James Tracy on Octavia Butler, SF Displacement & Being an Urbanist Not a Luddite

We chatted with James Tracy, author of  “Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars,” a bunch of personal questions and here’s what he said. He will be reading at the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street) on Tuesday, November 4 for the Radar Reading Series. Click here for the Facebook event page.  

Who influences you & your work? 
 Even though I don’t write Science Fiction, writers like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler really helped shape my moral compass and concern for what is going to happen in the future. I also love the 1970s school of blue-collar tough-as nails newspaper columnists such as Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko. For Dispatches Against Displacement, I turned to the school of radical and progressive urbanism, Mike Davis, Saskia Sassen and Andy Merrifeld to name a few. Rebecca Solnit’s masterpiece A Paradise Built in Hell was really inspirational in the way that it showed how everyday people faced down disaster. The everyday disaster of displacement can bring out some similar strengths.
Many of the authors who most influenced me were the ones running around San Francisco in the 1990s, who were part of the open-mic scenes at the Paradise Lounge and Chameleon. To name just a few: Michelle Tea, Ananda Esteva, Bucky Sinister, Bruce Jackson, Daphne Gottlieb, and Leroy Moore. Most of these people wouldn’t be able to get a start in San Francisco today thanks to the high rents.
Is the internet ruining the world? Why or why not. 
The way we use the internet is ruining the world. Today, you can use it to learn a new language for free, communicate with people across the globe, and publicize your revolution. But we chose to use it to stay in tightly knit thought bubbles. Comments without analysis and actions without strategy. We let ourselves think that online petitions are a substitute for face to face mobilization with our neighbors.
Yes, the tech industry with its massive income inequality,selfish ideology, and ties to the surveillance state are a massive part of the problem with the world. But like any industry, the trick is to try to seize the means of production, democratize it and place it in the service of everyday people.
I’m an urbanist, not a luddite.
What’s one piece of advice you want to share with artists – about life, bills, process, editing, brainstorming, anything?
You’re never too good a writer that you don’t need an editor.

Jandy Nelson & Ebin Lee On Pizza at Eddies, Writing Like Yourself &Taking the Peanut Butter Out of the Fridge

We chatted with Jandy Nelson, author of I’ll Give You the Sun, and Ebin Lee, illustrator/poster artist, a bunch of personal questions and here’s what they said. They will be reading at the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street) on Tuesday, November 4 for the Radar Reading Series. Click here for the Facebook event page.  

 

 

 

 

JANDY NELSON

Tell us something that challenged you in your last project.

The structure of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN really challenged me, sending me off a cliff many times. It’s the story of these twins who’ve always been inseparable until tragedy strikes and rips them apart. And it’s also a tapestry of all these interweaving love stories: romantic ones: both gay and straight, complicated familial ones between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, the dead and the living, artists and their art. The story is full of secrets and lies and betrayals and it’s also kind of a mystery. All the different webbing narrative elements and intricacies of the story really overwhelmed me at first–I felt like it was way way bigger than my ability. I knew I wanted it to be braid, knew I wanted to tell the story in the dueling points of view of the twins, from Noah’s perspective when the twins are 13, and Jude’s when they’re sixteen after the events that divide them. I finally realized the only way for me to write the novel was to write three novels so I wrote Noah’s story start to finish, then Jude’s story start to finish (which took over 2 1/2 years!) then spent a year weaving their stories together which was like writing a whole new novel. It was intense–the whole process took almost 4 years.

Describe your perfect meal.

My perfect meal is a picnic by a river in the hot sun with all my closest friends/family, both living and dead: crusty bread, this life-changing cheese I just discovered called Bonne Bouche, tons of finger foods prepared by Thomas Keller and then dark chocolate  truffles, all of it served with tons of Chateauneuf du pape and champagne.

Do you have a piece of killer advice for artists?

Don’t put peanut butter in the refrigerator. I just learned this and it’s been such a revelation!. Also, in terms of writing the best advice I ever got by far was this totally simple and obvious idea: Be yourself in your writing–get your personality on the page. Own your myths, monsters, and miracles. It doesn’t mean you need to write about yourself, just write like yourself. Like Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself: everyone else is already taken.” This advice absolutely changed writing-life.

 






 


EBIN LEE

Besides “artist,” talk about another identity that matters to you. 

My identity as Black kind of encompasses everything about me.

You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date? 

My dream date would be with Neicy Nash. If i didn’t pass out from sheer excitement/nerves at the news that Queen Neicy accepted my date request, I’d take her for pizza at Eddies on Killingsworth (In Portland) and then after we would sip wine sprtizers and watch re-runs of Clean House.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Make tons of embarrassing drawings.

 

Mimi Nguyen On Epic Dream Dates with Keanu Reeves, Tenure & Obscurantist Labor

Mimi will be reading at the November 4 Radar Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library. We asked her some questions about dating, writing and advice for artists. 

 

Tell us about something that challenged you during your last (or a current) project. 

The worst thing about writing the first book (The Gift of Freedom) was that I had to finish it according to an external deadline – tenure. At some point I found I wasn’t writing to answer a question about liberal empire, or to close the circle of the argument, but to meet an institutional metric for a “productive” scholar. And even though I was writing with friends confronting the same metric –we would literally sit in a room together and write for hours, next to one another, chatting about a sentence one minute and leading each other through some stretches another—it was still an incredibly isolating experience.

The moment I remembered that I had an intensely satisfying creative and intellectual life long before I came to the academy was transformative. A feminist literary scholar named Janice Radway came to my campus and in a lecture discussed my work as a zinester (with particular reference to the Race Riot compilations, and feminist critical theory in my zines) and its relationship to my scholarship now. I had been feeling so under seige on the tenure track that I cried for a few days afterward, because I understood so acutely what I had been missing for the last few years – which was writing to the question, for the argument, and of course, for myself.

 

You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date? 

