Wow! I write this column with the same regularity as the cycle of a gal with polycystic ovarian syndrome!
Anyways, this episode of One-I’d brings you my reviews of two books, both of which came to me not psychically but electronically, through the compooter. The first book, Antonia Crane’s SPENT (Rare Bird Books), spins the truthiest reality, one where a hooker is a hooker is a hooker who does not wind up headless and in a dumpster behind a Sbarro’s by the second to the last pagina (that’s page in Spanish and the word gives foreign language students PLEASURE). Instead, she winds up…spoiler alert…alive! And still a hooker! The other (t)werk, Kate Durbin’s E! (Wonder) spins multi-tales that oppose reality: they are her transcriptions of reality TV! Yum. Reality tv is my favORITE junk food, and you know what, womyn can subsist on junk alone.
I paired these two suckers up for review because I love to infect people with a good case of duality. Juxtaposition and polarity can be fun! Vikings can eat mangos! Cholas can have bright blonde hair! The real can make love to the phantitsmagoric! Life is a black and white cookie! Oh, the yin and yang of baked goods!
So first, SPENT.
ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER
Some losers will argue that SPENT ought to come with myriad trigger warnings but to them I say, look, sluts, life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. Also, trigger warnings kill my buzz. Plus, Crane didn’t get any trigger warnings so why should you, dear potential reader of her memoir? Take a risk, audience member. Allow works of art to surprise and discomfit you. That’s their job. Don’t leave art jobless. Don’t leave art funemployed.
SPENT details Crane’s Norcal girlhood, adolescence, carear as a sex werker, and relationship with her mom. Crane writes with beautyslashradiance. Crane’s writing IS a dirty peacock fanning its tail at you whilst winking, giving you the gift of realization that her pretty bird is made more splendid by his STD. STDliness.
Despite, or maybe because of its darkish subject matter, SPENT is infused with a certain sense of wide-eyedness and dare I say fun. The writing itself expresses this energy, there’s an impetuousness in sentences that do to your brain what Rice Krispies do to your tongue. These sentences are totally my type. Let me set you up with four of these hotties:
“The women in my family were not bisexual strippers with a tendency to cut and an appetite for speed.”
“The orchid breeder must’ve painted my pussy seventy times.”
“I fucked Shawn until I felt something and the thing I felt was fucked.”
In that last sentence of Crane’s, revel in the dark joy elicited by its redundancy. Exquisite.
And this next one is such an understated oxymoron:
“In a moment of clarity, I enrolled at Mills College to do a B.A. in Women’s Studies.”
Crane swings back and forth between executing very constructive and very destructive life choices and one such constructive moment comes when she morphs into a labor whorganizer at her place of biz, the infamous peep show The Lusty Lady. She becomes Sally Fieldsesque, a Whorma Rae. Then, a few pages later, Crane lets us catch her stealing from customers. She shows herself being so human. A lover of humanity and a thief. Jesus and Dismas. Crane swings from job to job like she swings from pole to pole to pole to pole to a harm reduction program housed at the Polk Inn. There, she’s able to keep her clothes on for a while while working as a residential assistant serving mentally addled, drug-addicted HIV pozers.
For those who plodded through San Francisco in the 90s and early 2000s, Crane’s descriptions will scratch at a nostalgic scab. Underneath it will be the geographic memory of a place where a bisexual could rent a little home for cheap and make enough $ giving hand jobs and/or babysitting AIDS patients to have ample adventures in sex, drugs, and -isms. This San Francisco now lacks a pulse AND some asshole in a pair of GOOGLE glasses is dancing upon its lifelessness.
SPENT smolders till its last words, it never extinguishes, and this is espesh because Crane unflinchingly exposes her shit, all of it, all her issues, and she lets you live them with her. She gives you a taste of her disordered eating and lists what she, as a hooker, thinks about when doing her job:
“Cancer markers, T-cell counts, DNR, DNI, chemo, radiation, infection, five abdominal surgeries, PEG-tube, remission, metastasis, septicemia, organ failure, hospice care, and morphine drip…”
Sometimes, when hookers are working, their mothers are dying.
A sense of smell overwhelms SPENT and smell’s a sense that writers don’t use enough. They get stuck trying to appeal to the eyeballs but what about the nostrils? Time travel often happens through smell since smells are woven into every moment: the smell of childbirth, the smell of your first period, the smell of the old folks home, the smell of cremation. Open SPENT and smell Crane’s mother’s dying body. Smell Crane’s bulimia. Smell what is happening to the enamel of her teeth. It’s unavoidable.
Smell is the most intimate sense. You can reach out and touch someone without knowing what they smell like but once you’re close enough for a whiff, that’s it. You might as well be one. This sentence of Crane’s proves this:
“New Orleans is a sweaty pussy that sticks to your face, soaks into your skin and stays the night.”
I’ve been to New Orleans and it did take a while to wash that bitch off.
SPENT’S introspective narrative reminds me of this chunk from Carson McCullers’ THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE: “…and a face will look down on the town. It is a face like the terrible dim faces known in dreams-sexless and white, with two gray crossed eyes turned inward so sharply that they seem to be exchanging with each other one long and secret gaze of grief.” Crane’s third eyeballs gaze deep inside her Craneness and as you’re reading the story of her life, your eyeballs begin turning inward, too. They beg of your soul: what do I smell like? What did my report cards look like? When was the last time I smelled barf? When was the last time I watched somebody die?
As the body count increases and Crane taps forty, her narrative becomes less and less redemptive. I like that. I NEED that. We all need that and it’s a gift to receive a narrative about a hooker that doesn’t have a happy ending or an unhappy ending but just an ending that is open-ending.
In the WHATareTHEYupTOnow episode capping off the virgin season of THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ORANGE COUNTY, cast member Jo De La Rosa discusses her race during her exit interview. De La Rosa does not describe herself as Peruvian, mestiza, Latina, or even American. She states that she belongs to the race of housewives.
Kate Durbin would probably agree with her. Housewives are a race, magically and domestically so, and Durbin explores the goddesses and demigoddesses of this race in her pinkly-paginated gift, E!
I’m actually a whore for wives, wives shows that is, and I initially became addicted to reality TV when the genre as oui know it premiered while tenth grade was torturing the shit out of me. MTV gave me THE REAL WORLD: NEW YORK and once THE REAL WORLD: SAN FRANCISCO came on the seen, and it let me watch a gorgeous young Cuban die beatifically of AIDS, I figured the least I could do was live a vibrantly neurotic life as my school’s official undercover teen lez mascot.
These days, I’m really invested in reality shows because I use them to recreate, as in experience deep recreation, recreation as in recreational activity, reality TV is my RV, but through reality, especially its wives shows, Durbin recreates, as in re-creates for the sake of her art form, which is, as yet, UNNAMED AND WHAT IS MORE TERRIFYING THAN THE _____________ (those parentheses and space serve as a filler for the _____________ (nameless))?
