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Susan Stinson

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June 21st, 2017

11:59 pm: Solstice
While we were splashing in the river, tossing small rocks and a few big ones, listening to the operatic leaps of dogs jumping in for their sticks, playing a score for rocks, people, and water on a perfect Solstice evening, a teenager in a bikini got in the river with her friends. A hooded merganser with her great rust-colored tuft swam across the river with a long line of young paddling behind. I slapped my bare feet on mud. I found a beat on a hollow log I was sitting on. There was freedom and sweetness playing with the others, and sudden depths in listening to their splashes, beats, plunks and sprinkles. The leaves whispered and called, whispered and called, rustled, rustled, rubbed, surged, sang, moved.

This was inspired from event that I participated in today.  This is from the open, public invitation?  Join us in a performance of Dean Rosenthal's piece Stones/Water/Time/Breath at the Mill River led by Sabine Merz. Bring stones of all sizes or any size you like and you’re ready to make some music.

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May 23rd, 2017

05:24 pm: Remembering Dot Nelson Turnier
I am sad to hear about the death of Dot Nelson Turnier.  Dot was the founder of NOLOSE.

Photo: Dot Nelson Turnier, NOLOSE 2004. Photo by: Max Airborne

Here is an excerpt from the NOLOSE website about the group’s mission and history. 

Nolose is a volunteer-run organization dedicated to ending the oppression of fat people and creating vibrant fat queer culture.
Nolose was founded as the National Organization of Lesbians of Size Everywhere by Dot Nelson-Turnier, after the periodical Lesbian Connection published an image of a fat woman on its cover and many people among its readership reacted negatively. Dot funded Nolose herself for the first two years, before recruiting a board of directors and expanding the from a New York regional base to a national and international community.

Nolose’s gender policy was changed to include women and trans folks in the early 2000s, and in 2011 we became an organization by and for people of all genders.

The creation of that group, which just funded amazing regional projects across the country,  is powerful achievement, which brought joy, stimulation, and respite to me and so many others.  I met Dot at a fat feminist conference before NOLOSE. I remember sitting at a table in a hotel in New York or New Jersey, listening as Dot took responsibility for managing some group finances.  I didn’t know Dot well at the time, but a kind of good-hearted, big-spirited, down-to-earth civic-mindedness radiated from every word. I said to Dot, “It’s great to see some new leadership stepping up.” Little did I know how Dot strongly would both step up and do the difficult task of letting the group go to keep growing when the time came.

Dot was personally generous to me many times. There were years that I only made it to NOLOSE because Dot covered my registration to the conference. When I was reeling from getting fat-hating mail that felt like a punch in the gut I had a hard time recovering from, Dot and Dian came from New Jersey for the Speak-Out Against Fat Hatred we held in Northampton, and Dot filmed the whole event. Dot made sure that I knew that my writing mattered. I can’t begin to say how much that kind of community appreciation mattered to me when my work got a chilly reception at publishers not aware that there were readers eager for nuanced, complicated stories of fat queers that did not end in redemptive weight loss.

I remember hanging out in a hotel room with Dot, Dian, Miriam and Summer (both with very long, dedicated histories of organizing fat community) before a conference. I have such a vivid memory of Dot and Dian making a dramatic entrance to the dance floor in evening-wear, both riding scooters. It was such a pleasure to meet their daughter when she joined their family.  I can hear Dot and the mighty disability rights activist Mary Frances Platt having a quick, tough, funny exchange in a hotel lobby in which Mary Frances offered Dot business advice, and Dot did not in any way pretend to take it.

I mostly lost touch with Dot and Dian when they moved to Texas.  (Texas!)  I was delighted when I heard that Dot was a running for a political office as Democrat, and I do think I made a small donation to that campaign.  People are still getting gifts from Dot who may or may not know that that’s true. I remember.  I am grateful.  I’ll miss Dot's presence in this world.

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April 21st, 2017

03:45 pm: Senses
From Sensory Worlds in Early America, Peter Charles Hoffer: "Consider that we have five distinct senses -- sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste -- only because that is how we define sensation....According to the Christian theology Origen, humans had five spiritual senses to match the material ones -- memory, instinct, imagination, fantasy and common sense."

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April 13th, 2017

02:48 pm: New Interview: Grab the Lapels
There is a new interview with me posted at Grab the Lapels, a book blog by writer and critic Melanie Page.

