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 That book feels so out of date to me that I can’t stand to look at it.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.
In Real Man Adventures, T Cooper interrogates and explores his experiences of being a trans man, both personally and in community. A collection of essays and interviews, dotted with clip art, it is a book with the feel of a ‘zine – uber-personal, unafraid to expose self-doubt and fear, illustrated with hand-drawn graphs and photos. The book is threaded with haiku-like six-word memoirs, actual haikus, interviews with the parents of his trans male friends, tributes to admired writers, pictures of shirtless trans men with unicorn heads, lists of short men, an in-depth investigation to when men pee sitting down and why, and interviews with his own wife and brother. It is by turns absurdly hilarious and upsetting (the piece about trying to get a passport captures that gamut of emotion perfectly), and here is a Lookbook I made for it:
Hear T Cooper at the RADAR Reading Series Wednesday, February 6th with Nicole J Georges, Amrit Donaldson and Arisa White. San Francisco Public Library, Latino Reading Room, 6pm, Free.
Shawna Elizabeth is a PhD Candidate specializing in Queer Theory. Some
of her writing can be found online at femmetheory.com and she has also
been a Guest Blogger for Ironing Board Collective
She is originally from Canada.
Over the next few months Nicole J. Georges, zinester, illustrator, and pet portrait artist extraordinaire will be leaving her home in Portland, Oregon to tour extensively in support of her recently published graphic novel memoir Calling Dr. Laura. Nicole took some time out before her whirlwind reading schedule to answer some questions for the RADAR Blog.
When did you start making autobiographical comics?
I believe my first autobiographical comics were in high school. I drew comics about my teenage life living with Beija (who is still my live-in muse). I drew them using really thin Crayola markers on a stupid Crayola pad. I published those in my zine at the time, which was embarassingly called “Kitten Breath”.
I started doing Invincible Summer, my long-standing autobiographical comic, in 2000, when I moved to Portland. I do NOT use Crayola markers any more, but I do still draw comics about myself and Beija. (Note: Beija is Nicole’s beagle/corgi/shar pei mix).
What are the advantages of storytelling and documenting your life in this medium?
I am able to draw scenarios much more quickly and efficiently than I would be able to write them. It is easier for me to draw the expressions of everyone in the room reacting to something than it would be for me to write an entire page describing what each person was wearing and how their faces looked when they heard this or that.
What other autobiographical comics, or graphic novel memoirs have inspired you?
Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler, Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner, and anything by Julie Doucet. I am excited for Geneviève Castrée’s new book, which will undoubtedly be a new inspiration. I love her work.
Explain some of the work you do teaching others to use zines and comic strips as a form of self-expression and documentation. Why do you feel this is important for you as an artist and educator?
I teach children and adults about comics and zines as my day job. I am a teaching artist, going into elementary and middle schools, and I also teach adults for a good portion of the year through the Independent Publishing Resource Program’s Comic Certificate Program.
I believe in empowerment through self-expression.
With young people, I want to introduce them to the idea that comics don’t have to be fiction, or about super-heroes, and that their lives are interesting and unique. Creating media that reflects your viewpoint, and sharing that media with the world, can be life changing for those who discover it.
I remember the first time I saw a picture of lesbians with buzz-cuts kissing in a zine and I almost lost my mind. As a teenager in Kansas, it made me feel understood, not so alone, and willing to wait out the hard years when I found representations of people like me in zines and books. I want to recreate that experience for young people.
In my spare time I volunteer with senior citizens once a week. I have been doing it for six years. I make a zine about them called Tell It Like It Tiz, which is full of interviews and drawings, photos and comics about the seniors in question. They are like family to me. Grouchy family, of course. I just received a grant through RACC (the Regional Art and Culture Council) to create a book based on our zine work together.
I saw you present a slideshow of material where you told the story of calling the Dr. Laura show a few years ago at Sister Spit in Portland, OR. Were you already working on the book at that time? Did the book evolve from material from your zine Invincible Summer?
