Monday, April 30, 2007

The update on the phone sex bus shelter ad

Did I somehow forget to mention that the gas-station-attendant-guy has diamond studs in his ears-- hello, thuggish bling! Do the two guys really have matching colored contact lenses -- is green the new blue? Okay, and the two patches on the attendant’s uniform, which isn't a one-piece at all, just as shirt hanging open with two patches where we might expect a pocket: one says New York Triple Fuze SOUL, the other says Gas ‘n’ Go PETRO-SOUL Attendant -- that's soul, twice, just in case you're worried this ad is soulless. Or maybe there's something about these guys’ tans that takes them out of ordinary whiteness, not extraordinary like the whiteness of their capped teeth -- no not capped -- what's it called when you get fake white things placed where your teeth would normally be? Bridges? I can't remember.

The one on the left is definitely scaring me the most -- okay, he doesn't have scenester facial hair like I remembered, just a five o'clock shadow. Maybe it's that smile -- the one on the right has glazed-over drug eyes and he’s smiling like someone just hit him and he's a blow-up doll so that's the only expression he makes, just a little more color in his cheeks. I guess his teeth look kind of like teeth, too – they’re bleached, but not lined up in that too-perfect way otherwise. But the one on the left, I guess it's a combination of the smile and the eyes, narrowing in like he's ready to kill if that’s the pose you ask him for, just snap the picture already and pay me.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Okay now the exhaustion sets in

Outside at the bus stop in front of my apartment there’s a new phone sex ad on display, no longer do we stare at the two buff guys with surprisingly large bags under their eyes, probably a picture taken in 1995 of two guys stuck in 1985 before it was trendy. Now it's a new picture -- there's even a guy with facial hair, very current, although he's got the gay glaze in his eyes and the guy next to him is wearing a gas station attendant outfit with only a hint of wax, tanning salon nudity glimpsed underneath his unbuttoned one-piece whatever-they-call-those-things. One of the guys is sweating way too much, I'm wondering if they don't blow these pictures up all the way to seven feet by five feet or whatever before they make the large-format prints for the ad.

Oh wait, I forgot to look for the sink drain strainer that I actually threw out the window when I was shaking it out. I go back into my building, passing the two queens standing with a friend in very high heels, by the bus station ad -- I've never gone into the courtyard of my building, from my apartment it looks suddenly green but down here I see it's just weeds, sidewalk buckling and there's no way I'll find a sink drain strainer down here. Back outside, I'm on the way to the hardware store past throngs of tourists and shoppers and through the thick air, why did I leave the house without food? I should have just waited for the bus instead of walking -- my hips feel locked from the train I'm sure, everything hurts, but at least I get the sink drain strainer and grout for the bathroom but I can't remember what the third thing is.

This is the moment when I'm back from two months of traveling and I'm trying to make everything wonderful in my apartment, that's why I've gone right out to get the strainer instead of waiting six months or whatever, I'm also getting sheets at the discount store if I can get past all of these shoppers, my sheets are turning into rags I mean they’re soft enough but fraying with holes and everything but then I'm actually getting a comforter. The truth of sweatshop consumerism of the discount variety is that I've already forgotten that sheets were the original goal, and I think the comforter is the idea, sheets something I've just realized. And the boxers?

Then I'm outside carrying way too much and I have to piss, no pissing in Ross Dress for Less unless you want to do it in one of the aisles and the aisles are too crowded, dammit -- across the street and into the Container Store with everything that's hurting me including the heat it’s way too hot in the stores! At least this store has a bathroom, but not soon enough for me to get home without hurting from carrying this comforter and sheets, I guess I was already hurting when I left but I didn't realize it yet or I realized it after two blocks but kept walking anyway.

Here's a window into my drama, or not really my drama just my process, okay? It's a literal window, too -- the window onto my fire escape. I wake up at Noon, could stay in bed but I want to lie out in the sun although it turns out it's kind of cold maybe. I put the stretching mat out there for cushioning, then two towels on top of that, a pillow for my head and two pillows to go under my knees, plus the sheet to cover the bottom of the stretching mat so that it doesn't melt. Then I'm out in the sun except it's not really sunny so I'm freezing sort of except when it actually is sunny. Then I'm immediately wondering if I'm getting burnt, even though it's probably not more than 60 degrees out it's only 1 p.m. and I usually don't lie out in the sun before 2. Although I guess with daylight savings, 1 p.m. is really 2, sort of, although daylight savings was a month ago -- how does it relate to the actual time?

Then it is sunny so I decide to cover my face with my sweatshirt, but then there's no fresh air so one of my nostrils is closing -- I try to position the sweatshirt so that air comes through, but it doesn't really work so I move the sheet over there and that works better except yes, my left nostril is closing -- before it was the right, but then I moved to the sheet over. How long has it been anyway? I love the feeling of the sun on my skin, but am I getting burnt? I realize that daylight savings means 1 p.m. is really Noon, I don't think I've ever sunbathed at Noon.

All of this obsession about sunburn is maybe preventing me from realizing that I'm so exhausted today that just walking around the corner to look for the Guardian so I can find a movie makes me so tired that I can't even imagine going to a movie. I keep saying to people: I don't feel dramatically more tired than usual, even after traveling for 2 1/2 months and taking the train back, but now I feel dramatically more tired than usual. Although to tell you the truth I have no idea what usual means, I mean do I always feel dramatically more tired than usual?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Life on the train

(Okay, I had a carefully crafted order to the photos, but blogger has decided on something else )

April 25, 2007, 6:40 p.m.
Things I’ve learned on this tour that I didn’t expect:

First of all, at the risk of saying something that I’ll regret terribly after arriving in San Francisco, sad and sore from the 52-hour train ride I’ve now only just begun, I think it’s possible that I’m getting stronger. What I mean is this: I’ve been on this crazy 2 1/2 month tour, 30 cities maybe, and I don’t necessarily think that my body feels worse than usual -- I mean, I’m definitely exhausted and drained and overwhelmed and sinking into depression, but not necessarily more than before. Of course, I also have all of this incredible inspiration through such exhilarating moments of connection and solace even, is that the right word?
But what I’m saying is that I thought the trip would completely destroy my body on every level and I think that actually I’m okay, this gives me hope that if I can feel okay after traveling for 2 1/2 months then maybe I can slowly feel better after I’m home for a while. right now I can feel my shoulders neck chest arms aching from carrying my bags down the front flight of stairs at the hostel then wheeling them around the train station, and I know that when I get back to San Francisco I’ll be a mess for a while, but I’m also starting to hope that I can do more things like maybe exercise and especially go dancing at some point in the not-too-distant future. I don’t want to get too excited and do too much at once and then crash into that deep deep hole, but I think I’m ready to explore.

Feldenkrais is a large part of what has given me the ability to move through pain and not be so overwhelmed by it, like I can do something is terribly uncomfortable in a comfortable way and then that helps me get through it. Even as wow my shoulders are really hurting while I’m writing this, maybe I should go for a walk.

I’ve also gotten through the worst part of my sinus headache drama exacerbated by that plane in November, probably some of it will come back from this train but if it comes back with incredible horror even after a few weeks then I will have to start wondering whether I’m severely allergic to something in my apartment probably mold, and I will have to investigate. I mean I know there’s mold from the leak inside the wall, but how to get rid of it is a different question.

