Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Down comforters

I'm starting to understand this LA thing, you wake up and it's a beautiful day, every day, I mean if you can ignore the pollution. If you can ignore that none of the things that are growing here should be. The birds are chirping and the sun is out, I can understand because this time the air isn't as bad as usual -- maybe it's where I'm staying, there are huge hills right nearby, pine trees, the breeze is blowing and the birds are chirping, the birds are chirping everywhere, even downtown, and this time it doesn't seem that polluted here. Except for my sore throat, hoarse voice, a bloody nose. But after a while you just think oh well, a sore throat, hoarse voice, a bloody nose -- another day in LA and the sun is shining.

Look, look again. That's what I learned from the Rosen practitioner, so I'm looking at the blinds in the morning, and the way they’re blowing with the breeze, different shades of color depending on where the sun hits or doesn't hit, and it's gorgeous. I get up and start cooking, put on LCD Soundsystem, get back in bed. There's something about an album that isn't what you wanted, and when you like it anyway, that really makes you love it, especially when it goes through all these different emotions, emotions in bed and I'm trying to fall back into sleep but not quite, I mean I'm trying but not quite, no I'm trying but, and when I get up the lyrics say the time has come the time has come the time has come, and everything feels soft.

Just don't study my stomach in the bathroom mirrors again, my stomach from every angle and I hate it -- I mean I like the way you can see all sides with these mirrors but not my stomach. I wonder how many times I need to try fish in order to see if it will help me. Time number four, and it does give me this clarity in my head, until later all that pain in my gut much worse all night long, I mean my stomach started to hurt at my favorite West Coast vegan restaurant earlier, maybe it was the salad dressing, and then definitely with the dolmas I got at the health food store, which I ate after the fish, before and after, just a few bites and there’s that feeling in my head that could be an amazing burst of energy or it could be an allergy, or both, and then it's the worst night of sleep in a while, all that pain, and I don't know anything more than I knew before.

Lately I've been hearing all these stories about people who are vegan for so long and then they eat -- fill in the blank -- whatever kind of meat seems the least healthy -- and then they suddenly feel fine. Who are these people? The magic bullet, who invented that phrase -- because a bullet is something that kills you, right? Oh, but the magic bullet. This dry air and as soon as I'm on the LA road like a highway but it's just an ordinary street and my voice gets hoarse again, that bloody nose and my fingers are sweaty. I can't believe they give you two down comforters in the place where I'm staying, I mean I get sweaty with one down comforter in a New York winter, but here it's 70 degrees at night and people want two.

Then there's the other part of travel, and that's when I'm sad just sad and that's today (there are pictures that go with this post, but it's...

... hurting my hands too much to use the mouse.

Okay, I'm getting ready for the train from LA to Santa Fe, but first let me show you what happened after I woke up on the way to LA...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wait, did I show you the snow?

Threatening her way of life

I'm talking to Allison about Rose, and the sense of loss that I feel, it's a childhood feeling because it's not like there was much she offered me over last 15 years, we could talk about her art and she would hear me, but we could never talk about my art, she chose not to understand. I started crying in the restaurant but I stopped, I didn't want to cry there so I'm glad Allison came back to the place where I'm staying and we could talk here, here I can cry and it feels okay, like a release actually, what I need, crying is always what I need. Or almost always.

Allison says something interesting when I ask if Rose was different with her, not so judgmental and Allison says with me she was very supportive, we were close actually, I talked to her a lot and sometimes she was annoying, like she wanted me to go to medical school, but she would listen to me -- I wasn't threatening her way of life. And Allison is right -- as a kid I would see Rose and the way she dreamed through her art and I thought that was everything; I didn't see that, even though she led a somewhat unconventional life for a woman of her generation, her whole worldview still centered around status, accomplishment, middle class respectability, and yes of course I threatened that. Maybe especially because she could have understood, if she wanted to.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The openness of travel

