Some Notes on Touring, so Far
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, May 2007
A love letter to LA, sort of
Growing up in Washington, DC in the shadow of government clampdown, there was really only one city in my imagination and that was New York, where I knew I'd escape to eventually. But then I needed to get further away and so I ended up in San Francisco (later I lived in New York, I did my time but it was too late I mean New York was no longer New York -- not for me, anyway). San Francisco and New York have a few things in common, and one of them is certainly a disdain for everything LA -- strip malls, bikinis, tanning salons, 14 cars for every person -- San Francisco and New York want to see themselves as so much more cultured, refined, defined by a mysterious urban sensibility that scoffs at the surface excess of the suburban while simultaneously cultivating it.
Like many mythologies, that of Surface LA is everpresent, glorified and monstrous, horrifying in its audacity while reveling in so many challenges. Let me break it down, or I'll never get to what I'm supposed to be writing about -- I hated LA before I had ever been there, and everything I hated about LA certainly presents itself in more ways than I could even imagine (in New York too -- and San Francisco!). But the point right now is that now I'm in LA, staring up at palm trees that are actually healthy or eating at a vegan Ethiopian restaurant or gasping once again yes again that this huge expanse could actually be considered one city (or sure, gasping at what many call air), but the sheer volume of desires and the range of forces and territories and fissures breaks juxtapositions is also breathtaking in that way that feels like yes, breath again.
One of the reasons I've started to like some things about LA is my friendship with Jessica Hoffman, expansiveness through shared commitments to challenge and accountability and other beautiful things, and the people in LA she's introduced me to, Stephanie Abraham and Irina Contreras and an LA that is just like the dream of every other city thrown up against a wall and shattered too but also shattering chattering no more than that an explosion looking for the parts.
I'm getting nowhere with all this poetry, or no somewhere but I'll never get there in time before driving back to San Francisco then three days to recover again so many more mornings waking up with my head blasted in, two months of travel hoping the beautiful moments can soothe me growing somewhere inspiration.
No I love the way this is proceeding, this writing thing that is.
I mentioned that the LA reading was phenomenal, but let me explain. I think more than any other reading yet, so many different perspectives styles of speech and differences among the readers interacting reacting glistening gorgeous. I mean there were so many times when I could've cried -- I know I've said that before, and here I am again saying that once again I stopped myself, why? Yes, passing.
Yes, I love that the place was packed -- and I do mean packed, as in standing all the way to the back -- but also packed with a certain excitement about these intersectional politics of dissolution and disillusionment and deviance and defiance and disaster -- if I could just live in that space all the time, yes give it to me! I mean give me to it.
Yes, I love words, especially these words as they're rolling I mean just give me these words... But sometimes just the words means lonely, in that room yes that packed room I felt something else like hope maybe, should I call it that? Hope that we can create something with the ruins -- the ruins of ourselves, the ruins we're living in, the ruins we’re creating -- does that sound too bold? Not cold, that's what I like about it.
But back to the reading, Stephanie Abraham teasing us with the assimilation/non-assimilation success story then revealing what's underneath then Dean Spade exposing gender regulation, Jennifer Blowdryer seducing us with over-enunciation satirizing medical diagnoses, Jessica Hoffman + Ruth Blandon + Irina Contreras as Vanessa Huang exploring the contradictions of the immigrant rights movement, Benjamin Shepard extolling the virtues of male-on-male lovelust maybe passing/not passing as queer, Jen Cross on surviving abuse and passing too well then choosing femininity after rejecting it as part of her stepfather's violence, finally Irina Contreras on what happens when you run into Code Pink in the bathroom of a museum where you work but today you're not working it's one of the big immigrant rights mobilizations.
Can you see how this combination couldn't fail to be explosive? People were quiet during the question-and-answer opportunity, until this great question about mentors and competition within activism and resistance, each of us went around to talk about this -- many beautiful stories about friends and fellow contributors and inspiration from people who don't necessarily make it to the limelight and this was really thoughtful and splendid. Later my sister mentioned that it was also like everyone was maybe passing as not competing and I think that's true too although I'm also sure that we were creating something beyond that. The second question was a comment about how isn't it also true that everybody passes, and I loved that because yes, everybody passes and nobody passes and this book is about those places where we pass or fail to pass or refuse to pass and the interrelation of all of those experiences, bring it on.
My sister and I had a very stressful and not necessarily heartening maybe even hardening but also honest and explosives maybe cathartic conversation a day or was it two days before the reading which later I will talk about more but tonight she said maybe you don't hear this from anyone else in the family (you know, that family, the one that was supposed to give me what I needed but instead gave me what I needed to resist) -- but my sister said I'm really proud of you because you're doing amazing and important work and that's when I was crying now too yes I'm crying and I love it.
A lightness in my eyes
Where I've been staying in Northeast Portland is historically a black neighborhood, but you wouldn't necessarily know that walking down the street past white hipster/yuppie bars and restaurants, so it was somewhat surprising when I stepped on the bus and noticed that everyone on the bus was black, and mostly kids too, from elementary school age to maybe late teens. One of the younger kids asked his friend what he thought of her (that's me), they were debating something and then the older kids said that's not a her, that's a dude -- that's not a her -- dudes can wear pink, too.
I liked the accidental use of the correct pronoun, but couldn't think immediately of the best way to support it so I just turned back and smiled. Later, I ran into a friend of mine from the Bay Area -- she was working at the restaurant where I was eating -- I like running into people I know from SF in other places, an exciting warmth -- or at least it can be that way. In this case, my friend ended up giving me that warmth and several amazing hugs and a free meal, something that I never see happening in San Francisco anymore -- that's for sure. No one will even give you a break like sliding the produce through at the corporate health food store or counting four bunches of kale instead of six or whatever -- I miss that kind of thing, it should be a given really but everyone's been worn out by gentrification and corporate loyalty and maybe just being worn out for so long too. Honestly, I also liked the way people stared when I walked down the street like I was an unusual spectacle -- Portland is very hip, but it's also still a small town really.
Another incredible reading -- I just hope they all stay this incredible! It was packed, all the seats filled and more added and then still standing-room and sitting-on-floor-room only. I can't believe I forgot my camera -- I need one of those photos that shows the whole audience up to the podium, especially when it's so packed! Just to make me feel good, if nothing else -- I like crowds, I mean crowds for my readings.
Anyway, this crowd was really wonderful -- a few people here and there who I've known in other cities (San Francisco, Seattle), including some surprises, and also an intergenerational crowd, from people who grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s down to the present -- a lovely mixture of types and personal styles of presentation, etc.
Jen Cross started, there was this intense presence of surviving sexual abuse right at the beginning, then Priya Kandaswamy’s critique of the domestic violence prevention movement/industry, and Jennifer Blowdryer's story of how she got her SSI diagnosis. A lot of questions this time -- about the psychiatric industry and whether it can help (unfortunately industries don't help, they only have their own needs to account for), depression (whether I struggle with it -- of course!), vulnerability in my work (it's what helps me to feel safer), hopelessness (well, not in this moment), passing as a writer (because I talk about that jokingly in my intro), whether a certain degree of assimilation is healthy (never! that's why so many movements have failed), surviving abuse and expressing emotion and telling the truth (yes!), the connection between personal stories and political engagement/social change (I hope that's what these pieces are doing, starting from somewhere intensely personal and then taking on the world).
I have so much more to say, I mean these answers in parentheses are seriously abbreviating the discussion since actually every answer I gave went on for a while, I mean I had a lot to say so I'll tell you more later. This tour has already given me so much to think about, so much excitement and hope except of course there is still exhaustion and sinus headache heartache but also a lightness in my eyes.