Miss Pamela’s Writing School for Electric Ladies
By Pamela Des Barres
Pamela Des Barres’ “Preface” may be short, but it’s filled with one-liners that convey all her pride in her “students” and herself.
Of all the many spectacular things I’ve done in my life, my workshops take the sweet, gooey, yummy cake.
It’s quite uplifting, and dare I say, endearing? Pamela calls herself a groupie Godmother, after all! And now, her book, Miss Pamela’s Writing School for Electric Ladies, is here to share the source of this pride: short pieces of writing by women who’ve frequented her workshops over the years.
Not every piece is a literary work of art (because they were written in 12 minute spurts during these classes). Indeed, many read like a bad manuscript. Take Lynx O’Leary’s first childhood memory, for example. Its opening, “I open my eyes and see only darkness,” is equal parts cliché and ominous. O’Leary continues, recalling her emotions:
I’m not scared because I know if I make a sound he will come. That gentle man who feeds me, cleans me, who plays and tickles me …
Coupled with the repeated mentions of dark hallways, silence, and the theme of fear, O’Leary’s “gentle man” reads as disturbing, rather than loving, as she intends. Also, most people don’t remember being a baby, do they? Still, there’s something about the sinister quality that’s successful: as if the fear expressed is that O’Leary once felt, before her father’s comforting presence. Her piece has emotional resonance.
The writing conducted in these workshops, however, is a search for self, and these women have clearly left themselves on the page—through nostalgic imagery, good metaphors, memorable diction as well as writing that reads like a bad manuscript. That’s the real triumph: that the writing is there at all for me to critique. That the writer was brave enough to share it.
Most women want to write about who they are, what made them that way, and how to become MORE of who they are, who we all are.
Lucky for me, there are elements to each story that make them worth reading, even if they are “bad.”
Elizabeth Raymond plainly expresses her frustration through metaphor: “But my father was as smooth as an egg, not a crack in sight.”
J. Gunter’s diction (his use of “twining”) is accurate and relatable: “Roscoe, the orange tabby, is twining around my foot, begging for scraps, begging for love.” The tail end of his sentence is heart-wrenching.
Kelsey Chapman’s writing on “What would you say to your 13 year-old self?” is startlingly honest: “You’re going to be really surprised at what I have to say, but you really fucking did it, kid. A couple weeks ago you were trying to cut off your air supply with a belt, but…”
Linda Rizzo’s response to the prompt, What Overwhelms You?, touches on politics and social issues, even though it may not be the overall point: “Too much rent. Too many people. Too much gentrification. Too many vacant storefronts. And I feel like I need to get away.”
One can feel Sheva Golkow’s fatigue through her heart-felt, repeated words: “I’m tired—really, really goddamned tired—of having to justify women’s rights: to say whatever we want, to wear whatever we want, to fuck whomever we want, and to be left the hell alone whenever we want.”
As evidenced by the pulled quotes, these pieces are worth reading mostly because of their emotional truth and literary appeal.
I wrote earlier that Pamela’s story is uplifting and endearing, but I think the word I was searching for is empowering. These women, they hail from all over, covering coast to coast. Some are from California, others from New York. Canada, Arkansas, Nevada, Texas …
But they are all connected through their bravery to pick up the pen. It’s a really neat thing, especially considering Miss Pamela’s Writing School for Electric Ladies is only the first volume of its collection. There’s more to come, perhaps even your own writing.
Reviewed by Emma Boone
Published by Riverdale Avenue Books, October 2022