Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The way people talk

But back to writing stories – once I started it became such an important way for expressing myself and processing the world. I would write when I got to that frantic place where I felt like if I didn’t get something on the page right away it would disappear. I would disappear. I didn’t want to disappear – that’s why I wrote stories.

I realized that voice was the most important thing and I needed to cut out anything that got in the way. Like with poetry. I wanted to make the reader enter on my terms. If we’re not living a life in what is supposed to be the center, we’re always told that we need to explain anything in order for it to make sense to someone who is not us, and I think that’s a lie. That’s why my stories would tumble along and pull you in and then stop. Like the way people talk. Just like that and then you had to figure out what was going on, or maybe you already knew and that’s what I wanted too.

Plot, I wasn’t interested in plot. I don’t believe our lives have plots, unless you’re floating above in a helicopter and I was trying so hard not to float up there I’d stayed there my first 18 years to survive and now I wanted to be down here where I could feel things more. Writing was part of that. So I wrote these stories, a few in San Francisco and Boston but mostly in New York, and I sent them off to anthologies, a lot of them erotica anthologies because I wrote about sex as a window into everything else and even though it wasn’t necessarily erotic to me I knew it would be erotic to someone. Erotica already exists somewhat outside conventional standards of decency so if you’re writing work that is dangerous to mainstream ideas of acceptability then there’s more space.

I was inspired by writers like Robert Glück and Rebecca Brown who created preposterous worlds and made you believe them because you believed what you were feeling, yes feeling again. I said the difference between fiction and autobiography is that autobiography is all lies, and so that’s why I write fiction. Of course now I write nonfiction too, so I try to use the techniques of experimental writing to expose the mechanism and that way you may not believe it in such a literal way. And, of course, I’m probably lying too.

Eventually I put together a collection of short stories and I was sending it around to people for critique, to people for publishing ideas, and one of those people, D. Travers Scott, who I knew from Seattle, said oh the voice in these stories is very similar, have you considered making it a novel? A novel – I wasn’t interested in novels, I mean I read them all the time but I didn’t want to write one. I liked the tightness of short stories, the flow and then stop. A novel felt insincere. But I believed in experimenting, so I thought let me try it out, just to see, and I cut some parts and moved things around and then I read it through and I thought oh, it’s so much better.

So then I had this novel, Pulling Taffy, which was totally nonlinear and every section was self-contained and so then I got into similar publishing conversations, they wanted it to follow a clearer arc but instead I found this new publisher, Suspect Thoughts, or rather they found me and they wanted to publish it without a clearer arc. The only things we argued about were question marks and run-on sentences, and I still got to keep the question marks away for the most part because I didn’t think questions needed question marks except when they sounded like it. Oh – and we also argued about quotation marks because I don’t like the way they break sentences I like the flow, but I got to keep those too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A review of So Many Ways from the Skinny in Scotland!

Yay -- the article is lovely -- it describes the book as:
a blistering rollercoaster through one individual's experiences and dreams, set against the backdrop of queer San Francisco in the early part of this decade. It was written in two-paragraph bursts when fibromyalgia made typing, or even holding a pen, a painful task for Mattilda. The novel careens along with a fragmentary zest - never coming apart completely even though thoughts, interactions and stories speed past in a blur of racing, disjointed narrative. Seemingly endless encounters with tricks, phone calls from friends that offer occasionally bittersweet insight into their lives, open relationships that seem like they should work even as they drift away, addictions to hooking up for sex over Craigslist, dancing to pounding beats, sex, sex, and more sex, coping with rebellious bodies and constant pain and the memories of sexual abuse, and random moments of shared understanding with strangers on the bus: they all flow over each other. All the while, we're treated to a contemporary landscape of fragmentation: the spectre of war post-9/11 and the futility of the peace demos; a 'gay community' that seems to be absent outside a collection of friends; and meanwhile the narrator’s apartment is taken over by mice, pigeons, rats, and a collection of cockroaches that seem to be fond of the electric toothbrush. Like life, the novel never seems to know where it's going, but keeps on pulsing forward, always bustling, although its consistent narrative style makes it feel more like swimming against the stream.

But then only dead fish go with the flow.

Mattilda has taken a snapshot from the start of this decade, straight from the voices of queer realities in San Francisco, and distilled it into a glorious rant about surviving and dealing with life. With all this said, the book is never depressing. The narrator never dips into self-pity and even though the book is certainly shocking, it is also at times extremely touching, and often hilarious.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Proving it

Randy comes over my house to go to Critical Resistance and I say this might be the last time I wear my hair like this, because I can’t find a spray that I’m not allergic to. But I also can’t find a new style that I like, something where my hair is down it just feels too understated and I feel like all the flaws on my face are magnified, like the bags under my eyes and it’s stressful because I’m going on tour and when I’m on tour it’s so important to feel like I can do something like my hair, I mean get it perfect and then feel like I can face the world, I mean face the world without feeling like a complete mess. So I keep trying all these new styles, but the other thing is that they make my face look too square, I mean I need to get a new haircut to figure it out so that the bottom is rounded and that will probably make a difference, but I need to figure it out first because I can’t go to get a haircut and just say what do you think we should do, I mean what do you think I should do, I mean I like to know exactly what I want ahead of time, so that I don’t end up hating it.

I forget how frantic I am at this time of the day, rushing to get out of the house I mean I’m not rushing but I keep talking in circles maybe I am rushing I’m not sure if I’m more frantic because Randy’s here or if I’m always this way it’s just in my head so I don’t notice as much. We get the bus and the BART right away, and right when we get off the train there’s Joolie, coming from the conference, and she gives me a great hug, says you look wonderful, which is nice to hear since I was obsessing. Although then I’m thinking will I look as good when I cut my hair, I mean I kept my hair really short for years and even shaved it all with clippers for a while but now I feel like that kind of style makes me look too severe.

It’s kind of fun being in Oakland – I go there so rarely, so I’m always somewhat surprised that it’s really a different city – the spacing of buildings, the air, the way people look at you, the foliage, the light. We’re walking towards the event, which is right by Randy’s house, and when we get close I realize there’s a stream of people and I remember Randy says no one walks around here so I know we’re all going to the event. We’re right along the lake, which I’m sure is polluted as hell but everything looks so sedate here with the sun lowering amidst the buildings reflecting the watery glow.

Everyone’s gathered on the steps of the Scottish Rites Hall because they haven’t opened the doors yet, and Hilary comes running over I forgot Hilary was going to be here, and there’s Jessica too, yay, and Jessica says I didn’t know you left the house this early and I like that she understands it’s a big deal for me to get here. It feels very festive and exciting and people who might not generally socialize are smiling at one another. Once the doors open, everyone’s streaming in and we decide to go to the top, which is stairwell after stairwell but then we’re in this crazy grand space, trying to decide where to sit, up here at the top there’s more legroom so we try it out but then one of the volunteers says we can’t sit there yet, they want everyone to sit further down so that people aren’t spread out. I say oh, I have a lot of chronic pain issues and it would be much more comfortable for me to sit here. He’s not having it, and then someone else comes over and argues with me also, and then the second guy says we can sit down lower, and then once it’s time for people to sit up higher then we can move.

I don’t understand this crowd control obsession at an event centered around abolishing prisons, but I’m also aware that our group is all white, as are most of the people in this section, and I’m arguing with two black male volunteers, so it starts to feel like a depressing spectacle so we all sit down lower. Randy has already left because he got overwhelmed, I mean before the issue about the seating. I think he’s not used to this type of crowd – dykes and activists of all types or no the vast majority women, and a fair number of black mothers with kids. I’m not sure which part made him uncomfortable, maybe just the crowd and he lives only a few blocks away an easy escape. So I’m sitting next to Randy’s empty seat and the show starts and the room is really hot and dusty and I start to get that ache all over my body, is it because the seat backs are so hard, angled uncomfortably or maybe I’m worn out from arguing I mean I know I’m worn out from arguing. I look back and sure enough the seats with more room have already filled I mean I knew that would happen. I guess I could get up and sit with someone random I don’t really want to sit with someone random right now. Instead I keep getting up to stretch, then sitting back down, the beginning of the show is mostly self-congratulatory rhetoric and I’m wondering why I’m staying I mean I can tell that I’m going to get to that point where everything hurts where nothing feels hopeful but I’m here to feel hopeful I got all the way here I need to leave now.