Durbin dedicates E! to Marilyn Monroe, a hologram, and tosses out this truthful disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or televised, is entirely coincidental.” Instead of chapters, Dubin titles E!s segments “channels.”
The presence of channels implies the presence of a remote control, and this is cool, since while I’m a whore for wives and Lindsays and Annas, I’m not a whore for Speidis. And a Speidi creeps through E! Which I can squash it with my remote.
Transcriptions of select “shows” –certain wives shows, Lindsay Lohan’s stolen necklace trial, Amanda Knox’s murder trial, MTV’s THE HILLS, Kim Kardashian’s wedding to a very large man, some chunks of Anna Nicole’s demise, E!s THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR, and a dash of Dynasty– make up each of E!s channels. You might be like all a transcription of a TV show? What’s the point if you’ve seen these shows before? Well, if that’s what you’re asking then why not light books on fire after you’ve read them? Why bother putting Gilligan’s Island into syndication? WHY SUCH PLEASURE FROM RERUNS? AMERICA LOVES RERUNS BECAUSE THE EXPERIENCE OF REEXPERIENCING A STORY OR STORYLIKE SUBSTANCE ALWAYS DIFFERS FROM THE MAIDEN VOYAGE. Often, rediscovery enhances flavor. Sharpens it.
The wives channel takes the wives genre from campy to creepily surreal, and Durbin does this by using the word Wife as title. Instead of writing about THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILL’s Kyle Richards as Kyle or about Lisa Vanderpump as Mrs. V, she dubs them Wife Kyle and Wife Lisa. This Stepfordifies the narrative. These are not women. They’re Wives. And all aspire to Wifedom. Wifedom displaces all other the ideals.
Eyeing the Wives’ channel, I find myself wanting to see pictures of the women from shows I’m unfamiliar with and I google them so that I can have their faces. I want their faces because I know they’re so close. They’re famous. They want everyone to see their faces and remember them. Durbin helps them in this mission. Helps with their deification (a word so close to defecation).
I notice how as the Wives shows become textual objects, their details become sticky. While watching the shows on TV, my brain filters out what the Wives are eating or wearing, whether or not they have cilantro stuck between their teeth or which way their lap dogs are looking, but Durbin grabs these details and makes them stars. Makes these details, even ugly ones, Wives in their own right. Durbin’s texuality thickens reality. Puts every shard into focus.
The Wives’ channel writing yields scenes that are lush paintings that could hang in a gallery. They feel like baroque somethings, they have the drama and color and the high-resolution artfulness of Rococaine still lives. The stillness derives from the frenzied staging. The shows are staged and scripted. Just like still lives of halved citruses, hunters’ quarries, and bouquets of fresh cut European flowers.
As I read, I’m almost expecting something new, something that didn’t really happen, to happen, but it never does. The rerun never deviates from the original and Durbin’s textuality creates an anticipation even though she’s merely giving bibliophied servings of stuff I’ve already watched.
Oh, and back to that remote control. Its like I realize I’m not holding the remote. Durbin is. Her transcriptions press pause or fast forward or slow stuff down. Moments get reborn. I get reminded of how the literary arts can have an alchemical effect on time. However, when Durbin uses her alchemy to transform something that is already unreal, reality TV, the result is unnamable.
You can’t slow down time where time doesn’t exist. Yet Durbin does. She’s a witch.
I flip to THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR channel and find no girls. Instead, I find sentences about the presence of girls. Their suggested lives are enough. The girls who live in Hef’s mansion are and are not objects furnishing his home:
“In the pool filters are tangled balls of hair in stages of blonde.”
“The aristocratic hand carved oak door opens onto a two story great hall flanked by ornate dining rooms on one side and a large living room with a fireplace that has hand carved nude female figures, and a library filled with classic novels and replica books, on the other side.”
“There is a Murano glass chandelier above the bed, which has thirty-two pairs of women’s underwear hanging from it. In the corner of the room is a large fish tank with a Little Mermaid figurine and pink rocks.”
It’s in the Playboy mansion that Durbin really lets herself get seriously silly describing things and settings and it’s a good time. EVERYBODY wants to know about the doing it part of the mansion but what about the mansion? She gives the mansion a life. She gives the mansion a Wife. Instead of tits and ass, its doorknobs and dust bunnies. LOL.
In KIM’S FAIRYTALE WEEDING, Durbin refers to Kris Humphries, Kardashian’s groom, as the Not-Husband. Sometimes, people are best defined by what they are not.
Rob becomes Brother Rob and Kim’s sisters become Sisters and this implies a Kimcentric universe. Heavenly bodies revolve around K.
The build up to the fairytale wedding reads like an act of apartheid against the Not-Husband who is Not Kardashian. In fact, people inhabiting this channel receive uber-peripheral identities given their proximity to Kim: Jungle Print Woman, Stuttering Man, Blonde Mullet Woman’s Assistant, A Guy. Kim and Mom assume Persephone and Aphrodite-y proporitions. Mary of Nazareth and Jesusita. A she-Abraham and a she-Isaac.
The ghost of Kim’s father, Robert Kardashian, enters during a tuxedo fitting. He weakly haunts through pained references. The Sisters whispering about what their father wore and liked.
Rewind. The nastiest part of this channel isn’t its sex tape with Ray J. It’s its dedication: for Kanye West. What a bitchy thing to do and bitch, well, that’s my race.
Skip ahead to Amanda Knox’s channel. Her channel is a bunch of odd haikus haikukus haikouture:
“Amanda Knox is in the courtroom. Her hair is in a greasy ponytail. Her forehead is furrowed. She is not wearing makeup. Her skin is blotchy. She is smiling. Her mouth is closed. She has on a blue shirt. There is a yellow sun tattooed on her upper back.”
Given these descriptions, the Knox trial is about what she looks like. It has nada to do with, allegedly, holding down her roommate so that she could be stabbed after something sexy went awry.
Anna Nicole’s channel is super sad and disturbing, and it’s hard to follow, just like her drugged speech.
Let’s skip it.
Durbin tosses in a chunklet of Dynasty to remind us that we are reading Greek mythology.
The last channel is something I really don’t like: THE HILLS. Its one of the few MTV reality shows I could never get into. Give me a teen mom from Kentucky or an asshole sweet sixteener any day over Speidi.
For me, the best thing to come out of THE HILLS has been Montag’s plastic surgery disasters (monitoring celebrity plastic surgery disasters is one of my hobbies) and Lauren Conrad’s couture line at Kohl’s. Kohlture. THE HILLS has fighting, confrontation, but I prefer physically aggressive, mature women with too much plastic surgery fighting. Perhaps if THE HILLS’ cast were to reunite now, equipped with an excess of alcohol, I could get much more on board. There is too much processing, not enough slapping, but that’s only problematic for me because I’m an animal descended from people who consider cockfights acceptable entertainment for toddlers. Who needs a babysitter? Just drop the baby Mexicans off at the bullring.
Please don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything with E!s final words: “Shot switches to wide, still panning, Hollywood sign viewable on distant hills.”
