Born in New York City on Oct 17, 1931, Diana Smith (later Diana Rivers) grew up near Morristown, New Jersey, within an artistic and literary family. Diana’s grandmother was an artist, and arranged for Diana to spend summers in Maine, studying with sculptor Bill Zorach. There in Maine, Diana met her future husband, Robert.

Diana started the art school at Cooper Union in the early 1950s, but left to marry Robert and travel with him throughout Europe and study art. The couple had three sons, and they later lived in an intentional artists community in Stony Point, New York. In 1970, Diana and Robert divorced, and Diana took the last name of Rivers in honor of her newfound freedom.

After traveling extensively on her own through the American West, Diana settled in Boxley Valley near Jasper, Arkansas, and started a community called Sassafras. When Sassafras fell apart, Diana and 19 other women established The Ozark Land Holding Association about 30 miles southeast of Fayetteville. They built homes for themselves and each other, a community house, and a peace garden. Other women have come and gone, but Diana lives there to this day.

In 1987, Diana published Journey to Zelindar, her first book of the Hadra series. Diana’s writings explore women’s struggles, loves, and conflicts as they chart paths to life against the backdrop of patriarchal norms. Out in the world, Diana helped organize the Women Vision conference in Kansas City, the MatriArts festival in Fayetteville, and the Women’s Conference and Festival at the University of Arkansas in 1990. In 2008, she co-founded the Goddess Festival, held each March to coincide with the spring equinox. In 2016, Diana had a stroke and nearly died. She has since regained a good portion of her strength, and even manages trips north to visit her sons.

On the morning of Diana’s OUTWORDS interview, we met her at a café near her home. We drank coffee and talked quietly while grizzled men entered, chatted, glanced our way, and left. Diana asked us to keep the café’s location under wraps. Then we loaded our gear into the back of her pick-up Subaru, and she drove us up the hill to her house, which sits among dense woods and feels like a treehouse on the ground, every inch of it handcrafted, every inch lined with books and mementos of a long journey towards selfhood and wholeness.
Natalie Tsui: The one thing is, do you want the juice there?.
Mason Funk: No. I'll maybe have you move the juice to the floor beside you.
Diana Rivers: I figured that you were.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. The other thing is when you wave your hand, Mason, I can see you in the frame, so just be aware.
Mason Funk: Like this?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that one, too.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Even this one?
Natalie Tsui: If you're gesticulating up and down, then I'll see it.
Mason Funk: Right, okay. Yeah, okay. I'm gonna try to control my hands.
Diana Rivers: Is that a problem?
Mason Funk: Controlling my hands?
Diana Rivers: I'm sorry. I just have this ...
Mason Funk: I do tend to get a little animated sometimes.
Diana Rivers: [00:01:00] Where am I gonna put this where you're not gonna see it?
Mason Funk: That's fine. As long as-
Diana Rivers: No, she might pick it up in the ...
Natalie Tsui: Oh, it's out. Yeah. If it's on the floor, we won't see it.
Mason Funk: No, if it's on the floor, we don't see it, so it doesn't have to be behind you and on the floor. It can just be on the floor.
Diana Rivers: Okay, this can be on the floor.
Mason Funk: Totally.
Natalie Tsui: If she could just look at you for one more second for eye line.
Mason Funk: The last thing I wanted to ask is did you wanna check your hair?
Diana Rivers: I did.
Mason Funk: You did check it? Okay.
Diana Rivers: No, I did want to.
Mason Funk: Oh, you did want to.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk 00:01:21].
Mason Funk: Okay, should I bring you a hand mirror?
Natalie Tsui: [00:01:30] Speed.
Mason Funk: Okay, so do me a favor. Start by telling your name, first and last, spell it all out. Ready, go.
Diana Rivers: Okay.
Mason Funk: Just talk to me. You just will ignore the camera.
Diana Rivers: Okay. I'm Diana Rivers. What else are you wanting to know here?
Mason Funk: Can you spell out your ... literally, just for the transcriber, it's helpful to have you spell it.
Diana Rivers: D-I-A-N-A R-I-V-E-R-S.
Natalie Tsui: One second. Sorry, we're actually kind of off a little bit, so you have to scoot. Maybe I'll scoot you just a little bit.
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] Me? Me closer?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. Have her look right at you.
Mason Funk: Can you look at me right here?
Natalie Tsui: Okay, maybe even a little bit closer. I'm gonna scoot you forward ...
Mason Funk: Tuck in right here.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, tuck in. Let me just place the chair there and then you can sit. Okay, that'll work.
Mason Funk: This is not really living dangerously as of right now. I'm gonna have to be a statue.
Diana Rivers: Yes, and you can't wave your arms around.
Natalie Tsui: It's a lot better. Okay, great.
Natalie Tsui: [00:02:30] We're recording. Everything's still good.
Mason Funk: Tell me your birthdate and where you were born.
Diana Rivers: October 17th, 1931. New York City.
Mason Funk: Okay. All right. When I ask you a question, if you could answer in a complete sentence that works best.
Mason Funk: In terms of like, "I was born in ..." Not just in that last question.
Diana Rivers: It leaves out you as the question?
Mason Funk: Correct. That's the idea, so that someone could take a statement of yours without having to know what the question was.
Diana Rivers: Yeah.
Diana Rivers: [00:03:00] You wanna start over again and do that ...
Mason Funk: No, no. Those two bits were fine. Those are just for the record. You were just telling me a little bit about your family, about who was helpful and not helpful in your childhood. Could you give me an overview of that?
Diana Rivers: [00:03:30] Well, I'm glad my mother's not alive, because what I'm gonna say about her isn't very nice. My family story is pretty simple. My mother was divorced when I was probably pretty young. She was married again and had a son and got divorced again. I grew up, my mother was a single mom with two children who she really didn't love.
Natalie Tsui: I'm sorry I'm just gonna pause for a second. Maybe we move you just a ...
Mason Funk: All right.
Natalie Tsui: Every single movement you make, your shoulder appears on the frame.
Mason Funk: Oh, I see.
Natalie Tsui: I'm just gonna scoot you just a tiny, tiny bit out, and that's it.
Mason Funk: Okay, just keep going.
Diana Rivers: [00:04:00] Okay. The real influence in my life was my grandmother who, for some reason, adored me and I adored her. We had totally different opinions about the world. She would be a rabid republican now, but we learned very quickly not to talk about politics, but we could talk about art, and nature, and history, and culture, and all of that. She was a wonderful influence in my life.
At a certain age, I started doing sculpture, working with clay, and she decided it would be a wonderful idea if I went up to stay summers with this family where she had studied painting with Bill Zorach who became a pretty well-known sculptor. And so, all of a sudden, I was plunged into this really different world up in Maine. A family that was very radical and completely different from any ... everything in that house was totally different from anything I had ever known. I had a couple of days of culture shock and then I thought, "Oh, I'm safe here. I can be myself." Pretty much everything in my life came out of that meeting, of staying summers with those people. That was the formative thing in my life.
Mason Funk: When did you set off on your own? Presuming you went through some summers in Maine, but when did you strike off to sort of ...
Diana Rivers: [00:06:00] Well, graduated high school, which was a minor miracle, and went to New York and went to Cooper Union Art School. I was getting a little bit of money from my great aunt. I think $75 a month which was a fortune at that time. Rented a room and ended up living in a loft, sharing it with somebody I met through school who is still a friend, and living in New York. I thought I was a New Yorker.
I was so delighted to be in New York. Everything was interesting. Every place I looked like the colors, or the shapes, or whatever was all fascinating. I used to get in the subway and stand at the front and see the lights come pouring at you, sort of psychedelic effect. I'm amazed nothing bad ever happened to me in New York, but I probably walked around with my mouth open and staring up at the top of buildings at the sculptures.
Anyway, it was a wonderful experience. As I say, I thought I was a New Yorker. I'm really a country girl. About when I got married and moved back out to the country, first thing I did was a cartwheel across the lawn and realized I really was a country girl.
Mason Funk: Tell us about meeting Bob.
Diana Rivers: He was a ...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Start by saying, "Bob ..." and ...
Natalie Tsui: [00:07:30] Since we have a tiny pause, I've realized that you're glancing at me every so often, so just completely ignore me.
Natalie Tsui: I'm not here.
Diana Rivers: It's hard. I'm very visual and anything that moves I'm going to look at it, but I'm hearing you.
