Valley of the Dolls: How Pamela Des Barres’ Writing Workshop Changed My Life

GTOs

You never know what to expect when you go to these things. You know it’s a writer’s group, so it will be intimate and there will probably be tears, maybe you’ll discover something new about yourself, reveal some hidden truth. But you can’t ever actually prepare for the way these things unfold. For the stories you’ll hear, you’ll tell. These things have an organic, electric current that flows through them, one that is beyond body and mind.

For the uninitiated, Pamela Des Barres is a god among girls, at least girls with penchants for bearded boys and bad decisions, girls who grew up listening to records, chasing bands, making stories. A member of the GTOs, she’s one of the world’s most famous groupies, and before you jump to conclusions, you must realize her role in your record collection. For she pulled on the heartstrings of Mick Jagger, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, and Paul McCartney, for starters. She is the original wild child, tied to no one, lover of the moment. She wrote memoirs documenting her adventures and affairs, and she wrote them, somehow, with an elegance to her raw prose, never sparing a detail, so you could almost imagine yourself in a thin white dress, flowered headband, on the bus alongside her in the California sun.

I first borrowed her book I’m With The Band from my friend, and Blonde contributor, Allison and I liked it so much I didn’t return it for two years. It was also Allison who, through some higher power or spiritual force or intention of being, convinced Pamela Des Barres to come give one of her writer’s workshops, infamous in LA, here in Toronto. She picked Pamela up herself from the airport and hand delivered her to us, a group of lost girls, sharing a common bond of music and words and boys and stories. Pamela came to us and when she left we weren’t the same.

Something happened in that room. Pamela gathered us around and we sat in a big circle for two full nights. There were twenty of us, most were from Toronto but some came as far as Edmonton. First we shared some details about ourselves, the simple things, our names, a little morsel about our lovers. It didn’t take long before we were sharing secrets, there were moments so quiet you could hear the hair rising on arms, you could feel the intensity, the honesty. Girls bravely told stories they hadn’t even told their closest friends. I told stories I hadn’t (still haven’t) told my closest friends. We wrote about lies, sex, regrets, innocence, death, childhood, our parents, our hometowns, our dreams, and our records. We laughed. We cried. We wrote about the people that made us, the people that broke us, and the strength that allowed us to continue despite this.

But what I never expected to find were the Dolls, the very girls themselves. When you reveal so much about yourself to a room full of strangers you are making an unspoken pact. What happens in the room, stayed in the room, but the friendships and connections that were made in that room transcended it.

We became confidants. We became friends. We became part of a group so unique we call ourselves the Toronto Dolls, as Pamela does to the girls who attend her workshops.  We became part of each other, in a deep way, constants in messy lives. We help each other through struggles, through writer’s block, through pains and gains. We encourage each other when we’re down and send accolades when things are up. We support each other’s businesses, bands, and, most of all, writing. When we confess our sins, there is no judgment.

Because of the Dolls, I have realized things about myself I’m not sure I would have realized before. I have been encouraged to do things I’m not sure I would have before, to take leaps and risks and to start saying yes. It’s one of the reasons I started Blonde, and one of the reasons I am inspired to build it into something beautiful and raw. Blonde simply wouldn’t exist without the Dolls. I’m not sure where I’d be without them either.

Sheena Lyonnais is an editor of Blonde, as well as many other things, and first and foremost a writer. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

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