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The River Diaries

Sunday, February 4, 2001
Melbourne, Australia

Now the river is the Yarra, and Perry is far gone to the wilds of Brooklyn. On January 27th, Di and I made the long trek back to this continent of desert and ocean. This time the leave-taking was more final in a way; a friend was staying in my room and so I had to empty it of accumulated artifacts — photographs of the women I love, books, pictures, stacks of papers, a small herd of bronze and ceramic animals. All the surfaces were clean when I left, as if I had already gone. I left Mary leaning against the window, staring out at her New York landscape. Lee had taken Perry the week before and when I had come home and found him gone — I thought I would have one more day to say goodbye to him — I broke into tears, a child’s crying. To be with Di, I must at some time in the year say good-bye to all I know. This is not a bad thing for a sixty-year-old stick-in-the-mud who most loves her bedroom and her television clicker. But the rupture comes with a shock, a snapping of the familiar.

Before leaving, Di and I went to the Lesbian Herstory Archives two times and each was wonderful. The first was for one of the movie nights — so many new women sitting in the main reading room with the darkness of the night outside and the screen filled with home movies, subversive images of topless lesbians and “bad Jewish girls in the kitchen.” I asked the group afterwards if they also felt the Archives was a refuge, enclosing them, safe for the time in its liberated space. Yes yes they said. I thought of Bush and all the ugliness of the cultural war we are in, the huge right-wing fist that threatens to beat us all into its own image; we had known the Archives, our vision of it, was more than a housing of historical markers, that it would need to be an actual physical space where “lesbian” imaginations and desires could come to breathe. I write this and think — this sounds like the separatist dreams of the lesbian feminist ’70s except it is thirty years later; preserving the complexities of subversive communities is what I now mean — preserving them for all of human culture so when the time gets green again — when we fight it back to full life — we will not be caught again in simplistic notions of gender or sexuality or liberation. And we will not fall for the false dream of thinking we know always what we mean, that definitions of huge things hold. As the scientist said recently, after new discoveries, we do not even know what a “planet” is any more.

Now we have traveled far from the banks of the Yarra, but you know by now how erratic I am in both my promises and fulfillment of them — my writerly promises, I mean. I still carry Whitman in my back pocket, his optimism of desire, his belief that around the city corner or the river bend was walking towards him the sunlit young man, open-faced and wanting.

Tomorrow, I will tell you more of my life in Melbourne, on Nicholson Street, with my friends here.


© 2001 Joan Nestle

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