Then there’s the openness of travel -- I mean when I'm not an exhaustion catastrophe trying to fill in all the gaps, like who is picking me up at the station? Where am I staying? When it kind of feels like things are okay, and when I actually sleep, sleep 12 full hours on the train and then I wake up and look at all this green, a different kind of green than I usually see, more full with the light, all kinds of green actually -- green with yellow and green with blue and green with pink and green with purple and green with the sun and green with the sky and green with the moon especially when there's snow, snow in the mountains and green. Even the brown of the dry earth is red with the sun, and sure, this is an incredibly beautiful train route, and incredibly beautiful route during the hours when I'm actually awake and I haven't taken this train in a while because from San Francisco it means getting there at 8 am or something horrible like that for a while the tracks were closed so you had to go from a bus to a train to a bus, so then I just took one bus, right?

But the openness, I'm going to be traveling for a while, over a month and a half more, at this moment of almost-darkness, trees growing between rocks, 26 hours on this train but yes sleep actually cushioned me and who knows what will happen when I get to LA, last time I went everything got so dramatically worse -- pain and exhaustion got so overwhelming -- that I haven't been back in a few years. This time I'm staying in some weird place way out of the way, some kind of corporate housing because I couldn't find a place and then my mother offered to pay for one, this was the cheapest place with the kitchen but then there was another not that much more expensive that was actually gorgeous, gorgeous and convenient so I was hoping for that one, when my mother told me no, the other one I got so sad, worried that I would be stuck there, stuck in some weird corporate housing in LA but almost in the Valley or I'm not sure exactly where, but then Ethan called back and said he’d pick me up at the train station, we could even get groceries on the way and then everything suddenly seemed smoother, that was last night and then I slept in today I feel calm, calm with definite moments of exhaustion overwhelm but not exhaustion overwhelm with tiny windows of calm, so now I guess I'll see what happens.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wonder and possibilities

It's all in the past already but before the past, or not before the past but before, I'm on the phone with my mother, telling her I'm planning to come to Baltimore and she wants to know how long I'll stay -- I don't know, maybe a week, but you don't need to be there the whole time, I'd like to spend some time with you and then some time alone in Rose’s house. And my mother says: no, I do need to be there the whole time. And I say: why, I mean that doesn't make any sense at all. And my mother says things are very complicated with the estate, and there are still a lot of people with keys. I say why does that matter -- it's not like they're going to come in without knocking. My mother says: I don't know about that. I say but why does it matter?

Where does my mother tell me about my grandmother's will, or not the will but the estate, my mother says the will is very vague, but you and Allison will both inherit a substantial amount, the same amount. She tells me a specific number, but she's not sure, there's a lot to figure out. And then she adds, almost as an afterthought but of course she's been thinking it: and I inherit the house and the art collection.

But somewhere in here I'm crying, sobbing really hard for the first time since I left San Francisco. Sobbing and holding myself; this feels so good. Not good like pleasant, but good like this is what will keep me alive.

I'm not crying because of this news about the will, which I hope will be good news but I can't be sure until it happens. My mother is meeting with my grandmother's lawyer and her own lawyer, I ask why she needs to bring her lawyer: she says because I need someone to represent my interests. This is a different conversation, earlier, but of course I register that she doesn't say our interests. Because there are probably three people in the will, more or less -- that's my mother, my sister, and me. But then in this conversation, she just mentions the meeting again, or maybe it's a different meeting, and I say: maybe I should meet with Rose's lawyer too, when I get to Baltimore, and my mother says: I'm not sure about that. And I say what do you mean? And my mother says: someone will have to pay for that. And I say: it can't be that much, I mean I'm just talking about meeting with her for an hour or so, right? My mother says: maybe you can think of a list of questions ahead of time. I say I won't have any questions until I look at all the paperwork, when will that be ready? My mother says: I don't know, there's a lot to do. I say but definitely by the time I get to Baltimore, right? And my mother says yes, definitely by the time you get to Baltimore.

