Myriam Gurba is one of the most fearless writers I know. Today’s fucked up Gertrude Stein. I’m so glad that she will be writing regularly for the RADAR blog.
I’m a one-i’d Myriam.
Usually, Myriams are two-i’d, Miriams, but my parents spelled me cycloptically, so in that vein, welcome to One-i’d, my arts and literature column. Arts and literature share an i, and literature gets it, which means that this column will probably be more about words than the other arts. I gotta give my i a rest.
I wasn’t born here, but my similarly-sexed lover, our rabbits, an iguana, and I live in Long Beach, California. It’s home to many homos and one mighty Queen Mary. Snoop Dogg is our unconfirmed poet laureate and one of the first Gays to openly serve in American local government was one of our natives. In 1933, Los Angelenos voted Earl C. Gay to their city council. Haters attempted a recall but the Gay kept his office.
If this doesn’t paint a queer enough picture of my community, then maybe some more detail will help. Our airport abbreviates as LGB. We’re still lobbying to get the T,Q, and I added. Also, our tap water will turn you out. As evidence, I cite that tennis lez Billie Jean King, queer chanteur Frank Ocean, and Runaways’ drummer Sandy West were variously born and hydrated here.
Since LGBTQIs abound in the LGB(TQI), some queerish lit shit goes on around town, some of it in my living room, some of it in my bathroom. However, having been Facebookishly invited by Alistair McCartney, a writer and faculty member at Antioch University, to come get my word on in Culver City, I cancelled my Tuesday night therapy appointment (I always see the sex offender hiding in therapist), switched off my coffee pot, locked my classroom door and double-checked it, ignored my adamant gas light, and zipped up the 405, to Literary Uprising.
Now, I gotta confess that for some unpinpointable reason, it had entered into my imagination that Antioch was an old-fashioned correspondence school. I visualized the campus as a mailbox and I visualized the faculty as a man checking the mailbox, and with these postal visions conjuring the refreshing yet somehow bulimic flavor of stamps, I pulled off the freeway and coasted into the mouth of the prison industrial parking complex my internet directions guided me to.
So far, no mailbox.
Schweddy and schlepping a little basket of my freshly stapled chapbooks, yes, I use every chance I can to pimp my work, I minced out of the garage and up a semi-epic flight of concrete steps that tempted me to reenact scenes out of Rocky. Had my father been there, he would’ve encouraged me.
We would’ve shouted, “Adrian!” together.
Since I was alone, and like a white rabbit, running late, I resisted.
At the top of the mount, I desperately thought bad words. I realized I’d left the paper with the event information in the car and scanning, I saw no mailbox. Only trees, pavement, and buildings blanketed in early nightfall.
I looked around for a spirit guide. Two men who seemed likely friends of Dorothy fit this bill.
“Hi!” I told them. “You guys know if Literary Uprising is happening around here?”
“He’s reading at that!” one said. He pointed at his shorter companion.
This one pointed at a building I couldn’t see for the trees and said, “It’s going to be right over there. Next Tuesday.”
My eyebrows bumped nasties with my hairline. “You’re kidding me.”
The performer-to-be shook his head.
“I’m a week early?”
“You were really excited to see me!”
Having arrived seven days early to Literary Uprising, I felt I deserved a combination reward/flogging. Sort of like a Pizza Hut/Taco Bell.
In an anti-rush, I descended back to the little hell where my Honda was parked and decided to take a picture of myself. I call it Portrait of a Hyper-Punctual Lesbian.
I hopped back into my ride, zipped back onto the 405, and pulled off at a mall that honors obsessive-compulsive disorder, the Howard Hughes Center. I was drawn there by the pull of Nordstrom Rack’s discounted designer shoes. This would be my reward. This is how I would honor my hyper-punctuality.
Again, another flight of Rockyesque steps to the shoes and then a sign blocking a door that would give me access: WE APOLOGIZE. NORDSTROM RACK WILL CLOSE EARLY THIS EVENING ONLY. WE WILL RESUME NORMAL BUSINESS HOURS TOMORROW NIGHT. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HYPERPUNCTUALITY.
I decided it was best to return to the LGB(TQI) since the universe was conspiring against me.
Stay tuned for the next installment of One-I’d to learn if I ever make it to Literary Uprising.
We’ve all heard the feminist mantra “the personal is political,” but writer Thomas Page McBee is breathing new life into that old dictum. McBee advocates for the transformative power of personal narrative in his published work and public lectures (I wrote about a presentation I saw him give at the University of Chicago here.) Since I find him both eloquent and inspiring, I asked McBee some questions about his writing, philosophy, fashion, and future plans for the RADAR Blog.
How did you get your start as a writer?
My third grade teacher was this spark plug, silver-haired woman named Mrs. Nichols, and she’d insist we write poetry almost every class period. She’d send some of her favorites via fax to her daughter, a soap opera star in New York—it was all very glamorous. Some of my only memories from a very difficult childhood are looking up through the leaves of a Dogwood tree, writing away, and then occasionally being led down the long hallway to the teacher’s lounge, where Mrs. Nichols would send my work, as if by magic, to this famous person in New York.
What current projects are you working on?
I write freelance for a variety of publications; my work is in or forthcoming in TheAtlantic.com, Salon, VICE, the UTNE Reader, and others. I teach fiction to undergrads, work as an editor at Boston’s alt-weekly, and speak about media and gender narratives at colleges across the country.
