Tenx9 Nashville hosts monthly storytelling events in Nashville and around the world. I am deeply honored to be a part of this community of people. Our motto is an Irish saying, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” The joy, insight and beauty of true stories leaves my heart larger every time I go. Find an event. Start a satellite Tenx9 in your city. The theme this month was, “Beginnings.” I tried to make this one “NPR-friendly.”
You hear it all the time in some drippy social media post — it’s not the destination…it’s the journey. And yeah, sometimes that is true – like when you want to be a Human Rights attorney when you are 8, but then you grow up and share classrooms with others wanting to practice law and you fear for your soul. So…you shift, you adapt and you allow other paths to present themselves. All well and good.
But, what about when you are DYING to go to the beach and in order to breathe in that salty air, you have to travel in a dilapidated minivan with no air-conditioning, with three kids and your mother for ten hours. Screw that journey. Give me my destination dammit.
The year? 1994. I became obsessed with the idea that the only hope our damaged little species had for a sustainable future was in learning how to live in Intentional Communities. I traveled to several different kinds of communities…urban co-ops with families and some with just singles. I also became a regular visitor to Twin Oaks. A real-live hippie commune outside of Charlottesville VA.
By the time I finished grad school in 1995, I had hatched a plan. I convinced four women that were and are — absolute Amazons, to move to Knoxville and create a feminist intentional community with me. None of them knew each other…they all knew me.
We had a breathtakingly gorgeous 1920’s style home in South Knoville, near Ijams Nature Center. We were academics, teachers, social workers and activists. There were weekly house meetings, daily chores, shared expenses, compost and radical social theory.
It was like being married to four women with no sex. It could be not very fun.
In less than two years, the entire operation was a bust. Hilariously, I was the one that got booted from the collective. For some crap reasons and some very good reasons. Some of the relationships took more than a decade to repair. The truth was, our inability (or mine – I’m totally willing to take more than my “fair share” of the blame for the implosion…I was OUT OF MY MIND) to bridge differences, our failures at communication, the baggage we brought into that house — they all played a big part in the Great Undoing.
We did throw magnificent parties.
The biggest legacy from the house came by way of a Women’s Open Mic that I started because I was unhappy with what was available in Knoxville. And because I desperately needed to get out of that house and not be self-destructive. I called it Women Out Loud and we hosted a weekly open mike, annual competitions and benefits for the Sexual Assault Crisis Center for almost five years.
Our biggest alum is Mindy Smith, who was a regular before moving to Nashville. You may know her from “Come To Jesus.” Other regular performers included Kari Hoffman, Rose Hawley, Amanda McMahan, myself, Karen Reynolds, Kristinne Abrenica, Nikki Nikki (of JoyBang), Jodie Manross and our talented housemate, Kathleen Hoye. The winners of our very first singer-songwriter competition were Robinella & band (featuring Cruz Contreras, now blazing across the sky in The Black Lillies).
It started with singer-songwriters and poetry. It grew because word spreads quick around the edges of a city. Very quickly, we had regulars and they were a more diverse Knoxville than most people knew about. It was declared a radically welcoming space from the beginning and each week from the stage.
Now I hear you asking, “were men allowed to participate?” The answer is sometimes. But because I in charge, you’d be better be radically welcoming too or you could go to any of a number of other open mics in the city. I hosted, recruited, and performed.
During the day, I worked as a Social Worker, doing counseling with felons, abusers and addicts. It was not unicorns and rainbows. Still childless and unmarried, I needed an outlet for the stress I carried from my work. Women Out Loud became much more than that. And although we never made anything but tips, most of us went onto creative pursuits and are now spread across the country. Thriving baby…not just surviving.
Women Out Loud became a home for the LGBT community in East Tennessee. Most of the men and women I met are still in my life. It was the best home I ever had. And not because I was drunk a lot of the time. Because the right people found me and I found them and we created a space for ourselves. We grew and fought and bought sound equipment. We dated each other and then hated each other and then got up and sang about it.