But that's not what I'm crying about either. I'm crying because what I want to do right now is to spend some time alone in my grandmother's house, looking at her art and her garden and the house as she kept it. There's a box of family history documents I was always trying to get her to send, so we could talk about it over the phone. Now I will have to look through it alone. I want to look for four-leaf clovers. Those childhood feelings of hopefulness, light in my eyes, maybe my mother doesn't know that's what I'm searching for – you’d think that would be something she'd want me to find. But already she’s arguing about something so simple, she doesn't want to grant me that space. Even though the visit was originally her idea. Now she's saying: there's no way you can spend any time alone in Rose's house, that's absolutely not a possibility.

I don't know how to reconcile this familiar power struggle with the place in my body where I can feel whole again, a glimpse into childhood wonder: after all, it was that wonder that saved me. I think it still can.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Soft ears

There’s something so incredible about someone you don't know welcoming you into their house, and the connections you experience even in a short stay. Sometimes it's about my work and who this person already knows me to be, but in this case Ashley doesn't know anything about me. Except that Socket called on the phone and asked for Johnny but Johnny was out of town, and Ashley said I could stay there anyway.

In situations like this, I get nervous about asking for help with my bags, fibromyalgia feels like too much to explain over a phone connection where Ashley can barely hear me. But then at the station when I say something, she actually gets it, asks what I need in the house too. She has this huge great dane who comes right up to you and rubs her head against your chest, her ears are so soft.

I always like Eugene when I visit, the people who I meet. If I wasn't trying to get away from mold, I might move to the Northwest. Except for that seven or eight months every year when you barely see the sun. I never liked the sun at all until I lived in Seattle, rushing outside when the sun peeked beneath the clouds as it was about to set, just to get a glimpse into my eyes, the possibility of escaping that seasonal affective gloom in my head. So no -- I don't think I'll move to the Northwest, but there's something about the slower pace that soothes me, Seattle was the first place where I learned calm.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Beets, in the Seattle sun!

Sitting there

I thought it would be relaxing to watch the movie in the theater, different from the usual kind of event where I present my art because I can just sit back, right? But, oh no -- I was wrong! As soon as it starts, I'm a complete mess, totally tense and then at the end I'm crying -- I expected that maybe I would cry, but I didn't expect that afterwards I would feel completely drained. What is it?

I think about it for a while and then I realize oh, at a reading of course I have to exert way more energy, perform for the crowd, watch everyone's reactions, but also I'm in control. With the movie, all I can do is watch. Sure, I can listen to the audience for clues, but only that. And then it's me, my voice, my voice and images and the movie Gina and I made together that's my story maybe it's amusing or confusing and I'm watching the shift into all this vulnerability. Not confusion for me but the confusion about how I'm engaging and sure, I'm watching this thing that I know, that I experienced and created, but then it's also something else on the screen: I'm the me in the movie but also the me down here in the theater watching me, or someone like me, or watching the colors in the film while listening to my voice since what I see isn’t the voice or what's literally happening but something else and I can't modulate my voice or shift the colors the way I want them in the moment, I can only sit there.

A guestroom in LA, does anyone have a guestroom to offer???

I keep wanting to write about the event, but then when I sit in front of the computer I'm too exhausted -- and then I have to figure out logistical things, like where the hell I'm staying in LA, so okay, how about a question? Does anyone have a guestroom where I can stay from this Friday through next Wednesday? Any ideas, please send them my way...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Makeshift Reclamation in the Northwest

All That Sheltering Emptiness, the gorgeous film I made in collaboration with Gina Carducci, will be featured as part of Makeshift Reclamation: New Feminist Art and Activism, a delicious tour coming through the Pacific Northwest (sadly, I won’t be in attendance, but there will be lots of other brilliant mayhem) …

Here are the details:

Features live readings, performances, and film/video/audio works by artists and activists including Jessica Hoffmann, coeditor/copublisher of the independent, transnational, antiracist feminist magazine make/shift; Hilary Goldberg, whose new project, recLAmation, is a Super 8 experimental documentary/narrative film in which queer superheroes navigate a future beyond capitalism; Alexis Pauline Gumbs; Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore & Gina Carducci; Little Light; Timmy Straw; Laura Piece Kelly; Jessica Lawless; and others TBA.

