I Got Plenty of Outrage…

I really do. Naturally occurring, home grown “Oh, my God, REALLY?” outrage in response to the news, or bad behavior I encounter in the wild, or things that hurt my friends and family. The outrage in these cases is real, and often leads me to do useful things to help the people who are being affected by… well, whatever it is. These are outrageous times, after all.

But… There’s so much manufactured outrage in email subject lines. And it does exactly what it’s NOT intended to do, which is to make me click DELETE. Which means I’m not getting to the really important part of these emails, the fundraising part. The way to loosen my purse-strings is not to make me angry, and I wish more email campaigns got that. Outrage (and its cousin, Mind-numbing Fear), and combative team spirit don’t work on me these days. I’m not sure they ever did. How do these subject lines hit you? Continue reading “I Got Plenty of Outrage…”

Algorithmic Grammar

Google Docs and I do not have the same understanding of grammar. I know nothing about the skills of whoever programmed the Docs algorithm, but since I learned grammar from my mother, who was a great copy editor, I have a great deal more faith in my opinion than I do in theirs. 

Here is an example of a sentence where Docs wants me to change the words “is more”: 

Why do we believe
the solution to violence
is more violence?

Maybe the reason is simply that I’m using the haiku form to write that sentence, because the blue line under “is more” disappears when I write it without line breaks. 

I should note that the blue lines appear whenever Google Docs finds something “wrong” even though I have “suggest changes” turned off. Apparently you can’t really turn off “suggest changes.”

Here’s another line from one of my daily senryu:

Build your healthy life.

Docs doesn’t like my use of “your.” Since that is a perfectly good imperative sentence, I do not understand it. This one isn’t related to the formatting; Docs marks something wrong either way.

Docs also doesn’t like my use of “doesn’t” as a verb in the first sentence of that last paragraph, since Docs looks like a plural even though I am using it as the name of a program, which makes it singular. Docs is also inconsistent in its application of this rule, because it has no objection to the “is” in this sentence. 

I had thought that capitalization of Docs alerted the algorithm to the fact that I was using it as a proper name (for the very program I’m writing about). When it objected to “doesn’t,” I thought the problem was that it was the first word in a sentence and the algorithm couldn’t tell whether I meant docs in general or Google Docs. 

But the lack of objection to “is” destroys that theory. Now I don’t know what the hell it’s doing.  Continue reading “Algorithmic Grammar”

Gossip and Community

The internet is practically an engraved invitation to indulge in gossip and rumor. It’s so easy to blurt out whatever thoughts come to mind. Once posted, these thoughts take on the authority of print (particularly if they appear in some book-typeface-like font). Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to question something when it appears in Courier than when it’s in Times New Roman? For the poster of the thoughts comes the thrill of instant publication. Only in the aftermath, when untold number have read our blurtings and others have linked to them, not to mention all the comments and comments-on-comments, do we draw back and realize that we may not have acted with either wisdom or kindness.

To make matters worse, we participate in conversations solely in print, without the vocal qualities and body language that give emotional context to the statements. I know a number of people who are generous and sensitive in person, but come off as abrasive and mean-spirited on the ‘net. I think the very ease of posting calls for a heightened degree of consideration of our words because misunderstanding is so easy.

I’ve been speaking of well-meaning statements that inadvertently communicate something other than what the creator intended. I’ve been guilty of my share of these, even in conversations with people with whom I have no difficulty communicating in person. What has this to do with gossip?
Gossip is either one of the forms of glue that bind a community together“news,” as it wereor else a pernicious form of social control, of putting people down/who’s in-who’s out/of taking glee in the misfortunes of others, of basking in reflected and unearned glory.

Where this is leading is that such statements can be hurtful and damaging whether they are true or not. They are particularly embarrassing to the tellers when they are false and that falsehood is revealed. Human beings are peculiar creatures. When we have injured someone by passing on a rumor, false or not, instead of doing what we can to ameliorate the situation, we set about defending ourselves. “But it was true!” is one tactic, or “I didn’t know!” or “Blame the person who told this to me!” Or we find some way to shift responsibility to the person who is the subject of the gossip. Even well-meaning people, people who see themselves as honest and kind, people who should have known better than to spread rumors, do this.

