Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Meg Torwl

Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Meg Torwl

In her book ‘The Queer Art of Failure’ Judith Halberstam offers alternative ways of knowing and becoming. Instead of valuing the conventional paths of belonging, achievement and completion, she thinks about and champions the ways of “failure”: losing your way, giving in, being excluded, forgetting, awkwardness, coming apart. Not just rejecting the “normal,” Halberstam shows alternatives to success as paths that have always been there, moving away from mastery and coherence. In this series of Q&A’s with contributors to our upcoming Queer issue, we play with these ideas. When we aren’t trying to finish first (or finish anything) where do we end up?

Think back to when you started writing. What’s an earlier influence you outgrew, abandoned, or turned against?

Rhyming pentameter.

When a piece of writing doesn’t work out, what do you do with it? Discard? Fold it into another project? Salvage parts?

Save it ‘til later, life is long, a purpose will materialize.

What do you do with your rejection letters?

Mail them to the Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand! Except these days rejection letters mostly come via email so I just go ho hum and send the work off somewhere else.

Do you plan out the piece beforehand or find your way as you go along? A combination of both?

I have to confess it seems to be the synchronicity times three effect. I have something to say, but it’s stuck in a wordless place, until the same thing happens 2 or 3 times, or there are 2 or 3 mirroring aspects which occur, and then I understand what it is. Like how I was only able to write about opiates as pain killers, and my cat companion dying, when Jack Layton died.

When a project is finished, how do you start the next one? Or do your projects overlap?

There are always several in different mediums occurring simultaneously. I used to write about hard things, and then go take photos of nature, play as a reward. It’s still a bit like that.

Have you ever not sent a piece of writing somewhere because it seemed “too gay/queer” for that publication?

Yep, frequently. The whole androgyny thing makes people very uncomfortable! I censored myself just this week, I applied to stay at a writer’s centre for a week to do some research, and when I re-read the email before I sent it I deleted the name of the book I will be working on – a girl called brian.

I mean I find in a lot of art contexts, and to some extent writing contexts, you can be queer, or a woman, or androgynous, or disabled, or ill, or abuse surviving, but really not so much all at once! That’s why I was very grateful for Michele Decotignes, of Stage Left Production in Alberta, who commissioned me to do a show where I got to be all those things at once in 2009, in my interdisciplinary show, That’s so gay! I talk about this in my humorous Identity Quotients Calculator spiel: how much of each identity to be in any given art form, on any given day. It's a game I encourage everyone to play! I explain why I kept turning up as the wrong identity in the wrong art from.

What do you do to procrastinate?

I don’t. Having compromised energy I do not have time to fluff around! I do a lot of work in my head in advance staring at the ceiling in the dark, working out all the details, trying different things this way and that. So when I actually have the time to work, nothing is wasted.

Has anyone ever said something completely discouraging to you as an artist? Did it take the wind out of your sails or did it drive you forward? Or both?

About 10 years ago I sent a story to a (novice) editor who wanted to put together a book of work by LGBTI survivors of childhood abuse. I wrote about the present, an incident on a holiday where past abuse as a child affected my relationship with a partner currently. (Which I personally think is more interesting than whatever actually happened to me as a child). I got a rejection email, and a note to say it wasn’t really queer enough, or about abuse enough. I was a bit taken a back!  Partly because my work often appears in queer/women/disability contexts and is harder to get published mainstream. I was like, gee I can’t even make it in with the queer abuse survivors, the marginalized of the marginalized! Which kind of made me laugh.

I’m not saying it was a great story, but it had potential. I could have concluded I was neither queer enough or abused enough (!?) but instead I decided I was perhaps more subtle in how I sometimes write about abuse, and I will continue to do so, and well just marveled at all the stereotypical boxes we are expected to force ourselves into, even in ways we ourselves self-identify. I will continue not to fit into any but many boxes, yay!

Can a piece of writing fail, or is that a bullshit notion?

Poetry is always good for the poet!

(or so I wrote in a poem 30 years ago)!

Okay here it is, free verse teen angst poetry from the school magazine.

I do maintain to this day that poems are just words piled on top of one another!


can’t be
defined or described
it can not be written
it’s created
and there are never
any restrictions
that’s the whole point
there aren’t any rules
prosaic peotry
or poetic prose
poems are not about things
or people
they are people
a small insight
into their inner being
and sometimes
there are hidden messages
but then again
maybe it just sounded good
poems can mean
whatever you choose
to read into them
who can really say
what they're about
except the person
who gave them life
there are no good
or bad poems
poetry is always good
for the poet.