monthly emails will be shared as blog posts, which you can find on my website or on Patreon, with a link to the blog post sent out to the email list. If you would like to be added to the email list, let me know!
Here are the two prompts we wrote on at our first writing group session on February 2, 2020.
First, we read an excerpt from Alexis Pauline Gumbs story Evidence in Octavia’s Brood. This was a letter written from Alexis beyond capitalism to Alexis within capitalism. (Although I can’t share that excerpt publicly here, you can find more of Gumb’s amazing future-thinking in this podcast episode.)
The prompt was: Write a letter to yourself from a future beyond an oppressive system that currently constrains you. (Some of these letters are generously shared below, and brought me to tears in the session!)
Our second prompt was generated using the Magic & Fairy Tale Storycubes, and we wrote stories that included a knight, a wizard, and a treasure chest.
Letter to Self from a Post-Apocalyptic Future.
February 2, 2020
(How amazing that I can send this to you! So much has changed over all these years…)
The world made it through!
Somehow, we were able to stop destroying.
I don’t think anyone believed it would ever actually happen… that humanity would finally see Itself as intrinsically part of the Organism that is Earth… that all the self-harming practices – even if they relieve the pain of regret-isolation-sorrow – could be lessened respectfully… and that we-Earth can love us/Itself with compassion again.
Yes! We forgave each other! And Earth forgave us! Forgiving/forgiven for all the damage and harm done out of fear and misunderstanding. We moved forward, toward a patient re-learning how to care for and respond to the loneliness that drove us to distraction, production, the whole illness of progress.
Honey, I know that you *know* how hard this is to do. When the pain strikes, and it seems like nothing will stop it and pretending to “be normal and go shopping” seems like the only way out.
Sweetie, forgive yourself for not knowing. Continue doing what you are doing. I am telling you from here that imagining different possibilities in response to the pain and the regret and the fear, is exactly what was needed.
Relieving the pain makes perfect sense! No judgement against any human on Earth! Searching for true relief – the collective relief, for everyone, every life – through patient, respectful questioning – that is the work that eventually brought us towards Healing. Hope and peace.
We finally saw what really mattered! We saw how incredibly beautiful it all was, we all were! How unbelievably “enough”! And we could stop the cutting, the burning, the packaging, the injecting, the improving. And we stopped!
We looked at each other and at the Earth, and we were stunned. By the sheer beauty and wealth of just being and wealth of Being Just.
We really breathed! We breathed the Air. The Water that remained was slowly but steadily healing Itself because the Earth loves to heal. The Green things gracefully returned.
We were patient and respectfully waited. We used language and music and art and all the ingenuity of Earth to bless Life. With respect and awe.
Agnieszka, I know you offered yourself in Love and Compassion to People/Earth around you.
And I know you were often bound by rules/constructs in your society that created tensions and fear. I am so glad that you didn’t let it stop Your loving and forgiving (despite the harsh pressure to focus on the capitalistic bottom line).
I am so glad you persisted, because your persistence kept the Love growing, and practicing forgiveness allowed it to grow big enough for the Healing to take.
This Healing couldn’t happen without Forgiveness. So, thank you.
Love yourself fiercely. Always.
It’s the fuel of all our Potential.
From a place where you have all the time, the energy, space to do things. Where you are no longer obligated to keep a space in your mind for bills, money and the like.
Don’t worry, each step takes you closer. Each choice, and while it seemed impossible, you weren’t the only one. Everyone wanted to be free of the burden that is capitalism. Time has the value you want in it, and not defined by dollars. Passion is first and no longer questioned as a “side hustle”. I remember the horror, the sadness each time someone asked “what next” expecting the answer to be monetizing. There’s no worry about those kinds of things. There is space enough for everyone to explore, enjoy and live.
Lazy and productive are opposite sides of a coin that is no longer valid. And with them went famine, suffering and the pain of depriving people of the necessities.
The calm that exists because of it is wonderful and is like a vacation that never ends. I remember vacations and loving the way the days were shaped by desire and curiosity. I remember loving them. I know you love them. Imagine a world like that.
Don’t worry. You’ll see it. You’ll enjoy it, and it will all be surrounded by the wonderful relationships you, we, spent so long cultivating.
I wish these letter could carry pictures to show but they only carry words and you’ll have to trust. Trust me. I am you. Trust yourself, and walk forward.