I believe that when we engage in gossip or rumor, we damage not only the person we have spoken ill of, but the bonds of trust in our community. We divide ourselves into those who are safe confidantes and those who are tattlers, between those who are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt and those who will use any excuse to criticize and condemn us. Continue reading “Gossip and Community”

Not a Fairy Story

I’m researching fairy tale retellings right now, so I want to start this post with Once Upon a Time. The story has a fairy tale element to it. It starts with a dream and ends with a happy surprise. It is, however, no fairy tale. Let me start it with the right words anyhow, because I can.

Once Upon a Time I had a dream. It was only a little dream. I woke up with an image from it so firmly imprinted into my vision memory, that, even before I had coffee, I went to my computer. I looked to see if I could find a picture of Io, because my dream was looking up at Io through an old telescope and seeing it as if it were our moon.

I found the picture almost immediately. Io looked the way my mind had dreamed it. I don’t remember if I took time for coffee, or if I wrote the story immediately, but by the end of the day I had a first draft of a story set in a far-distant planet, where a society re-enacted the eighteenth century.

I was chatting with a friend and told her about it. She read my draft. Then she told me her dream, which was to run a magazine. I let her have my story to use to build that magazine. She set up the organisation and edited everything and I and a couple of other friends built a world writers and artists could play in. That world was New Ceres. My story was its backbone and its heart, but it was never published. Life got in the way.

I took my version of New Ceres because I had new dreams about what could happen on that planet. Alisa took hers and she published a lovely anthology. She then started a publishing house and that publishing house has put out amazing book after amazing book. I watch to see where her dreams taker her next, because they’re always to fascinating places.

My dreams took a while to realise. First, I wrote them into a novel. An editor from a well-known science fiction press asked if I could send it to him. Whenever I asked about how he was going with it, I was told that it would be read the next week, that it was a priority, that I should not worry. Eight years later I took my manuscript back, and resolved to try elsewhere.

The novel was accepted somewhere else almost immediately, but that publisher imploded. Another publisher took it on. They asked one of my favourite artists to do the cover and he built (literally, built) a scene from the novel, and photographed it. A street from New Ceres lives in the Blue Mountains.

My novel was released straight into the first COVID inversion, where no-one looked for new novels by small press on the other side of the world. It was going to be celebrated at WorldCon in New Zealand. New Zealand is so close and so friendly and… the pandemic changed that, too. At least, I thought, it was finally published. I could close that chapter on those dreams and move on. Its final name was Poison and Light. Here, have a link to it. Admire the cover.

Tonight I had news about the novel I thought no-one could read because all the publicity and distribution were hit so hard by the pandemic that it simply wasn’t very visible. It’s been shortlisted for an award.

In that short-list are novels by wonderful writers whose work was issued by that first publisher. The editors won’t remember the eight years I had to wait, nor the emails that went unanswered in the last year, when I tried to find out what was happening. I remember. And now, finally, I know that the initial request to see the novel was serious. That it was an unlucky novel, but not one that was poorly written. And that readers are finding it, despite its travails.

I shall dream again tonight of that acned moon. And, finally, I will move on.

I Love My Body

I love my body. As a woman raised in a society that teaches women that their bodies are imperfect and inferior, I bring to this love a sense of heart-felt victory. 

It is important to note that I did not spend my life trying to hammer my body into some artificial idea of perfection. Even if I had one of the body types that have been pre-selected as perfectable — and I do not — it wouldn’t have worked because I did what everyone does all the time every day: I got older. 

Being old — a subjective state that depends on what you’re trying to do — makes it impossible to be perfect in any physical sense. And like most young people, I didn’t realize how cute I was when I was young. I was still struggling with not being “right”.

Because all women get that lesson. We’re not right.

I’m discussing this in terms of women, because I’m most familiar with how that happens. Men, at least straight white men within a range of body types, don’t get these lessons the same way. 

There are a number of other body issues that come up for those who are trans or nonbinary or otherwise not part of what society has deemed to be the way things are. The history of mocking gay men as too feminine and lesbians as too male sets the stage for even harsher abuse of trans and nonbinary people.

All people raised as women, in pretty much all cultures, get the message that their bodies are imperfect. In some cultures, they are even treated as the source of all sin (evangelical Christians, for example). Their bodies are wrong.

I learned to love my body by taking up martial arts. I know that’s a stretch, because one aspect of martial arts is learning to do things with your body, some of which are very difficult. And further, martial arts training is often based on some very male thinking, so the idea of what bodies are supposed to do and how they are supposed to look makes the assumption that women are inferior in some way.