I write a column about gender and othering and identity for The Rumpus called “Self-Made Man.” That started early last year as a way to use my transition to talk about masculinity and becoming in a different, more complicated way than the more mainstream narratives you see about trans folks, and masculinity in general. Now I think it’s grown to be about so many things, and so many different people from different contexts and experiences relate to it, that I realize it’s actually about just becoming a whole person. I think that’s all I’m interested in, anyway—what it means to be here, now. I’m so curious about meaning and narrative, and also when meaning and narrative fall short, and just creating a container to hold the fundamental contradictions of being alive.
Describe the book project you are working on now
I am writing a memoir, This Fragile Fortress, and I’m working with my agent on revisions at this moment. It starts in 2010, when I was held at gunpoint and then released by a man who went on to shoot two people in the course of similar robberies (killing one of them). My reaction to the experience was to fall back in love with my body, and in doing so, go on this big journey where I faced down my father, the man who mugged me, and my fears about being a man, and led to my transition.
Talk a little bit about what it means to you to be a “self-made man”
At some point, in seeking healthy models of masculinity, I realized that the only way I could transition was to use my heart as a compass. So much about masculine standards of behavior troubled me, and so I had to find myself from the inside-out, not the outside-in. What I’ve learned since I started chronicling this experience publicly is that my experience is universal. Whether it’s gender identity or something else, authenticity starts when you choose to not be defined by expectation. I’ve since met men—cis and trans—that I respect, but I’m almost 32. I’m not at the point of my life where I needed a role model of masculinity, I needed to be my own role model. That’s what I’ve been, and so I’m self-made.
And, of course, it’s a reference to the American ideal of being “self-made” and the way I construct myself, in some ways, with the help of needles and hormones. But we’re all self-made, I think, except for those of us who allow ourselves to be made by others.
Explain your theory of radical vulnerability and how you express it in your writing
I think radical vulnerability is going towards what makes you uncomfortable, and finding bravery there. I’m interested in messy aspects of life, I find vitality in really being here in the most complicated moments. I’ve never lived a simple, straightforward existence. So I write what I know, and I believe that being vulnerable isn’t this horrible exposure meant to be avoided at all costs, but a way of being present to the reader and the work, and encouraging a dynamic that hopefully find the reader being present to herself. It’s strength, and it’s where my resilience has always lived.
I owe so much to the honesty of other writers. Growing up, books were my best friends. People who deride art as navel-gazing must never have been lonely and found themselves, even briefly, in someone else’s words.
Who are your greatest literary heroes?
Stylists who are also truth-tellers, like Truman Capote circa, In Cold Blood, which is such a brave book that I think is vastly underappreciated. I admire people who show up for the reader, who offer a part of themselves without asking for anything in return, which is a kind of deep love for humankind. I mean fiction writers like Tim O’Brien, Haruki Murakami, and Mary Shelley (who taught us all something profound with her Frankenstein), but I also mean Carl Jung, whose very personal work is so important to how I understand myself. Then there’s Nick Flynn, and of course Michelle Tea, who I’m lucky to know, and who has always brought an electric honesty to her work. Zadie Smith brings intellect and heart together in such uneasy, human ways. I also admire writers who have critical distance, who can comment on the world in a way I can’t: Joan Didion, Jennifer Egan. And, leaving a million others out, I can say that a vast majority of what gets published on The Rumpus feels really vital to me, and a lot of the writers there are heroic in the truest sense.
Why do you feel that personal narrative has broader cultural significance and social impact?
The obvious answer is that telling marginalized stories proves the universal, and I believe that. But I think it’s so much deeper than that. Yes, I might be the only trans person a reader knows—or even the only man who’s modeling a particular kind of masculinity. That’s great, and hopefully that changes their behavior at the voter booth or make them reconsider their own gender identities or treat people differently, and that’s absolutely important to me.
But to broaden it out further, I think people need to be moved in order to be their full selves. Empathy and engagement—especially when someone is radically different than you and/or when you feel invisible or marginalized, creates a shift down in our core. I was watching this documentary on PBS the other night, and in it they said researchers have traced our mood at any moment to our interactions throughout the day—people’s feelings are literally, measurably contagious. But what’s amazing is it’s not just the feelings of the people you engage with that influence you—it’s their friends, and their friends’ friends. They had to go back to folks that are four times removed to not see any effect on the original subject. How you feel right now is affecting a huge swath of your community. I think what we read and witness creates a similar ripple effect.
So I look at that, and I think personal narrative doesn’t just bring understanding and visibility and connection to readers and writers alike, it has the power to create lasting change in the fundamentals of how we treat each other. And if my work does even a little to eradicate shame and isolation, then it’s deeply worthwhile.
Do you think that reading about your trans experience helps other people (including cis-men) reflect critically about their gender identities?
I hope so. I certainly receive emails from cis-men and cis-women, as well as trans folks, who say as much. I’m not myopic in my beliefs by any means, and I think we all have to find our own way home. But I do believe presenting alternative models of being in the world, and doing so to audiences outside of my particular gender experience, can be a really exciting, powerful thing.
