Rockstar or not, Nicola Harwood’s Flight Instructions for the Commitment Impaired is a bold and absorbing memoir. At times her style is plain and functional, at other times it is poetic and intricate – even captivating, her voice consistently displayed centre-stage.

Harwood Flight Instructions

Caitlin Press, 2016

“No such thing as one true love, just the one sent hurtling against the door, catching your breath like a fly ball but not your words as you flirt outrageously and wonder how she could have fumbled that great line.
No one true love, but a whole lot of small lies told over dinner, draped over a restless urgency that threatens to bend the forks.”

While extended passages of figurative prose might be overwhelming, these poetic bursts are layered between matter-of-fact and often scenic segments, so readers have plenty to secure them to the narrative proper.

For instance, the following passage offers a solid complement to the “true love” musing (which is longer than what is quoted above).

“We slide out of now into then, into our twenties, those heady days of late-night sex and all-day exhaustion; idealistic, co-dependent lesbian unions fueled by drugs, softball, and Adrienne Rich. Unions such as this one, that didn’t stand a chance in hell. And while we are fucking and laughing we are ever so delicately examining the threads of our story. The hopes, the illusions, the disappointments. How young and stupid we were then. How old and stupid we are now.”

Nicola Harwood doesn’t come off as “old and stupid” on the page, however, but spirited and dynamic, open-minded and open-hearted.

She appears to be enchanted by language but also recognizes its shortcomings, including the thorny question of definition, particularly when it comes to one’s identity.

“From dyke to queer to butch to transgender to gender queer to gender fluid to bi-gender, tri-gender, pan-gender and non-binary girly faggot femme boy (not cis-boy!) – identity is like snow. It lies beneath language, fails between words, melts on your tongue.”

The question of commitment is at the heart of the memoir, as the title suggests. “Non-monogamy is a complicated, hyphenated word, which translated into dog language means: don’t fence me in.”

But not only romantic relationships but other kinds of relationships are also explored, both enduring and fleeting. “My writing magazines always have a page devoted to the latest award winners, and I read their achievements with bitterness. Recently I am more interested in stories of failure, especially spectacular failures. The zeppelins of relationships.”

Where does one put down roots? How does one nurture existing ties while accommodating change and growth. “Family. Like Aquarius and her jar of water it pours constantly from every source. For some it is the wine of life while for others it is the hopeless sense of drowning in a sticky mess not entirely of our own creation but somehow, intrinsically, our own. Drowning in our own blood.”

She and her partner – called Lover – establish a relationship with Ant, whose own family has “some queer corners not fully exposed to light”, whose own sexuality was a work in progress. Though a long-time resident of a group home, he gradually establishes a relationship with this couple, who open their home to him after many months of supervised contact although the relationship remains dynamic and complicated.

“If this is the new millennium, this cacophony of race, language, sex and gender, mothers, daughters, sons and sons who are daughters, neighbours and friends. If this is what family will look like in the new millennium, bring it on.”

Nicola Harwood’s writing feels honest and no-holds-barred, like Jowita Bydlowska’s Drunk Mom and Priscila Uppal’s Projection, but it has a flair which makes it read like fiction.

If this is what queer feminist memoir will look like in Caitlin Press’ catalogue, bring it on.