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Susan Griffin was born in Los Angeles, California in 1943. She came into the world at a time of global war and the Holocaust. These events continue to inform her writing on war, climate change, gender, colonialism, democracy, and terrorism.
 
Susan attended the University of California, Berkeley, during the 1960s. While there she worked with movements promoting free speech and civil rights. After transferring to San Francisco State University, she graduated in 1965. She later returned to UC Berkeley to earn her MA in 1973. Around this same time, Susan married, had a daughter, divorced, and came out as a lesbian. 

Over the course of her prolific career, Susan has published twenty-one books in every genre. In 1975 she won an Emmy Award for a televised production of her play, Voices. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her 1993 book, A Chorus of Stones, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize two additional times. She is the recipient of many awards, including from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations. 

In 1978 Susan published Woman and Nature. The book connected society’s denigration of women to a broader devaluation of the environment. Through this work, Susan emphasized the unity of ecological and feminist concerns and inspired the movement known as eco-feminism. 

In 1981 Susan published a book critiquing pornography for its role in reinforcing female subjugation. In 2001, she published the first comprehensive history of European courtesans. Insatiably curious about the broad structures of social power and responsibility, in 2008 Susan wrote Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy: On Being an American Citizen. In 2011, she co-edited Transforming Terror, a collection of writings by authors from 64 countries including Jewish, Christian and Islamic perspectives about the effects of terror and how to respond to it. 

In addition to her writing, Susan has lectured, taught, and read her work at universities and public venues throughout the world. Her writing has been translated into 17 languages. She is currently working on three projects, including an extended essay called Strong Man, a novel about global warming, and an epic poem about the Mississippi River. 

Susan’s home in the Berkeley hills is everything one would expect from a woman in love with both the material world and the world of words and ideas. Trees seem to embrace the house; sunlight filters in; and everywhere one looks, there are books. By embracing nature, Susan has become a force of nature.
Susan Griffin: [00:00:00] Good.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. We are speeding.
Mason Funk: So start off and just tell me your name and spell it all out, please.
Susan Griffin: I'm Susan Griffin. You want me to spell it? S-U-S-A-N G-R-I-F-F-I-N.
Mason Funk: Okay. And what date were you born and where, please?
Susan Griffin: January 26th, 1943 in Los Angeles, California.
Mason Funk: Okay. So tell me a little bit about ... We talked about it the other day ... You had a really interesting childhood,
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] in terms of the family structure. Tell me ... Paint me a picture, if you would, of the family you were born into. I like to ask people what was the culture? What was the family culture? What was valued?
Susan Griffin: Yeah, it was ... I was born into a particular historical moment for one thing. It was the end of World War II ... I'm writing about that now, the influence of just learning about the Holocaust
Susan Griffin: [00:01:00] and veterans and war posters all over. I was three years old, two-three years old, when the war ended. But my grandparents, who were kind of ... Ruled the roost in my family. My parents and my grandparents lived in two halves of a duplex in Los Angeles
Susan Griffin: [00:01:30] in the neighborhood of L.A. High, if anybody knows L.A. My grandparents had come to California from southern Illinois and they were very much part of a small town in southern Illinois. I guess it's not that small anymore, White Heath Urbana, but it was then and my grandfather's father was a butcher. His mother, my sister and I believe,
Susan Griffin: [00:02:00] was Jewish but they always said 'Huguenot.' But we have reason to believe she was Jewish. My grandmother's mother, I'm talking about my grandparents' parents anyway, my grandmother's family were farmers. My grandparents apparently had been lovers before they were married
Susan Griffin: [00:02:30] and my grandmother had a stillborn child. She went to Virginia cause it was then such a shameful thing. Maybe that was part of why they moved after marrying but anyway ... They did move to California but they retained that sort of Middle Western conservatism. My parents were different.
Susan Griffin: [00:03:00] My father was born to ... My father's people were from Canada and his father and my great-grandmother moved to California. So they came from a small island on Canada. There's a story behind that but it could take hours to tell you all this so I won't tell you. But because my grandmother didn't move with them ... Well, she had been unfaithful so that was outrageous so ... They moved to California.
Susan Griffin: [00:03:30] So my parents were always more liberal than my grandparents. But my mother didn't particularly have any distinct politics per se, she was just sort of a more rebellious, you'd say. My father was a working man. He did go to two years of college but never graduated. It was during the Depression. He became a fireman.
Susan Griffin: [00:04:00] So they were more liberal but got along just fine with my grandparents. My grandfather was an old racist and he was very boring on that subject. He would hold forth and get red in the face and eventually he would keep talking and not realize that everybody had left the room. My grandparents were not rabidly,
Susan Griffin: [00:04:30] but mildly, also anti-Semitic so they were disturbed when I started having lots of Jewish friends and eventually was adopted by a Jewish family. That happened because I was moved back and forth. My parents divorced when I was six years old. My sister was 13 and my sister was sent to northern California, to Davis, to live with my great-aunt. I was sent to my grandparents.
Susan Griffin: [00:05:00] My parents had been living in the San Fernando Valley and my mother continued to do so. My father moved to North Hollywood where he was a fireman. I was stationed with my grandparents and lived with them for a period. Then I went back to live with my mother for a short period but her drinking was too problematic. I mean she would just disappear. She would take with her to bars,
Susan Griffin: [00:05:30] where I'd fall asleep in one of the Naugahyde booths. Or she'd leave me in the car, which was horrible, in a parking lot. It was dark. It was scary. No food or somebody would come show up at the car and bring me a hamburger. Or she would leave me at home alone and I was frightened because I was too young for that. I'd call around to bars to see where she was, to try to get her to come home.
Susan Griffin: [00:06:00] So eventually my grandparents took me back and I lived with them for another few years. Then when I became a teenager, I talked back and was rebellious and my grandmother couldn't handle that so she sent me to live with my mother again. And the same story happened. My mother was an alcoholic. She wasn't any better. But by then, I could establish an independent life
Susan Griffin: [00:06:30] and had friends and was with my friends. Eventually though I got angry with her over one of her drinking incidents, and she slapped me, which she had never done before. I hit her back and then we were in a bit of an actual physical fight. Then I called my father and I said, "I can't live here anymore." So I moved in with him.
Susan Griffin: [00:07:00] He actually bought a house in the San Fernando Valley and I lived with him for a period. Then that's when I met my adoptive family. They hired me as a sort of au pair, but I had begun by being a friend of theirs. I was a friend of Mort's. Morton was a painter and a sculptor and he had been married before and had a daughter by that marriage and I was a schoolmate of hers. The kids, after school,
Susan Griffin: [00:07:30] we'd come over to their house because they were radical. They were ex-communists, artists and we were just thrilled to have adult friends like that. So we'd hang out and Mort would come out or he'd take us into the studio and have these long discussions with us about life and art and politics and we'd loved that. I adored them. I guess it was mutual because Jerry asked me if I wanted to come after school and have a job making the beds and helping with dinner ...
Susan Griffin: [00:08:00] It's because she was working ... And so I jumped at the chance. So then I began ... I would babysit on the weekends and I'd stay there for the weekend. They kept saying, "Don't you want to stay?" And so I just stayed. There were more and more periods of time when I would just be staying with them. Then what happened was that my father ... My father was, as I said before, a fireman and so he was only home every other night.
Susan Griffin: [00:08:30] He would ... I'd be alone in the house so it was very nice for me to be able to stay at the Divinsteins. I wasn't alone and they were ... I felt loved by them and I loved their kids and so ... But ... My father was crossing a street and he was killed. He was hit by a car and killed. So then ... And that was really traumatic and horrible and took me years to get over that ...
Susan Griffin: [00:09:00] But I then moved in with the Divinsteins rather than with my grandparents or my mother. My grandparents were just too old-fashioned and disciplinary and my mother still had her alcohol problem so ... And I loved being with the Divinsteins and they wanted to have me so they became my legal guardians for a period until I went to college. So that's my very complicated background.
Mason Funk: Oh, wow.
Susan Griffin: Then, in addition to that, I adored my sister. She was six and a half years older than me ...
Susan Griffin: [00:09:30] Still is. That never changed. At a certain point, when I was a teenager, she told my mother that she was gay. So that was a big scandal in the family. Everybody was upset by that.
Mason Funk: Let's get to that ...
Susan Griffin: We'll get to that later.
Mason Funk: ... Because she sounds like a really important figure and, as we've talked [crosstalk] about interview her.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, very.
Natalie Tsui: [inaudible] Sue, can you just pull your shirt down, just a little bit?
Susan Griffin: Oh, sure.
Natalie Tsui: There you go. Perfect.
Susan Griffin: [00:10:00] Good. Okay. Great.
Natalie Tsui: Great.
Mason Funk: I kinda jotted down some notes from what you told me. I have to make sure I don't knock the camera like that. That's not good. Well, first of all, you mentioned you were very, very close to your sister and I guess if we can just spend a little time with her in the childhood frame ... You made the agreement that she was going to be a writer and you were going to be an artist.
Mason Funk: [00:10:30] You said when she went to live with her great-aunt in Davis ... Her great-aunt was a librarian and the house was filled with books and you went and visited her there ... So I guess I just want to fill out that part of the story a little bit. Your relationship with your sister and the kind of pact you had as artists, even as kids. It just sounds like a really wonderful relationship.
Susan Griffin: It was. It was very rich. We used to ... One of our favorite things ...
Mason Funk: Sue, tell me who you're talking about, like a fresh start.
Susan Griffin: I'm talking about my sister ...
Mason Funk: So my sister ...