It all fell apart. Everything broke. Nothing is the same. The toil and pain, the exhaustion and the sadness, the aches, the darkness. And more than anything, the fear. It all came crashing down around us. We just couldn’t keep it aloft. It had gotten too heavy. It got wide, and tall, and blocked out all the goodness in the world. It grew sharp edges that tore at our hands, covered in the salt of our sweat, and seeped into our aching muscles. Our nerves were on fire, and our tears streamed non-stop. Until one-day we gave up. We gave in. We stopped holding it up. In the end, it fell heavy upon us. Set to crush every person to nothingness.
We were crushed. We died. But it was not at all what we expected. For what died was not our spirit. Not our bodies. No. What died that fateful day was our fears. Our old ideas. For when it all came crashing down, we realized its immense size and weight were illusions. It’s needles and knives, imagined. Like kinetic sand, it only held its shape because of we all pushed so hard to keep it up. Once we stopped pushing, once we stopped caring, it crumbled into such a fine dust that a light breeze was enough to whisk is away.
Now a warm wind blows, unencumbered by our fears. It fills our souls and lights our minds. We understand that we do not need towers, we need plains. We are all important. There are no gods among us, because it will only create devils. There are no leaders, only advisors. We are all peers, on different legs of the same journey. With different destinations, but all going in the same direction. Towards hope, and love.
So, Joseph, keep your hope. Do not give up as you may have thought about. Be ready to give in. And together we will all get through. The other side is so different and so much better than anything we know right now. Better that we could have imagined. You can do it.
I am so excited to share this space with you.
(Though also excited to never again try and create so many rows and blocks of content in the email list platform. Yeesh!)
There is no cost to participate in this group, but if you’d like to support the work, you can find me on Patreon or you can make a donation through etransfer or at the events.
Have you missed the in-person writing workshops that used to run regularly through Writing in the Margins? Me too!
Introducing Shiny! a speculative writing group.
We’re having a launch party on January 26, from 4-6 pm, at Loft 112 in the East Village here in Calgary. Our first regular writing event will be February 2 from 4-6 pm at Loft 112, and we’ll be meeting on the first Sunday of most months throughout 2020.
Shiny! is an offshoot of An Unexpected Light, a six-month narrative therapy and speculative fiction course. This writing group is open to anyone, whether you’ve taken the course, or are planning to take the course. The group does extend the Unexpected Light conversation about how we tell stories of hope and possibility in times that feel increasingly impossible, but participation in the course is not required.
This launch party will be a combination info session, coffee-and-tea chat, and writing group. Come find out what it’s all about!
Our goal is to build and support a community of writers engaged in creating what Walidah Imarisha describes as, “fantastical literature that helps us to understand existing power dynamics, and helps us imagine paths to creating more just futures.”
Shiny! will include an ongoing online component, with monthly emails including writing prompts and opportunities to participate in virtual writing community, as well as details about in-person events in Calgary, Alberta (and elsewhere). The online component isn’t quite ready to launch yet, but is being designed so that the group will be accessible to folks who can’t make it to in-person events, for whatever reason.
All forms of speculative writing are welcome – science fiction, fantasy, mythology, poetry, and speculative non-fiction including memoir.
Shiny! is an explicitly welcoming space for marginalized and targeted groups, including trans, queer, fat, disabled, neurodiverse, Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and others. An Unexpected Light’s syllabus is full of the speculative work of marginalized writers, and their ability to imagine more just and possible futures has made our work possible.
Everyone has a valid and valuable voice, and writers of all experience levels are welcome.
This launch party will take place on Treaty 7 land, the traditional and ongoing home of the Blackfoot Confederacy, including the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani First Nations, the Stoney Nakoda, including the Wesley, Chiniki, and Bearspaw First Nations, and the Tsuut’ina First Nation. This is also the home of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, and of all the Indigenous folks who live here.
There is no cost to attend, but donations will be accepted to help cover costs.
Read Walidah Imarisha’s interview at EAP Magazine.
(An earlier draft of this post was available to Patreon supporters.)
Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, and it was also three weeks since my dad died.
It was a hard day. It has been a hard three weeks. It was a hard stretch before that. It has been a long night, and the night is not over. But the light returns. I know that the light returns. I know that even in the darkest night and the deepest gloom, there is light.
The stars exist. And some of the stars that light our night skies are many centuries dead – still, they glow. Legacies of light, a physics of remembrance. I think that there is something like this in grief, too. A way of light continuing.
