Please welcome Lise Weil, author of In Search of Pure Lust.
My whole life I have loved women
I began falling in love with women at age three (my kindergarten teacher, Miss Moffatt) and went on to have regular crushes on friends on teachers and on movie stars throughout my childhood and young adulthood. After officially coming out in 1976 at the age of twenty-five, I threw myself headlong into a series of passionate relationships. In 1982 I founded the first of two feminist journals I would publish and edit over the next twenty-nine years. During that time, I also participated in and hosted women’s circles of all kinds. I am still today gathering women for writing or dream groups and publishing a journal devoted to women’s words and artwork—so you could say that in one way or another my whole adult life has been devoted to women.
“My whole life I have loved women” are in fact the first words of my memoir. But as I wrote it, the story turned out to be a whole lot more complicated than that. Because none of those passionate relationships lasted very long. And when, some thirteen years after embarking on them, I took my first real look back, what I saw was a pattern of heady, rapturous beginnings, tortured middles and dramatic, excruciating endings. At around this time it began to occur to me that, although loving women had been the main theme of my life and I had come to believe it was the essence of feminism, when it came to my own life I didn’t have a clue how to do it. Not, at least, with my lovers.
When I first started writing my memoir, some fifteen years ago, what I wanted to write about was lesbian desire. Lesbian desire had been the single most transformative force in my life and I wanted to try and convey the exhilaration of desiring and being desired by a woman, how it opened up realms of possibility beyond anything I’d imagined—and also, how from the very start it was inseparable from my desire for a different world, a world with women at the center of it. The longer I wrote about desire, though, the clearer it became that when it came to loving women it had been a troublemaker, to put it mildly. In the communities I was part of desire was our guiding light. Lesbian eros was a precious resource and should never be blocked! When love and desire came together as they did for me over and over again in those years, I inhabited a state of bliss: “Pure Lust” I called it. But desire, as I had to admit in the process of writing my memoir, was not sustainable. It was “a wild card… wayward and unpredictable. It reared its head when I was feeling wary, estranged—abused, even. It flagged when I was fondest and most trusting. It trumped love, over and over again.”
I was living in Montague, Mass, when it came home to me that in my career of loving women something had gone dreadfully wrong. Yet another lover had left me with biting words and looking back all I could see was wreckage; of the five important relationships I had had during those years, nothing it seemed had been salvaged. At the same time, as editor of a feminist journal, I was embroiled in political battles that seemed to mirror the turmoil of my personal life. I remember biking to a nearby pond with a prayer arrow a friend had given to me and launching that arrow into the water with my prayer “Help me—teach me—to love women.”
Help did come, but not overnight. Out of sheer desperation I had already begun sitting zazen in Cambridge with a woman roshi. Now I began to step up my practice and, from hours and hours of sitting on that cushion, to learn a different way to relate to desire—at the very least, not to be jerked around by it. For many years after I would experience myself as a duelling ground between spacious, temperate Zen mind and hotheaded lesbian desire—and Zen mind did not always win out. Over time, though, what I learned from that practice—several years of good therapy helped too—was to lead with the heart. This had a way of bringing desire to heel, and it turned out to be great medicine for my love relationships, which began to actually endure. I also became kinder and less reactive in political contexts. (Feminism had taught me many things but leading with the heart was not one of them!) But none of this is past tense. Though I feel far less clueless today in the matter of loving women, I would also have to say I’m a lifelong learner.
IN SEARCH OF PURE LUST
When Lise Weil came out in 1976, she came out into a land that was all on fire. Lesbian desire was the pulsing center of an entire way of life, a culture, a movement. The air throbbed with possibility. At the center of In Search of Pure Lust is Weil’s immersion in this culture, this movement: the grand experiment of lesbian feminism of the ’70s and ’80s. She and the women around her lived in a state of heightened erotic intensity that was, she believed, the source of their most vital knowledge. Desire was their guiding light. But after fifteen years of torrid but ultimately failed relationships that tended to mirror the tumultuous political currents swirling around her, she had to admit that desire was also a conduit for childhood wounds. It reared its head when she was feeling wary, estranged― abused, even. It flagged when she was fondest and most trusting. And it tended to trump love, over and over again.
In the mid-’80s, when a friend asked Weil to accompany her on a Zen retreat, she was desperate enough to say yes. Her first day of sitting zazen was mostly hell―but smitten with the (female) roshi, she stuck with it, later returning for sesshin after sesshin. A period of difficult self-examination ensued and, over a period of years, she began to learn an altogether different approach to desire. Ultimately, what her search for pure lust uncovered is something that looks a lot like love.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Lise Weil is a Chicago-born writer, editor and translator. Her memoir, In Search of Pure Lust, was just published by She Writes Press. She was founder and editor of the US feminist review Trivia: A Journal of Ideas (in 1982) and of its online offshoot Trivia: Voices of Feminism (in 2003). Her collection of Mary Meigs’ writings on aging, Beyond Recall, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. In 2014 she founded the online journal Dark Matter: Women Witnessing as a home for writing and artwork responding to an age of massive species loss and ecological collapse. She has lived in Montreal since 1990 and spends summers in a cabin in the woods north of the city where she hosts annual writing retreats for women centered around dreamwork.
CONNECT WITH LISE WEIL
Thanks so much for stopping by today.