My friends reading this would know it’s a lie if I chose anyone but Keanu Reeves. That said, I have no idea what an “epic dream date” would be, and having only been on a few “proper” dates, and it seems like it would be awkward to go on a grown-up, straight-person date with Keanu Reeves.

But pretending as if this isn’t the most awkward question, we could just go to a punk show on his motorcycle (or if he still has access to that time-traveling telephone booth, we could take the booth to the Hong Kong Café to see The Bags or The Go-Go’s in 1979), and then spend a few hours going through the boxes of zines and records in my living room I haven’t made time to read or listen to yet. After that, we could choreograph a mash-up of a movie-fu fight with Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” dance and put it on YouTube as a performance piece. I hope he kept his sleeveless denim jacket from River’s Edge, because I would wear the crap out of it in the video. (Also I would be wearing Madonna’s boots from Desperately Seeking Susan, since those are the most epic shoes.) And then we could make a 24-hour zine about making art and getting older, and I could impress him with my carefully hoarded Letraset collection.

I should note that I am answering these questions with a cold fogging my brain. The other night, while otherwise wiped out on Advil, I randomly started a site to archive all the responses to Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby.” I am totally a good time, Keanu.

 

Give us one piece of advice you want to share with artists – about life, bills, process, editing, brainstorming, anything.

I don’t have advice as much as I have “random questions about the nature of work.” How do we reproduce troubling measures of civic and capitalist productivity through binaries of activity/passivity in our cultural work? How do we evaluate an artistic process or object or experience? Through what measures of value, accountability – and to whom? As a scholar, I hear from both administrators and activists that the intellectual labor I do “should” yield concrete outcomes – whether in publications or grants, or in something measurable as “social change.” I worry about what these utilitarian (and sometimes authoritarian) demands mean for us, especially because I want to hold out a place for creative and intellectual labors that are slow to unfurl, or otherwise appear to the efficacious eye as useless, obscurantist, impractical, marginal, or wholly unproductive.

 

RADAR Helps You Out: More Ways To Procrastinate/Enjoy Beautiful Art From Home

How’s that homework/stuff you’re supposed to be doing for your job looking? You should really stop all that productivity and come watch RADAR’s August reading series because it’s now on YouTube! Don’t worry, you’ve got the rest of the night to do work/school related things. This will only take about an hour, plus you get to feel some things that aren’t task related panic.

 

Here’s the thing about Jamie: she’s amazing. Make yourself a cup of tea, bust out that old foot bath thing you never use and have yourself some bliss listening to her words.

 

Finish that tea before you commence this video, because Kate is so funny you will definitely pee it out.  Also includes sporadic feels.

 

 

Do you have any idea what a tintype portrait is? Neither did I. But they’re fascinating and so is Kari’s creative process in general, check it out.

 

Go hide your credit card. Do it. Do it now, because there is some possibility that you are like me and will use your designated taco money to purchase Ariel’s book somewhere on the internet immediately after seeing her perform.

 

Now go out into the world a creatively stimulated human and do those things you’ve been needing to do/maybe go to sleep and just do it in the morning.

Ariel Schrag Talks Adam and Duck L’Orange.

RADAR interviewed Ariel Schrag, author of graphic novels Awkward, Definition, Potential and Likewise. She has written for TV shows such as The L Word and HBO series How To Make It In America. She recently published her first novel Adam. She will be attending RADAR’s August reading on the 12th.

R: You did a tour with Sister Spit, right?

A: Mmhmm.

R: And was it just one tour or a couple?

A: I just did one tour in fall of 2009.

R: Had you already started your work for Adam, or how has your work changed since your tour with Sister Spit?

A: I think when I went on Sister Spit I’d written maybe like around 60 to 100 pages of Adam, I was really just at the beginning. And I was reading from short comics on that tour so I wasn’t doing any preliminary Adam readings.

R: So for the comics, you are at a projector type of thing reading along?

A: Yeah, basically starting around 2005/2006 a lot of cartoonists who had previously had to use slides to show their comics and read them all began using Powerpoint or other various software programs to use kind of rapidly on the computer through images. What most cartoonists would do is take a page of comics that had may twelve panels on it or six panels on it and then in Photoshop go in and separate the panels and turn it into individual slides that you could then put onto a Powerpoint. Some people would erase, if you had a lot of text in your comics it made sense to erase or to take out and photoshop the text so that people wouldn’t be trying to read too much at the same time as you’re reading. But yeah! So basically the idea is just that you read the voices and whatever missing text there is along with the slides and I would also include a musical sound track so music would be playing at the same time and it was super fun.

R: We’re you the only one on the tour who did that type of thing?

A: On our particular tour I was the only cartoonist doing that but Michelle’s definitely had other cartoonists on the tour.

R: So the next question is totally different. You moved from the bay to New York awhile ago, right?

A: Mmhmm.

R: I recently moved from NY to the bay and I’m wondering how exactly New York, the stereotypes that you think of when you think of New York, how it lived up to that and how it was different than you thought it might be?

A: I think my main motivation for moving to New York when I was 18 was this whole idea that it was this creative hub where if you wanted to be a writer this is where you go and I was definitely not disappointed. I found myself surrounded by people excited to do interesting things. So of course when I first moved I had to kind of work a string of pretty shitty jobs but, you know, whereas I had worked at a movie theater in Berkeley and most of the people I worked with, you know some of them were creative and had other pursuits, a lot of people were totally happy to just work at the movie theater. And when I moved to NY and worked at the Film Forum, I felt like everybody was like really intensely working on something else at the same time. I remember I came in one day to work and my coworker was reading Susan Sontag’s Illness As Metaphor, gosh I love that book, he then introduced me to what would then become one of my all time favorite books. That was just sort of like the type of environment that felt like everyday you would meet someone who was doing something exciting or would introduce you to something exciting. You need to feel that way you know, and now I’ve been here, I don’t know 15 years or something and I’m always meeting new and exciting people.

R: Mmhm, I feel like the level of productivity in NY is a little higher.

