Bisexual poet, editor and writer Anita Dolman [she/her/they/them] is an alumni of the Festival’s 2O18 Author Showcase, held at Glad Day Books here in Toronto, and a contributor and volunteer editor with CRUSH.
Can you briefly describe your work?
I’m a fiction writer, poet, editor and non-fiction writer. I’ve been writing and editing, in one format or another, for a fairly long time, and I’ve had work in various anthologies, magazines and journals. My first collection of short stories, Lost Enough, came out from MRP in 2016, and I co-edited the bi-inclusive anthology Motherhood in Precarious Times (Demeter Press, 2017). I’m a contributing editor for Arc Poetry Magazine, and the author of two poetry chapbooks. You can read a recent essay by me, and probably find out way too much about me as a result, in the latest issue of Hamilton Arts & Letters, Imaginary Safe House. I’m also @ajdolman on Twitter, and have a blog I occasionally remember exists: http://anitadolman.blogspot.com/
How did you become an author? Was creativity encouraged in your household, growing up?
Creativity was encouraged, but with a caveat that you could pursue it as long as you were also financially stable and independent. There have always been artists in my family, going back many generations, mostly visual art. My maternal great, great grandfather was one of the last artists designing and painting crests on the doors of the upper class’s horse-drawn carriages in The Netherlands. My mother was a great storyteller, and my sisters, both a generation older than me, are both very artistic, the first as a stained glass artist, the second as a calligrapher and baker. But my family was deeply motivated by my father’s fear of financial insecurity, which came both from his family’s background as butchers and merchants, and my parents having grown up in a time of severe instability of all kinds, living in occupied Holland during the second world war.
To make a short bio of a very long path, I was once a capitalist and am now a socialist. And I have a day job, as an editor, to support the perpetual habit of my writing. It’s been very hard for me to learn where to put my energy, but, in the end, like many artists and writers, I survive because of art, not because of money. But I can only survive if I have enough money. That’s not a failing of artists. It’s a failing of the economic system’s structure and intentions. Ultimately, I think as long as money exists as a concept, no one is really free.
Do you identify as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, biromantic, queer or something else, and what does this mean for you?
I identify as bisexual, although if I were coming out now rather than over a decade ago, and had access to the concept, I would likely have come out as pan instead. That said, I embrace bi as an umbrella term, in addition to having grown very comfortable with it.
What other identities are important to you? As far as important goes, my identity as someone with mental illness affects my daily life and is another area where I feel I can help others by being public and open about my experiences. I have an anxiety disorder and have had depression off and on since I was a teenager.
In your recent essay in Hamilton Arts & Letters you write very beautifully and openly about your experiences with depression and the interconnection between mental health and the erasure of our identities as bisexual folks. I think this is something many bi+ people can relate to. What helps you, personally, survive on difficult or challenging days?
I am deeply fortunate, particularly given Canada’s lack of psychiatric services, to have a wonderful, queer-inclusive, longtime psychologist; medication (after many years of trying to find a balance between unmanageable side-effects and effectiveness) that does help with my depression; and a roster of well-practiced CBT (cognitive behavioural) therapy routines that minimize many of my panic attacks and worst instances of anxiety.
That said, I do still get very low at times. I’m answering this question after having awoken into a panic attack this morning that went on far too long. I’ve taken the morning off of work. I’ll be exhausted and out of sorts the rest of the day, and I can’t avoid that. Pushing or berating myself will only make it worse. What I can do is be kinder to myself about it. I’ve stopped seeing this sort of thing as a personal failing. Anxiety and depression are things I have to deal with, in the same sense that other people have to deal with diabetes or other chronic conditions. I don’t need to make myself feel worse, and spiral further, by blaming myself for having this. Having an anxiety disorder or depression (or any mental illness, for that matter) is not in any way related to how strong a person I am, or how “well” I “cope” with problems. It won’t be solved by “bucking up” or “toughing it out” (believe me, I tried that), and it won’t go away if I just take the right online quiz or watch a cheerful movie. It is a reaction of my brain and body in a way I can sometimes mitigate, but not control.
As for mitigation, aside from the CBT and exercise, a friend recently steered me towards Eric Maisel’s The Van Gogh Blues. I usually avoid self-help books, but this one had some interesting things to say about artists/creative people’s need to create, and how ignoring it can lead to, or at least exacerbate, depression. I’m trying harder, as a result, to consciously incorporate being creative, even in a small way, into every day, whether it’s by working on a short story or novel, or revising an old poem, cooking something creative, cross-stitching for a few minutes, even answering interview questions. I’ve realized I’m someone who needs to constantly make something in order to feel connected to the world, to feel at peace in some way.
What guides your creative work? I think for a long time, my depression and anxiety guided my work, more than any other contributing factors. Moreso than in my life, however, the resulting poems and stories were tinged with hope. Now, I find myself reaching out and exploring humanity more through my writing, even as I become more introverted in some ways, personally. I am more interested in investigating human potential, both for bad and good, in all its complexities–who we are, what we can be, and what we can imagine.
What feels urgent for you? Supporting others and doing what I can to inspire creativity feels very urgent. I’m compelled to tell my own stories, but I want others to tell theirs, to have the chance to share their perspectives, and problems and voices. Also, avoiding environmental apocalypse would be super, if we can manage it.
What’s the last thing you read, saw, or encountered that you were hugely excited about? I received Alicia Elliot’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground for Christmas, and, though I’m late to this book, I am very, very excited to finally read it. All of the essays of hers I’ve read to date are ridiculously brilliant, astute, and so necessary for the time and place we live in.
On a totally different note, I spotted my first Nugs at the Ottawa Art Gallery gift shop in December, and promptly loaded up on them for my kid and nephew. Have you seen these things?! They are so ugly-cute, they’re fantastic. And, they’re made by two Ontario artists.
What are you working on for 2020 and what is next for you? I’m trying to wrap up work on my first novel, which has a bi protagonist, a lot of art references, and a lot to say about capitalism and power structures. I have a couple of secret projects on the go that I can’t announce yet, but that you’ll hear about soon, and I’m off to an an inaugural queer writers retreat in Mississippi this spring, which I’m looking forward to enormously.
I’ll also be continuing to run Crafty Bi Nature here in Ottawa. It’s a free monthly drop-in event for bi/pan+ folk and allies to come and just chat, hang out, make some things if they want. The community response has been fantastic, and we just moved to a gorgeous new space in the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Studio room. We run September-April, third Sunday of the month, 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Do you have any advice for the younger you, as either a queer person, or as an artist, or both? Don’t be so afraid. Take more risks. Don’t close yourself off to others just because you might get hurt.
Who should we interview next? Suggest an author or artist! Tara Borin, James K. Moran, Natalie Hanna, Gwen Benaway, Domink Parisien, Elizabeth Hirst and Farzana Doctor are all bi or pan authors I would recommend, although there are also many, many more!