March 27, 7 p.m.: In Other Words Bookstore
8 Northeast Killingsworth Street, Portland, OR
Live performances by Hilary Goldberg, Maribel Gomez of the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, Jessica Hoffmann, Little Light, and Timmy Straw; original film/video/audio works by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jessica Lawless, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore & Gina Carducci

March 28, time TBA: Reed College, Eliot Hall Chapel
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, OR
Live performances by Hilary Goldberg, Maribel Gomez of the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, Jessica Hoffmann, and Timmy Straw; original film/video/audio works by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jessica Lawless, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore & Gina Carducci

March 31, 8 p.m.: Olympia Public Library
313 8th Ave. SE, Olympia, WA
Live performances by Hilary Goldberg, Jessica Hoffmann, and others TBA; original film/video/audio works by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jessica Lawless, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore & Gina Carducci

April 2, 2:30 p.m.: University of Washington, Ethnic Cultural Theatre
3940 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle, WA
Live performances by Hilary Goldberg, Jessica Hoffmann, Laura Piece Kelly, Kai Kohlsdorf, Little Light, and others TBA; original film/video/audio works by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jessica Lawless, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore & Gina Carducci

April 3, 7:30 p.m.: Left Bank Books
92 Pike Street, Seattle, WA
Live performances by Hilary Goldberg, Jessica Hoffmann, Kai Kohlsdorf, Little Light, and others TBA; original film/video/audio works by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jessica Lawless, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore & Gina Carducci

More info here

I'm reading in LA this Sunday!!!

It's true -- I'm finally reading in LA for
So Many Ways to Sleep Badly!!!

I'll be reading in the Rockypoint Press reading series, hosted by the delightful Veronica Gonzales and featuring Gina Apostal, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (that's me!), and maybe a surprise guest...

Here's the info for the fun and frolicking:

Sunday, March 28, 7 pm
The Mountain (in Chinatown)
475 Gin Ling Way
Los Angeles, CA 90012-1712
(213) 625-7500

Apparently there will even be drink specials, but more importantly you’ll get to see me read read read -- spread the word...

Saturday, March 20, 2010


There's some part of me that thinks I'm already exhausted enough, so I can't really be that much more exhausted when I'm traveling, right? But then there's the other part, and I'm a complete mess. Anything that goes wrong throws me into a frenzy. Like that feldenkrais practitioner who didn't show up -- no, that wasn't a frenzy, that was a fall. That's more like it -- it's like I have no cushion at all, my cellphone headset breaks and I'm trying to find another feldenkrais practitioner, and every time I pick up the phone my body tenses up and I'm afraid of pain so then I'm in pain and I can feel that drill in the middle of my back coming on while I'm sleeping and I can't believe I planned so well that I had this appointment set up weeks in advance, and then what happens? She doesn't even call me back, an assistant I've never talked to before calls and says the practitioner got confused about the time, but I still have an appointment for next Monday. 4:30 pm again, and it takes an hour and a half to get there -- luckily I found someone last night, and she was great, but still there’s that place in between my shoulder blades, the pain I'm worrying about that mixes with the pain I'm feeling, because remember last time I was on tour that pain in my back got so bad that I ended up taking a plane, oh no a plane.

But I was trying to tell you about the way my head shuts off, the way every little thing becomes more overwhelming, the way I don't have the cushion in my body or outside it and even sitting in the sun on the deck in the back feels draining. But now I'm exhausted again.

