The September Unruly Writers
This issue of Font has been a long time coming. Back in November 2021, when we first began to scout out English-language writing groups and communities who might become the focus for a Font issue, Metonymy Press’s Oliver Fugler was quick to suggest the Unruly Writers Club. Here we are, with Issue #11 (!) and it has been worth the wait. This Issue focuses on the relationships, communities, minds, hearts and bodies of the Unruly Writers: what does it mean to live with a body at odds with the normative institutions of the world? To celebrate with that body, and to thrive?
These Unruly Writers—Monica van Schaik, Allie Pauld, Aimee Louw, seeley quest, Alyse Tunnell, Sky Oestreicher and M-X Marin—take you through their experiences in prose, poetry, image, film, and voice. As with every issue, the experience of editing has been a learning experience. Thanks to the patience and generosity of Aimee Louw in particular for her support in connecting with the Unruly Writers, and to the writers themselves for their trust in us. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you.
We are both slowly suffocating, in the sense that the structures that hold up this world are tightening around our necks to the point where we are not sure we will make it. We are both on the doorstep of neurodivergent implosion. Sitting on the stoop, staring off into the morning air, not able to keep any one thought or action present long enough to make “executive functioning” happen. The elusive linear focused planning that executive functioning demands—and our psychological assessment suggest we work on—are not present here. We go from marvelling at the beauty of the morning to complete panic and back again within seconds.
You, suffocating through the mess of ADHD—moving in the worst phase of the pandemic. I, in the tenth month of dyslexic pandemic thesis writing alone at home, as if dyslexic thesis writing in normal times wouldn’t be challenging enough.
If the neurotypical gaze was around, we’d both have placid faces with the slightest smile, in the hopes of not being found out. But it’s not, so we are conversation-circling from joy to stress to despair in incomplete neurotypical sentences but complete-enough neurodivergent ones. We pause to laugh at our whirling selves acknowledging out loud. “I’m fucked!” “Ya, me too!” “This is fucked.” “Fuck this ableist shit!”
I firmly say to you, but more to myself, “I just need to get this section done, then it will be better”—as if any amount of sternness could actually give me what I need to move forward—what a funny internalized ableist idea. I get more real and vulnerable and try to name what would make the next step accessible to me, “I just need to talk at you about this section so that I can sort out how to organize it.” Repeatedly throughout this project, ideas pile up inside me in tense confusion, making me incredibly aware of my external processing style. Often friends say to me, “But I don’t know your project well enough so how can I help?” You get it though, I just need to speak it out, rearrange the ideas outside of my own brain, playfully placing pieces together in different configurations until it fits. Don’t ask me why, but the relating nature of this activity proves to be essential over and over again. You are among the only people who understand this, how to naturally step into this role of partner in idea play.
You say, just as sternly as I just said to myself, “Okay Monny, well if I can just get the kitchen organized, I could come over later.” My heart sinks as despair returns, we both know that organizing the kitchen is beyond a feat for you, today, right now. And we are both dragged up on ableism’s stoop, still in bed in pajamas because neither one of us knows how to start the day while suffocating.
You say sorry because you know how bad I need you and you know that it is unlikely that you will make it over later.
Despair pushes me forward, searching for a solution. There has to be something. Something to create access today for both of us. This can’t be one more day where we just will ourselves forward into the discomfort of neurodivergent existence alone.
Then it hits me. “Lor, I will come over. I will organize your kitchen while I talk to you. All you have to do is sit at my computer and write the pieces down as we discuss.” “REALLY?!?!?” you say with bursting access energy. “Yes,” I say. “I think better while I move my body anyway and organizing spaces is my strength. But, Lor. You have to promise to help me with this section before the end of the day because if not, I may die.” You laugh and say again with disbelief, “Really? You’re going to come organize my kitchen?”
We are laugh-crying together, mystified by the magic of being in this together and revelling in relief. We discuss the possibilities of the plan completely not working but conclude it is our best chance at getting up off the stoop today.
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes. I just need to clean myself because I’m truly disgusting.”
“Mon, do I get to bathe too?! It is truly a mess in here, so maybe I should clean a bit first?” asking permission as you do when ableism has convinced you for too long that you don’t have time to shower. I say, “Yes! Have a shower, don’t worry about the mess. We will sort it out when I get there. I will see you soon.”