Susan Griffin: [00:11:00] Joanna Griffin, who's also a writer. So one of our favorite things ... Our dad would come and take us wherever we were living when I was living with my grandparents or where my mother or sister was staying either ... My Dad would come for his visits and he'd take us and where did we want to go? We'd want to go to Pickwick Bookstore. That was our choice. This was this fabulous bookstore in Los Angeles. Susan Sontag lived there in roughly the same period and she was a student at Hollywood High.
Susan Griffin: [00:11:30] She went to Pickwick and she's written about it. I've thought of writing about it. I mean, it had three stories and the top story was very famous because it had antiquated books or antique books. What is the word they use? Anyway ... oh, used books but they were valuable. That was really a treasure trove. One of the times when I went up there, Aldous Huxley was there looking, peering through ... You'd run into all kinds of people there.
Susan Griffin: [00:12:00] So we were both very into ... Well, my sister introduced me to literature very young so I was reading the poet William Carlos Williams when I was ten years old, Dostoevsky at 12 because she would bring these books to me and tell me I should read them and I did. I idolized her and because of that,
Susan Griffin: [00:12:30] I think that made me more open to writing although I actually had plans to write even before she talked to me about writing. I was ... When I was living with my grandparents, I went to a Sunday school and I adored the preacher who was very liberal and I started writing sermons. Then I decided I wanted to write a war novel. I never finished it, of course, because what did I know about war?
Susan Griffin: [00:13:00] But anyway, that was what a novel was identified with in that period. It was Hemingway and James Jones and From Here to Eternity so ...
Mason Funk: Right. All these novels where the war is a backdrop. Tell us about going to the special place that was your great-aunt's house, filled with books,
Susan Griffin: Yeah, my great-aunt ... In the first place, she had a wonderful house. It was in Davis.
Susan Griffin: [00:13:30] She was the founding librarian there. The interior was all wood and it had beams on the ceiling that were painted, that had little designs painted into them, the kind of things you didn't ordinarily see in L.A. although there are wonderful houses like that in L.A. but I hadn't seen them. So there were always new books that she had that she was showing us and then she had a collection of art books.
Susan Griffin: [00:14:00] She'd been around the world. The book that I loved the most was Prince by Hokusai. I just loved that book. I would spend hours looking at that. That was part of my heritage too. She subscribed to the Saturday Review? What was it? There's a Saturday Evening Post, my grandparents subscribed to that but she had ... What was John Shiaraty's? He edited it. Anyway, it was a review of literature and she always had an issue of that. Saturday Review of Literature, something like that.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Yeah, I think Review of Books, maybe.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, Review of Books.
Mason Funk: So on one hand I'm hearing this story of these kind of horrible stories of being with your mom taking you to bars and ... Just scary, really scary stuff. And then there's this kind of more light-filled side with books and your sister ... I wonder if you have a sense of how all that together helped form you, helped shape you [crosstalk]
Susan Griffin: [00:15:00] Oh definitely. Yeah, it did. And by the way, my mother was very interested in writing and art, too. She was a very witty person, very intelligent. She was never educated beyond high school but so ... It ran through the whole family. My father was the least educated in the family and he spoke incorrect English. My grandmother had to correct me constantly to get me to speak correctly but it worked finally.
Susan Griffin: [00:15:30] I think I have both in me. I'm drawn to ... I feel enormous empathy for people in tragic circumstances. I think that's one way that I was affected. And gave me a sense of realism about what families are about.
Susan Griffin: [00:16:00] There are very few people that I've ever encountered who tell me they've had a happy childhood and a happy family. There are such and I have met them and it's quite wonderful. I always feel like God, what a miracle. Things were so bad in my family that you couldn't really deny it. Even though we didn't use the word alcoholism about my mother ... People didn't use that word the way they do now referring to a kind of medical condition.
Susan Griffin: [00:16:30] Then it was so shameful that the word was not used very easily. I knew my mother was an alcoholic and we didn't deny the fact that she had a drinking problem. That's part of me too, I think.
Mason Funk: Just curious ...
Susan Griffin: Facing up to things.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Purely to the level of place in history places, do you have some of the names of the bars or where they were located, that your mother would most frequently go to?
Susan Griffin: [00:17:00] Her favorite place was the Copper Bucket. It was in a kind of ... L.A. is a city ... Beyond central L.A. where I grew up with my grandparents and we get beyond Wilshire and Olympic and downtown ... Then if you go into the suburbs at all, particularly the San Fernando Valley, it's made up of all these little malls and actually there's little malls in L.A. proper too. The last time that I spent time with my adoptive mother ...
Susan Griffin: [00:17:30] She's died now ... But we walked to one of those strip malls because she had a favorite restaurant there. So that's how I know they're there. We actually saw a movie there, in that strip mall. They have them in L.A. probably too but, San Fernando Valley is practically a subdivision and then a bunch of strip malls and ... It's very much made up of various different strip malls. They're interesting now because
Susan Griffin: [00:18:00] they take on the character of various ethnic groups and so that's been a wonderful development in L.A. But now, what were you asking me about?
Mason Funk: I'm asking you about where ... The specific locations where your mom would take you?
Susan Griffin: Yeah, so the Copper Bucket was ... I wouldn't say it was exactly a strip mall but it was a strip of little places, like a neighborhood bar ... That was the neighborhood bar. Then there was the Five and Dime, when those still existed, and other stores like that.
Susan Griffin: [00:18:30] And then the first supermarket came in there too. The Copper Bucket was her bar of choice partly because it was so close and she knew the owner. I don't know what came first, the chicken or the egg, because it could be that she got to know the owner because she was such a good patron.
Mason Funk: Okay. Excellent. That's really interesting stuff. We could spend more time but in the interest of moving on we probably should. You did mention Morton Divinstein ...
Susan Griffin: [00:19:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: You said that he really mentored you a little bit into a sense of what it meant to be an artist. I think it's really, really important and so can you talk about him by name and talk about that role he played in your life.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, of course he was my adoptive father ...
Mason Funk: Talk about him by name.
Susan Griffin: Morton Divinstein, the artist and sculptor. He's better known in L.A. than he is in other places.
Susan Griffin: [00:19:30] I learned from him, for one thing, the practical aspect of having a life as an artist. He taught and he did various different things to earn a living and he did his painting and sculpture. I just saw how that works and that it can work and you can have an independent life in that way. So that was a very important lesson for me.
Susan Griffin: [00:20:00] He encouraged my work. He knew writers. He knew Tom McGrath and some other writers and he was involved with the California Quarterly, which you probably haven't heard of, but it is well known in literary history and California history. He often did the woodblock covers for it. So he knew the writers who were there. They had, as a couple, a number of friends among the Hollywood Ten.
Susan Griffin: [00:20:30] They knew Dalton Trumbo and I met Cleo Trumbo. I never met Dalton because he just wasn't there when we got together. And Lester Pine. So I knew a lot of people who were actually working artists of one kind or another, writers or artists, and that was important to see the reality of that.
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] It was a reality that it could be hard but it almost like kind of an owner's manual, like this is how you live as an artist.
Susan Griffin: Yeah and it demystified it. You go to work every day and you have ... I remember very well one time when I came home from college ... They'd been in Italy and they came back to southern California and I stayed with them for a weekend.
Susan Griffin: [00:21:30] Mort made a point of telling me how one should not judge oneself by a single piece or art or work. That it's a body of work you're creating and that American critics tend to, and they still do, act as if each book is ... They don't with somebody like Joan Didion. I was reading a review recently of her most recent book
Susan Griffin: [00:22:00] and it was reviewed in the context of all her work, which is how work of an established artist or writer should be reviewed. But he was telling me to look at my own work in that way. That's very important I think.
Mason Funk: That's interesting. So each piece a person produces or writes or a piece of art, it is an addition to a body but it's not stand alone ...
Susan Griffin: You don't rise or fall on that. It can stand alone, it's fine.
Susan Griffin: [00:22:30] It should be able to but your whole reputation doesn't rise or fall. I mean you're doing ... Often times you may do something that's sort of a minor work or even a failed work but it's brought you to something. It's brought you somewhere.
Mason Funk: That's interesting. Great. Now you went off to Berkeley and you spent three years there and essentially you decided this is not for me. So could you just give us a picture of those three years?
Susan Griffin: [00:23:00] Yeah. And, in truth, it wasn't really that it wasn't not that ...
Mason Funk: Let me interpret for one second. When you start talking, imagine my question ... Imagine the person listening to you is not going to hear me ...
Susan Griffin: Oh, okay.
Mason Funk: So try to frame, set up what you're talking about.
Susan Griffin: I actually loved being at Berkeley in my first three years of schooling. I loved scholarship. I was part of the radical movement. I was part of Slate, which was what preceded FSM.
Susan Griffin: [00:23:30] Everything about it appealed to me but I found that I was not who I wanted to be. I was not doing what I most wanted to do. When I went for a summer to live in San Francisco ... I lived in North Beach, in this building that was once inhabited by various members of The Beat Generation. I think Allen Ginsberg lived there. Denise Levertov,
Susan Griffin: [00:24:00] I know, lived there. I realized this is who I am. This is the life that is right for me. I'm an artist, I'm not a scholar. And even though I use a lot of scholarship in my work still today ... I do love scholarship ... But it wasn't what I felt I was put on this earth to do. One has a feeling for one's work and that wasn't my work in the world.
Susan Griffin: [00:24:30] And so I didn't go back even though I had a scholarship ... I had a scholarship that was an honor one, given to the five best students in the English department but I turned it down. I did not go back. I did finish my degree. I went to San Francisco State that had a program in creative writing and that ... The rest is what happened. The rest is history.