Gathering beauty

I'm sitting on the side of the road by the office of the feldenkrais practitioner who I guess stood me up, I mean I actually got out of bed and left the house within a half hour so I could get there on time, 4:30 p.m. is way too early for me but it was her latest appointment. I'm sitting on the side of the road because she didn't show up, I waited an hour and a half and called both her numbers. Now I'm a mess, but at least it's sunny. I'm sitting on the side of the road, looking at this tree with bright pink flowers, hyacinths down below, daffodils at Whole Foods yes I'm at Whole Foods once the sun goes down, I remembered it was right around the corner so it's useful once I'm running out of food, all this waiting. But first let’s sit by the pink tree for a while, the hyacinths are actually somewhere else, somewhere later where I'm thinking about the names of flowers and how I learned them from my grandmother, or maybe sometimes from my father who learned them from my grandmother, the hyacinths are pink too, but where do I find them? The pink tree across the street from the feldenkrais practitioner, the daffodils at Whole Foods but wait it turns out they are narcissus, yellow narcissus, and then later the hyacinths, pink too.

But underneath the pink tree are tiny white flowers growing on something that looks kind of like rosemary but smaller, no wait these tiny white flowers are actually kind of pink too, like in Emeryville when I was waiting for the train and I picked a few flowers, put them in my pocket, I felt like a little kid. Maybe I should have some kind of gathering to pick flowers, or just to wander around somewhere and search for them like a little kid, this is the excitement and sadness I need, and I'm thinking about what happens when people die and you allow yourself to miss them. I didn't miss my grandmother before, because I knew she wasn't there. I mean she wasn't there for me, someone to argue with on the phone, I didn't need that. But now it's different -- I just want to crouch in the grass on the side of the road with her, gathering beauty.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brilliant words on "Brand Obama"

Have people forgotten the way this man campaigned for the presidency? He practically managed to convince liberals and progressives that he was a barefoot anti-war vegan organic farmer and labor activist. Of course, he never came right out and said that, but his campaign sure did imply it in a lot of ways. He went from a gaysbien-friendly intellectual tree-sitter named Daffodil to a cross between Karl Rove and that serial killer from Saw in the course of 24 hours. This man who presented himself as the anti-Bush made Bush seem like a friendly little stray poodle starting the day he was fucking inaugurated. And he didn't even pretend to try to hide it. There are a lot of words one could use to describe such behavior, but "cowardice" is certainly not one of them. Now, Obama didn't really have to hide the fact that he was a neo-conservative in Birkenstocks because most liberals and progressives were (and are) under the spell of his Hope bomb.
Read the rest at Queers Against Obama

Monday, March 15, 2010

Four-leaf clovers

I thought I slept okay, but then I wake up with this, this feeling, this feeling in my head -- what’s in my head? I’m on the fire escape, trying to get extra sun, because I’ll be in Seattle for a week and then there won’t be much sun, that’s for sure -- can I store it in my body? Although there will be plenty of air, oh that soft moist Seattle air this time of year it should be lovely. Maybe it will clear my head.

Then I’ll be in LA, where there will be plenty of sun but no air. I just looked up the weather, and they claim the air quality is good. I guess that means that the bureau of tourism decides the air quality now.

I’m getting ready for the 24-hour train, not quite sure why I’m going: I just want to look for four-leaf clovers with my grandmother, bend down in the grass and no, that one’s five leaves, that one’s six -- can’t five or six leaves mean extra luck? Sometimes she puts them in tiny gilded aluminum frames, I keep them on the bookshelf in my room. When you look closely in the grass, you find all sorts of things: weeds, ants, those tiny white flowers with brown in the middle, little trees just starting off, dandelions, buttercups, sometimes even a violet -- Rose, a violet, how did it get there? She hugs me because I’m special. We put the violet in a vase.