The other thing I need to investigate, I mean a big big project for myself over the next however long, is how to find beauty and hope and inspiration for my own personal sexuality, that’s just something I want to note right now. More and more in the sexual spaces I inhabit, I realize that what I’m looking for is somewhere else although where on earth is the big big question-- and how -- and with whom? But eventually I will figure it out, that’s what I’m hoping at least.
Oh wait -- Ottumwa, Iowa is the first smoke stop on this train, of course I’m not excited about exactly that, but I would like to get some air…

7:29 p.m.
Okay the air in Ottumwa is great today, moist and chilly and fresh, makes the air inside the train seem all the more trapped and gooey even, yuck. I’m worried that it’s too hot on this train, sitting in just my boxers and a t-shirt and hopefully my food isn’t going to rot. It looks like the frozen items have already defrosted, usually that takes about 40 hours and I’ve only been on this train for 5 ½. We’ll see…

A conversation with the steward outside in Ottumwa, he says now I live downtown but it wasn’t like that when I moved there, it was the intersection of shoot and run but now I look outside and there are condos starting at 400, 000, going up to 2 million -- this other couple in the building we bought together, Denise and Irene -- we met them in Lakeview when we all lived there in the ‘70s, when it was bustling and gay and now it’s just yuppies, but Denise and Irene -- they know how to take care of business, all of my gay brothers and sisters -- those property values, whoa! We’re locked in where we live because we only have to pay 20% maximum of the property tax for the neighborhood but if we sell then we have to pay everything. My wife and I say to Denise and Irene, just show us the next big gay neighborhood and we’ll run. Just show us the next big gay neighborhood.

April 26, 2007, 4:31 p.m.
It’s at that time when I’m on the verge of collapse, shoulders aching actually everything aching, eyes fading into headache-- I figure I’ll go on a walk to the social car, maybe sitting somewhere else will hurt less. Just in time, Andee calls and we talk for several hours-- yes, an escape from exhaustion, sort of. Then afterwards I get in a conversation with the people across from me who are all from Iowa but they’ve just met-- wait, one of them is from South Korea but the rest are from Iowa-- they’re playing cards and want to know what’s going on with me -- I mention the book tour, and then one person, Donald, wants to film me while I’m talking which is amusing enough, after I talk a little about Nobody Passes he wants to know what my favorite book is, of course I say David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives, then I figure we’re talking too much about me so I ask everyone else what their favorite book is. The first guy says right now it’s The Accidental Chef-- I like the way when he talks about cooking he’s suddenly poetic in a straight-dude-hanging-out kind of way. No one else mentions their favorite books, but the next person is a dancer, she grew up and the transcendental meditation community and is going to Santa Cruz for a month to study Axis Syllabus Dance which integrates anatomy with dance in a way that kind of sounds like feldenkrais -- this person, Kate I think, says the average career of a dancer is seven years because everyone gets injured. She’s been taking ballet since she was seven, but doesn’t want to get to a point where she has to stop dancing. The guy from Korea is too shy to say anything, and somehow Donald who has a camera gets away with not saying anything, even after he hands the camera to Kate, maybe he says a little about making movies but I think that’s later -- this is his first trip out of Iowa, he’s traveling for a month. Donald, Kate and the guy from Korea are all probably about college age and the guy who’s a chef is maybe in his mid-20s although he seems somewhat stunned that I’m 33 --everyone’s headed to Denver for different reasons, which is I guess how they all ended up on the same car because people are arranged by destination. I’m thinking about all the Europeans from the hostel heading out to Denver also, wondering a little bit about Denver since I’ve never been there. Back in 1992 when I was first driving cross-country to San Francisco I think I had plans to meet this one guy in Denver who I’d had a romance with, he was from there but then I never heard from him so I guess the romance was over.

But back to the train, we’re all having a lot of fun chatting -- I especially like talking about dance with Kate who asks if I ever danced -- I tell her it’s what used to keep me sane, when I get to that place where my head was aligned with the ground and the sky at the same time, I miss that place. Kate says that’s the place where she likes to be all the time. Then Donald is amusing us with magic tricks with this hilarious act he puts on where he gets us to think that he’s made a mistake but he’s got it all figured out. At some point earlier when we’re all getting excited by the thrill of new connection and now everyone has their cameras out, someone says we should make a reality show and I think Kate says Nobody Passes -- that’s the magic moment for sure, when I’m so glad about meeting these new people on the train, the beauty of the train is in making these sudden connections that probably wouldn’t be made elsewhere. We all talk until we’re ready for bed, I think I want to make these kinds of connections all the time that’s the challenge. Kate gives me a few of her pink bracelets and we make a plan to maybe see a dance performance in San Francisco once she’s out in Santa Cruz, Donald is the last one in the lounge car with me and we exchange web info -- he makes music as well as movies, I like his deadpan delivery about everything, there’s a certain kind of masculinity without aggression like everything could be a friendly shrug. Then it’s bedtime and I actually fall asleep kind of easily, with the white noise generator on I even probably sleep more than usual although why do I get up at 12:30 p.m.? I guess it’s because of the time difference and I feel rested for about 3 1/2 seconds, then it’s back to the zoned-out train zombie drama, oh well. But I like the moment when I’m wondering what the weather is like outside, I pull back the curtain and there’s the Colorado River with the red cliffs above it’s incredible like just this moment is worth the54-hour journey until I’m back in zombieland and my jaw hurts while I’m chewing -- must’ve been clenching it while I was sleeping and why is it so warm on the train? My food is running so much faster than last time, there’s no way it will last until tomorrow I just hope it lasts until bedtime then tomorrow I’ll be down to bread with a few cucumbers, string beans and cashews with nori seaweed -- I didn’t bring the dehydrated split pea soup this time, and I’m already regretting it.

April 25, 2007, 5:43 p.m.
More things I’ve learned from this tour:
The big one is that I’ve been sleeping, the homeopathic remedy has been helping for sure-- homeopathy works subtly, like you can move you into a new pattern that then becomes your pattern and that’s what I’m hoping. I mean I don’t feel rested at all, but sleeping is still so much better than not sleeping. I can’t even imagine how much more difficult the tour would have been if I hadn’t slept, brain wiring me into so many terrible layers of insomnia-- and so I’m hopeful that when I get home, my sleep will get better too.

And also my digestion, believe it or not -- I think my digestion is getting stronger. Like now when I eat an unhealthy oil at a restaurant, I have to shit right after, but not for three days like it used to be. These are great signs.