Mason Funk: "When I was 19," or whatever, "I met so and so and we came out to ..."
Diana Rivers: [00:08:00] Not only did Zorachs influence my ideas and everything else, but that's where I met my future husband. Bob was a student of Bill's and also was his monitor at the art students’ league. He came up for a summer. Again, so much in my life revolved around those summers up in Maine including my whole future.
Mason Funk: You and Bob decided to get married?
Diana Rivers: Not exactly like that.
Mason Funk: [00:08:30] What happened? How did it happen?
Diana Rivers: [00:09:00] That took a little while. I moved to New York. At a certain point, I moved into a loft that he was sharing with a friend. They both decided I was too much of a slob and threw me out, so I ended up in my own loft. I was the one who chose to get married. I think I wanted to get married, because I had come from such a fractured family situation that I wanted to jump out of that into something definite which did last 20 years. Produced three children, and lasted 20 years, and a few houses, so that was a pretty good jump.
Mason Funk: Did you think, during that time, that you were in it for the long haul? That this was your [crosstalk 00:09:17]?
Diana Rivers: Yes. Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] What did you think? How did you picture your life during those early years when you were married and having children?
Diana Rivers: [00:10:00] I pictured that we would get old together. He was also a sculptor, and we shared a lot of things. We loved travel, we planned many more trips than we actually took. We were always planning trips which was wonderful fun, and we traveled a bunch with the kids. We went out West and we went on camping trips. At some point, we went on a canoe trip with the three kids up in Long Lake, I think, in the Adirondacks.
We were good adventuring together, but he was critical and harsh and not easy person, emotionally, to be around. Actually, what broke up the marriage was he ... and that's not even what broke up the marriage, he fell in love with somebody else. What broke up the marriage, as far as I'm concerned, is he couldn't be nice to two women in his life. I was getting the wrong end of it and finally thought, "This is abusive. I can't do this anymore," and then left. It was this incredible sense of freedom. I went across the country by myself. Took my car and used it as a camper and traveled across the country and back,and I'd never traveled alone.
Mason Funk: Tell us more about that trip. Paint us a picture of your travel.
Diana Rivers: [00:11:30] I had a map and I would look and ... I wanted to go to communes and communities. I was really interested in the whole community idea. We were living in a community, but I wanted to see other communities. I felt like I missed the whole thing that was going on in the '60s, and I wanted to connect with it. I was headed for the state of Washington to see the rainforest. In between was New Mexico which is full of communes and communities. I went from to the other.
I must've had a guardian angel, because I would go camp with strangers. I'd go to a river and it'd be different groups of people camping up and down the river, and I'd choose who was interesting to hang out with. Nothing bad ever happened to me. It was a huge sense of freedom that I didn't ... I like traveling with someone else, but traveling alone, you don't consult with anybody, you don't have to explain anything. If you have been trying for days to get somewhere and you don't like it when you get there you can say, "Well, I think I'll leave tomorrow morning."
Mason Funk: Sorry, sorry, sorry. I had to scratch my back. Back it up. Talk about traveling alone again and maybe expand on that, the sense of freedom.
Diana Rivers: [00:13:00] Okay. Traveling alone is this enormous freedom. It's also lonely. I like traveling with someone else and sharing the view and sharing whatever's happening, but not having to ask anybody anything or explain anything ... I had times when I would get somewhere that I had been headed for, and I knew within an hour that I wanted to leave, and I could just do that. I didn't have to explain myself, or I could get somewhere else and decide to stay for a week. Even though my goal was the rainforest in the state of Washington, I never made it there, because I got bounced from one community to another in New Mexico where there was so much going on. It was such an exciting culture and so much happening.
I got to Oregon, and it was the same thing. There was so many communes and communities. At that time, it was a women's communities. It wouldn't even have occurred to me to look for that, I was just looking for a community.
I got to this place in Oregon called Takilma where there was a whole collection of communes and communities up and down this road. They all functioned as one big community, but they also had their own separate identities. I thought that was a great plan. When I ended up looking for land in Arkansas, I was looking for land where it would be possible to do that.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Set your story in the broader context of what was going on, culturally, societally, in America, and this whole movement for people to go and establish communes and communities. What years were these, and how was what you were doing part of a bigger picture?
Diana Rivers: [00:15:00] The Gate Hill Coop, where I lived, people were pretty radical. We had been involved in a lot of anti-war demonstrations, some of them very illegal or quasi-legali. I think, for me, there was a sense of desperation. The more I knew about how awful that war was the worse it felt, and it felt like it didn't matter what we did. It didn't matter if we lay down on the road in front of the trucks. They were going to do their war no matter what.
I think for a lot of people it's like, "Okay, we can't be part of this culture. We have to make something else." I kept saying, "I wanna find something I can say yes to. I'm so tired of saying no, shouting no, screaming no." I think going in the woods and building a community was something that you could say yes to. It turned out to be a lot more complicated than I thought.
The community that Bob and I were living in, where we were raising the kids, had already been established. We were not starting it. It had been established when we came into it. I could've stayed. Bob was leaving, he was going to Vermont. I could've stayed, but I needed to do something new, and for myself, and I think I needed to go somewhere where it was warmer.
We had friends who had gone to Arkansas, way further south than here, and I was curious. I had my Yankee view of what Arkansas would be like, and I thought somebody would bomb them, or shoot them, or whatever. Finally, went to visit them, and the neighbors would wonderfully kind, even though my friends were totally the oddball in the middle of this conservative, rural area. It wasn't at all what I thought. Nobody was harassing them or being unkind. People were kind and generous, lent them machinery, gave them information. It was wonderful.
I'm really glad I did not look for land down there, because it's hot enough here. That would've been a lot hotter, but it got me over the idea that Arkansas was a forbidden or in forbidden place. I started looking for land here, and what I was looking for, basically, was a big piece of land, long growing season, cheap land ... big land, cheap land, long growing season and, what was the other thing it was, not much building code, not much constrictions around what you could do. I figured if I didn't find it in Arkansas, I was gonna look in the other hill states, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia.
Mason Funk: Let me backup a little bit. I often do this sometimes, go back, and then we'll work our way forward again. When you left the community in New York, where did your boys go? What did you do with your boys?
Diana Rivers: They went with Bob.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] Oh, okay. Can you just tell me that in a complete sentence?
Diana Rivers: [00:19:00] Okay. When Bob and I split up, my two older boys went with him. Sean stayed with me for a while. When I took a trip across the country, Sean went and stayed with Bob, and that was summertime. I came back thinking he needed to be in school.
When I called to find out when I should actually, physically be back, he told me he'd decided to stay with Bob, and I was standing outside in a phone booth, I think in the rain, and started just crying. He did what was smart for him. He figured out that it was bad enough that I left, and then that I was all the way in Arkansas, and Vermont has enough connection with New York. It's close enough that he felt he could keep his friends and get back and forth. Arkansas might as well have been another country. I think he did spend a summer with me at the land as we were trying to ... not here but Sassafras. He's been back and forth and visited with me, but that's what he told me, that Arkansas was just too big a jump.
Natalie Tsui: Your shoulder's in the shot.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Okay. Okay.
Diana Rivers: [00:20:30] It was hard because I was much more of his emotional support than his father was, but I wasn't his physical, material support. He probably made the right choice in that Bob was a whole lot more responsible, scheduled, whatever. I was a wild card, I think he had figured that out.
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] Part of my curiosity about that stems from having had a mom who clearly wanted to run away or leave many, many times and never did. I'm very curious about how you thought of your ... what your guiding principles were or your ...how you were conceiving of your life during this time that you had these boys, but you knew that you needed to be off doing your own thing. What that would be, and what that was like for you as a mother and as a person?
Diana Rivers: [00:21:30] I wouldn't say I was in that spot for a long time of thinking, "I really need to leave. How am I going to do this?" Once I had decided, it happened fairly quickly. Bob's marriage broke up, Ann’s marriage broke up, and neither one of them, they didn't marry each other or even live together. I think, partly, Ann's kids did not like Bob, and they saw him as the family breaker.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk 00:21:45].
Natalie Tsui: Pretty much any time you scoot forward, you're in the shot.
Mason Funk: Okay, okay.
Natalie Tsui: If your hand moves, the far hand, I can [crosstalk 00:21:52].
Diana Rivers: You're too expressive.
