You heard it correctly: “woo-fac,” the nickname bestowed on Women Writing for (a) Change by Kit Willinhganz who came to Woo-Fac as a writer in WWf(a)C Bloomington, IN and is now planting woo-fac seeds in Louisville, KY.
Yesterday, in the middle of a meeting, I recalled the date: September 5, the official sixteenth birthday of Women Writing for (a) Change, the mother school. *
Here is how I tell the founding story in my ever-evolving book on the woo-fac movement, * (For Want of a Better Word, For Want of a Better World: Women Writing for (a) Change):
When I am asked to tell the story of Women Writing for (a) Change I begin at different points, depending on who’s asking, and on my energy for telling. The least vulnerable and most prosaic version of the story begins: On September 5, 1991, fifteen women gathered in the lower level of the Holistic Heath Center of Cincinnati, in the healing room of somatic therapist, Susan Glassmeyer. Fifteen women, Susan first among them, responded to my offer to be the teacher of women who wanted to Write for a Change, women who wanted to be open to whatever changes would occur in their lives as a result of taking themselves seriously as writers.
And here, 16 years later, I am attempting my first blog entry. If the word, “blog” existed I had not heard it; neither could I have imagined that night
that eight women would be creating Women Writing for (a) Change schools in cities as far-flung as Burlinton, Vermont is from Portland, Oregon (see www.womenwriting.org/ affiliate schools)
that thirty-six women and girls, graduates of The Feminist Leadership Academy of Cincinnati and Young Women’s Feminist Leadership Academy are translating wwfac practices and consciousness into their schools, workplaces, churches, temples, and etc.
that literally tens of thousands of lives have been affected by the power of women and girls telling the truth of their lives through our presence on public radio, in the hundreds of performances and readings featuring our writers, in circles spreading so far from the original stone dropped into the pond of Cincinnati, September 5, 1991, that we have no way of counting.
Happy (Quiet This Year) Birthday, Woo-Fac, may we grow into your growth which—in your fifteenth year took a huge leap from your deep roots!
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My reluctance to begin a blog has revolved, somewhat rat-in-a-cage-ish, around questions such as: who cares? who has time to read it? what is mine to say that has not already been said? how much truth can I tell so publicly, without a sense of connection to the listeners? The most important of questions: who is my audience?
I hereby construct my reader as anyone interested in the history and consciousness of Women Writing for (a) Change, in any aspect of the individual and communal origins of a vision, and in how that vision is clothed in materiality: time, place, energy of relationship, money, conflict, peace-making, and etc.
It was, I think, W.H. Auden who said, or wrote, “whenever I see a poem I have two questions: how does this thing work and who made it?”
Reader, in the reflections to follow, you will—if you are willing–hear stories that will allow you to know the woman who first made this thing, the women, girls, and men who are continuing its making, and some stories about how what we are making works—and doesn’t work–which blind alleys and mistakes are part, if you will, of how it works!
For two small examples of the how it works, I’ll address my asterisks from above:
*the mother school.
I am a strongly mother-identified woman. The most important-to-me, and to the creation of this work poems I have ever written have been, not so much about my mother as an historical person,–that too—but about the rich-in-love, but poor-in-institutional-power-and-respect life of THE MOTHER. THE MOTHERS. I had an early and wordless awareness that “our father was in heaven / our mother everywhere exiled.”
(from “Letter in Spring, Or How You Did It.” )
I have been warned by wiser heads than mine against the mine-field of “mother-daughter” “daughter-mother” metaphors because of the ways, in patriarchy, in which mother-daughter dynamics are fraught with tension and rage, as well as love.
So, for example, if Cincinnati is the mother school–and that is what we came, organically and without design, to call it—does that make the affiliate schools, “daughter” schools? And, if so, might not that imply “lesser than” as well as “younger than”? dependency?
You get the drift.
You are going to hear me say this often: I don’t know–maybe–probably–but. . . .
But—there is something deep and important here, a conundrum or paradox we, who are making this thing, stand in every day: (a) we have come to understand that we a part of something much larger and older than the sixteen year herstory of woo-fac, we are one portal, if you will, of the re-emerging value of the feminine, and newly-emerging conscious feminine AND (b) in the material-psychological-archetypal-historical context in which we are “making this thing” The Feminine: our bodies, our relationships, the words used to say us and create us are variously diminished, demonized, misunderstood, and always the site of conflict. Therefore, we must resist fighting over the language we use, and be about the work of standing by and refurbishing —rather than giving into the dominant paradigm, thereby agreeing, for example that “mother” is either ineffectual or domineering.
More about this in a later blog. I have a good story about being roundly and publicly castigated by a woman professor for using maternal images in a conversation about pedagogy.
Another word that aroused resistance. In a brief history of containers , let me say that when one class of 15 writers became two classes of 20 writers, became three, I used the word, “school” to name the larger container the individual classes had evolved into. Naturally. I have been a teacher, and have embraced that calling thoroughly since the sixth grade when I knew “what I was going to be when I grow up.”
People have issues with “school” Naturally. Schools, reflecting the culture at large, have often been places where power is coercive as opposed to transformative. However, though our programs are container-defying, or as my friend, Tom Romano, says—approvingly– some forms of writing are genre-defying, I choose “School” and it suits at least a portion of our mission to hold it in fall, spring, summer semesters, and etc..
When the school gave birth to Young Women Writing for (a) Change, numerous community partnerships with social service, arts and civic organizations, a radio show, it also gave birth to a container in which to hold these offspring: The Women Writing for (a) Change Foundation.
Those births caused the vision to need more mothers which gave birth to the Feminist Leadership Academy of Cincinnati (FLA) where we all practiced being conscious mothers what was coming to life.
When women asked me if they could take the work to other cities, some meant having an afternoon’s conversation with me, as if that could convey the work of a decade–but I said: I am a teacher, not a lecturer-spiller-of-seed teacher, but a being-with, learning -with kind of teacher. If you want to do this, you will have to spend time with me, within a community of those, myself included, who are learning as we go, how to create, lead, teach in the manner of that new creature, the becoming- conscious woman. I have created a container in which you can do this if your discernment and mine are to go forward: The Feminist Leadership Academy.
When women asked me how they might ponder more fully the leadership lessons they were learning in the WWf(a)C classes as they used and strengthened their voices. How they might work to make this more explicit in their current professions, I said: apply to FLA.
When I stopped to realize how many times I had been hired to translate the woo-fac culture to the work of management, leadership, healthcare, business, nonprofits, I realized the need for a more intentional container for this set of progeny and Writing for Change Consulting Group was born.
We receive many hits on our website from women in rural areas, women in other countries wondering if we have an on-line program. We don’t, but for about five years various potential mothers have come forward with questions about how to do that. I don’t know the answer-answers, the technical and other answers, but my response is apply to FLA and we will see if that container will take shape.
And so, what to call this container of containers? This community of communities? One day I said, “movement,” and someone near and dear implied, “grandiose.” I was embarrassed, more than that: suffused in that moment with “who do you think you are” shame, a common symptom of well-schooled, working-class, over-achieving girls such as I.
But to be very honest, I got into all this in an effort at long-last to hold on to my words, and not to be shamed out of them because of the projections of a culture that well knows that to take away a person’s power to name herself is to take away her self and put in place a useful piece of machinery.
Movement, until a better word comes to mind, it is.