11:10 p.m.
I’m sitting in the observation room which is so much more comfortable for staring at the mountains and the sky than my own room because I can just look straight out instead of fucking up my neck by turning all the time. First I have a great conversation with Jen Meekel who’s just had hir photos censored from an art exhibit at the University of Florida in Gainesville, we’re talking about the perils and possibilities of feminism, Meekel is arguing for queer over feminism, that feminism is too tied into the category of woman and therefore exclusionary -- my feminism and queerness are so tied together, I can’t imagine one without the other but I’m enjoying the conversation although now I’m much too exhausted finding it impossible to write more and actually deliver some sort of summary of anything really. The second conversation is with a rabbi, I like her insight that my parents’ (Jewish) assimilation and the violence they were able to hide beneath the veneer of “success” is similar to the violence of gay assimilation/gentrification. Okay time to get ready for bed or something.

a quick rant:

Right, it’s after the last entry I mean it’s the next day, the last day of this train my food is rotting and I’m eating it anyway, glad that it’s not making me sick or anything but wait I’m actually finished with that food and onto the emergency rations, wrapping cashews inside bread and then chewing, we’re sitting on some mountain waiting for cargo trains that are having problems but still they are prioritized because there are no dedicated train tracks for passenger trains in this country, the freight companies own the rails that’s why they’re in such bad condition I mean actually cars and highways are the problem because that’s where all the money goes, if only we had a train system like Europe where some trains go over 200 miles per hour -- this one is averaging about 45 I think -- anyway we’re five hours late, almost there now I’m ready.

Life at the hostel/ Thoughts on the American dream

In the kitchen, this guy’s talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone, he says guess who loves you? It’s a message, actually -- he hangs up and says, maybe to me or maybe to the refrigerator: “I might be knocked up.” -- what am I supposed to do with that?

Then he’s in the other room talking to some Europeans, he’s from Florida, Miami, close enough to Miami to be Miami but he doesn’t know what’s going on in the world because everything’s been the military. He says I hate this country and I hate this war but what can I do? I’m an abstract electronic musician -- if you live in this country and you have no family no job no place to live, what do you do? You join the military.

One of the Europeans asks him if he feels bad, he says do I feel bad? They’re paying me $25,000 a year to probably fly nuclear bombs around, that’s what I’ll be dealing -- I don’t give a shit, I’ll drop those bombs.

One of the Europeans brought tequila, everyone’s drinking tequila this guy says he learned how to drink tequila from the Puerto Ricans in his neighborhood, they knew all about tequila. One of the Europeans says but tequila isn’t from Puerto Rico. The guy says I’m gullible, I’ll believe anything.

Everyone’s getting more and more social with the tequila joining the beer except when I go in the dining area where everyone hangs out because now my food’s ready, everyone’s chatting except this guy just has his head in his hands, staring into the table or maybe at the bottom corner of the wall. He’s one of those guys who from the distance looks like just another clean-cut white boy but up close you can see that he’s probably never had access to good health care, when he opens his mouth to say something but doesn’t you can see his teeth rotting away, skin tanned but still yellow.

Another conversation in the kitchen, this older woman is watching me cook: spinach?
I smile.
Is that spinach?
Dandelion greens.
Oh, yuck.
You don’t like dandelion greens?
Oh… well, the pianos at the Chicago Public Library, I guess it’s good that they have pianos they’re very popular, but some of them have gotten so much use that even when they tune them the bass is too loud, if you want to play a Chopin nocturne or something soft it’s just not possible… do you think dandelions are weeds?

Meanwhile, a drunk guy from the US is flirting with a drunk woman from Germany, he says I just look at politics like a sport -- some people get so upset about it and I just like to play devil’s advocate to see how they’ll react.

European tourists love to see it all: the John Hancock Tower, the zoo, the beach, and most importantly the bars or at least the liquor store so they can drink in the kitchen well actually it’s the dining/social area which is quite spacious in this hostel -- it’s nice -- I’m the one in the kitchen during the social festivities, coming out to join in conversation. All different kinds of straight guys want to offer me drinks and I will admit that I’m tempted by this empty gesture of solidarity no the gesture isn’t exactly empty I guess it’s what comes after. I mean, I do wish I could drink with them and that it wouldn’t ruin my life, that I could say thanks and drink that glass of wine and not worry about what would come afterwards. When I read Sartre at the end of high school and he talked so much about freedom, freedom for me then was so much about drinking, imagining myself in left bank bars sipping absinthe with the litterati -- but that kind of freedom can only last so long, I mean to quote a bad house song: darling I love you but can’t you see -- it’s over for me. It’s over.

The problem is that nothing is really over, even when you want it to be -- or don’t want it to be, I’m not exactly craving alcohol I mean I don’t really want it all just for the illusion of intimacy that it brings.

Meanwhile, two German women I’ve talked to over the last few days are back from the $15 all-you-can-eat-and-drink restaurant experience, they’ve gotten soaked in the rain and I will say that they are practically glowing -- some people’s complexions really take to alcohol and rain I guess. They look in the social area -- the others aren’t here? Like we're all here together, I mean the ones of us that were here before, talking in the social area last night. I say no, it’s a new crowd.

Maybe changed by all the ideas I’m engaging with

At DePaul, I’m speaking in this huge cathedral-like room that puts even that Yale lecture hall to shame, here the seats still don’t work with the aesthetic but at least they’re comfortable. I’m in this cavernous room with maybe 20 or 30 students, standing at the podium underneath all of this crazy woodwork going up probably 100 feet. I go on right after the president of DePaul meets with queer students, apparently he says something about how you all are so brave because you realized that you were wired differently and one of the students says to me later: I was really offended. But apparently the President also uses the phrase LGTB instead of LGBT and when one of the students asks about that, he says well, transgendered people are such a central part of queer history and I think bisexual is being replaced by queer -- pretty sophisticated for the president of the largest Catholic University in the US.

Meanwhile, there’s me at the podium -- the talk goes well and afterwards I’m answering each question with an entire essay. The first one, wait what is my first essay? Oh, I know -- the question is about how I found the contributions, so I talk about that but also about making sure that my call for submissions are always open and forwarded as widely as possible because that’s how I get some of the most interesting work + anthologies with the first place I got published and I want to keep mine accessible instead of the way so many have become so exclusive, an interior conversation between literary peers or an exercise in how many big names you can squeeze in a book. Also I talk about my editing process, wanting to make each piece as strong as possible on its own terms, getting rid of unnecessary explication to make it as direct and challenging as possible-- that’s my theory, anyway.

A question about the possibilities for radical engagement within the academy, of course that’s a fun one to answer -- I’ve got so much to say that the person asking the question, a professor at another university I think, later suggests that I do an anthology on that topic. We shall see… One student wants to know about how I connect gentrification and racism, classism to the gay marriage agenda, seeing as she has made it her life’s work she wants to know. I’m glad to provide those linkages, which are maybe my life’s work. I try to keep it grounded and emotional, not just rhetorical -- the violence of assimilation, property values over people’s lives, the tragedy of these gay neighborhoods that could have become something else if only the priorities were more humane. And a question about the notion that hiding unconventional or non-binary gender choices makes people safer, since my talk is part of anti-violence week.

