Friday, May 02, 2008

May Day May Day May Day this energy of presence

What an amazing May Day reading -- sure, it could have been shorter -- 3-and-a-half hours is a bit much (we were supposed to do three minutes each, but let's just say that most people went a little over), but wow such an incredible range of performers and a rare opportunity to connect across so many of the boundaries that rarely shift in the ways that could create everything that’s possible. People active in so many of the major literary and political struggles in San Francisco over the last five decades, too much to summarize right now but it was such an inspiration. And I loved my individual contact with people, especially Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, one of my heroes, who is so sweet and warm and giving she came right up to me and we had such a good time, or Jack Hirschman, poet laureate of San Francisco telling me that he was so impressed with the last lines of my piece or Guillermo Gomez-Pena coming over to compliment me or the poet who smiled such a wonderful smile and handed me a tulip from the table at the back where those of us left at the end were wondering whether it would really end -- what I mean is all the risks these people, established in all their own areas, take to actually reach out and make connections and what could be more important? Oh -- and how the audience really related to my critique of gentrification and struggles to survive and thrive and create something defiant, and then my father, and more, and how after I read it was like I was in a different body not all tense and edgy but soft and sinking into the chair.

Then afterwards I’m filled with all this energy of presence, waiting for the bus this guy is on the other side of the glass I smile he comes up to me and asks if I played music, no I'm a writer then the bus comes I let it go we’re talking about music he’s looking for people to play music with I can't tell if he's flirting with me, at some point I say well you're awfully cute, turns out he’s straight but he doesn't say it in an offensive way he says do you want to get a beer and I invite him of over, no beer it turns out that's just something social. And then we talk for two or three hours about music and sex and desire and romance and broken hearts and Christianity and porn and animals and assimilation and relationships and the fleshlight -- it's one of those sudden new friendship conversations, he’s from Sonoma but once to move into the city and I offer him some lentils it's all really fun.

But now I have to get ready for bed -- thought I'd share what I wrote for today's performance -- I took the 3-5 minutes max seriously, kept tightening and tightening – you’ll probably recognize some of it from other places but today it was in this place called

The Beginning of the End
When I first moved to San Francisco, I knew it was the beginning of the end, but still it was the beginning. The people I met were scarred and broken and brutalized, we’d fled our families of origin and we were determined to create something else, something we could live with, something we could call home or healing or even just help, I need help here, can you help?

We were huddled and dreaming outside of the status quo, but still we were gentrifiers -- we knew that. Some of us had grown up rich and more of us poor, but we could see the way that queer freaks and artists and activists made our neighborhoods safer places for everything we despised. We brought the trendy restaurants that we gazed at with anguish and disgust, the partying suburbanites we scorned; we were the beginning of the end and we didn't know what to do because we'd just found the beginning.

This was the early ‘90s, and everywhere people were dying of AIDS and drug addiction and suicide and some of the dead were among us, just like us, just trying to survive. Others were more in the distance, the elders we barely got to know except through their loss. We went crazy and cried a lot, or went crazy and stopped crying, or just went crazy.

I remember Colin from ACT UP, his big story was when they gave him bleach in jail instead of water so he was excited when I told him he didn't have to bleach his hair to get it flamingo pink, it was already almost white. After he died, I ended up with some of his ashes in my camera bag. Moving cross-country, the ashes got stuck to my lenses; I threw the ashes on an audience and someone said these actually look like bone fragments.

My father wanted to be cremated, but my mother wouldn't let him: this was one thing she had control over. In the family room with my father in his hospital bed, I can see myself seeing him, looking at him like I'm daring everything. I'm saying: when I first heard that you had cancer, it surprised me because for so long I’d wanted any trace of you to disappear from my life, but I found myself wishing that I could save you. I realized I still had some hope that you’d acknowledge sexually abusing me, because it would make it easier for me to go on living.

What I want to do is to touch his arm, softly, his skin. It feels intimate and nurturing and dangerous and right now I'm okay with all these sensations. At some point I say I've learned there are other ways to be strong besides holding everything in -- and of course sobbing is the texture of the air, sobbing is the feeling of this room, sobbing here it feels like strength.


Willow said...

Wow, that sounds like an amazing event. I wish I could have been there.

And your last lines are really powerful. I hear an echo with something I wrote recently (the echo is at the end):

When I was in high school I wanted to become a super-villain, to turn my pain into sword and shield, to hate the world and thus be invincible. I could never actually do this, though, and not just because I don't have super powers--because I'm too empathic to sustain hurting other people, because I would always feel sick to my stomach from the hatred. It's this very softness, this failure to live up to patriarchal masculinity, which my father would call weakness, that is my strength.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Aha, I see the echo :)

Love --