The interview took me through all of my previous books to my present time.  As I wrote my answers, I realized that, in some ways, the move I made to write Spider in a Tree after Venus of Chalk in some ways mirrored what Carline, the protagonist of Venus of Chalk, did in pressing herself to confront the sources of her internalized fat hatred.  Doing a deep dive into the religious and social histories of my New England town brought me to grapple with the implications of the northern slavery and the legacies of that history that had continued unchallenged in aspects of my culture, of my inner life.  All of that work is ongoing, of course.  It's useful for me to see that at this intense moment.

Melanie Page is a literary background and a strong voice as critic.  She's given herself the challenge in 2017 of reading fat positive fiction written by women.  She's finding herself disappointed by many of the books she's reading.  I glad that she's taking this on. It feels to me like part of a new wave of writing around fatness and a new practice of readers asking for more.  I hope it's true. 

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March 21st, 2017

12:31 pm: Save the National Endowment for the Arts
I've never received an NEA grant in support of my writing. But I've applied for one every year I was eligible since the early 1980s. Before I had met the publication requirement — it was/is something like publish five different stories or novel excerpts in two different publications that regularly publish fiction or publish a book within the past ten years — I used the eligibility requirement as goal. I knew that one of my best and strangest teachers as an undergraduate, the ornery poet Ed Dorn, may he rest in piece, had never received an NEA grant and that the lesbian content of much my work might create barriers to in an awards process that had been subject to political scrutiny. That means that I've been applying for an NEA grant for more than thirty years. I've got an application in right now. That was the hardest one yet to get together the hope and the will to do in the current political climate. I did it, though. We are not giving up important things like public support for the arts when they are threaten but have not been eliminated, not giving up that easy. For me, applying for an NEA grant all of these years has been an act of commitment to my work. I believe that my writing matters. I believe that it's worthy of funding, that it is valuable to others. I keep thinking about how differently some people understand and tell stories about the seventeenth and eighteenth century in ths country than how I tell them. I'm trying to tell a story good and true enough (true in the deep way of all powerful fiction, says me), that it will be in the minds and hearts of people, bumping up against those other stories, shaping them. I have always been ambitious for my writing, ambitious about who it might speak to, what it might do. I know how much art of all kinds has moved, pleased, comforted, transformed, taught, and opened expansive new rooms in my inner worlds. The NEA is important. The NEH is important. Support to museums and libraries are crucial to me every day. The Corporation for Public Broadcast keeps me company in so many moments.  #SavetheNEA

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February 15th, 2017

09:27 pm: Fat Imagination at Organ Recital
That was an incredible night of fat art. Seriously, I've never experienced anything like that — one tremendously moving piece after the other. I feel as if my blood is moving through my body a little more freely after that. Great to see so many folks I haven't seen in too many years. Also: tin foil walls.

I'm typing riding backwards on the train home, so disruptions might happen. I want to tell you a little more about Fat Imagination Monday night.

You should know that most people there were coming straight from work on a cold, windy February Monday night. Kelli Dunham is organizing a week-long storytelling festival in on bodies, health and healthcare while doing a demanding fulltime job. Everybody is under extra pressure because the threat of loss of healthcare, jobs, homes, because of tension created or increased by so many things right now. This night of storytelling was an act of resistance. It was a profound one.

People came out! The seats were full. JACK is a community arts space, and I was reminded of how important that is. The women's bookstores used to work like that for me and communities I was in Northampton. I miss them. (The library, too, at times in other forms.) We moved the sturdy, armless chairs from the back tier of the low risers to the floor to create more accessible seating. (Chairs with arms often cut into my legs or don't fit at all. I'm not the only one.) There was a mike, a stool, and a music stand. There was a table covered with a cloth with pictures of Divine as an altar with photos and objects to remember Heather MacAllister and other beloved folks who have died.

Glenn Marla and Hana Malia curated the event. I would grab the chance to see Glenn perform any time, and advise everybody else to do the same. Both of them were so good, and their gifts, art, and community engagement drew the whole thing together and held us in the common warm, attentive space in such skilled, warm, funny ways.   Glenn opened with the story of a call he made to his mother on the night of the presidential election. He had a painted cat food can phone, a great mother puppet, and painted pasta backdrop with ricotta cheese that dropped from above like a great cloud. Glenn's story made me braver because he was making such wonderful, moving, tender-hearted, honest art out of things that sound a lot like the chronic gut ache I've had in response to so such much news coming out of the election. It was amazing. 

Later, Hana also told a great story, that swung from something that had happened that day at work to a gnarly old fat dyke of a teacher she had had when she was a kid, who used to ask her to stay after school to practice yelling out the window to encourage her to speak up more in class and went swimming with the class, locker room and all, with her one very present and one missing breast. Then Hana sat down in her gold glitter skirt and general utter gorgeousness and sang the Bonnie Raitt/John Prine song, "Angel From Montgomery."  Sang it so beautifully!  I've loved that song ever since my older brother brought a Bonnie Raitt album home from college.  It was as if Hana was laying a gift especially for me on the Divine tablecloth table.  Also, Hana was visibly moved by my story in a way that was another deep gift.  Deeper, really, than I can say. 

