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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss Warmland.

Posts tagged care



My birthday falls a mere two weeks after Christmas, so I’ve always advocated for a meaningful celebration. If I don’t, people tend to be too broke and too “peopled-out” to care about getting together. In my twenties, I started holding “Lyssmas”, a holiday where I’d gather all my favourite people to eat waffles and chocolate, listen to the entire Propaghandi discography on vinyl, and explore outside. Upon invitation, many friends would ask who else was going only to discover that they didn’t know many other people who would be gathering. I’m a person with a variety of interests who occupies many worlds, so I would inevitably derive the guestlist from my favourite people from each area of my life. A couple friends from theatre, a couple friends from university, a couple punks, one or two friends from high school, a few friends I’d met through my partner, some other community-oriented artists. I’d trust that they would all get along just fine, and probably even swimmingly. It was at one of these Lyssmas gatherings that I overheard one of my oldest friends refer to me as a “friend curator”.
Being named a “friend curator” felt like the highest honour. I connected with people who shared my fundamental values and who brought their unique skills and overall essence to my life in a way I appreciated. I really value connecting with other human beings for who they are. I appreciate it from an emotional place, and also from a place of curiosity. I love learning about the inside of someone’s head, especially when their lens is clearly different from my own. When someone brings up an idea or initiative, I can almost always say, “do you know [so and so]? They might be interested in this – do you want me to connect you with them?”. In fact, this is often the most valuable contribution I can bring to a team.

Needless to say, I’m also interested in community. What is it? What does it even mean? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do we prioritize collective care while maintaining a sense of autonomy? What can I bring to the table and what do I need? Who is sitting at this table, who’s missing from the table and what barriers keep them from joining in? Why do the people showing up feel invited? I have a lot of ideas about answers to these questions, but I’m also clear about the fact that there isn’t one simple answer. What I do know for sure is that, when it comes to building community, being a friend curator comes in handy.

When I became a parent, I expected to be able to approach it as a well-connected anarchafeminst. As a friend curator. I expected to be able to meet with and connect with other parents who, again, shared my fundamental values and also brought their own unique skills and outlooks to any conversation around parenting. I expected to be able to reject ways of parenting that replicated the power dynamics that are rooted in disconnection, and therefore, oppression and all that comes with it. 

Having expectations is something I struggle with, because my brain wants things to happen logically. Since I’ve spent nearly thirty years honing my connection-building skills, I expect that I’ll be able to draw on connection when I need it. Unfortunately, expectations don’t normally pan out that way, because they centre our own reality rather than the reality of another person/ other people in the relationship. It essentially actively undermines their autonomy and cheats everyone out of connection. Having expectations as a community-oriented, friend-curating new parent was a big mistake.

The advent of parenthood came for me on the wings of a global pandemic, a time when drawing on my connections looked entirely different than I’d expected, and this was disappointing. Regardless, in the first year of parenthood, I survived and found every gift I could in forming my own unique relationship with my son while redefining other relationships in my life: my partnership, my role as a daughter/sister/niece/grandaughter, my role as a friend, my role as an activist. I was able to come home to who I was as a carer without any background noise of trying to navigate external relationships in person. My world turned virtual, and with that, came the opportunity to practice stricter boundaries. Conversations about consent became more mainstream, as everyone navigated what level of in-person meeting was comfortable for them, depending on a multitude of factors. So many of those blurry answers to that question, “How do we prioritize collective care while maintaining a sense of autonomy?” became simultaneously collective and divisive. Through the pandemic, I continue to receive the gift of the opportunity to expand my own ideas around this question, while I model navigating it for my child. And as is the theme of pandemic new-parenthood for me, it’s a gift to embrace the completely unexpected. 

The other gift that came from the urge to make connections during this time has been through prioritizing connecting with my child. Although I have felt disconnected in many ways, including from the general political climate we’re situated in, I’ve been able to channel that need for community and connection to be centred on my relationship with my child during the formative years of his life. The general culture we’re situated in discourages this level of connection through the focus on working outside the home in order to meet basic human needs. We’re all so busy trying to survive under late capitalism, that we’re fundamentally disconnected from our children from an early age. One thing about the effect the pandemic has had on the way our society functions is that it’s slowed life down in a way that forces us to be with the people in our own dwellings. This can be a good thing in some homes, although it’s also resulted in an increase in domestic violence

I’ve discovered that there are both good and bad outcomes related to being connected to our children without the balance of connection with our greater communities. It’s been a few years since I celebrated Lyssmas, and I really miss it. I do. I feel the absence of gathering with important people in my life, to learn from them and share with them. Still, I’m grateful for technology, I’m grateful to have a place to live, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to build connection with my child. My hope for him is that this creates a radical sense of connectedness, confidence, and a deep well to draw from as he embarks on the work he’ll do in this world and the person he’ll be. My hope for myself is that I use this time to reflect on the same questions I’ve been asking myself for years with an entirely new perspective.

