Report from the Fishtrap Winter Workshop
by Kristin King
I just got back from a weekend workshop in Oregon called the Fishtrap Winter Workshop ). It was a wonderful experience and worth sharing, but all I have time for on this post is a quick summary of the presenters' talks. I'll try to post more on my blog (kristinking.livejournal.com) within the next few weeks, so if there's anything people want to hear more about, let me know and I'll try to focus on it.
What I'm leaving out of this report because I can't do justice to it just now: the bus ride and what I learned of the countryside from Portland to Fishtrap; the trip to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute; the amazing attendees I met and the conversations we had; the writing sessions; the four-minute readings by the attendees; and just
generally my feelings and impressions and my personal transformations and so on. (In the terms of the presenters, the "private stories.")
Some General Comments
The topic was "learning from women," and I have to point out that all the presenters were aware of how tricky it is to speak of women. They were aware that when they were speaking of "women," they weren't speaking of some idealized, essentialist image of women. Women's voices, women's stories, and women's myths were something that men could and did take part in. Sometimes the presenters changed "men's stories / women's stories" to be "public stories / private stories." (I jumped in and made the point that women are normally expected to be men, so for the weekend, it was only fair to ask the men in the audience to be women.) But there seemed to be a general understanding that by and large, across cultures, women are socialized to take on
certain roles and ways of being. And it needs to change.
There was a general concern among the presenters (and attendees as well) about our world, our environment, the feminist backlash, technology, and capitalism, as well as a discussion of where we find hope.
There were some interesting and possibly unintentional linkages between the presenter's talks. In particular, I found Molly Gloss' discussion of Shane to have implications for topics in both Ursula Le Guin's and Tony Vogt's talks.
On Saturday, Molly Gloss spoke first. She is the author of award-winning Western novels The Jump-Off Creek, The Dazzle of Day, and Wild Life, as well as a bestseller The Hearts of Horses. (The Dazzle of Day is sf in addition to being a Western.)
Her talk centered on the Western myth of the lone cowboy, or Shane. He's got only one name, no parents or family to speak of, and he rides into town on his horse to save the day by gunslinging, then rides back out again. She drew the connections between our Shane myth and so many of the troubles we're facing, economic, environmental, and social. And then she presented an alternative Western mythology, that of private stories of women - women adventurers, homesteaders, First Nations women, etc.
Also in her talks: a history of Western writing and a fabulous reading list of Westerns.
She read an essay on Shane that I sincerely hope is available somewhere.
Next, Tony Vogt spoke. He has been active in progressive political and environmental movements for forty years, and also contributed to a book about Mount Saint Helens called In the Blast Zone. He addressed
three topics: how men's and women's knowing are different, how we look at the larger biotic community, and the transformational role of women in social movements. He talked about organizing among villagers in
Northern New Mexico, and what happened in the 1960s when a large number of men were rounded up and taken to jail and the women did the organizing work. (There's more to say here, but I would prefer to ask
in case some of it is not mine to tell.)
Also in his talks: what European-American Peggy McIntosh taught him about race and privilege; how "most men in a patriarchy do not feel powerful"; his encounter with Mount Saint Helens; and the human capacity for both cruelty and compassion.
Ursula Le Guin
Ursula Le Guin, who has written more books and won more awards than I can count, talked about her path as a writer: "on learning to be a man and unlearning it to be a woman." When she was first writing and publishing, fantasy and science fiction was all about men, written by men. It took her a while to question that, but when she did, here's how she put it: "What right did they have to force me to try to be a transvestite?"
She read from Tehanu, a part where Tenar talks to the wise woman Moss about the difference between women's knowing and men's knowing. Moss gave an eloquent and lovely speech about women's knowing being down under the earth in the dark - one that is often quoted by critics. Rarely or never quoted is Tenar's response, "I have lived long enough in the dark." It's time, Ursula suggested, for the guys to live in the basement, kitchen, and kids' room, then come up and talk to us in the living room!
Other topics: capitalism, technology, the way capitalism enforces technology to keep getting bigger and using more resources; imagination as a way of trying out social transformation; and her involvement in the Google Books Settlement. She discussed the way the National Writer's Union stood up to Google and recommended people join it in order to help increase its political clout.
In a parting remark, she spoke to young writers about how long it will take to hone their craft as writers, that writing is a serious art and in many ways takes longer than the others, so they should just keep at it . . . "and then you'll be good."