(And PS…if Andy Warhol were to meet E!, he’d cast it in a movie and then Valerie Solanos would shoot the bitch)
CHANNEL 1 WIVES SHOWS
CHANNEL 2 THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR
CHANNEL 3 KIM’S FAIRYTALE WEDDING
CHANNEL 4 LINDSAY’S NECKLACE TRIAL
CHANNEL 5 FOXY KNOXY
CHANNEL 6 ANNA NICOLE SHOW
CHANNEL 7 DYNASTY
CHANNEL 8 THE HILLS
You know what my least favorite genre of cinema is? Lesfaux.
This genre also extends to music.
Sitting in a pink-curtained screening room, waiting for an advance showing of Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight to splash onscreen, and considering what I knew of Afternoon Delight’s plot (housewife Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) adopts hooker McKenna (Juno Temple)…stuff ensues), my psychological snatch worried that the movie was going to offend it.
“I’m concerned,” my psychological vagina whispered to me. “Am I going to have to watch some fake ass dyke out to dueling acoustic guitars for the sake of some bored white bitch’s sexual awakening?”
The movie got going and answered my psychological snatch question with a big, fat, interesting no. In fact, Afternoon Delight proved itself to be a member of my favorite movie genre, the Woman As A Motherfucking Human Being genre a.ka. SOLOWAYSIAN CINEMA.
As if they are occurring as delightful moments in an afternoon, I will detail the things that make a Solowaysian film Solowaysian.
1 o’clock: Shots of lone chicks THINKING
In Afternoon Delight’s opening scene, protagonista Rachel is hanging out in her car BY HERSELF, travelling through the belly of a carwash, like a female Jonah, clearly experiencing BOTH FEELINGS AND THOUGHTS. How often are we treated to a scene in a film where females are depicted as creatures who might need SOME TIME TO THEMSELVES TO BROOD? Never. Wouldn’t it be delightful to see an entire film driven by lonely feminine brooding? Calling all brooders.
1 thirtysomething: Actresses who look like WOMEN
It’s shocking to see women on a movie screen who actually look like women, not Real Dolls. Afternoon Delight’s actresses all look like chicks, chicks you went to high school with, babysat for, laughed at, or never paid attention to. Actual people. Not women who are so tailored to a fantasy that watching them causes you to enter the uncanny valley, this metaphorical place named by shrink Ernst Jentsch to describe when something resembles something human but there’s something off about it and so it creeps you out or grosses you out since its not human, and as a result, you sense its innate EVIL.
Between 1 thirty and 2 or maybe a little after 2 but before school has gotten out: Not David Lynch. JANE LYNCH
Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch. Have you seen the movie BEING JOHN MALKOVICH? Remember when John Malkovich goes into his own head and everyone he sees is John Malkovich and all they can say is Malkovich? This is like that because all I can say about Jane Lynch is Jane Lynch. The only way to appropriately honor her would be to take the phrase “hysterical genius” and replace it with “Jane Lynch.” Jane Lynch. This is similar to how in the movie THE DICTATOR, the dictator replaced certain words with his name, Supreme Leader Admiral General Aladeen. Positive became Aladeen. So did negative. This led to some Jane Lynch diagnoses of HIV.
2:22. A total lack of creepy lesbian sex scenes
THERE ARE NO CREEPY LESBIAN SEX SCENES IN AFTERNOON DELIGHT. There are some INTERESTING moments shared by McKenna and Rachel but they don’t involve soft lighting and digital penetration. Sexually, what’s super duper interesting about this movie is all the straight sex scenes and how queer some of them seem and how Soloway manages to represent a rainbow of fucking in such a short amount of screen time. Hurried fucking, awkward fucking, transcendental fucking, creepily transcendental fucking, animalistic fucking, desperate fellatio, menstrewl sex, drunk sex, happy sex, lovey dovey awkward sex, sexy sex, curled up into a ball sex.
Two fifty nine: The myth of LBD gets turned on its head
When Rachel confides to JANE LYNCH how she and her husband Jeff are not fucking, LBD, Lesbian Bed Death, a beautiful term coined by Dr. Pepper Schwartz, becomes EBD, Everybody’s Bed Death. This phenomenon isn’t just a lesbo problemo. In fact, I hear about it more from straight people than from gays. And then when straights break their dry spells, one of them gets pregnant and the dry spell starts again. Creationists.
4 o’clock. Two words: Period sex.
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was the first TV show to expose a toilet tank. William Shatner opened the floodgates to interracial making out on TV. Carol Brady pioneered hopping into bed with a fag. Is Afternoon’s Delight’s period sex scene the first in an American big-screen dramedy? Have the movies finally gotten their period (sex)? IDK but until things happen onscreen its almost as if they’re not happening in real life because we get our cues for real life from movies. Now that period sex has happened onscreen, I have permission to talk all about period sex IRL. Here’s my favorite period sex story: This girl I went to school with went to the prom with this dude I didn’t really know and they went to a hotel room afterwards. When he came out of the room, everyone was laughing at him because of his face. For the last few weeks of school, they called the girl Jelly Donut.
4:05. A complete lack of dead hookers.
Of course, you are aware, that in movies, hookers must die. Women who use their sexuality for profit must be symbolically punished and the surest way to do this is through dismemberment. Well, Soloway breaks this rule. She lets the hooker live. THE HOOKER LIVES! I don’t fell like telling you this is a plot spoiler. It’s too revolutionary not to tell you this. Also, the hooker doesn’t have a heart of gold. She’s very, very cool and talented, maybe even slightly magical, but she’s also human. THE HOOKER IS HUMAN! HALLELUJAH!
4:10. A couple fighting IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN
Somewhere between Precious’ mom and the parents from 7th Heaven lie real parents: PARENTS WHO OCCASIONALLY HAVE UGLY DISAGREEMENTS IN FRONT OF THEIR KIDS THAT MAKE THEIR KIDS CRY. IT’S JUST PART OF LIFE. And its part of Afternoon Delight.
I’m an atheist but I totally believe in magic. I call my belief system magical atheism. It’s my take on magical realism, a world view developed by my people, the Latinos. Afternoon Delight has magic shooting through it and that magic is made of moments where people choose to live out their humanity in both mundane and extraordinary ways. Magic occurs when a stale straight couple decides to go to a strip club to see what’s up. Magic happens when Rachel decides to bring home McKenna as if she’s a stray creature. Magic goes down when Rachel learns that McKenna is actually a complicated human creature and not a problem to fix. Magic goes down when Rachel sees her relationship to her husband in the same way. Magic happens when Rachel clumsily lights the shabbos candles and covers her eyes, trying to reconnect with ancient magic. Afternoon Delight reminds us of what magic looks and feels like and that it rarely looks and feels like what we think it does. Its just magic.