Everybody who read was great. It's really true. I keep losing the signal and am going to be overtaken by events once I get home, but if you seek out the other storytellers at the Organ Recital site or the Fat Imagination event page, you won't be sorry.  Here they are:

Roz the Diva
Geleni Fontaine
Fancy Feast
Bryson Rose
Janie Martinez
Leah Strock

PS  I wrote about the first fat event Glenn Marla performed in -- it was one I read in, too.  It was a benefit for Nolose called Jiggle-O.

Photo credit Kelli Dunham

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February 8th, 2017

11:34 pm: Monday, Feb 13: Fat Imagination, night of fat storytellers
They've just announced the line up for this!  It's very exciting -- and a little bit intimidating, too.  Please come if you're near Brooklyn next Monday!  Fight for our bodies! Fight for our stories!
Organ Recital presents: FAT IMAGINATION, A night of fat storytellers curated bye Hana Malia and Glenn Marla 

Fat Imagination celebrates the magic it takes for fat people to live despite the forces intent on dehumanizing and shaming fat bodies, fat sexuality, and fat stories into silence .
In a world that hates us "for our own good," tonight is a night where we allow our stories to know better. Where we will use our histories, our language, and our bodies to remember where we come from and imagine the worlds we want to build each other.
Susan Stinson
World Famous "BOB*
Roz the Diva
Geleni Fontaine
Fancy Feast
Bryson Rose
Janie Martinez
Leah Strock
Finally, to further celebrate our many forms of Fat Imagination and the 10th anniversary of the death of fat activist and founder of Big Burlesque The Original Fat-Bottom Revue Heather MacAllister aka Reva Lucian, we welcome you to contribute to a communal altar in the space. Bring offerings for our dead and living fat communities, our fears, our fucking, our dances, our dreams, and our love.
Sliding scale $5-$15 with proceeds going to support Organ Recital and an accessible night for all performers.

Location: Jack Brooklyn (505 ½ Waverly Avenue between Fulton and Atlantic in Clinton Hill) The theater has 55 chairs plus floor seating, is wheelchair accessible, and has tinfoil walls.

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January 25th, 2017

08:53 pm: Organ Recital Feb 13
Organ Recital is a storytelling festival about bodies, health, and healthcare being held in at Jack in Brooklyn February 13 - 18.  The festival organizer is the wonderful storyteller, comic, nurse (and more!) Kelli Dunham.

I'm going to be part of FAT IMAGINATION, an evening of fat storytellers curated by Hana Malia and Glenn Marla.  February 13, 7 pm.

Here's the whole schedule.

Kelli writes    FIGHT FOR OUR BODIES
                       FIGHT FOR OUR STORIES

I am so in the mood to do just that. More later.  Come if you can!

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September 17th, 2016

05:55 pm: Edward Albee
I've been thinking about Edward Albee. We never spoke, but he got a Pioneer Award from Lambda Literary in 2011, the year I got an Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Award. His speech caused a stir because he said that he wasn't a gay writer, but a writer who happened to be gay. (Terrence McNally, the playwright who introduced him, said that he picked him up at a party way back in the day.) I was so full of joy that day, and he was surely part of that for me, since he made me part of his lineage by showing up for that honor, no matter what he said about it. I mean, I already was: I read Zoo Story in high school. I'd seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I want to read or see the rest of his work, sooner or later. I got a stubborn, affectionate family feeling from him from the stage. May he rest in peace.

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July 27th, 2016

12:02 pm: Last night I stopped by the Tuesday farmers market behind Thornes. I wanted blueberries, and I got them. I also got some of those little orange tomatoes. Ran into Ruthy. She's part of Pedal People, and she has a show on Valley Free Radio about people who live around here. (I love that.) She recently read my first novel, Fat Girl Dances with Rocks, and she's going to interview me on the show on Wednesday, Aug 10, 4 pm.

Ruth was talking to another woman I recognized from years and years in the community, but whose name I've forgotten. She was in the process of getting a battery kit for her bike. Maybe we'll do a public forum and e-bikes and trikes sometime.

While we were talking, I dropped a little orange tomato, which split. Ruthy picked it up, said, "It's still good," then showed me that she was carrying a split watermelon. "Want some?" She broke it open and handed me a piece. Friends, it was yellow inside. I had never seen the like of it. It was sweet, cold, sticky and perfect. I rode home covered with juice.

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