I go back out into the hallway, there’s Inez and Bea and Blake I love these hugs and Inez invites me to a barbecue but I say I’m leaving because I’m in too much pain. Inez asks if I drive, do you want to take my car back to the city, which is so sweet I mean it makes me feel like there is something like community sometimes. Oh, I can’t drive, but then Blake says he’ll drive the car and I’m thinking sitting in the car will hurt more than taking the BART, but then there’s also the walk to the BART and I’d like to hang out with Blake and it’s such a sweet offer from Inez I figure why not try it to see if it works? So then I say goodbye to Hilary and Jessica, plus Madigan and Abby who’ve joined us, then I’m back in the hall and Inez is giving us directions to the car, which looks like it’s as far as the BART but Blake says it’s closer.

I don’t want to talk about the walk to the car or the drive, I mean I like catching up with Blake but then there’s the pollution I can’t figure out if it’s from the car or from the highway or both and then there’s the uncomfortable angle of sitting and we’re sitting in traffic more pollution waiting for the bridge and when we get back to San Francisco Blake wants to drop me off on Market Street which is only 10 blocks from my house but it still means two buses and the best part of the ride was that I would get right to my door and we’re trying to think if there’s somewhere to drop me off where there’s just one bus, just O’Farrell but then we’re only three blocks from my house. Really I’m thinking this is one of the reasons I hate accepting rides, because then people want to drop you off somewhere else. I should’ve taken the BART is what I’m thinking, I would’ve been in less pain I could’ve relaxed more now I can’t even speak. Blake says okay you convinced me, and then we’re at my house and upstairs I figure I better take a shower maybe that will help even though the chlorine will dry out my skin it’s a change of environment the heat and moisture sometimes soothe the pain and then I’m standing in the shower and I feel so overwhelmed by my limitations I mean I guess I shouldn’t even try to go to large public events anymore and what will it be like on tour it’s just so hard to do anything to go out there in the world and then thinking about the dynamic of these two masculine black guys arguing with this queeny white fag in a space that’s mostly white dykes and a lot of dykes of color plus a fair number of straight women of color and not as many trans people as I would've thought, mostly trans guys although probably more non-trans straight guys and of course way fewer fags there are never fags in radical spaces I know that.

I’m thinking about arguing with these guys who were enforcing some kind of regulation for no reason except regulation and I’m trying to tell them I have chronic pain issues I mean I tell them that I do tell them that but they don’t listen maybe because I’m young and I look able-bodied or maybe because I’m a queen and I’m supposed to be a man and I hate that in situations like that it’s like I have to prove my pain. I have to prove the way it will surround me, like there’s a gesture I could make. I don’t want the pain either. I mean I would probably have gotten to that place of overwhelm anyway but maybe not so soon maybe I could have seen Angela Davis or Linda Evans speak instead of staring into space feeling so suddenly separate from everyone. Thinking about the heat and my allergies and the lack of oxygen, people looked over and I tried to smile I was just sitting there so overwhelmed and here these guys wanted me to prove that I was worthy of special treatment I just wanted to sit and watch and feel inspired but here’s the shower I can feel that shake in my chest that means tears maybe tears yes tears here I’m hugging myself more tears in the shower I’m hugging myself with tears.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What not to do

Okay, today starts with the fact that I’m allergic to something in the laundry detergent they use at the place where I send my laundry so that I won’t be allergic. I’m already dreading the phone conversation when I call them to ask why there’s something synthetic in the laundry and they say they only use biodegradable detergent, but I know that’s not true because I can smell something synthetic. Non-synthetic fragrances don’t last this long – maybe it’s the residue from some other wash, except they say they don’t use fabric softener or any other detergents except for this one that I know has no chemicals and it.

And today ends with the fact that I have to leave the opening plenary for Critical Resistance, the prison abolition conference, because I’m in too much pain. I mean I’m only there briefly and I get to hug some friends hello and then sit down and argue with a volunteer about whether it’s okay to sit in the seats with more legroom but apparently it’s not so thenI end up in all this pain I mean I actually would probably end up in this pain anyway, but maybe not as fast because the argument drains me and then I’m sitting in this huge room with a lot of dust and not much air circulation and I keep getting up to walk around but it’s doesn’t help much and then the plenary opens and I’m just staring into space thinking I should leave I’m going to be in too much pain I should leave before I’m in too much pain, but it’s hard to leave because I managed to get there.

More later, I guess -- I can’t write anymore right now, it hurts too much to sit at the computer I don’t exactly know what to do, but apparently the computer is what not to do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Luck or just persistence

So I started to get a few things published in anthologies, anthologies about queer identity and about sex, and I started meeting more writers who wrote for anthologies or just other writers who put their work out into the world and one of those writers, Steve Zealand, thought I should do my own anthology about male hustlers and I wasn’t really interested in that anthology. But I realized there was another anthology I wanted to do, a book that shifted the gaze and put tricks under the microscope instead of the same old gawker mentality: therapists and talkshow hosts and social workers and academics endlessly analyzing the plight of these sorry or maybe even special creatures. I wanted to put together sex workers of all types without any kind of hierarchy of legitimacy, and to focus the lens on the tricks. I felt that, as a whore, you develop these complicated, critical ways of dealing with all of these dangerous intersections of sex, money, desire, intimacy, power—you’re forced to develop that engagement in order to survive. So I wanted to put these hooker stories together, and see what happened.

Of course the publisher rejected my proposal, which was no surprise – I didn’t have any initials after my name. But at that point I’d already written the call for submissions, so I was committed to doing the book. I was excited about it. I started looking into other publishers, and someone even approached me to collaborate on a book about – yes, male hustlers, but then he ended up taking my ideas and submitting them on his own. Strangely, a year after my original proposal, a contract arrived in the mail from the same publisher I’d originally pitched. No explanation. And then we argued about whether the book should be only male sex workers, and this went on for another year, and maybe it makes more sense that we argued before the contract. Not that I’m suggesting that the publishing industry makes sense.

But in any case I won my battle, and didn’t have to change anything, and I realize here that I’ve shifted from writing to editing to publishing, which has been as strange a transition for me as anyone else. Sometimes I feel like I’m enmeshed in a dangerous web where I spend more time on the marketing side than the creative, even if the marketing side sometimes fuels the creative it also weighs me down. But I’m getting ahead of myself, for my first book, what was exciting was that it kind of felt like the direct action organizing that meant so much to me, like I could put an idea out in the world and see who related and then I could hone all these disparate relationships into something much greater than what I’d originally envisioned. Weirder, too.

So okay, I wasn’t yet enmeshed in the publishing industry, independent a misnomer, I mean what were they independent from? And what about you, I mean me, and my independence? But once I did one anthology, well, I couldn’t stop I mean I could stop I mean I even think I did stop, that first time, maybe not after that but that first time I stopped. But I knew there were other books that I needed to do. One of them was about queer survivors of childhood abuse, can you believe there were only a few difficult-to-find books centering around queer survivors? And I wanted to challenge the recovery narrative, present something rougher and messier and bolder too, like our lives. Work by survivors of all genders, side-by-side. Survivors of all types of abuse – sexual, emotional, physical.

The other book I wanted to do was about resisting the gay mainstream, challenging the violence of gay assimilation, but the publisher of my first anthology, Tricks and Treats, wasn’t interested in that one because he said that radical outsider activist queers wouldn’t be interested in buying the book, they would want it to be free. I thought everyone liked free books!

So Dangerous Families was my next anthology, and can you believe the publisher and I had the same argument – they wanted the book to consist of only stories by male survivors, they said that was the only way it would sell. I said listen, didn’t we already have this conversation, and Tricks and Treats was a success? Isn’t that why you’re approaching me again? With this new anthology, isn’t it enough of a commonality that all the contributors will be queer, and survivors?

It’s not that a book about queer male survivors of childhood abuse – or even male hustlers – wouldn’t be interesting, it’s just that those aren’t the books I’m interested in creating. Too many people are destroyed by gender segregation, policing, and regulation for me to risk furthering this caste system. Luckily I won that battle, I mean I’m not sure if it was luck or just persistence.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

That shock of recognition

(Maybe this is the beginning of something I’ll read at universities when I’m on tour, or that’s what I’m thinking at the moment)

I started writing stories after I started turning tricks. I was a writer before but I was interested in poetry, in arranging words on the page so that they could shift your breathing but you weren’t exactly sure why.

I started writing stories after I started turning tricks, because my friends kept saying you have to write those stories down. At first I wasn’t interested – I thought the details were too mundane—every hooker has stories, right? I wanted to change language.

But then, once I started writing those stories, I realized I loved it. I loved it because writing for me was memory; at 19 I’d remembered I was sexually abused by my parents and this had changed everything. I started turning tricks soon after but I’d planned it before. It made sense and I didn’t necessarily know why, except that I lived in a culture of radical outsider queers, sluts, incest survivors, runaways, anarchists, strippers, direct action activists, vegans, drug addicts, and other flamboyant creatures and so it was possible. Not in that pathologized way of leaving my body I knew that too well. I was learning to feel, everything, and I didn’t want to turn that around I was very conscious when I would start to hang out on the ceiling and so I’d bring myself back.

