Monday, April 20, 2009

Dreams that hold me

What was it that Socket said about community? A community that takes care of you, because that’s what community is for, and I feel so far away from that dream. Even in the sense of the people you hold around you so that you can all hold one another, sometimes I feel like I’m losing that so fast I don’t even know how to grasp for it. Or, that I sense it with people on the phone or from the distance but then here in San Francisco sometimes I feel like I’m retreating further and further into this place of my own, a place where I can relate to people but I’m separate and there are so many reasons, starting with the pain and exhaustion and overwhelm and continuing with the original people with whom I dreamed of chosen family, all disappeared, and then there are the friends who I once felt closer to but then I collapsed and now any intimacy feels bounded by annoyance on the way to despair and in some ways I just don’t care, I mean I don’t care about these friendships they don’t mean what I want them to mean. And then there’s San Francisco, my original place for making dreams into something like hope but now I’m not at all hopeful about San Francisco, and then when I’m also not hopeful about the people in San Francisco, then I wonder why I’m here except for familiarity, a sense of place, interactions on the street with people in my neighborhood, walking uphill for the view. I must ask this again and again: do I live here for the view?

So yes there’s Derek who dropped me, really the last friend left in San Francisco from that time when I hoped for chosen family, more recently Benjamin made me wonder if family is such a polluted word that isn’t something we should even be looking for but what about some kind of structure that lasts, the buildings can fall but still there’s the sky inside you. I don’t feel that. Sure, sometimes I get totally wired by the tiniest connection and then if I don’t crash I realize yes it’s giving me something that lasts. Sometimes it feels more exhausting to try than not to try, or more inspiring to create something that has a communal effect but I only have to rely on my own inspiration to get there. Like with lostmissing -- even the tiniest interaction with someone else about this personal project that also exists in the realm of the public, sometimes that connection gives me so much.

Of course inspiration is the other thing that tires me out, sometimes it’s the only energy I have and it saves me but other times it’s what drains me. Those inspirations late at night or whenever it is I’m in bed trying to sleep and I wonder: where are my dreams? On my book tour, someone asked me if I still believed in the possibilities of radical queer politics and I said yes right away, but sometimes I look around and I’m not sure that’s true. I mean it’s true that I believe in the possibilities of imagining, conjuring, creating and transforming everything, but most of what I see seems so corrupt or misguided and even when it’s beautiful sometimes I don’t know how to reach out.

I need to remember that when I came back to San Francisco at the end of 2000, I looked around and saw nothing but a hideous scenesterism, a where’s-the-party apathy in the spaces where I once found my queer dreams of challenge and accountability. The only thing that made me feel hopeful was starting Gay Shame with a bunch of other people who also felt culturally homeless, all of whom were also scenesters in our own ways but we were working on this project together and that’s what helped me to dream again. To feel like San Francisco meant something to me, to us, to the queer imagination beyond. Those times when we put something together that glowed with all of our voices, whether a piece of propaganda or a satirical newspaper or a night of wheatpasting or a moment of public pageantry. And then, when it seemed like we could no longer do what we wanted to do, whether it was because of our own limitations or the lack of support from inside or outside or our own fears and critiques, even then it still felt hopeful because of the relationships I was building between politics and a hug, coping and the imagination, and when those relationships fell apart and I realized I needed to step back from Gay Shame, since then I haven’t felt as hopeful. Of course I get excited about ideas, there are moments of inspiration that sometimes shelter the charge of challenge and intimacy at once, but overall I feel like I’m on a balance beam and it’s sinking.

I’m starting to think that this is one of those times when everything falls apart and maybe that’s okay because of what I can build in the ruins, that was the idea of Gay Shame anyway -- to build defiance in the ruins of gentrified San Francisco -- but here I’m talking about myself: the structures that have held me are no longer, the people who I’ve held are no longer holding me. And there are others -- other structures that can hold me, other people who are holding me, even if it’s from the distance but it’s so much harder from the distance. I wonder about the last time when everything fell apart, really everything, and that was probably when I remembered I was sexually abused; when the relationship with my closest friend, the first person who I trusted, collapsed into something tragic; when my relationship with my first boyfriend fell apart; when I first glimpsed the hideousness of the culture that I thought was my community, the ways in which radical queers fucked each other over with as much intensity as the people we were trying not to become -- yes, all of that happened at once, 15 years ago. And I try to think: how long did that last? That falling apart, that feeling that there wasn’t enough to hold onto, and I realize that lasted until I moved back to San Francisco, and helped to create Gay Shame, and of course there were incredible relationships and amazing direct action organizing and writing all throughout, but I think it was the combination of this new activist group and the books that I was creating and maybe the years of experience both hopeful and heartbreaking that fused my politics with my dreams and abilities and the relationships that held me and didn’t hold me throughout -- all of that helped me to feel like maybe I wouldn’t always be falling apart. I wouldn’t have said that then, but I’m saying it now. It’s possible that I’m wrong, that there never was that point when I thought maybe those dreams could hold me, or that yes, of course I’ve felt that because otherwise what would be the point, but it’s possible that I never felt I wouldn’t always be falling apart. There are ways in which I’m stronger, so much stronger, and there are ways in which I continue to collapse and I wonder if it’ll ever end, this collapsing. But today, at least as I’m writing this, I’m ready to dream again, and I need help.