What is community? What does it even mean? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do we prioritize collective care while maintaining a sense of autonomy? What can I bring to the table and what do I need? Who is sitting at this table, and why are the people who aren’t at the table missing? Why do the people showing up feel invited?

I’m going to keep asking these questions and gathering more thoughts in response to them. I’m going to continue to curate friends and to value them for who they are. And I’m going to keep on actively caring for and connecting myself, my family, and for my communities. From the outside, it may look like I’m doing nothing, but I can confidently assert that this is big work. Important work. And I’m proud to be on this destination-void ride. 

Check out my conversation with Harmony Page!



We talk about:
– Harmony’s thoughts about the recent emotional labour and woman empowerment episodes
– An update since her last time on the show
– Why women are awesome
– Coping with feeling isolated
– relationships during the pandemic
– Hiking and outdoor gear
– Learning to love being outside in the winter
– How Harmony’s relationships with humans and the environment keep her well

Check out my conversation with Holly Barclay!

Image may contain: 1 person, stripes
We chat about:

  • Why Holly chose to become a librarian and archivist
  • What the process of becoming a librarian and archivist has been like
  • How Ford’s government has impacted libraries in Ontario
  • Working with plants
  • Holly’s favourite bee facts
  • Navigating pregnancy and childbirth as a feminist in a rural area
  • Becoming a mother- and the identity shift associated with it
  • Care work, emotional labour, and asking for what we need
  • How Holly’s work keeps her well
  • and more!

Featured Tunes:
At the Library by Green Day
Lions and Tigers by Sleater Kinney
Prelude No. 7 of Book 1 (Debussy) by Daniel Weirsma
Braille by Regina Spektor

It’s often the people
Who make shit move
Who decay the slowest
Even though we’re the ones
With the most wear
Because like a leather
We are pliable after years
Of work and the creases
In these bodies we wear
Have heard stories that
Are enough to
Build bridges through
Literally
Fucking
Anything
Because these bodies we wear
Are enough to house us
And there are moments
We remember to pause
Long enough to repair
Because those broken plywood
Rafters are enough to
Hold shelter through
Literally
Fucking
Anything.

My body was moss
Curled over the edges
Of a mountain
I didn’t even remember
Climbing
So when I curled ’round
The edge to see the
Free fall below
I said to myself,
“it’s okay to leave
Space to grow ’til
Your roots reach the ground”
So I reached my roots
Down and buried them
Until they were so
Warmed by the heat
From the core of
The earth that they burned.

It is easy
To give myself to you
To meet you
Where you are when
You need care
Because I know how to
Give
But when it comes to my
Own circle
This body is covered in skin
Like metal where I
Boil my own insides
To steep the herbs that
Grow from my liver
And as my guts turn
To desert I
Find myself
Far less parched than
Quenched by this
Well I draw from
As you drink.

I often feel compelled
To do as much as this
Glass picture frame that
Houses
My ever-moving self
Will allow me to do not
Because I feel obligated but
Because I feel true and honest
Joy
When my finger tips graze the
Energy of your toe tips
When our voices mix
Like cream blends into fresh coffee
My joy is not fleeting
Because it has roots
So when my chest caves in,
Instead of speaking my truth,
I am called to rest.

Okay, I don’t really know what the revolution will look like. To me, it’s already happening. It looks like: community gardens/ community meetings/ learning to take care of ourselves (whatever that means)/ community dinners/ debriefs/ sober spaces/ systemic institutions that are honestly willing to accept feedback/ spaces that aren’t sober/ art groups/engaging in discussion about what caring for one another looks like. The reason those things feel revolutionary to me is the focus on simultaneously taking care of myself and also actively caring for the people (and other non-human beings) in my life. 
 