I keep thinking about walking through the garden with my grandmother, eyes brightening at the colors I just want to spend more time with her in the studio, looking at art. When I think about her, I’m a little kid and all these colors are something I can dream about.

My mother says the aide brought the flowers into the room with my grandmother, but she was really out of it. The aide lifted my grandmother’s head and opened her eyes, and then my grandmother was touching the flowers and smelling them. And then the aide read the card, and it said love, Matthew, and my grandmother mumbled something under her breath and it was hard to see her but it sounded like love you.

I’m crying again -- I didn’t realize the card would say love, Matthew. I’m glad my mother did that for me. I feel so much better after I cry, maybe I should cry all the time. Before, I was talking to my sister; my mother wanted her to tell me about the dishes they were looking at, my sister was choosing a set of dishes to bring back to LA, but my sister said he doesn’t want to hear about dishes, do you want to hear about dishes? He’s in the mourning stage.

It’s harder to talk to both of them at once, they’re in some other place with each other, with the whole situation. My sister says: I was more in the place where you are before I came here, but now that I’m here I just feel like she went out shopping, she’ll be right back, everything looks the same. There are all these people around. Do you want to hear what I wrote on Facebook?

But then my mother tells me about the flowers, and I’m crying again. I say thanks for sending the flowers, and my mother says no, don’t thank me, it was your idea -- it was a good idea, a great idea, Rose always loved flowers.

It’s amazing how much grief I feel, I mean it’s good that I’m feeling it but surprising too. I want to spend more time with my grandmother, even if the time I spent with her over the last 10 or 15 years was so rarely what I wanted. Last time I visited, she was even more distant, at one point I said it’s good to see you, and she said: it would be good to see you, without those earrings. Remember that? The closest we got was when we talked about her art, I offered the critical engagement of another artist and she listened. I wish we could have talked about my art too, but since I never really had that experience, I mean the experience of her listening to what I really wanted to say, what I think about more right now is when I was a little kid: then she paid attention.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Today I feel stuck, all this sadness in my body but I can’t cry as much. I feel anxious, wondering how my grandmother is doing. Did she get the flowers? Can she see them? Or maybe smell the fragrance, lilies are too fragrant for me but I know she loved them. She would find the most gorgeous colors, and study them for painting clues. I want someone to hold me, but I don’t know if I have that kind of relationship in San Francisco right now. I miss those relationships. I feel alone. I’m going on a trip, and now it seems confusing. It was confusing before, but now it seems really confusing. I’m even confused about how to prepare -- what do I need to do? Am I ready? Why am I going?

I call my mother to see if she’s at the hospital. She says I just picked up Allison from the airport, can I call you back? Yes, I say, and then I wonder if I should call my grandmother again, just to say hi, to tell her I love her, to see how she’s doing although I guess I wouldn’t really know but then I realize that Allison was supposed to arrive in Baltimore tomorrow. Originally she was going on Friday, but then she changed her plans and when I asked my mother why she said you’ll have to ask her.

I know Allison’s ex-boyfriend was having a party on Friday night, and she wanted to go so she could meet people, she doesn’t want to be alone either. Maybe she stayed to go to the party, that’s what I was thinking. That’s when my mother said: this doesn’t matter, but to tell you the truth I would rather both of you not come and see her this way, I would rather you keep the image in your head of how you remember her. Later, I said: I’m not interested in any illusions. But right then I said anyway, can you tell me her number at the hospital? And that’s when my mother asked: you want to call her while she’s still alive?

I call my mother again: is Rose still alive? She died, my mother says, and then I’m crying again, it feels good to cry, leaning my arms onto the table. My mother says: she got the flowers last night, she had something to say about the flowers and I made an appointment with the aide to tell me tomorrow, I want to know exactly what she said and then I’ll call you. That was a good idea, the flowers were a good idea, I’m going tomorrow to pick them up. I didn’t know she would die so soon, everyone said it was possible -- or that’s not true, her surgeon and her doctor said she would pull through, but then last night she was in a lot of pain, she was yelling for medication and I gave the approval for more morphine, I wanted to honor your wishes, she was ready to die, she was ready to die for a while.