Mason Funk: [00:25:00] Do you remember just the specificity or the moment when you said, "I'm just not going back. That's not me. That's not my life. This is my life here." Do you remember any more details about that process you went through, the moment you maybe you said, "Okay, that's it?" No?
Susan Griffin: No, I don't.
Mason Funk: Alright. Such a rich moment. You told me you lived at Greenwich and Grant, right?
Mason Funk: [00:25:30] So I went online today and I Googled that intersection and you can actually click and you'll see a photograph. You can do a 360 ...
Susan Griffin: Oh, great.
Mason Funk: Of all the buildings. It's so rich. So tell us about that. So this is the early 60s, right?
Susan Griffin: Yeah. It was '63.
Mason Funk: So basically start off by saying something like, "In 1963 ..."
Susan Griffin: So in 1963, I moved for the summer into this fabulous building. These apartments were kind of run down.
Susan Griffin: [00:26:00] I remember the kitchen wallpaper was done with Chinese newspapers. Because Grant and Greenwich is right there. It's in the Italian part of North Beach but just down the hill, you cross the street, right in back of where ... There's City Lights bookstore, which was founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and anybody who lived in North Beach for a while got to know Lawrence as I did ... Or you ... But just in back of ... You'd take a little alley way back and you're on Grant Street,
Susan Griffin: [00:26:30] which is the main street in Chinatown. So these Chinese newspapers formed the wallpaper in the kitchen. The kitchen had this kind of ... I don't know how you'd describe it ...It was like a back area that was almost completely unfinished. It was sort of like almost a deck or something but it was all enclosed.
Susan Griffin: [00:27:00] It looked out on this beautiful view of the city. So it's this funny sort of thing that existed in that period. It was sort of rough and unfinished but had these amazing features. So in that period I earned ... Partially supplemented by income with working as a model at the art institute, an artists' model. Which I learned to do from my adoptive father, Morton,
Susan Griffin: [00:27:30] but I always modeled with him with my clothes on but at the art institute, you take your clothes off. But I was very good at being completely still so ... It was a good way to earn a few bucks.
Mason Funk: Sure. So what was going on ... I mean you've mentioned City Lights and all of the Beats were still there. This was like the early to mid '60s. What was going on?
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] Describe the cultural scene in North Beach, in San Francisco in say the mid '60s. And again tell ...
Susan Griffin: North Beach, where I was living, where I moved in '63 and I was there until I got married in '67 or '66, I can't remember. I guess it was '66. It was really an amazing place to be living. It was great. There were all kinds of artists and writers around. Bob Kaufman was still alive,
Susan Griffin: [00:28:30] part of The Beat Generation. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was there. City Lights was wonderful, as it still is. There were coffee houses, which didn't exist in other places in the United States, but North Beach had them. Lots of them. There's one ... I'm trying to remember the name of it ... It's still there. It's down at the bottom of the hill. If you go down Grant, at the bottom of the hill,
Susan Griffin: [00:29:00] there's an Italian coffee house and it's known because it has a jukebox full of opera. To give you an idea of what life was like there ... one night a bunch of us were there. You're always out with groups, that sort of age group, but anyway it was just the atmosphere there. It's late at night, we're drinking coffee ... I wish I could remember the name, it's driving me crazy. But anyway it's a famous place.
Susan Griffin: [00:29:30] Somebody had opera on because that's what was there. I was pretending to conduct and who walks in the door? Arthur Fiedler. So that's what it was like living there in that period. Just a great kind of place to seed yourself as an artist. To begin to develop as a writer and an artist.
Susan Griffin: [00:30:00] I was studying improvisational drama. That's the other thing I did when I was there. I was studying improvisational drama with The Committee. You may not know who they were but they sprang up out of Second City. I worked there as a cocktail waitress but I also studied improvisational drama with them. I've taken what I've learned there through my whole life.
Susan Griffin: [00:30:30] To learn how to be completely in the moment and go with whatever is popping into your head at the moment and other things that are quite amazing. One of the exercises ... There's a teacher named Viola Spolin who wrote a book called something like 'Improvisation for the Theater' but it's the bible of improvisation. When you work with somebody closely on the stage and you do something called a mirror exercise,
Susan Griffin: [00:31:00] which is that you're moving your hands and your legs and your body to mirror your partner. The two of you begin and you don't know who's initiating movements after a while. And if you really work with somebody over a time, over maybe several weeks or something, then you can turn your back and you'll still be mirroring. If you want any proof that there is such a thing as ESP ... Excuse me
Susan Griffin: [00:31:30] but I've lived that one more than once. It's an astonishing experience. And what else? I studied mime a little bit at the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which was then run by Archie Davis. It was such a rich atmosphere. There was so much going on.
Mason Funk: Wow. That sounds amazing. That mime, I mean the mirroring, that's an incredible example or story/anecdote. That's really interesting. That's great. Thank you for painting that picture because you really bring it to life.
Susan Griffin: [00:32:00] Oh good!
Mason Funk: Oh my gosh. It makes me ... Of course it makes me want to go back and live in that era.
Susan Griffin: Oh and I should tell you one other thing. The other thing going on in North Beach in that period was jazz. My roommate, for a period, whose name was Ellen Mary Charlie Hayden ... And Charlie used to, in our house ... We lived at a house, an apartment. The second apartment I lived in in North Beach was
Susan Griffin: [00:32:30] at the corner of Powell and Broadway. It was mostly all the other tenants were Chinese so we kind of made friends with them but they didn't speak English and we didn't speak Chinese but we still managed to be friendly. Charlie would stay with us. And I had a fake ID because I wasn't old enough to go to jazz clubs so I used that. We'd go down and hear Charlie play with Ornette Coleman and it was just ...
Susan Griffin: [00:33:00] It was fabulous. The whole of North Beach that is now inhabited so much by topless bars, although I think that's changed. I think jazz has come back to some degree. But I was there in the days when it was all jazz clubs. I also ... It was before I moved there, I came over from Berkeley one night with a bunch of friends. We came to hear Lenny Bruce. That was an incredible experience.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] Now, so I just looked at my notes and something that we haven't talked about yet was meantime, during your childhood, you went off to camp in the High Sierras and another huge thread of your life sort of began there. So tell us about ... I think you and your sister went to the same camp. Tell us about that camp and kind of how that ... How your connection to ecology and environmental issues in some ways began there.
Susan Griffin: [00:34:00] So one of the things about being born in California is that most kids have an outdoor life. Partly it's the weather. Maybe it's because California was built up later but it's very ... I spent a lot of time at the beach as a kid, hiking in Griffith Park and horseback riding in Griffith Park and later in the part
Susan Griffin: [00:34:30] where they shot the Westerns in the San Fernando Valley. Because my sister and I were separated, one of the highlights of that outdoor life for me, was to go to a Girl Scout camp in the High Sierras. My sister was up in Davis, so she of course went to a camp in northern California and I was sent up to go to the same camp. Over time, she became a counselor there and I was one of the kids.
Susan Griffin: [00:35:00] I loved that camp. It was not only that I got to be with my sister, which was fantastic, but that ... It was a very rough camp, in the best sense of that word ... The only building on the whole campsite was the kitchen and there were little outhouses. That was it.
Susan Griffin: [00:35:30] We slept outdoors almost every night except if it rains and then we pitched tents and slept in the tents. We learned to chop wood. We made fires. We learned to cook over fires. We didn't do our own cooking all the time but there was always one cookout night at least a week where we did make our own meal over the fire. We hiked above the treeline to see the Sugar Pines and because it was a long hike, we rolled out our sleeping bags and slept there.
Susan Griffin: [00:36:00] We'd go up to sit on boulders at night to look at the stars. Sometimes, just hiking, we'd come across one of the those mountain pools. Have you ever seen one of those in the Sierras? The water is this brilliant turquoise green color and they're ice cold. If youre young and adventurous, you can jump in and it's a beautiful experience in every way.
Susan Griffin: [00:36:30] I think I learned to really feel the presence of trees as beings, not as things. Of course animals but everything in nature to me ... The idea that it has a soul, had a spirit seemed to be self evident just from my direct experience living there in the woods that way.
Susan Griffin: [00:37:00] I've never lost that feeling. I've written some place that, though I was raised for a period ... I was sent to Sunday School for a period ... My family were not particularly religious but I was sent to Sunday School and I had a religious period ... My real religion was always nature and ... That's where I had the most profound spiritual experiences.
Mason Funk: [00:37:30] Yeah. You mentioned the other day that you maybe somehow, in this same timeframe, became aware of the fact that the native peoples of California, of the United States, of the indigenous peoples kind of carried a bit more of that sense of matter being suffused with spirit.
Susan Griffin: Very, very young I loved ... I guess that happens to a lot of white kids ...
Susan Griffin: [00:38:00] But not always. Sometimes the identification is more with cowboys. I always was happy to play the Indian. I felt ... Of course, I love Hop Along Cassidy along with all the other kids my age ... I loved Native American culture and Indians. I was so drawn to it from a very young age. I know that my grandparents, after my family's divorce, took me on a trip across the country. In Arizona,
Susan Griffin: [00:38:30] I just pleaded for a beaded belt. They got me that. One of my ... On my list of things I wanted for Christmas was a pair of moccasins. There was a kind of insert, little cardboard inserts, in Nabisco Shredded Wheat ... Every day of his life I think my grandfather had Nabisco Shredded Wheat for breakfast and I'd have it along with him.
Susan Griffin: [00:39:00] When we'd open a new package, that was very exciting because we'd get one of these cars. I read about the guy who wrote those cards many, many years later. He was himself one of the founders of the scouting movement in America. He was very influenced by Native American culture. He used a lot of that in scouting and these ... I don't know whether he wrote them or Nabisco Shredded
Susan Griffin: [00:39:30] Wheat just used his knowledge ... Each one had a little description of something about Native American culture. It was pretty good stuff. It wasn't caricature. One of them, and I've heard Native Americans make fun of later ... It is funny when you think about it.