Standpoint theory is a postmodern feminist assertion that day to day experience is what shapes a person’s knowledge of the world, which informs the way they experience the world and shapes their identity. Scholars such as Sandra Harding, Nancy Heartsick, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith have written about it, and a lot of modern-day feminism is approached according to it. You and I went to a theatre to see a play and I sat front and centre and you sat on the back, stage right. After the play, we sit down for coffee and discuss. You saw things that I didn’t see and I noticed things you didn’t notice because we had different perspectives of the performance. Similarly, if you are a straight, masculine person of colour, you are going to experience things differently than I, a queer, femme, white person. Intersectionality is the concept that identity is comprised of multiple standpoints, all of which work together to inform the experiences and identity of a person. Identity informs experience because the world we live in is one comprised of thousands of years worth of historically informed power dynamics which are embedded in defining concepts that construct social and legal systems. Comprehending identity according to standpoint theory and intersectionality can be difficult, because once you think about yourself in relation to these concepts, you’re faced with the realty that you’re privileged in some ways, and likely being systemically oppressed (oppression = systemic power + prejudice) in some ways as well. This is a complex reality to be faced with. But when you start to explore it, beautiful things happen.
 
Finding your “authentic self” is, simply, a never ending process. It’s a process full of checking in with yourself about what qualities and subject positions make up your identity, and how you perform your identity in relation to the social world. To me, finding for my authentic self means analyzing my subject positions, and it also means being honest about my capacity to actively care for both myself and others. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Being honest with myself about my capacity. This requires me to make myself vulnerable enough to be authentic with myself. It’s been a far from linear journey towards recognizing my capacity in this sense. I am a person who gives until I am depleted. This may sound like a positive quality, and in some ways, it is. But in other ways, it’s rooted in selfishness. I get off on caring or other people. Call it mommy issues, call it a saviour complex, either way, caring for others makes me feel good. But this can be problematic in that not only does it deplete myself, but it leads me to inserting myself into peoples’ lives because I identify them as needing to be cared for. 
 
This is where the concept of capacity comes in. When I get that urge to care, I ask myself: What is my capacity to engage in the situation? Sometimes, the answer is that I am feeling relatively emotionally well, relatively physically well, and I have the time to allow to providing care for someone. Sometimes, I am struggling with pain or mental health shit that lessens my capacity. Sometimes, I don’t have time. Sometimes, I weigh the amount of emotional labour the other person has contributed outward when they had the capacity and the balance is off for me. 
 
The next question I ask myself is: why do I feel that someone may benefit from my emotional labour? Sometimes, the answer is that I have skills or knowledge that may be useful. Sometimes, it’s that the person has explicitly asked for support, advice, counselling, or another form of active caring. Sometimes, the answer is that I feel compelled to do something that I think may make someone else’s life easier or happier, whether they agree or not. 
 
As always, consent is key when caring, and it’s a much more complicated concept than someone asking for emotional labour or not. Ideally, we would live in a society where consent is always given verbally and explicitly. “I need support/advice/help/validation, is it within your capacity too engage in this kind of emotional labour”. I actually have groups of friends where we do this and people will actually reflect and acknowledge whether or not they have the capacity to engage, and in what way. I feel that moving towards this kind of mutual, consensual exchange of emotional labour is absolutely revolutionary. Of course, there are situations where people (ie. me) assume predetermined consent, or where people are physically and emotionally unable to take care of themselves in a way that puts themselves or others in danger. This is where this concept gets really complicated, and I can’t even begin to think of answers. But this is where discussions come into play. The almighty exchange of knowledge based in lived experience.
 
So, now you’re thinking about authenticity, capacity, and emotional labour, but what next? I think that with this process, there eventually comes a sense of assertiveness. I understand my Self, my capacity, my needs, and I am comfortable asking for them and receiving them. There also comes a time and place where you find a sense of “okayness”. I am okay with my Self and what is happening in this moment because I am in it, and it will pass one way or another in a way that will contribute to my process and my experience of the world. Sometimes this is simple, other times, it may challenge the very essence of your sense of Self, and it feels like you’re back where you began. This concept of “okayness” is often referring to as “radical acceptance”.
 
How are these concepts revolutionary? By actively caring for both your Self and the people around you, it alters the workings of our social world. First on a personal level, and then an interpersonal one. It shifts focus from productivity, to an ethic of care, which is arguably far more complicated, but also more sustainable. This shift toward an ethic of care then expands:
 
Self -> interpersonal ->  social systems -> physical environment.
 
When we learn to prioritize an ethic of care in accordance to the capacity of each of our authentic selves, that is absolutely revolutionary. 
 

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of social justice theatre and the general concept of using art of a means of expression, healing, and communication. The first time I found myself really drawn to exploring this more, I was sitting in my eleventh grade English class with one of my favourite teachers, who was also my drama teacher. He had us read Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” out loud, and, naturally, I read for the role of Nora. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this play, it’s the story of a woman (Nora) who leaves her husband and children to find herself. In 1879, when the play premiered, it was pretty scandalous.
 
