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Creativity And Survival

Dee Ouellette
Date Published: 


Edited by Sabrina Chapadjiev

Seven Stories Press, 2008

Live Through This is a powerful collection of honest voices reflecting on and sharing experiences of addiction, anorexia, cutting, cancer diagnosis and treatment, depression, living in an abusive relationship, self-destruction, and other behaviors and circumstances brutalizing and destroying us in white-supremacist imperialist patriarchy. The twenty submissions showcase truth-telling and resilience after trauma and provoke dialogue, question assumptions, and ask questions in a rotten system where all minds and bodies are under attack. This collection is, and provides resources for, folks living through their own experiences. There is a simple and forbidden power in these voices.

The contributors to the collection are mostly women from the US and include Nan Goldin, bell hooks, Patricia Smith, Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, Eileen Myles, Fly, Carolyn Gage, Diane DiMassa, Inga Muscio, Kate Bornstein, Toni Blackman, Cristy Road, Nicole Blackman, Silas Howard, Bonfire Madigan, Daphne Gottlieb, Stephanie Howell and one anonymous voice, as well as a preface from the editor Sabrina Chapadjiev. For those who don’t yet mix art with their feminist revolution-making or who are not centered in the US, some of these names may be unfamiliar. Cristy Road, Fly, Kate Bornstein and Diane DiMassa incorporated comics and drawing into their pieces, with the last making me long for a lost compilation of Hothead Paisan comics. Many of the contributors are in theater or performance including Annie Sprinkle, Bonfire Madigan, Toni Blackman, Nicole Blackman, Stephanie Howell and Kate Bornstein. Listening to these voices I felt encouraged to tell my own story of transforming survival into creativity and creativity into survival.

In reflecting on Live Through This, for me it was helpful to consider what this collection is and what it is not. The collection is a powerful exploration of the intersection of these experiences with art and creativity. It is a resource and a list of resources. It is an excellent addition to a study group reading list—perhaps one including Feminism Is for Everybody by bell hooks, The Survivors Guide to Sex by Stacy Haines, Men’s Work by Paul Kivel, This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, the recent anthologies Colonize This: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, and Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology (reviewed in Left Turn #25).

Strength to resist

It is not a framework for understanding the assault of white-supremacist imperialist patriarchy on our minds and bodies. It is not about organizing or a call to organize, though some contributors seem to think this might be a good idea. Lesbian feminist playwright Carolyn Gage in her submission titled, “Rewriting the Script,” provides this instructive quote from anti-lynching organizer Ida B. Wells: “I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap. I had already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me this would even up the score a little bit.”

Given the range of voices and experiences, trauma, creativity, and survival seem a better frame than the frame of self-destruction and creativity, which Chapadjiev has chosen for this collection. In her piece entitled, “no more crying,” bell hooks addresses the topic of trauma directly. She writes, “Understanding that I was not to blame for the pain and abuse inflicted on me helped me to survive … I learned that children were often the unjust targets of adult rage, frustration, and projection. Knowing that I was an unjust target did nothing to ease the depths of my pain yet it did give me the strength to resist.”

I imagined more voices and experiences reflecting a broader section of global experience and including narratives examining the traumas of indigenous land theft, colonization, war, imprisonment, ecological destruction, and environmental racism. I wanted all of what I read and more: more ages (parents and children), more cultures, more continents, more religions, more genders, more experiences, more narratives, and more art. Even so, I find myself talking about this book in a positive way a lot and recommending it to everybody. I am recommending it to you.