One of my favorite reader stories was a young cis-man who played football growing up, was in a frat, etc. and so on, and found himself ultimately by shedding his own masculine expectations, and how liberating and freeing it was to just be his own man, without the rules. I loved hearing his story, and I love making stories like ours visible, and connected. I have way more common with him than I do most people of any gender.
How did you become involved with the blog Ironing Board Collective?
A few years ago, Michelle Tea, Leo Plass, my not-wife, Michael Braithwaite, and I got frustrated about the lack of fashion blogs that spoke to us. There were tons of them up right then, and none of them had an aesthetic we connected to. So we started there, just writing without any real limitations or overarching concepts. We just wrote what we liked.
Over time, we brought on Carrie Leilam Love, and then a series of guest bloggers including you, and we moved organically more and more toward looking at the ways style and culture intersect. But we also had folks do elaborate photo shoots, gift guides, and interviews. So I think we just got smart, stylish people together, and that’s what happened.
We never branded ourselves as queer, though sometimes other people did, and many of our writers probably self-identify as such. But we just wanted a space for our friends to explore fashion as identity—in all its problematic and glorious iterations.
Why do you feel that fashion transcends being merely frivolous or consumerist?
Because we style ourselves into becoming. Because fashion is communication, and even art. Because embodying my physicality has been my life’s work, and it’s a spiritual process. Because it’s a privilege to be able to show up in the world looking how I want to look, and I never forget it.
What are you most excited about in the next year?
So much! My book should be done by the spring, so I’m really excited to see where that takes me. I’m figuring out who I am, and where I’m going, and my life is taking a shape, a narrative, that I finally understand. It’s not been the easiest couple of years, but I’ve found meaning, and so much more, in the life I live, and my work has been such a huge part of that. This summer I’m getting a tattoo of Dogwood branches, of the view from down below, looking up through them. Writing led me into the world, and it’s not too much to say that it’s also brought me back to myself. So I’m so grateful for it all, and I’m looking forward to everything, even the hard parts.
Janelle Hessig was the first person to pop into my head when considering who to feature in my inaugural Monday art blog! She’s one of my all-time favorite cartoonists and one of the funniest ladies I know (and I know A LOT of funny ladies). Janelle is a comic/zine artist, musician, animator and Marketing Director for Last Gasp! I love her and you will too!
Verwey: You’ve been making zines/comic books since 1991?
Hessig: I published the first issue of Tales of Blarg with my friend, Hollie, in 1990. We made a fanzine in art class instead of making bongs like most of the other bad kids did.
Verwey: Why did you start?
Hessig: I’ve been writing stories and making comics for as long as I can remember. I still have copies of comics I made when I was a little kid. In my teens and early 20′s, making fanzines was a way to connect with (aka hit on) people. Nowadays, it’s mostly a compulsion to make jokes and tell stories.
Verwey: I heard you used to sell your books out of those newspaper coin boxes. True or lie?
Hessig: Halfsies. In the mid-90′s, me and my old housemate Jeff published a one-page monthly house newsletter called “Jank”(which had regular features like House Guest reviews). I’m a wuss about stealing things, but Jeff was a true genius at thievery. He stole because he could and he was good at it – caviar, the Madonna Sex book, fashion magazines – and once a newspaper box. He spray painted it silver and we set it on a corner in downtown Berkeley, near the BART station, which was our main stomping grounds back then. We kept it stocked with copies of Jank. They were free, though, no coin box.
Verwey: When will you make another Tales of Blarg??!!!
Hessig: When I find a big sack of money in the street and can stop working so many jobs all the time. I’m less productive at home and can’t afford a studio so it would also help if I could find a decent coffee shop/hidey hole in Oakland where I can work. I have simple coffee shop needs – no bullshitty communal tables or dumb counters with tall stools. No cattle call, fighting for a table like it’s dollar days at Target. Somewhere a person can drink good or ‘ok’ coffee and draw butts and not be bothered.
Verwey: How do you feel your zines have changed over the years?
Hessig: On the plus side, I can draw better now and have a better sense of design. On the negative side, I’m less oblivious and self-centered than I was in the early years, so I refrain from telling a lot of great stories because I don’t want to exploit anyone or hurt their feelings. BORING.
Verwey: Tell me your fave Gilman memory.
Hessig: I have a lot of them! Every time I saw Bikini Kill. Every time I saw Blatz. When The Queers dedicated the song “I Can’t Stop Farting” to me. When I barfed in George Hated’s pocket. When me and Hollie almost got kidnapped. Drinking in the bathroom. Drinking in the bushes. A lot of making out. I miss making out with strangers.
Verwey: What’s the story behind THIS:
Hessig: Instead of the typical ‘dude writes pop song about girl’, Bratmobile thought it was cooler for girls to write songs about other girls. So they wrote an answer song to the ‘Janelle’ song that Ben Weasel wrote/Born Against recorded. In the “Real Roxanne/Real Janelle” parallel – I guess that makes Born Against UTFO and Bratmobile Roxanne Shante. This was in 1994. Maybe I will stop hearing about it in 2024. 2054? Maybe it will be on my tombstone?
Verwey: You lived in a house- I think it was on 54th street (?)- for about a million years, right? That place always seemed like a revolving door of interesting roommates and weirdo houseguests- what was living there like? Who were some of your memorable roommates/guests?
