In Search of Pure Lust
a memoir by Lise Weil

300 Pages
May 21, 2018
Non-Fiction All Titles Inanna Memoir Series Memoir



In Search of Pure Lust a memoir by Lise Weil

In Search of Pure Lust documents an important chapter in lesbian history that is already being distorted and erased, a time when lesbians were reinventing everything from the ground up. Along with violence against women around the globe, lesbians of the 1970s and ’80s were motivated by growing militarism, rampant development, species loss, and living systems in decline. For many, this was the logical conclusion to a state of law/mind/rule that had prevailed for thousands of years — patriarchy.

This is a long overdue and unvarnished insider’s account of those times. The memoir, centered in the Northeast U.S. and then later in Quebec, combines a personal story with the story of a political movement. The book is full of celebration, but also depicts the shadow side of the lesbian movement, taking the reader into the bitter squabbles that divided women, both personally and politically. On a deeper level, the memoir charts a long and difficult quest for love. Over and over, the narrator dives headlong into rapturous passions that either fizzle out or come to brutal and ugly endings.

In the mid-’80s, when a friend invites her to a Zen retreat, she as desperate enough to say yes. A period of difficult self-examination ensues and, over a period of years, she begins to learn an altogether different approach to desire. The last section of the memoir traces the fallout from that collision between hot-blooded lesbian desire and spacious, temperate Zen mind. What the search for pure lust uncovers, in the end, is something that looks a lot like love.

Lise Weil is an award-winning editor and translator. Her essays and literary nonfiction have been published widely in Canada and the U.S. She is founding editor of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and teaches in the Goddard Graduate Institute. Her short fiction, essays, reviews, literary nonfiction, and translations have been published widely in journals in both Canada and the U.S. Her collection of Mary Meigs’ writings on aging, Beyond Recall (2005), was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in biography in 2006. Born in Chicago, she moved to Montreal in 1990. These many years later, she is still in love with this city—for its mix of cultures and languages, its café life, its year-round festivals, and its proximity to wilderness. She spends summers in a cabin in the woods north of the city where she hosts annual retreats for women writers centred around dreamwork.

     My whole life I have loved women. Beginning with my first grade teacher, Miss Reynolds, whom I loved with a fierceness I knew no man could rival, including the one she was planning to marry. For whom the flame still burned so hot seven years later that when my father flew my sisters and me from Chicago to Washington so I could see her again (she had married a Republican congressman). I didn’t sleep at all the night before we left. The year was 1963 and songs from the new Beatles album kept repeating in my head: “…Without you I will beyeee in misery…..” To this day, those songs have an edge of panic and desperation. If I didn’t get to sleep I wouldn’t look good for her, and I had to look good for her. It had never been so important that I look good for someone….
     The year before, when I was in fifth grade, Miss Reynolds had come back to the Latin School to visit. We were in music class and had just struck up a chorus of “Harken Harken Music Sounds Afar” when the piano playing and, with it, our singing, came to a sudden halt. Someone had knocked on the door and was coming in.
     It was Miss Reynolds, in a black dress. Married life had changed her. Her hair wasn’t wavy anymore and had blond streaks in it. But this foreign woman in the black dress was looking right at me. Then she was walking purposefully up the aisle between the rows of seats, making her way to the rear of the class. Then she was kneeling down beside me. “Hello squirt,” she was saying. “How are you?”
     She smelled exactly the same. Cigarettes and body warmth.…
     I think she put her arms around me, maybe kissed me on the cheek, and then she rose and walked back down the aisle and out of the classroom. I suppose she must have addressed the others in the room before walking out but I was too stunned to notice, every cell on overload. The piano playing and the singing resumed, but though I was singing along with the others, I was somewhere else, not there at all, and then I was marching out of the music room with the others and back to homeroom, but I was no longer the same person who’d marched in.

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