Susan Griffin: [00:40:00] I was fascinated with the idea that Native Americans were raised to be able to walk in the forest without making any sound. That was one of the reasons I wanted a pair of moccasins so that I could do that. There's this way of white culture of making ... Like 'all black people are alike' or 'all Native Americans' ... Ignoring that fact that there are many different cultures and subcultures and languages and then individual people.
Susan Griffin: [00:40:30] So it's as if every Native American people you meet can go through the forest without making a sound. It's completely silly but that really, really appealed to me. Everything about Native American ... It still has and I still have that feeling. Now I've learned much, much more and have many friends who are Native Americans.
Mason Funk: Right. Great, great. That's excellent. Now, let's go back to
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] when your sister announced to the world that she was a lesbian. Tell me that story and give me as much detail as you can. And what the reaction was. And what the era was.
Susan Griffin: Well, the story of my sister announcing to the family that she was gay is also the story of an early trauma of mine. I had been with a group of girls ... This organization called Job's Daughters ...
Susan Griffin: [00:41:30] They're the children of Masons, my grandfather was a Mason so I was in that group. It was actually a wonderful group for me to be in. It was great. Because of all my family tumult, to be in a group like that was comforting. We went down and all stayed together in an attic at Newport Beach. Then we'd go out in the day. Of course, we had mothers there as our guardians and all of that.
Susan Griffin: [00:42:00] At night, we'd stay up half the night because one of our members had very bad asthma. We'd be helping her get through the night. This was all to be highly secret. She was one of the older girls. She would be sent home if anyone knew. So we were all sort of in league together. I was one of the youngest members. Everybody in the group was kind of in love with her. She was the star of the group ... she played piano.
Susan Griffin: [00:42:30] As part of our all night vigils, somebody told a story about having seen two girls in a swimming pool making out together. Then she went, "Ugh," as if that were nauseating. I was traumatized by that. I think I must've already known that my sister was gay by that time. I was traumatized and didn't want to say anything about it,
Susan Griffin: [00:43:00] afraid that somebody would think I was gay. At the same time, I was kind of in love with this older girl that we were all helping. I think many of the others were too. So the story, in a way ... Telling that story, for this one woman who told it and everybody who then said, "Oh isn't that awful," it sort of relieved everybody from the burden of thinking that they were gay because they were so in love with this ...
Susan Griffin: [00:43:30] My sister came out as gay to my mother. I can't remember whether that story in the attic happened before or after because ... The trauma that I went through was when my mother told me that my sister was gay because my sister didn't tell me until ...
Susan Griffin: [00:44:00] She didn't tell me ... She just told my mother and then my mother told everybody else because my mother was frightened by it and didn't know what to do it. Later, my sister and I would go and stay with my mother ... I was gay and my sister was gay and my sister would often bring a lover and my mother was completely accepting and said, "Oh, I love our all girl Christmases." At that point, she was just shaken by it.
Susan Griffin: [00:44:30] She broke my sisters' silence. She broke her promise to my sister to remain silent. My mother told me when she was drunk. My mother, I think, was somewhat jealous of the connection my sister and I had. My mother also had a stage in her drinking when she was really a mean drunk. She told this to me as a way to tell me,
Susan Griffin: [00:45:00] "Don't be so close to your sister. Don't try to be like her." I was just heartbroken and cried and cried and cried. We weren't at home. My mother used to go ... This is also an interesting part of the story ... This is really part of it ... My mother had a very, very close friend and I loved this woman too. Her name was Dolly. She was southern and she was married to a guy who was ...
Susan Griffin: [00:45:30] He must've had MS, he had some degenerative disease, he was in a wheelchair ... Maybe it was something else. He couldn't walk and his speech was slurred. They had a swimming pool to help him. He would be in the pool. She had been ready to leave him. She wasn't in love with him. They were engaged to be married and when he got ill,
Susan Griffin: [00:46:00] she felt she had to stay with him and take care of him. We'd go there and spend the weekend, stay over night. My mother would get very drunk but everybody there ... There were all these other adults so it was actually safer for me there because my mother wouldn't turn on me and attack me. Or she wouldn't go out and drink. I liked being there. I loved Dolly. When my mother told me this,
Susan Griffin: [00:46:30] I was weeping and Dolly said, "Get over it." I've often wondered if Dolly was gay and hiding something because my mother and Dolly were so close for so many years. Anyway, it's interesting. That's how I learned. It was told to me in a way to hurt me really and it did.
Susan Griffin: [00:47:00] I was very ashamed. I think I already knew without even putting it into words to myself that I was attracted to women too. It scared me because I understood clearly how people who are gay are rejected.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's definitely a more complicated story than ...
Susan Griffin: It's a very complicated ...
Mason Funk: [00:47:30] Your sister paving the way for you in some way, shape or form.
Susan Griffin: Oh no. Yeah, kinda.
Mason Funk: It's very woven up in the family history.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, right.
Mason Funk: Okay.Can you just fix your ...
Susan Griffin: Oh yeah. Is that falling again?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, there you ... Just a little bit.
Susan Griffin: Is that better now? All that film is going to have that ...
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk] To sort of slide down and the bra straps ...
Susan Griffin: Is that better?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, good. Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] How are we on this card? We're probably okay for a little while.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, we're good.
Susan Griffin: Okay.
Mason Funk: Keeping it around the time ... This is not something that I normally do but because we're doing another interview after this ...
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And we don't want to be up till all hours ...
Susan Griffin: That's alright.
Mason Funk: It's probably okay with you ...
Susan Griffin: It's okay. Yeah. I do want to add one thing.
Mason Funk: Sure.
Susan Griffin: Which is ... You know I really am bisexual in the sense that I was attracted to men and that wasn't all a cover. I loved my husband ...
Susan Griffin: [00:48:30] There were men that I had affairs with that I really loved ... Since, I came out I've only been with women. I've tried to go out with a man once but I don't think he was the right man. I think sexuality is on a continuum myself. At least it is in my experience.
Mason Funk: [00:49:00] That's good to know cause we'll talk more about that. One of the intentions of this project is to make sure there's space for people who don't neatly fit into one category or the other for example.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: So tell us about your marriage. Who did you marry? And expand on the fact that you were really in love with him, if that were true.
Susan Griffin: Yes, no. I was. I knew his mother before I knew him.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Tell me who you're talking about.
Susan Griffin: [00:49:30] Oh, yeah. I met my ex-husband through is mother. She was sponsoring a program I was teaching in the African-American neighborhood as a part of ... It was called The Western Addition ... It was something called The Drama Demonstration Project. I was teaching young high school and junior high school kids drama. Miriam, his mother, had been the sponsor of this program. She invited me to a New Year's party and I went.
Susan Griffin: [00:50:00] She had talked to be about her son before then I actually met him. He had been in ... I can't remember whether it was Peru ... Cusco is in Peru, isn't it? I think he had been in Peru with the Peace Corps. He was also a poet and loved poetry. In fact, one of the ways that we first really connected was we both could recite lines from Gregory Corso's
Susan Griffin: [00:50:30] "I Hate Marriage." Then we ended up, of course, marrying. I just felt he was a soul companion and I was very attracted to him. We were together as a couple for roughly a year and then married.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Then you had a kid or a child.
Susan Griffin: Then we had a child a couple of years after that. We went to Europe on our honeymoon. I often think had we stayed in Europe, we might've stayed married. There was a side of him ... He had a different ... Well, this isn't going to be in a film ... If this is ever in a film, I want this part cut because it isn't fair to him for me to opine about him.
Susan Griffin: [00:51:30] He had another personality when he was in Europe. I mean he's my friend now. He and his partner, who's a Turkish woman ... So we've got every religion in the family. All the major one anyway. I'm Buddhist, Christian and Jewish. He's Jewish ... Muslim. Now, I'm trying to get back to where I was. I interrupt myself ...[crosstalk]
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] [crosstalk] You said, anyway ... He had a different personality when he was in Europe.
Susan Griffin: Oh yeah. He had partly been raised in Mexico. Here's the thing that we found out very early in our courtship was that he had lived in Mexico at the same time as my adoptive family had. There was something that happened during the McCarthy period in America. A lot of radicals went to live in Mexico cause they were afraid there would be something like the Holocaust here. At least for political radicals.
Susan Griffin: [00:52:30] His family and my adoptive family were also Jewish. So the Jewish radicals were, needless to say, very shaken by McCarthyism. He actually didn't know my adoptive family but he knew people who knew them. They had in common George and Mary Oppen ... The wonderful Pulitzer Prize winning poet George Oppen ... Mary was an artist and a writer too. I got to know them later when I was an adult as fellow writers and artists.
Susan Griffin: [00:53:00] John had become, in a way, a real part of Mexican culture. He spoke Spanish fluently. He really entered in that culture and he had, and still has, that talent for taking on another culture and the language
Susan Griffin: [00:53:30] and I loved that about him. He was, in a way, a freer person when he was in Europe. I think our marriage might've worked there. In any case, I also think he wasn't entirely ready to be a father. He was very childish in many ways.
Susan Griffin: [00:54:00] I felt like I was the cook and bottle washer and not ... He wasn't sharing the work of running a household enough with me. The first years of our marriage I was supporting him. I was working at Ramparts Magazine, which was ... I don't know if you know what it was ... It was preceded Mother Jones. Mother Jones morphed into Ramparts Magazine as a matter of fact.