Mason Funk: I'm gonna sit stiller than I've ever sat before.
Natalie Tsui: Sorry.
Mason Funk: Okay. No problem, no problem.
Diana Rivers: You have to contain yourself.
Natalie Tsui: You can move your head. You can move your head.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] I can move my head.
Diana Rivers: [00:22:30] I did not picture that Sean was going to live somewhere else. I could start crying right now about it. Looking at it all, I think he made the right decision for him and for him. It freed me up to ... I got married at 18 and when Bob and I broke up, I went back to 18 and started over again. I think he got it, that I needed that freedom. At the same time, as I say, it was hard for him, because I was his emotional support.
Mason Funk: Were there a lot of women you met in that era who had stories similar to yours?
Diana Rivers: [00:23:00] There were two women in the community I lived in who did pretty much the same thing, so out of a small community for three of us to do that. I'm not gonna say we abandoned our children, because we kept trying to keep the connection, but it was unusual in the conventional world that women would up and leave their children.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Did you take a lot of heat for that internally or externally?
Diana Rivers: [00:23:30] Not externally, no. Sean and Paul and I have talked about it a bunch, and now that I'm gonna go visit him, we'll probably talk about it some more. He and I have a very close connection. Actually, I do with both of them.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let me look at my notes real quick. Let's see what we've covered, and let's see if we skipped over anything that I ...
Diana Rivers: Okay, we haven't gotten into ...
Mason Funk: Oh, I know. We've got so far ... we got a lot to talk about.
Diana Rivers: Politics, and coming out, and all that crap.
Mason Funk: Right. You've mentioned Sassafras.
Diana Rivers: [00:24:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: Let's start with that and at least jump in there. You tell me when the coming out piece, where that fits.
Diana Rivers: Okay. I'm gonna tell you a little bit about Sassafras to start with.
Mason Funk: What was Sassafras?
Diana Rivers: [00:24:30] Okay, having decided to look in Arkansas for land for this theoretical community which didn't exist. There was no community waiting to pour itself into land. I was involved with Gary who was about 20 years younger, and then we had a third friend who wanted to come and look for land, and whose idea it was that we would grow pot on the land, and then that would pay for the land. Gary and I both said, "No way." You'd lose your land that way. They'd take everything, so that was not smooth sailing.
I was still looking for this land that would accommodate a community of communes. Instead, we found this spectacularly beautiful land that was basically landlocked. There was one little, tiny entrance to it. A driveway that was probably about a mile, a mile and a half full of truck sized potholes, and huge boulders, and an old farmhouse, and more ticks than you could possibly imagine. There had been 80 head of unsprayed cattle there that left their kicks, left their leavings. Anyway, the community was a struggle. It was always a struggle. It never fully formed.
Mason Funk: This was Sassafras?
Diana Rivers: [00:26:00] This was Sassafras. I think that if anybody was traveling within 30, or 40, or 50 miles of us and local people talked to 'em and they said, "Oh, there's some folks like you up in the hill," and they sent us all this. It was very chaotic, and there was no organization.
Mason Funk: What were its, to the extent that it had guiding principles, what were the guiding principles of Sassafras? Make sure you mention it by name.
Diana Rivers: [00:26:30] I don't know that Sassafras had guiding principles. I don't know that we ever sat down ... We more and more began to try and work out stuff about communication. Marshall's non-violent communication was not happening yet, but we were struggling with some of those things. I guess openness, and equality, and separating ourselves from the bigger society that we could less and less deal with. It was proceeding with this horrific war that made us all war criminals. I don't think we have yet, in our souls, dealt with what we did there. That was a common bond between us all.
Trying to survive on that land was ... The land was very strong, very spiritual land, very beautiful, harsh. People came and went. It was hard to get a solid core that stayed and really worked out a philosophy and a way of doing.
Mason Funk: What were some of the other internal struggles? What were some of the things that were just virtually unsolvable or nearly impossible to solve?
Diana Rivers: [00:28:00] When you have a bunch of people who are making a garden and ask at community meetings, " Please don't anybody get goats until we've got the gardens fenced in," and then you have a couple of people who go to a farm sale and come back with two or three goats, and so to say, "Your problem. Fence your garden." Things like that.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] What would happen?
Diana Rivers: We'd have snarky arguments about it. I guess what happened, of course, was the goats got in the garden. You can't keep them out even with a fence. Anyway, that was only one little thing. When people come to live in a community, they bring all their unresolved family of origin stuff, and you get to deal with that which we did.
Mason Funk: [00:29:30] Can I ask you one more question about that? In terms of the idealism that had driven you all to try this in the first place, did that idealism help or did it get in the way of actually building a community? You were saying no and yes at the same time, I guess, so maybe we can go back to that idea. How did the idealism and the reasons that you all got out in the first place, did they help or did ...
Diana Rivers: I think it helped.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh. Tell me about that.
Diana Rivers: [00:30:00] I don't know what I can tell you. I just think that it helped. I think it's what did keep us together that we had a bond of love with each other, but it didn't last. People came and went, and there definitely was conflict. At a certain point, to shorten the story, I'd say, after a couple of years, two, three years, all of the women came out and left, or left and came out.
It was a whole wave of radical feminism coming from both coasts. It took a while to get here and then, when it got here, it took a really virulent form of women accusing each other and fighting with each other like, "I'm more oppressed than you are, therefore, I have a right to have my say." There was a lot of that that went on. At a certain point, when Kevin died, I went up East. When I came back, women had some meetings, and they had decided they wanted it to be women's land, that it was our turn. This is what was happening in the world, and they wanted me to side with them.
I had a lot of questions about this and how it was going to happen in the least destructive way which it didn't. It happened in a very destructive way. We had a big meeting, men and women. Every once in a while, the women would separate themselves out and caucus by themselves. My friend Jim Loo who was at those meetings said to us, "You all are being fascist," and women got absolutely outraged. "We're the oppressed. How could we, dear sweet lesbians, possibly be fascist?"
He was right. I knew when he said it, he was absolutely right on, because one of the elements of fascism is to make somebody else the scapegoat. When you've made that person or those people the bad people, you're justified with whatever you do to them. That's a basic element of fascism. Jim, who's very sophisticated about that stuff, just took one look at this situation and said, "That's what you're doing." When the women would have a separate caucus I would say, "Pay attention to what you're doing, because how you're treating the men today is how you're gonna treat each other tomorrow," which turned out to be quite true.
Mason Funk: Was there ever a time, for you, when part of you understood, and got with, and maybe got behind the idea of creating a women's only space?
Diana Rivers: [00:33:30] Yeah, I did at that point, but I did not wanna do it in the way of scapegoating someone else. I wanted to do it in the way of coming in and saying, "Hey, the straight community is not functional. It's not working, it's not functional, and there's no way we can patch it. We've tried several years. It is simply not working. The winds of change are blowing. It's women's turn. Turn the land over to us." I think the men would've done it. These were not bad guys. These were nice hippie guys doing their best. They had their blind spots, but they also were, basically, good people. Demonizing them was not useful.
Anyway, what I had said to women was so right, because we got rid of all these nasty men, and then the women could really get after each other. We had a lot to learn. That's what happened.
Mason Funk: That led to you leaving Sassafras, is that correct?
Diana Rivers: Eventually, eventually.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] You stayed for a while?
Diana Rivers: [00:35:00] I stayed for a while. It never was really working, and, at some point, we were having terrific conflicts. There was an Ozark Women's Land Trust, and they were having a meeting. They heard what was happening at Sassafras, and they got in their cars and trucks and they showed up on the land. They called me and they said, "You can't do this. This endangers women's land everywhere. You can't act this way. You have to stop," and it worked, amazingly.
Mason Funk: What, specifically, did they say that women were doing? Was it just at the level of how they were treating each other?
Diana Rivers: Yes, yes.
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] I don't mean to get down and dirty, but what were examples of what they saw that they said, "This is gonna endanger women's land everywhere?"
Diana Rivers: [00:36:00] The land divided into two collectives, and they were basically at war with each other. It was not lovely feminism. It was family of origin stuff but the larger family of origin, the human family. All the rage and anger that women had from young oppression came bubbling up and ran the show for a while, but women took it out on each other. My, then, girlfriend who was kinda crazy, she and I went out to Oregon and managed to come back without killing each other.