I have been working on the book since 2007, when I first started reading a story about Dr. Laura on Sister Spit. I thought I was going to be finished with the book in time for the 2010 tour (that was the plan), but at the last minute there were some publishing hijinks and it was not ready for press. It required an additional year and a half of editing, which I didn’t know at the time. I went on tour anyway, because it was already planned, and I read bits of the book because I truly believed it would be out soon.
Some of the stories in the book are things I touched on in Invincible Summer but I started stringing them together into a longer, cohesive narrative in 2007.
How did touring with Sister Spit and going on the Radar LAB Retreat influence your creative process and progress on the book?
Sister Spit changed my entire life! I traveled the country reading my Dr. Laura Story in 2007, and this is how I met my literary agent who helped me to sell the story to a major publisher. I would not have made that connection if it weren’t for Sister Spit. Sister Spit also constantly introduces me to new, exciting performers and writers. Each year I find a new favorite author.
I worked on the book at the Radar LAB, and got advice and support from my fellow writers. The nice thing about Radar is that it encourages writers to support each other, and it offers young writers the opportunity to work with more established authors, tour their work to audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have accessed, and to have a space (a NICE space) to work on their writing in a hive of like minded individuals who all want the best for their project. What a dream!
I am so glad that RADAR exists.
How would you summarize the plot of the book?
When I was 23, my friend bought me a palm reading for my birthday. The palm reader flipped over my hand, and within about 5 minutes revealed that my father was alive. This was odd, because I’d been told he was dead my entire life.
I kept this information to myself, met a girl who encouraged me to ask my family about it, and that is the beginning of the book. It follows my relationship with that girl, with my family, and leads us up to the point where I call none other than Dr. Laura Schlessinger herself for advice.
It seems like the book reveals some personal information about your family, how do they feel about it now that they have read it?
One of my sisters has read it and really likes it and is proud of me, and happy that I revealed the truth. The rest of my family is letting it lay, which I think is a good idea. In general, they know I was in a very unique, incomprehensible situation with all of this Dad deception, and they support me working through it however I can. I made an effort to change their names and obscure their identities so that hopefully the book can stay in the comic realm, and doesn’t cross too far into their day-to-day lives. I love and respect all of my family members depicted in the book.
How did you make the leap from self-publishing your comic book zine to publishing with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? What were the biggest surprises and challenges working with a major publisher?
I met a literary agent while I was on the 2007 Sister Spit Tour, and she really liked the Dr. Laura Story I was reading on tour. She wanted to know more, what happened with my family, and asked if I would consider adapting the story into a graphic memoir. I had a lot more to say, and this story meant a lot to me, so I was delighted to give it a shot. It turned out to be a life-changing experience, both personally and artistically. Working on the book helped me discover truths about my family that I otherwise wouldn’t have broached. It also helped me learn (the hard way) about things like layout, consistency, and working with a professional editor for the first time.
One of the most valuable experiences in all of this was getting to work with an editor and get feedback on stories to make them better, and more accessible for readers.
What’s the story behind the giant chicken on the cover of the book?
It shouldn’t have been that giant, but I was so fried by the end of the book, that when it came to the cover, I think I drew the chicken too big, but I couldn’t bear to go back and change it by the time I figured it out. So big chicken it is!
The book is full of chickens. I had chickens in the book, and was devastated by the loss of one of them in the story.
What are your current creative projects and what are your plans for the future?
I am about to go on a gigantic book tour with Cassie J. Sneider, so that is my current project- emailing every person in the known universe and asking if I can read to them.
I would like to do a book of autobiographical comic stories about my misadventures with animals. I would also like to find a way to go visit real life chimpanzees in Africa, or orangutans in Guatemala. I just really like them. I would like to draw them and find a way to make a difference in their lives through art. Maybe highlighting deforestation, poaching, or the entertainment industry. Something fun like that.
For details about Nicole’s upcoming appearances visit http://beijamon.tumblr.com
She’ll also be reading at The RADAR Reading Series on Feb. 6th!