I started writing stories because I wanted to process and express the worlds that meant something to me. I realized this was important, mostly because it kept me alive but also because it might keep someone else alive with that shock of recognition, we all need that. Like when I first found David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives and all this energy went to my head— it was the first time I found my rage in print, and simultaneously a feeling of maybe a little bit of hope in a world of loss. Sex so alienated and intimate, infinite and lost, this was the world I inhabited but I hadn’t quite recognized the way that the imagination of desire creates worlds that sometimes trap us until we’re surrounded by our own limitations and we can’t get out or in. That second part I might not have realized until now.

The first story I wrote, the story about my fifth trick, “he calls around 11, says do you go to Concord. I say 100 an hour, 250 for the night, wash up, cash the last train, and of course he isn’t there.” When I move back to the East Coast from San Francisco, I made that story into a performance piece and then it became the first story I got published, in an anthology called Queer View Mirror. Anthologies were a gateway that I hadn’t known about – I’d sent off my poetry to literary magazines since I was in high school, believing their mythologies of discovering new writers I was ready. But I didn’t realize that anthologies actualize that possibility in a way that very few literary magazines even attempt.

I always knew I was a good writer, but I also grew up believing that most good writers never got published, and so that wasn’t important to me. Getting published didn’t change the way I thought about my writing, but I liked the idea of other people reading my words and maybe gasping in disbelief or more importantly the place where all your senses open up: home. That’s what I was interested in creating.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The market

Amy says: sitting with your parents, I felt attached to them but I also felt a black hole, something missing and they said you’re right, there is something, but we’re not ready to talk about it, and when it came out your father became very depressed and your mother got scared. You were the core of the depression and the bleakness I was experiencing, that’s why it was helpful when I talked to you because it was like you were in the room.

But she also says: it was a struggle for all of us, the whole family. Are you kidding? What family – there was no family. Amy says you know your father was clinically depressed, of course I know he was depressed – that’s why he worked 60 hours a week for his whole life, I mean he always had a high-paying job and he controlled his own hours it wasn’t like he needed to work 60 hours a week, I remember when he first got cancer and he was working 30 hours a week and my mother said he was enjoying the time he had to read books. Of course he could’ve made time to read books, but instead he was working from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.

But Amy means something different, clinically depressed he could hardly function I don’t know why that matters. I mean it’s like she’s trying to humanize him, how he really cared about me – I know he cared about me, I even know that he loved me, and it doesn’t matter – it almost makes it worse that he couldn’t take any steps to acknowledge sexually abusing me on any level at all, I mean even when he knew he was going to die and I told him it would make it easier for me to go on living and he still couldn’t say anything. I mean he wouldn’t say anything. He wouldn’t even say I love you.

There’s a whole conversation in here, but I’m just going to jump to the part where Amy wants me to think about the possibility of meeting with my mother and her when I’m in DC on tour, and strangely it starts to sound appealing I mean I’m desperate and Amy encourages me to think that somehow my mother will have some sudden understanding and I think about what it would mean if I could have a relationship with my mother that wasn’t just about her manipulation and my sense of powerlessness, we could go to visit the sea lions and smile like children together and I could get teary-eyed and feel vulnerable and maybe she could even say I love you and I wouldn’t feel like I suddenly couldn’t breathe. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like I had to lie about something no matter what maybe I wouldn’t have to think where’s my body oh here it is ouch.

Maybe it’s ironic that, the next time I’m supposed to talk to Amy but she hasn’t called yet and I pick up the phone and it’s my mother, usually I wouldn’t talk so early I’m too edgy but I figure if Amy’s not going to call maybe it’s time for my mother, another therapist except the wrong kind. It’s always okay and nothing and not okay until I ask if she’s talked to her financial planners, that’s always her excuse for why she hasn’t created the account she hasn’t talked to them yet they’re on vacation they’re busy she forgot to bring it up she can’t remember what they said. This time she says she doesn’t want to talk about that right now.

But she never wants to talk about it. She wants to say: I’m giving you everything you need. I mean she says that. Everything I need, except what I need. I mean what I’ve asked for. I mean what she offered. Not money, but an account that permanently pays my basic expenses, something that wouldn’t change her life on any level at all, I have to keep repeating that to myself because she lives this lie of fear. This lie that only serves her, scared is what you need to keep it.

She does remember why, why doesn’t seem to be the problem, she says: because it would make you feel secure. She doesn’t understand why I don’t, I don’t need to worry she’s there for me. I say how could I possibly trust that when everything you say you take back, every time you say you’re going to do something I have to think: is this really going to happen? And then I think: maybe that was the wrong thing to say, in this strategy where everything’s a dead end anyway I’m not sure if there is anything except wrong.

But this is my favorite response yet, I mean my absolute favorite – we have to wait and see what happens with the market. You see: now it’s the market, everybody’s worried about the market. I say: I think the market is going to crash, but that’s not the point, the point is that I’m asking you to create this account so that that wouldn’t matter. The money would be separate from your finances, I wouldn’t have to wait for you to say oh this month I can’t send you that check. The market is going to crash and I’m crashing with it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Food, glamorous food...

The big book tour, here it is!

Okay, so I'll be updating this list as I go along, so feel free to check back...

First the short list, and then the details:

San Francisco: City Lights Bookstore -- Wednesday, October 8, 7:30 pm
Portland: Powell’s on Hawthorne -- Monday, October 13, 7:30 pm
Seattle: Elliott Bay Book Company -- Wednesday, October 15, 7:30 pm
Olympia, WA: Evergreen State College -- Thursday, October 16, time TBA
Bellingham, WA: Village Books -- Monday, October 20, 7 pm
Chicago: Women & Children First -- Wednesday, October 29, 7:30 pm
Toronto: This Ain't the Rosedale Library -- Monday, November 3, 7 pm
Montreal: McGill University -- Thursday, November 6, 7 pm
Amherst, MA: Food for Thought -- Tuesday, Nov 11, 7:00 pm
Boston: Harvard Coop -- Thursday, November 13, 7 pm
New York: Bluestockings -- Tuesday, November 18, 7 pm
Philadelphia: Giovanni's Room -- Thursday, November 20, 5:30 pm
Baltimore: Red Emma's -- Monday, December 1, 7 pm
Washington, DC: Location TBA -- Wednesday, December 3, 7 pm
Brooklyn, NY: Word -- Wednesday, December 10, 7:30 pm
San Francisco: Books Inc. in the Castro -- Thursday, January 22, 7:30 pm
Berkeley: Moe's -- Tuesday, January 27, 7:30 pm

I’ll also be featuring at the following series:
Chicago: Bookslut Reading Series -- Tuesday, October 28, 7:30 pm
New York: Reading for Filth -- Wednesday, November 26, 8 pm
New York: QT Reading Series at Dixon Place -- Tuesday, December 9, 7 pm

(More California events to come in January and February!)

Wednesday, October 8, 7:30pm
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave. at Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 362-8193
A Litquake event!


So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in PORTLAND
(with Thea Hillman)
Monday, October 13, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's on Hawthorne
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Oregon
(503) 228-4651

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in SEATTLE
(with Thea Hillman)
Wednesday, October 15, 7:30 p.m.
Elliott Bay Book Co.
101 S. Main St.
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 624-6600

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in OLYMPIA
(with Thea Hillman)
Thursday, October 16, 7 p.m.
Evergreen State College Library, Underground
2700 NW Evergreen Parkway
Olympia, WA 98505

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in BELLINGHAM
Monday, October 20, 7 p.m.
Village Books
1200 11th Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
(360) 671-2626

Bookslut Reading Series
(with Todd Hasak-Lowy and more TBA)
Tuesday, October 28, 7:30 p.m.
Hopleaf, Second Floor
5148 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in CHICAGO
Wednesday, October 29, 7:30 p.m.
Women and Children First
5233 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 769-9299

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in TORONTO
(with Hal Niedzviecki, Stacey May Fowles, Tara-Michelle Ziniuk and Sandra Alland)
Monday, November 3, 7:00 p.m.
This Ain't The Rosedale Library
86 Nassau Street
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5T 1M5

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in MONTREAL
Thursday, November 6, 7:00 p.m.
McGill University
Biology Building
1205 Dr. Penfield Avenue
Room S 1/4
Montreal, Quebec