The first thing, when we came back, the women just rushed up to us and said, "You have to do something about this." They wanted us to ... "You need to get Catherine's guns away from her." It was very terrifying for some of the women that, Catherine, who was kind of a menacing person, had guns. The other collective, the blue tree tribe thought the way to do things was to make a big circle around the house, and dance, and hoop, and holler, and those of us felt like they were being bitched, so these two sides were pulling at us.
When the women from the women's land trust came, that stopped. They just laid out that, "This group can be here and do this, and this group can be here and do that. You have no interaction with each other till next week, and we're coming back to see how you're doing." "Okay, boss."
Mason Funk: Wow.
Diana Rivers: [00:37:30] It was wonderful. It was perfect, 'cause it worked. There was enough trust, there was enough sense of community, a larger community that women actually paid attention. They managed to ... Next time, when they came back the discussion was who's gonna make what for Thanksgiving instead of threats, and rumbles, and all of that.
Mason Funk: [00:38:30] Right. I have a question. Talking, obviously, in huge generalities, women take a lot of heat in society-at-large and the patriarchy for being bitches, basically, and for ... Women, systematically and historically, have had to suppress certain parts of their personalities for fear of being labeled. Is it hard for you, right now, to even talk about those periods when you saw women behaving in ways that were not, themselves, at their best, so to speak?
Diana Rivers: [00:39:00] Yes, it's painful. It was very painful. I had an idealized view of women. I probably still do, but I got a lotta lessons. I was the target of a lot of this, because I had resources. I had originally bought the land. It was a whole scale of oppression. It's like if I'm the most oppressed, then I have the right to oppress you, 'cause that's not oppression that's just justified. There was a lotta that happening, and there wasn't much counterbalance to it. We didn't have our own courts or council, council circle, wisdom circle. Once the women had demonized the men that way, there wasn't much room there for really talking stuff out.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] You mentioned along the way that you had a girlfriend that you traveled out to Oregon with. How would you describe your, so-called, coming out in the middle of this period of time? What happened when you began to first realize maybe I would prefer to be with women than men? When did that dawn on you?
Diana Rivers: [00:40:30] I was getting shit from my community for being with men, and then I fell in love with this woman who was, what I say, it's like there was this interesting-looking roller coaster going by. "Oh boy, I think I'll hop on here and see what this turns out to be." It was a disaster but interesting and exciting, and I'm grateful to her. She introduced me to a lot of women's stuff that I didn't know about, a whole women's culture that I was really ignorant of. We hung in there for like a year and a half, I guess, but it started to get increasingly violent and felt beyond being a rollercoaster. It felt risky, and just it wasn't working.
I couldn't believe ... She was always very sorry that whatever this was had happened, and it would never happen again. Of course, it would, and I finally got that. I finally got that to the point where I got myself outta there. I went back North. I went back to the community I used to live in with Bob, rented a friend's house for the winter, and holed up there, and wrote stories about community. Even though I thought that door was closed, I spent that winter writing community stories.
Mason Funk: Were these stories the early beginnings of the Hadra series?
Diana Rivers: No.
Diana Rivers: No. No relation there.
Diana Rivers: Contemporary stories, stories about community ... Of course, the Hadra are books about community but different.
Mason Funk: Right, right.
Diana Rivers: Have you read any of my books or not?
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] No, I should have.
Diana Rivers: You should have to do a little research here.
Mason Funk: Exactly.
Diana Rivers: I'm sorry you didn't, because we could talk about that.
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah. I have a general understanding of the storyline, the overall world.
Mason Funk: Oopsie, my bad. You went and spent that winter back up in Stony Point.
Diana Rivers: Stony Point, yes.
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] Did you come away with that with some sense of what you wanted to do next?
Diana Rivers: [00:43:30] Even though I left, I knew that I wasn't finished with Arkansas, and that I couldn't just walk away. I had to come back and finish with a lotta people, which I eventually did. I left ... Jenna and I were in the middle of a mediation and, at the end of one session, she stood up and punched a hole through the wall, it was thin wallboard, and went off to work. I really thought, "What am I doing? This isn't safe. It's not gonna get solved. She'll say one thing but then something else would ...," and so, I said to the person who was one of our mediators, "Set up the next mediation as if I'm going to be there, but I'm not. I have to get out."
I could see that it was headed for violence. I didn't necessarily think I was going to be the victim of it, but I have enough violence in me, and I thought it was gonna draw stuff I sure did not want to see, did not wanna be involved in. It was time to get out. I eventually came back and we, a little bit, patched up our relationship, but it never went back to what it was. I knew that it wasn't safe.
Mason Funk: When did you begin to conceive of forming, what eventually became, the Ozark Landholders Association?
Diana Rivers: [00:45:30] Well, left Sassafras, lot of stuff, but I'm not gonna talk about now but a lot of conflict there, and moved to town. Pretty shortly realized that I couldn't live in town, and that I needed a community, and began looking around for the women that I had shared Sassafras with to see if they were interested. We eventually collected a bunch of women and had a meeting where we talked about ... 20 members and we talked about looking for land. It's basically 'cause I wanted to live in the country, but I don't wanna be isolated in the country, so then you gotta do something else.
Mason Funk: What came out of that meeting?
Diana Rivers: [00:46:30] The final meeting that we had when we made the shaping decisions, where when we decided on 20 members, and I forgotten what else we decided on. At that point, I started looking for land, and I'm the one who found this land. We had a real estate agent ... it was winter, I think, or no, it was late spring and there was a slushy snow on the ground coming up that hill, and she was wearing high heeled shoes. I just thought, " What are you doing and for who?" What would make a woman wear high heeled shoes to go out in this roughneck country? Why didn't she have a nice pair of hiking boots? That would impress her clients more than high heeled shoes.
Anyway, I found the land and then, we never had border dispute with our neighbors, but we discovered that there had been some trading going on. The pasture down below me, I don't know if you've stood in that room and looked out the window, there’s big spread of pasture, that actually was part of this land. Down by the main house, there's a big marker, and almost coming into the main house would've been their land and so, there was an exchange made. Very quickly after being on this land ... I had seen a few other places. I don't even remember what, but I hadn't seen anything that compared to this. There's a creek down at the bottom by the swimming hole, it’s very well spacious, there's big pastures, and there's woods.
Mason Funk: [00:49:00] Apart from the community aspect, what was your first priority, the living on the land, or the formation of the community, or did they go hand in hand or ... You wanna take a little break? I feel like maybe you're a little sleepy.
Mason Funk: Just then, I thought I saw you starting to [crosstalk 00:49:03].
Diana Rivers: You saw it.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's warm up here, also.
Diana Rivers: That's one of the things that's from the stroke.
Mason Funk: Sure.
Diana Rivers: I have had times when I'm sitting and talking to somebody and I, literally, go to sleep.
Diana Rivers: I'm gone.
Diana Rivers: Then, I come back again.
Diana Rivers: You caught it right at ... that was the first moment.
Mason Funk: I've been in that same state without a stroke, thank God.
Mason Funk: I've been in that state where I realize that I'm just completely glazing over, and my eyes are open but nobody's home.
Diana Rivers: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yes.
Mason Funk: Do you wanna move around? What would help?
Diana Rivers: Yeah, I'll probably move around. I'll probably put some ice cubes in my ...
Mason Funk: In your OJ?
Natalie Tsui: Okay, I'm cutting.
Diana Rivers: Say that I'm enough of a separatist to think it was very important for women to have their own space on a lot of levels.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] Right.
Diana Rivers: How would we ever know what we would do if we don't have the space to do it and to try it out?
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] Right, right. For me, it's one of the threads of our community that I find very interesting. That's why I've been really seeking to find people who can talk to me about that, that part of the movement, the separatist movement, from the point of view of someone who either was one or who, at least, understands or, as you're making a differentiation between not being a separatist, but understanding the need for women to have their own spaces. What else can I tell you? I think I told you there will be a book published which will contain profiles of different people who have been interviewed. This will all, theoretically, be made public in June of 2019 which is two years from now which is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, for what that's worth. Kind of a big milestone that a lotta people can point to.
Diana Rivers: There's a couple of things I'd like to talk about that you brushed over.
Mason Funk: Okay, so just one second. Are we speeding?
Natalie Tsui: Yup.
Mason Funk: Okay, great.