Hessig: That was just one out of the teeming heap of punk houses I’ve lived in. I don’t know if 54th St even qualified as a “punk house” because there were a lot of fancy products in the bathroom and we had cable. The best era of that house was near the beginning when it was a stable line-up of housemates for years and it was like family. We had parties where we threw dummies off the roof and did whip-its in the bathtub. We had really cute Christmases like when Jonny Makeup came over and sang Mariah Carey songs through a toy microphone Christmas tree face. There were always a lot of funny pranks, pathos, and hi-jinx, catching roommates trying to sneak one-night stands out the window, having fake potlucks, playing made-up games like “Guess who’s under the blanket?”. It was a golden era. Good times and bad times – I’m glad it’s over and I wish it never ended.
Verwey: When did you start animating? Is it as hard as it looks?!?!
Hessig: I went to SFSU for Film and Animation in 2006. Animating is really hard. It takes a long, long time. I thought maybe I would make some big bucks doing it, but I really hate that industry standard 3D animation. It looks ugly and I’m bad at it. Of course I wound up gravitating towards hand drawn and stop motion animating which is extremely labor intensive and you can’t really get a job doing that stuff.
Check out Janelle’s animations HERE!
Verwey: You’re also a musician- what do you play? What bands are you/were you in?
Hessig: I started playing drums in punk bands when I was about 15. I’ve been a lot of bands you’ve never heard of: Clit Wrex, The Clams, The Tourettes, Baby Jail, Panty Raid, Rat Attack, The Help, Suburban Bitch, Dirty Charlie, etc, etc. Right now I’m playing in a band called Wet Spots.
Verwey: I know you’ve illustrated a lot of record covers and flyers- can you do a quick roll call off the top of your head of bands you’ve worked with?
Hessig: I’ve done zillions of flyers. There’s no way to remember. I’ve done cover art for Raooul, Midnite Snaxx, Bobby Joe Ebola, The Criminals, The Knock-Ups, and some others.
Verwey: When did you start working at Last Gasp? What’s it like?
Hessig: This is my third time working at Last Gasp since 1997. These days I’m the Marketing Director. Last Gasp is a genuine freak sanctuary steeped in SF underground publishing history. They published my all-time favorite comics anthology, Weirdo, and also Dori Seda, and tons of other great stuff. I get to be surrounded by mountains of great books and art all the time. Ron has a gallery in back that’s like a combo of the best museum and thrift store you ever saw – vintage freak show posters, original art from J Bradley Johnson & R Crumb, taxidermy two-headed cows, Elton John pinball. It’s nice that there’s a job that utilizes so much of my unique skill set – vast comic book knowledge, video editing, publishing, event organizing, writing, design, etc. I get to be myself and I get to be creative and I get to work hard for people that I care about. It’s a good gig. I love them.
Verwey: What projects are you working on now?
Hessig: I’ve been doing a lot of freelance stuff for other people, but I’m trying to do less of that now so that I can start putting together a new Blarg. I’d like to get back to working on my book which was going to be a collection of both old and new stuff. I feel like my eyeballs might go on strike when I look at some of that old stuff, though.
Verwey: Who are some of your favorite artists that should be more famous than they are?
Hessig: Liz Suburbia, Dawn Frasch, Vanessa Davis, Nikki Burch, Chris Cilla, Lizz Hickey, Cassie J. Sneider, Mats?!, Avi Spivak, Jay Howell, Skinner. Dead people like Shawn Kerri and Dori Seda. This could be a really long list.
And if you wanna hang out with Janelle and I in REAL LIFE, we’re organizing a book signing for Hi-Fructose Magazine Box Set Edition 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Feb. 5. (Look at Janelle’s awesome promotional video HERE)
Shawna Elizabeth is a PhD Candidate specializing in Queer Theory. Some
of her writing can be found online at femmetheory.com and she has also
been a Guest Blogger for Ironing Board Collective
She is originally from Canada.
Over the next few months Nicole J. Georges, zinester, illustrator, and pet portrait artist extraordinaire will be leaving her home in Portland, Oregon to tour extensively in support of her recently published graphic novel memoir Calling Dr. Laura. Nicole took some time out before her whirlwind reading schedule to answer some questions for the RADAR Blog.
When did you start making autobiographical comics?
I believe my first autobiographical comics were in high school. I drew comics about my teenage life living with Beija (who is still my live-in muse). I drew them using really thin Crayola markers on a stupid Crayola pad. I published those in my zine at the time, which was embarassingly called “Kitten Breath”.
I started doing Invincible Summer, my long-standing autobiographical comic, in 2000, when I moved to Portland. I do NOT use Crayola markers any more, but I do still draw comics about myself and Beija. (Note: Beija is Nicole’s beagle/corgi/shar pei mix).
What are the advantages of storytelling and documenting your life in this medium?
I am able to draw scenarios much more quickly and efficiently than I would be able to write them. It is easier for me to draw the expressions of everyone in the room reacting to something than it would be for me to write an entire page describing what each person was wearing and how their faces looked when they heard this or that.
What other autobiographical comics, or graphic novel memoirs have inspired you?
Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler, Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner, and anything by Julie Doucet. I am excited for Geneviève Castrée’s new book, which will undoubtedly be a new inspiration. I love her work.