Ode for the unruly bodies
I have an unruly body. A body that falls between the cracks of what is deemed worthy and beautiful and yet simply is. A body with limitations that have defined parts of my world view and transported my mind to lands of knowledge where few have had the curiosity and ability to venture. Saying it has never stopped me would be a lie, but the same is true for others as well. Those whose bodies have fewer limitations often have limited minds. Minds lacking the flexibility necessary to have radical imagination, minds too weak to desire better for themselves simply because it would also benefit others. Their minds are perhaps too aligned with the rules that have been set, not unruly enough.
But who said the in-betweens are so bad, and the rigid so good?
It’s enjoying a lover’s hands running down my legs as they help me get in-between the sheets, building and cherishing the anticipation it creates. It means being thankful for the proximity my body allows me to have with those who help it. My body is strong and determined to exist the way it wants to, the same way nature will never be tamed because the rules of nature are unruly themselves.
If my body happens to disrupt your vision of the future, so be it. If I bring disorder to your idea of what a body should be, I am looking forward to the chaos many others will bring as well, leaving behind us nothing but ashes.
Because self-preservation in a world that wants your destruction is rebellious, but loving yourself is revolutionary.
This is an ode for the anarchists.
For the anarchists who were told their bodies were the most dangerous weapon the world has ever known and yet, they feed it with peace, their bodies feeding peace to others right back.
This is an ode for the ones destroying the foundations of the dark future many are working to build. There is no future without me, there is no future without us. We will not be erased. This is an ode for the unruly bodies. This is an ode for the anarchists.
I used to have these parties on Wednesday night
They came out of feeling isolated in my
prior occupation as a non-profit worker, and wanting to have time to
just crip—as a verb—with my friends who get it.
Needing a break to mark the middle of the week,
an energizer, a moment to forget ableism,
it was a standing/sitting invite; whoever wanted to come was welcome.
Chicken curry bubbled over the rim of the biggest pot
I had as people got introduced to each other
And we caught up with how the folks we knew were doing
I rarely heard ‘what do you do?’ more often ‘how are you?’
Sometimes it would turn into a dance party.
I loved the surprise of seeing friends appear at my door who I hadn’t seen in months,
some of whom were emerging from experiences that had
prevented them from getting out: winter, depression, over-working, being tired.
Or they’d been travelling. And
there they were at my door.
The only clue I had of who was coming was the buzzer once they’d already arrived.
Anywhere between two to maybe forty people would show up to my
one bedroom apartment.
The Wednesday hangouts were a space we created together. A space that existed in
my living space, but vibrated like it was its own creature.
This was where I learned what disabled means to me:
— love you—
authenticity, aspirational but
not the whole picture,
desiring of more: connection, fun, freedom, laughter, comfort
and—putting on a damn fine soirée!
truck to reno
I had just moved to California from upstate New York. It was the late 90s, spring: my entrance to the state had been in the last few days of March, and I would soon total the truck I crossed the country with in a late-season El Niño storm in early May. But I still had the pickup my first six weeks on the West Coast, and used it for visits to San Francisco, once I found my initial house-share rental halfway to Sacramento by my new job location. It might have been a reading I was going to; it was a warm early evening when I found parking in the South of Market neighbourhood, probably on Friday. You were, I think, the first person to ever approach me asking for money to get a bus ticket out of town. We ended up talking for several minutes next to the curb.
I didn’t have the amount you said for the fare. I maybe was going to an event with no cover charge, or to attend a social group meeting; I would have barely started my job and likely didn’t have a paycheck yet. I’d been lent $100 by my cousin, the one person I knew in NorCal, because I’d naively underestimated fuel, food, and motel cost when driving west, and had landed there with almost no money. I was twenty-one, a white kid with mostly small city and town experience, had dropped out of college in December, and was determined to find a new life in the Bay Area even if that meant making connections just on periodic commutes from the capital corridor.
You were a Black woman with short hair, perhaps closer to thirty. You ended up unfolding your story—I wish I could remember better now—there was a man you were leaving, a shelter in Reno that would set you up for recovery, and maybe you’d reunite with your children? Was it a sister, friend, some family connection you could start over with? I recall urgency; you needed to get to Reno that weekend, ASAP. Yet you didn’t seem panicked or crumbling—you stayed fairly calm while describing what sounded like a risky situation to escape, because you were so close; all you had to do was get transport over the Sierras. I had close to a full tank of gas, and realized I could do it: I said I’d drive you to Reno later that night.