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in AMHERST
Tuesday, Nov 11, 7:00 p.m.
Food for Thought
106 N. Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01002
(413) 253-5432

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in BOSTON
Thursday, November 13, 7:00 p.m.
Harvard Coop
1400 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02238
(617) 499-2000

Harvard College Women's Center
Friday, November 14, 5 pm
Canady B, basement
Harvard College
Cambridge, MA
(dinner and discussion)

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in NEW YORK
Tuesday, November 18, 7 p.m.
Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen St (between Stanton and Rivington)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-6028

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in PHILADELPHIA
Thursday, November 20, 5:30 p.m.
Giovanni’s Room
1145 Pine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 923-2960

Reading for Filth
Wednesday, November 26, 8 pm
The Woodshop
24 Ninth Avenue (Between 13th & 14th Sts.), 5th Floor
New York, New York

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in BALTIMORE
(with Cristy Road)
Monday, December 1, 7:00 p.m.
Red Emma’s
800 St. Paul St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 230-0450

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in WASHINGTON, DC
(with Jennifer Natalya Fink)
Tuesday, December 2, 7:00 p.m.
Bridge Street Books
2814 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 965-5200

QT Reading Series at Dixon Place
Tuesday, December 9, 7:00pm
(with Douglas A. Martin and Magdalena Zurawski)
161 Chrystie Street (just above Delancey)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 219-0736

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in BROOKLYN
(with Cristy Road)
Wednesday, December 10, 7:30 pm
126 Franklin St.
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 383-0096

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly RETURNS TO SAN FRANCISCO
Books Inc. in the Castro
(with Thea Hillman)
Thursday, January 22nd, 7:30 p.m.
2275 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 864-6777

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly in BERKELEY
Moe's Books
(with Thea Hillman)
Tuesday, January 27, 7:30 p.m.
2476 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley CA 94704
(510) 849-2087

Stomachache, ouch

Stomachache ouch I’m thinking about running into Derek on the J I don’t usually take the J this is his part of town, not that we have territories but I don’t like coming in this direction, doesn’t relate to Derek it’s just the way that I don’t feellike I hate this city all the time. I kind of structure my life so that I go east and west on the 38, North or South on Van Ness or Leavenworth, Union Square or downtown or occasionally to the beach but not usually in the Mission-Castro-Noe Valley direction, here I am looking over at Dolores Park, the park everyone loves it just reminds me that I don’t like most of this city – sunny and hilly the tiny houses sure it’s pretty but I guess it’s the memories I don’t like, the Mission because I used to have so much hope for everything that let me down, scenester culture disguised as radical alternatives to the status quo and once I believed it so long ago it seems. Never again anything that calls itself community, the violence always lurks underneath. But Derek, I never thought Derek would let me down but here I am with that stomachache, ouch it’s just that everything clenches up thinking about what I should do if I see him, will I feel cold and distant but act friendly? Will I want to turn away but instead a big smile? Will I want to hug him but act distant? Will everything soften all the sudden but then afterwards it’s all broken?

Maybe there are more options I’ll have to think of more. I’ll admit that on the way back on the J, Dolores Park does look kind of gorgeous with the view of the whole sparkling downtown although I still hate those palm trees but I don’t worry about running into Derek maybe it’s the time of day for my nerves on the way it was too early I was rushing I hadn’t eaten enough now the sun is lower I can breathe.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Flying it gives me so much

But it really starts going when someone opens my door, oh it's the guy who stared at me from a parked car when I was on my way here, something about his look made me think I should look in the car and I tried but at that point I was far ahead so instead I looked back in that way that meant I was looking. And here he is -- face worn from tweaking and he says nice cock, yes it's already out and hard, I motion him over but he shuts the door then opens it again and he’s with his friend and they're staring in that wide-eyed tweaker way the way that says this is the only thing I want in the world I can't believe I'm here this is the only thing I want in the world. I motion them both over, but they just stare, and then I say come here, both of you, and they shut the door again.

My dollar runs out and the lights come on, not like I was watching the porn anyway so I go into the hall to find those guys, maybe I need to get up close and there they are around the corner but there's someone new, shorter with reddish hair and he's grabbing his crotch I grab it too this is the moment that moment of invincibility. Like I could do anything, do you know what I mean that confidence of desire in motion he looks up and we're making out, liquor on his breath no surprise it's just before or just after 2 a.m. I guide him into a booth yes yes flying in this tiny space 3' x 3' x 8', flying on my knees flying in his arms flying with tongue and mouth and throat and hands yes flying is easier on my body not the usual pain it’s desire in motion that pushes pain away except wait my neck at that angle I'm worried about my neck at that angle, adjust. Oh but then my neck at that angle I can't help it his thrusts my throat yes his thrusts yes my throat yes this charge and then laughing yes laughing yes I love this kind of laughter back to flying it gives me so much.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The jewelry section

Do you back when you crack? Do you back when you crack? Do you wawawawawawa do you back when you crack sometimes I wonder if there's music in my dreams but there it is, not the most inspiring beats but still do you back when you crack do you back when you crack do you back when you crack it’s department store music and I'm in the jewelry section, or not quite jewelry I'm coming out of the bathroom yes the bathroom that starts pink and girly and then you can go in one of two directions, always a complicated decision I choose the urinals because of what else might happen there, but this time there aren't any urinals just jewelry cases you have to step onto toes to get your dick inside it's soft and comfortable but kind of complicated to piss there without causing a mess although certainly cruisy all these guys at strange angles and then you step outside into back when you crack do you back when you crack, ready to avoid the perfumed areas and this blonde prep with shorts on reaches over and grabs you right on the inside of the thigh oh the confidence the comfort you love the way it's all in the public domain of jewelry cases and cosmetics and hats over there in the distance he's reaching deeper into the middle and you reach over too and then it's like you're floating while walking in a dream this is just called walking but when you wake up you realize when someone grabs your inner thigh and you reach over to grab his it's not quite possible to walk anymore maybe tongue into mouth but that's a different kind of walking. You're still moving forward, legs on ground but slightly lifted see that's the only way the only way is flying, flying with desire but no desire is also that frantic part when you enter the bathroom almost like panic. This is when anything in the world that's difficult or unclear or harsh fades far away and you only feel confidence in freedom.

Like the Nob Hill Theatre, or no not like the Nob Hill Theatre but like the Nob Hill Theatre when it's really working, okay it doesn't start that way -- trust me it doesn't start that way. I walk in and there's no one there, actually there's one guy leaning his head into a booth so that probably means he's watching someone through a glory hole but I have to go to the bathroom and when I get out that guy’s not there anymore. So I mean there's no one in the hall, two guys total in the place, in neighboring booths and one guy’s making a lot of noise oh, oh, OH, so I peer into the crack between door and wall, I see his dick peeking through glory hole, not quite hard the other guy is pulling on the foreskin with his white white hand, what makes hands sexy? I mean I don't find this guy's hand sexy at all, all I can say is it's pale and very moisturized but I'm not averse to pale or moisture. I look at my own hands -- not so sexy either or okay I like them from the palm but not the other side too much visible through skin.

Maybe hands are just sexy when they're touching you, I mean if they're touching you right. I guess that's why that guy is moaning so much, although he's only a sound exhibitionist because this door is locked. Anyway, then I'm in the next booth over, sliding in the dollar for the machine so that the window will clear and I can get a closer look at what's going on. Except then it doesn't clear, it stays white and even when I get on my knees I'm looking at the shadow of my face in the glass.

Yes, I'm becoming a bit obsessed...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yay for color -- color to the rescue!

Cactuses dancing in the window, keep dancing!

It could get worse

My conversation with Amy from last week: she's describing my mother's patterns -- she has this fear of being taken advantage of, a paranoia -- status is incredibly important to her, she loses her genuine empathic feeling and she has an inability to follow through on things. One thing that worked for Amy was to say: two weeks ago you said this. And my mother would say: really?

If this isn't making sense, maybe it's because I'm relying on my notes from last week. Amy said that when my mother and father saw her for couples therapy, my mother was always upset, fragile and shaking because of me -- Amy says: she would tear and cry in every session. Amy is encouraging me to share my vulnerability with my mother, but I've already shared it -- I've tried absolutely every tactic, and it gets me nowhere. Actually I feel like I'm totally empathic and present and speaking to her calmly and she never responds in a consistent way, I mean in a consistent way other than to let me down over and over, to try to exert power over me and it's ironic, because what she wants is for me to be closer to her, that's why she's unwilling to create this account. But the result is the exact opposite -- I keep thinking why do I talk to her at all? I mean, if she was looking for an example, she could look to my father, who always controlled everyone in the family with money and I cut off all contact with him -- that's where it got him. And even with sex work, which I know she doesn't want me to be doing, which she used to get obsessed about like it was this horrible thing that was ruining my life and I was going to die and that obsession was just so that she didn't have to deal with the abuse. It was only about her. And whenever I talk to her and I think oh, it's not going to happen -- she's never going to create this account. That's when I think about sex work, I start planning it out again. Because at least it's something I can rely on.

