A person of between
August 18th, 2016
Billed as a literary equivalent to the groundbreaking movie Orlando, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s classic novel of the same name, Betsy Warland’s Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity & Ideas (Dagger $21.95) has a effective premise: “In 2007, at the age of sixty, Betsy Warland finds herself single and without a sense of family. On an impulse, she decides to travel to London to celebrate her birthday, where she experiences an odd compulsion to see an exhibit on the invention of military camouflage. Within the first five minutes of her visit, her lifelong feeling of being aberrant reveals its source: she had never learned the art of camouflage.”
Warland adopted the alias Oscar and proceeded to her biographical story from the perspective of “a person of between,” starting with her America childhood in the rural Midwest. We revisit her first queer kiss, a divorce, her relationship with Daphne Marlatt (unnamed in press material) and her subsequent “years of unacknowledged exclusion from a community in which she thought she belonged” after they split up.
Ultimately Oscar becomes relatively comfortable with whatever gender interpretations people want to make. “In Oscar’s daily life, when encountering someone, it goes like this: some address her as a male; some address her as a female; some begin with one and then switch (sometimes apologetically) to the other; some identify Oscar as lesbian and their faces harden, or open into a momentary glance of arousal; some know they don’t know and openly scrutinize; some decide female but stare perplexedly at her now-sans-breast chest; some are bemused by or drawn to or relate to her androgyny; and for some none of this matters.”
Besty Warland co-founded the national Creative Writer Non-Fiction Collective in 2004 and remains on the The (SFU) Writers Studio teaching faculty. In 2007, she founded the six-month Vancouver Manuscript Intensive program for which she is the director and a mentor.
Her other books include Double Negative and Two Women In A Birth (both with her former partner Daphne Marlatt), serpent (w)rite, open is broken, A Gathering Instinct and Proper Deafinitions. Bloodroot, Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss traces the beginnings of her mother’s declining health and eventual death, over a period during which the two renew their bonds of love after a long period of estrangement. In her poetic work of creative non-fiction, Warland recounts how she and her mother were able to overcome old conflicts and differences to discover that dying and death mean more than despair and duty. This book, according to Warland, is “about abandoning disappointment, acquiescing to grace.”
She offers her insights in the nuances of writing beyond sentence construction and words—the touchy-feely aspects of materials, environment, etc. in Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing (Cormorant $20). It’s not just about text; it’s also about textures.
Born in 1946, Betsy Warland emigrated from the U.S. in 1972. By the 1980s she was one of Canada’s leading proponents and editors of feminist writing. Since coordinating the bilingual Women and Words conference at UBC in 1983, she has co-edited (f.)lip, a newsletter of innovative feminist writing, and co-edited Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures. The SFU Writers Studio has become a fertile training ground for both writers and editors with the ongoing presence of Warland who served as its director from 2001 to 2012.
Open Is Broken. Edmonton: Longspoon Press, 1984.
Serpent (W)rite: (a reader’s gloss).
Toronto: Coach House Press, 1987.
Marlatt, Daphne and Betsy Warland. Double Negative.
Illus. Cheryl Sourkes. Charlottetown: Gynergy Books, 1988.
Proper Deafinitions: Collected Theorograms.
Vancouver: Press Gang, 1990.
The Bat Had Blue Eyes. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1993.
Marlatt, Daphne and Betsy Warland.
Two Women In A Birth. Montreal: Guernica, 1993.
What Holds Us Here. Ottawa: Buschek Books, 1998.
Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss. Toronto: Second Story, 2000 ($14.95 1-896764-29-0)
Only This Blue (The Mercury Press 2005). A long poem with an essay.
Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing (Cormorant Books 2010) 978-1-897151-78-5 $20.00
Oscar of Between: A Memoir of Identity & Ideas (Dagger 2016). $21.95 978-1-987915-16-7