A: Berkeley’s great and I’ll always have a fondness for it and could see myself maybe living there when I’m older but I don’t feel the same kind of creative energy. Obviously some people in the bay area have it but I think, for the most part, you tend to find a type of intensity more often in NY.

R: What brings you to the bay at the time of the August 12th reading?

A: I’m coming out for the RADAR reading and also I’m going to visit my family and then go to spend some time in LA as well to visit friends and I’m going to be pitching an animated television show that may or may not happen but that is my August California visit.

R: Very cool. Where are you at in the production of Potential?

A: That is now working with a new director named Matt Wolf who is really awesome. He recently had a narrative documentary film come out called Teenager about teenage living in the early 20th century and it is based on a book. He also is currently working on a documentary for HBO about the artist behind the Eloise books and he also grew up in the bay area and we’re now collaborating on the Potential film right now. We’re adapting the script based on his vision for it.

R: So, you’re pretty established in what you do, I was just wondering, as someone who isn’t so much, do you ever find yourself stunted by the expectation that you continue creating things because it’s how you make your living? Or I guess another way of saying that is how do you come up with your ideas when other people are expecting you to create ideas?

A: I mean I think there’s always going to be, you always have to find a balance. Most people have to find a balance between kind of art and commerce and when I was younger I never wanted art to have an expectation of money around it, that felt really stressful, and so I’d always planned to be a high school biology teacher and I would do comics on the side and so that was sort of, my plan for awhile. As it turned out, when I finished college, I was originally planning on looking into teaching, possibly teach for America, when I had the opportunity to write this Potential screenplay. Because of that, I was paid to do that which meant that I only needed to sort of work other jobs for a time and then the Potential screenplay led to a job on The L Word where I was then making a lot of money doing something that I really enjoyed and so I sort of found myself going down a path of making money through writing. And what I found was, I liked the idea that I could have jobs that were writing but done for money, such as working in TV. But then I could also do my own private projects on the side. So that way I wouldn’t have to feel so much pressure or stress around the things that were more personal to me but could pursue the other avenues and I found that they helped each other. Working on The L Word allowed me to get a book agent that helped me sell my books so the two could kind of help each other in a way that a separate career could not help my artistic projects. But it is definitely, it can sometimes be stressful when you’re working on a more commerce-type job and you kind of conflate the act of creating with something stressful or something that you need to do for money. And I don’t like when I get that feeling but I think that it’s just a painful part of the way it is and no one’s jobs are ever going to feel perfect at any point in time. So I just try and sort of make it work and set a balance between staying afloat with various types of work and working on stuff that is important to me.

R:  And you still teach, right? I read somewhere that you teach at The New School, is that still a thing?

A: Yeah, every spring I teach a graphic novel workshop at The New School and I really like teaching sort of random comics classes just two hour comics classes at colleges throughout the year and I find that, that’s not something that I just do for money. Obviously I like the money but I also really like getting to meet new people and it’s fun to engage with people that are really excited about comics. And I also don’t feel burnt out on it because one class a year is really not that stressful.

R: You could always come to Mills College.

A: Sure.

R: How exactly for Adam, how did you come up with the premise? Are you scared that it could perhaps become a guide for a cis-male into that queer world?

A: (laughs) Do I think that somebody would read it and be like “oo this is what I can do.”

R: Totally.

A: No, I don’t. Or, maybe, I mean who can say? I guess that person could be out there but I think there’s a big difference between the scenario my character Adam finds himself in which is that he is at first mistaken for a trans guy and eventually throughout the book ends up allowing a girl that he has a crush on to believe that but there’s a big difference between coming at that predicament that way than being some cis-straight guy with the ambition to infiltrate the queer scene. I honestly feel like most straight cis guys are just not that interested in infiltrating the queer scene. My character wound up in that situation because he gets ostracised from his group of friends at school and he gets to spend the summer with his sister who happens to be gay and this happens to be the subculture that she’s living in. I mean it’s really very circumstantial, this hook of cis straight guy pretends to be trans is not say that it’s like a how-to or anything like that. I do feel that it is in many ways a guide to a cis straight guy understanding queer culture and trans identities, more than they would have before having read the book.

R: Do you know what you’ll be reading on the 12?

A: I’m not sure yet, I haven’t decided.

R: If you could eat one thing right now what would it be?

A: Maybe like a duck in orange sauce, with some rice on the side.

Ariel will be reading at RADAR’s August 12th reading.

RADAR Gives Away Threeway!

Too much time on your hands? Need more summer reading? How about for the price of free? We love our RADAR Monthly Reading Series because we love the people who come to our monthly reading series! We want to celebrate the books from our City Lights Sister Spit imprint and so we are giving away a copy of Beth Lisick’s Yokohama Threeway during our AUGUST 12 reading. Head to the Radar Facebook page to enter. We will pick someone at random and announce the winner at the August 12th reading!

About the Book:

Peering into life’s cringe-worthy moments, best-selling author Beth Lisick excavates territory that most would rather ignore. Funny, odd, deeply personal, yet somehow universal, these are the kind of memories that haunt us all, the small, awful moments of shame and humiliation that we’d rather forget than relive.

Beth Lisick has made a career of opening her life to her readers in all of its messy, smart hilarity, but this type of story doesn’t usually find its way into a memoir. With her trademark humor and sly intelligence, writing in short flashes the way these episodes tend to pop up in memory, Lisick recounts her most embarrassing moments with gusto. From a trick she played on a neighbor thirty years ago to what she accidentally blurted out at last night’s dinner party, she explores the bad judgments and free-floating regrets that keep her up at night, and the result is a daring, candid and wickedly funny collection of embarrassment embraced, the triumph of humor and perspective over everyday mortification.

Make sure to head to RADAR’s August 12th reading to collect your prize and watch some amazing performances. The event will be held at the San Francisco Public Library in the Latino/Hispanic Rooms A/B from 6-8 pm.