Explain some of the work you do teaching others to use zines and comic strips as a form of self-expression and documentation. Why do you feel this is important for you as an artist and educator?
I teach children and adults about comics and zines as my day job. I am a teaching artist, going into elementary and middle schools, and I also teach adults for a good portion of the year through the Independent Publishing Resource Program’s Comic Certificate Program.
I believe in empowerment through self-expression.
With young people, I want to introduce them to the idea that comics don’t have to be fiction, or about super-heroes, and that their lives are interesting and unique. Creating media that reflects your viewpoint, and sharing that media with the world, can be life changing for those who discover it.
I remember the first time I saw a picture of lesbians with buzz-cuts kissing in a zine and I almost lost my mind. As a teenager in Kansas, it made me feel understood, not so alone, and willing to wait out the hard years when I found representations of people like me in zines and books. I want to recreate that experience for young people.
In my spare time I volunteer with senior citizens once a week. I have been doing it for six years. I make a zine about them called Tell It Like It Tiz, which is full of interviews and drawings, photos and comics about the seniors in question. They are like family to me. Grouchy family, of course. I just received a grant through RACC (the Regional Art and Culture Council) to create a book based on our zine work together.
I saw you present a slideshow of material where you told the story of calling the Dr. Laura show a few years ago at Sister Spit in Portland, OR. Were you already working on the book at that time? Did the book evolve from material from your zine Invincible Summer?
I have been working on the book since 2007, when I first started reading a story about Dr. Laura on Sister Spit. I thought I was going to be finished with the book in time for the 2010 tour (that was the plan), but at the last minute there were some publishing hijinks and it was not ready for press. It required an additional year and a half of editing, which I didn’t know at the time. I went on tour anyway, because it was already planned, and I read bits of the book because I truly believed it would be out soon.
Some of the stories in the book are things I touched on in Invincible Summer but I started stringing them together into a longer, cohesive narrative in 2007.
How did touring with Sister Spit and going on the Radar LAB Retreat influence your creative process and progress on the book?
Sister Spit changed my entire life! I traveled the country reading my Dr. Laura Story in 2007, and this is how I met my literary agent who helped me to sell the story to a major publisher. I would not have made that connection if it weren’t for Sister Spit. Sister Spit also constantly introduces me to new, exciting performers and writers. Each year I find a new favorite author.
I worked on the book at the Radar LAB, and got advice and support from my fellow writers. The nice thing about Radar is that it encourages writers to support each other, and it offers young writers the opportunity to work with more established authors, tour their work to audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have accessed, and to have a space (a NICE space) to work on their writing in a hive of like minded individuals who all want the best for their project. What a dream!
I am so glad that RADAR exists.
How would you summarize the plot of the book?
When I was 23, my friend bought me a palm reading for my birthday. The palm reader flipped over my hand, and within about 5 minutes revealed that my father was alive. This was odd, because I’d been told he was dead my entire life.
I kept this information to myself, met a girl who encouraged me to ask my family about it, and that is the beginning of the book. It follows my relationship with that girl, with my family, and leads us up to the point where I call none other than Dr. Laura Schlessinger herself for advice.
It seems like the book reveals some personal information about your family, how do they feel about it now that they have read it?
One of my sisters has read it and really likes it and is proud of me, and happy that I revealed the truth. The rest of my family is letting it lay, which I think is a good idea. In general, they know I was in a very unique, incomprehensible situation with all of this Dad deception, and they support me working through it however I can. I made an effort to change their names and obscure their identities so that hopefully the book can stay in the comic realm, and doesn’t cross too far into their day-to-day lives. I love and respect all of my family members depicted in the book.
How did you make the leap from self-publishing your comic book zine to publishing with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? What were the biggest surprises and challenges working with a major publisher?
I met a literary agent while I was on the 2007 Sister Spit Tour, and she really liked the Dr. Laura Story I was reading on tour. She wanted to know more, what happened with my family, and asked if I would consider adapting the story into a graphic memoir. I had a lot more to say, and this story meant a lot to me, so I was delighted to give it a shot. It turned out to be a life-changing experience, both personally and artistically. Working on the book helped me discover truths about my family that I otherwise wouldn’t have broached. It also helped me learn (the hard way) about things like layout, consistency, and working with a professional editor for the first time.
One of the most valuable experiences in all of this was getting to work with an editor and get feedback on stories to make them better, and more accessible for readers.
What’s the story behind the giant chicken on the cover of the book?
It shouldn’t have been that giant, but I was so fried by the end of the book, that when it came to the cover, I think I drew the chicken too big, but I couldn’t bear to go back and change it by the time I figured it out. So big chicken it is!
The book is full of chickens. I had chickens in the book, and was devastated by the loss of one of them in the story.
What are your current creative projects and what are your plans for the future?
I am about to go on a gigantic book tour with Cassie J. Sneider, so that is my current project- emailing every person in the known universe and asking if I can read to them.
I would like to do a book of autobiographical comic stories about my misadventures with animals. I would also like to find a way to go visit real life chimpanzees in Africa, or orangutans in Guatemala. I just really like them. I would like to draw them and find a way to make a difference in their lives through art. Maybe highlighting deforestation, poaching, or the entertainment industry. Something fun like that.
For details about Nicole’s upcoming appearances visit http://beijamon.tumblr.com
She’ll also be reading at The RADAR Reading Series on Feb. 6th!
