Secrets from With/out Pretend: The Year of Women
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The Year of Women:
Making space for new voices 

January 2018

"If women have failed to make "universal" art because we're trapped within the "personal," why not universalise the "personal" and make it the subject of our art?"
-Artist Hannah Wilke (via Chris Krause in the novel, I Love Dick)


It wasn’t always obvious to me that women’s stories were worth telling. Other than Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee and Alice Walker (thank the Universe for those women), I didn’t read a book of “literary substance” by a woman until I was in university. The books I did read by women, as a child and young adult, consisted of series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High, and although I still have a deep fondness for Stacey, Claudia and the Wakefield twins, those books helped reinforce a somewhat problematic narrative through my coming-of-age years, namely: Liking boys (and getting boys to like them in return) is the most interesting thing a girl can do.

Music was an equally strong influence in my formative years and told a similar story. By high school it was almost exclusively The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Weezer… I cringe remembering how much Primus, Rush and Ween I listened to just so I’d be impressive to boys. And although I never felt I was actively choosing art by white men, it’s the art that was accessible and most interesting to my budding teenage self. The art that has shaped me as a person, a woman, a creator of things, was rooted in a hetero-white-male narrative. It’s impossible to go back in time and choose differently, or to know if I would love Bob Dylan half as much if that dude from Cinema Studies 101 hadn’t made me an epic mix tape.

I scheduled a phone call with Vivek Shraya this past summer to talk about her contribution to our latest anthology, Happy If You Know It, and I remember feeling nervous before the call. Nervous because she’s an incredibly talented multi-format artist; she’s produced REALLY GOOD work as a musician, as a fiction-writer, and as a poet. But I was also worried I’d say something stupid or ignorant. We agreed that the phone call would be a sort of interview so that I might contextualize her work within the anthology — her collection of poetry, even this page is white, is about the racism that brown, Black and indigenous people experience on a daily basis from cis, white, heteronormative-presenting people like me. At one point in the conversation we started talking about the art that had influenced us as creative humans. I wanted to be honest instead of posturing, so I told her my bookshelf was filled to the brim by books written by white, cis, hetero men. She laughed heartily and said, “Yes! Of course! Me too!” I relaxed instantly, because I felt like less of a failure. When I told Vivek I wanted to make room on my shelves for more work by women, people of colour, and queer people, she said something I’ll never forget. She said, “Changing what’s comfortable for us means we’ll be uncomfortable, at first. It will be uncomfortable, and it will be hard work.”

For 2018 I have one simple resolution: To choose more art (books, music, performances, exhibits) by women. This will be hard work, as Vivek says. It will require being proactive, doing research, asking for recommendations, feeling uncomfortable, digesting heavy, complicated and deeply personal narratives about gender and race and trauma. It will also require saying no to some of my old standbys (I will miss Blood on the Tracks and T.S. Eliot and Leonard Cohen) and making room for new, unfamiliar voices. Voices who might shift something inside of me. 

For a long time I’ve been hesitant to mix my politics with my art. I was afraid that I wouldn’t do a good enough job, or that I’d be seen as merely pandering to a trend or hashtag. After all, I still feel like I’m at the beginning of an uncomfortable journey. But I think 2018, for me, is going to be about holding myself accountable to the things I believe. My best friend calls it “living your politics.” I think we could all do a better job this year of making room for new voices.

My resolution is to shut up and listen.



Books I'm Going to Read in 2018
South and West - Joan Didion
Play It As It Lays - Joan Didion
Hard Times Require Furious Dancing - Alice Walker
Abandon Me - Melissa Febos
Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn Ward
Her Body and Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado
Playing in the Dark - Toni Morrison
Bad Endings - Carleigh Baker
Too Much and Not the Mood - Durga Chew-Bose
The Thing Around Your Neck - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Body Map - Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter - Scaachi Koul
The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir - Ariel Levy
Transit - Rachel Cusk
Written on the Body - Jeanette Winterson
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé - Morgan Parker
Motherhood - Sheila Heti
Thank you to Margeaux Feldman of Floral Manifesto for her recommendations as a great start for this list!
got winter blues?

Things I Do When I Feel Blue

This zine was the first thing we published at With/out Pretend and was recently reprinted in risograph. It started out as a list on Erin's laptop, of actual things she did to "wait out" depressive periods that are common for human beings.

Illustrated by Alex Begin, and designed and formatted for risograph by Hannah Browne of Feels Zine.
Click if you feel blue

Najla Nubyanluv

You could have heard a pin drop during Najla's incredible performance of her play, If I Could Just, at our launch party last month for Happy If You Know It. We all felt lucky to have heard her speak.

Najla is the Residency Coordinator at The WATAH Theatre and the author of the children's book I Love Being Black, published by Sorplusi Publishing.
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