And there are fireflies and other bioluminescent plants and animals. Lights in deep gloom. In the further depths of dark ocean, in the forests, in the wide open spaces that can feel like endless empty. There is something like this in grief, too.
There is always light, somewhere. There is always light returning eventually. Sometimes it just takes time to travel to us, for us to travel to the light, for us to find a way to glow, for the small and precious glowing thing to show itself. The long dark is hard, but it is not forever.
I’ve been reflecting on the legacies that my dad left me, the legacies that I want to continue.
I wrote to my friend about the memories of my youth and my feelings about my dad. Hugh said that, in reading my letter about my dad, they could see that he gave me “part of the thing we need most in this world: a sense of urgent justice.”
And this is true. When I think about what my dad gave me, and what I cherish most in myself, it is that sense of urgent justice.
This urgent justice was, in its best and most cherished expression, justice tied to love. Justice tied to acceptance. Justice tied to empathy. Justice tied to an awareness of power and privilege, and an intentional choice to side with the marginalized.
I saw my dad express this justice tied to empathy and awareness of power many times in my life. Those stories have been close to me these last few weeks, surfacing again and again. Luminescent.
In the week after his death, when I was updating An Invitation to Celebrate to include him, and to invite people to celebrate the life of a loved one, I wrote –
“He taught me to always watch for the hurting people and to connect with and care for them. That’s still how I live my life, and it’s my favourite thing about myself. It comes from my dad.”
This is justice.
This is the urgency of justice – to watch for the people who are hurting, to connect with them and to care for them. Justice and love are tied together, braided into a strong triple-strand with the hope that justice and love can light the path to something better, something more possible.
My small Solstice ritual included writing my dad a letter – the first letter I’ve been able to write him since he died. I told him that I love him, that I will not forget him, that he was good and worthy and that I will hold onto many of the things he taught me. I named the threads I will hold onto:
a sense of urgent justice
a deep appreciation for the power of good story
a commitment to compassion and acceptance
These are some of the lights my dad offered me. Lights that are still in my sky.
And every light casts a shadow, so along with these lights I acknowledge failures and complexities. Actions that align with injustice, stories that cause harm, cruelty and rejection instead of compassion and acceptance. These shadows were present in my own life, and in my dad’s life and in our relationship, but they do not cancel out the light. Part of how I will honour my dad is by holding the light, and not denying the shadow.
What those failures and ruptures and omissions, those shadows, offer is the invitation to return to alignment with values of justice, good story, compassion, acceptance.
Fail, and return.
Fail, and choose to come back.
Fail, and then breathe, cry, grapple with guilt and shame, and return again, again, again.
I did not include this in my letter, but it is also true that another legacy I will carry forward from my dad is a deep value of connection. In this, too, we both failed and returned, failed and returned.
I wrote this two weeks ago –
One week since dad stepped out of this story and into another.
I woke up at 4:30. I set an alarm. I didn’t want to sleep through it, to sleep through the slipping from the first week to the second week, to sleep through marking and remembering those ten minutes between when Domini woke me up and when dad slipped away.
I had a plan for the day, to get through this day. It was a pretty good plan, I think.
But I got the wind knocked out of me before I could do it, knocked off the plan, smashed hard into a wall I saw coming but still somehow didn’t expect. Maybe just didn’t expect the timing of it. Didn’t expect it this morning, like that.
I went swimming instead.
Dad and I used to swim at the same pool – Vecova. Helped my fibro, helped his pain, too. We crossed paths a few times. Not enough.
I have spent the last hour reading old emails.
‘Hello my first born, you know, I hope, that I am proud of you. I miss you.’
‘Hi dad, haven’t heard from you in a while. I miss you.’
‘Good morning, Tiffany. I sometimes feel that you and I are growing further and further apart and I do not know how to counter that.’
‘Hey Dad, how are you? I miss you. I love you!’
‘You have no idea how much I miss talking to you; working on a treasure hunt for you; and just being able to connect with you. Even though you are a fully realized adult and are demonstrably moving forward I still think of you as someone who, at one time, counted on me to help you work through some of your issues. I wish that were still the case.’
‘Hi dad, I know you’re probably busy but I thought I’d try again. How are you doing?’
We both tried so hard, for so long.
We both wanted something different.
We were both reaching and reaching and reaching and not quite getting there.