Myriam Gurba is the author of Dahlia Season and many must-have chapbooks. She interviews Favianna Rodriguez for the RADAR blog. Catch Favianna Rodriguez on January 9th at the RADAR Reading Series and read more of Myriam’s work at http://lesbrain.wordpress.com and http://www.futuretensebooks.
In Mexico, there is a proverb that lumps tequila-drinkers in with finger-painters: Los niños y los borrachos siempre dicen la verdad. Kids and drunks always tell the truth.
Favianna Rodriquez’s straightforward art, art that manages to be straightforward even when it’s abstract, tells it like the woman sees it. It flows in the same vein as the aforementioned lumpy proverb so I guess la Favianna siempre dice la verdad!
Rodriguez’s art also practices reverse colonialism, which I suppose is decolonialism, and, therefore, the best kind of colonialism.
How does Rodriguez’s art accomplish this? Let me enumerate some ways. Through her political posters which get plastered to international surfaces. Through her art walls which broadcast histories braided to fantasias. By making her stencils and stickers available for free to activists. By creating Día De Los Muertos altar installations to honor dead Mexican movie stars. By belonging to art collectives and alliances. Through every frickin’ thing she does and she is always doing something. She is a doer.
Rodriguez’s art bursts into public, and sometimes private, spaces and blooms. Once you see it, you’ll feel pollinated. It pollinated me, and I didn’t mind. However, others have minded.
“My work has been vandalized. I don’t have a problem with that because I think that people are going to react to the work in inappropriate ways all the time. Sometimes, they’re not going to understand what I’m trying to say or sometimes they will understand and it’ll make them mad but I think that that’s the role of art and culture, to solicit responses from people so that we can create a dialogue. Of course I haven’t been happy when my work gets vandalized, especially when it’s a mural or when someone paints a penis on it, for example. However, at the same time, I do think that we as a society have had less and less access to public space and we need a public space where we can have discussions about our ideas. Sometimes that space becomes my artwork and that’s ok. I’m not against that, although it doesn’t make me happy; but, I also like that the art can sometimes make people upset and make them react in strong ways.” –palabras de la Favianna Rodriguez
Rodriguez uses hella old-fashioned techniques, like printmaking, along with the rather new fangled method of digital art, to crank out much of her oeuvre. Her color palette tends to be manic and tropical, like my abuelita’s bird collection or my hair in 1996. Favianna indulges in abstract self-portraits, too, portraits that are like elegant goddess doodles. But the bulk of her work focuses on people who are more clearly people and folks in the folksiest sense. They have bodies that the mainstream media loves to ignore and seldom celebrates. From Rodriguez’s posters, prints, and murals, faces with big nostrils and indigenous cheekbones glare at you. Bodies with girth and width plow the earth, run, and scream. Plenty of her female images boycott smiling and that is a beautiful thing. Consternated women are gorgeous. They never get enough face time.
Rodriguez’s work doesn’t dress up its politics, it is naked politics, literally at times, and it critiques every variety of asshole. Misogynists, racists, classists, corporate fuckers and those melting our polar ice caps are some targets. Also, the Mexican revolutionary meme of el pueblo emerges a lot. Her work seeks to unite, impassion, and catalyze el pueblo. Technically, el pueblo translates to the city, and it refers to a cosmic-y, philosophical concept of community, but Rodriguez’s work takes el pueblo to a transnational level. Her work will take Iraq, connect it to Mexico, and connect that connection to your backyard’s dirt.
“I’m constantly inspired by struggles happening around the world — whether it’s fights for human rights, for immigrant rights, or against climate change. Those are the things that really inspire me and as I understand what activists are doing or as I understand an issue more and more, I get inspired by that and [that] translates into my work. I think that I’m just inspired when people who have traditionally been oppressed, who are facing racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia, really stand up to reclaim their humanity. Those are the things that inspire me and it’s where I get my ideas. I think that my ideas actually emerge from the work that people are doing around the world.” –more for La F
A thing about Rodriguez’s work that tickles my Chicana brain is that it puts Spanglish in the spotlight. Spanglish is the language of prophets because it is one of the blatant patois sung by the growing non-white plurality. It is a favorite among immigrants’ kids. It is a bridge.
“My parents … weren’t initially [very supportive of what I do] because given that they were migrants they really wanted me to have an education where I would pursue a career that would give me economic stability. That’s something they really pushed for when I was growing up so, art was something that was treated as a hobby not something that I was encouraged to pursue a career in. However, after I dropped out of college and after years of insisting that I would never be a doctor or a lawyer, my parents became very supportive of my work in my mid-twenties. It’s been over 10 years of them playing a very supportive role. They really like the work I do even though sometimes they don’t always understand it but, overall, they are kind of the reason that I’ve been able to succeed so much.” –her
Rodriguez’s work also uses “obscenity” as strategy. For example, she has nestled the words puto and joto into art pieces where, instead of being closeted, they come into the brain and provoke. I hope one question being provoked is, “What is a puto?” and that this question is actually asked aloud.