Afterwards, one student who’s going to San Francisco for the first time -- only for one evening, he’s being flown there as part of a potential scholarship (The Point Foundation, I think) -- anyway, he wants advice on what to do for one evening that doesn’t involve bars since he’s not 21 yet and so I fill up a whole page with suggestions-- sunset in Buena Vista Park, the sea lions if you can handle the tourists, different gentrification intersections, different walks from the hotel, etc. -- it’s kind of fun to make the list, I don’t expect it. Afterwards, I go to the Chicago Diner, Chicago’s famous vegetarian restaurant that isn’t that great except for the corn muffins I think but what I do love is this more casual and intimate conversation -- 1 of the students is doing her thesis on the attitudes of DePaul fraternity members towards sexual assault and getting all of this resistance from the university even though there are only 300 fraternity members at a university with 25,000 students-- another one of my dinner companions I remember from both Women and Children First and the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, which is also where I first met Cyndi who brought me to DePaul.

I will need to find a way to continue these kinds of conversations when I get back to San Francisco, that’s what I’m thinking as I walk back into the hostel, drained again and ready for bed way earlier than usual, thinking I’m certainly glad that I’m going back to San Francisco but also that I want to go back as someone slightly different I mean changed by all the ideas I’m engaging with -- we shall see…

I can't help but post another picture of the cute cat in Cincinnati

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Okay no wireless right now at this hostel in Chicago so just a quick message to say I'll probably be offline for the next few days (yes, tomorrow begins the 52-hour train to San Francisco!), but I'll be back Friday... wish me luck on the way home!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gentrification, masculinity casualties, geese, and that moment I'm waiting for

Cincinnati coincides with a low moment of fatigue when I don’t even want to turn on the computer and so I barely do, a few days later and now I’m in Chicago trying to bring back Cincinnati -- I know I had some great notes, but now I realize that I didn’t actually write those notes down!

It all starts with a great tour by car with Elliot, my host, and his boyfriend Eric, through a somewhat abandoned downtown with new yuppie lofts nonetheless on the outskirts -- we go to a restaurant with a great (1920-1940s?) photo in the “men’s” bathroom of a woman smoking something that ends with a big rag, big enough to be a Molotov cocktail but maybe it’s opium although there’s no pipe so possibly some form of tobacco-- she certainly looks drugged and dragged out, perhaps a gender-deviant running a brothel or at least that’s what I’m getting. Then to the grocery store, and then when I hear that Burnet Woods, the cruising park, is right by Elliot’s house, I encourage a tour. It’s 11 p.m. and we don’t run into a single person in the park, which looks perfect for cruising actually -- the bathrooms are even open, lights on and everything -- kind of spooky almost like a movie set without actors.

The next day, before the event at University of Cincinnati, I get dinner with Elliot, Eric, and some of my other hosts in Northside at a restaurant that seems to be very popular with dykes in the neighborhood -- first a dyke couple with two kids in a wheelbarrow no not a wheelbarrow a wagon, then a bunch of other middle-aged couples, a few of them interracial. Everyone is kind of quiet, exhausted from our various days, except Jac who is quite the entertainer. It’s crazy warm outside and the grass in Cincinnati kind of smells like the DC suburbs where I grew up, I don’t exactly like that memory.

The UC campus is filled with very large cement buildings from probably the 60s although it turns out that we’re walking through the back side of campus, which is kind of how it seems I guess. The lecture hall is one of those sloping rooms that I’m getting used to, this time the desk chairs even rotate. It turns out that there isn’t a microphone but truthfully I don’t need it -- sometimes my voice gets hoarse after speaking for an hour, but this time it goes on for two hours and I don’t get hoarse at all -- I’m wondering if the feldenkrais breathing exercises are helping, like the new one where at every exhale you hum at one consistent tone for as long as it’s comfortable, then inhale after a pause, pause again, exhale.

The audience is incredibly present --so present that they even laugh at the few times when my words slip, and the slips become part of the talk. One person laughs so loud at several points that I have to pause for a bit longer. Then immediately the questions move into discussion, several between different members of the audience who I don’t think know one another, which is perfect. A lot of the questions end up being about gentrification -- Washington, DC even -- how to resist gentrification when you are also part of it, the role of universities in gentrification. The person with the wonderful loud laugh -- Jill is her name -- asks a great question about doing organizing that crosses the boundaries of gender, race, class, age, etc. and how to acknowledge those differences without tokenizing people. Another question about how to deal with censorship of the content of your work, or when a publication wants to completely change the content -- apparently this happened to the person asking the question, although I don’t learn the details until later (from Elliot), apparently the publication was imposing binary gender rules on a piece resisting those same rules (sounds familiar) -- was the writer Kai? Please write to me and tell me more…

An interesting comment from someone who says that if we were able to tell all the truths that we keep to ourselves for fear of hurting other people or altering their opinion of us, this would bring down capitalism -- an interesting idea, for sure, let’s brainstorm…

Afterwards, a fun photo shoot with the students who brought me, part of a group called Gender Bloc, lots of appreciative comments and great bonding and even an invitation to Jill’s fireside chat but unfortunately I’m way too exhausted, too exhausted even to check out the cruising area -- I stay home and pet the cat when she isn’t frantically running around the apartment that Elliot has left me -- so great to have this relaxing space!

In the morning, Crystal, one of the students, comes to pick me up in a glamorous flowly white outfit and she helps me with my luggage -- yay, femmes helping femmes -- she has fun stories about growing up in a rural area with 30 dogs and 45 cats or something like that, I don’t know how they could possibly keep track of that many animals -- also, her brother’s in the Christian frat but he wants her to come to the formal, he even invited Jac as her date (I think they are perhaps dating, although do correct me if I’m wrong). Oh, and did I mention that the dyke bar in Cincinnati is called Bullfishes? The leather bar is called The Serpent, and according to Yasin, one of the other students, there is always sex going on there without any talking -- he’s maybe disturbed by this, but I’m ready to check it out -- except that I’m exhausted, so forget about that -- maybe on my next trip to Cincinnati.

The bus to Chicago is longer than I expected-- first, it’s seven hours instead of six because of the time change, but the main problem is that there are three different stops within 20 miles or something, right at the end when everyone’s desperate to get off. Before that, it’s dry farms except for this one town that is suddenly very green and apparently wealthy -- Lafayette, where several of the fraternities have put down water slides on the hills that face the highway, jocks in bathing suits hurling themselves down hills. In Chicago, I’m staying at a hostel, when I arrive it’s almost like a frat party there too-- is it the weather? -- drinking spilling down the steps and onto the street. Although there is one incredibly friendly person who grabs one of my bags and runs up the stairs with it-- thank you! The kitchen is spacious and clean and my tiny room is at least private, although I’m wondering again why it is that I’ve never met a single queer person at a hostel. Then I’m on a rush to get groceries at Whole Foods before they close, then a vegan dinner at the Chicago diner which isn’t great but the corn muffin is delicious -- after that, I’m a few blocks from Steamworks, so I decide to go even though I’m almost delirious from exhaustion, in the locker room there’s a hot guy putting his clothes back on, and I ask him if he had fun. Not really, he says with a slightly queeny voice as he slides on suspenders -- well then why don’t you stay, I ask for more like invite, I guess. He says I’m over it, and I can understand that -- I say can I give you a hug? So that’s what I give him, but the hug isn’t inviting more and I’m already worried that that will be the most fun I have, as I wander through the usual middle-aged masculinity crisis drama -- or not necessarily middle-aged, just desperate and angry or snotty and shame-ridden. I actually have a hot time sucking this one guy off, but then there’s like two hours when I should leave but I’m still there, more and more and more tired even with the extra corn muffin that I’ve brought and then I’m sucking this other guy’s cock even though there’s some terrible smell which I guess is his asshole I’m kind of into the spectacle and group we’ve created until he pulls me into a room with him I mean he doesn’t pull me, I just go not-quite-willingly because it’s the spectacle I’m into and there’s no spectacle in this room -- he’s sucking my dick and I’m too close to coming, don’t want to come right now because right now isn’t exactly how I want it -- I mean I know I’ll feel terrible afterwards. So I tell him I have to piss and can you believe he actually says yeah, right -- like he has the right to my body. Later, I realize I could just say I don’t want to come right now, that’s probably a better idea for the future because that’s just what’s going on.