And yet, training first in karate and later more extensively in Aikido taught me to love my body, because I figured out that I learned things by using my body, that I was not just the person who thought, but also the person who moved.  Continue reading “I Love My Body”

Life is a Writing Prompt

DogsOnLeash

A couple of years ago I witnessed a curious thing: as Emily-the-Moldavian-Leaping-Hound and I were crossing over the highway on our way to the dog park, I looked down and saw a pleasant looking mature woman walking her own dogs. As the dogs did what dogs do, the nice looking woman picked up their droppings in a plastic bag, all tidy. She then walked over to an SUV and left the tidy bundle of dog feces under the windshield wiper. Having done that, she walked away with her dogs.

Of course my response was: what the @N#*$!?!?  What is the story there?

Being a writer, for me, is about trying to figure out why people do things.  When I was small and encountered unkindness, I would tell myself stories that explained (if they didn’t justify) why the other person did something unkind.  It wasn’t enough to say “that person is a big selfish meanypants” because it seemed to me unlikely that the person regarded himself or herself in that light.  So what would justify, in their minds, being mean to me?  I was not, I hasten to add, always successful in making sense of my fellow humans.

Still, to this day, when I encounter someone doing something I consider unusual, my novelizing kicks in.  In the case above perhaps:

• the SUV belonged to the woman herself and she was putting the bag there until she could return to dispose of it.

• she and the SUV’s owner had a longstanding feud.

• she had a principled stand against gas guzzlers and this was her way of making a statement.

• she had a momentary psychic fugue and had no idea what she was doing.

• she had been taken over by an Evil Spirit and prompted to do something weird.

I could very likely write a story in which any of these things are true.  The action I saw was not the climax of the story–it’s the beginning.

Next time you see one of your fellow humans doing something really…odd…consider it a writing prompt and see where it takes you.

Strangers Aren’t the Danger

Back in the Sixties, there was a quote going around that always resonated with me:

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.

I just came up with a corollary to that theory:

If they can make you afraid of the wrong things, they don’t have to do anything about the real dangers.

That could apply to many things, but for today I’m going to focus on the fear-mongering directed at women.

There’s a bit going around Facebook these days that lists all the things women should do to protect themselves. This one reads:

it’s about to get dark earlier.. make sure you fill up your gas tank prior to nightfall.. keep an extra charger with you at all times.. sign up for AAA….. Check your tires and oil… No ATM runs in the evening. Park in well lit areas. Only unlock your doors if you are immediately getting out. Pay attention to your surroundings.. HEADS UP PHONES DOWN… Stay safe Queens.

This one is focused on people who drive, but something similar goes around social media regularly listing all the things women need to do to keep themselves safe when they’re out in public.

Those lists are always followed by multiple comments about how awful men are and how unfair it is that women have to do these things to stay safe when instead men should change.

I’ve got three problems with this list.

First, this is once again advice on how women should limit their lives to stay safe. As the commenters observe, we’re all getting really tired of this.

Secondly, that advice is really about protecting yourself from robbers and carjackers, so the useful parts (such as keep your car in good running condition) apply to everyone, not just women. In fact, men are more often the victims of this kind of street crime than women, perhaps because some men assume being male means you don’t have to pay attention.

But most importantly, when women are told how to keep themselves safe, the implication is that they need protection from sexual assault, rape, and murder. And that brings me to my most important objection: this advice, though often well-meaning, makes women think the real danger they face is from strangers.

And it’s not.  Continue reading “Strangers Aren’t the Danger”

A COVID loss: anger, grief, and healing

The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging for many months now, marked from the onset by lies about the disease, its origins, its treatment, and its prevention. No aspect of the pandemic has been free from controversy and misinformation. In the middle of flame wars and whack-a-mole efforts to squelch anti-vaccine, anti-mask internet sites lies the confusion and grief of those who have lost loved ones to this disease (over 700,000 in the US and 4,800,000 worldwide).

 

Like many others who believe in science, I was first puzzled and then appalled by the cloud of outright falsehoods that grew up around vaccination. Refusing the vaccines based on illogical and unfounded internet rumors struck me as downright suicidal. Equally troubling were the friends who bought into those lies.