“I think that there is still a lot of secrecy, shame and isolation when it comes to speaking about our sexuality or about other issues that people are shamed for. Whether it’s abuse, being queer, being from a migrant family or even being a person of color. We’re trained to think that there are certain things that we shouldn’t speak about and art is such a powerful way to get those ideas out into the world. So, I use art to break some of those stigmas because I think that just like those stigmas are constructed, they can be deconstructed when we say these words or when we show this kind of art out in the world more and more.” –mas and more
To get pollinated by Rodriguez’s art go to her website, http://www.favianna.com and visit her blog, where you can download her free slut power posters!
Catch D-L Alvarez at the RADAR Reading Series on Jan. 9th! You can see Amanda Verwey’s illustrations in the upcoming adapation of Michelle Tea’s novel, Valencia.
D-L ALVAREZ is a true Renaissance man!!! He first caught my attention with his meticulously rendered graphite drawings in MATRIX 243: PARENTS’ DAY at the Berkeley Art Museum. These depictions of climactic scenes from Halloween (1978), entirely set in mundane domestic space, had me HOOKED on all things D-L. It was one of those exhibits that leave you bummed out you didn’t think to make something so awesome first. After that, I studied his catalogue like it was my job (even before it actually was my job) and found him to be not only a prolific visual artist, but also an accomplished fiction writer and filmmaker. I’m so looking forward to his RADAR reading and was fortunate enough to chat with him during this last holiday-crazed week.
Verwey: You make drawings and sculptures, and for many years you have also been writing fiction. Both have elements of the autobiographical and humor, but they’re much more subdued in the visual work. Can you talk about the difference in tone between your writings and the static work you show in galleries?
Alvarez: Sure. First: I’m primarily a visual artist, even when I write, and viewing writing from this perspective—literally looking at a page full of text—it is already formal and ordered. The typeface is legible, everyone knows what direction to read it in … visually speaking any open book, from a classic like Jane Eyre to Jokes for the John is going to have the same layout, save for illustrations. So I view writing as a medium that is so conservative in appearance that you can explode the content more.
This is evident in my early drawings, which incorporate text. The drawings look like paint-by-number templates: contour lines in blue pencil on white paper, unassuming birds and countryside views. But in the legend, where you normally have a list of colors, I inserted narrative fragments: a time of day, an emotion, an event. So while the images had this banal appearance, the stories were dark, funny, and usually sexual. The pedestrian appearance of a sentence let me be more racy with its content.
But perhaps too, my writing remains verbose because I don’t have the same skill level that I do with the visual work at paring it down. I dedicate great amounts of time to make things sparse, more time and energy than seems logical given the results, but this is my way of evoking craftsmanship. Unfortunately, I’m not as practiced at the craft of writing. I think I’m a “good” writer, but it requires more sweat, thought, and time than drawing does at this point.
My aesthetic has a lot to do with the work ethic my father valued, combined with a queer love for minimalism: minimalism being the escape hatch. You know? I grew up, gay, in the house of a garbage man who savaged things other people had thrown away. Upward mobility for me was Bauhaus.
It’s ironic, but that’s how Bauhaus manifested in the States. Gropius said Bauhaus intended to erase class distinctions, or at least the class distinction between the craftsman and the fine artist. But by the time it got to the US, Bauhaus meant modernist buildings in rich neighborhoods, with servants dusting clean lines.
As an artist who started out referencing paint-by-numbers, which gives painting to the people, I’m interested in this original Bauhaus ideal of reducing ornamentation, in a way that links to socialism: sparse design absent of class distinction: the IKEA version of Bauhaus. But at the same time I also like that failure of Bauhaus ending up with a huge price tag. I knew early on that even if I drew workers struggling in the field, the drawing would be stuck in an expensive frame and sold to wealthy collectors.
That’s part of art’s narrative. The pictures hang in a gallery, where anyone can walk in and construct meaning; then, they hang on the wall, or in the storage unit, of some wealthy person, becoming invisible except as an object that appreciates or loses value.
To bring it back to the different tones, mainly it’s about where I see each of these works going: the drawings and sculptures versus the fiction. The visual works are looked at as one-of-a-kinds and assigned a market value. The more delineated these images are, the better the chances that they’ll resonate over time, because they remain open to new interpretations.
Writing on the other hand is social and in the moment. It is the interpretation. I do it expecting no financial recognition. If it’s printed in a journal or posted on the web, it can wind up in any hand. It can be in a chic apartment over-looking Central Park, or in the free book bin at the public library. What’s more, I can pick up that story and rework it without rubbing anyone the wrong way.
That’s another reason the writing is free to say more, and say it louder; it’s not immediately archived. Even when it is, it’s archived in one incarnation as a voice of its time. People forgive more of a dated text than they do an artwork that seems trapped in an era. The text, at least in how I use it, lives outside the frame and so becomes a type of frame: an ever-changing frame for what would otherwise be completely static work.
Verwey: What are you working on currently?
Alvarez: Too much. Ha. Let’s see, where the visual work is concerned I’m gearing up for a solo show in New York. It was going to take place last November, but the gallery was hard hit by Sandy, so now it looks like we’ll mount it in March. One of the works in that is this video scripted by Kevin Killian, a writer I very much admire who is a key figure in Poets Theater. We did a half-live half-video version of the piece, The Visitor Owl, at SFMOMA this past summer. Now I’m trying to rework it into something that can hold its own in a gallery setting. It’s been exciting, because it requires me to dive into a new medium headfirst. I’ve always made little films, but shooting landscapes alone. This is a narrative with actors, a crew, a beautiful script, and many attempts to raise funds. I love risks and stepping out of my comfort zones. It keeps the work fresh.