My first week of university, I walked through the University Centre, carefully scouting out the various tables all the clubs had set up. I came across a booth that said “Vagina Monologues”, and, as a women’s studies major and theatre studies minor, I was sold. I spend that year directing Vagina Monologues’ sister play, “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer”, a collection of monologues about stories of violence against women in girls that raised money for the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guelph’s local Women in Crisis Centre. It was a heavy play. Over my university career, I performed in “The Vagina Monologues” and directed “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer” for a second time.
 
When I moved to Port Hope, a small town on the other side of Toronto from where I’d spent my life so far, I produced two collective creation performances, “The Performance and Disability Project” and “The Performance and Disordered Eating Project”, which raised money for a local charity I have since become heavily involved with, Green Wood Coalition. These shows were created over a 5-8 week long workshopping process and a 3-5 week long rehearsal process, each with two performances at the end. The intention of these projects was to give people the opportunity to share their story, on their terms, in a way that utilized the healing potential of performance.
 
Now, I am acting as the liaison between Green Wood Coalition and the production team (lead by director, Dave Clark and producer, Mary Elizabeth Clark) of a play that Dave wrote called “To Shut the Mouths of Lions”, which is being remounted for one show to raise funds for Green Wood Coalition. From the press release: “To Shut the Mouths of Lions explores themes of social justice, fairness, freedom of expression, and family dynamics. The scene is set on a Boxing Day, when the McBride brothers gather in the home of their mother and father, a patriarch with some very specific ideas about how men (and women, for that matter) ought to be. One son, a left-leaning, gentle soul, is invited to bring his wife, while the other son, an athletic, career-oriented man isn’t welcome to bring his husband, due to their father’s heterocentric family values. The play’s title, a reference to the biblical tale of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, quickly proves its accuracy.
 
Mouths of Lions Green Wood-page-001.jpg
The play follows the family’s interactions throughout this setting, revealing tensions, differences in values, varying conceptions of masculinity, gender, and sexuality, uncomfortable attempts at communication, and expressions of love. The dialogue is witty, gritty, and honest, keeping audiences engaged through a story that is both dramatic and comedic.”
 
An issue that was come up for me time and time again in the time I’ve been involved in social justice theatre has been that of trigger warnings, content warnings, and caring for both the cast members and the audience so that it is a positive experience for as many people as possible. Sounds great in theory, right? Generally, when people are involved in creating any type of performance, one of the main goals is to provide entertainment and enjoyment for as many people as possible. No, you’re never going to be able to please everyone (or provide a “safe space” for everyone) because everyone’s needs, interests, and values are different… but the goal is to give people a good time.
 
When I was involved with “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer” and “Vagina Monologues”, it was very clear that a trigger warning or content warning ought to be used, since the plays deal directly with sexual violence, include explicit descriptions of violence, and the shows were produced by an activist organization, not a theatre company. When I was involved with “The Performance and Disability Project” and “The Performance and Healing Project”, again, the content was extremely sensitive and contained specific accounts of violence, struggle, and oppression and was also produced by a charity rooted in social justice principals, not a theatre company. In both cases, actively caring for the cast, crew, and audience were central roles of the production team.
 
Navigating “To Shut the Mouths of Lions” has looked a little different, since it was originally produced by a theatre company and is not a straight-up social justice play, but rather a play containing social justice themes. This has brought up some really interesting and important discussions for those of us involved in this particular production, and has made me think a lot about trigger warnings, content warnings, and care in the context of not just social justice theatre, but theatre in general. Although the content of the play is not nearly as blatantly upsetting as some of the other more straight up social justice plays I’ve worked on were, I could certainly see watching a gay son triggering some intense shit for someone who grew up queer in a heterosexist household. There are many aspects of the play that may bring things up for people, so I feel as though it’s an important thing to consider, given a dedication to caring.
 
Initially, I called for a meeting of anyone who wanted to be involved in the planning of the remount and was joined by 3 members of the board from Green Wood Coalition, one of whom is also performing in the play, as well as one member’s sister. At that meeting, in that context, with that group of people, I brought up the idea of whether or not to include a content warning. I stopped using trigger warnings a long time ago, since I don’t think it’s useful to attempt to identify what a group of peoples’ triggers may or may not be, and instead opt for content warnings, a broader kind of heads up about the subjects approached in a performance, tv show, movie, article, essay, book, etcetera. The response from that group at that time was “yes! Absolutely include a content warning on all promotional materials and on the day of the performance!”. Honestly, even given how social justice oriented that group of people was, I was kind of surprised. I wrote up a specific, clear content warning: “This play discusses subjects such as family dynamics, various types of family relationships, heterosexism, sexism, childhood trauma. There will be peer support available”.
 