First, I just had to attend whatever I’d come to San Francisco for, but agreed to meet you at the truck in two hours. You were going to go finish packing, get your bag while the man was out for those hours, and be ready. Clear-eyed, you were grateful. Was the parking spot a couple blocks or more from the venue I was visiting? I got lost often, didn’t get a street map of San Francisco till 2001. I didn’t have a watch or cell phone. But it seems I returned about five or ten, maybe twelve minutes late. I didn’t see you—I looked all around the block, asked a shopkeeper by the vehicle if he’d seen this woman, if you’d left any message or asked for me. Had you come, waited, despaired, and given up? Did the man catch you? Was it possible someone had convinced you that you could leave even sooner, with a reliable ride—or were you delayed, taking longer than expected with gathering needed supplies?
I waited for over an hour, marked by the clock in the storefront I stood near. Some of it I spent pacing the block, looking down either end for you among the crowds. If you’d seemed drunk, I might not have offered; it was easier to imagine it was my fault for not being right on time, rather than you needing the money for some high—I can’t recall even conceiving of that possibility till long after our encounter. Did you remember the right block I was parked on? Did someone suggest it wouldn’t be safe to ride with a young, newly-west queer you’d just met? Why weren’t you there, when you desperately needed a way out? It was lightly raining, warm sprinkling off and on. I finally left a half sheet of paper under the windshield wiper of the next car, with my note of apology and landline number to call—if you contacted me, I promised to come back the next day and pick you up to go. Maybe that stayed readable in the streetlights after the stores closed, maybe it got too wet and blurred. I felt so bad, worried about you after getting home that night. I still do.
existing (tactically) – Alyse
existing (tactically) – Dillon
These two clips are a selection from my audio project called existing (tactically), which looks to demonstrate how art can aid in the development of cultural empathy towards people who must tactfully and tactically navigate society in order to survive. This edition focuses on a conversation between Dillon and Alyse (that’s me!) recorded in 2019 while we were roommates. The clips are about our experiences and frustrations around having our access needs met and understood during our studies.
Here are some lightly edited excerpts from the 2019 project description:
“[ … ]existing (tactically), focuses on the realities of attempting to function in contemporary society while having non-neurotypical experiences of the world. The interviews for existing (tactically) explore the truth, beauty, and chaos of having a brain that functions outside of what society has decided is “normal.” [ … ] I hoped to create space for deep, authentic conversation about the embodied experiences of neurodivergence and the reverberations that those experiences have on our lives. To fully claim this space, I created a multifaceted work that exists in a variety of spaces, including a physical installation for galleries, a website, and the emotional space of each interview.”
“It is my strong belief that having a supportive and informed community is the most essential determinant of success for those deemed different by society. And for those of us that have invisible issues, it is so crucial to hear other people talking about our issues as it is not necessarily easy to identify each other in the world—especially when and where there is a lack of acceptance and being “out” can hurt your social or economic standing. Thus, I think the thing that these stories have to offer is a building block to a sense of community. By sharing stories we learn that there are others out there like us, and that they can offer us information, support, and solidarity […] in order to dismantle systems that oppress and other us we need to foster a deeper empathy between those-that-other and those-that-are-othered which require us to care more about and for everyone in our communities.”
These ideas do not belong to me, my thinking about this work as well as my lived experience are indelibly shaped by thinkers in the Disability Justice + Emergent Strategy + Transformative Justice movements and so I wanted to include some quotes from some of the community elders that inspire me:
“A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential, that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met.”Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
“Many of us who are disabled are not particularly likable or popular in general or amid the abled. Ableism means that we—with our panic attacks, our trauma, our triggers, our nagging need for fat seating or wheelchair access, our crankiness at inaccessibility, again, our staying home—are seen as pains in the ass, not particularly cool or sexy or interesting. Ableism, again, insists on either the supercrip (able to keep up with able-bodied club spaces, meetings, and jobs with little or no access needs) or the pathetic cripple. Ableism and poverty and racism mean that many of us are indeed in bad moods. Psychic difference and neurodivergence also mean that we may be blunt, depressed, or “hard to deal with” by the tenants of an ableist world.”Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
“Access intimacy is knowing that someone else is willing to be with me in the never-ending and ever-changing daily obstacle course that is navigating an inaccessible world. It is knowing that I will not be alone in the stunning silence, avoidance and denial of ableism by almost every able-bodied person I have ever and will ever come in contact with. Access intimacy is knowing that I will not be alone in the stealth, insidious poison that is ableism.” #Mia.MingusMia Mingus
“I believe that we are in an imagination battle, and almost everything about how we orient toward our bodies is shaped by fearful imaginations. Imaginations that fear Blackness, brownness, fatness, queerness, disability, difference. Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality.”
adrienne maree brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good
This is a place.