A much-overlooked bonus of having a job as a model is getting TONS of time to read! When most people think of a model’s duties, they think of sitting for hair and makeup, being dressed in amazing clothes and flying on aeroplanes to glamourous locales across the globe. But guess what? These are all activities that go GREAT with reading books! I personally can’t sit still with nothing to do without having a book to stick my face in – with all those hours hanging around backstage and on the set, a model’s life is clearly a living nightmare without literature! Also, reading is my most favorite thing to do because you can do it while doing all my other favorite things – getting pampered, wearing outfits and traveling internationally! While you might think that becoming a writer, publisher, editor, teacher, librarian or arts administrator might be the ultimate job for book worms, I say no. Being a model is much better paying and allows for maximum reading hours and the purchase of any book you ever want for the rest of your life. Think about it. Also, fishtail braids are so pretty.
People think models are dumb because everyone hates women. Period. Our culture insists that women be beautiful, and then when they go and make being beautiful a career, it tells them they’re stupid. Also, The Great Gatsby is classic fashion literature. I can still picture in my mind the white, flowey outfits the ladies are wearing as they lounge in the parlor, and obviously it’s inspired a million collections and editorials, not to mention the wedding of two of the most fashionable writers I know, Thomas McBee and Michael von Braithwaite.
Something many misogynists and feminists can agree upon is that an interest in fashion is for morons. When I published my book It’s So You (I didn’t give it that title, BTWs) which is full of women like Kim Deal, Sandra Tsing Loh and Eileen Myles writing about fashion, some people thought it semenax magicsexlife was super weird of me, because I am famously feminist or whatever. So dopey! But fashion is a great place to talk and think about class, race and gender, and you can still love the clothes while you’re doing it. Just like with any other kind of art! Now, onward.
Backstage at Marni 2005 – an especially brainy line, dontcha think?
Striped shirts and JD Salinger: Classics.
This model is like, ‘Sorry Jules, but try around the world in 30 days, okay? ‘Cause that’s my life!’
Um, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but whatever.
And America’s Next Top Model commits yet another crime against women and models!
She just finished reading it, okay?
That one model is SO PISSED that none of these books represent her life experiences, she’s sick of it! And that other model is just pulling out her hair with frustration with the straight white male literary canon!
I would recommend Look at Me By Jennifer Egan and Veronica By Mary Gaitskill if you’re hankering for amazing books that show models to be the complex and sophisticated women they surely must be.
I spend a lot of time reading a book with my cellie on my lap in case any texts come in, too! But I’m usually not getting a strip of hair sewn into my head.
Lily better not be committing the major bookstore crime of looking for what books you want in an in actual bookstore and then going off and downloading the electronic version! Providing she is not guilty of this very serious infraction, I will say that considering the heavy travel schedule of a model, they are excused for having Kindles.
Downtime with literature and flip flops. As models are excused for owning Kindles, they are also off the hook for the occasional non-beach wearing of flip flops, considering what their job requires them to stomp around in.
If you liked all this, you’ll love the I HOPE ironically named Tumblr Models Can’t Read, where many of these photos were filched from.
Chase Joynt is a filmmaker, writer and performer who is coming all the way from Toronto to present some work at RADAR tomorrow. Which means that tomorrow’s RADAR will be INTERNATIONAL! So great! I caught Chase’s film Akin at Frameline this year and guess what? It was very poetic, perhaps even hauntingly so. Chase’s most recent visual production is more on the hilarious side, a book trailer for his in-the-works MAN LIBS, a memoir in the form of Mad Libs! I talked to Chase about his project here, come check him out at RADAR with Susan Straight, Michael Warr and fellow Canadian Mariko Tamaki!
Michelle Tea: What was the inspiration for a Mad Libs memoir?
Chase Joynt: In some ways, the fill-in-the-blank format of MAN LIBS is a direct response to what I experience as the fill-in-the-blank nature of how some/many/most trans narratives are told. How often do we hear a story that starts with “I always knew I was a (gender)…” and/or concludes with “I would like to thank my (nickname for a parent) for my intimacy issues.” I think those statements and sentiments can be true, but I also think that revealing the form asks the reader to question various parts. As much as the content of MAN LIBS is about me and my life, the format allows the details to quickly become about the reader, and/or if I’ve done it right, about (a famous 90’s sitcom star).
MT: What is the larger story inside that you’re telling?