Myriam’s One-i’d Arts and Literature Column: Wendy C. Ortiz’s C Is for Cronut

At my white dining room table, in my bedroom with the Women Wimmin Womin Womyn poster above my headboard, and, also, in a high femme trailer on the outskirts of Yucca Valley, I tore through the electronic galleys of Wendy C. Ortiz’s EXCAVATION. I kept wanting to call the police to report what I was reading. EXCAVATION is a memoir so the stuff that happens in it really happened. Its events are heartbreaking, criminal, disgusting, not chronologically told, and, most of all, beautifully told. Just flippin’ gorgeous. Supermodel level.

Ortiz writes Cindy Crawford prose.

Here’s the longish gist of why I kept wanting to call the cops. As a public school teacher, I’m mandated to report child abuse or neglect. If I even suspect shady shit, if I get even a whiff, I’m supposed to pick up the phone and tell. And I have told before. Through EXCAVATION, Ortiz geo-meticulously tells the type of story that creates the epic need for mandatory reporting laws.

She tells about being a semi-normal eighth grader in North Hollywood. (I say semi-normal because Ortiz is way smarter than almost everybody. She’s also the only Chicana child in a bookish but falling-apart alcoholic family. Her intense IQ and only brown childness are a little unusual.) Partway through her first month of eighth grade, Ortiz’s advanced English class gets a new teacher, Jeff Ivers. Ivers quickly and unfairly seduces Ortiz and involves her in a five-year relationship that brands her. Ivers gets off on her lack of agency. He encourages her to keep secrets that wind up hurting her in big ass ways for a long ass time. He’s gross. He’s crass. He’s the kind of man who chews tobacco and wears sweats in public. The worst. A total cochino. But he tells Ortiz she’s ageless, mentally stimulating, and talented. And that’s so mean because while those things are true, Ivers uses them to emotionally chain her up. Because of her age, it’s impossible for her to understand her manipulation and its consequences. How evil. How rude. How the opposite of a teacher.

As I stared at my MacBook screen, my skin tingling at the tragedia unfolding before me, I reminded myself that while it was too late for me to tell, at least Ortiz is telling now. EXCAVATION tells and untells and trumps untelling by telling in a way that can’t be undone. No takebacks.

A CONFESSIONAL, ARCHAEOLOGICAL VERBOCOLLAGE USING THE LANGUAGE OF WENDY C. ORTIZ’S EXCAVATION

 ‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

 ‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

 ‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

 ‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

 ‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

My lover was a twenty-nine-year-old man. 

He had a knee injury. 

He had shoulder aches and caught colds often. 

He was a sports fan, not a player, and his body was beginning to show it. 

He got winded during sex and sometimes couldn’t reach orgasm.

Ortiz exposes her story through strata. Her story isn’t an onion. It’s a cronut.

EXCAVATION’s strata mostly take the form of the most elegant journal entries ever written, and Ortiz titles these entries by month and/or season and year. The entries microdetail her unfair seduction. They reveal tastes, textures, conversations, drugs ingested, how frayed were the cutoff shorts she was wearing, who came, who didn’t, and how dirty the walls were. The entries communicate the weird rainbow of emotions that a young person experiencing a type of sexual abuse (but doesn’t get it) goes through. If you’ve gone through such a thing, you’ll find the colors inside you matching the colors evoked by these passages. Mine matched but were not identical.

These strata from Then seismically shift as Ortiz’s post-teen, but not always necessarily adult, life crashes through. Twenty-six pages in, the first in the series of post-teen segments, all titled, “Notes on an Excavation” appears. These notes contrast Ortiz’s Thenness to both her Laterness and Nowness. The notes’ continued appearance creates a spiral that gives the reader a more whole understanding of Ortiz’s cyclical evolution. Her prose creates this effect for myriad roles: mother/daughter, child/adult, the person in pain/the person causing pain… This spiraling follows Maureen Murdock’s response to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth: the heroine’s journey. In this pattern of storytelling, the heroine makes and destroys herself and her home endlessly. This pattern is uncannily double-helixish: life-giving. Jill Soloway has written that if the hero’s journey is an arc, then the heroine’s journey is a circle. Well, Ortiz’s story demonstrates that the queer shero’s journey is a cronut.

Through her notes, Ortiz literalizes EXCAVATION’s archeological motif in lite and fluffy and deep and whoa ways. She appropriates Curious George’s adventures with shovels and pick axes and then she goes on to rattle the feminine bones brought up from Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. Claiming her queerness is key to her journey, and Ortiz fuses her identity with that of LA County’s queer Eve, the La Brea Woman. Through the LBW, Ortiz grabs her queerness by its ankles and yanks it from the sludge, wipes it off, nurtures it. The La Brea Woman is the only homo sapiens to have been dredged from the pits, and Ortiz explains that the LBW, this archetypal mystery, is, “10,000 years old. [She] is thought to have been between the ages of 17-25 when she died. Someone unearthed her, freed her body from the bitumen.” Aside from that, who knows what kind of bitch she was. The tar pits are perhaps the real and metaphorical hole(s) in EXCAVATION’s cronuticity, the void(s) into which everything falls and everything emerges, rather like the ultimate black hole that rests between Woman with a capital W’s legs. Everyone’s legs. We are all women.

AN EIGHT QUESTION INTERVIEW WITH WENDY C. ORTIZ SINCE SHE WAS AN EIGHTH GRADER AT THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK

MYRIAM GURBA: While reading EXCAVATION, I gleaned a sense of meticulousness, that the writing of your memoir was done with a meticulousness not many archeologists of the personal are capable of. Hence, I got a feeling that EXCAVATION had gone through many, many transmogrifications. Describe some of the earlier forms the book took and how it morphed into its “ultimate form.”

WENDY C. ORTIZ: The earliest form of the book was a straight chronological narrative of events. That version included nearly everything from the handwritten journals I kept during the span of time the book covers. I edited it further and further and in the last few years decided to add the dimension of the contemporary, where I/the narrator is now. Both Kevin Sampsell and Tina Morgan (my editors at Future Tense) had a large hand in winnowing down the content and helped with chapter placement.