It holds many names.
It has many functions.
It is a nest
woven between soaked sheets
and propped up pillows.
It is a forest,
alive, alive with daydreams
and nightmares hunting each other
in metabolic delight.
It is an escape route
out of the thick smog,
a doorway to deep breathing
under weighted blankets and heating pads.
This place shifts like a sand dune
shaped into many things
by the winds
Silent and dark.
a node in a network of friends,
by what we share.
a place of rebellion and revolt,
and rest was my weapon of choice.
But right here, right now
it is a crucible of creation,
an altar to those who lay here before me and chanted:
Not asking for permission.
I am, I am.
We are, we are.
notes from assistant-managing a dietary supplements store
notes from assistant-managing a dietary supplements store
Crystal clear deciduous dreams
where a body uprooted
taps back into the rhizome
Up on the fronds new wings
take flight by attempting
first to fall but find wind
Caught in the bark a beetle
nestles mandibles ever deeper
tunnels and lays the grub
Hum along the chestnut cache
buried where roots gape,
dirt piles with the years.
It’s memory that’s held in the decay
leaves nothing behind and unturned
sleep remembers a simple moment
Movement, the woodpecker’s red crest
staggers to its rhythm. It finds
the beetle hidden, almost.
A swallowed breath hangs
where the beaver decided not to cut:
custodial intelligence is gently exercised.
Excitement builds to a fever pitch
Where the fox spreads its tidings
A party, soon to occur.
Hilarity is a generalized state.
It’s happenstance and coincidence
that illusion of unexpected crossings.
Expect less. Open to more.
Scream when it feels right
Not because there’s a reason
but maybe there’s that, too.
A joy in noise
Half-friend crossed in the staircase in-out, up-down
Goes by the name Harriet, kissed once at 3am
“Oh, you’re not staying for the party?”
Collective understanding develops when I
take it upon myself to voice disagreement.
Similarly: healing is an accumulation of balance
harmony, weight anchored poured molten down
one leg and the other.
The eyes get too much
when I forget to blink
the neon flickers flash
bulb and to us the nerves
wrecked by artifice, laughable
to be back here after a w/e
of wonder, what the fuck
is this all there is, here
of course inward the truth
remains potent, cogent portents
carried upon the wing of a storm
ice falls from the sheet metal roof
wind howls and so I wake up alone
oh my lover’s left for the city.
Apprehend total war
in the neatly packaged dehydrated cheese bites
for sale at the health food store
where people learn to replace massmarket chips
with ones that come in different plastic.
Instead of waves they crackle
the bag reseals
the asterisk means organic
and I suppose that’s a start.
Industrialism won’t loosten its grip
until it’s consumed itself to death.
Nothing makes me laugh
when I glimpse through
How am I (lucky enough)
to feel safe in the silence?
She imagines her father
fears nuclear war, maybe
and that’s why he stocks
food for winter. As if
there’s only one way for supply
chains to collapse.
What speaks vibration tuned
up down the spine its joy
tears well but don’t flow here
the freezers wheeze too loud
entirely probable mistakes mean
money comes in when you
Move beyond the absurd need to Do.
Wait for it—keep waiting.
What if nothing is still the answer?
Assailed by doubts, here’s a reminder:
sitting quietly your friend needs help
gentleness shared, comfort attained for a time.
Merely floating, the rock breaking
the pond’s surface tension
sinking the primeval dark
embrace where shadow is honest
Sacrament invented, made up
of those intuitions and traditions
pieced together where
the burrow makes itself seen.
Options? Far fewer than you might
expect. Some are true but few
and far between come from
the honest calling. Heartache
melds pain and joy. Know this:
Pragmatics are worth getting settled.