CJ: I think MAN LIBS might actually be about the smaller stories. As a trans person, I so often feel like my life/experiences/identity get truncated by other story telling machines (medicine, media, melodrama), and as such I use this project as a way to tell stories about other things.
MT: Were you super into Mad Libs as a kid?
CJ: Actually, no! But I was super into playing soccer, wearing tuxedos, and doing karaoke in my basement for an audience of no one.
CJ: MAN LIBS is a book that VolumePills you will be able to read like any other airport-available-paperback-
MT: Are there any books that tell their story non-traditionally that you love or were inspiring for you?
CJ: I feel inclined to google a non-traditionally formatted book in order to appear like I have done my research, but then I worry that the plethora of other things on the Internet will interrupt my flow. I believe that artists who endeavor to break form create opportunities for others to emerge; writers like James Baldwin and Dorothy Allison, filmmakers like Mike Hoolboom and TV lesbians like Ellen DeGeneres, just to name a few.
MT: What else are you working on?
CJ: I fly out of San Francisco immediately after RADAR to install a solo exhibition of my work at Access Gallery in Vancouver, which opens on September 7th. Back at home, I’m in pre-production for my next film STEALTH, which is being made in collaboration with Alexis Mitchell, a Toronto-based genius. I’m also writing my comprehensive exams for my PhD, so if you ever have trouble sleeping at night, feel free to ask me to elaborate on that more extensively.
MT: What are you reading right now?
CJ: I’m reading The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin. I also just got back from a cottage wherein I read every issue of US Magazine available to me.
MT: What will you be showing/reading at RADAR?
CJ: I’m going to read/run a chapter of MAN LIBS called ‘On San Francisco’. If for some reason that decision starts to feel too “vulnerable” and/or “specific”, I might read the chapter called ‘On Los Angeles’; because nothing screams reading at RADAR like a good lesbian coming of age story from the lips of a Canadian transsexual.
MT: All right! I’m excited!
Catch Chase Joynt with Susan Straight, Michael Warr and Mariko Tamaki at The RADAR Reading Series, Wednesday, September 5th (tomorrow!) at the San Francisco Public Library. 6pm, free!
I woke up this morning and realized I left my xeroxed copy of poems from Maggie Nelson’s Jane in the bathroom at the Panera Bread. Being on tour with Sister Spit has utterly stripped me of my snobbishness and good anti-capitalist common sense in regard to certain chain establishments. When you are on the road in the middle of America and you see a Panera Bread, you rejoice, because it means you don’t have to eat at Subway. Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, this is how I feel about the Panera Bread. I am sure there are swell places to eat in town, but they’re not near my hotel. Near my hotel is a YMCA, a movie theater, a Panera and a Starbucks, and I’m psyched about all of them. I had not one but two double iced lattes from Starbucks yesterday. It was hot.
Walking around Lincoln yesterday made me think about how America is in trouble. I think this a lot of tour, too, driving through the country and stopping at a lot of the smaller cities, especially in the middle of the place. Lincoln has some nice old western buildings – especially, I’m told, in the Haymarket district – and the capitol building is pretty glorious, topped, as my new friend Claire told me, with “A penis. And on top of the penis is a statue of a man, sowing seeds. I swear.” It is true that the Capitol Building is pretty phallic:
But it’s still a nice building, and harkens back to a time before the downtown was so empty, right? My walk down O Street in search of a thrift store felt downright spooky. Is O Street haunted by the ghosts of the closed-up shops? There is a bar housed in what appears to have once been a department store, with those wide, glass doors. There is a church housed in what appears to have once been a fast-food restaurant, with the chairs all lined up there in the giant windows. There was a lot of camaraderie in the Family Thrift Center, and some good .99 jewelry, but browsing the racks of second-hand Dress Barn blouses I felt powerfully sad and suddenly missed my Mom, wished I was shopping with her at the Goodwill in Florida. My Mom is the only person who can drink more coffee than me and thrift harder than me. I scooted back to the lush, green optimism of the University of Nebraska campus and pledged I would not leave it again whilst in Lincoln! I don’t know when I got so sensitive to the vibes of locations, but it seems to get more intense as I get older.