MG: When I’m admonished not to do something, especially not to tell something, that’s exactly what I want to do. As Ivers gives you commandments not to tell, you break them verbally and scripturally. You speak and write and write and write and write about what is happening between the two of you. Why did you not heed his command? How has it felt to divulge what he intended to remain unspoken and how does it continue to feel to divulge a story rooted in secret? Did his command heat your desire to tell?

WCO: Part of not heeding his command was my own power play. I knew he couldn’t keep me from writing; the idea itself was absurd. Writing was also mine; I claimed it early and there was no way he was going to keep me from it.

The people I hold dearest in my life have known this part of my story for years, so this book, while it describes the relationship in detail, doesn’t feel like I am newly divulging. That may also be a coping mechanism I’m using to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the fact that I have a memoir out in the world, about a particular time and place when I was young and often felt powerless.

In much of my work I feel I’m divulging stories rooted in secret. There’s a chapter in the book about my Jungian analyst and how she posits that living with secrets is “my inheritance.” If secrets are my inheritance, I can use them to offer stories I haven’t read already, that at least try to go deeper into my own experience as a way to connect with others.

I can’t say his command heated my desire to tell. I’ve left “clues” in plenty of my essays, fiction and poetry over the years as I worked this book out in my head and on paper, so the desire to tell my version of the story was always present. In fact, I can say with certainty that he, the teacher, has no bearing on my telling this story now.

MG: As a teacher and a sex trauma survivor, this book was wrenching for me to read. When I was getting my teaching credential, one of my credentialing teachers introduced me to the legal concept of in loco parentis. In loco parentis kind of means that in the absence of a kid’s parents, grown ups, like teachers, who’ve been entrusted with a kid’s care serve as the kid’s stand-in parents. I remember thinking about the gravity of this responsibility and how I had better make flippin’ good choices when I became responsible for creating my own classroom universe. If we apply the concept of in loco parentis to Ivers, it reframes what he did as incest. What are your thoughts on this interpretation?

WCO: This premise makes me conscious that this particular story doesn’t tell readers about all the teachers I had whom I admired greatly, who did serve well in loco parentis. I was a kid who needed that. The word incest designates a violation related to biology as well as a violation of trust, and family. Teachers have parent-like responsibilities of protecting and guiding our children, so, while the interpretation may sound startling, I think it’s apt. And certainly if it were viewed this way by society, we might be doing more to confront these violations.

MG: In EXCAVATION you critique the Los Angeles Unified School District by writing, “It is as simple as typing ‘teacher guilty’ into a news outlet’s search field. A stream of articles featuring teachers suspected or convicted of preying on their students appears. Often, they rise to the top, becoming interesting news, even as these stories become more common.” This critique alludes to the criminal justice system’s handling of such cases but I wonder what your thoughts are on alternative forms of justice. Clearly, students’ souls get so injured by the abuse and/or failure to report sexual abuse and I’m curious about how you think restorative justice could be applied to cases where kids have been put through shit by an educator.

WCO: The concept of restorative justice is intriguing to me. If one motive of restorative justice is to help victims feel more safe, secure and find healing in the process, I have either fashioned or fallen into my own mode of restorative justice. In the book I describe tools such as therapy, feminist self-defense classes, aligning myself with communities of queer people, and even interpersonal relationships which I discovered later had their own value in helping me achieve safety, security, healing. There’s a certain amount of privilege in claiming these modes of restorative justice, though. What kind of restorative justice could we imagine for, let’s say, the kids of Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles? This is something I’ll continue to think about.

MG: Your writing style dazzles with efficient elegance. How did this style develop? Is your style the result of a lot of conscious decision-making or did your style more organically pair itself with your content?

WCO: Thank you! The style developed over time. The contemporary chapters have a slightly different voice, but one that doesn’t split too far off from the underlying voice of the more chronological telling of events. I have a lot of different voices in my different writings so it seemed important to not pair the two most divergent! There was consciousness in maintaining a certain tone, which translates into a style, so, weirdly, it feels like a combination of both decision-making and organic pairing of style plus content.

MG: EXCAVATION debuts this summer, and I think one of the most exciting things for many writers when their work “comes out” is to learn about the effects their work has on others. How do you hope EXCAVATION will affect readers? Is there anyone that you hope does not read the book? Also, do you have an “ideal reader” in mind? If so, describe this ideal!

WCO: I hope readers will come away from the book with a more dimensional understanding of how a complex situation like this one might play itself out. My hope is that there will be some discussion around adolescent girls’ access to power, agency. If a reader considered female adolescent sexuality anew after reading this, I would feel like I’ve affected someone. I’ve already had the experience of receiving emails and facebook messages from women who have been in similar circumstances, describing how eager they are to read a book that might offer the girl’s version of events.

My ideal reader is anyone who is curious, open, and interested in learning about experiences outside of their own.

MG: One of my favorite questions to ask artists and writers and stuff is the influence question but in order to twist that line of inquiry, I’m gonna ask a variation. What influences have you abandoned? What influences on your work do you see emerging?

WCO: I like your twist and it’s made me see that it’s difficult for me to abandon influences. There are plenty of writers and other artists who’ve influenced me at different points in my life who I don’t feel so directly influenced by now. And yet the evidence of their influence is in my older work, and might even be spotted in an unconscious word choice or sentence structure I use now. If pressed, though, I would say that I’m in the process of abandoning all influences that would keep my writing in “safe” territory. I’m much more interested in writing what are my harder, darker truths, which often involves an element of risk, an influence I’ve been working with more consciously since the beginning of the year when I read a peer’s work, my heart leaped into my throat and I knew I needed to go the route I’d been afraid to go with this next stage of writing.

MG: There are many ways to be a feminist. One way is to serve as a literary feminist. How does your lived experience with feminism impact and/or intersect with your work as a literary human being? How do you balance being a good writer with being a good human being?