As a writer, well, I’m doing a guest spot on the SFMOMA blog starting in February.
Oh, and as an in-between project: there’s a possibility that I’ll be working with filmmaker Donal Mosher, illustrating a book project he’s doing, but that hasn’t been fleshed out, so we’ll see.
Verwey: Are there any emerging artists that you’re into right now?
Alvarez: Yes, many! I used to be a real Luddite. I thought seeing a film only counted if you saw it projected in a theater. Likewise I refused to pay attention to art unless I was in the same room with it. Then something snapped, and now I find myself following all kinds of artists via the Internet, the majority of which I’ve never seen in real life. I just surrendered to the fact that, sure, the experience will be different in person, but for now I’m responding to the reproduction. Ironically it brings me back to how I first experienced contemporary art, which was through photos in magazines.
There are so many cool artists out there, emerging and established both, that I started curating little albums of them on my Facebook artist page (D-L Alvarez). Some I love and some I’m on the fence about, but if I post a work, it’s because it got my attention one way or another. Off the top of my head, some artists I’ve liked lately: Kitty Kraus, Lynne Harlow, Thea Djordjadze, Shahryar Nashat, Fredrik Söderberg, Amba Sayal-Bennett, Antoine Catala, Heather Cook, Angela de la Cruz… seriously, this only scratches the surface. I’m not sure if they are all emerging, since the online art world is much more equalizing. For San Francisco, I advise people to look towards the upcoming installations that will be part of SFMOMA’s 2013 SECA exhibition. One of the recipients is Josh Faught, whose work I am mad for.
I first met MariNaomi when we went on a Sister Spit tour together in 2010. She is one of the hardest working artists I know. Constantly, drawing comics and making paintings. If you’ve never read her book Kiss and Tell pick up a copy now.
She graciously agreed to talk about RADAR and Sister Spit in the video below.
by Rae Armantrout
You can read my interview with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Rae Armantrout for The Believer here.
Back in 2005 or 2006 I went to Italy for the first time. I stayed in a great apartment in Florence with my partner at the time and then we took a little three-day trip to Rome. I LOVED ITALY because I spent the whole time chain-smoking, walking around on a cane, (I’ll bore you in another post about my numerous knee surgeries),eating gelato and salami.
Not to be confused with a bacon salami dress.
My partner had brought with her many books including, Lucy Corin’s Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls. When she was done reading it I dug in and was so mesmerized that when I got back to the US I wrote Lucy Corin a fan letter. I have written very few fan letters in my lifetime. Later, I had the amazing fortune of getting to meet Lucy. So who is Lucy Corin? She is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She published a novel, Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls, in 2004, and a story collection, The Entire Predicament, in 2007. She teaches at the University of California at Davis. And she right at this very moment is in Rome because she won the very prestigious Rome Prize. I told her that in Rome she must visit the Roman Cats. Anyway, below is a short video about Lucy talking about her relationship to RADAR. Right now RADAR is in the middle of our Fall Fundraising Drive. Please consider giving so we can continue to support great writers like Lucy!
If you Google “persistence” you get a bunch of successory posters featuring snails with inspirational quotes like, “No matter how long the journey…” You know what– until you’ve walked a mile in a snail’s long slippery shoe I think you should leave the snail out of it.
I just finished the final edits on an upcoming novel and as I was working under deadline on a particularly beautiful sunny day I thought, “I can’t wait to never write a book again.”
Mostly, that feeling was coming out of a desire for free time. I work 40+ hours a week plus I have a high-maintenance dog, a bad back that requires exercises, and my writing life. On the day I was finishing my novel I wanted to be sitting in Dolores Park with the nouveau-San Francisco-riche, eating Bi-Rite ice cream or whatever happens in this speedily changing city that’s pushing artists out at an alarming rate to make room for the latest tech bubble workers. $3300 for a one bedroom apartment. Don’t get me started.
I’ve been thinking a lot about persistence lately in how it pertains to a daily writing practice. It’s very difficult to do work on a writing project on a daily basis, yet when I’m able to I feel I’m crafting my work with a kind of psychic advantage. I’m in the piece more deeply. Living in the rooms my characters are living in.
Recently, I was transcribing an interview I did with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Rae Armantrout and we were talking about why the world will never see an Emily Dickinson type writer again. Rae said something to the effect that the world keeps us so busy we’re blocked a certain kind of genius. I really agree with that.
Matias Viegner used a meme going around Facebook, the ultimate distracter to write his book that just came out, 2500 Random Things About Me Too.
The Facebook meme required a person to write a random list of 25 things about themselves. Matias did that. And then a hundred more. Weaving a narrative together, while fighting the idea of narrative. It’s a great read and also a special window into the struggles of a writer’s persistence.
So, where’s the FREE COLLEGE exercises you ask?
Read Lorrie Moore’s story, “Real Estate” from Birds of America.
Write a story in which a surprising plot twist occurs.
Write a story while listening to Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3.
At each of the three movements make the plot shift in your story.
Make an effort to write something in your writing journal every day at the same time. Even if it is only a sentence. Oh, and go eat an ice cream in the park whether you have time for it or not.