I say one thing that might be helpful is if you could talk to my mother, and tell her your thoughts about our conversation, I mean I've told her all of these things, over and over, but I'm like an alien to her, I mean she sees me as her son, and she respects my intellect, but everything about my life is like a different world. And you are similar to her in a lot of ways. Amy interrupts: I'm not similar, I am your mother. Which sounds strange when I repeat it, but in the conversation it's kind of funny and supportive. I say right -- you're the same profession; you both live in the suburbs of the same city, or have until recently; you're the same class, about the same age. And I know she respects you.

Amy says I've definitely thought about it, but my fear is that it could get worse. She could feel taken advantage of, paranoid, and things could get harder between you and then I wouldn't be doing you a service -- my goal is for her to feel less paranoid about you and more compassionate and supportive.

At first I'm thinking how could it get worse, but then I realize Amy’s right, my mother would want to get information about me but she wouldn't want to listen. I appreciate this clarity, but it doesn't exactly make me more hopeful.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I think it's over

Derek's response to my letter:
Hi Mattilda, it's Derek -- just want to let you know I got your letter today. And I'm really pissed off about it. I felt that I made it clear that I didn't want to communicate about our conflict for a couple months and you disregarded that. And I realize, you know, perhaps you don't have a lot of people to talk to, but it might be the time to do that. ‘Cause I don't want to respond to drama when I've set pretty clear boundaries with people, no really clear boundaries with people -- that was something we went back and forth around. And so I'm not going to read it and I'm sorry if this is painful for you, trust me it's not easy either, but I gotta do what's right for myself. That's it -- I hope you're well. I love you, and, you know -- we'll talk in a couple months and see, and see what's there. Okay. That's it -- bye.

Here's what I want to say: no, darling, we actually said a few weeks, not a few months, and it's been almost 4 weeks now, I just checked my calendar to make sure -- just because you changed your mind in between our last conversation and now doesn't mean that I know you changed your mind, or that I consented. And what is that ridiculous passive aggressive comment about the number of people I have to talk to -- how does that relate to anything? I can talk to any number of people about our relationship, but actually that's not the same thing as talking to you. Although I guess it's not as traumatizing. And no, you did not set clear boundaries, especially since now they've shifted -- and even the boundaries you did set, we did not go back and forth -- I asked you questions about what your boundaries were, and you responded.. And what do you mean -- we'll talk in a few months and “see what's there?” Like our relationship is some separate thing from us and we’re going to stare down on it and -- oh, what's there? What's there? Let's see what's there.

Meanwhile, my body: everything from belly to neck is stuck and hollow, I'm holding myself just to stay aware. Freezing, I'm freezing again -- freezing, and shaking, and I don't want to hold it all in I don't want to hold it all so yes, music pounding with that crazy crazy echo-ey metallic wind chime yes I know I can’t dance for long without hurting but I need to dance so that I don't hurt, where is the balance there is no balance there is no balance except here in that bass building base how could anyone call that monotonous when repetition means it's your body and then those times yes those chimes irregular beats oh give me those chimes again again again okay I need to stop. I stop, I'm still freezing. I want to say: I'm not interested in you controlling the terms of our relationship like I've done something wrong by telling you how I'm feeling, so why don't we just say it's over. I guess we'll just have to consult one another about when we might want to talk again.

Yes, there's a part of me that wants to say just that, to go all the way there with the drama because I never go there and still there's drama. All this drama. Could it be worse?

But I don't, I mean I don't want to call when I'm still shaking and unable to think past rage and desperation -- grand illusions: you think you’re angry, I could rub your anger out with a brush of my hand, do you know what I mean? I mean I'm wrong -- of course I've learned that it all just goes right into my body. Really I'm not looking for power I want openness and vulnerability and accountability, although sure I'm enraged and I want to express it and I don't know how.

My response to Derek’s message:
Hi darling, it's Mattilda. Thank you for telling me you got the letter, and that you're not going to read it. Actually what you said before is that you didn't want to talk about our relationship for a few weeks, not a few months, so that's why I sent a letter now. But a few months sounds fine -- just for clarity, why don't we say we'll talk about our relationship in January? And I'd like you to read my letter before we talk. Oh -- and probably you weren't thinking of going to my book launch, but I'd like to ask you not to come, because it'll make me too sad and I don't want to be sad at my book launch. Okay -- just let me know how all of this sounds, and hope you're doing well! Love you --

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My letter to Derek, here it is...

Derek dear—

I have to start this letter somewhere, so let me start it here: I love you. I love you so much it hurts I mean usually it doesn't hurt but right now it's stuck in my gut stuck in my throat stuck in my head when I'm planning out this letter in bed while I'm trying to sleep and then when I get up I'm so exhausted I can't possibly write this letter.

Of course I don't want it to hurt, I want it to inhabit that place between here and the sky though that place is me and me and you and that means us and right now instead it's scary. It's scary because I don't want to be alone here, or I mean I don't want to be here without you, even if I'm not alone I'm more alone and I don't need or want that anymore. I mean I haven't wanted that for years, starting right around when I met you it wasn't because I met you it was because I decided I wanted to feel and you were part of that feeling that joy and that striving that embrace that became hope.

I'm so much more hopeful than I used to be, I mean about myself -- not about the world, of course. And I want to thank you for helping me to get here, here in myself, here in myself with you. And maybe that's what I treasure most about our relationship: that I can feel totally embodied and present. I treasure the safety our relationship provides, the physical intimacy that is more than physical it's an emotional communication through the gestures of intimacy even just a brush across the cheek or a quick holding of the hands this is what I am so worried about losing.

I guess I've sensed you pulling away, I mean before these recent conversations, maybe it's not away its back and forth but it still feels scary sometimes because I don't feel like you communicate. I mean communicate to me in which direction you're pulling and it's like I just have to figure it out and that's draining. Or, I have to be the one to initiate a conversation and that also feels tiring. I mentioned that a year or so ago, when I asked if you could check in with me from time to time to see how I'm feeling about our relationship, but unfortunately you haven't done that.

Which brings us to our recent conversations. I started the first one by saying that you're the most important person in my life, that I feel confident about the longevity of our relationship and our trust and intimacy, but I don't feel secure. I don't feel secure because I'm always on edge about critiquing you in any way and then everything circles in my head and gets stuck there. It's a pattern I have from that five-year period starting when I first moved back to San Francisco, that five-year period when your drinking was most obviously out of control, when you were on the psych meds, when you were totally nihilistic and would lie about absolutely everything. There were things I told you somewhere around the beginning of that period -- that I felt the psych meds were making you more manic and more depressed, that I couldn't deal with you lying to me all the time, that I didn't like being around you when you were drinking. These things enraged you, and as I've admitted several times, I wasn't good at talking about the psych meds and also the end of your veganism, that I was judgmental about both of those things right away and so then it was hard for you to hear me.

With your drinking I feel like I was clearer and actually not judgmental at all -- I've always understood drugs and their place in my life and the lives of people I love -- mostly I just told you that I didn't like that you lied to me all the time, and I didn't want to be around you when you were drinking because you became a macho asshole. Those things also enraged you. Any time I pointed out contradictory behavior, you became incensed -- even when it was something completely obvious, like when we would go out and you would say ahead of time that you weren't drinking but then within minutes you would go into the store and come out smelling like liquor. If I mentioned that you’d said you weren't drinking, you would act like I was accusing you of something preposterous. You were asking me to be complicit in your lies, over and over and over and sometimes it felt like the only way to continue our relationship.

I came back to San Francisco for these three close friends who had encouraged me to return and build family, and then two of those friends had left within a month and I was scared I would lose you too. So I made the decision that you were too important to lose as a friend, and I became hypervigilant about what I said and when, and tried to say things in the least confrontational way possible and that's the pattern I still have today, even though you haven't been drinking for a while now and you're way more present and engaged and thoughtful and it's incredibly inspiring to see you grow.

So I wanted to let go of that pattern, I felt like it was irrational because now you can deal. And so I told you these two things that I hold inside, and yes one of those things was about Alex, about how I felt abandoned when the two of you left me here and yes, we've talked about that before and the reason I wanted to mention it again was because I notice I become resentful about people you're dating and it doesn't actually relate to those people at all, it relates to feeling abandoned by you 12 years ago. And yes, that's a long time ago. All I wanted was for you to listen to me, is that really too much to ask?