Living in San Francisco, where people are struggling yet still are able to spend hours of their days in line for a pastry or a scoop of ice cream, you don’t quite get the sense of alarm that I see while watching the news from the elliptical machine at 24 Hour Fitness, but out here you can really feel that America is kind of over. I walked behind a man hand-delivering a sandwich somewhere, wearing some humiliating shirt about how quickly he’ll deliver your sandwich, and remembered driving through Philadelphia with Mark Rudd, the former Weather Underground rabblerouser, now a math teacher in New Mexico. He wrote a memoir and we were both at this festival, and he was staring at all the closed-up factories, talking about how he used to live and work in them, there in Philadelphia, and what do people do for work now that all the manufacturing is gone? “Make sandwiches at Subway?” He asked, distraught. Yeah, or deliver them on foot.
The campus is really pretty with rows of lavender and echinacea and trees everywhere and random giant pieces of art. It totally triggered the I-want-to-go-to-college! whine that occasionally sounds off inside me, which I think is just a longing to live in a stately brick building surrounded by greenery that is paid for by parents or some institution I won’t have to reckon with until I’m grown-up, which may never happen! I like this giant rusty thing that stands in front of the building where I am teaching a writing class in the basement. There was a point in the afternoon when it was filled with shadows and a bunch of students sat inside it, leaning against it or sprawled across the ground.
I love ye olde bathrooms with wooden doors and tile and marble and whatnot! I could live in this bathroom! Anyway, my writing class is awesome, there are two women who argued over who was the oldest, and the title went to a 72-year-old Aquarius in a funky shirt writing about being a little girl and listening to FDR’s Fireside Chats. The other older lady is a former journalist – a ‘newspaper person’ – who put a pair of wire-rimmed glasses over her wire-rimmed glasses to read us her short story. The story was great and the doubled-up glasses were oddly chic and had me lapsing into fashion shoot fantasies. There are younger people, too, and as promised by Claire the queers were there, and shared excellent pieces about class and sex and violence, and there are even some poets reading poetry, which is why I am bringing in Ali Liebegott’s The Beautifully Worthless today, as well as Maggie Nelson, if they are holding onto it for me at the Panera and I bet they are because this town is full of Good People.
After class I was on a panel about being a queer writer, with Timothy Schaffert, who is running the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference this year, and Emily Danforth – who had a deservedly easy selling her super gay coming-of-age novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post to Harper Collins and is predicting a bit of a moment for queer YA novels, which is so exciting – and Dan Madden, whose book The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy also covers human taxidermy,profiling the grotesque Bodies exhibits and revealing that the bodies on display likely come from Chinese prisons, where 1,700 people are executed each year. Both books were totally engrossing to hear at their reading later that night, and I bought them and am going to begin begging them both to come to San Francisco to read at RADAR! Okay, time for class.
When I got off the plane at the teeny weeny airport in Lincoln, Nebraska, I looked around for a gay person. The person who had arranged for me to teach this week at the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference is a gay, so I figured he;d be here, or one of his people and they too would probably be gay or otherwise simply a writer, in which case I also kept my eyes peeled for a nerd. The first person I saw was a guy who seemed to be looking around for something, so I caught his eye in case it was me he was looking for and tried to figure out if he was gay. But I live in San Francisco and so I know that gay people can look like anything, so I stared and stared at this man having a debate in my head about what it even means to ‘look gay’, but then I remembered the article I real in this Sunday’s New York Times about how gaydar is REAL and that you can clock a gay person in a millisecond and so I could stop staring at this man because if I didn’t register him as a gay in the first few milliseconds I was staring at him than he’s probably a straight man who thinks I want to have sex with him because I can’t stop staring at him.
And it’s true – coming down the escalator I immediately spotted a queer and knew that she had come to fetch me! I told her about the gaydar thing in the car and she said that her girlfriend had predicted I’d know from her hair that she had come to pick me up. “It’s true!” I enthuse to my host, whose name is Claire. Her hair is short, with the sides sort of shaved. “But also from your glasses, your shorts, and your Polo shirt.” Claire informed me that I am expected to fill the writerly slot that Daniel Handler filled last year, which I guess is to be the fun, charismatic writer that says shockingly witty things all the time and is routinely brilliant and hilarious. No pressure! But to be sure I have my duties understood, I ask Claire to explain what exactly Daniel did to wow everyone last year so I can plan my strategy.