WCO: One of my mentors, Eloise Klein Healy, has influenced how I feel I serve as a literary feminist. I’ve known her for 14 years now and have observed how she operates in the world among her colleagues, friends, and students. She’s modeled, for me, a way of being in the literary world, starting from a place of openness, inclusivity, curiosity, warmth, generosity. Eloise is rooted in feminism.

When I was living in Olympia and becoming rooted in third wave feminism, I looked for ways to underline the intersections between my feminist identity and my literary identity, whether it was in small writing groups with other women, participating in feminist conventions like Foxfire, reading at the first Ladyfest. When I took the reins of a small handbound literary journal passed on to me by another writer, I considered myself a feminist editor, from procuring the work that would go into the journal, to sitting in my living room hand-binding all 100 copies of each issue. It was a natural progression to start organizing readings with a friend once I was back in Los Angeles. I too feel rooted in feminism so it feels present in any project I’m involved in.

If we agree that being a good writer and a good human being in part involve some measures of openness, inclusivity, curiosity, warmth, and generosity, both in writing and in relationships with others, I assume I’m maintaining some sort of balance. I don’t know “how” I balance the two, but I do know that trying to do it seems to require consciousness, self-care, and a respect for my own work. I hope I’m succeeding.

To order a signed copy of EXCAVATION go to Powell’s. Also, you can catch Ortiz read during her upcoming tour.

Baruch Porras-Hernandez on Taco Trucks, Mermen & The Lack of POC in Game of Thrones

Virgie Tovar, Radar’s Managing Director, is OBSESSED with Baruch Porras-Hernandez. Read their convo below. Baruch will be reading on July 8 for the Radar Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library, 6-8pm. Click here to view the Facebook event page.

Virgie:  So whatchya reading on the 8th?

Baruch: You know, unless I’m asked for requests (which I do take actually, well, nothing is guaranteed, but I do take suggestions) I normally bring three sets to choose from. I gauge how the audience is feeling and right before I go on stage I make a gut decision.

Virgie: Talk about 1 or 2 or 3 themes that are really salient in your work.

Baruch: Mermen, Taco Trucks, my brother, Mexico, sex, and bodies. I feel we are so freaking rough on our bodies, and I often feel like I fail to fully express that in my work, so it is a constant work in progress. I like exploring the timelessness of the gay queer homo, I try to play with images of Adam and Steve, to gay cavemen being frozen in time while having sex in a cave. The first bar to have gay men weep in it, to gay guys searching for love in futuristic post-apocalyptic fallen cities. I also like writing about Frida Kahlo and donuts.

Virgie: OMG I love taco trucks and Frida and donuts! So, we share a similar interest in the discussion of bodies in our work. Bodies feature prominently in your poetry. Can you talk about why and how.

Baruch: I feel our bodies are such powerful and yet absurd things. We are so rough on our bodies, it angers me that we’ve spent so many centuries shaming, hiding, destroying them – especially the female identified body. Inspired by some of my hero writer/performers like Sonya Rene Taylor and Denise Jolly, I began to explore my own relationship with my body and that sparked Notes From My BackFat. Instead of hating my body I decided to have a conversation with it, turns out all my parts had something to say, those voices have helped me love myself more.

Virgie: Actually Michelle and I were on the bus yesterday after getting a massive sandwich at Molinari’s and I asked her what she’d want to ask you and here’s what she said: how has being part of open mic culture influenced your writing?

Baruch: A lot. So many snobby asshat writers scoff at even the thought of an open mic. Usually those people’s writing will put an audience to sleep. I know that criticism stems from fear in the weakness in their work, but open mic culture keeps you on your toes. Sometimes I go to an open mic just to read something new, raw, and I seek a nurturing open mic audience for that. Sometimes I go to test myself as a performer, so I go to the open mics where the audiences need more for you to wow them, and if I end up bombing or putting them to sleep, I know I gotta go home and work harder. I do have to state though, that I’ve done the work to find a place where I only let the audience or open mic audience influence my work so much, or half way, I guess what I’m trying to say is, being part of open mic culture has greatly influenced how I work on my writing, but I feel I’ve done a pretty good job and not letting it affect my writing.  

Virgie: Favorite artisanal dessert?

Baruch: I will wrestle a wolf for some fancy tiramisu. And I will punch a wolf in the face for a well made mango mousse. Just kidding, I would never harm a majestic creature, unless they’re like a big human silver daddy that identifies as a wolf when doing sex fantasy play and he asks me politely to punch him in the face, then I would, then let him watch me eat some mousse.

I’m a sucker for good plain old-fashioned cheesecake with some bitter black coffee.

My mother used to make me a lime ice cream cheesecake dessert every year for my birthday. One day I pissed her off and she swore to never make it again. She has kept her word for the past 13 years, and I miss it extremely. I mean it was an out of this world dessert that she came up with herself, so epic, that when I visited with my cousin who I hadn’t seen in 20 years she said, “does your mom still make that lime dessert she made up? I still remember it, it is the most delicious memory I have of our childhood in Mexico.” She was crushed when I told her my mother no longer made it. Never disappoint a Mexican woman.

Virgie:  OMG I totally would have said tiramisu too! Also, agree re: disappointing Mexican women. OK, if an actor were going to play you in your biopic who would it be and why?

Baruch: He’d have to gain like 60 pounds but, Demian Bichir! The why part – I honestly have never seen a Latino actor who looks like me in Hollywood. He is the Mexican actor that comes the closest, he’d have to grow a thicker beard, and eat a lot of donuts, but with a belly and more meat on his bones, he’d look like me, I think.

Damien Bichir

Virgie:  Damien’s pretty hot but you’re hotter. Speaking of.. I’m currently obsessed with not only you but also Game of Thrones. It took a while to get over some of the betrayal and all the brutal and gratuitous torture, but now I can totally eat nachos while I watch it. Thoughts on Game of Thrones?

