February 1, 2008

Politics & Social Issues

A URL of One’s Own

by Kristina Marie Darling

In October 1928, Virginia Woolf addressed the Arts Society at Newnham with a lecture on women and writing, stating to her audience: “All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point – a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and true nature of fiction unsolved.” Later published as A Room of One’s Own, many scholars read this lecture as one of the first critiques of a print culture dominated by men. Woolf describes the lack of a female literary heritage yet cites the material conditions necessary to writers – education, financial independence, and ‘a room of one’s own’ – as difficult for a woman to achieve at that point in time. Critiques of the texts made available by publishers and, more often, those that are not remain commonplace in the twenty-first century, but new technologies and innovations have proven instrumental in making writings by women and other marginalized groups available to readers. The World Wide Web and other DIY practices now enable anyone with a computer and some determination to become an editor, publisher, advertiser and distributor.

Among the first publications to use the World Wide Web, Moondance.org began as a critique of the magazines available to women and girls. Since then, the website has grown into a thriving community of female artists and writers, boasting 187,000 readers per quarterly issue. In an essay entitled "The Founding of Moondance," Loretta Kelmsley describes the impulse that led her and some friends to start their own magazine in 1996: “Several were unhappy with traditional women’s publications whose advertisers want articles which convince women of their defects and the need to buy the advertiser's products. A few volunteered to start a new e-zine devoid of ads and devoted to ideas which enhance women’s lives.” While this group of editors had a clear-cut goal, they found that adapting to the demands of the relatively new online publishing world proved difficult. Kelmsley describes the struggle to convert their initial idea into a functioning webzine in her essay: “My background in newspaper design was a good start for our fledgling ezine but so very different from the demands and opportunities of internet publishing. With little experience to guide us, that first edition was an adventure unto itself. Some of our volunteers doubted we could accomplish this feat, even as we worked hard to meet our self-imposed deadline: September 1996. It was coded for Internet browsers while reading a book on simplified HTML.” After overcoming this initial obstacle, the web-based nature of Moondance proved one of its greatest assets, allowing for larger circulation and a more diverse, geographically widespread readership than a small print journal on the same budget could achieve.

Publishing themed issues with titles ranging from “The Bitch Issue” to “Touch and Intuition,” the writings found in Moondance explore the diverse and often contradictory aspects of the female experience through essays, journalism, poetry, song lyrics, fiction, and reviews of recently published books. Many of these works, such as Margot Miller’s “In Sickness and in Health,” reveal everyday experiences as both poetic and politically charged, in this case depicting the power dynamic between a husband and wife through a description of the couple working in their kitchen. Miller writes, “We put off a decision, though the dishwasher is not working. We start to do the dishes by hand, using the racks in the machine to let them drip dry. We gently argue over whose turn it is, each one insisting on sparing the other, not wanting to impose, not wanting to say its time to pick out a new machine or give up, sell the house, and let someone else do it. You wait. As if paralyzed, for me to decide.” Making a larger statement by focusing on the micropolitics of a woman’s domestic life, Miller’s essay and others found in the journal give a feminist perspective in a subtle way.

Other essays, such as Lauren Maiman’s “Starting a Family: Real Entrepreneurship,” demonstrate the ways women can use limitations to their advantage. A journalistic piece about a woman who began knitting while taking care of her terminally ill son, this essay traces a mother’s evolution from housewife to C.E.O. of her own thriving business. Maiman writes, “When her first child was born in 1976 with a life threatening heart defect, MacKellar assumed the role of at-home mother without hesitation. But the hours spent at the hospital, the days spent at home, and the nights spent rocking her child somehow turned MacKellar’s hobby of knitting into a global enterprise.” Mrs. MacKellar, who eventually hires her own staff and gives her children jobs at her company, combats the stereotypical image of housewives and the perception that their role is a limited one. Like many of the essays in Moondance, “Starting a Family: Real Entrepreneurship” encourages readers to expand their definitions of the roles of wife, mother, and daughter.

In the eleven years after the founding of Moondance, the staff has grown to more than thirty women of diverse ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations, all of whom share a desire to provide resources for women writers and artists. Many staff members take part in other volunteer activities to promote women’s writing as well. Fiction editor and writer Beate Sigriddaughter, for example, founded her own prize for fiction and creative nonfiction writing, which she named “The Glass Woman Prize.” When asked where the name of the award comes from, Sigriddaughter answers: “Shatterproof plexiglass, of course; I want women to be able to authentically say what is going on inside of us without being ashamed of it.” The $500 award, which consists of ten percent of Sigriddaughter’s personal income, is given to one writer a year chosen from contest entries of short fiction or nonfiction pieces that deal with a subject of significance to women. Sigriddaughter describes her goal in establishing The Glass Woman Prize: “To make a statement. Approximately, if I can’t get what I want, then I want to give what I want, so that it takes place somewhere in the universe. I haven’t had a lot of recognition (yet!) for my writing, though I haven’t gone entirely without. Largest prize I’ve ever won was $100. I want to change that, if not for myself, then for somebody else.” Sigriddaughter judges the prize in addition to teaching writing workshops and raising a family, citing the flexibility of publishing and editing as one of its greatest benefits.