And she expected nothing, or less.
Learned at 22 that planning too far
ahead, further than the next season
or so, ultimately leads to ruin.
So Harriet laughed at the stars again
like Unju taught her once:
“That’s Fomalhaut,” they’d say, pointing.
“Remember that name and you’ll never
ever be alone.” After all this,
the star remains,
A hand struggles with the clay
pottery wheel in an attempt to subdue
the shape rather than collaborate with
its desire to take form. I’m just
as impatient as I was
back then there, huh? Of course
the difference is recognition. A body
a clay pot, is most potent in its emptiness.
She claims to sleep at night
unperturbed (by the subtle self)
I wonder whether she wonders
how many doors she hasn’t opened
questioned, knocked up some other
tree, leaves you wondering
how old will she be
when she wakes up to her soul?
Distill the anxious mind
time is the alembic
through which the fumes focus.
Napping through the winter
solstice to honour the dark
descent’s renewal moving into
light the axis shifts
Your friend is the shared super
organism we all are. Joke’s on
the skeptics attending the party
unaware of the fête
all within them
The child knows it is a stone
bouldering at play, playing at
remembering dust of star to
rock, compact, crawling
with moss over quick centuries.
Building a literary space that centres queer/crip realities.
“Writers and people in literature need each other for feedback, community, collaboration, and friendship!” When writer, journalist, and co-founder of CripTalkCorner Aimee Louw emailed Metonymy in early 2020 about a disability justice writing group, we were thrilled. As she noted, a writing club was in the spirit of community-building that we aspired to and tried to foster—from the events we held to the books we published. Aimee was excited to collaborate with Metonymy, and vice versa, and so we decided to meet up.
Metonymy is a small queer publisher based in Tio’tia:ke/Mooniyang/Montreal with a mandate to publish work that “transgresses boundaries and undermines the status quo.” Someone recently described us as a press that publishes “authors and books that reframe power and affirm life,” which we were happy to hear! It started as (and is still largely) a two-person project. Ashley Fortier and I had been on the collective behind Queer Between the Covers, an annual book fair trying to bring reading materials in English to the homos of Montreal that had a “commitment to anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, anti-ableism, feminism, and gender and body self-determination.” Also, “Gay nerds unite!” The press was launched at a community reading and celebration at the end of this book fair in August 2014, and the spirit of this collectivity and community creativity is what we have tried and continue to try to bring into the work we do as publishers.
Aimee noted that she would bring her well-developed community-building and facilitation skills to Metonymy, a press whose mandate she supported. She’d recently moved back from Vancouver, where she’d been part of a low-barrier writing group, Shut Up and Write, started by author Eaton Hamilton, and she wanted to initiate a similar project in Montreal. So, in late January 2020, Ashley, Aimee, and I met up at the café Chez l’Éditeur (lol) in Griffintown. A photo of the tree in the café’s window-well is one of the last ones I have from the beforetimes. Aimee presented her disability justice writing group in more detail, her experience and parameters, and we all discussed funding and spaces, when to get started, who to reach out to, prompts and open-concept writing sessions. We left excited to work together, perhaps naively unaware of the swift and unruly barriers that lay ahead.
But disabled folks, queers, and community organizers are familiar with adapting to stomach-flipping devastation, new landscapes, and restrictions. Over the next few months, the three of us collaborated to secure state and organizational support, beyond Metonymy resources, to fund her work, and Aimee figured out break-out rooms and captioning on Zoom. As the pandemic persisted, and openings/closings pulsed through the city, the virtual writing club carried on as an accessible group activity.
However, Ashley and I still know very little about the Unruly Writers. Beyond planning stages early in the pandemic, we’ve promoted the group, attended occasionally, and offered hosting platforms. But the reality of an activity not being in person makes it a virtual reality for us. Aimee knows the writers in this issue, and Ashley and I look forward to getting to know their work through Font. In late 2021, Metonymy moved offices, to a new place with more book storage and access to a first-floor step-free community space. One day, we hope to be able to introduce the Unruly Writers to that location, when and if people are comfortable IRL. We want to continue to support Aimee’s vision from the outset: “a space where people’s comfort and queer/crip [reality] is central, not an add-on or ‘accommodation,’ so that instead of focusing on access, we can focus on advancing our writing projects, playing with genre, and crafting the stories that we want to tell!”