Baruch: Aw, man, here comes confession time, just for you Virgie Tovar, I have never watched more than 4 minutes of Game of Thrones. I’ve tried, so many times, and could not get past 3 minutes, I know everyone is going to hate me for this, but it does not interest me, I thought it would be good to come clean. It’s hard for me to get excited about a show where people of color are completely missing from the main character line up, I mean this show has more dragons than people of color up in them castles. I’m more excited about Michone from Walking Dead. I’m more excited about Adventure Time. I’m more excited about the comic book Saga, yes they are aliens, with horns and wings, but the main characters are aliens with horns and wings that are drawn to look like people of color, (eh, they look like hipster Latinos, but hey, I’LL TAKE HIPSTER LATINOS!). I also have never been able to sit through an episode of MadMen, Girls, and How I Met Your Mother.

Virgie: That’s real. The dragons critique is tres on point. Thanks, Baruch!

Baruch Porras-Hernandez is a writer, performer, and organizer, based in San Francisco. He has performed his writing all over California, and featured at shows in Washington D.C., NYC, and Canada. His poetry appears in Aim for the Head anthology of Zombie Poetry, –Write Bloody Publishing, Divining Divas – Lethe Press, Flicker and Spark Queer Poetry Anthology –Low Brow Press, Tandem – Bicycle Comics Press, Sparkle and Blink -Quiet Lightning Press, and is forth coming in Multiverse, anthology of Superhero Poetry, also with Write Bloody Publishing. For the past 5 years he’s been the curator and head organizer for The San Francisco Queer Open Mic and regularly puts together literary shows and festivals, most recently the ¿Donde Esta Mi Gente? festival of Latino Poetry and Spoken Word. He has been a resident artist at the spoken word program at the Banff Center in Alberta Canada, and the A.I.R. Program at The Garage, a Space for Performance Art, in San Francisco. He was born in Toluca, Mexico and grew up in Albany, California. baruchporrashernandez.wordpress.org

 

 

Eileen Writes About Step Back (+So Many Photos!)

 

Eileen (Radar’s intern), Michelle and Dashiell before the tour

We here at Radar were super curious about what exactly a 19 year old queer Mills undergrad from New York thought of and learned from our June 21 event Step Back: A Walking & Reading Tour of Queer Old North Beach. So we asked our intern, Eileen (read more about her and her favorite pizza.. maybe nachos.. toppings at the end of this blog). The walk was led by historian, Nan Boyd, and at each stop we got a lil history and a reading or performance from one of Radar’s favs: Kat Marie Yoas, Raquel Gutierrez, LOL McFiercen, Rhiannon Argo, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Mason J and Maryam Rostami. Over 100 people showed up and we filled the streets of North Beach with the sound of raucous history nerdery, sequined gowns and neon.

Text & (most) Photos by Eileen Sochias

If you didn’t attend RADAR’s Step Back event this Saturday, you might be a bad homo. It was like those “historic” class trips you took in eighth grade except that it was actually entertaining and not in Philadelphia. Also the people on the walking tour were actually excited, probably because the tour didn’t bore you to tears (and there were no duck boats). So maybe more along the lines of some touristy event except there were at least a few native San Franciscans in the group so we weren’t Americans-in-Paris kind of obnoxious. The performers were what made the event more than just another historic tour; there was everything from drag queens to a hilarious comedian and even a stripper (first stripper experience by the way). If I didn’t have such crippling social anxiety I would say it was the only way I would have wanted to spend my Saturday.

However, a hundred people squashed into a bar in the city is one step down from standing-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff kind of terrifying for me, even if most of the people were queer and attractive. But stepping outside your box is good for you, or something. Kat Marie Yoas (who performed “The Lesbian’s Guide to Self Care”) hit the nail on the head when in describing Californians she pointed out that the second thing you’re asked around here after “what’s your name?” is “what’s your sign?” and usually with a more intense curiosity. I always thought this was kind of funny; the South has Baptists, and California has the Zodiac. It was performers like these that made the tour a perfect blend of queer history and modern representations of the fruitions of this history.

Things I learned:

-SF claims itself home of the first GoGo dancing. (Haha what? people have been moving naked since the dawn of time.)

-The first gay bar in SF was started in the 30’s.

-Lots of cops were paid off to keep gay bars in business.

-These bars were a place for queer visibility.

-Eye of the tiger (the actual Survivor video, not the Rocky one) was filmed around the streets of where we were in North Beach.

In all seriousness, it was an amazing thing to hear about history that I actually identify with. To an extent, you can identify with any history in that all of it is human, but where you can claim the history of a people is an interesting topic to ponder. I am certainly not native to San Francisco, but I am queer and to be able to hear about the history that led up to me being there at that exact moment, listening to this specific group of people talk and share ideas was special. It was a very respectful and interactive reflection upon San Francisco’s role in queer history (queer women’s history in particular) and will probably serve in stark contrast to the pride events I will be embarking upon this weekend.

The 110 people takeover of North Beach!

Raquel Gutierrez performs at Specs, formerly the Twelve Adler
Nan Alamilla Boyd, historian and author of Wide Open Town, leads our tour
Kat Marie Yoas
Rhiannon Argo, author of Girls I’ve Run Away With, reads on the stage of Garden of Eden – the former site of lesbian bar in the 1940s
Lil Miss Hot Mess performs at Hole in the Wall Coffee

Meet Eileen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eileen feels really weird about writing about herself in third person. She currently attends Mills College and is going into her second year. She is interested in words, speaking them, singing them, writing them and reading them, she can even read a few in French. She is anxious most of the time and would almost always like to be eating nachos. She is also from New York. She is also wondering if this is what a bio looks like.

Three favorite pizza toppings:

-Cheese   -Guacamole  -Jalapeños… On second thought, I am describing nachos.

SAMUEL ACE Talks To JULIANA SPAHR + DAVID BUUCK

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Poet Samuel Ace spoke to Juliana Spahr and David Buuck about their collaborative new book, An Army of Lovers (City Lights), on the verge of its release and their subsequent reading at The RADAR Reading Series this Tuesday, October 15th.