Then I’ve stayed too long but I don’t want to leave before coming because then I might go back again and stay too long, repeat -- forget that -- finally, I end up getting it on with the first guy who I thought was super-hot, not the tall, femmy skinhead-lite (no shaved head, kind of preppy-with-a-twist) guy from the locker room at the beginning, but a short guy with a shaved head and dark eyes who I thought rejected me earlier but anyway then we’re in a closet/room together and it’s all great -- what I realize again about sex like this, the charge I mean -- is it’s the only time when I feel strong in my body, I mean physically strong like I’ve got this guy up against a wall and it’s hot -- it’s a feeling that I can get from dancing or exercise, but I haven’t done those things in so long it seems because of all the pain and what I’m realizing now is that I need to get there again it’s so important. And maybe I’m getting there, with this book tour that destroys me but also gives me so much, and also realizing that now my body can take more I think or I’m hoping I guess -- I’m hoping I can get to that point when exercise can feel like hope again, when I can feel glad that I’m walking around in this body I mean present in the space inside and around me.

But anyway then I’m sucking this guy off -- that’s another pattern I’m noticing, I always get them off first and then for me it’s a rush at the end and sometimes I don’t even want to come but this time I do and we’re hugging and touching and it’s sweet but I already feel way too exhausted I mean I already felt way too exhausted but then it’s 2, 3, 4 a.m. and I’m still cooking lentils and quinoa -- the quinoa is fast but the lentils take longer --so that I don’t have to cook tomorrow, it’s too much work to cook in the morning or the daytime, whatever it is.

Next day is another hot day and I want to get to the gay beach except that I don’t know where it is so I call Yasmin Nair and she gives me advice -- Montrose Harbor, a bird sanctuary -- 4 p.m. and I’m outside walking to the L I guess but then my body’s hurting too much, I don’t have enough water it’s way too hot and humid so I get a cab-- I always want cabs to save me but Chicago traffic is worse than anywhere and we’ve literally gone only three blocks in 10 or 15 minutes, the car is an oven no a steam room with plastic seats-- I get out and give up on Montrose, head nearby to a different part of the lake, this part filled with endless student-types ( DePaul students? I’m near DePaul, that’s where I’m doing my final talk -- are there this many DePaul students?). And straight yuppie couples too but I stop before all of this, the first green area near a pond, on the way there are two different straight guys with their shirts off who look exactly like Abercrombie models it’s so awful it hurts, desire without desire -- just the physical feeling of desperation, which is almost how I feel with every guy who I see with his shirt off I’m not horny -- I guess I just want to be saved. Looking at the gays can certainly bring on the same desperation, but there’s something maybe slightly more comforting about it -- or is there?

I can’t believe it’s this hot at 4:30 p.m., but then I lie down and it gets cooler and I notice that the pond is a bird sanctuary outside of the Nature Museum-- they’ve planted different kinds of prairie plants -- Illinois used to be almost all prairie but now only 1/10 of 1% is prairie, that’s what the sign says. Apparently these prairie plants attract a lot of birds, even these huge geese that are literally walking along this path so close to downtown Chicago I almost can’t believe it -- I even spot a rabbit camouflaging itself in a mulchy area underneath a bridge -- I want to point it out to someone, I wait there for a while until I can find someone who I feel some sort of connection with, or someone with whom I want to build that connection I mean that moment, but no one like that shows up.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thoughts on the bus, when placelessness mixes with place

(Did I really stay at this Holiday Inn? + the cat in Cincinnati likes to watch water go down the drain)
(Also, I wish I could keep these photos in something other than a straight line, but not with this particular blogging layout and I'm worried if I change the layout something else will get messed up, so that's a project for the future-- actually wait,This particular series looks great in a straight column justified right)

In line at the Pittsburgh bus station-- which kind of looks like a large trailer from the outside, conveniently located just steps from the county jail-- anyway, in line, this woman who’s with a guy in full cowboy attire says to me: you’re an unconventional person, everything about you is unconventional-- I like the luggage, but I don’t know about the rest of it -- don’t worry though, I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh too, I like unconventional people. Tell me, am I right -- did you go to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh? Well, it was a good guest -- right?

Then I’m telling her about Nobody Passes and three different people hold their hands out for postcards as we’re about to board the bus, one of them wants to know who my favorite author is (hers is Maya Angelou).

On the bus, this guy is talking on his cellphone about hollow-point bullets, that’s why his friend didn’t end up in jail because the bullets weren’t hollow-point, they let them off easy -- the guy is saying I was the only sober one and he took his gun and started shooting it. When we stop, there’s a woman in the back laughing and saying you’re making that up! I figure she’s talking about the guy in front of me who’s now talking more about guns but then I realize she’s talking about my stretching. Why do so many people have a problem with my stretching? On the next bus, a nearby queen who sort of looks on the DL until she starts speaking with an incredibly lispy voice, she and the woman beside her start cracking up every time I reach my hands up and stretch my hips. Whatever.

Turns out the nice woman in Pittsburgh just got out of rehab for the fourth time, I’m guessing the guy in the cowboy outfit got out with her because it turns out that they don’t know each other that well, we get to Wheeling, West Virginia and she’s pointing out the sights, when I take off my eye mask she points out the former gay bar too, she used to work there on Tuesdays. She just calls it the bar, I know what she means -- she says there’s only one at a time, until it gets shut down. Wheeling is beautiful actually -- all of these gorgeous old brick buildings facing large metal bridges over the huge river, maybe just four blocks wide before hills. I wonder about all of these old small towns we pass through between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati -- some of them so gorgeous and old like nothing has changed since the 1930s. I’m in that bus ride moment between complete exhaustion and subtle calm, it’s so surprising the moments when suddenly a feeling of placelessness mixes with place and for a moment I’m living in the idea of what we’re driving through, until the exhaustion comes back and I have to put the eye mask back on.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I’m leaving New York and I’m sad, who knew?

Earlier today I had a great feldenkrais session, just before dinner so I felt especially present and then it was really sweet over at Angelica’s Kitchen with Gina, Stephen Kent and Ethan -- and don’t forget the pickle plate, the pickled olives are incredible and I don’t even like olives! And the cornbread, oh the cornbread! But besides these consumer comforts -- however healthy -- I’m already missing New York, I do like this weather even though it’s been gray the air is tolerable since it hasn’t been warm I guess I’m already missing my friends in New York, the next few days I will be taking too many buses too early in the day and honestly I’m ready to be back in San Francisco, to sleep as long as possible, I really mean AS LONG AS POSSIBLE…okay, I better pack. Three buses, one very long train, three cities and two more hopefully thrilling events, and then in 10 days I’ll be home. The remaining two events (both free and open to the public):

Friday, April 20 @ 7:30 p.m.
Swift 500
Cincinnati, OH

Monday, April 23 @ 6:15 p.m.
Cortelyou Commons
2324 N. Fremont St.
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 875-4877

Why am I so dehydrated?

