Sunday, the Mothertongue Feminist Theater Collective put on a celebration ceremony honoring Susan (Shoshanna) Merilyn Miller for women who knew and valued her friendship. As part of the program Lori Rillera sang “my miracle,” a song she wrote to express her deep affection for this woman who had been old enough to be her mother.
”I’m thinking of you
susan shaped space
filled in my heart
when I sing
and make art”
Lori said that Susan would say to her that she was the same age as the daughter she gave up for adoption.
Alhough I did not know Susan well, I had been to some of the same gatherings and had followed the progression of her illness through postings by her good friends Corky Wick and Lori. They, with Susan, were members of Mothertongue with whom she had performed her written pieces about women’s experiences for more than 25 years.
Taken from venues where Susan is said to have read them animatedly, about 30 pieces were arranged to be read and filmed on Sunday. They were varied – childhood recollections of her love for her sister, her memory of lying on the bathroom floor begging god to help her breathe so she would not have to disturb her parents on a night they seemed to be getting along, her ongoing battles with asthma and eczema, her yearning to be loved, her sexuality, and her bisexuality, a fact she liked to make clear by speaking and writing the word in all capital letters.
From among her writings, I chose to go to the microphone and read “A Good Day,” a piece I picked because on that day everything had gone well for her, even her doctors’ appointments. I knew from Corky that Susan’s life had been filled with illness, so I felt glad and less intrusive to share in a day she felt free of pain, a day spent with her sister joyfully. I did not feel entitled to read intimate accounts – her playful musings about masturbation, or her yearnings to have someone make love to her – not that I haven’t known both.
Robin Song opened the program by lighting a candle against a backdrop of collages and drawings Susan created. These art works clipped to twine by tiny clothespins were for friends to take as were pieces of her jewelry, her scarves, jackets and other clothes.
Robin included a ritual dropping of smooth and lovely stones into a translucent bowl of water after each woman read one of Susan’s writings. These stones, Robin said, remind us that what we give of ourselves ripples out. Our lives invariably touch other lives, whether or not we think so.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, music for dancing played through the meeting room at Strawberry Creek Lodge in North Berkeley and the women who knew and loved Susan moved as they were able in body or spirit, waving Susan’s scarves or sharing with each other the clothes they wore that had once been hers.
“i was waiting for you
holding your place
till you got well
a susan-shaped space
no other dancer