Other staff members explore mediums such as print and broadcast journalism as a means for activism. Assistant Reviews Editor Lys Anzia describes her current projects in addition to reading submissions: “Currently I am writing news for women’s advocacy for UN agencies and affiliates through WWN-Women News Network and WUNRN-Women’s UN Report Network. I’m also producing radio for international radio syndicate WINGS – Women’s International News Gathering Service.” Therefore, Moondance represents just one of Anzia’s varied efforts to keep women informed about the world. She describes her projects in addition to journalism and reviews editing: “Some include stage-script writing as an American historical playwright focusing on women in history. Other projects are a biography and translation of the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.” Adding her position as assistant reviews editor to a full schedule, she describes Moondance as “one of the very few unencumbered publications for women.” For Anzia, part of Moondance’s appeal as a place to volunteer comes from its lack of advertisements or ideological affiliations, whether with a particular brand of feminism, aesthetic, or political perspective.

Many of the staff members who volunteer for Moondance, while inhabiting diverse geographic locations, describe the site as a “community” rather than a magazine. When asked what brought her to Moondance, Poetry Designer Lorena Wolfe answers: “I first came to Moondance because I was trying to break into web design as a pro, back in 1998. I stayed with Moondance because of the community.” In addition to receiving submissions from writers and messages about deadlines, staff members often receive emails on topics like legislation in honor of suffragette Alice Paul, steps to prevent breast cancer, and book recommendations from other staff members. Moondance hopes to build on this concept of community as it grows and expands in the future. Recently, the website announced plans for a “Center for Creative Growth,” which will provide online instruction for writers and artists. The site details the goals of the CCG, stating: “CCG will be a virtual campus, offering members the opportunity to enhance their understanding of a variety of literary and artistic disciplines, as well as those concerning business and everyday living.” Aiming for an exchange similar to the one that takes place between Moondance staff members, the Center for Creative Growth hopes that constructive criticism and artistic growth will enrich the day to day lives of the writers who seek instruction.

Moondance and its Center for Creative Growth might be read as a manifestation of larger trends in both publishing and social interaction, considering the fact that since its inception in 1994, more than three quarters of Americans over the age of twelve (77.6%) have become Internet users, and participation in online communities is on the rise. According to the University of Southern California’s 2007 Digital Future Project, 56.6 percent of people who participate in online communities log in every day, and 70.4 percent of people who participate in these communities interact with other members. According to the same study, 64.9 percent of people who participate in these communities are subsequently inspired to take offline actions because of their online activities.

This shift in the ways people interact with each other, while viewed by some critics as “impersonal” or “distant,” provides definite advantages to publications like Moondance. Because of its online format, the journal has reached a wider and more geographically diverse audience than an independently published print magazine likely would. Loretta Kelmsley’s essay on “The Founding of Moondance” details other advantages that Moondance offers that are not as readily available in print media, such as the possibility of forming valuable professional contacts via the Internet. In fact, several of the women who volunteer at Moondance started out in search of professional contacts to further their careers in web design, copy editing, and creative writing. Often providing each other with letters of reference for writing fellowships and other editing opportunities, the community of Moondance staffers has proven a valuable tool for women both artistically and professionally.

Having been taken around the world by her efforts as a zine editor, Loretta Kelmsley, in an email to members of her staff, describes the impact that DIY editing and publishing have had on her life as “the magic of Moondance.” She writes about sharing her incredible experiences with friends: “I found myself talking about things I rarely mention, especially about how much Moondance has done to enhance my life. Not many know that I was part of the planning for Bejiing +5 or that I belong to Women Watch at the World Bank or that I’ve taken part in Gender Tech at the UN (to help bring Internet Technology to women around the world) and yet I told them.” At almost sixty, Kelmsley is proud to be a grandmother, and considers her efforts to recognize emerging writers as “a way of validating the years.” For Moondance, as well as other DIY publications, 2007 marks an early year in a long history. Publishing, for women and everyone else with a desire to be heard, has fallen from the hands of the few to the hands of many, and online publishers around the globe have new technologies to thank. With Internet usage on the rise and publishing growing increasingly fragmented, individuals can choose the message they want to hear or create their own. If you’re logged on, 2008 is going to be good.

Kristina Marie Darling is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of four chapbooks, which include Fevers and Clocks (March Street Press, 2006) and The Traffic in Women (Dancing Girl Press, 2006). A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2006, her poems, reviews, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, which include Janus Head, Rattle, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, and others. Recent awards include residencies from the Centrum Foundation and the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts. She can be reached via e-mail and you can read more of her work in her poetry chapbook, "The Traffic in Women."