One was a long-time, very dear friend who had supported me through dark times and whom I had supported in turn. Early in 2020, L told me that she didn’t trust the mRNA vaccines and besides, she thought she’d had a mild case of COVID-19, although she was never tested. But she was diligently wearing a mask at work, and it was clear that further discussion would only be confrontational, so I backed off. For the next year, all appeared to be going well. Then she moved to another part of the country, one with low vaccination and mask-wearing rates. I heard from her while she was waiting at an urgent care center for a persistent cough. Her COVID-19 test was positive. A few days later, she was admitted to the ICU. We talked and texted frequently as her condition deteriorated. After a week and a half, she was placed on a ventilator. She died two weeks later. Her last text to me was, “I love you.”

During her hospitalization, I felt not only growing concern for her, but anger. Anger at so many things. After her diagnosis, I wanted to scream at her, “How could you fall for that conspiracy nonsense?” Then my fury spread to everyone who spread those lies, manipulated statistics, and otherwise terrified people into refusing the one thing proven to save their lives. Anger at the last administration and the former president, who failed to take action at the onset of the pandemic. Anger at the officials in her state for their lax measures and cavalier attitudes to the virus. Anger at everyone who touted ineffective remedies in order to make a profit. And most of all, guilt that I hadn’t pressed the vaccine issue harder and been persuasive enough to save my friend’s life.

Grief mixed with anger and guilt isn’t logical. Nor is it simple.

While my friend was still alive, I realized how unhelpful it would be to be angry with her during her illness. The time to discuss vaccines was after the crisis, not when she was fighting to breathe. Armed with these thoughts, I did my best to work through this particular piece of anger or at least put a dent in it. I also talked myself through my part in what happened and acknowledge that there was nothing I could have done. The choices were hers, as were the consequences. But I believe in harm reduction. The price of making stupid decisions should not be death, although with COVID-19 it all too often is. I hoped that eventually my friend would have come around to getting vaccinated, but she ran out of time. Now I’m just sad.

My opinion of the anti-vaxxers hasn’t budged. I’m angrier and less patient with them than I was before. I still want to blast them with their responsibility for the death of my friend and so many others. I don’t go all-out on this, however. I have more important emotional work to do, mourning the loss of my friend. Continue reading “A COVID loss: anger, grief, and healing”

Food in Fantasy Fiction

This is the abbreviated version of a talk I gave in Ireland over the weekend for Octocon, the Irish National Science Fiction Convention, when I was at my desk on the other side of the world. I thought it might be a pleasant interlude in a difficult year. Even abbreviated it is not that short.

I’ve kept the beginning, but taken out much detail. If you want to see what the writers actually say (and I chose seven novels because they are so good, and the eighth because I had something very particular to say, so it’s worth chasing all but one novel and looking at those first pages) scroll down to the end, where I’ve given a list of the books I talk about (with links). One day I need to do a presentation somewhere on food in the openings of US fantasy novels. That would be a great deal of fun.

The talk alone meant I spent much of Monday cooking.

When I told folks that my new research is partly on food and foodways in fantasy, many people nodded sagely and said, “Ah, stew. So often when we talk about food in fantasy, we begin with Diana Wynne Jones and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Diana Wynne Jones pointed out the elephant in the room when she said that “Stew is what you will be served to eat every single time” in Fantasyland. ” The vision of stew and arguments about stew are wonderful and often funny, but they obscure what writers actually do with food in fiction. That’s what I’ll explore today.

Food is not just something we eat because we kinda like living, it’s also critical to how we shape and explain our lives and even to helping us trust the stories we read and the stories we tell. Today I shall take eight writers, four Irish and four Australian, and I shall look at eight novels. I shall specifically look at the opening of each novel, for the beginning is a very fine place to start to learn about food in fantasy.

One of the things that got me interested in food and foodways was how food was displayed at the Museum of Melbourne some years ago. The food narrative for most of Australia in the museum was school lunchboxes or Charlene’s wedding cake from Neighbours. Food was presented as a developed part of identity and story. And then… there was a special room for the food and foodways of Indigenous Australians. It consisted of a garden.

The very first novel I chose to look at was by Lisa Fuller because she challenges the Museum of Melbourne’s depiction of Indigenous Australian foodways in Ghost Bird. Fuller presents one family and their foodways in detail and with much cleverness. When you reach the end of Ghost Bird, it’s possible to cook at least some of the family dishes. Not because there are recipes (there are no recipes) but because the descriptions of food and foodways are so very evocative and sophisticated. Food and foodways are a profound part of this novel. They don’t just explain the relationship of the Indigenous Australian family with White Australia and with modern science, however, foodways explain the relationships between people. They elegantly refute that garden in the Museum of Melbourne by showing us that ingredients in nature are only one small part of real foodways.