“He wore a lot of eccentric pants,” She said.
Huh. I just returned a pair of very eccentric pants to Zara, because they split on the pocket seam while I was sitting gently on an airplane! And I had to fight with the manager to get my refund! My beloved, who is adept in the arts of sales and persuasions even had to jump in as the woman fingered the eccentric pants skeptically, saying, “Look, we all know they are cheaply made.” The thing is, the pants were the second garment in a row I had to return to Zara, the first being a skirt which also split on the seam as I was gently hosting a RADAR Reading! Now Zara thinks that I am a scoundrel and I think they are a scoundrel for selling cheaply made clothing and then acting all innocent and saying things like, “Well, these pants have been worn.” Why, yes! That’s what I bought them for – to be worn! Anyway.
“He also brought coffee,” Claire continued detailing the manners in which Daniel Handler was impressive. “From Phils Coffee.”
“Oh!” I jumped. “Well, I have brought coffee, too! From Sightglass – even more rarefied than Phils, I assure you!” But then I had to confess. “Actually, Daniel told me to make sure I bring my own coffee.”
“He didn’t even bother to try our coffee here in Lincoln,” Claire griped. “He just came with his own without giving us a chance. I sort of resented it, actually.” She says something dismissive about ‘San Francisco Coffee Snobs’ and I rush to explain that serious coffee addicts who are traveling to a foreign land to work must take no chances with their coffee situation and travel armed with a French Press and a pound of proven beans.
“Well, a the end of the conference he did give me the Phils he hadn’t used. Not that you have to do that,” Claire gives me a little look which means I absolutely have to give her the remainder of my Sightglass coffee should I not eat the whole pound of it, which is unlikely.
Okay, I gotta go teach! Claire said, “All the queers are taking your class,” which made me question my decision to open with work from Charles Bukowski’s memoir Ham on Rye and Chester Brown’s illustrated memoir about being a john, Paying for It. Instead I am bringing Laurie Weeks’ psychedelic, marvelous and recently Lambda Award-winning novel Zippermouth. Swilling the last of my Sightglass coffee and . . . good bye!
Hey!!!! Know what’s exciting about the SPECTACLE? EVERYTHING! Really! But right at the moment I am all revved up about our dynamite art auction! The art auction is a really important component of of annual fundraiser. I’m always blown away by the incredible pieces that are donated to us – Nan Goldin, Cathy Opie, Xyler Jane, Richard Hell – and this year it’s no different! The art auction brings in a major part of the money we need to make the Radar LAB writer’s retreat happen, AND it’s an awesome way to bring seriously brilliant art to the RADAR audience for a fraction of what it goes for in the marketplace. It’s also a joy because auctioning art triggers the same part of Ali Liebegott’s brain that enjoys gambling, so she gets really high off it and it’s a good time for everyone. So, come ready to bid! Above is an AMAZEBALLS piece by Dynasty Handbag performance artist Jibz Cameron! (All art photos taken on the fly with my cell phone – dig it!) I believe it is a weary, put-upon, hairy scrotum with bat wings; a worn-out, bad-boundaried superhero for out time! Look how bummed out Amazeballs looks, despite the triumphant banner beneath him and the little balloons of thanks and praise. With bidding starting at $50, this is a great gift for that handy person in your life who just CAN’T SAY NO!
When Tammy Rae Carland sidled up to Ali Liebegott’s truck and shadily handed over this gorgeous print, she said, “I feel like I’m making a drug deal!” Well, I felt giddy and high when I immediately tore into the wrapping and beheld this wonderful piece! The words HAPPY MOTHERS WE LOVE hanging from a ceiling against the backdrop of ornate pink vintage-y curtains – this photo just makes me really happy. It’s full of DIY family joyfulness and would be the sweetest, coolest Mom’s Day gift for a happy mother you love.