I’m sobbing again, already I feel better and then I wonder if I should feel better, because my grandmother died, but I don’t feel better because she died I feel better because I’m crying. In the background, my sister is asking what my mother wants to eat, my mother says you can order for me, you know what I like. When is the memorial, I say, and my mother says Monday, it’s on Monday at noon and it will be a short ceremony at the chapel, the religious part will be totally deemphasized because I’m not interested in that part and neither was she, and then afterwards people will be coming over the house and there will be flowers and food and then that’s all. There will be no sitting shiva, I’m not interested in anything religious. I’m not talking to anyone right now, just you and Allison.

I’m crying, and I ask how people will find out. My mother says there will be an obituary in the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post, and the New York Times, I put obituaries in all those papers for Monday. I say no, I mean her friends, how will her friends find out about the service? Oh, my mother says, Jarod called everyone, he made all the calls, I’m not calling anyone -- I sent one email to the family, and that’s all. I say I think I’m going to go now, and my mother says you can call me later, call me anytime, my cellphone will be on.

I call Hilary, she says how is your grandmother, and suddenly I can’t speak, I thought I had a lot to say but I feel like a little kid and then I’m crying again and I say ask me a question. And she says: are you going to Baltimore, and I try to say my grandmother died, but I can’t, and then finally I say it, but I’m not sure that she hears me, and then I’m crying again and I say I’m leaving to go on my trip on Monday, but maybe if you’re able to come over tomorrow for a few minutes, that would be nice, and she says sure, I say maybe in the early evening, I’ll call you later, and then I get off the phone and I feel sad but not as lonely.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Already there

I’m thinking about my grandmother in the hospital, and whether the doctors there are sad that she’s leaving. I’m sad that she’s leaving. I’m not sad that she’s leaving the hospital. I know she doesn’t want to be in any more pain. I don’t want her to be in any more pain. I don’t want to be in any more pain either, but it’s different: I’m not dying. I’m not dying, and I don’t want to die, and I don’t want my grandmother to die either, except that maybe she’s ready, so then it’s okay, it’s okay that she’s dying and still I wish for more.

My mother says: I have not been able to cry; I admire that you’re able to -- I’m not able to mourn. Anytime I feel it coming up I get really anxious and then it doesn’t happen. Believe it or not, this is almost harder than it was with Dad and it makes no sense because I had all the responsibilities with Dad and it was way more emotional and it went on for much longer and I was losing a husband and here I am losing someone who’s lived a very full life and it’s still very difficult.

I ask my mother for the number at the hospice, she was supposed to call with it earlier, but she says: I didn’t call it the number because she didn’t make it to the hospice. What do you mean, I say? My mother says: they were supposed to take her there last night but then someone who wasn’t a nurse did the evaluation, and then it couldn’t be approved, and then they were worried that if they put her in the ambulance she would die there and she would be in a lot of pain, way more pain, so now she’s in hospice but she’s still in the hospital. I say did she agree to that? My mother says yes, she didn’t want to be there, but she agreed. But she can’t really talk, I’d say -- right? You’re right, my mother says, but she can communicate: I watch her body language, I can ask her a question and she can raise a finger.

I’m thinking about what my mother learned from my father’s death. I asked her if they took Rose off of the fluids, like she wanted to, and my mother says yes, now she’s on morphine and she’s doing much better. Yesterday Jarod and I were leaving and I got a call and so we turned around and went right back to the hospital and she was awful, I’ve never seen her like that, she was in so much pain, but now she’s doing better. Ask my mother for the number at the hospital, my mother says you want to call her now, before she dies? And I say well it wouldn’t make much sense to call her after, right? And my mother starts this high-pitched laugh that sounds like her sister, or maybe it sounds like her because I haven’t seen my aunt in years, when would I have heard her laugh? And mother says let me call the hospital, it will take a while because I don’t know her extension yet but I’ll call you back. I say you mean a few minutes, right? And my mother says oh yes!