What about Sarah Maria Griffin’s Other Words for Smoke? Like Ghost Bird, it’s about family and loss and tension. Looking at the food in the early part of Other Words for Smoke, however, instantly demonstrates their differences.

First, food is not the factor that brings the initial narrative together.

When does food first appear, then? And what form does it take? It appears when the novel proper begins, and food is a critical trigger for thought at that point. It shows us a lot about the character, what they see, what aspects of what they see need interpretation. It is also, just as in Fuller’s novel, a critical component of culture. As I read out the quote, it hurt my ears. Food delineates cultural differences so precisely in Other Words for Smoke that I can hear how wrong my accent is for this novel wrong. The novel itself feeds on a very precise, even mimetic everyday. Everything that pushes us away from that everyday is going to hurt.

Food is no less important in Sam Hawke’s City of Lies than in the previous two works. City of Lies is an adventure fantasy set in a secondary world, full of politics and intrigue and danger. Food is twisted into it, right from the beginning. The very first page of the novel itself links food with poison intimately and those links last throughout the novel. We know foodways through the politics of poison.

In one way, Hawke’s depiction of food and foodways is as complex as Fuller’s. It’s a whole cuisine. Like both Fuller’s and Griffin’s, it’s closely connected to the plot. There is one big difference. The food is in a secondary world, which means that Hawke describes it in a lot more detail. The trick of secondary worlds is that, if you want to read one that is quite, quite different to our own, the world building is often detailed. Hawke takes an almost anthropological approach to describing food, while using the type of descriptive prose that is the hallmark of many secondary world novels.

Why do I not instantly want to cook the delectable dishes Hawke describes? First, they’re not written to tempt cooks. The palate touches on taste (but not in detail) but it’s also strongly visual.

More importantly, Hawke undermines her own descriptions of food by pointing out their relationship with poison. Food and foodways are vehicles for delivering poison and plotpoints in an alternate world.

Celine Kiernan’s The Poison Throne is also a secondary world fantasy, but the only mention of food in the first two pages is grass and water for a hungry horse. How much need for food is there in adventure fantasy? It depends on the adventure fantasy. It also depends on the fashion in publishing, which possibly brings us back to stew, which once was most definitely a fashion food for fantasy. The lack of food in the opening of The Poison Throne, then, signals to the reader its sub-genre. Kiernan is not the only fantasy writer who uses signals in this way and, notably, uses lack of food in this way. The critical insight here is that no matter how much we all need food in our everyday, we don’t all need food in all our novels.

Ruth Frances Long’s A Crack in Everything presents food from the very first line where a toaster explodes. After the toaster dies, Izzy’s mother finishes the coffee. The toaster and the coffee give us food and foodways, both.

There are many ways of interpreting this. What I’d like to focus on now is how mundane the scene is and yet how it sets up the construct that is critical for the story: two worlds meeting. The family bonds through food and through the destruction of the toaster, which is also important, for it announces that this is not a novel about an impossibly dysfunctional family.

Long uses the small to foreshadow the big, just like Fuller, and prepares readers for what will come. The world of the novel will change and, in a mere two pages, Long has given us both the familiar world and a stake in it.

Garth Nix’s The Left Handed Booksellers of London is another novel I get to dip into twice, for it has a prologue and an opening. This is another novel in which food plays a minimalist role. There is no food in either the prologue nor the opening proper.

Unlike Kiernan’s book, The Left Handed Booksellers of London is not a secondary world fantasy. It’s set in a world much like ours, but with magic. When food finally appears, it’s the kind of food that one would buy for quick sustenance travelling through the UK.

This means of depicting culture depends very much on readers already having some cultural knowledge about the setting. It works in The Left Handed Booksellers of London because so much of world culture in this novel revolves around a popular knowledge of UK culture. Real culture is a lot more complex and dynamic than the stuff we think we know about a place or a time: the novel is a popular, simplified depiction. Nix’s novel is for the international market, and the way Nix uses food in it tells us this, very clearly.

Dierdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths is the polar opposite even though the technique in the first pages has something critical in common with both The Left-Handed Booksellers of London and Sam Hawke’s City of Lies. It shares with Nix’s novel the absence of food in the first two pages.

Foodways are implied, however, as part of a particular focus on the material world that binds the novel tightly together.