I end up calling two different phone sex lines and talking way too late with people who are actually kind of interesting -- that’s why I’m up too late. The first guy is an exhibitionist who’s telling me about different public places in San Francisco where he’s had luck recently, mostly in the Castro were I never go so it’s kind of interesting. The problem is that we keep getting disconnected because we’re on the free line and you only have so long. He gives me his number but then it’s non-stop busy, but then I find the second guy who says he’d have sex with me just for my personality -- and this is on the line where usually you just say hello and then you hear the other person pushing any key to skip to the next caller!

Then it’s 6:30 a.m. before I’m in bed -- the sun is coming up but luckily I can’t see it because it’s cloudy outside and this apartment is below ground level anyway, no direct sun except for maybe 30 minutes around 2 p.m. At least I sleep okay, but then I wake up so incredibly dehydrated I mean I drink at least 6 pint glasses of water with lemon and still my throat is dry, like I have to drink 16 ounces of water in the middle of eating just to lubricate my system and we all know that’s the worst thing for digestion, my poor digestion!

Outside, I hear someone screaming loud like she’s on her cellphone -- she’s saying I talk all the time, I say things all the time -- I walk to the window to see what’s going on and it’s this preppy woman yelling at her boyfriend or whatever it’s kind of absurd and stereotypically gendered like some romantic comedy where she’s in the street screaming and he’s on the sidewalk trying to act calm. I open the door so I can hear better because if I look out the window they can see me, she’s yelling because he won’t express anything and he’s still talking softly and calm, something about how if he gets a text message from her and just starts crying, how is that going to help? She’s saying that would help, she wants him to react that’s normal people do things that’s what happens and it’s okay.

I don’t expect it at all but suddenly I’m crying and I close the door and come back here to write about it, while I’m writing I start crying again and choking on my food, my throat still too dry.

New York, New York -- Inside the Blue Door Theater

(Wouldn't it be great if the ceiling looked like this?)
Okay, so there’s this guy staring through a glory hole at my dick for like 10 minutes probably although time in a video booth is both slower and faster, so who knows how long it is really -- he doesn’t move back, so all I can see is his lips and part of his nose, every now and then his eyes -- his lips are big and juicy, but I’m not really that into glory holes, I’d rather he knock on my door so I can let him in. On the other side of meis some guy jerking off, first he was right next to me and his hands were very rough I mean a lot of dried skin and I couldn’t tell whether I found him sexy either -- now he’s in the corner jerking off, I hear him moaning so I bend down to see, actually there’s come dripping out of his cock -- that’s sexy for sure, I bend down further to see and he’s kind of scenester-looking because he’s kind of young with the full facial stubble, I should’ve gone for him for sure, that come should be in my mouth is what I’m saying-- oh well.
I lean down so I can give him a hot smile of thanks but then he’s gone and the guy from the other side is in his room-- he’s cute too, actually -- pulls down his jeans and he’s totally hard, I say come in here with me but he’s shy or something. Or something would be the word, that’s for sure. He says let’s just jerk off. I say why don’t you come over here and suck my cock? He says they might kick me out. I say not if we put money in the machine.

Finally he goes into the hallway, I open the door and motion for him to come inside but he’s still doing the shy thing, I have to practically pull him in. He’s one of those preppy types with bushy hair and he’s nervous, doesn’t want to get sucked or do any sucking although I’m not sure what else he was gonna do before, lips pressed against a hole. He’s embarrassed now, I guess. Middle class respectability -- that’s the way the girls are in New York video booths, I mean the middle class or upper class girls who just feel like they shouldn’t be doing this terrible thing -- I don’t know why they can’t just leave that shit behind -- I mean, if you’re going to suck guys’ dicks through a hole, then you should be able to do it up close and personal too, right? Anyway, I’m grabbing his balls and pretty soon he’s about to come, really I can’t tell you why I don’t get right on my knees to suck him off at that moment but I guess it’s because even though that’s what he wants I don’t want to deal with his guilt afterwards. Actually, what he wants is my cock down his throat, but whatever. He comes, then he’s literally saying something that starts with him telling me about how now he has his freedom because he broke up with his boyfriend but it’s so dirty. I try to hug him anyway, he can’t deal.

Then there’s someone else who’s nervous that the guy working there is going to kick him out or something-- who cares? But at least he’s sucking my dick although he’s not very good at it -- he just wants to stay on his knees and talk about how much he likes my cock and I’m bored, but I try to get more interested or something but then it’s too hot really I mean warm I’m sweating, so I say thanks and he’s sweet and grateful and I try to hug him too but I guess he’s not feeling the hug either -- not guilty like the other one or standoffish either, just in some other zone. Then I’m back out in the rain.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rain rain rain rain rain

I’ve gotten to the point on the tour when I’m losing things -- first it was my beautiful fuchsia coat on the way from Philadelphia to DC, that was when it was 75° and humid out and I was trying to decide whether to go outside in just a t-shirt, or to put my shirt and sweater back on. I forgot all about the coat! Then I left my datebook in someone’s car on the way from Baltimore to DC, but luckily I got that back soon enough (thanks, Nick!) -- although I still haven’t transferred all the information, phone numbers and all of that, onto my computer -- better do that soon. Then I left two scarves and mittens at my grandmother’s house, and I still haven’t gotten around to calling her and asking her to send them -- luckily, I have two more scarves since I was prepared for Minnesota winter, and I grabbed some gloves right when I got to New York.

But the coat would be helpful today, when it’s pouring out and I’m on my way to the reading in Brooklyn -- luckily, I have a hooded wool sweatshirt, but that’s the only outer layer, I get to the reading in my pants are soaked, how annoying. It’s boiling in the store with all the heat and the person working doesn’t know much about the reading -- there were two people who were supposed to show up and replace her, but they’re not coming in. Eventually the owner, Sander, shows up to help set things up and introduce me and the reading goes well enough even though it’s a small crowd -- earlier in the tour, this would have disturbed me, but right now I realize that it’s because of the downpour + the event was only just announced, although they made great flyers in the store. Rocko reads and then the only question is from Sander, about where I’ve liked the best on my tour -- I can’t say that! I talk about what most surprised me, and also about the vulnerability and intimacy I’ve felt at various readings -- of course, I can’t help giving a plug to Toronto also. Afterwards, I socialize with friends who live nearby and Sander says I must have listened to a lot of Dead Kennedys because I remind him of Jello Biafra-- funny thing is that I haven’t really listened to that much of the Dead Kennedys at all, but now I will have to search out the comparison for sure.
Meanwhile, more pouring rain…

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A surprise reading in Brooklyn...