Diana Rivers: [00:51:30] That is venues for women that I've been involved with several art shows or art and performance shows. We did something in Kansas City called WomenVision. I did it for three years. It was an open art show, and there was no jury. Someone brought me a painting and said, "It's the only painting I've ever done. Do you think you can find," ..."Oh, yeah. We'll put it in." It goes in the show. I felt it was important. I didn't like the whole art world and the judge and jury stuff.
We collaged the walls. We didn't hang things museum style. We just put everything up. The first year, we called it Everyday Altars. I think the intention was to replicate, in the gallery, the way women have art in their homes. There's art around, but that there's other things with it. It's all a series of altars and so, that first year, that's how we did the show. It was all a series of altars.
I was also very involved with the Women's Conference and Festival and the university. There was a month long art show, and I curated for most of those years. The conference lasted for 10 years until the university, I think, wanted to be rid of us and managed some kind of thing about how we owed them money and closed it down. We had brought all kinds of speakers and performances. They should've been thanking us, not saying we owed them money.
I worked with that, and then WomenVision, one year, they did it down here in Eureka Springs. Another year, a little further down the road, the next thing was MatriArts. My friend, Joni, wanted to do a traveling women's art show. We never got to the traveling but, for three years, we did a women's art and performance thing. Usually, the art is on the walls, and there's some kind of a stage built. The two ... there's stage events in the evening and maybe a dance or whatever.
The other thing I was involved with was Goddess Productions which, at the beginning, I wrote most of the scripts for, and it was reader's theater. It was script driven, so you didn't have to have a lot of rehearsals. You could have three rehearsals and put this thing on. We usually had two or three readers and broke up the script between them, and sometimes a bunch of drummers, and usually some dancers, and maybe a flute player. We would go to different communities and do this, and we'd do about three rehearsals.
We would do it, but we would draw in people from the women's community to be part of it, and they would usually help us finding a venue. That was hard. It was wearing. It was hard, and trying to get people to rehearse was maddening, herding cats. Absolutely maddening, 'cause over there all these women were all so glad to talk to each other.
They would be doing that instead of rehearsing, and I didn't have the charm, or the charisma, or the whatever to do it nicely. I'd get snarky and pissed off. I did that for a while out of my back pocket, and then we formed a little collective and did it as a collective. Those are the things I've been involved in.
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] In an overarching sense, can you talk about ... you mentioned earlier the importance of women's physical spaces, but these were, I guess you could say, women's artistic spaces.
Mason Funk: How do you see them in terms of the importance of these creations for women? What's the overarching value of doing this?
Diana Rivers: [00:56:30] Women have been very underrepresented in the art world. If you go back to art school, it'll be mostly women who were the students. Art was looked on as a sissy thing for men but then, when you get up in the art world, it's men who were the main protagonists there. I just wanted to reverse that.
Oh, I left out the Goddess Festival. That was one of the most important ones which is still running. Eight years later, it's still running. In my mind, I saw this art show, goddesses, angels, and amazons on the wall. We all were out Friday, full moon, canoe float on this little lake. My friend Vic was there, and I bumped into her after we all got out of the boats and we're in the parking lot. I said, "Vic, you wanna do a goddess festival with me," and she said, "Oh, yeah," having no concept.
The first time we did it, we did it for a month. We got a venue, and we did this for a whole month. We would take in enough money to cover paying for the venue, because we would do music performances, or theater performances, or whatever. Mostly, it was all free, but we did try and make enough money to cover the ... We did that for three years.
Finding a venue, that was the hardest thing, harder than putting on the whole festival was finding the venue and, often, redoing it to make it doable for us, so it had to combine a gallery space and a performance space. We are still doing it, here in the middle of the Bible Belt. Every year that we do it, I think, "Oh, well, maybe we've done this enough," and then there will be people who show up. Whatever it is they say to me, I think, "Yeah, you're the person we did this for," because it means so much.
We live under this compulsory Christianity, the assumption that you're either Christian or you should be. There's very little breathing room for the rest of us. I connected a lot with feminism, because patriarchal religion is the root of the patriarchy. It's the spiritual bulwark of the patriarchy and the excuse for it. It says in the Bible that a woman should be silent or whatever. It's like, "That's your book. I got other things over here. I'm gonna go dance with the goddess."
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] Do you think doing all the work you've done here in Arkansas, as opposed to a more traditionally liberal state, what has been the character and the potential benefit of doing it here in Arkansas?
Diana Rivers: People who think like us may feel isolated and alone and, all of a sudden, there's a whole structure to support that and to remind them of, yes, they are okay.
Mason Funk: Do you think there's a way in which being in an oppositional environment strengthens the initiatives that you and others take?
Diana Rivers: [01:00:30] Yes, I think it does. I think it's contradictory, I think it does both. I think it strengthens it, and I think it's also wearing. We've never had ... I'm always expecting it with the Goddess Festival, the rock through the window, and we've never had the rock through the window. I'm infinitely glad, 'cause it would be breaking somebody else's artwork. I've been expecting it, because this is that kind of place.
Mason Funk: What was it like for you this morning ... Whoops.
Natalie Tsui: You're scratching the mic.
Mason Funk: Oh. Oh, yeah. In terms of the café we sat in this morning with those other men sitting there, I can't fathom what that's like for you, whether it just feels like they might as well be creatures from a different or whether there's some kind of commonality there. I just don't know how you feel in that space. These are, theoretically, your neighbors.
Mason Funk: Maybe set the scene, 'cause the ...
Diana Rivers: [01:02:00] You're talking about the people in the café, they're my neighbors. Some of them I know, some of them I don't. I tend to be shy around people like that. Sometimes they clearly disapprove. There's no question. Somebody will look at me and pretty much turn their back. Other times, they're very friendly. They all know who I am, they know my name, and they know who I am.
The men who were there today, I've seen them all, but I don't know who they are. My ex-girlfriend, Cedar, now she would've known. Her daddy ran a gas station, and she knew everybody, and she made sure to know everybody here. She would've known who those guys were, and they probably all would've talked to her. They didn't talk to me. They didn't pay any attention to me, so these were not the guys who turn their back.
In terms of Fayetteville, I'm very out. I'm out. My picture's been out there. There used to be a little television program that we all did. A friend of mine ran it, and it was interviews. She interviewed me a couple of times, all in the terms of being out, of being more out, and normalizing ourselves.
Here, I'm a lot shier about it. I'm sure they all have figured out who we are. There was some moment when we got a ... a whole bunch of us were down at the main house and we got a phone call. I don't exactly remember how it went, but it was UPS. It was somebody trying to figure out how to get here. They had a package for somebody at [inaudible]. In the background, we could hear somebody saying, "Oh, you know where that is. That's up there on dyke mountain." Okay?
There have not ever been, on the land, unfriendly guys. Sometimes they're very friendly, regular working guys from out in the world who are either doing electric or garbage or whatever. They come into my house, they're bowled over by the stone wall. They think it's wonderful. They'll ask me a lotta questions about the solar, so they're responding to something.
Mason Funk: [01:04:30] We were wondering, on the drive up when we were following you, whether you having been seen in a public place with us, clearly not from here, whether after we leave that could have repercussions for you. Is there the potential for that kind of danger where some-
Diana Rivers: No, no, no.
Diana Rivers: No. I don't-
Mason Funk: The sound of a battery.
Natalie Tsui: It just had to be replaced.
Mason Funk: Oh, you want me to grab you a couple spares?
Natalie Tsui: Oh, this one has three. I just gotta change that one.
Natalie Tsui: Just a second, I'm just gonna-
Mason Funk: I was gonna make you laugh, but we'll get to that.
Natalie Tsui: [01:05:00] Okay, ready.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's talk about separatism first. Are you now or have you ever been a separatist?
Diana Rivers: No, but I understand the need for and the principles of ... I have sons-
Mason Funk: [01:05:30] Imagine my question is not ... that we're not gonna hear my question, so you need to say the word separatism.
Diana Rivers: [01:06:00] Okay, so you wanna ask me about separatism. I have sympathy for the concept. I had three sons who I love. I don't have the luxury, and I say that with a little bite of being a separatist, but I understand women wanting separate space on a lot of different levels. I think we need all those levels as a way to evolve.