Susan Griffin: [00:54:30] It was a radical magazine and I worked there as an editorial assistant and sometimes copy editor and sometimes writer. Now, I can't remember what strain I was trying ... There's so many different strains I've got going here, I can't figure which one ... [crosstalk]
Mason Funk: [00:55:00] You mentioned you had a child.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And ...
Susan Griffin: Well, I was still working at Ramparts while I was pregnant but then I stopped and had a child. Then, by that time, John was earning a living. He just wasn't grown up. He was still angry at his mother and taking that out on me. That's my version of it anyway.
Susan Griffin: [00:55:30] Plus, the Women's Movement was just getting started. I was vociferously objecting to being cast in that role. I was much more conscious of it. I was becoming aware of my attraction to women. So all of that was going on. I left finally. That's what happened.
Mason Funk: Would you say that you had a coming out in a traditional sense of the word? Or ...
Susan Griffin: [00:56:00] No, it was much more subtle. I didn't have your traditional kind of coming out. It was a much more subtle process for me. The reason it was was that I had a small child and even though I respected my in-laws and I thought my ex-husband would be okay, I couldn't fully trust that, if I were out, that I wouldn't lose custody. I didn't come out until
Susan Griffin: [00:56:30] about two or three years after my divorce. Then it felt safer for me to come out. Custody had been established by the courts and the gay movement was stronger. The movement for lesbian rights was stronger and I felt safe that I could write as a lesbian. Meanwhile, I had been living as a lesbian
Susan Griffin: [00:57:00] and there wasn't a place of work I went where I had to hide my identity or hide my sexuality. It was solely a domestic issue.
Mason Funk: Can you ... Paint for us a bit of a picture of that era when women, in fact, did lose their children. They came out, their husbands sued them, they lost their children.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: These stories are quite common in the era. Do you remember, not necessarily by name,
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] but again give us an idea about how often that occurred and what it was like.
Susan Griffin: I'm trying to remember if I knew any couple that lost their kids. I know that we were all very aware of it. I saw a documentary, maybe it was a television doc, I can't remember the name of it now ... Two women who were fighting a custody battle. Sometimes women would win.
Susan Griffin: [00:58:00] It would just depend on what circuit the court was in. But sometimes they would lose. It was a constant fear that one had. You felt very vulnerable to custody cases and the complication in most of them was that a woman had left her husband and he wanted her back. He didn't want the children.
Susan Griffin: [00:58:30] He wasn't even concerned about the children. He wanted to get back at her. He wanted to force her to come back to him. He wanted control.
Mason Funk: What was the question I was going to ask you related to that? Was your child a boy or girl?
Susan Griffin: A girl.
Mason Funk: A girl, okay. Because another thing we've been hearing about from people of that era is that for women who were either in the separatist movement
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] or in that world, boy children were seen and treated very differently than girl children. Separatists ...
Susan Griffin: Oh yeah, I'll speak to that. I wasn't a separatist and one of the issues that appalled me about the separatist movement ... There were a lot of things I understood and respected about it ... But one issue that appalled me was this demand
Susan Griffin: [00:59:30] that women who had very small boy children not bring them to events. That seemed to me to be carrying on some kind of biological judgment about human beings. Many of the separatist did have a biological judgment. They thought men were somehow biologically wrong, evil, violent, destructive.
Susan Griffin: [01:00:00] It rubbed me the wrong way in every possible way. My respect for democracy among them. Also, I think one of the elements of that was that my feelings for nature and that nature does not create evil, bad human beings. That we're all born with the capacity for love and kindness and cooperation.
Susan Griffin: [01:00:30] That the constructs of gender distort us. It's not who men really are. It's so obvious in children. Little children are not born aggressive and brutal. Maybe boys like to play with trucks more but that does not ... My grandson was just a sweet, adorable little being when he was little ... He still is very sweet ...
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] Glad you clarified that. Along those lines, if you were to have a conversation with a more [inaudible] or radical separatist in this era and you said that to her ... Like, "Nature doesn't make mistakes essentially." How would the dialog go? I don't know if there were specific examples but what would she say? Can you recreate the mindset that would go back and forth?
Susan Griffin: [01:01:30] The other quality that separatists had was a kind of rigidity and more radical than thou attitude. It's something one encounters all the time in political movements. It's this purist and the more extreme you get, the better you are and you claim to be more courageous or better simply because you have these extreme views.
Susan Griffin: [01:02:00] I'm finding it now even there is an alt left, I believe. I'm very, very progressive ... We used to call it radical ... I'm very radical but I don't like the positions that the alt left take. They're so rigid. They'll act somebody, for instance, who to my mind is a great heroine and a great warrior for progressive causes. Nancy Pelosi because she doesn't d absolutely everything according to Hoyle ...
Susan Griffin: [01:02:30] Does anyone know anymore what 'according to Hoyle' means? Hoyle had these rules of, I think Bridge or some sort of game like that ... Chapter and verse, maybe people understand that a little better. Chapter and verse ... You have this position ... Nancy Pelosi's not coming out for a single pair, excuse me I want to say who the 'f' cares. She has given so much to this country, so much to progressive causes.
Susan Griffin: [01:03:00] She is so effective, politically. This really ... I guess you can tell from my passion how I feel about that ... I felt the same way about separatism. I think separatism did ... It played its role in undermining the whole women's movement. As, by the way, the Weather Underground undermined the whole progressive movement. The alt right doesn't realize not only do
Susan Griffin: [01:03:30] they not win their causes but they lose the cause for all the rest of us because they turn people off.
Mason Funk: You mean the alt left?
Susan Griffin: The alt left. I'm sorry. The alt right is ...
Mason Funk: So just backtrack and say the alt left.
Susan Griffin: The alt left if they only realized they turn people off. They're not bringing the masses to them. They're turning the masses off because people have ... I respect the intelligence of most people, even those people that've been fooled by Trump,
Susan Griffin: [01:04:00] there's a kind of intelligence there that's operative even if they're not educated, they've been ... They've had pulled over on them because they're not educated and because of the media and these silos in the media. So they don't ever get the whole story. There's this kind of intelligence, a kind of intuitive intelligence, and many of the people who voted for Trump are also turned off by the alt right.
Susan Griffin: [01:04:30] They've got this intuitive sense that there's something off there. People who are extreme politically often give off this vibration. They're not willing to cooperate. They're not willing to listen. They're not willing to work in harmony with other people or to try to create a harmony or try to create a meeting place. I think that happened in the women's movement. That the separatist movement was so extreme that it turned away many, many women.
Mason Funk: [01:05:00] That's really interesting. I like your passion. It's like a force field. Let me see where we are for ... I did that again. I keep knocking the camera with my elbow. Okay.
Susan Griffin: He was connected with Women's Collective ... It was a press [inaudible].
Susan Griffin: [01:05:30] They collectively operated this press and they had a big bookstore at the corner of College and Broadway.
Mason Funk: There's a bookstore down the street here ... Not down the street, down the hill.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Do you know what it's called? I can't ...
Susan Griffin: Pegasus.
Mason Funk: Yes.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Pegasus.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Literally, probably a year and a half ago ... My husband's family is from this area ... We were just browsing around on our way to Berkeley to have dinner and we happened to drive by. We went in and I found a copy of Christopher Bram's book "Eminent Outlaws." Are you familiar with that book?
Susan Griffin: [01:06:00] No.
Mason Funk: I think it might be only men, only gay male writers ...
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: "Eminent Outlaws" ...
Susan Griffin: It's a great title.
Mason Funk: It became a source book for me as I was tracking down ... First of all, I contacted Chris. Do you know Chris Bram, the writer?
Susan Griffin: Mmm, mmm (negative)
Mason Funk: He wrote ... He's mostly a novelist. He wrote the novel that became the feature film ... It doesn't matter but it was kind of a wellish known gay feature film.
Susan Griffin: [01:06:30] Yeah.
Mason Funk: About an artist and young man ... It was called Gods and Monsters.
Susan Griffin: Oh yeah, sure. What's his name was in that. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]
Susan Griffin: Ian McKellen. Yeah, he's such a great actor ...
Mason Funk: So Chris wrote a piece called "Father of Frankenstein." That was the novel that movie was based on. He's a fairly well known in the literary ... He became one member of my board of advisors ...
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:07:00] One of my big pushes for this year, case in point, is to interview a lot more writers.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, that's great.
Mason Funk: That was a lot ... Okay.
Susan Griffin: Okay.
Mason Funk: That was all build up for not much of a payoff. [crosstalk]
Susan Griffin: Okay, here we go.
Mason Funk: So let's talk about Shameless Hussy Press.
Susan Griffin: Soon after I left my husband, I was caught up in this huge women's revolution and part of
Susan Griffin: [01:07:30] that was we had our own poetry readings and our own presses. There's a press called Shameless Hussy Press. Alta, she used just that one name. Alta was the publisher, editor and typesetter and everything. It was done on a mimeograph machine it wasn't actually typeset ... Alta didn't live in Berkeley,
Susan Griffin: [01:08:00] she lived out in San Leandro, which is a suburb in the Bay area. At that point, it was ... There's some kind of wealthy areas with big, beautiful houses ... She lived in a tract house. It was absolutely typical suburban life and here's this very radical woman living out there with a mimeograph machine in her garage. If you had a book published by her,
Susan Griffin: [01:08:30] then you'd drive out there and work in her garage. These books were produced on the mimeograph and then folded up and stapled. They didn't have spines, which is very important because a lot of bookstores will not carry a book with no spine. I said this recently in another talk I gave that I'll always honor Cody ...
Susan Griffin: [01:09:00] Fred Cody who's no longer with us, who's passed ... Fred accepted books without a spine. They had poetry that ... Because you could produce it without much money, without much capital. Alta ran this press called the Shameless Hussy Press.