It shares descriptions of plants with Hawke’s City of Lies. The uses of plants reflect the cultural use of a plant, just as Hawke’s did, but the plants are plants we know and the uses are more varied.

The cultural elements in Perfectly Preventable Deaths come from a quite different direction to those in The Left-handed Booksellers of London or City of Lies. They are carefully crafted to draw us into a complex and perilous world. This is a very different kind of fantasy to Nix’s. The novel depicts a strong local culture. Food and foodways are an inherent part of the culture and appear in this way throughout the story. They are not strong in the opening because the opening sets up the protagonist’s view of this culture and all the cultures that impinge upon it during the tale.

The last book is by me. My fiction is not particularly special, but there’s one element that I know for certain about my own work and that I need to address. That element is authorial intent.

Ask me and I’ll write about authorial intent and its relationship to world building and to prejudice and to all kinds of wonderful things. Here, today, I want to talk about what the author actually intends when they write. When we try to work out what the author intends in the book we’re reading, there’s a certain amount of guesswork. When the writer claims something about their work (as I am doing here) it’s important to test their claims.

I have a cookbook and bits in other books that show clearly my relationship to food. I was a professional blogger on food history for three years and have given academic papers on it. I ran banquets for Conflux, the Canberra science fiction convention. There is an enormous amount of data on my responses to food and foodways. You don’t have to trust what I say here – you can test every single claim I make. Let me do some claiming, then.

The opening of Borderlanders is full of food. I used food to make it clear that the novel was set in contemporary Australia and I to communicate contemporary Australia to those who know it not. I wanted the opening to feel not-too-exotic, because magic will intervene in the plot soon enough. All those are surface reasons. I had a deeper reason: I set up a character to look as if they are the hero… and they’re not. From the beginning, this novel reinterprets the hero’s journey. I wanted everyday and very mundane food to give the right reader a sense of ambivalence about her quest.

That’s eight authors and eight reasons for food. Let me recap them.

1. In Lisa Fuller’s Ghost Bird, food and foodways presented a highly-political argument in a non-threatening way.

2. In Sarah Maria Griffin’s Other Words for Smoke food is used to delineate subtle cultural points. In doing this, it reminds us that fantasy is a variety of literature, and not a lesser artform.

3. In Sam Hawke’s City of Lies food and foodways are undermined in order to present another aspect of society entirely.

4. In Celine Kiernan’s The Poison Throne, food, or lack thereof, is presented as a clear signal of sub-genre.

5. Ruth Frances Long’s A Crack in Everything uses food and foodways as vehicles to prepare for a plot twist and a changed world.

6. Garth Nix’s The Left Handed Booksellers of London uses food as a minor part of a culture we think we know, making the novel easier for more readers and more likely to sell in larger numbers across the world.

7. Dierdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths gives us food as a minor aspect of the depiction of the most important character.

8. And, finally, by looking at authorial intent in my own Borderlanders, I demonstrated that food in fantasy novels may not actually be merely one of these things. It can be several at once.

 

The List of Books

Lisa Fuller Ghost Bird

Sarah Maria Griffin Other Words for Smoke

Sam Hawke City of Lies

Celine Kiernan The Poison Throne

Ruth Frances Long A Crack in Everything

Garth Nix The Left Handed Booksellers of London

Dierdre Sullivan Perfectly Preventable Deaths

Gillian Polack Borderlanders

“The Changer and the Changed”

A couple of days ago I got to thinking about a summer day back in the 1980s when a group of women put on an all-day women’s music festival on a hillside next to a junior high school in Takoma Park, Maryland. I was there with my friend Victoria Eves, a professional videographer, and ran sound for the video she made of the event.

I couldn’t remember the exact year, or the name of the event, but, as is our wont these days, I googled, and not only found that the first Sisterfire event happened in 1982, but the video Victoria made that year. I even have a credit as the sound recordist. This website has a vimeo of it set up.

It’s an hour-long video that captures some of the high points of an amazing day. I got tears in my eyes watching it. All those wonderful musicians, the enthusiastic audience scattered over the hillside, the feminist activism that underlay everything that went on.

We were all so young then. We were all so ready to go out and claim our places in the world. And to change it.

We were, in fact, very much like the young activists I meet today. And yeah, for those of you who pay attention to generational things, both the performers and the audience were mostly Boomers, though since some of them had kids there were some members of Gen X running around as well.

Sisterfire represented a lot of the best of second wave feminism. Continue reading ““The Changer and the Changed””