Here it is, please spread the word…

Sunday, April 15 @ 5 p.m.
Vox Pop
1022 Cortelyou Road
(Cortelyou Road on the Q train)
Brooklyn, NY 11218
(718) 940-2084

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oh, wait -- I almost forgot photos of secret society pledge week, these are priceless! (keep in mind too that it's still winter here)

Axes, organizing, Connecticut colleges and train station tunnels

The event at Yale is different than the others because it’s a conversation between me and two other authors, T Cooper (Lipshitz Six, Or Two Angry Blondes) and Felicia Luna Lemus (Like Son) -T, Felicia and I have become great friends who share not just the writing life but wacky/biting/dry senses of humor ( I know “senses” looks weird, but it’s not one sense -- okay?) + a lot of other things -- watch for a future collaboration on the subject of “drawing.”

But anyway, the three of us are driving up from New York together in T’s truck so of course we’re stuck in some terrible traffic on the highway and last night was absolutely the worst night of sleep I’ve had in weeks -- first I couldn’t fall asleep, then I kept waking up thinking I’d slept past the time when I was supposed to be ready-- so anyway, I’m demolished and edgy and we’re on the highway, actually we’re all kind of exhausted -- even T and Felicia’s dog I think, they’ve brought him because he doesn’t do well when he’s left alone for too long. So it takes us longer than we expected, but not dramatically long or anything + we have some hilarious interactions at rest areas, I’m sure you can imagine. I like the woman who asks me: did you just slip into that? Or no -- she doesn’t use the word slip, what word does she use? Something hilarious.

When we get to New Haven, first we meet some administrators/professors and students for dinner at a Thai restaurant -- I like it when someone asks me and T if we get nervous before events and T says no but I say always, but the worst is if I’m in a separate room beforehand -- I’ve learned to discreetly sit in the audience ahead of time. Well, maybe not discreetly. Somehow the conversation turns to axes -- Yale students who get drunk and periodically drag their furniture outside, chop it up with an ax and burn it; a girlfriend who took an axe to all four tires of the car -- where are all these axes coming from?

Our event is in the Sterling Memorial Library, this huge building that looks like an old Gothic church, which is what a lot of the buildings in the Yale campus look like. Luckily the room we’re in isn’t too overwhelming -- it is churchy, but filled with chair desks that look like they came from someone’s high school, kind of strange. T points out that all three of us talk about dead or dying parents and our work, dying fathers is what I noticed. T tells this hilarious but horrifying story about the Italian edition of his most recent novel, Lipshitz, where he gets a copy of the book only to find out that they’ve used a picture of Felicia as the author photo, printed full bleed on the back cover (T and Felicia are lovers, and there’s a random photo of Felicia inside the novel as part of the blending of fiction and autobiography) -- not only that, but the publisher made the insane gesture to add T’s female-sounding birth name (spelled wrong) as part of the crediting -- and this is one of the largest publishers in Italy!

I like the part of our conversation where we start talking about the horrors of the publishing industry, niche-marketed garbage, the nightmares of trying to hold some kind of consistency (integrity?) in our work. I also get some great questions about radical queer activism, and afterwards find myself in a pretty in-depth conversation about the perils of “nonprofit” organizing and the possibilities (and lack of possibilities) of creating defiant outsider challenges. There’s an interesting exhibit of queer zines and propaganda in the lobby, my favorite is from the Gay liberation Front in Washington, DC--a flyer for a 1971 protest that declares, “we oppose gay people who discriminate against gay people” -- actually it’s something clearer and smarter than that, reminding me of the kind of activism I’m doing.

Did I mention that the dog starts barking during our event, moving around in its no-longer-discreet carrying case? No one seems to mind.

After the event, T, Felicia and I can’t resist getting some great photos with Yale as the backdrop, if we just had a live bear or something we could send them to Abercrombie, no wait Yale is Abercrombie therefore not exotic enough of a setting for Abercrombie -- apparently it’s pledge week for the secret societies, which don’t seem so secret, but it’s quite hilarious watching all of these drunk Yale students wandering around either dressed in formal attire or clothes that are supposed to look weird -- a rainbow Afro, a pink wig! -- the students are like caricatures of what Yale students are supposed to be .

The next day I’m off to Wesleyan, getting on the train from New York again I randomly run into Owen, who I know from San Francisco! He lives in New York now and we have a great conversation on the train about urban farming (his work) and San Francisco, (closeted) queer teachers in high schools and the perils of academia, it’s so much fun-- then I even get a ride to Wesleyan with Owen and his mother, what a lovely surprise!

Jean, who lived in San Francisco for a summer and who I worked with in Gay Shame, is the person who organized the Wesleyan event and it’s fun to see her on the other coast, then we’re off to the building where the event is taking place which is supposed to be a student organizing center except that you need to go to the security office to get the key. We go to the security office, and they can’t find the key. But then a campus security person lets us in, I’m not sure what could be very valuable in this space -- most of the buildings around us are quite fancy like you’d expect at an elite liberal arts college like Wesleyan, but this building doesn’t look like it’s been renovated since the ‘70s except for the new sofas -- maybe someone could take the sofas. Apparently the building was a concession to student demands for an organizing space, but no one knows about it so it isn’t used much.

I’ll admit that I’ve gotten used to using a podium, standing when I talk, so I’m slightly disoriented by sitting in a circle, plus worried that I’ll hurt my hands by turning the pages but it turns out that that doesn’t matter because I barely need to look down -- pretty much everything is in my head. Even though it’s a small crowd, it’s different than at Yale where there was a small crowd in a large room so it seemed quiet -- here the crowd fills the room, and everyone is loud right away which makes me immediately comfortable. They are especially engaged for the last part of my talk, where I’m talking about all the ways I was required to pass in order to bring Nobody Passes to fruition -- usually, I can’t tell for sure whether people are enjoying that part, but this time it seems to work out well. Did I mention that Jean's mother is there too, since she's now living with Jean -- a welcome addition to the crowd!

It’s so funny how, right before beginning my talk I’m totally exhausted and then as soon as I start speaking it’s like I have a different voice. I can’t help preferring this feeling over that drained overwhelm.

There’s a lot of discussion about how to create radical or challenging work and not have it be consumed as a vapid product, or rather how not to shift your work into that vapid product so that it can be consumed -- or both, really. Conversations about how to do trans organizing that isn’t only about assimilation or “mainstreaming.” Also questions about how to empower people who are stuck in thinking that liberal reformism is the answer. A lot of talk about universal healthcare and how this can connect a lot of the threads -- talking about people’s basic needs first, addressing the needs of people most marginalized instead of the trickle-down theory by which you supposedly start with easier goals for people with more privilege and then eventually it works out for everyone (is there any example in history when this has actually happened?)

What I like about this conversation is that it makes me make connections that keep my mind going -- I would tell you those connections, but right now my mind isn’t going so well -- 2:55 a.m. and I should be getting ready for bed, just want to post this beforehand.

On my way out of Wesleyan, more crazy drunk students! This time it’s a throng heading towards buses -- it’s called Senior cocktails or something like that, the university actually takes the Seniors to a bar, but they don’t want anyone driving there so they don’t tell them where it is beforehand.