I’d been intrigued by Craig Calderwood’s work, but when I got a moment to really hang out with the stuff – when, by kismet Craig was visiting her hometown of Fresno, California the same night Sister Spit was passing through and she graciously hopped on stage with us – well, I became obsessed with it. 559, the name of the series she showed that night, is named after Fresno’s area code and explores a closeted queerness specific to that place. The images are intense and impacting, mesmerizing candy-colored labyrinths creating figures sinister, or wounded, or both. Hungry eyes peer out of chests and into cell phones, like deranged, digital sacred hearts. An ethereal, bubble-headed kid makes out with a fox-headed kid – or gets devoured.
So, I was fizzing with excitement to meet up with Craig at Craftsmen + Wolves, my favorite new gentrification hang-out, to pick up the piece she is super-generously donating to the RADAR Spectacle. It’s a study for a piece for her new series – each of Craig’s giant pieces begin as these smaller but no less intricate works, and the one laid before me on the table of beeswax paper inked with a pair of snuggle-necked swans, with a smaller illustration of flower-impaled penises and bees sewn to it. It’s super fascinating and beautiful, whimsical and, um, painful. I WANT IT. I talked to Craig on the internet about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Can you tell me how you work with beeswax? Is it messy or delicate or both? Do you feel a kinship with bees?
CRAIG CALDERWOOD: I am using the Beeswax with the Mulberry paper to create a translucency so you can easily see the images within the layers of paper. I find that the wax creates a more visceral piece of paper, giving it a more organic feel then if I used paraffin wax. The process is a bit messy, beeswax is very sticky in comparison to other wax options. I basically heat a cookie sheet up in the oven then take it out, lay the image down and rub the block of wax on top of the paper. The image then becomes more tactile and olfactory, the beeswax is very pungent and creates an interesting texture. I can’t say I have a strong affinity with bees but they do get referenced in the series due to the saying “the birds and the bees”. They go hand in hand with some of the Floral references in the series as well.
MT: What have you learned about swans in researching them for your new series.
CC: I have been reading a lot about Homosexuality in the natural world and a large part of the reading I am doing surrounds birds. I think I like using the swan imagery because the animal is so romanticized and heavily a symbol of monogamy and marriage. In fact the swan is so romanticized that I have been finding it hard to even find anatomy images, especially when researching the Mute Swan. As for its representation of Monogamy, the Swan in Fact does not always perform lifelong pair bonds and has varying mating and pair bonding experience. But I am merely paralleling animals and humans in these drawings, rather paralleling the way in which Psychologist and Scientists have approached queerness in both.
MT: What is the name of this new series?
CC: The Series is Called “Hard Parallels, Soft Parallels”, which has a sort of obviousness to it. The Hard in Soft is Suggesting states of arousal not just in the sense of genital arousal but in regards to the varying degrees of mental arousal. It also references the level of paralleling in the actually pieces, some of the comparisons may be really obvious while others will be very secret. I am still in the research and prototyping phase of the series so I am still developing it as a whole thought.
MT: Why are there flowers in the penises??? It is so compelling and sweet and painful to look at!
CC: In 2012 I was a part of a group show called Best Revenge: A Beautiful Fuck You, where I got to show with the sculptor Nicki Green who was showing these amazing porcelain penis vases with dried tulips sticking out of the urethra. I think when I was working on this pattern I was subconsciously channeling them. The drawing that is to come out of the swan drawing and the penis sounding flowers drawing is about being perceived as deceptive by a masculine accuser (the Chimera – more to come about that in the future). I wanted to represent having a penis as a trans feminine person while also playing with traditional symbols of femininity and what it means to have and want both. I also like the visual of something that is symbolically supposed to penetrate and represent masculinity in some contexts being penetrated by something traditionally feminine. I’m merely trying to create a beautiful representation of having a penis while being trans.
MT: Why are the two pieces stitched together?
CC: The two Pieces are Studies for a larger drawing I am currently working on; I wanted to bring them together to loosely see how the pieces can start melding. They relate in the sense that they are subject to accusations and assumptions from the Masculine Accuser which I am calling the Chimera, a monster made of many different parts in this case the scientists and psychologists that enact different types of violence on the Queer animals and people. They are pieces to a larger puzzle I am currently working on.
Well, as I learned at the Fresno Sister Spit show, I can listen to Craigh Calderwood talk about her work for-ev-ah. Come to the RADAR Spectacle Friday, May 17th at the Verdi Club, and take a shot at walking out the door with this beautiful + intelligent work!
Check this lady out! She’s totally naked, but she’s a superhero, so she’s not really worried about being vulnerable like that. She’s got her superhero hood on, and her namaste posing makes me feel like she’s totally on the side of goodness, as does that sort of smirk she has on her face. I feel like this heroine is all like, Yeah, I know it’s all samsara drama, but I gotta do my part. I’m here to help. A Bodhisattva to the rescue for reals, with a nice pair of wings clawing up her back. I lugged this big, wooden piece by artist Peter Max Lawrence around the Western Addition yesterday, then gave up and jumped in a cab, for I am not a superhero. It’s got a secret second piece on the back, a similarly nude super-dude whose main power seems to be making his bed in the morning. A super every-man we all can relate to! I am so digging Peter Max Lawrence’s super-powered visions after seeing his current installation at Mission Comics, where he papered the back room in scrawling and splattered butcher-paper portraits of old (Batman) and new – a powerful, sinister depiction of a superhero getting Abu Ghraib-style treatment doesn’t let you get to comfy with comic book nostalgia. The walls are also layered with smaller paintings that cascade downward into a pile on the floor, like a tide of superhero heads creeping your way. It’s an awesome illustration, and Peter Max Lawrence is clearly a factory of art! I am so psyched he gave us this piece to auction at tomorrow night’s Spectacle, and I chatted with him on the interweb about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Were you into superheros when you were a kid? How has your interest in them changed?
PETER MAX LAWRENCE: As a child born in the year of the “Star Wars”, “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” I believe that superheroes were the first set of mythologies that I truly believed in. These stories and characters seemed to mix into my very DNA. During my tumultuous teenage years I turned back to comics, but this time those with a bit more independent flair. I became interested not only in the characters but the creators behind them and the reasons for the metaphor and allegories they were steeped in. During this time I was also heavily into Greek mythology and my own repressed homosexuality and in short the the combination of all these things led me to not only start creating my own heroes, villains and universes but to also search out more obscure authors and creations. This led me into underground comics and zines which i went on to author myself throughout the mid to late 90’s. My general interest in them has actually come full circle in the last few years as the big screen adaptations of several of my childhood favorites have been a bit lackluster and now find myself going back to the source materials aka the old comics with some amazing story lines for example Iron Man and his struggle with alcoholism, Batman and the inevitability that he was getting older and needed to find a series of successors, so on and so.
MT: What can you tell me about the heroine you donated? How do you imagine her – does she have a back story, a life off the canvas, or wood?
PML: The heroine depicted on the poplar wood is a lesbian femme fatale version of an old Marvel character “Angel” who later went on to become “Archangel.” I continue to enjoy queering established characters and concepts by either incorporating trans or gender-swapping elements. This painting was a spontaneous study for the character that after several years of sketching and drawing evolved to a more magickal demi-goddess whose origin story boils down to she is the indirect offspring or lovechild of Pan and Terminus, a human who works at SFO.