Mason Funk: What was the importance of, first of all, the name? What was the spirit behind choosing a name like that?
Mason Funk: [01:09:30] What was the importance of presses like that one and others in terms of the women's movement and ...
Susan Griffin: It was very, very important.
Mason Funk: And tell me what you're talking about.
Susan Griffin: Oh yeah. That we had these presses, that they existed, was extremely important. It's so obvious to a writer, I don't even know how to put it into words but we ...
Susan Griffin: [01:10:00] What was it that Virginia Woolf said ... She talked about having a room of one's own but she also talked about the only woman who's really free to write what she wants is her own publisher. She did. Virginia Woolf had the Hogarth Press. She could write this very experimental stuff and didn't have to worry about what an agent thought, or what a publisher thought. Because they tend to go by what is already selling.
Susan Griffin: [01:10:30] We had this work that was both ... It was revolutionary in every sense ... It was revolutionary in its content and also in its form. Alta was writing in ordinary women's speech about ordinary women's lives and writing about menstruation and sanitary napkins and having affairs with younger guys. She did.
Susan Griffin: [01:11:00] Then she started being with women and writing about that. This is all stuff that other presses might've censored or not said, "We're censoring this," but just not publish it because they're afraid to publish it. Or were turned off by it. The freedom that you're allowed as a writer when the press is coming out of your community is immense
Susan Griffin: [01:11:30] and very, very important. And very important to the women's movement as a whole because the women's movement needed to have this kind of discussion going on. We didn't have internet then so you couldn't just go on social media and post a rant or a little mini-essay. You couldn't have a website. This was the chief means of communication.
Susan Griffin: [01:12:00] We also had these huge readings too. We had these events. They were combination readings, social gatherings, parties ... It wasn't unusual for there to be several hundred, sometimes 1000, people at these readings. It started really with the Beats, even before the women's movement. Allen Ginsburg would get these huge crowds. The Beats and Mike McClure and
Susan Griffin: [01:12:30] the various movements for social justice began to infiltrate that ... Sometimes you had a billing that had Beat poets and feminist poets and African-American poets all in the same billing. Then you'd have only women ... I can remember just huge readings where there were just the women because the whole movement would come out.
Susan Griffin: [01:13:00] It was not just the literati but the whole women's movement in the area would come out. The poets were, to a large degree, spokespeople, as important spokespeople, for that movement as were the analytical and journalistic writers.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's great.
Susan Griffin: Yeah. Wild?
Mason Funk: Yeah. Especially the poetry was ... It's maybe a little bit comparable to what we have today with spoken word.
Susan Griffin: [01:13:30] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Where there's a power in the speaking ... It's almost an incantation.
Susan Griffin: It's like ... Let me just say one more thing here. There was one poem ... There were several poems that became anthems of the movement. I think my poem ... I like to think if Harriet Tubman played that role ... Judy Grahn had a book length poem called ... Or an almost book length, it was an epic poem called "A Woman is Talking to Death,"
Susan Griffin: [01:14:00] and it was a major experience for all of us to have read that poem. It expressed things that couldn't be said in any other way. Everybody remembers when they first ... I can't tell you the time and place where I was but I remember the first experience encountering that poem. It was like a ritual, like a ceremony to hear that poem read in a large group of women was an incredible emotional experience.
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] Different than say just reading it by yourself in your own room?
Susan Griffin: Yes. Reading it by yourself was powerful enough but when you have a lot of people ... I like going to the movies and I watch them on television too but I love being in a movie house because you're having this group experience, similar to what they had in Greece in the theaters ... This intensified emotion and shared understanding.
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] I'm retired ... I had a brief teaching career ... Went with a group of high schoolers to Greece and we were talking about steep amphitheaters ...
Susan Griffin: Yes.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] Of catharsis ...
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I don't know if they were just like, "Mr. Funk," [crosstalk] I even compare it to sporting events. In some ways ...
Susan Griffin: It is like that isn't it? Yeah. [crosstalk ]
Mason Funk: And I still love to go to the movies. I wish my husband loved going as much as I ... I don't care what I see, I just want to be in that room.
Susan Griffin: [01:15:30] I like being in that room too.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. So many questions here. Oh dear. I'm going to start having to pick and choose. You mentioned Gertrude Stein.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Do you want to talk about her a little bit in terms of what she meant to you?
Susan Griffin: So it was also really important that there were women who were gay and who were open about it. In the past,
Susan Griffin: [01:16:00] part of the Paris Exile movement, Gertrude Stein ... My mother worshiped the Paris Exiles and she liked to say, "Well, I'm sorta part of like the caf society." Going down to the Copper Bucket and ... It would be charming were it not for her alcoholism. Her interest in that period was charming. Later I met Kay Boyle,
Susan Griffin: [01:16:30] who had met Gertrude Stein but they didn't exactly get along ... Kay was not gay. Gertrude Stein had her problems I have to say. There were things about her that I really disapprove of. Her handling of the Holocaust ... Certain ways that she maneuvered herself. Some of them were fine, it was just something you do for survival, and others were more dubious.
Susan Griffin: [01:17:00] Also, she was a bit sexist. She'd send the women into the kitchen to hang out with Alice, whether they wanted to be there or not. Like Sylvia Beach, we'd get sent into the kitchen with Alice ... Sylvia was not interested in cooking. Gertrude wanted the men ... Gertrude respected the men more than the women and she wanted the men all to herself.
Susan Griffin: [01:17:30] There were characteristics that I didn't like but it was so important ... She was such an important figure. She's one of the writers my sister introduced me to very early. Her humor and the music and her poetry were very, very important to me. This is not on the subject of being gay or anything but, or maybe it is, maybe it's connected to that.
Susan Griffin: [01:18:00] For one thing, she had muted buried messages in all her poems. The other thing is that her poems really ... They are of music. They're musical, they're of music, they're about music. What they're communicating to you is music. It's all done ...
Susan Griffin: [01:18:30] Words are more important musically than they are in terms of their dictionary definitions. That was very, very important lesson to me but I'm sure that there's some connection between that and being gay. Because I think in order to acknowledge to yourself that you have sexual feelings, erotic feelings,
Susan Griffin: [01:19:00] that aren't accepted by the society, you've got to be really tuned to your own inner music. You cannot have shut that off. Emotions and intuitions and self knowledge are very tied to music. There's a music to it and music will open you to it. That's why most religions have music as part of their ceremonies and rituals.
Susan Griffin: [01:19:30] Because music opens you up to this other realm of knowledge and indigenous societies all have music. They use poetry as music in the same way. I think that perhaps having that ear, it's an inner ear too.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's really interesting.
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] Speaking of, not exactly, but you did ... What was the importance to you ... What has been an importance to you in writing erotic literature?
Susan Griffin: I don't really think of erotic literature as being much different than any other literature. I was asked, twice, to contribute ...
Natalie Tsui: Sorry, one second.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: [01:20:30] Pull your shirt [crosstalk ] yeah.
Susan Griffin: Speaking of erotic literature, we're going to do a striptease [crosstalk] yeah.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk]
Susan Griffin: So, I was asked twice to contribute to anthologies of erotic literature and I was being paid and it appealed to me to try that. So I did. I didn't go on past then to write anything that was called erotic. I tend not to, in my life or as a writer,
Susan Griffin: [01:21:00] separate erotic feeling from anything else. To me life is basically erotic. Color is erotic. The color of the walls of this room is erotic to me. The form doesn't, in itself, interest me all that much.
Susan Griffin: [01:21:30] A piece of writing that happens to also be erotic interest me of course. But not as a form.
Mason Funk: Gotcha. Okay. I think I had the impression that maybe you'd had more of a devotion to erotic as opposed to just contributed.
Susan Griffin: No.
Mason Funk: Okay. Personally, you told me that you had several, or at least some, longer term relationships and you said something interesting. You said you're still very sexual, you like sex, you just don't need it in a container from a specific other person.
Mason Funk: [01:22:00] Can you expand on that? Give us a sense of where you are ... I know this is a bit of a leap ... Where you are personally at this time in your life and how sexuality ... What the role that it plays in your life?
Susan Griffin: For me, given the childhood I had and how often I was moved from one family to the next, abandonment was a huge issue.
Susan Griffin: [01:22:30] It's not that it isn't now but it's really gotten tamed in me. Many women, by the way, feel incomplete if they're not in a relationship. I don't know if men feel the same way. I think some men do but not all men. I felt that way for many years and, to me, when I was not in a relationship it was an ongoing tragedy in some way.
Susan Griffin: [01:23:00] I was just remembering that when I was a little girl ... I don't mean this to sound as sad as ... I don't look at it that way anymore but when I was really small, after my parents divorce and I was sent to live with my grandmother, if my grandmother was harsh with me about anything, which she often was ... She was old-fashioned and she could be very imperious ... I would run down the hall of this duplex that we lived in. I would run down the hallway
Susan Griffin: [01:23:30] and hide in the corner and say, "Nobody loves me." It was a feeling that I really had and I carried it with me as an adult every time I wasn't in a relationship. I went through terrible mourning after my marriage broke up even though I was the one who left. It was that same feeling that was brought on. I'm really glad that at this point in my life I don't have that feeling anymore. I like my life the way it is.
Susan Griffin: [01:24:00] I have very, very intense friendships, occasionally an affair but it doesn't have to be a lifetime partnership. For one thing, I'm 74 years old. How many more years do I have? I'm sorry to be laughing at mortality but it is funny from a certain point of view. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker or something ... It was some joke I was reading about ...