SAMUEL ACE:  Juliana – back in your 2001 book /Everybody’s Autonomy/, you talked about “the communities that works encourage… ” Now, in 2013, for both of you, how have your perceptions of writers and their communities, changed? Do you see an evolution? Are you hopeful or discouraged?

JULIANA SPAHR: I don’t know. That book feels so out of date to me that I can’t stand to look at it. That said, community formations still feel crucial to me to understand how poetry and other than realist fiction circulate in the US. And I don’t think you can understand literature without understanding these networks. I’m neither hopeful nor discouraged about this. It just seems an obvious fact.

SAMUEL ACE: Who are the writers/thinkers who motivated your own thinking about community and poetry?

DAVID BUUCK: This would make for an impossibly long list, from Antigone to Marx to Stein to Cesaire, from third-world revolutionaries to European anarchists to Cultural Front artists to feminist performance artists to avant-garde jazz to Latin American novelists to postcolonial theorists to contemporary poets to our comrades in the recent political movements in Oakland to to to…

SAMUEL ACE: You both teach at the college level in California. And both of you have considered deeply the problematic relationship of the academy to the practice of poetry. Could you talk about some of the methods you use with your students to engage them and their work beyond the academy?

JULIANA SPAHR:  At the most simple level, I start each graduate class by having everyone share what sorts of poetry events they went to in the last week. I’m trying to suggest they should go to something without mandating it. It often doesn’t work. But sometimes it does.

DAVID BUUCK: I teach composition (and not poetry) but still use so-called creative writing techniques to investigate all kinds of questions both inside and outside the classroom.


SAMUEL ACE: The “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry” chapter reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and his meeting with the writer Nick Green. As Green becomes more and more inebriated, he starts to make sweeping, negative and gossipy comments about the poets and poetic practices of his time. Orlando, hoping to be initiated by a ‘true’ poet, has most, if not all, of his projections shattered about the nature of writers, and the art of poetry, especially after his aspirations are cruelly (and publicly) made fun of by Green. In your chapter as well, poetry and the poets who make poetry (especially avant-garde poetry) are roasted and satirized by their own drunken attempts to find meaning in what they are doing. Could you talk more about these characters and the project/projections of contemporary poetry?

JULIANA SPAHR: We thought of this piece, which keeps the realist fiction form of Raymond Carver and just puts different words in the mouths of each character, less as a roast and more as playful investigation. We don’t hate the Carver, in other words. And we don’t hate the avant garde either. But are more fascinated by the limitations and possibilities of both Carver-esque realism and the avant garde.

SAMUEL ACE: I know that both of you are at Santa Cruz at the Revolution and/or Poetry Conference. What are your expectations for the weekend, or, if you are looking at this post-conference, are you energized or disillusioned or both and why?

JULIANA SPAHR + DAVID BUUCK: Cautiously energized. Somewhat in love. Hoping it will lead to new and better forms of transnational solidarity. Planning to fly over for the next big UK antagonism and follow Sean Bonney around. Planning to work harder to extend the work (both artistic and political) beyond the local scenes and movements. Planning to have a less  blinkered view of the world.

SAMUEL ACE: The collaborative process between Demented Panda and Koki is at the core of the book – their earnest meetings at a border land over an entire summer, their individual practices and stutters, their connection to their bodies and their own writing and/or art practices (and how those practices might literally be sickening them). In the title chapter at the end of the book, something fantastical (dare I say /transcendent/?) happens as the result of a spell they use in their last ditch effort to make something happen in their collaboration. That spell seems to owe much to CA Conrad’s somatic(s) practice, as well as other incantatory practices. Could you talk about what happens here in reference to all that comes before? And what is finally left here for poetry?

JULIANA SPAHR + DAVID BUUCK: This story might be saying, as most of the book might be saying, that as much as you talk about how poetry doesn’t do much, it does do some things. Although these things it does might not necessarily be nice or comforting. At the least the book seems to be saying that poetry might possibly fuck up your body. And it seems to also suggest that it might lead you astray and into the war machine, whether you like it or not. But yes to the debt to CA Conrad. For sure. I’d add that that chapter grew out of various hypnotherapy templates, which are an interesting form of language use, just weird and new-agey enough to befit our anti-heroes in their quest to find new multitudes with which to merge.

SAMUEL ACE: (I asked two writer friends here in Tucson what they would like to ask you both if they had the chance. Here are their questions):

What are the characteristics of an interesting work on-site? What makes a particular site worthwhile for attention? What factors go into a successful performance/ interaction on site – and what’s an alternative way of valuing an interaction in lieu of any kind of record?

DAVID BUUCK: Any site could be potentially interesting for art and/or intervention, though as we discovered (and is somewhat lampooned in the first chapter), this doesn’t mean it is easy, or that all site-work (writing, performance, actions, whatever) will necessarily make for *good* or interesting results.

Who is your /we/?

DAVID BUUCK: Our we is utopian, an impossible yet necessary aspiration (if it is to move beyond two friends to some kind of revolutionary collective) and in the book we hope that by the end this we becomes expansive and alive, if however unwieldy and unpredictable as any army of lovers would be in our time—

Samuel Ace is the author of three collections of poetry: Normal Sex (Firebrand Books), Home in three days. Don’t wash., a hybrid project of poetry, video and photography (Hard Press), and most recently Stealth, co-authored with Maureen Seaton (Chax Press). He is a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, two-time finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Poetry, winner of the Astraea Lesbian Writer’s Fund Prize in Poetry, The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award in Poetry. His work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in or is forthcoming from, Ploughshares, Eoagh, Spiral Orb, , Kenyon Review, van Gogh’s Ear, Rhino, 3:am, Trickhouse, The Volta, and others. He lives in Tucson, AZ and Truth or Consequences, NM.

Juliana Spahr + David Buuck read alongside Phoebe Gloeckner, Holly Hughes and Jerry Stahl at The RADAR Reading Series / LitQuake Edition Tuesday, October 15th at the San Francisco Public Library.

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