Since that conversation, of course, I've had more time to think about it. I've thought about how, over the last few years, you've done a lot of work on your pattern of immediate over-attachment to people you're dating and you've done a great job of breaking that habit, but I guess you've never acknowledged how that pattern has affected our relationship. Not just with Alex but with others too. Maybe I wanted you to acknowledge that.

But I'm not attached to that outcome -- as you keep saying, "those are your issues," and I guess I can take that one on.

There's no way, however, that I can possibly say that your disastrous alcoholism was one of my issues.

I find it ironic that you keep saying "I'm a different person," as if that means you don't need to be accountable for the choices you made in the past. Yes, you did issue a one-or-two sentence acknowledgment that you were sorry for that time, and if there was anything you could do to make amends, then to let you know. I remember your eyes got all teary so I knew it was heartfelt, but I kept waiting and waiting for something deeper. That felt like one tiny initial step and I kept wondering if it would ever become something substantive. I'm still waiting.

All I wanted was to tell you how that period continues to affect me now in the way that I'm scared to critique you about anything. All I wanted was for you to listen, and that would have actually made me feel more secure. Instead, now I feel way less secure.

I don't understand what was so threatening about that conversation. I don't understand why it was so stressful to listen to me "go on for 10 minutes," as you complained, or even 20 or 30 or 40 minutes or four hours -- that seems like very little to ask in a deep relationship of 16 years.

You said several times that I should have pulled away and taken care of myself, and I don't know if you said that with the awareness that for me to pull away from someone for five years would mean that we would no longer be friends. But that's the truth of the matter. And I'm glad we’re friends. I wanted to tell you some things that circle around in my head because I thought it would make us closer.

I find it ironic that you keep saying "I'm a different person," because what I've learned from this ordeal is that actually you're not a different person when it comes to listening to critique from me. Not only are you not a different person, but you actually can't deal any more now than you could deal when you were a disastrous alcoholic. So I've learned that my fears were not irrational at all. Now I have to figure out what that means for our relationship.

Another thing you keep repeating is how much work you've done, and I think I've been quite supportive of all that work. I'm totally proud of you. But that work does not directly relate to our relationship. Sure, there are ways that it impacts our relationship, but actually I don't feel like you do the same kind of work on our relationship: deep, interrogating, consistent work. Like I said before, every time we have a conversation about our relationship, it's me who brings it up, and usually you say that what I’m addressing is too much for you to respond to right away, and I say that's fine, take some time and think about it, and get back to me. And you never get back to me.

Sure, sometimes I notice that you've taken what I say into account, like with your anger. I noticed that after I brought it up a year or two ago, you tried to become more aware about the times when you get enraged. But you've never brought it up with me, never involved me in the process. Maybe you don't feel safe doing that, because it makes you feel vulnerable. Maybe that's a fundamental tension in our relationship -- I want to feel vulnerable. Maybe you don't. I'd love to hear what you think about that.

Our second recent conversation was scary for me. It was scary because you were talking to me in this snide, dismissive, condescending, scornful way and I've never seen that from you. You were using these stock phrases like "you're dumping on me" and "those are your issues," phrases that might relate to some relationship but don't actually relate to ours. I don't have a habit of overly revealing my interior emotional terrain, I have the reverse pattern -- and I'm trying to break that, I'm trying not to hold everything in, not to deal with it all on my own. Actually, you've asked me to do that, to involve you in my process. I wanted your participation in helping me to feel more secure. And, as I said before, yes, those are my issues, and they're about our relationship. There are two people in our relationship.

The conversation was scary because you immediately became so enraged. When I looked you in the eyes, you looked at me like we were in the military and this was a staring contest and you were going to win at all costs because the loser dies. That's how it felt -- it reminded me of when you were on the highest dose of the psych meds and we were on the beach and you said wouldn't it be great to know how to gut an animal with your bare hands. Except this time you were looking right at me.

That conversation was scary because I couldn't believe that you’d thought about our previous conversation for a week, and come back to me with eyes so distant glazed over with rage. I felt like you were delivering some kind of script to pull away from me, hollow recovery language as a barrier to intimacy. The way you were talking felt formulaic and reductive.

Over and over again, you've said I'm the person you feel closest to; often, you say I'm the only person you feel close to at all -- I can't help wondering if you know what you're risking. And why?

In some ways, I'm still in a state of shock because I thought the hard part would be speaking, that you would listen and everything would be fine. Obviously I was wrong. And now I'm stunned.

In our most recent conversation, I could barely speak at all. I could barely speak because I was so scared I was shaking it was horrible, I can't remember ever being like that with anyone in my life. Sure, it was an old feeling of childhood trauma, but here in the present day with this person who I love and generally trust so much. Then you were telling me that I talk for too long and it overwhelms you, and you were asking for the exact opposite of what I want, the exact opposite of what you've previously requested. I want to tell you more, to tell you what I'm feeling in the moment; you've asked me not to process everything so much before bringing it up. And here you were telling me that I needed to condense everything, and to take 10 minutes of speaking and make it into two sentences and that actually means way more processing.

I guess I want some clarity. I wonder if you're really asking me to tell you less, if you're asking for more distance in our relationship. Obviously we have that now. We have that now and it scares me. I still want to be closer, but I also want to be aware of exactly what you want to offer me, so that I can figure out what I want to offer you. That's why I'm writing this letter.

All my love, really all of it—

Back to that cycle again

What's funny is that then I have a night of sleep that's even worse, so bad I'm really really really thinking of getting up but then I assess the situation I mean I study the way my eyes might feel if I open them and realize oh no so I turn to the other side, try again, turn to the other side, try again, and eventually it gets past the wired part to the panic which is the worst because then even deciding whether to get out of bed is a cycle of rage and fear, but then I actually fall into these crazy elaborate dreams that I know I'm going to remember but of course I don't. And when I get up, I actually don't feel that bad at all, kind of silly and I put on track five of Claude VonStroke since that's my classic of the moment and then I play with my body I mean leaning to the parts that are stuck until they don't feel totally stuck and then I really give it, there's that minute or two where my body is totally synchronized with the beat oh I could do this forever but I won't. I mean I'll stop before it hurts, but oh it hurts in a different way to give up on these beats I'm not giving up I'm just standing back, right?

Back into the kitchen, cooking with beats and I'll probably crash soon but at least I have this window where things are clear and splashy, a bit of an edge but at the edge where edges belong I'm okay with edges at the edge! Different than hedges, okay, hedges come later in the day, Geary and Divisadero, petting this one right where they sawed it off into artificial waves, at least the new leaves are pushing through anyway. I can't help wondering if Derek got my letter yet, probably it's there and every time I pick up the phone to check my voicemail I stop breathing my chest pulls up throat closed I’m worried about what the message will say. But then there's no message, and I'm worried that he won't call. And then I'm worried about what he'll say when he does call, or when he does write, so you see I'm back to that cycle again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It isn't working

Katia says when she sits at the computer for a while she gets freezing, which is strange because the opposite happens to me -- within a few minutes, I always have to take off at least one layer. I wish I could take off that layer between my head and the screen, or the layer of pain between my head and that layer and the screen. That sounds confusing, I mean what is that layer?

Exactly. Yesterday I said it's when everything closes off, but today it's still closed. Does that mean that everything wasn't closed off yesterday? Or that nothing has opened -- that make sense, I mean it doesn't make sense because I actually slept better but maybe I feel worse or no not worse because I don't feel like I’m going to fall apart I just feel like I might fall. I've been up for what, maybe 10 hours, but I still don't feel like I'm awake -- I'm trying to push through this wall but it isn't working.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Look, what a pretty envelope!

Oh no it's my letter to Derek oh yes oh no oh yes okay I'm going outside to send it -- I'll post it in a few days once I'm sure he's received it...

So much closure no not closure closed-off

Four days in a row of terribly interrupted sleep the kind that goes from good ideas at a bad time why good ideas right now to neurotic thoughts to panic will I ever sleep do I have to get up but eventually the way my head softens, why can't it just stay softer stay softer I mean stay softer in bed and save the good ideas and even the neurotic thoughts for when I'm no longer in bed, the panic I don't want to save the panic. When I get up, I'm staring at the dishtowel on the counter, who put that on the counter? Did someone move that while I was sleeping? You're the only one who lives here. I stare at the four magnetized hooks on the refrigerator, the hooks that never work for too long the dishtowel falls to the floor. There it is on the counter -- who put that on the counter?