Susan Griffin: [01:24:30] Somebody's reading the obituaries and what are they looking at? They're looking at the age that people died at. That really made me laugh because I do that too. I hear somebody's died and they're sort of, oh they're 76, okay. I say to myself, "Well I've got at least three more years." It's this kind of magical thinking. The other thing that happens is they'll say somebody's died at 73 and I'll think,
Susan Griffin: [01:25:00] "Oh well, I did better than that." As if it's an accomplishment how long you live. It's really this very funny relationship with death. One is very aware of it at my age and I know I'm not alone in that. Most of the people that I know who are in their 70s have this new awareness of mortality and you don't know how much longer you have. I simply don't want to spend the rest of my years feeling bereft because I'm not in a relationship.
Susan Griffin: [01:25:30] I remember when I first moved into this house, which was 21 years ago, I was in the house and it wasn't finished ... Half the house was ... The upstairs was somewhat finished, not even all of that ... At least my bedroom was finished ... I was very sad because it was New Year's Eve and I had been with some friends but I was too tired from recently moving
Susan Griffin: [01:26:00] so I came home alone and I felt really sad. Two things happened. One was that I turned on the television and there was all the celebration of New Year's on the TV and then I realized that it was going on right across the bay in San Francisco and that I could look out the window and see it. I thought, "God I'm really not alone." There was also the sense that ... I was saying, "Oh I just can't do this. I can't go through this tragedy again and feeling bereft again and I just can't handle it."
Susan Griffin: [01:26:30] Then this voice came ... People talk about voices ... You don't actually hear a voice ... It was a very strong wisdom that was said to me at that moment. Like, "You don't have to." I can give that up. Ever since then I've felt free of that. I'm very grateful to be free of that. So that's what I mean when I say I'm not worried about being in a committed relationship.
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] I feel like that's a really ... We strove so hard for many good reasons, obviously for marriage equality but it has maybe tilted the scale a little bit in favor of that type of life.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: A partnered life.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And I think your voice is very valuable and prophetic in the sense of saying, "Just because it's out there as an option doesn't mean it has to become an obligation."
Susan Griffin: [01:27:30] One regret that I would have about not being in a relationship now is that I can't marry a woman. I love that people can do it. I do think that ... That doesn't need to become the only option for a life at all. One form of sexism is to look with pity on women who ... Men can be alone and they can be alone virtually for their whole lives and there's no judgment about it. But women somehow are looked on as that term 'old maids.'
Susan Griffin: [01:28:00] I don't think that's so much part of the language anymore but it used to be. That was one of the things that we had to fight as feminists.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. Back to my list of questions. Here's one.
Mason Funk: [01:28:30] I do want to talk about this idea that ... On the phone you talked about how in culture in general the patriarchy, so to speak, has taken on this idea that men are separate from or above nature and women are of nature.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And therefore, kind of inferior. You have obviously spent a lot of time taking that apart and rejecting that. I know it's a big, big topic in your writing
Mason Funk: [01:29:00] and in your thinking ... I hit the camera again ... What can you say about that? This kind of ... I think it's a big theme in your work. Right? This rejection of the so-called spiritual that is somehow better than or superior to the so-called physical or the material world.
Susan Griffin: It was an insight very early in my work that
Susan Griffin: [01:29:30] there's a severe separation in our culture between matter and spirit. When I was younger, my first years in college, I was drawn to Marxism, as so many young people are. Of course, Marx had such brilliant insights and his whole ... The whole clich about him is he turned Hegel on his head ... He did and that's the problem I came to see.
Susan Griffin: [01:30:00] That Marx got rid of spirit. Hegel made matter subsidiary dispirits sort of nothing and spirit is everything. Marx did the opposite and I don't know what brought me to that insight. It's kindred to my being drawn to indigenous cultures and indigenous cultures don't make that split.
Susan Griffin: [01:30:30] So perhaps that's where I got it. Perhaps also because I love material life. I love taste, literally eating, I like to eat. I like beauty. I like being out in trees and I like the feel of earth. I know that when I started writing "Woman in Nature"
Susan Griffin: [01:31:00] that was something I noticed early on is that split between matter and spirit. It became the whole structure of the book. It's that understanding that polemic that this cultures establishes between matter and spirit is really disastrous. It has disastrous results for all of us. It's leading now to the possible destruction of the Earth as we know it.
Susan Griffin: [01:31:30] Of course, the earth is not going to be destroyed ... It's a planet, it's going to keep rolling around the sun, it's not going to disappear ... But life on the Earth will be much different. Life on earth won't be destroyed either but human life on earth will be destroyed. The beautiful earth that we love, that is our home will be destroyed. It won't be the same Earth.
Susan Griffin: [01:32:00] Our capacity to deny that, to continue to destroy the earth and to deny its demise, really relies on this psychology that creates the split. There's some unconscious belief that our spirits will survive the death of the earth. We know that our bodies need the earth but somehow our spirits will survive.
Susan Griffin: [01:32:30] There's even these very strange computer engineer visions that somehow with computers, we can just have our brain be there in the computer. Therefore, we'll have eternal life. That's somebody who's never had a great time in bed
Susan Griffin: [01:33:00] and never been in love with somebody else, even in love with them that you even like the way they move across a room. Never, for God's sake, even had a relationship with a dog you love or had a ... I have a feeling ... The smell of pine needles and pointing out the window at the tree out my window ... The smell of pine needles has such an effect on me because it reminds me of the summer camp
Susan Griffin: [01:33:30] that I went to as a child. Just somebody who just has somehow been shut off to all those experiences and thinks that you can have a rich life with your brain downloaded into a computer. That kind of craziness that you could even entertain such an idea comes out of a culture that makes the split between spirit and matter. I hope that made sense.
Mason Funk: [01:34:00] Yeah. It totally did. So rich. One of the questions I had written down because we're in this virtual time that we're in ... I don't really know how the concept of progress relates to what you just said. Because we all talk about, we call ourselves progressive, as is progress were only a good thing.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And so that's one question. How does the so-called notion of progress relate to this split that we've created and our need, in some ways,
Mason Funk: [01:34:30] to reconnect with matter? Then the other question I have is, part B was, is progress [inaudible 01:34:44]? But that's a separate question.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: That assumes that progress is a good thing.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: So why don't we just tackle progress in relation to what you've just been talking about.
Susan Griffin: I had a whole discussion that I still remember ... This discussion is related inside this relationship with a friend who ...
Susan Griffin: [01:35:00] We were briefly lovers but we were basically friends and I'll always lover her ... Italian ... Started as a physicist and then got involved in anti-development development work, if you know what I mean. Grazia Borrini, she was married for a while to Paul Feyerabend, the science historian. She was arguing against progress
Susan Griffin: [01:35:30] because progress in the sense of the Western world pushing development, which really development equals more profits for corporations and schisms within a community ... We're created a rich population and destroying sustainable culture and created a whole population of people who are unable to support themselves.
Susan Griffin: [01:36:00] That's what development is, meant for what used to be called the third world and now it's called developing countries. So no, I dont think that's not progress. I do believe in moral progress. When she would attack progress, I would argue with her because what I meant was moral progress and then finally we realized we were both using the word in a very different way. Then I came to agree with her and she agreed with me to some degree.
Susan Griffin: [01:36:30] I don't think ... Who was that fellow that wrote that book saying that we live in a time when it's less violent than ever?
Mason Funk: You mean, "The End of History?" [crosstalk]
Susan Griffin: No, no. There's a guy who wrote a book and his name is escaping me. He wrote a book about how we're far less violent than say it was in the Middle Ages. He came to that conclusion only by excluding the Holocaust and World War I or World War II from his figures.
Susan Griffin: [01:37:00] Or even the Vietnam War. He excluded ... You can't do that. Those are very violent events. Although, so is daily life. Daily life when you walk down the street is, for many of us anyway, less violent. I think where we've made moral progress, I'm thinking, "Alright now the alt right is anti-Semitic, racist, anti-feminist, anti-gay."
Susan Griffin: [01:37:30] But now those attitudes are not acceptable. In the '50s when I grew up, all of that was acceptable. That was the going opinion. That was the going attitude. Gradually, as a culture, we worked our way because of many voices and much resistance ... The resistance has been going on for a long time ... Those attitudes have become not the norm.
Susan Griffin: [01:38:00] They're not popular anymore. It has to be a set on the far, far right that thinks that way. That to me is progress. One can be cynical and say, "Well, right now, we've certainly taken several steps back regarding income inequality." Pollution has gotten worse.
Susan Griffin: [01:38:30] CO2, level of carbon dioxide in the air is higher so it's not an even ... If you think of progress as something that just keeps going endlessly, no, that's not the case. We're in a struggle. We're in a titanic struggle for the survival of the earth. The struggle to save the earth is not separate
Susan Griffin: [01:39:00] from the struggle for human rights. We often think of it as separate but it isn't separate. That's why women are associated more with the earth. Everything that is ... One of the reasons ... I'm sorry, I should reverse that. That's why women, they are prejudiced against women ... One of the underpinnings of the prejudice against women is that women are associated with the earth. We give birth, we menstruate, we raise children,
Susan Griffin: [01:39:30] we clean up the dishes, we clean up the shit, we're in charge of the garbage. So therefore, we're of the earth, we're material. Then men can think of themselves as closer to the spirit and then they can escape in this category of spirit the consequences the way we're living now and destroying the earth. That's the same with African-American people are looked at as closer to the earth or earthy. J
Susan Griffin: [01:40:00] ews by the Germans were looked at as being intelligent but a canny, meaning an earthy, intelligence. They were looked at as closer to the earth too. Gay people, it's interesting cause we're looked at as unnatural but there's another way that we are closer to nature in the sense that we don't deny our own nature. That threatens the whole system.
