Dark Passage: A Review of Myriam Gurba’s, Painting Their Portraits In Winter by Nikki Darling

We are not only being told a tale we are going back in time. Myriam Gurba, author of Dahlia Season and Wish You Were Me, straps us in much like the Disneyland, Haunted House, Doom-buggies of her youth and sends us on our way. From the get go we are ushered into the early 1980’s, small Mexican village of a ghost-telling abuelita who paints portraits of the narrator and her sister, during the few weeks away from school spent visiting. The girl’s homework approved by some LAUSD elementary, deemed fit to continue the semester un-interrupted upon return, is pushed aside for daily outings with Abuelita. Told in the narrative fairytale style of what can be described as ‘old country’ Abuelita links the reader to a colonial European sensibility that at the time still clung to older parts of the country. The baby fuzz of a twentieth century pinking new industrial revolutions and globalizations lurking and waiting behind unseen corners.

In this way the book is reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s great and final Masterpiece, Amarcord. The coming of age tale which loosely translates to ‘I remember’ in Italian follows the life of young Titta, his family and the characters of a small coastal village in 1930’s Italy. Unfolding in a series of vignettes Fellinini never gives us Mussolini in great sweeping gestures, instead we are told details of a life lived in the land of Mussolini, the beforehand knowledge that things will and will not turn out all right, lending itself to a greater sense of melancholy. Gurba, like Fellini gives us life in the every day and shines a mirror across it’s multi faceted surface, letting each shine in small slices. Life lived in ‘simpler’ more imaginative times, a time that in actuality, exists only in the minds of children. Throughout the book Gurba revisits this metaphor of child like reduction and innocence, wonder and blunt honesty. Weaving myth against a backdrop of contemporary ills, to show in some way how our collective child like refusal to take on issues such as racism and misogyny still haunt our contemporary lives, tangled and misinterpreted by our children and finally held back up in that multi fractured mirror. What Gurba gives us is a world on the cusp of change, for the narrator, and the century. Indeed these are ghost stories.

When Mom was the age I was that winter, ten, Mexican death was prettier, slower, and more public. Mom would laze in front of the house, in a strip I guess you could call a front yard, in front of her mom and dad’s bedroom window dangling her chicken legs off the stone bench, a spectator. A breeze might shiver the vines wriggling around the window and bring the smell of cemetery flowers. Mom would hear a signal, horseshoes clacking. She’d look right and see a gelding chosen to do his job because of his color, black, clopping up the avenue, chugging towards her block. The horse would near houses that were twins of the kind Mom lived in, two-story rectangles shaded with mold, loquat trees by the driveways, vines climbing wherever they chose. The animal would be yoked to an old fashioned funeral carriage that truly honored death, its lace gilded windows giving Mom a chance to appraise the size of the coffin – baby, child, or full – and then, once the carriage was past, Mom could observe the ribbon, or ribbons, of mourners in black outfits, weeping, yawning, scratching their necks, wringing one or both fists, adjusting their balls, breastfeeding, moving their feet and taking care of their living bodies’ needs on their way to bury someone. 

When we emerge into the second story we have been fully dropped into the recent past, 90’s Los Angeles, and Gurba hits us with the present in the only way to reap the full impact of leaving Abuelita and that child’s imagination. Gangs, music videos, AIDS. Abuelita, Mom and Dad remain, but the world has transformed and Gurba once again thrusts us in. Each short story weaves in the fable of death, sometimes subtlety other times overt, in the case of killing animals on the road in favor of swerving and risking your own life. Ever present is the idea that life is ephemeral and that story telling in the most basic way possible, makes it last a little longer and in the process helps us make sense of it. The universal, existential por que?

Perhaps the most chilling and beautiful story in the book, Chaperones offers us Gurba at her irreverent and spectacular best. She takes on the legend of La Llorona, the Mexican mother who drowned her children in a river, committed suicide and now spends her remaining nights in purgatory looking for them, and perhaps you, too, so she can drown you in her sorrow. Again, linking us to a passage of time that moves like smog through our lives but never turns new leaves. What sticks in our throat is the way Gurba loosens the moral outrage around these narratives, Susan Smith, et cetera, but smacks us with our own hypocrisy. Women’s bodies are always in a state of mourning, wringing out our expectations socially and historically while trying to reconcile them with emerging identities wrung like rags into the bodies of water we drown our babies in. Metaphor for Gurba is a vacuum that sucks the river bed dry until we are left with only a mountain of bones and questions. Not all of them likely offering the answers we want to hear. Each however, rattling howls of dusty streets, the kind Gurba pushes us to walk down, pick up your candle, pull up your night gown and never mind the shadows, they only flicker as we pass, and look, they are just a product of the light.