I blogged about Paul Madonna on MoMA’s Open Space blog after catching his fantastic show at the Electric Works gallery a couple years ago. Since then I’ve gotten way into his comics on SFgate and The Rumpus, had the wild pleasure of hosting him at RADAR and devoured his collected works in a City Lights collection. And now we have this giant, perfectly framed piece to auction off this evening. The above is just a detail of the larger piece – it’s a good size, an inky European landscape that tells a story of glamorous, literary ennui. My favorite kind of ennui! I love this piece!
Edie Fake is such a genius! The Gaylord Phoenix creator just showed some exuberantly sick work at our Chicago Sister Spit show some weeks ago, as well as designed our spectacular Sister Spit 2012 tour poster! And now he’s handed over this humble yet intricate piece that I am seriously salivating over. Don’t worry, I mopped up my drool. Edie Fake is the king of some new queer punk psychedelica that I am totally grooving on!
If you are not obsessed with Maira Kalman you just do not know her work. Educate thyself – she just illustrated Michael Pollan’s Food Rules her own books, And the Pursuit of Happiness and The Principles of Uncertainty are like falling down a rabbit hole of charm and whimsey and occasional tragedy – just like life but rendered so, so beautifully, in the brightest colors and with big heart. Maybe you caught her show last year at the Jewish Museum, or maybe you’ve just snagged her children’s book collaborations with Daniel Handler or David Byrne? We initially thought this sweet piece was an original watercolor (!) and lost our minds – rather, it is an incredibly high-quality, signed ink jet print that goes for $1,400 out there in the art market. I love this piece so much I got my nails done to match.
I know you are familiar with this iconic shot of our hero, Harvey Milk. Dan Nicoletta, the beloved photographer who shot this as a teen (and was later portrayed in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Milk) donated a print to our auction. It feels like not only a terrific piece of art but a real piece of history – and it is. I’m sort of jittery just sitting in the same room as it! What queer (or, like, totally awesome queer ally) wouldn’t want this hanging in their home?
That’s not all – as I type, Sara Thustra, one of my most favorite artists ever, is putting the finishing touches on a piece she’s making just for tonight. You know Sara, right? Check this out -
An installation at Needles and Pens. Sara Thustra is a world unto herself.
We’re also eagerly awaiting the UPS delivery of a piece by Amanda Kirkhuff, who we at RADAR are rabid for! Did you catch her incredible show at 2nd Floor Projects? It was mind-blowing! We don’t know what she’s sending it, we only know it will be a masterpiece.
Right? This one is called Waitress. Thank you, Amanda Kirkhuff. Okay, I got to run to Arizmendi Bakery and pick up a bunch of donated pastries for you bitches to snack on tonight! Oh – want to know some of what we’re raffling off? A bunch of books from MCSWEENEYS, multiple ACUPUNCTURE sessions, rentals from LOST WEEKEND, BURRITOS, gay flag dog blankets hand made by ALI LEIBEGOTT’S MOM, dog training classes from PAWSITIVE TAILS, gift cards from CLIFF’S VARIETY, gorgeous first editions from WAVE BOOKS, tote bags and books from CITY LIGHTS, a $75 gift card to BI RITE MARKET, PILATES or REIKI, a FRAMELINE membership, multiple family memberships to YBCA, 2 VIP season passes to HARD FRENCH, 2 year-long passes to PORCHLIGHT, and MORE! This is RADAR’s 4th-annual NO SEX TOYS raffle! We are very proud of ourselves, grateful to all who donated and psyched for the winner!
Okay, see you TONIGHT! There will be tickets AT THE DOOR, come on down!
I love Erin Markey so much, and if you don’t believe it read this essay I wrote about her for the San Francisco Film Society. I first checked her out when she traveled on the Sex Workers’ Art Show Tour, performing excerpts of her one-woman musical (yeah, musical) Puppy Love: A Strippers Tail, in which she erected a portable stripper pole and danced around it while singing poignant ballads to St. Bridgette in her amazing voice. By my count, Erin is a sextuple threat – a powerful singer, a whip-smart writer, a shockingly disarming performer, a hysterical comedian, a hypnotic actress, and a dancer to boot. And she often serves up all of these talents in one piece, leaving you gasping for air and unsure if the tears in your eyes are from laughing so hard, or . . . something else. I can’t wait to hang out in the van with this lady, and I am really excited for the mandatory karaoke stops, and just beside myself with the excitement of getting to watch her do her thing every night for a month. I’m going to be in Erin Markey heaven, and so will you! Read on!