A group of students drives me to the train station and I’m off again, after a great hug from Jean and a walk through the strange circular metal tunnels from the station to the platforms -- I like these tunnels, on the train I’m a zombie for a while -- even while talking on the phone -- then I pick up a bit before Grand Central, all of these cities have such beautiful train stations and I can’t help thinking that San Francisco has none at all -- they make you take a bus out to Emeryville for no apparent reason really except that they tore down the station in San Francisco, now they’re building a new one but it still won’t include Amtrak. Why is this what I’m writing about at the end of my entry? Okay, bedtime.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

But what else is there?

Sitting with my mother and my grandmother in all of this exhaustion, it’s hard to emote at all because that would probably mean crying. My grandmother Rose is asking me if I believe in God, she’s having some cheesy moment about how could we have all of this perfection if there was no God, she points to the flowers in a pot on the table we’re gathered around. Oh, I see -- what she really wants to know is whether my father believed in God, she’s grasping for something, hoping that he found something like peace before cancer wore him down. No, I say and then my mother agrees -- no.

Rose tells us a story about how when my father was nine, he would have this argument over and over again with his friend David in the car, David would say Bill, God is an idea! Bill’s grandmother died around then, she’d been living with the family and Rose sat him down and explains that some people believed in God and some people didn’t, and he could choose. He asked: but what else is there? Rose says: that stuck with me.

But now my mother is saying that she has a strong Jewish identity, something I’ve never heard her say before -- she said when we visited Europe, we liked to go to the Jewish areas-- we didn’t used to do that, but more recently… in one place -- maybe Germany -- we kept asking and asking about the synagogue we were trying to find and no one knew what we’re talking about and when we finally found it, we realized why, there were no markers at all, it didn’t look anything like a temple in that time we didn’t get to go inside because there was a wedding. In another place -- I can’t remember where -- a Jewish cemetery had been desecrated and we went there and outside the temple a rabbi said to us come in, I want to perform a blessing. Bill said but we are not practicing. The rabbi said: but you are Jewish? We both nodded. Then I’d like to perform a blessing. We went inside.

Rose: But it didn’t work.

Rose still wants to know what we believe in, if we don’t believe in God. Do we believe in people? This is a question we are all asking, I guess. I believe in accountability, that’s what I’m thinking -- my father’s accountability, my grandmother’s accountability, my mother’s accountability, and my own accountability. But actually that’s what I’m thinking now -- not around that table with the flowers in the middle, around that table it’s hard for me to think about anything except the sadness and it’s maybe even harder to think that I’m not supposed to feel this way, like through this sadness there is something for me to discover that I won’t be able to access any other way except that the sadness is so overwhelming that it’s hard to access anything else.

Maybe I should stay longer, that’s what I’m thinking even though my grandmother was overwhelmed by this short visit -- she’s in a lot of pain, so much that it’s hard to interact with other people.

On the train towards New York, already the sadness is lifting, or maybe just shifting, but at least it isn’t surrounding me. I call people up and joke about the White House Easter Egg Roll, how the gays are going to be there showing this great nation that we have families too, wait let me get an actual quote from Family Pride:

“At Family Pride, we believe that by participating fully and openly in time honored traditions like the Egg Roll we can help the American public come to know our families.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Today’s maybe the most exhausted I’ve been, wait have I said that before? I’m sure I have. All I can think about is going to sleep, wait I better get ready, more later…

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Where to put the kitchen table

(That's my grandmother's face, reflected in the television)

I want to wake up into a space where I can feel love for my mother or grandmother without this overwhelming sadness surrounding me, pressing against my sinuses, pushing me into something like sleep no that‘s where I want to be it’s more just feeling the walls of my body collapse. I want to be able to hug my mother and not feel like I need to hold back otherwise I might break, and if I don’t hold back then just more of that sadness. I want to sit in this house, my grandmother’s house, and appreciate all of the beauty without thinking about the violence underneath. I wish all of the violence weren’t underneath, I really do -- I want to hold myself and feel nothing else but the embrace, is that ever possible?

There are a few photos in an open album like a calendar sort of -- photos of my father, this grandmother’s son, mostly with my mother, photos of my sister and her boyfriend, one of their cats. I’m not there, and maybe I don’t belong -- maybe I’m really not part of this family.
On the refrigerator, an article from the Vassar College newspaper with a picture of my mother helping my sister up the stairs of her junior dorm, pictures of my sister’s cats, pictures of my sister, then there’s one small picture of me and my sister together with the neighbor’s dog in our parents’ front yard when I’m maybe 11 or 12 and my sister’s two years younger, she’s smiling for the camera, posing with the dog while I’m staring forlorn out of the camera’s range. That’s the only picture of me.

I wonder if that picture represents a happy moment for my grandmother.

Or wait -- more pictures in the room that’s now kind of an office, formerly my grandfather’s bedroom, some of these include me as a little kid, much younger than 11 or 12 which I guess is as old as I get in pictures in this house, maybe after that it was too clear that I didn't belong I don't know. A family portrait where my sister, my mother and I are all engaged in the same fake glowing smile. I remember we all argued and argued during that photo shoot at my grandmother's house, so much that we never did a family portrait like that again.

My mother encourages me to talk about my book tour with my grandmother, but it’s hard to tell if my grandmother’s interested. She keeps talking about relatives who are sick. It’s better when she’s showing me her paintings, I’m supposed to pick ones I want after she dies, but most of them have my sister or my father’s name on them. My father’s name means my mother gets them, I mean I’m sure we can all decide between us which ones we want -- not like any of us have much room to store them. It’s unclear to me exactly what this gesture means.

In the car on the way to my grandmother’s, my mother tells me she’s enjoyed every moment she’s spent with me and I wouldn’t have guessed that so it’s surprising to hear, but now just writing it I’m crying. There’s something about this sadness that feels productive and beautiful -- there’s another part that feels neverending, I mean so all-encompassing that I could become nothing but that sadness.

Back in DC, my mother shows me her new apartment -- it’s a fancy condo loft on one of the most extreme gentrification blocks in all of DC probably -- everything has been torn down for Whole Foods on one side and nothing but condos and new high-end rentals on the other. This block is absolutely bustling at almost any time, filled with yuppies of many different types-- gay and straight, mostly white but also black -- socializing and shopping and going to restaurants as if an entirely different neighborhood didn’t exist right there probably less than five years ago.

Cultural erasure so seamless that it almost seems exciting. My mother wants to know what I think about her new apartment, she’s worried that it’s too small -- moving from a large suburban house to a large urban one bedroom plus loft is a dramatic change. The main bathroom has two crazy round modern white sink, marble floors -- everything is top-of-the-line designer contemporary, bamboo floors, huge windows overlooking the street. It is gorgeous in the way that something like that can be gorgeous. Driving over there, I’m pointing out the neighborhoods of row houses that have been torn down to make way for condo after condo, my mother says she doesn’t agree with that kind of displacement but of course that kind of displacement is what she is so directly participating in. I can only make that point so many times, I worry that I too am participating after she keeps asking me whether I like the condo --it’s very high-end, I say. But then I’m giving her advice on where to put the kitchen table, what kind of plants to get for the small balcony.