5 Reasons to Support Queer Lit on May 21!

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 21 is National GiveOUT Day, a day that mobilizes thousands of individual donors across the country during a 24-hour period to give in support of LGBT nonprofits. And we are here today to give you 5 reasons to give to Radar (you can find our page by clicking here & searching for “Radar Productions”) come Thursday!

1. We give you cookies

Where else can you hear 4 incredible artists followed by an intimate Q&A where your inquisitiveness is rewarded with a fresh home made cookie? Literally NOWHERE except our monthly Radar Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library.

2. We talk about failure

Unlike most respectable literary non-profits, we are not afraid to broach complex and uncomfortable subjects.. like FAILURE. In fact, we have an entire festival dedicated to the topic called #QUEERFAIL, happening in San Francisco June 15-21 and featuring amazing artists and intellectuals like Jack Halberstam, Dynasty Handbag, Maggie Nelson and CA Conrad.

3. We offer an ungodly amount of free and super cheap programming

We get that you’re broke and that you were hit hardest by the global economic collapse. We’re here to help you save those precious dollars on the hoop earrings you need for self care with our 50+ events a year, most of which are free or under $20.

4. We love you

Yeah, it’s kinda early to commit to such a bold statement, but we’re ready to be co-dependent if you are.

5. We’re doing something really amazing in a city with a shrinking queer lit scene AND WE’RE COMMITTED TO STAYING

It’s increasingly difficult for artists and even art administrators to remain in San Francisco, but we love the Bay Area and we’re in it for the long haul. Help us keep this work local.

So, yeah, give us $10 or $100 on National GiveOUT Day and then tell us you did at the next free/cheap literary event you come to and we’ll smile at you and give you a cookie.

 

A Letter from Michelle Tea on 12 Years at Radar

Michelle Tea will be leaving her post as Artistic Director of Radar Productions after 12 amazing/weird/amazing years. Radar welcomes a new Artistic Director, Juliana Delgado Lopera, as of July 1, 2015. Here’s some words from Michelle: 

 

Dear World,

At the end of June I will be leaving my position at RADAR Productions. RADAR is probably the best thing I’ve ever made in my life, with the exception of my son, and he’s the main reason I’m leaving. How in the world did I think I would be able to have a baby and run a non-profit and be a writer and have a social life / spend time with my wife and not lose my mind? Running a non-profit is hard, even with the support of so many amazing organizations over the years. Realizing I cannot be present for my son and prioritize my writing and do a good job at RADAR, I am leaving the organization in the inspiring hands of Virgie Tovar, who will continue on as Managing Director, and Juliana Delgado Lopera, who will step into the Executive Director role come July 1st. If you know Juliana you know why I asked if she would take over RADAR, and if you don’t know her you’re psyched because you’re about to familiarize yourself with a fantastic writer and literary organizer. Juliana had been coming to RADAR to years, but I met her at a queer book club hosted by the writer Rhiannon Argo. Rhiannon hissed to me, You should put Juliana in RADAR, she’s really good. And I did, and she was! Really, really good! The more I learned about Juliana the more my respect and admiration grew (and continues to grow). She edited 14 Hills while getting her masters at State. Her oral history of queers who immigrated to San Francisco from Latin America in the 80s is amazing and crucial. Maybe you caught it on the cover of SF Weekly a few years ago or maybe you went to the sold-out party for the book, Cuantemelo! Juliana organized that event and it was one of the best and best attended of that year’s National Queer Arts Festival. She works at the GLBT Historical Society Museum in the Castro, and has experience doing grant and project management and community-based non-profits. And she’s queer! I could not be happier that RADAR is moving into her hands, and I’m excited to see what she does with it.

This is the second version of this letter; the first ran seven pages long because I went cuckoo trying to thank all the people who have made this organization happen over the past decade-plus. Guess what? It was boring and a little megalomaniacal. I hope I’ve expressed my gratitude through the years to everyone who has helped, volunteered, funded, supported, read with, came to, worked for, collaborated with, donated to RADAR. It is really astounding, the hundreds and hundreds of people who helped me do this thing!

Listen. Please continue to support RADAR. It is a triumph to be able to hand over a healthy, queer literary non-profit to the next generation. RADAR will continue existing programs such as The RADAR Reading Series and the Sister Spit tours, and it will surely introduce new programming as well. Please stick by its side, come to events, promote shows you think your people might want to know about, make a donation when the metaphorical hat is passed around. Even with the foundational support, running a non-profit will always be a labor of love, and all contributions really make a significant difference. And, if you’re a writer who has read at RADAR events (or would like to) please friend Juliana on Facebook (and like RADAR while you’re at it!) and reach out to her at info@radarproductions.org and introduce yourself.

Okay that’s about it. I’m going to bed.

xo,

Michelle

Sassafras Lowrey, author of Lost Boi, Reads May 5 at Radar Reading Series!