If we don't separate ourselves from the dominant culture, how will we ever know what we could do, and how we would like to make things, and what could happen? I think it's an education for us as women, or as people of color, or whatever way people have separated themselves. It's a way of learning, and it's a way for that group to learn but, also, for the dominant culture to learn about what these people are capable of. I'm not interested in separatism that makes men all bad or evil, or that is punitive, or hurtful. I think we have to watch out. We start to lose our own humanity when we start to demonize other people. I watched women doing that, and it was very painful, but I do think we need separate spaces.
Mason Funk: [01:07:30] Yeah. Is the need for those separate spaces for women just as great if not greater today than, say, 30, 40, 50 years ago?
Diana Rivers: I think it's less today, because we're way more integrated into the main culture, and we're way more visible. I think we used to be invisible and being separate was one way of being visible.
Mason Funk: [01:08:00] In a generalized way, you feel like women, and include my question somehow in your answer, you feel like women have worked their way from that extreme invisibility to a place of more visibility and participation and less oppression? Is that a fair question?
Diana Rivers: Yes, but I don't know that I can reflect it all back.
Diana Rivers: [01:08:30] Do I think things have changed? Yes. Do I think that women's politics have helped change them? Yes, including the politics of separatism. Yes, I think we are evolving. It's startling when we look back and see where we came from.
Mason Funk: How would you compare that evolution for women in society to the evolution that has occurred for queer people in society from, say, the last 50 years till now?
Diana Rivers: [01:09:00] I think it's very similar. More visibility, more space, less judgment. Right now, we're seeing a big hiccup. It is really bad, but I think, basically, we're moving to a more tolerant, interested, curious kind of attitude instead of so judgmental.
One of the things that I find really difficult is religion. I've ended up being very anti-religious and having less and less patience with what I call compulsory Christianity. We're all supposed to be Christians. We're all either Christians or lapsed Christians, and that's not my book. The Bible says ... okay, that's your book. That's not my book.
I could be interested in what you think the Bible says. We could have a discussion about it but, as the word of God and as the law of men, that's really not my book. There are horrific things in the Bible including a prescription for genocide, so I'm not ... Actually, that brings us to the other thing you wanted to talk about or that I wanted to talk about which is women's spirituality. When we drove by and I showed you that we had a grove. We have a cedar grove that's our sacred space. What we did was clear away the dead cedar and the dead branches and make an indoor/outdoor space which has been wonderful.
I had a friend who was trying to get me involved in women's spirituality. I felt like it was just one more religious group trying to get a chunk of my soul, and I would say, "Okay, I'll come," because she finally said there'll be drumming. I go, "Oh, there'll be drumming. Okay." I said, "I'll come if I can stand on the outside of the circle, and I don't have to say anything, and I can leave if I need to." She said, "Okay."
I came a few times and I realized very quickly that what was being celebrated was the connection to the natural world which I've always had. It's always been sacred for me, but I've never thought of it in terms of religion before or sacredness. The more I was in those circles, it was okay. I didn't have to leave. In fact, I became one of the people who maintain the circle, and I miss it when it isn't happening, when there's nobody doing a circle for the holy days.
Mason Funk: What are the holy days? How do you determine which are the holy days, or how do they get scheduled?
Diana Rivers: [01:12:30] There's eight of them. You have the two big ones, winter solstice and summer solstice, and spring equinox and fall equinox. The two equinoxes are where day and night are equally balanced. The summer solstice is the longest day, the shortest night, and the winter solstice is the longest night and the shortest day. It's just celebrating our connection to the natural world.
We're on this planet that is turning all the time, and is always turning a different face, and going through the seasons. It's celebrating that, acknowledging it, and being part of it, having a portion of it. There's a lot of wonderful chants, and songs, and music that goes with this. Partly, we're making it up as we go along and, partly, we're trying to retrieve what was there.
There's lots of shadows of the goddess in the Bible. I took a course called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven in the Unitarian Church, and there is a whole piece in the Bible where they talk about baking cakes for the queen of heaven. I forgotten what the rest of the phrases are, but it's such an acknowledgement of the goddess. They also talk about burning down a shower of sacred groves, because those women worshiped out in the trees. A temple was the circle of trees so, if you burned down the circle of trees, you've burned down the temple. All of this is in the Bible, but it also taps something in my heart. It's not like anybody could haul me in and make me listen to this stuff.
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] These sacred spaces are for women only, is that correct, when you go into that sacred space down the hill?
Diana Rivers: I think Michael and Charlie have come to some of our rituals. Mostly, it's for women only. In this area, there's certainly mixed groups of Pagans.
Mason Funk: It's funny you use the word pagan to me because, of course, carries such a negative connotation.
Diana Rivers: Oh, no.
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] Tell me about that. Tell me about the word pagan. What does that mean to you?
Diana Rivers: [01:15:30] I think in origin it meant country person. They hung on for a long time in the face of compulsory Christianity that came with inquisitions and extreme death and violence and held on for a long time to their country ways. Again, it speaks to my heart. I can hardly go into a church here. I feel like it's going to close around me and get me.
I can go into churches in other countries and feel the peace there or whatever it is in that church. In France or Mexico, I can find God, or find my soul, or whatever in the church setting. It's startling to me that we have managed to create a religion that excludes women. It's just the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Wow, that's nice. That completely leaves out women. Even though, as mammals, as we look around the world, we're all born of a woman's body, but God, the Father ...
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] This is a total side note, but my dad, we're preparing for his memorial service, and there's a passage from Isaiah that he loved which uses God repeatedly and then, of course, God, He, and Him. I was going through it and I was changing all the Hes and Hims to God, and I'm hoping that nobody notices. It's the only way it makes it palatable to me, even though my dad was perfectly comfortable with calling God, He and Him. You said Paganism held on for a long time and the wisdom of the country people, so to speak. Do you have a sense that it may be experiencing some kind of a resurgence?
Diana Rivers: Oh, yeah. I have no doubt.
Mason Funk: [01:17:30] Tell me what ... You have no doubt about what? "I have no doubt that ..."
Diana Rivers: Oh, sorry.
Mason Funk: No worries.
Diana Rivers: [01:18:00] Yes, I definitely think that Paganism is having a resurgence in spite of the attempt to pretend it doesn't exist. We talk about the great religions and we talk about whether somebody's religious or not religious. When I hear all of that it's like, "Don't count me among the religious. I don't worship your God in whichever form, whatever outfit you have Him in, whether it's Jehovah, or Allah, or whatever. No way."
Mason Funk: You feel like there is something else happening?
Diana Rivers: [01:18:30] Yes. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Natalie, the camera operator always gets to ask questions, too, 'cause she's had this .... When you answer, for continuity's sake, just answer as if I had asked the question.
Natalie Tsui: Is this a good time? There's nine minutes left. Should I just switch the card really quickly?
Mason Funk: Yeah, let's switch the card really quickly.
Mason Funk: Whatever you were gonna say, we'll just have it on camera and you can say it to me. Whatever you were gonna say, "I didn't set out to do X or Y," then you're gonna tell us what you did set out to do.
Mason Funk: That's worth recording.
Mason Funk: Are we speeding?
Diana Rivers: Okay, talking?
Diana Rivers: [01:19:30] You asked me why a community in Arkansas and the first place would be why Arkansas? I did explain that I was looking for cheap land, large pieces of land, a long growing season, and next to no building codes, and found all of that in Arkansas before I went to look any place else. I came down here, originally, because I had two friends who came down and started a little community in Boles, Arkansas. I liked what I saw and decided to start looking around here. I didn't look around Boles. I'm really glad I didn't, because it would've been way too hot, and it would've been way away from gay community. I have no idea what there is in Boles or Waldron, but it would not be like Fayetteville and Eureka Springs, so I wouldn't have found the community I was looking for.
Mason Funk: Did that answer your question, Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: [01:20:30] Not exactly. I think that was already asked. It was something else, but I think maybe describe the gay community here when you first got here. I don't know if that makes sense. The heat's really getting to me.
Diana Rivers: [01:21:00] When I first got here, to begin with, I wasn't a lesbian when I came down here. I came down in '72, and I think I was like a refugee from the war. I just needed to get away from all of the anger, and upset, and this is where I started looking. I had no connection with the gay community. I wasn't even aware of it.
The community was mixed. The alternative community and the gay community was mixed and so, there were a lot of people that I met that were kind of in both. It took me being down here maybe three or four years before I came out, so I experienced the Arkansas, back to the land, alternative community way before I did the gay community. Natalie, I don't know if that answers the question or begs the question.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, yeah. I think that was ... Yeah. I have one other question and then, Mason, you can take it away.