MT: Who is your favorite superhero?
PML: It is very difficult for me to pick a single favorite super hero but if forced I would say Promethea ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promethea )
MT: OH MY GOD I AM OBSESSED WITH PROMETHEA!
PML: Me tooooooooooo. I want more….more more moore Alan Moore. While I was in Iceland, (artist) Michelle Morby took a photo of me wearing a similar crown. And then just the other day a fan of my art all the way from Spain sent me this… and I swear to god I cried.
MT: If you were a superhero, what would your deal be?
PML: I have been asked this question many times and as per the always I’m just not sure. I feel like growing up as a closeted homosexual in Kansas and Missouri that in many ways I was living a double life for many years that made me clearly see the pros and cons of living such a lifestyle, and so if I was to be a hero of my choice I wouldn’t have to hide my identity and would probably fall more in line with a Jedi knight or someone who has to learn to embrace the powers the universe offers us all and to through trials and tribulations help the greater community and world. I prefer creating characters and their unique scenarios rather than fantasizing about my own possibilities.
Come to the Radar SPECTACLE Friday May 17th and bid on Peter Max Lawrence’s Angel, as well as work by Phoebe Gloeckner, Craig Calderwood, Kari Ovik, Joan Baez + more!
A few years ago Sister Spit did a show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through a series if unfortunate events, word did not get out that we were coming to town, and the only people who showed up to see us were three earnest lasses, and Phoebe Gloeckner, our Special Guest that night. A professor at UM/Ann Arbor, I had been freaking out that she would join us. I am a HUGE Phoebe Gloeckner fan, and have been since the 90s, when I first started seeing her creepy-cool comics show in in various places, and then, with the publication of one of my most favorite books ever, Diary of a Teenage Girl, an epic diary-comic that goes in and out between graphic novel and illustrated memoir. The dedication, For the Girls, When they are grown, haunts me sweetly. I feel like one of the girls Diary of a Teenage Girl was meant for.
Rather than being a dud, that sparsely attended midwest show was the BEST, because Phoebe stood on stage showing us slides form her new work-in-progress, detailing her mind-blowing process, the intensity of the story that had overtaken her life, and some witty and wise musings on the life of a working artist, in general. After visiting the Mexican city of Juarez to write about the murders of women that have been occurring on a horrible, massive scale, Phoebe was left in some sort of state of shock. as an outsider gringa who couldn’t comprehend the poverty the Juarez community exists within, and as a women and a mom who recognized the devastating loss these families were trying to live as her own worst fears. She became close with the family of a murdered fifteen-year-old girl named Elena Chavez Caldera, and began visiting them often. From this relationship has grown Phoebe’s current project, in which she intricately re-creates much of the family’s buy fashioning dolls and their environments and then photographing them, often manipulating the photographs to add details that shock and disturb, like the artist’s own face.
Phoebe has donated two of these pieces to the RADAR Spectacle, to help fund the Radar LAB creative retreat, which she will also be a guest at this year. I can’t believe we are able to offer these pieces, from a project that is so important and creative, requiring mad artistic genius and a dedication to empathy. They are amazing, and as the project comes to completion and is shown and published as a book, whoever walks away with these prints is going to be PSYCHED.
Almost as psyched as I’m going to be once I score Phoebe’s third contribution to the Spectacle’s Art Auction – an illustration from Diary of a Teenage Girl!!!!!! I am LOSING IT! If anyone wants to enter a bidding war with me for the sake of RADAR, let’s do it! That’s what it’s all for – to fund this excellent and unfunded writers’ retreat! But I am going to WIN.
Oakland academic Essence Harden interviews RADAR SPECTACLE performer BRONTEZ PURNELL.
Tell us about you’re recent work “New Diaspora” and “Other Dancers” at the L@te series at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). How does blackness, queerness, and collaboration inform your work?
New Diaspora was a means to celebrate the different Black talent going on in the Bay right now. It was inherently a very queer night also. I grew up in Alabama and have always been challenged/ curious about the lives of Black people in terms of place/environment/time period. Other Dancers was a means to celebrate the different experimental choreographers I know. there were some people involved in Other Dancers whose work i had never even seen before. i just got drunk at a bar with them and it was like “oh! you do performance? KOOL! would you be a part of this?” Blackness, Queerness, and Collaboration inform my work INFINITELY.
Speaking of “New Diaspora” I really loved how you ended the night with a decompression of energy by leading a group-follow dance onto pillows. How is community reconciliation significant to your art?
I went to speak to my friends class at Berkeley about community healing thorough art and i think its as simple as getting a group of people (no matter the number) in a space together moving towards a common goal or feeling however fleeting it may be. Its essentially about togetherness and intention.
Tell us about the making of “Free Jazz” your inaugural dance film from the Brontez Purnell Dance Company? Particularly the “cut n’ mix” of aesthetic choices involving punk, cosmology, the African Diaspora, and temporality. How has studying theatre and dance informed your current project?
I was obsessed with doing a dance movie cause like who does that? Particularity in Black and White Super 8 cause im a slave to aesthetic. I was doing work and making pieces at Cal State East Bay and was really excited about it so i wanted to put the work i did in a form that could live forever and encapsulate a certain period in my career. All my work is informed by whats closest to me. I think about things like sex, religion, community 24/7 and the film is a subdued response to my raging obsessions. Maybe it gives them more of a context for myself.
I loveeee novella’s, tell us about your upcoming work?
It’s called “Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger” its not a novella as much as it is an exorcism of the ghosts of my reckless first 30 years on the planet. I found a publisher but editing is kicking my ass. I decided not to change to tittle ever cause i fell like trying to pander commercial appeal for a book thats about a black punk rockers romp through life is somewhat delusional. Plus i see it living on in that N.W.A meets feminism category of literature.
I think what’s really incredible about your art and you as a person is the inescapable visibility you give to the complexity of being Black, queer, male, and a politically radical punk. Can you talk about being a radical Black queer punk and how these and other positionalities continue to inform your art?
Its hard cause at 30 im finally starting to feel semi-comfortable in my skin and what i will allow and not allow. Even though im rightfully a cross section of all these varied identities i dont trust MOST Black people, MOST punks, MOST queers and don’t get me started on men. Its been an interesting journey finding out who my people are. One example was i took a dance class at Berkeley and this other queer black male student found out i was from Alabama and had all these romantic notions of Blackness and the Deep South (he had grown up in California) and he said something about wanting to move to Atlanta- now growing up down South i have my own prejudices. In inadvertently blurted out “dude, first of all if you HAVE to party down South go to New Orleans NOT Atlanta. I CANT with Atlanta. I know all the shows on TV make it look fun but its the WORST mix of East Coast attitude and Southern boredom. If i wanted a bunch of stuck-up Black people telling me to go to church all the time i’d watch BET…..BARF”- and i look up and im like “holy shit- i just scared this kid”- this is one example of how my radical, black, punk rockness gets me in trouble and i wouldn’t trade it for the WORLD…….
