Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chicago -- relatives, quinoa, radish greens, how to read the novel by reading it, and whether I'm leaving

I get to the Bookslut reading way ahead of time, the bar is huge and the reading is upstairs in the back in its own private room almost totally isolated from the rest of the bar. The best part is that there isn't even a hint of secondhand smoke, yay! But it's just me and the organizers and somebody’s older relatives from Eastern Europe or Israel, at least I'm guessing they’re somebody's relatives. In any case, they're making me nervous, especially when Caroline, who’s introducing the readers, asks me to go first I say how about second?

But by the time the reading starts, of course it's packed with a different crowd, still much much straighter than my usual audience and they’re super-quiet for the first reader, Doug Dorst, until the end of his reading but definitely engaged and by the end they’re louder too I always prefer the loud audiences. There's no mike in the room but it's small enough that you can still vary your voice and everyone can hear you, I read from the section at the end when everything comes apart I mean maybe everything is always coming apart at the end where it's coming apart, it's a last-minute switch because of my nerves and I think this audience will like it better than what I'd planned, which was more immediately sexual. And it does go really really well, pretty much everyone is feeling it or at least with me, except for the relatives in the right corner -- there I was right.

All the readers are great, actually, and it's an interesting mix of styles from Doug Dorst’s Colma (Bay Area graveyard city) noir to my mania to Todd Hasak-Lowy’s conversational cacophony of Israel and David Mura’s memoir. Afterwards, Doug Dorst, who lives in Texas now, says he's heard about me for a while and it was exciting to finally see me read, which is sweet of him to say, and Todd Hasak-Lowy asks whether I started out as a poet, and if you figure out how to read the novel by reading it, which confuses me at first because I think he means how to write the novel but then I realize no, he's totally right, and I'm ready to talk more about writing with these writers who I might not otherwise encounter, but then everyone drifts back to their social circles and I go out with Mairead Case to get food and we talk about writing and gentrification and segregation and politics and dreams and excitement and I don't even get sick from the emergency food we’re eating, since everywhere we try to go is closed.

Next day is the reading of Women and Children First, which is crowded and I'm excited and Chelsey gives me a great intro, even saying that two out of three of her favorite books were edited by me, can't ask for anything more than that! Sometimes at readings I have this sense that some of the audience is totally perplexed by the gap between what they expected and what I'm offering, which seems to be the case at this reading, but the discussion afterwards is super-engaged -- questions about how I remember the details, my process of writing, the narrator's relationship to San Francisco and my own, whether I believe there is possibility for queer resistance, the never-ending quest for the perfect gay acronym. I talk so much that then time’s up and dammit I neglect to mention my upcoming readings, but then afterwards I’m invited over to the house of some of the people involved in the queer activist group Bash Back, and Heather who just landed in Chicago cooks this delicious ginger stirfry with radish greens and spinach, broccoli and water chestnuts over quinoa and we talk about anti-Olympics organizing, STD awareness, gender fluidity, sexual striving and merrymaking, chronic pain, spin the bottle, health problems, queer organizing, cats, traveling, trains, and Chicago, of course Chicago and whether I'm going to leave San Francisco because I've said that whenever I go on tour I wonder why I'm living in San Francisco, I mean what it offers, and I don't know.

4 comments:

Jory Mickelson said...

SF offers plenty of things to resist. You would be hard pressed to organize against too much here in Bellingham.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Jory, you would be surprised :)

Love --
mattilda

Heather Can Fly said...

I am glad you enjoyed my cooking I had a lot of fun that night. I am going to be in Philadelphia during the month of November, and would love to hang out and cook again. I also have a place to offer if you need somewhere to stay.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Heather, thanks for the amazing offer -- it would be amazing to see you in Philadelphia! I will probably come down from New York right before the reading, and leave on the last train back, but a dinner with a few people after the reading would be absolutely splendid, if it's possible to arrange -- I'm perfectly fine with a restaurant, and even went to a good one after my Philadelphia reading last time, but your cooking and company it's so delicious that of course I wouldn't turn down the opportunity for a similar dinner experience -- just let me know!

Love --
mattilda