Photo Credit Sarah Deragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sassafras Lowrey is the author of the new book Lost Boi (Arsenal Pulp Press), described as a “gorgeously subversive queer punk novel reimagines the classic Peter Pan story.” Sassafras will be reading at the Radar Reading Series on May 5 at the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street, Latino/Hispanic Rooms on the basement level of the library). This reading is FREE and begins at 6pm. We decided to chat with them about the book, the internet, and their dog Charlotte.

Radar: Why a retelling of the Peter Pan story? 

SL: It’s hard to NOT fall in love with the idea of a boi who refuses to grow up, who lives in a world of his own imagining with a gang of lost bois who do what he says…. Or at least it is for me. Seriously though, JM Barrie’s Peter Pan was already so dark it just lent itself so naturally  to the queer/punk/kinky retelling that I was dreaming of.

Radar: On an entirely unrelated note, is the internet ruining the world? 

SL: I actually think the Internet is making the world a whole lot better! Sometimes I feel like I have the minority opinion, but I think all the benefits of online community far outweigh any negatives. I’m an introvert at heart and the Internet helps me to stay connected to people I care about  without having to leave my house, it’s also how I’ve met and formed friendships with so many incredible queers from around the world. I love Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, fetlife – come be my friend!

Radar: Tell me about one person or experience that inspired you in the last 7 days.

SL: My dog Charlotte, last weekend when my partner and I took her out to the beach and she dug a giant deep hole that fit about half her body. There was no reason for digging the hole, other than it was fun and she did so with incredible enthusiasm. She’s a very special needs rescue, but one of the things about her that always inspires me is the way that she so completely and joyfully lives in every moment. It’s so easy to get hung up on worrying or being anxious about things, but I am inspired to take her lead and just play more!

Radar: Can you give one important piece of advice for artists/writer? 

SL: The best piece of advice I  can give to writers is to ignore your inner critic and  always write the most dangerous stories you can imagine.

Come meet Sassafras on Tuesday, May 5 at the San Francisco Public Library and hear a reading from Lost Boi as well as readings by Rina Ayuyang, Maya Chinchilla and Sarah Fontaine. Radar holds a monthly reading series at the Library that features four of our favorite artists. 

Charlotte digging inspiring hole


Myriam’s One-i’d Arts and Literature Column: Nikki Darling Is Bae in Her Baedroom

 

Have you ever lived as if everywhere was your bedroom? Nikki Darling seems to live that way.

She makes the stage her bedroom. She makes her bedroom the page. She recreates her bedroom everywhere and ecstatically let’s us chill in it with her. Shut the door. Pass the bong, homeslice. Homeskillet. Homefemme. Let the cat sit on your lap. She’s declawed. Not. It smells like a California girl in here and in here. Everything Darling does, which is art, is staged in the most unstaged way. That’s how bedrooms are. Bedrooms are theatres, coffins, dance parties, libraries, studios, and feminist art schools. Some bedrooms are feminist graduate schools.

PINK TRUMPET AND THE PURPLE PROSE, Darling’s chapbook and related tangible and virtual objet, which are put out by Raquel Gutierrez’s ECONO TEXTUAL OBJECTS, slide open the window to Darling’s bedroom. The specific parts- -a volume of prose and poems, a pull out manifesto titled CARL ANDRE ANA MENDIETA HUNTER AND MY TITS, a poster trilogy, and a private, online video she gave me the password to- – make funky sense as an intimate collection. A family of grrrls. The pieces work together the way personal ephemera lived together in the time before the internet, when you would take what meant something to you and stab it to your bedroom wall, lick it and stick it to your dresser mirror, shove it in a makeshift scrapbook or album you would never let your dad touch because this kind of shit is NFDs. Not fer dads. You would cling to this stuff because it pleased you, and it inspired you to sit in your room and make stuff and cry and maybe be a little bit mesmerized by your own period blood. Art with bedroom eyes. Art by and for the cotton panty matriarchy. Hanes her way. You know?

Darling’s work (work it girl, working girl) reminds us that the bedroom might possibly be, even more so than the bathroom, a girl’s/woman’s most creative space. There’s a reason womb sounds like a slippery variation of room. Let’s treat Darling’s collection like a bedwomb with comatose daises on the nightstand, underwears discarded face up, face down and face sideways on the floor, nail polish and acetone freckling the caca-colored carpet, and a twin bed fertile and ready with period leakage, sweat, tears, and cumaflouge. Okay, so we’re at Nikki’s, kneeling on the floor, and whom do we find here?

The bodies of Ana Mendieta and Nikki Darling!