Natalie Tsui: Can you describe your sculptures? I've been seeing them around the house and ...
Diana Rivers: Take pictures.
Natalie Tsui: [01:22:00] Yeah, I took a couple. They're great. Can you describe how you first started making them, what your motivation is?
Diana Rivers: [01:22:30] Nothing that's on that altar is mine. I think I had always done what, looking back on it now, I would say it was sort of goddess sculptures. Actually, coming out as a Pagan, it became a lot more deliberate or thought about. As far as describing them, large female forms with a lotta power packed into those shapes. I feel like there's sort of an extension of my spiritual ritual side.
Mason Funk: Do you still sculpture to this day? Do you create sculptures?
Diana Rivers: [01:23:30] I haven't made any recently. The one that's down the hill all covered with branches, I wish you could see that one. That's sort of inspired by ones that I had seen Turkey. I think you asked me something I didn't answer.
Mason Funk: Natalie, did you have more questions?
Natalie Tsui: Nope, that's it. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:24:00] Okay. One that I wanted to explore a little bit was this whole ... as I've been reading about Arkansas, which this is the first time I've ever set foot in this state and so playing catch up on what exists here, but one person I read expressed the idea that Arkansas was a good place for women's communities and queer communities to a certain degree, because even non-lesbians, non-queer people but rural people had felt queered by society-at-large for decades.
Diana Rivers: Interesting.
Mason Funk: There was kind of a fertile seedbed here for women and queers.
Diana Rivers: Some kind of sympathy.
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] Yeah. Does that resonate with you?
Diana Rivers: [01:25:00] Yeah, yeah. We've actually had some wonderful stuff with local people. There's an older man who has since died, Delbert, who I think very quickly got it who we were and helped us. He would come and pull the car out of the ditch or whatever. Really kind and sweet, and shared things with us, and gave us things, and died of cancer. He was certainly one of the good guys who liked to help people.
Mason Funk: Who maybe, on some level, appreciated you all's desire to live the way you wanted to live without being harassed by that, without being put down?
Diana Rivers: I think so. Yeah.
Mason Funk: I think about the movie Deliverance. Natalie's never seen Deliverance. What a movie about rednecks.
Mason Funk: What a portrayal of an entire part of the country, basically, if you know what I mean?
Diana Rivers: Yeah, yeah, and that's what I thought when I came to visit my friends in Arkansas. I thought that's what I would meet. Sorry, Natalie.
Natalie Tsui: That's okay.
Diana Rivers: [01:26:00] It was so much not that way. That's here. I have no doubt that it's here. We certainly have seen it in schools with kids. If their mothers are lesbians, it gets taken out on the kids. The teachers and the school administration seem afraid to stick up for those kids, because that puts them in that bucket. That's been painful to watch.
Mason Funk: Okay, final four questions, short ones. You mentioned coming out as Pagan, which I think is really interesting, because I see coming out as something we do over and over again.
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] My basic question about coming out, that I ask every interviewee, is if someone comes to you and says, "I'm thinking about coming out," what pearl or piece of wisdom do you offer that person?
Diana Rivers: [01:27:30] I'd want to talk to them about the circumstances of their life. Where they're living, where they're working, what the pushback would be? If there were negative consequences, could they deal with them? Usually, I would encourage someone to come out, but I wouldn't do it blindly. I wouldn't just, "Oh, yeah." It's like, "Come to the picnic." I would certainly ask them a bunch of questions. Get them to look at their lives and see what this would mean.
Mason Funk: Great. It's surprising to me, still, how many people have that ... most people don't say, "Oh, yeah, do it." It's interesting. The common thread is look at your-
Diana Rivers: Think about what you're doing.
Mason Funk: [01:28:00] In these times we live in, what is your hope for the future?
Diana Rivers: [01:28:30] I want to re-elect Barack Obama. I miss him desperately. I don't know. I don't wanna minimize what's happening. I think we could be going into full blown fascism, and I think we have a madman at the helm. It feels really dangerous to criticize him. He's feels as if he’s vindictive, and he's gonna set the hounds of hell on you.
Watching his stuff with the media and then, of course, I think, well, if you wanna be dictator, attacking the media is a really good way to go. You wanna destabilize the connection between the people and the media, because who else is gonna keep track of what you're doing? I really think this is a blip. I don't think we're going to do what there is the potential for, but I know we already have detention centers. I know we're already rounding up some people, and we could be it, but I don't think so.
I think the world is moving in the other way. I think most of the world is moving the other way. I was thrilled the other day. I get my thrills watching MSNBC, watching Rachel. It went off the other night. I'm right there watching her and my screen goes black. Anyhow, what was I gonna say with that, something?
Mason Funk: Something about you think maybe we're going ... It was a note of optimism, I think.
Diana Rivers: [01:30:30] Oh, Jerry Brown, governor of California saying, "We're going to abide by the Paris Accords, and I'm talking to what's his name in Canada and the President of Mexico, and I'm leaving tomorrow for China." It's like, "Oh." Apparently, that there are other states falling into place with this. The whole thing is so crazy.
Mason Funk: [01:31:00] I know. If you used Governor Brown as an example, how is that an example ... does your hope rest with the idea that individuals can still make a difference?
Diana Rivers: Mm-hmm ( affirmative), part of it.
Mason Funk: Is that what you'd say the main part of your hope is? On what does your hope lie?
Diana Rivers: [01:31:30] That there so much scientific knowledge, at this point, about climate change that somebody can deny it, but it really is. That's not the only thing I'm concerned about. I don't know where we're going to end up. I keep looking at my life and then thinking of the refugees and what it would be like to lose everything. I think you're being told you're too lively.
Mason Funk: It was my shoulder. [crosstalk 01:31:42].
Natalie Tsui: You keep on leaning forward.
Mason Funk: I know. I'm leaning in. I'm supposed to lean in, but I'm supposed to lean back. Okay, well, let's go onto the next question which is why was it important-
Diana Rivers: [01:32:00] I think I would go back to that one that you just asked. It goes from day to day and it goes from morning to night, whether I'm in despair or whether I'm thinking, " Oh, that's what's going on." Your next question?
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Diana Rivers: [01:32:30] Interesting, you're asking an author that. I don't know that I have stories left to tell.
Mason Funk: For example, for some reason you agreed to let me come up here with Natalie and record this interview. I'm just wondering why you said yes to that?
Diana Rivers: [01:33:00] I said yes, not me personally, but as a gay person. I think it's real important to have those stories out there. The more the better. We're here, we exist, we have a life, we matter.
My iPad is not working, 'cause it doesn't have ... I don't have a cord for it at the moment, but there's a picture of me and my friend Sheila in the back of a friend's car, in the back of a convertible in the Gay Pride Parade. It was wonderful this year. There were so many people, so many people. There must've been over a thousand people, and this is in Fayetteville. Not necessarily in the parade but in the crowd of supporters yelling, and shouting, and waving, and so many young people, and this year no protestors.
We have a friend who went and bought a dozen roses, and he was going to lay a rose down by every counter-demonstrator, and he went home with all his roses, 'cause nobody was out there. I think the size of it was a form of resistance. I think the resistance is taking many forms and giving us support that way is definitely a form. That's why I agreed. It's like a family thing. Okay, we should be telling this story. That's why I keep saying, "What is this for? This is for an archive?" I'm thinking, "You said yes without really knowing what you were saying yes to." Maybe not a smart thing to do.
Mason Funk: [01:35:00] Especially, 'cause my last question is what do you see as the importance of a project like OUTWORDS? You're gonna be like, "I have no idea." OUTWORDS is basically an attempt to gather stories like yours and share them with people in New York, or California, or Iowa, basically. If that's our mission, why do you think such a mission would be important?
Diana Rivers: [01:35:30] For the reasons I've said before that we're here, we're alive, we matter, we shouldn't just disappear, our story should be told. People, later looking back, need to ... Our history gets erased so quickly, and I would say that especially as a woman. Our women's history gets erased so fast that it's women who did that. What is the movie that just came out about the black women who were involved with the NASA project?
Mason Funk: Oh, yeah, Hidden Figures.
Diana Rivers: Hidden Figures which is a great example of why the story needs to be get told. That's not our story, but I don't see it as so different.