The way a day like this starts with so much closure no not closure closed-off, like my relationship with Derek is what I'm thinking. Wait -- I don't want closure or closed off, I mean not in that case. But my head, closed-off yes it's opening with lime in water, music, cooking, herbs, but I wonder if it just opens into something wired striving leads back to closed-off I don't know how to break. It's hard to take a break when everything is so worn you feel so worn you feel everything. Stuffed in my head all that sinus dread, maybe allergy season maybe the way not-sleep mixes with sleep not a good combination for welcoming the world.

Riftgirl, I love this video!

Okay -- so it packs an intersectional analysis into a simple yet sophisticated framework, elegant and intimate, what could be better? A story without a story, which means it becomes many many stories we know those stories of striving and striking and yes we welcome both interrogation and evocation, yay for crazy!

It's even making me think about the Violent Femmes again -- I haven't thought about them in years -- what album is this song on?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A great review from Richard Labonte!

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. City Lights Books, 252 pages, $14.95 paper.

The unnamed narrator of this fabulously flamboyant novel turns tricks for money and, on client-free occasions, cruises adult movie theaters or the Internet for blowjobs, in search of a human connection as much as for sexual release. He frets about rats in the ceiling and roaches on the walls, obsesses over how his hair looks before leaving the apartment, and camps it up for queer street protests – with makeup a must. He's carrying on a troubled romance with a beautiful boyfriend, and coping with chronic pain rooted most probably in childhood abuse. Such is the life of an under-30 gender-queer activist in San Francisco, the city that quite gloriously never really grows up. Sycamore – whose spirited real-life blog echoes many of the book's witty, bitchy, and philosophically trenchant moments – captures the committed insouciance of his tale's quirky characters with a refreshingly non-traditional prose style. There isn't much narrative linearity here – nothing really resembling a beginning, a middle, or an end – but Sycamore's luscious prowess with prose – coupled with an easy gender fluidity – is evocative and provocative and literarily seductive.

-- Richard Labonte's syndicated "Bookmarks" column

There's something to say

There's something to say for waking up feeling completely obliterated, right? There's always something to say, something to say, something to say, and isn't that just lovely? Don't you adore the ways we use language to silence our own language?

There's something to say about falling out of a plane, right? Or, about getting hit by a car. Or, about falling off a cliff. All this falling today, and there's something to say.

My point is that there was a time when my body could help, these beats I'm living for in this moment, these beats to open my head make me feel something other than shut-off overwhelm sadness and dread, there was a point when shoulder to the left and head around hips moving feet in ground and up, back down, up -- there was a point when such movement, the movement of body into beat into and out of this world yes in and out back in -- there was a point when this movement could rescue me. Not just give me a glimpse and then swallow me with pain and exhaustion and everything else I'm always trying to overcome. Today is one of those days when I wonder if I'll ever get back to that point, past that point into something like hope, hope for a way towards splendor not only mind or eventual crash.

Two days ago I felt better, it was a clearer day I was starting to fade but still there felt like space in my body for movement I wanted movement I went to Buena Vista Park. Sometimes I forget how much of the beauty is the walk up the hill, ready for that path through trees at first it seems too dark for safety except memory then it gets lighter. Climbing up those steps a bit too far apart for comfort, when you get to the top you're out of breath which means there's more breath. Exercise I miss that.

Up at the top, at first it was the usual, guys trying so hard to look like something else, someone younger butcher healthier no edges or outlook just grab for the crotch or even worse the ones who look like they're participating in some kind of sketch comedy about abjection. But then, wait -- wait for these lips this hug, rubbing this guy’s head and pull and push and pull and yes for laughing, it's me who's laughing and oh no, do I really come all over his face onto shirt? I would write more, write with more detail, except now it's the aftermath, face closed off again it was the nap that did it why do naps close off face it’s sinuses what is it about sinuses and naps and closed off?

But no, no what I mean to say is yes so much beauty and not pain, presence in body a strength that leads to sky that’s desire oh give me that desire that desire that's me. And then, the next day, the next day is the worst, the worst day, jaw so much tension and sinuses blasted in and yes, the weather has changed but also that dangerous angle from sucking cock, a different environment of trees and why so much hay, hay covering the ground almost like snow reflecting moonlight, don't slip. At least there are no mosquitoes, I kept thinking ouch, bug bites, but no it was hay, probably better unless hay causes hay fever. Jaw to sinuses to the middle of the night, wired middle of the night but no, no I won't get up although now I'm starting to reevaluate that strategy. If this is how awful I feel when I stay in bed until eventually back to sleep, disregarding that general sleep hygiene strategy that says get up and walk around because if I get up and walk around then I need to eat and I hate eating in the middle of the night when I'm supposed to be sleeping, it just makes everything worse, or who knows what worse is at this point.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

RNC in St. Paul: "a practice run in implementing martial law"

Unfortunately, at this point I've become accustomed to hearing about the escalating level of police brutality against protesters. But I'm still shocked about the scope of police and "law enforcement" violence at the RNC. It's stunning to watch potential Blackwater employees pull someone aside for detention, to hear of teargas and rubber bullets used against protesters, to see horrifying strong-arm tactics against reporters, or to listen to a sheriff proudly describe year-long counterinsurgency efforts against nonviolent political protesters.

But now I'm beside myself after hearing Elliot Hughes describe what can only be categorized as torture while being detained at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul, Minnesota (and while in the hospital!). Hughes was riding his bike alongside a small protest of what looks like about 50 people marching in the street, followed by an equal number of police, when a police officer, also on bicycle, ran into him. After getting up from the ground, Hughes was tackled by numerous officers, taken to jail, and subjected to the kind of treatment familiar to those of us who follow US military violence in colonial incursions around the world. In this country, this kind of horrifying treatment is generally reserved for those considered human garbage or threats to conventional standards of decency: homeless people,people of color, people perceived as undocumented immigrants, sex workers, trans people and others not gendered "correctly," as well as people considered mentally or physically “impaired” -- and now I'm beginning to think that the monstrous powers-that-be are succeeding at moving protesters into the category of those who can be brutalized with impunity, especially if these protesters identify as (or are even perceived as) anarchists.

While in police custody, 19-year-old Elliot Hughes fainted due to lack of food, and began convulsing and coughing up blood. Police responded by saying that he was faking it, or "being bulimic." A prison doctor told Hughes that he had a bruised rib and that coughing up blood was “normal.” Hughes was repeatedly denied food, put in solitary confinement, and then when he demanded something to eat, he was punched in the face by an officer and knocked unconscious. The officer then brought Hughes back to consciousness by slamming his head on the ground, resulting in a pool of Hughes’ blood on the floor. Officers then put some sort of device consisting of a translucent plastic bag over Hughes's head, with a gag over his mouth, and used pain compliance torture tactics by pressing deep into the nerves and tendons between jaw and neck while wrapping one of Hughes's leg around his back. As Hughes was screaming and crying for help or an end to the pain, the officers would press harder, and when Hughes screamed for God or anyone to help him, one of the officers, clearly aware of this horror movie enactment, said "there’s no God here, we are all devils."

Hughes was eventually taken to a detention cell inside Regency Hospital, with no knowledge of where he was going and the bag still over his head after his recent concussion. He couldn't see, and was nauseous from the bruising to his brain, and started vomiting in the bag while it was over his head. Officers refused to remove the bag or to do anything for Hughes's wounds for several hours while he screamed for help. When Hughes eventually became quiet, officers paraded him through the halls of the hospital, handcuffed with the bag over his head, vomit and blood everywhere. After Hughes was examined and treated by a doctor, he was taken back to the hospital cell, where the air-conditioning was turned up and he sat there shivering until eventually he was taken back to jail, strip-searched and held overnight until eventually released.

There are so many layers to the horror of this hideous and appalling treatment, but I need to pause for a moment to wonder about this holding cell at Regency Hospital -- of course I'm aware of the ways the medical industry is complicit with corporate profiteers of all sorts, but I do wonder what was going on inside the hospital as Elliot Hughes screamed for several hours for help. Was the hospital holding cell soundproof? And what about when Hughes was marched through the halls with a plastic bag over his head -- is that common treatment for patients? I wonder what hospitals need to do in order for prison officials to allow them to treat brutalized inmates, and cannot, unsurprisingly, find any information at the Regency Hospital website.

It's amazing and inspiring to see Elliot Hughes talking so clearly, carefully, and eloquently about his torture, immediately after his release from jail. Obviously he is traumatized, and yet he is still speaking out. Like so many of us, he's trying to exist in the world in an ethical way, trying to challenge this horrifying imperialist system we're living under, and he's now bearing the costs. The costs for biking down the street during a protest, mind you -- what is next?