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
Rhiannon Argo will be a guest performer at the Free Sister Spit Kick Off Show at the SFPL on March 31st. She is a Lambda Award winning writer, a schooled librarian, and a seasoned Sister Spitter. She is the author of two works of fiction, The Creamsickle, and Girls I’ve Run Away With, (coming September, 2013), a novel about two teenage girls in love and on the run. She is fundraising to publish her second novel and launch a new queer micro-press HERE.
I’m DIY-Publishing my New Novel, and Starting a Micro Press, and It’s so Much Fun!
By Rhiannon Argo
I want to tell you all about my recent journey into DIY publishing and starting my own micro press called Moonshine Press. Originally I never thought I would go this route to publish my work, but now that I am, I’m loving every moment of it!
Here are some reasons why:
1. Growing my queer writer community:
When I first began to research the possibilities of DIY publishing, I got a generous amount of encouragement and advice from other writers who had first-hand knowledge about the process. Many of these writers I’d only known vaguely before through social networking and I was super excited to find everyone so supportive and eagerness to share their tips and tricks! Even when the idea of starting Moonshine Press, was just a spark of an idea in my mind, I already felt buzzed with excitement at a new sense of writer community growing around me. I knew that should I decide to go forward with Moonshine Press that the powerful connections and sense of artistic community I was feeling would also grow exponentially.
2. Being pro-actively engaged in the entire process of making a book is magical
I went the traditional publishing route when I published my first novel, that is to say I queried the hell out of every queer-friendly small press in existence, dumped a lot of money into photo copying and postage, and wrote silly pitch letters that often resulted in me toning down the hella queer, radical, gender-bending, sex work-y, trash-mouth-y, aspects of the book. It took me nine months to snag a publisher and then it was over six months until my novel even saw an editor. Guess what!? When you DIY publish you don’t have to be on someone else’s time schedule! You get to make things happen as quick as you are humanly capable. YOLO, people!
With my first press there were also creative differences. They were generous in letting me design the cover, but everything else they did their way. I learned in college that the author never gets to give creative input on their books look, and that you should just keep your mouth shut and appreciate how lucky you are that you even have a publisher at all. But, guess what!? Now, I don’t have to silently disagree about the look of my finished book! I’m the boss woman and I get complete creative control. Totally BOSS!
You could look at DIY publishing VS. Traditional publishing like this: Sometimes people equate writing a book (or finishing an art project) to “having a baby”, like after publishing/birthing the book authors may even experience post-partum depression. Using this analogy, my experience with traditional publishing was like having a baby while hooked up to all those monitoring and drug inducing machines in a sterile hospital, like how some researchers have theorized that the hospitalization of baby birthing often makes the mother feel like she’s not even a participant in the birth. On the opposite side of that coin, I would say DIY publishing is like a home birth, and you’re in charge of the journey, it may be more painful because perhaps there’s more grunt-work involved, but the end result is more gratifying.
3. The publishing landscape is dull and desperately needs new queer presses focused on the next generation of edgy, radical, queer, and feminist voices.
I know a lot about the small press options for queer writers. I’ve got a list I would be happy to share with you. I’ve done research galore because after publishing my first novel on a press who was not exactly a good match for my work, I wanted to know everything about every small queer-friendly press out there, so I could find one that made me and my work feel like we had found a nice, cozy, understanding home, a press with an audience that was also my audience.
I took my short list of queer friendly small presses and I started crossing off the ones that my work just wouldn’t fit in with. During my research I noticed that of all the LGBT specific presses the majority were gay-male oriented, headed by gay male editors, with often times only a few lezzie authors in their catalogs. This is not a complaint, just pointing out the fact that while there may be a handful of LGBT friendly presses, there are less female focused ones, and even less QUEER-view- female focused ones. My narrowed down list provided me with two options that I felt good and excited about. Those are two options too few when you’re pitching a book and interested in a timely timeframe, with the knowledge that many small presses only publish a few titles a year, and are backed up far into the future.
I was bummed. Why can’t I have as many options as those straight, white, hetero-normative, writer MEN have!? Why don’t I get the luxury of querying hundreds of agents and presses that will “get” my work? I moped around with these thoughts for a little while and then the question, Hey why don’t you just start your own fantastic radical press and stop complaining, dummy?, popped into my head.
“Hey, why not?”
I made an appointment with my psychic via Skype (my Skypic), and she shuffled her cards, and meditated on my handful of name suggestions for a potential press, including naming it after Moonshine Road, where my mom gave birth to me in a tipi during her feral hippy days. The cards were complimentary and on that fateful day Moonshine Press was born!
4. Working with, and even paying, other queer artists:
To get Moonshine Press up and rolling, and afford the publication costs of publishing its first title, I needed a chunk of cash. I started a fundraiser that’s been going great so far. The campaign is basically just a way to pre-order the book. Extra pennies thrown in my wishing well go towards growing the press, such as, publishing future authors, and sending the Moon Babe Writers on future tours. Right now it’s the last week of the campaign my fingers are crossed that funds will go over the goal and Moonshine Press will be able to grow, grow, grow!
The awesome thing about the successful fundraiser is that I get to hire, and work with, other queer artists and writers to help me publish the novel. For example, my layout person is Allison Moon, a lesbian author who has had her own DIY publishing successes. I’ve hired a queer graphic designer, web designer, photographer, cover model, and copy editors, and my book cover designers run a small, queer press themselves in Vienna, Austria! Lastly, I get to print the book with a small, non-corporate printing company, with DIY and leftist leanings, that uses recycled paper and soy based inks.
With all this queer love going into the publishing process of this novel, ranging from other rad queer artists helping me design it, to each generous contributor to the fundraiser, I know that holding the finished product in my hand will feel super powerful! Like the books journey to print was truly a collective effort made possible by the support of an utterly special community.
If any of you reading this want to explore DIY publishing options just holler at me, I’ve got tips and pats on the back to share. But be forewarned that it’s a ton of work, but if you like this sort of work, than the process is wicked fun and rewarding.
Let’s destroy the gatekeepers! Their gates are so damn boring! Aren’t we all sick of men dominating the publishing world!!?? (And if you don’t believe me about men dominate the publishing world, because you live on another planet, than check THIS out.)
Hey, I’m blogging this from an airplane right now and they’re also dominating First Class, to the max! I’m thinking this is because they own all those media companies, websites, newspapers, film companies, book review sites, magazines, and blah, blah, blah. Lez wiggle into first class and do an impromptu reading. Make them squirm.
There are so many fun things happening this weekend! Follow my lead:
On FRIDAY I’m going to see Sister Spit alum Brontez Purnell’s new performance THE EPISODES with Anthony R. Lucas and Sophia Wang at The Garage. I LOVE Brontez The Writer (pick up a copy of his zine Fag School at your local DOWN AT LULUS retailer), and Brontez The Musician, so I’m really excited to experience Brontez The Choreographer.