It is hard to read these emails, each of us repeatedly reaching out, somehow not able to get past the missing and find connection.
There is a deep ocean of grief in me, for what we had and have lost, for what we wanted and were not able to find, for what was painful between us, for what was precious between us.
It is a very hard day, today.
Despite how hard it was, we kept trying. We valued connection – we both valued connection with each other – enough to keep trying. To keep coming back.
And I will carry that with me, the knowledge that continuing to try holds value, and that even when it isn’t perfect, it is good and worthy.
I lit four candles for the Solstice.
A black candle for the grief, the loss, the long dark.
A green candle for justice, and for the growth that comes from aligning with justice.
A red candle for love and compassion and empathy and acceptance, the sparks that tell justice where to focus, how to grow.
A white candle for hope and renewal, for the willingness to fail and come back, for the light that we can turn to, phototropic, moving towards what is good and life-giving.
This new project, which will become a zine or a collective document of some sort, is inspired by a community member who wanted to create a “map” of all the women and non-binary folks who have managed to live a life they want despite not having family support, and despite dealing with the fear and uncertainty that can come with acute illness and chronic pain.
This project reflects our collaborative desire to make this “map” possible – to bring together stories that will show some of the many ways forward through the compounded hardships of unsupportive family and what we might call “body problems” – illness and pain, but also the problems that can be invited into someone’s life by having a body that is deemed unacceptable in our ableist, fatphobic, transantagonistic, white supremacist culture.
We are looking at these factors together because there is often an expectation of family support in many of our cultures. When we fall on hard times, we are often advised turn to family. When we get sick, family is often expected to be there for us. Although we recognize that family is not always there, there’s still this dominant narrative that they will be, or at least that they should be. And when they aren’t, it can leave us feeling isolated, vulnerable, questioning our own value and our place in the world. Experiences of rejection, dismissal, or an absence of support can stay with us for a long time.
We are looking for stories from trans and cis women, non-binary folks, intersex folks, and trans men who have experienced an unsupportive family of origin paired with body problems, and who have continued to live a badass life despite these compounding factors.
(Although cis men also experience these compounding factors, and their experiences are valid and worth listening to, in this project we are also interested in the particular ways in which misogyny and sexism, which are experienced by anyone who is not a cis man, intersect with these experiences. If you are a cis man and want to share your story of experiencing these compounding hardships of unsupportive family and body problems, please reach out to me – I am happy to create a supplementary zine, or a section within this project! But the initial project is focused on non-men because this is an important part of the original context.)
These stories will be collected and turned into a small zine or collective document, and we hope that this resource will offer some hope for folks in this position, including the community member who inspired this project!
When we then also experience body problems, particularly body problems that impact our ability to find employment, to engage in cherished hobbies or activities, or to access social spaces and support, the lack of family support can become even more difficult to deal with. This is particularly true in contexts where the social support net is being eroded – where welfare, assisted living, disability pensions, income support, housing support, and other supports are difficult to access or not adequate to support our lives.
And yet, we know that people get through these hardships.
We know that there are disabled folks with no family support who are living rich and precious lives.
We know that there are so many people who have experienced these hardships and gone on to be successful on their own terms.
We want to collect those stories.
We want to pull those threads of hope together, and weave a safety net of stories for people who don’t yet see the way through to a life that feels possible.
You are welcome to write whatever feels right for you, and we welcome poetry, essays, art, creative non-fiction, or whatever format works for you. The length of the piece can be flexible, but ideally not more than 750-ish words.
If you would like help with the writing, get in touch with me and we can arrange an interview and I can help write up your story.
We hope to make this project available in early 2020, so please send in your contributions by mid-December.
If you would like some prompts to guide your writing, consider:
What does your culture tell you about how families should treat each other?
What had you hoped to receive in terms of support from your family?
What do you think that families should offer to each other?
What does this say about what you value in family relationships? (Care, support, being there for each other, etc.)
How did you learn to value this, and how have you held onto this value despite hard times?
Is there anyone in your life, past or present, who knows that you value this kind of supportive relationship?
Have you been able to find this kind of support in other relationships?
What have you held onto as you get through the times of feeling unsupported by family?
How have you navigated the body problems that have been present in your life?
Is there anyone in your life who has supported you in getting through these body problems?
What do you cherish about your life now?
What has made it possible for you to get to a life that you want to live?
Is there anything that you would want other people who are dealing with unsupportive families and body problems to know?