Susan Griffin: [01:40:30] The system that it especially threatens is the system of gender. That is very important to this prejudiced mind ... Let's call it the prejudiced mind and the divided mind ... The divided mind has to keep the genders separate and chained off from each other, impermeable. That is because the male gender is associated with dominance and spirit
Susan Griffin: [01:41:00] and the female with weakness and earthiness. The illusion underneath that is that the dominant side, the male gender in dominating women, can dominate the earth and therefore, speaking of mortality, dominates mortality. Wins over mortality. When in fact the opposite is actually true. Mortality wins over everything in human life.
Mason Funk: [01:41:30] Fantastic. That's really good stuff. I mean, I just wish we could go on for hours. That's so good, so rich and it's 5:29 and so I'm gonna just jump to ... I have just four questions that I ask ... I can't resist asking this one. It just dawned on me this morning when I was writing my notes, women ... I think when I was reading about you and putting together some questions, the word survival came up. Women as survivors.
Susan Griffin: [01:42:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: I realized that we've talked so much about how gay men survived AIDS. We're talking about ourselves as survivors. I think that it dawned on me sometimes that maybe in doing that, we failed to understand how women have been surviving far longer and in far more profound ways than we have. We survived this particular incident in a way. Is that ... does that ...
Susan Griffin: [01:42:30] Yes, you're ... Well I can't refer to you but there's an issue that I've been wanting to write about for a while. I've made some book proposals that I think were not coming at it in the right way but I'm going to start on it again soon. That is the issue households ... Yeah, we have to ...
Mason Funk: Can we just wait until it clicks over?
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:43:00] Okay, hold that thought.
Susan Griffin: Yeah. Oh you know it might be something I have to get. Hold on. Alright.
Mason Funk: Then you had ... That was bringing [crosstalk ] ...
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Maybe sit back a little bit.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, great.
Mason Funk: And you were ... Make yourself at home and then jump in.
Susan Griffin: Okay, this is ... Am I all covered here?
Natalie Tsui: You're good.
Susan Griffin: Okay. Well ...
Mason Funk: You mentioned the book proposal you put [crosstalk]
Susan Griffin: [01:43:30] Yeah. So this book is a book about housewives. I wanted to call it The Book of Housewifery and I may still. I realized that the house is what sustains people. You come home, at the very least, you sleep. The house has to accommodate your sleeping. But often times also you eat at home. You have a sense of serenity, you have a sense that you're protected. You recharge,
Susan Griffin: [01:44:00] you're restored. Relationships take place in households and the house encourages that ... The way this living room is set up so people can sit across from each other and talk. Households sustain life. That's how people survive is through domestic arts.
Mason Funk: Interesting.
Susan Griffin: [01:44:30] What interests me also about that is that the rules at home are very different from the rules outside the home because the rules at home are so bent on sustaining life. What they emphasize is not competition but cooperation. Not aggression but helping each other. Just one example I'll give. If you're sitting at dinner and a platter is brought to be shared,
Susan Griffin: [01:45:00] the rule is you don't grab first and you don't grab most of it. You try to figure out what your portion would be and take your portion and pass it on. Or even take less than you think you should. That's the rules of politeness in a home. But outside, once you leave the property, you're supposed to grab and it's all 'me first.' It's all as they say, free market.
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] Yeah, it's a free for all. Interesting. Okay. Well, I have four final questions. They're intended to be short and relatively succinct.
Susan Griffin: Good.
Mason Funk: One is, maybe you won't relate to this because you didn't have ... I ask people all the time, to someone who you've met, a friend or a niece or a nephew, who's about to come out in some way, shape or form and sought your guidance,
Mason Funk: [01:46:00] your wisdom about the coming out process. What would you ... What small nuggets of wisdom would you give that person?
Susan Griffin: I would come out first to the person you trust the most and you feel that will be someone who will accept what you have to say. I would do it with utter most
Susan Griffin: [01:46:30] care for yourself as if you were your own parent or your own older sibling. In other words, not in an angry way, not that there's anything wrong with you being angry over prejudice against gays ... It's fine, I'm glad people are angry about that ... But when it comes to you being vulnerable, anger actually makes you more vulnerable.
Susan Griffin: [01:47:00] You want allies, so build some allies. Come out to first one and then another and then another so you have a community of people who are supporting you. So you're not doing this in an isolated way. Then, it probably would help if you are able to do this, to feel some compassion towards people that are shocked. Say you have a mother
Susan Griffin: [01:47:30] who's evangelical and she thinks being gay is a sin in some way. If you can feel any compassion for what she would feel. Maybe she feels guilt and shame. That's going to help you. I'm not saying this in order for you to take care of people that have that prejudice. No, I don't mean it that way at all. But the more that you can feel empathetic towards the other person,
Susan Griffin: [01:48:00] the more it helps you. It demystifies them. It disempowers prejudice to be able to have a sense of where it would come from. You have to be careful in that empathy that you know that if you have feelings for somebody's suffering doesn't mean you think they're right.
Susan Griffin: [01:48:30] You can even ... I have very strong and legitimate anger towards Trump ... Really angry at that man but there's certain times that I can see in his posture something very, very sad. I don't want to cut off the part of my own humanity that can see that and feel sorry for him.
Mason Funk: [01:49:00] Great. Okay. Speaking of this new era that we're in ... I asked this same question last summer before Trump had been elected and now it's a whole new question. The question was and is, what keeps you hopeful for the future?
Susan Griffin: I've done a lot of research over my life into the Holocaust.
Susan Griffin: [01:49:30] It's been one of the lifetime concerns as strong as my feeling for indigenous cultures. Recently, I've begun reading a lot again about the Holocaust because of the resurgence of the alt right and their connections with the Trump administration. One of the things that made me feel, gave me some hope in this period is that, in Germany after Hitler got elected,
Susan Griffin: [01:50:00] we didn't have ... In Germany there weren't these huge movements of resistance in the same way as there are now. While democratic rights were still in place and that gives me more hope than anything else. I also feel hope for the leaders and elected people who are coming out courageously against for instance
Susan Griffin: [01:50:30] Trump's attempt to stop refugees from coming into the country and to round up immigrants. The response to that has been very heartening. My grandson was in the airport, my 15 year old grandson, holding up a sign saying, "You're welcome here."
Mason Funk: That's great. Why is it important to you ... Basically this is a question of why did you agree ...
Mason Funk: [01:51:00] You've been interviewed before but why did you agree to this interview? Why's it important to you to tell your story? The story of your mother, the story of your sister, the story of the High Sierras. Why's it important to you?
Susan Griffin: The stories are how we transmit ... It's how we transmit meaning, lessons, wisdom.
Susan Griffin: [01:51:30] I think it's very interesting, these questions that can't really be easily answered. There is storytelling and the necessity of telling the story and the necessity of hearing stories and the habit of it is very old. It's as old in human history as anything that we know of. I think it must correlate with something in human nature.
Susan Griffin: [01:52:00] The desire to tell the story. It's a profound part of who we are so I'm just being who I am.
Mason Funk: Fantastic. Then the very last question is related to that previous one. What in your opinion or from your perspective is the importance of a project like OUTWORDS? If you could use the word OUTWORDS in your answer.
Susan Griffin: Could you tell me more what OUTWORDS is before ...
Mason Funk: [01:52:30] Yeah. It's a good question. Really, I'm attempting to try to paint almost a composite portrait of our movement, of our community and our movement. Historically speaking from say 50, 60 years ago by collecting stories from as many different angles as possible.
Susan Griffin: Okay.
Mason Funk: Nationwide and geographically and ethnically and culturally.
Susan Griffin: So much has been left out of history. We know this.
Susan Griffin: [01:53:00] We have Howard Zinn's "The People's History" that's starting to make a correction. There's so much African-American history that still isn't told, that's been left out. Women's history and gay history is a major part of that. OUTWORDS is correcting that. We think we know the history because we know about Stonewall. Excuse me but there's a lot more history than that.
Susan Griffin: [01:53:30] You can't make wise decisions without knowing your history. We're living in this period right now where great composites of history can be made, and are being made, and yet we have a president who did not know that Andrew Jackson had been dead for ... How many? 15, 17 years before the Civil War started?
Susan Griffin: [01:54:00] I laugh but that's tragic. It's tragic when we don't know our own history. We need the history to be able to make wise decisions. It also tells you who you are. I don't know if you ever watch Henry Louis Gates program. He has a program using DNA and archives to reconstruct people's family history. It's the most extraordinary thing, that program.
Susan Griffin: [01:54:30] People break down in tears knowing what happened to their great-grandparents, their great-great-grandparents. It is ... Your lineage is so critical to who you are, to understanding who you are. Just in the way that we need to be able to appreciate the trees around us and the Earth, we need to be able to appreciate that. It's a very profound part of the soul to appreciate where we've come from and why.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] Great. That's perfect. We have to do 30 seconds of what we call room tone, which is just nobody talking ...
Susan Griffin: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, room tone.
Natalie Tsui: [01:55:30] And, we're good.
Mason Funk: I'd like you to meet your parents.
Susan Griffin: Yeah, great. Wonderful. Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's what you all ... You slash I, we all are.
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: It's like these kids who the biological parents they had ...
Susan Griffin: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Are not really their parents ...
Susan Griffin: Right.
Mason Funk: In the spiritual sense ...
Susan Griffin: Yes, yes. Yes it's true. I should've also said it's so much part of the American mentality right now to think of individuals but we're all products of collaboration and ....
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay so now we have two tasks to carry out, you and I. I'm going to take some photographs of you.
Susan Griffin: [01:56:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: Then, I'm ...

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: May 09, 2017
Location: Home of Susan Griffin, Berkeley, CA