On SATURDAY I’m going to the GRASP Showcase. As the invitation describes: “Girls Rock After School Program (GRASP) is a 10-week program for girls 8-18 years old. Students attend instrument lessons, form a band, collaboratively write an original song, participate in workshops, and perform with their band at a live showcase.” Girls Rock Camp is an AMAZING organization- give’em your support.
SATURDAY is all about the tweens because in the evening I’m going to Micaela, Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Cheena Marie Lo, Kate Robinson and a musical performance by Maddy MADLINES Clifford.
And before I head home I’m going to go see Brilliant Colors at Hemlock!
On Sunday I’m spending the morning at my home away from home, DOWN AT LULUS. DOWN AT LULUS is a salon and vintage collective started by Tina Lucchesi and Seth Bogart. I’m a buyer for the store and each season we host a HUGE dollar sale.
THEEENNNN I’m going to the first show of the Black Salt Collective!
Black Salt Collective is the work of Fanciulla Gentile, Grace Rosario Perkins, and Adee Roberson.
These TALENTED LADIES will be selling their wares, exhibiting their works and unveiling their window display installation at ATA. I’ve got to be there by 5pm so I don’t miss the performance by LA-based musician Jeepneys!
So, please excuse me if I sound a little like THIS today- but there is just so much you CAN’T MISS!! See you this weekend.
Amber Dawn will be reading TONIGHT in the Latino Reading Room at the Main Branch of The San Francisco Public library at 6pm. FREE!
Amber Dawn came to my house for an interview one rainy February afternoon during the last term of my MFA in Vancouver. “It’s so weird to be here,” she told me. “I used to have friends who lived in this house. It was a bit more punk rock then. I even broke in through that back window one time,” she told me. As if she wasn’t badass enough already, Amber Dawn is a writer, filmmaker, activist, and performance artist whose first novel, Sub Rosa, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. Her poetry chapbook How I Got My Tattoo won the Eli Coppola Chapbook Prize from RADAR Productions in 2012, when she also won the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Writers. In her forthcoming book How Poetry Saved My Life, Amber Dawn tells her story of working in the sex trade in Vancouver through nonfiction and poetry. I spent an afternoon with Amber Dawn where she talked about her star-crossed relationship with memoir and poetry, and her commitment to community activism.
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about writing and publishing a mixed-genre book like How Poetry Saved My Life.
Well, I first of all did not say to myself, “I want to write a mixed genre prose and poetry book” and set out to do that. If someone asked me to write out my life story, or a chunk of time where I worked in the sex trade, there’s no way I could stomach it. I also just don’t feel like my story is best told through a chronological view of time. I don’t think that most people’s lives are that tidy, and mine certainly isn’t. So I just started writing bits and pieces, mostly therapeutic to begin. Then, when I got to grad school I tried nonfiction with Andreas Schroeder for the first time. That’s when I really started to write my story, in that class. But where I did most of my writing was to submit to sex worker festivals in the United States that were. I would often write just to be able to be in those shows, I was so desperate for community. It was great to leave the city and be more anonymous. And eventually realized I had a book’s worth of writing. And even then I sat on it for a long time because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it out in the world. So I didn’t set out to do it. If I had set out to do it I’m sure I would have failed. [laughs]
I’m so glad you did. I wanted to ask about some of your poetic techniques—I really liked how you used glossing and drew from such a diverse selection of poets. Are they pieces that have been with you for a long time? Is the form something you crafted yourself?
I love a glosa. One is an Irving Layton quote, which is almost cheeky—Layton is one of those “fellas,” who has been widely canonized. But the other two glosa quotes are from feminist poets Beth Goobie and Lucille Clifton. I was a late reader; I didn’t really start reading until I hit my mid-twenties, and so I felt I should get caught up, especially with the Canadian canon. And once I did that, I pretty much went right for lesbian feminists and more radically-identified poets, which is still what I read a lot of today.
I was lucky enough to help you copyedit the manuscript of How Poetry Saved My Life one afternoon. When you write, do you have an imagined first reader? Do you often show things to groups of friends, or to your wife? Who gets to see things first?
Vancouver is a very transient place; I found that my community in grad school dispersed pretty darn quickly. So I’m in the lurch, to be honest. Luckily enough I’d say maybe forty percent of this book was stuff that I had worked on when I was at UBC. People in your undergrad or in grad school in creative writing right now: do not undervalue the creative writing classroom! As much as it might drive us all crazy at times, it is such a tried and true structure and the idea that there are other people there to take interest in your work, and vice versa, is such a powerful thing. So no, I don’t really have first readers. I do have women who I think are elders in the sex work activism movement who I can check in with, which has been really helpful. And I read a lot at community events. I think that’s a great pilot audience. I find community readings very helpful.
What does it feel like to have a poem come to you? Is there a part of you that observes and says “I have to write about this,” or is your process more about sitting and looking out a window and the poems arrive?
I have this terrible joke that I tell about the Canadian poem. Canadian poets have their ideas come to them when they’re like, kneading bread dough and looking out the kitchen window at some snowy vista. That’s how the Canadian poem happens. Maybe there’s like, a red-winged blackbird that flies by or something.
I wonder what that would be like. That would be nice.
I know, right. That’s not my experience. [laughs] Poetry is my first love in terms of creative writing. As much as it sounds a little west coast woo, poetry is the closest thing I’ve had to a spirituality. Says the ex-Catholic. I can’t write poetry as often as I’d like because I have to be in a fairly sound place in myself, an almost meditative-level state. I have to feel as though my sensitivity towards language is resonating at a higher place than when I’m writing prose. Going to readings really helps; it really helps me reach that place, listening to other poets. When I don’t read books of poetry or go out and see other poets it’s almost like I lose a language. Poetry doesn’t keep pace with the rest of the world, so I have to slow down to meet it.
What’s it like, by contrast, when you’re writing your nonfiction?
Oh it’s fast. I can’t keep up with the ideas. I usually have a fairly good outline and character sketches and I’m ready to go. And I could do it anywhere. I could be in a cafe, I could be in bed with my laptop. It could be noisy, it could be quiet. I could have only an hour to write or I could have the whole day and something will happen. Poetry’s not at all like that. I feel like I really need a whole week just to settle into writing poems.
You definitely get a sense of that when reading your work. Do you have a process, for your nonfiction, where you decide what to share and what you don’t?
Nonfiction for me is the complete opposite of poetry. I think that in this book a lot of the nonfiction, with the exception of a few pieces, was me responding to some sort of call. I’m also an activist, and a woman that’s had some stigmatized experiences. I’m very keenly aware of the communities that I came from that have many day-to-day barriers to finding their voice, which I do not—I’m privileged that way. But I listen to people. There’s a piece called “Ghetto Feminism,” which is something a lot of my sex worker friends and I would talk about—wanting to be activists but not feeling like we have the political chops or the research-based knowledge that we need to be activists. Towards the end of the book there’s a piece called “To All the Butches I Loved Between 1995 and 2005” which I actually wrote for “Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme” (Arsenal, 2011). I wrote it specifically because it seemed like, at that time, every sex worker I knew was breaking up with someone and feeling discouraged about relationships. There’s always been some sort of call, and I’m trying to address it through my nonfiction. It’s probably the only reason why I write nonfiction. I never would write nonfiction about like, whales or something. [laughs] I’d never write out my travel journals. Writing is activism. There’s no other reason for me to write nonfiction, I think, than making some sort of statement that I hope will help the communities that I have in mind when I’m writing.