I’m the kind of person who loves to hear other peoples’ input on projects. I love collective creation, and I truly value differing standpoints. I emailed my updated planning list to all involved parties including this content warning and the plan to include it on all promotional materials and at the performance. The play’s writer and director emailed me back with some concerns that the content warning may be a bit of a spoiler and might deter people from coming to to show out of fear that it will be upsetting more than entertaining. I could see why that was a concern, and feel as though it’s really important to keep this event within the integrity of the vision of the director of a play. So I reached out to my friends and colleagues, David Sheffield and Jillien Hone, the Community Outreach Coordinator and Community Outreach Coordinator Assistant of Green Wood Coalition to get their thoughts. We had a really valuable conversation where David echoed Dave Clark’s concerns, focusing on the potential of folks not being interested in seeing the production based on their concern that it would be more upsetting than entertaining. (As usual, Jill was on the exact same page as me, coming from a similar background/standpoint regarding content warnings and social justice.)
 
This gave way to a conversation about content warnings in general. To me, content warnings aren’t about recommending that people opt out as much as the ability to consent and take care of one’s self accordingly. A content warning doesn’t encourage me to opt out of a performance/essay/book/movie etcetera about 98% of the time I see one. However, some days where I’m already struggling to convince myself that not every man I come into contact with is going to rape me I don’t always feel up to engaging with anything to do with sexual violence. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever see that performance/read that book/see that movie/read that essay…it just means that in that moment, I do not consent to engaging with something that will probably make me feel not okay. OR, maybe I really want to engage even though it will probably make me feel not okay, so I give a friend or two a heads up and ask them if they’re willing to provide some support if I do end up feeling triggered by specific content. Or I’ll make sure to engage at a time where my partner is around and I’m not home (to freak out) alone. Or I’ll accept that it’s worth being not okay because it may contribute my healing process…or simply be entertaining. And that’s valid. I think that art can be healing and that there is a place, both in healing and in art, to be triggered. But it ought to be consensual. When you look at content warnings this way, it seems to follow pretty logically to me that, as a person who is invested in caring for myself and other people, content warnings make a lot of sense in working towards a community that is caring, supportive, and autonomous.
 

I’m part of some communities where this is kind of the general consensus. I’m part of some communities where some people do not choose to ever engage with anything that they may find triggering. That’s where they’re at, and to that, I say: good for them for knowing themselves and their capacity in the moment. In Port Hope, I am situated in a rural context where content warnings are rarely looked at this way, but instead as a warning that this whatever you’re about to experience IS going to feel fucked up. If that’s the interpretation, I don’t blame people for feeling deterred by it. And if two very socially conscious men are concerned about this, you better believe I’m going to take it seriously.

When David Sheffield, Jill, and I had our discussion, we ended up realizing that what it came down to was deciding whether to prioritize keeping as many people feeling safe and okay as possible or getting people to actually come see the show. In the context of this community, that seems to be the way it is. (I’ve gotta say, nothing has challenged my activism more than settling in a small, rural town). We decided on a middle ground of sorts that we felt straddles this line decently. On the posters that are posted around town, there is a brief content warning that isn’t identified as a content warning: “This play may contain some subjects that may be upsetting to some”. On social media, there is a more specific content warning right at the very bottom of the poster.

In the press release, I wrote, “The connection between To Shut the Mouths of Lions and Green Wood Coalition is easy to see, given the shared themes between the play and the organization regarding community, communication, family-based trauma, and caring as the characters discuss issues such as poverty and equality. Given the potentially sensitive nature of some of the topics involved in the play, there will be peer support available during and after the show, as well as a question and answer period with cast and crew following the performance.” Is this too much? Will it deter people? Will it simply be seen and ignored and chalked up to some young radical because it’s a small town and enough people know I’m involved in the planning and this is how I roll? Or will it allow them to make a consensual, informed choice about what they’re about to engage in and give them the knowledge that the community in that space and time will be caring and supportive?

 

I don’t think there’s any one right answer, and this whole experience has taught me a lot about idealism and activism in small, rural communities-and especially theatre communities within those small, rural communities. The standpoint of most people here is different from my standpoint. Is it more conducive to change to get as many people to see the play (and raise as much money) as possible, or to radically care for the community in a way that will only be useful to some people at this  time? Should I leave that paragraph out of the press release before I actually release it to the press? I have no idea. But this is the way I’ve been thinking about it.