Michelle Tea: What is your zodiac sign?
Erin Markey: Leo Sun, Leo Rising, Aries Moon
MT: What is your favorite road snack?
EM: Apples and potato chips. I would say a soy latte but I know better than to expect a good one off the freeway. Though it’s a lesson I’m willing to relearn every single day we’re on the road.
EM: The Vienna Boys Choir.
MT: What will you be doing on Sister Spit?
EM: Stuff from the musical TV series I’m spending every birthday wish on: The Dardy Family Home Movies by Stephen Sondheim by Erin Markey.
MT: What is your favorite state in the US?
EM: It is my lot in life to say Michigan.
MT: Your favorite US city?
EM: Iowa City. I just did a show with someone from Iowa and it kneaded a doughy part of my heart that ought to be put in the oven before it spoils.
MT: What book/s will you be reading in the van?
EM: I’m not gonna lie. I travel with Louise Hay because she’s a pocket mom. Also, I discovered Joan Didion really late in life when I got paid to decoratively paint the walls of her building’s lobby last summer. The doorman started telling me about when they wheeled her dead husband out on a stretcher after he had a heart attack and then a couple minutes after he told me that, Annie Leibowitz and her Vogue team came in to shoot her. I was wearing knee-length polyester softball shorts and had to pretend like I had faux-painted a million times before. I’m compelled to read everything she’s ever written now.
MT: Have you been on tour before? What was it like?
EM: Yes. With different plays and companies and with my own work, but the most intense and awesome time was with the Sex Workers Art Show Tour. It was sort of like the freeways of America were having a yogic breakthrough while we were coursing through their veins in a white cargo van. I made friends for life. I slept in a different double bed every night with the same outrageous, brilliant folks and dragged suitcases full of the stupidest, most fun costumes past Christian protesters in Virginia. Amber Dawn made her boob spray breast milk into a dance mirror in a rehearsal room. Lorelei Lee got into some serious arguments with folks in her dreams every night at 3am. Starbucks became the grossest beacon of hope and release. We all got matching travel mugs and Sharpied our names on them. We all had the flu in Vegas but we just individually pretended to ourselves that we weren’t sweating with fever so we could play the slots and have an 8 billion star meal. I learned how to paint my face. Or, actually, I just learned that I really, really should. So I really, really did, and I always ended up looking like a 2 X 3 glamour shot wedged into an electric socket. There is a reverence I have that I cannot wrassle to the ground to answer this question. God bless the seat belt.
MT: How do you prepare for a performance?
MT: Mama sings so she’s gotta do her sirens and puppy whines and scales. I also try to just get my head in whatever game the circumstances of the piece have set up. The last show I did was a Tennessee Williams play about a Vietnam soldier on leave who kind of takes his PTSD out on his wife sexually. The wife ends up liking it a lot. But it’s complicated. of course. After the 40th performance it was harder to get in the zone. None of my old tricks were tricking me any more. (I was the wife.) So I organically and accidentally got to some insane place where I imagined Tony the Tiger assaulting me in alley right before I went out on stage. But it ended up making the show so much better for me. Honestly, the more I can get to some kind of absurdist idiot psychological arena, the more sincere and realistic I can be.
See Erin Markey with Sister Spit all through April, 2012!
Catch the San Francisco Kickoff Show April 1st at 2:00pm at the San Francisco Public Library – all ages and FREE!
For complete tour dates, go here: http://www.radarproductions.org/tour/
This is Lena, one of RADAR’s terrific new interns! You might have seen her taking care of business at Femina Potens events, or perhaps Occupying Berkeley in her sleeping bag. Lena is die-hard and committed! Let’s talk to her!
MT: How do you feel about e-readers. BE HONEST NO JUDGEMENT I AM TAKING THE PULSE OF THE YOUNGER GENERATION.
What will you be doing for RADAR?
Publicity, graphic design, reading manuscripts, stressing out about blogging, blogging.