Further to that—do you know Louise Halfe at all? She was the Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan, and writes a lot about survivorship. She once said writing is a part of the work, but it’s not what’s going to heal you. I was so moved by your pieces about queer funerals and Trans Day of Remembrance in your book, and I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your experience of writing through grief.
Yes. Well, first, I disagree with that quote. That you can write about fear, or grief, or whatever the emotion is, but it won’t heal you—that wouldn’t be a credo I could adopt. My writing doesn’t live in isolation. I’m not very precious with my work; in fact, I’m quite the opposite. I want things to be seen as soon as possible. I’ll read something that’s raw at events because I think that writing, for me, is a call-and-answer. I want to be a part of the dialogue. That’s why I write. I want to be a part of dialogues. I’m not a very good political speaker, as I mention in “Ghetto Feminism”—I get really flustered very easily. I don’t like to talk with a voice of authority, but I do like to talk in a peer-to-peer way and I feel like writing allows me to do that. So bringing stories of grief and loss to my community feels like the right venue. And when I say my community I mean queer and allied communities, survivors.
Did it feel therapeutic for me in any way to sit down and write that story out? No. It felt like cutting my eyeball open and pouring some lemon water on it. But once I got out there and started reading it for people, and getting responses—that’s healing.
I’m not an extrovert either, so writing’s kind of what I’ve got to join in the conversation. Especially with grief; I’ve had a lot of grief in my life. Writing nonfiction and nonfiction poetry has been great to show people that I’m present and that I share some of their experiences and am willing to speak out about it.
Reading “How To Bury Our Dead” has been really rewarding for me because a lot more people knew Shelby Tom than I I had realized. I had such an isolating experience when she was killed because I was working in a massage parlour in Surrey and I just felt like no-one acknowledged her death besides other working girls. None of my queer friends knew her and there was this big divide between my queer friends and my sex worker friends. That story actually helped me start to bridge those two communities a little bit more. I’m so glad I wrote that. It was extremely helpful for me.
I know you address themes of grief in the poem “How I Got My Tattoo,” and that’s the title piece from the chapbook that won RADAR’s Eli Coppola chapbook contest. Can you talk a little bit about the chapbook, and the prize—is it included in How Poetry Saved My Life?
Mhm. You’ll see a lot of overlap between the poems in the chapbook. The Eli Coppola prize is a funny thing, because I tried to apply a few years in a row. In my work desk, I had an envelope with the RADAR address written out, stuffed full of papers and my cover letter. And two years in a row I didn’t send it. I’m so insecure about my poetry! I’ve been really blessed with people like Rhea Tregebov and Kate Braid who have supported me, but my poetry never got published in literary journals—there’s been a lot of rejection, and I know part of it’s the content. How do you just put one of my poems in with, the other poems that in appear in the Fiddlehead? I get it. I’ve been a curator and sometimes it’s not about the quality of the work but about the fit. But I do have such insecurity about my poetry and I was so happy to win—I never get anything for poetry! [laughs] Me and poetry are like star-crossed lovers or something! I love poetry but it doesn’t really work out between us, so it was really nice to receive recognition.
That’s so great. Do you have any wishes for How Poetry Saved My Life? What are you doing next?
I wrote this book really with survivors in mind. I think sex worker is one of many examples of a stigmatized identity where the speaker—in this case, me—takes a risk and sticks their neck out to tell a story. So I wrote with those people in mind—who are many people. Many, many, many more people than the literary marketplace might realize. Not my publisher [laughs]—they’re great.
I’m really excited to go to different cities. I have been making contact with sex worker activist groups in Toronto and New York so hopefully I’ll connect with those communities as well as book lovers and readers as I go. That’s always huge for me, when other folks, especially women, approach me after a reading and tell me how hearing me read has been positive. That makes it worth my while. Why stick your neck out unless it’s going to do something positive for others? So, here I go. . .And then I’m sure I’ll crash, and cry. [laughs]. The crashing and the tears are a part of it! I’ll have the queer bookstores and places where there’s going to be a lot of sex workers in the audience, and then I’ll have Ottawa Writers’ Festival, where I might be introducing ideas to people as opposed to sharing experiences with people. So, we’ll just see how it all plays out. As for what I’m doing next, I’m looking forward to returning to speculative fiction.
I feel that way too. I grew up in a very small town in Ontario called Crystal Beach and it was an amusement park town for 100 years. The park closed in 1989. So the book is set in 1990, the year after the park closed and there was an economic decline prior to the park closing but when the park closed part of the town basically became a ghost town, and it’s very small to begin with. So my story’s about a disillusioned twenty-something protagonist, quite in debt financially, who returns to live with her mom in this small town because she’s sort of run out of options. And magic ensues. For folks that read Sub Rosa, they’ll know that it was pretty overtly about sex work. This next book much more allegorical, with subtle messages about queer suicide and mental health. It will be one of those books that readers can take to whatever level they want—a plot-based page-turner or a deeper look at queer identity and melancholy. It’s going to be a lot more speculative than Sub Rosa was.
Leah Horlick is a writer and MFA candidate in poetry in the Creative Writing program at UBC. Her first book, Riot Lung (Thistledown, 2012),was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award.
Hello! And welcome to my Better-Late-Than-Never ART Monday. This week I’m so excited to recommend Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road.
Spit and Passion is a graphic coming out memoir focusing on the often-overlooked moment of secret childhood queer-revelation, rather than the more common narrative of adolescent queer-declaration. This isn’t a story about coming out to others- it’s about coming out to oneself. And for some of us, coming out to oneself looks a lot like this:
You could say the book takes place in early 90s Miami- but the setting would be more aptly described as in the mind of preteen Cristy as she navigates, and second-guesses, the realization that she’s probably a dyke.
The story tracks Cristy as she reconciles her Cuban-American Catholic upbringing with her new queer punk leanings.
She seeks solace in Ren & Stimpy, Freddy Mercury, Broadway musicals, Rosanne Barr, and most fanatically, Green Day. Her story is filled with references, as varied as they seem, that all outsider-gays will identify with. Ren & Stimpy is the millennial Burt & Ernie, no?
I’m a HUGE fan of Cristy C. Road’s illustrations and this book does not disappoint with incredibly beautiful artwork. Each panel is a stand-alone piece.
Buy a copy of Spit and Passion RIGHT NOW and come see Cristy C. Road when she’s on tour with Sister Spit 2013! (For those in the Bay Area- come to the Sister Spit Kick Off at The San Francisco Public Library on March 31)
AND ANOTHER THING: Cristy C. Road is also working on a tarot deck with our own Michelle Tea! Check out some of the drawings in the works- THEY ARE AMAZING.