6 comments:

Hilary Goldberg said...

I'll be there in June to dream with you in person. In the wings from the distance til then, but dreaming hopeful queer dreams not separated by space or time. Adore you.

love, hil

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, Hilary -- I can't wait for June! And of course I love "hopeful queer dreams not separated by space or time"...

Love --
mattilda

Elián Maricón said...

My dearest Mattilda,

I moved to SF in 2000 as well b/c I wanted to dream again. And I did for a couple of months. Then I had this moment of clarity when I looked around and saw the party for what it was and it grew tired. Of course, at least I still had my family of choice out there who I knew were going to hold me forever, who were going to be there forever until they weren't. Then the dreams stopped and the collapsing started again.

Then I encountered Gay Shame and the dreaming began again for awhile.

I have never thought I wouldn't be falling apart either. I am always collapsing and rebuilding and I think I always will be. The difference between you and me is that when you rebuild and start to dream your dreams are contagious and become other people's dreams. They infected my dreams & changed me forever and they gave the SF establishment nightmares for awhile through Gay Shame :)

Over the years, most of my family of choice has fallen away too. No big fights or fallouts with any of them but one, just drifting and forgetting the dream of family that used to keep us alive,a dream that became reality for so many years and then I guess some of them woke up & forgot the way that you sometimes do when you wake up...you know where you wipe the stickiness out of your eyes, golly, I was having such a good dream but for the life of me I simpcan't remember what it was about.

I woke up too but for me it was a lucid dream that I still remember that wasn't actually a dream, it was reality for so many, many years but it's starting to fade now, even for me. I don't want the memory of it to fade. that family was the only place in my whole life where I could curl up in a fetal position and be defenseless and safe

How can you be so close with a family member of choice at one moment that you were comfortable enough to take a shit in front of them or that they knew that you were the only person who loved them enough that they could call you at 4am to come pick them up from a sketchy trick's house because they were in a k-hole and couldn't get out of it, and then one day you realize you haven't really talked to them in 6 months, then a year?

Maybe family of choice is something that you have to put away after your 20's like you aren't supposed to play with dolls after a certain age.

I have a few family members of choice left but they are far away too and it is wonderful some of them are still hanging on and I know I could call them if I needed them, I mean really needed them, and they would show up on my doorstep as soon as they could catch a plane/train/hitch a ride. But isn't enough sometimes when all you need is to be held NOW by a family member you know won't suddenly start beating you up or make you strip naked and do jumping jacks and push ups for hours while he makes fun of how you look naked and hits you in the face with a belt until you go blank and then he fondles you to make sure you aren't bigger than he is.

Why can't that family be the dream instead?

Thank you for all of your Mattildaness.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Elian, that's hilarious that you were here in 2000 too -- I think 2000 was a bad time for San Francisco, the friends who weren't trying to get me to move back were warning me against moving back, or maybe those are the same friends?

Of course, there are a lot of bad times in (and for) San Francisco...

"The difference between you and me is that when you rebuild and start to dream your dreams are contagious and become other people's dreams. They infected my dreams & changed me forever and they gave the SF establishment nightmares for awhile through Gay Shame :)" -- honey I need to save that quote to inspire me in my overwhelm, okay?

" just drifting and forgetting the dream of family that used to keep us alive,a dream that became reality for so many years and then I guess some of them woke up & forgot the way that you sometimes do when you wake up...you know where you wipe the stickiness out of your eyes, golly, I was having such a good dream but for the life of me I simply can't remember what it was about." Oh, no -- I think you're right!

And this, honey -- here I think you are really getting to a hideous core: "Maybe family of choice is something that you have to put away after your 20's like you aren't supposed to play with dolls after a certain age." I've definitely seen that with a lot of people, and also the ways that repeated heartbreak makes people less willing to risk the heartbreak, right? And then there are also the dangers after our 20s like will I ever have stability instead of why would ever want stability, and all that...

Oh, no -- that other dream is a nightmare, right?

And thank you thank you thank you for this inspiration and engagement...

Love --
mattilda

man-of-snows said...

I love/hate living in Bellingham. The world is a fish bowl here so that if you can't play nice with everyone, you at least have to play polite... It is good to know many of the people around you, but on the other hand it is a very limited club.

I have felt like an outsider since I moved here. At seven years in, I keep asking where is my sense of community?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

I know -- community is so elusive, or even a sense of community... and fishbowls are not very spacious, or if they are spacious well, we all know about spacious fishbowls...

Love --
mattilda