Girls in Vans Have a Mission
I once learned the story of a Montreal actress who every other night went out with a group of volunteers to rescue stray cats in her van. They called themselves The Pussy Patrol. In their rounds, they would set up traps and drive the captured felines to the veterinarian to neuter them. Later some animals would have been released back to the streets and others fostered for adoption. A quiet and bold commitment to save animals from suffering and death on the streets. After learning the story, every time I would see her performing on stage or running after a ball in a softball tournament, I would think Such a solid human being. So fragile.
Like the quest of Olivia Gatwood, a poet from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who writes about girlhood, shame, queerness, and crime, and wants women to believe their stories are worth telling. Gatwood too, as the Pussy Patrol, finds inspiration in violence.
People, especially teen girls, have been historically conditioned to perceive their lives as unspectacular and boring, Gatwood says on a TED Talk. She encourages the audience to resist the urge to take less space and instead make room for the stories. “Allow yourself to be present”.
And that’s what she does. "Ode To My Bitch Face" and “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” are two of her most popular poetry reading performances on Youtube, with 900K and 780K views respectively. Her voice is charged with energy that vibrates with anger, desperation, and humor. Plus a hint of urgency for not leaving things the way they were.
With her poetry, Gatwood tries to dismantle themes like violence against women as if it were a machine with a set number of pieces. She re-contextualizes words like “teen girl” to create new human connections and replace the exhausted ones.
“(...) Pluto, the teen girl, and her rejection
from the popular universe,
and my father, a teen girl, who insists he doesn’t
believe in horoscopes but wants me to tell
him about the best traits of a Scorpio, (...)”
(Gatwood, Olivia. “When I Say That We Are All Teen Girls”)
Gatwood, author of New American Best Friend (2016) and Life of the Party (2019), has recently finished a tour, according to a New York Times article. She along with singer Ari Chi and cellist Cailin Nolte, went across the United States performing in front of audiences of hundreds of thousands. As stated on the Times story, she “plans and funds her own tours and often handles the transportation herself, driving a 10-passenger van from city to city.”
Gatwood wants to reach out and connect with her audience. With teen girls especially. She wants them to experience the bond with the potential of making them feel validated and safe. At some point in her TED Talk, Oliva asks more to herself than to anybody else: “What my truth would be as a poet?” “What story would people would look at me to tell?” An answer is, perhaps, the courage Gatwood radiates to her audiences; the courage to strive to make a world, a city, a staircase, a place where every creature is safe.
Details on how to be part of The Pussy Patrol are here.
By Lily Olivas