 

(this is one of those lil posters I was talking about. Note the Barbara Krugerish text. Krugerish text pops up everywhere these days. Walk around the hood in Long Beach and you’ll see hella teens wearing Marilyn Monroe t-shirts with Kruger-inspired text shielding her tatas. Ask a homey to tell you the feminist art history behind his outfit and he’ll answer, “Huh?” You may answer, “I thought so.” Its like female artists don’t exist. ITS LIKE THEY MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD. WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO MENDIETA’S CORPSE AND CARL ANDRE ANA MENDIETA HUNTER AND MY TITS: “It was all part of this larger project, this sort of body of work in which I was trying to channel artists like Hannah Wilke and Ana Mendieta. Because Mendieta had been killed by a man and it was so bogus. No one really talked about it as being super bogus unless the man who killed her, Carl Andre, her husband at the time who shoved out a 29th story window in a jealous rage, had the occasional retrospective…”)

Out The Window Into Your Love resurrects, reincarnates, and resuscitates Ana Mendieta. We travel out one window, from a world where Mendieta is an artist slaughtered by the push of patriarchy, pusher Carl Andre, and art pushes us onto Darling’s carpet, where Mendieta lives and performs through Darling’s body. By staging Mendieta’s death, Darling brings her to pseudolife and how religious and femininely satanic is that? Even the California soil Darling plays dead against has the look of bedroom carpeting. Darling is playing dead in her room. She is playing dead for a dude in order to escape that dude: “It was all for Hunter, the artist that didn’t love me but that I had developed an insanely slightly creepy irrational crush on in the way that I sometimes did…”

Out The Window Into Your Love exemplifies what Rebecca Solnit is talking about when she asserts, “There are so many forms of female nonexistence,” and also, “the woman who is represented is obscured, but the woman who represents is not.”

We dare not interrupt Darling and Mendieta’s death play so we look into the medicine cabinet of her mind: her bookshelf. (Remember, we’re hanging out in her bedroom while she plays dead.)

Genet and Sontag and Genet, Sontag and theory. Ann Carson and a DVD of a Streetcar Named Desire. Pictures of the Cindys, Sherman and Lauper, tacked to the walls. Lisa Simpson and Betty Page, too. Where is Lisa Simpson dressed as Betty Page? We trip on an empty Boones bottle. We are more careful not to trip on the half full cherry Slurpee so that Darling won’t bleed. The air is theory. Queer theory, feminist theory, weary theory, eerie theory:

“Math isn’t Science because structure isn’t real.”

Sentences like this give us permission to smoke in Darling’s bedroom.

We squat, slide a Marlboro from the box on the dusty windowsill, and put it to our mouths. Theory lights it:

“Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth…I thought about…How I’d never felt at home in my body yet was still so aware of it’s power. Like someone had given me a chainsaw for Christmas and I was asked to carry it around in a lace bra, never sure exactly how to turn it on.”

Darling’s videoed performance piece is less Mendieta and less Wilke and more the bitches I hung out with in high school. After school, we’d shut ourselves in my bedroom and play music, mostly records we got from thrift shops, and dance ourselves into an occult frenzy. We could smell the fires from the great witch hunts, Joan of Arc’s body barbecuing as we sweated to the Bee Gees, my mom yelling in Spanish to quit acting crazy: it was time for dinner. Darling projects scenes from a Streetcar Named Desire on the wall behind her and does the same kind of dancing, bedroom dancing. She goes till she’s as sweaty as a barbecued witch, and she moves to shit that is powerful and dumb, shit like Mariah Carey. Post dance fever, she kneels and reads from her chapbook.

So now Darling is kneeling across from us, naked, a sweaty occultist, channeling Erato.

I experience poems ideaesthesiacally, and Darling’s embody sex in California. Dandelions. Cough syrup. Nopales. Toaster oven crumbs. Strawberry jam. Sunscreen. Blonde horses. Paper moons. Syrup for pancakes. Armpit sweat. Catnip. Coyote fur. Torn origami. Twitching angel fish. Black magic. Blood from nose. Blood from lip. Blood from the moon. Gloria Anzaldua’s skin. Sunflowers.

Darling points at her body and reads her piece Nikki Darling Is a Body: “…Nikki Darling as a body has had her most influential moments of clarity deep in the night when all words are thoughts except words of urgency and meaning.” Though Darling squats naked before us and labels herself a body, or perhaps uses the body as analogy, she does, after all, say, “as a body,” the words that ground her most as a body are these: “Okay, I’m pushing the Latina thing. But what’s wrong with that? Being half Chicana is fucking cool.”

Similar to Darling, I’m three quarters Chicana and I wonder if we added ourselves together how much Chicana we’d have on our hands. When you tell people you are part Chicana, people often questions the whyness, and moreover, the howness. They do this through your body. They interrogate your eye color, skin color, hair color, eye shape, lip size, booty. They require justification of your Chicanness through your body and through your name and naming and the body is Nikki Darling’s grand bedroom project.

 

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