I keep hearing, over and over again, about the brutality of "the Republicans," but everyone should pause for a moment to remember that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are some of the most liberal metropolises in the country, with Democratic mayors, and I'm guessing Democratic officials at the head of almost every city agency. The police violence at the RNC is, as Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein describes it, "a bipartisan expansion of police power and crackdown on the First Amendment."

I highly recommend listening to the September 5 segment of the always-brilliant Flashpoints, where Elliot Hughes describes his torture in more detail, and where American Indian Movement activist Bill Means speculates that the police state tactics in Minneapolis and St. Paul are "a practice run in implementing martial law."

Thank you, Elliot, for your bravery.

Neighborhood improvement, yay for improvement!

You remember it before, right?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Extracted from and intruded upon

What’s fascinating about talking with Amy is that I'm talking with someone who's very similar to my mother in so many ways -- same profession, similar class privilege, lives in a wealthy DC suburb, and I'm guessing she's about the same age. And she still seems to understand me, even to offer insight -- she says: I really sense your desire for some financial settlement with your mother, I would even use the word need -- for some financial settlement that you could rely on, and everything else pales next to this. And: I'm one in a long string of therapists by whom you feel extracted from and intruded upon, and if we’re starting out from this place it’s already corrupt -- even if you feel some connection to me, you’ll always be distrusting and paranoid on some level. You'll always wonder what I might be telling your mother.

She says: the only way I could possibly be of service is if you could find a way to talk to your mother, for you to talk to one another in a comfortable way. That's when I say that yes, that's a desire for me but actually getting her to create an account would mean a lot more because it's something palpable, something that's not about her power -- I mean if she would do it in a way that created autonomy, that would really lay the groundwork for me to potentially feel more trusting and then when I interact with her -- I mean I already give her advice about her life and listen to her and I do feel genuinely engaged, but then afterwards it feels like part of her manipulation. And at least if she could create that account to ensure my basic needs, then I would feel like she was actually doing something to help me, not just using money like my father, for manipulation and control.

Amy also says that she felt warmed by my willingness to be so intimate with her, even though I have no reason to trust her, last time when I was sobbing. She says she was touched by my clarity and vulnerability. And, about the time when I talked to her several years ago: you helped me understand a dynamic about your parent’s relationship that I couldn't understand before, the way your mother is vague with everything but the vagueness is really about control and it's almost like she has this inability to think about the dynamics of her relationships and you’re more articulate about what's going on with your mother than she is -- and your mother even said that you would understand better than anyone, and it was when you are talking about what dinners were like, that's when I understood.

Amy means when everything became a battle for control of my body, a battle I'm still not sure that I'm winning.

Here I am in the SoMa Literary Review...

Yes yes, here it is...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Police infiltration tactics at the RNC

Listen to this interview with the sheriff in St. Paul, Minnesota, from Free Speech Radio News... no wonder activists are paranoid!

Here comes the press, yay for press!

First, the fall arts preview issue of 7x7, a glossy San Francisco fashion/style magazine has feted me with a glamorous photo and blurb -- the content isn't online, but here's what they say:

The second novel from Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, published by City Lights, is a challenging, messy account of a life in San Francisco, written in an unflinching (and at times raunchy) stream of consciousness that recalls William Burroughs. Though perhaps not the book for everyone, it's a good read for those interested in exploring the underbelly of our rapidly gentrifying town through the eyes of our gender-bending queer hero(ine)."
--7x7 Magazine

And, today there's a review in Philadelphia City Paper -- it's a bit confused, but I'll take it...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Missing a friend

I go outside early in the day, way too early so I can pick up some clothes from the tailor around the corner, a few things I was getting mended and the tailor is moving so she asked me to pick them up right away. It's another heat wave day so I'm scared of going out so early, but actually it feels okay on this side of the street, the shady side -- it's hot but dry and I brace myself for the sunny side, but somehow it feels okay too and when I get to the store everything is outside on the sidewalk, all the fixtures and some things on racks for sale, I'm not sure if the fixtures are for sale too. Inside people are putting the remaining items in bags and the tailor smiles and comes over, Wendy is her name, I say where are you moving? She walks outside to get the address -- it was so sudden, she says, I didn't have time to make cards.

Grant and Pine -- somehow I didn't think it would be so far away, actually I thought it would be right around the corner so she could keep all her business. I say how come you’re moving? She doesn't understand, I say are you moving because of the rent, did they raise the rent? She says the rent, and she moves her hands way up in the air, oh. She says thank you for your support of the business, I hope to see you again. I want to hug her, but I'm guessing that would be inappropriate. I want to say oh, that's too far, I won't be able to get over there to keep repairing all of my clothes as they continue to fall apart, it's hard enough to get here, two blocks away. Instead I say I hope so.

Walking outside, I'm so exhausted I can't imagine how I'm going to do anything else today. Now it feels humid out, the air thick and filled with the soot from the tandoori ovens, like usual. I thought she was leaving because the shop was so successful, because she's always busy and so she found a bigger space, somewhere where she can continue with the same clientele. But it's just another gentrification casualty -- I feel silly because I'm mourning the loss of a relationship that only consisted of hi, how are you? A wave or a smile when walking by. And paying her to fix my blue corduroys for the third or fourth or fifth time, to patch the lining of my tapestry coat again, this time a different part that had become threadbare. I even start crying a little like I'm missing a friend, probably I'm emotional because I haven't eaten anything yet, I haven't eaten anything and I already went outside in the heat but also I need to develop more relationships with people in this transitory neighborhood where I feel rooted, relationships across race and class and age and aesthetic I think that would give me more of a sense of belonging in a substantive way. But I'm so exhausted that it's hard to do more than take my clothes to the shop to get them altered.

Monday, September 01, 2008

An interview on Blogcritics...

And she even asked about my gay evangelical Christian audience, which keeps growing and growing -- thanks, Carole!

(I'm not sure how they decided to call me "Matt Bernstein Sycamore" even though the book cover says "Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore" -- and that's how Carole cites me -- or how they decided to call me a "gay activist" even though I specifically talk in the interview about why I don't identify as gay, but of course I'm used to all of that)

This push and pull

So I'm lying on the floor doing the feldenkrais movement that's more like meditation in order to find the center I mean my center my head is usually far to the right that's something to notice. I'm also trying to let all of my exhaustion sink into the floor but it's not working I just feel like I'm going to have to get back in bed, I hate getting back in bed after so many hours already there. Especially before going outside -- if I get back in bed, I won't get outside until dark. Oh, bed -- last night I wrote an entire story in my head -- I mean it was a great story, except I'm way too tired now to possibly write it out. Or even remember it, really.

I'm wondering if my laundry is actually going to arrive today. I searched all over for a laundromat that doesn't use fabric softener anywhere in the place, and I finally found somewhere -- it's really expensive, but at least it won't destroy my life I mean that's my hope. It took three days, which was longer than they said it would, and then they canceled the delivery yesterday so now I'm really wondering if they're going to show up. I mean I'm trying not to wonder, at least while I'm doing this feldenkrais movement, trying not to feel overwhelmed and hopeless and the good news is that right when I get up the phone rings and yes, the delivery person is here, interesting that it seems like a bunch of tall, broad-shouldered white guys who work there, or at least two of them. Guys you would see in the Marina or I guess North Beach also, where the place is.

It's important to remember how much feeling helpless impacts the overwhelm I find myself in every day, I mean today I'm totally exhausted from lack of sleep I don't know if I can do anything but then the laundry arrives and I open up the bag and it doesn't smell like chemicals, not even a hint and it's like something clears from my head a lightness to my eyes and now I don't have to get back in bed.

Of course, something so simple like laundry shouldn't be so hard but it is. I go outside, take a few buses a few blocks and walk a few blocks and then the store I'm going to is closed, which is okay because then I can walk back but the problem is that I walk four blocks and then my life is over again, it happens so quickly I need somewhere to sit down and there's nowhere to sit. I sit on the stoop in front of the gate, it's not quite a stoop just four or five inches to sit before gate but the gate’s okay because I can lean against it except now someone needs to get in. I stand up, and he makes sure to shut the gate behind himself so that I don't get in. It's amazing how suspicious people get, just because you're sitting in public where you're not supposed to.

Eventually I get home, takes another hour to recover, this push and pull between collapse and kind of functioning. At least my head clears again and I start thinking about sex, which isn't going to happen, and really that's okay I just like the moment when I'm back on my stretching mat and I start laughing about an imaginary dynamic with some guy I've never met, the cute things we would do like hugs like laughing like maybe lying on this stretching mat together no it's too small and I'm too tired anyway.