Diana Rivers: [01:36:00] I think a lot before, when people were writing biographies and all, and they realized the person they were writing about is a lesbian, you tend to bury it, or sanitize it, neutralize it, instead of saying, "Oh, yeah. This woman who had this influence and did this wonderful thing and all." Before, it was like, "We don't want to insult her. We don't want to say that." The more we're out there, our stories are out there.
Mason Funk: Great. I realized a minute ago that you, of course, are an author along with everything else, and we haven't really talked about, for example, the Hadra stories. To someone who doesn't know what they are, can you describe the world of those novels, the Hadra novels and stories?
Diana Rivers: Yeah. It's sort of an archaic world. I don't know whether it's on this planet and I don't-
Mason Funk: [01:37:00] Start by saying what you're talking about, the Hadra.
Diana Rivers: [01:37:30] I'm talking about my book series, what I call the Hadra series which started with the last book. I started with the last book and, as I was writing it, it's like, "Who are these women? Where did they come from? How did all this happen?" I backed up 200 years and wrote what is now the beginning of the series, Daughters of the Great Star, where I could explain to myself and everyone else where these women came from and how it all began. I had a 200-year playground there to do stuff in. Lesbian, visionary, fantasy adventure stories.
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] Why did you choose to create that speculative world or the fantastic world as opposed to writing so-called realistic or contemporary stories?
Diana Rivers: [01:38:30] It's a lot more freedom. It's amazing. You can just make it up. I don't have to look it up, I don't have to go to Google, I don't have to ... Make it up, the plant, the tree, whatever. You just invent it. I didn't intend to do any of this. The first page of Journey to Zelindar was written ... it was a summer day. I was sick. I think I was feverish. I knew where the keys to Mary's house were, and I was in town. I needed shelter. I needed just to stop, so I went in her house. She was away. I was trying to just lie down and go to sleep, and this little story came into my head about this woman going to the ocean to drown herself.
Natalie Tsui: There's a plane.
Mason Funk: [01:39:00] Yeah, hold this thought. There's a plane overhead.
Mason Funk: We'll just let it pass.
Diana Rivers: If it doesn't circle us.
Diana Rivers: At least they don't do that looking for dope anymore. They used to fly so low I could see in their helicopter. I could see the color of the guy's shirt and all.
Diana Rivers: I could've shot them if I was of that kind of mind. Who's gonna spend that kinda money on something that's almost legal anyway?
Mason Funk: Right, right. Okay.
Diana Rivers: Now, what was I going to ...
Mason Funk: You were talking about you had this idea, this little story of a woman walking to the ocean to drown herself.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] Back up a little bit. Let's get the story clean. Back up and say, "I was in town one day. I needed a place to lie down. I went to my friend Mary's house."
Diana Rivers: [01:40:30] Yeah, okay. The way this story started is I was in town, hot summer day, I was sick. I went to my friend Mary's house to lie down, and what's, essentially, the first page of the book came through my head about this woman walking to the ocean to kill herself. I'm thinking, "What? Who?" She even had a name. "What is this about?"
All I wanted to do was go to sleep and get better. " I feel lousy. I'm not interested in this," but it kept replaying like a little tape. I got up and wrote it down, and that's almost the first page of the book. Then, I saw the women who came to save her, very wild looking women. They were scary to her as the patriarchal people in her city were, but she eventually ends up living with them and going through a lot of adventures with them.
As I said, I was writing along in the book and thinking, "Okay, where did this whole culture come from that Sair becomes part of? They've been going on a long time. They have all these customs and these ways of doing things. How did all of this start?" Then, I went back 200 years. I gave myself that space and then the rest of the books are written in that 200-year space.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Natalie and I have been talking a lot about The Handmaid's Tale, and it sounds almost like you've created an inverse world to that world.
Diana Rivers: [01:42:30] Yes, yes, very much. The Handmaid's Tale is sort of in there somewhere, but that's not my story and that's not Sair's story. Sair leaves her city because her father marries her off to the captain of the guards, and she is not willing to be sexual with him. She thinks if she just keeps saying no, she'll get sent home to her father's house, which is where she wants to be, 'cause she has more freedom there than most young women in the city. He gets very angry, and he takes her to the barracks and, essentially, throws her to his men and says, "Do whatever you want with her and leave what's left on the garbage pile."
There's one man who takes mercy on her and leaves an overcoat with her with bread in the pockets, and she makes her way out of the city and begins walking. The woman who was her nursemaid, old woman from a tribe on the coast, had talked to her about the coast and about the ocean, and that woman was a slave in her father's house. She remembers the stories, and she decides she is going to walk to the ocean and she's going to ... In her culture, she's a dead woman. They're not going to do anything for her, but she decides she's gonna make her own death.
In fact, she's not pleased when the Hadra fish her out of there. They've been watching her. They've been following her, and they've been watching her, and they see her do this. They fish her out, and then she lives with them. She heals with them. She's walked miles and miles and has hardly eaten anything. She's completely depleted. She has a new life. No, it's not the The Handmaid's Tale. It's way the opposite.
Mason Funk: Now, we're really done, and we can stop anytime. It sounds almost like as if that lead character in The Handmaid's Tale could've become ...
Diana Rivers: Sair[crosstalk 01:44:26].
Diana Rivers: [01:45:00] Sairizzia, the sayer of the story. It's funny, at some point ... I had no intention of writing a book. This book got written at night. The rough draft got written in a week and a half. Nothing like this has ever happened to me since.
I showed some of the chapters. I had enough chapters written that when I went to West Coast Women's Music Festival I took them with me, and I showed them to somebody who was a literary agent, nine chapters. She said, "Write it in third-person. First-person is limiting. Third-person gives you much more scope."
I thought she probably knew what she was talking about, so I went home and I tried to write it in third-person. Essentially, my speaker said to me, "You wanna tell the story, you tell it. I'm done here." It was totally boring to me. I was charging ahead, because I had someone telling me this story. I was seeing it through her eyes and telling it with her voice.
As soon as I tried to say it in third-person, there was all this distance between me and the story. Sair really did ... It's almost like a person just saying to me, "Hey, you think you can do it better, go for it. I'm done," so I went back to first-person. All the books have been first-person, 'cause it's always somebody is telling me that story. They want it told.
Mason Funk: Great example of not listening to someone else no matter how qualified they are.
Diana Rivers: I tried.
Mason Funk: [01:46:30] You gave it the old college try.
Diana Rivers: I tried and then I thought, "If it's boring me ... at least if you're writing it should interest and excite you. If it's boring you, best give it up."
Mason Funk: [01:47:00] Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's what someone told me when I moved to LA to become a screenwriter. They said, "If you are not writing a screenplay that you would, basically, just walk over hot coals for that story, then just don't waste your time, because it's gonna be so hard that you will not succeed if you are not in love with your own material."
Mason Funk: I wasn't in love with it, so I set it aside. I think we're done unless there's anything, last chance, to say if I've forgotten. I'm glad we talked about that, the writing, 'cause that would've been a huge oversight.
Diana Rivers: [01:47:30] I wanna give you a book of my short stories and probably a copy of Journey or Daughters. Daughters, I have thousands of 'em. I'm trying to get rid of them, so I'd rather give you Daughters.
Diana Rivers: It is the start of the story.
Mason Funk: Okay. Oh, that's the one that you went back and wrote later. Uh-huh, okay.
Diana Rivers: I wrote Daughters, then I wrote the Hadra, and then I wrote six or seven more books.
Mason Funk: Uh-huh.
Diana Rivers: [01:48:00] A bunch of them are downstairs. I have a book of short stories, and I hope I have them here. I know they're down at the main house. I have boxes of 'em.
Mason Funk: Okay. All right, now [crosstalk 01:48:02]-
Diana Rivers: The short stories are contemporary. They're not ...
Mason Funk: Right, right. Are those more recent, therefore? Are they more recent stories, or were they things you wrote earlier?
Diana Rivers: [01:48:30] Oh, there's some that are 40 years ago. They're from all ... but, they're just not fantasy, except there are a couple that have some fantasy element in.
Mason Funk: [01:49:00] Okay. I'm happy to take whatever you wanna give us. It'll be our pleasure. We need to do something called room tone which is just 30 seconds of just silence with the camera speeding.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, so just wait for the chip. Room tone. Okay. Okay, got it.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: July 06, 2017
Location: Home of Diana Rivers, Elkins, AR