When I call my grandmother, I tell her I want her to know that I love her, and then I start crying but I’m trying to stop myself because my mother said my grandmother doesn’t like it when people cry, but why am I listening to what my mother said? I’m worried that my grandmother won’t be able to understand me if I cry too much, I mean I guess I could slow down and take my time, but there’s an aide holding the phone at my grandmother’s ear so I’m worried I might be taking too long and so I say: I love you so much and I want you to know how important you are to me, how important you were to me as a kid, you made me believe I could be an artist and even if later you didn’t understand my art I’m glad you’re not going to be in too much more pain and I want you to know how important you are to me, maybe you were even the most important person in the family in a way because you helped me believe in myself and I’m going to miss you, I’m going to miss you so much and I love you and I wish you weren’t going to die but I know that maybe it’s time and I want you to know that I love you.

I stop. I think that’s all I needed to say, and the aide says: did I take the phone away too quickly? And I say no, I’m done, is she awake? The aide says something that sounds kind of like no, but not quite. I say I know she probably can’t respond, but do you think she could hear me? The aide says: yes, the hearing is the last thing to go. And: if you need to call again, you can call any time. And when I get off the phone, I don’t know if I said what I needed to say or whether my grandmother could hear me anyway, and then I call my mother back and she says I’m glad you could have some closure, that was a good idea, and I wish she didn’t tell me that my grandmother doesn’t like it when people get emotional. Maybe then I wouldn’t have thought about that, and then maybe it would have felt like closure.

How long is she supposed to live, I say, and my mother says they haven’t said exactly -- it could be in hours, or days, or a week, but definitely not a month. I say maybe I’ll call her again tomorrow. And then I’m crying again; I kind of wish they took her to the hospice anyway, because she didn’t want to die in the hospital, but then I don’t want her to be in more pain and I feel like a little kid when I ask my mother if she could take some flowers to Rose for me, and then I’m crying more and my mother says that’s a great idea, no one else thought of that, and I say maybe some irises, Rose liked irises, and my mother says how many irises? I say a dozen, and some lilies, because then if she can’t see them then at least she’ll smell the fragrance, she always liked lilies, maybe peach or pink lilies, and my mother says how many lilies? Eight, I say, and then whatever else they think would look good to fill up the bouquet, and my mother says maybe I can get them to take the flowers over tonight, I have the numbers for a few florists.

My mother leaves to call the florist and I think about how present I am in all this grief, way more grief than I thought there would be and I would like to spend a few minutes in the room with my grandmother, but I don’t think I need to, especially since she might die in the next few days and so I probably wouldn’t get there in time anyway. Maybe I’m already there.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Seeing me

Now I’m crying on the fire escape, first I’m crying because my grandmother is dying, and then I’m crying because I’m a little kid and I want to talk to her about art. Or, I’m not a little kid and I want to talk to her about art. I want her to understand that she was the only person who told me I could be an artist, and even if she took it all back I still believed her. I want to sit down and talk about this work I make that she refuses to understand. None of that will ever happen now. She’s dying, and it’s happening fast. She refused the operation to remove fluid from her lungs, and tomorrow she moves to hospice. Today I got the other call from my mother, the one that said my grandmother’s dying. She wants to die; she’s ready. Or, if she’s not ready, she wants to die anyway -- she doesn’t want more any more operations, any more pain; she doesn’t want to live if she can’t make more art.

I’m crying on the fire escape in my pink sun hat, first I’m crying because my grandmother is dying, sobbing actually, and then the sobs get deeper and that’s the part like a little kid, the part about what she means to me. I will call her on the phone in the hospice tomorrow and she won’t be able to talk but I’ll tell her anyway, someone will hold the phone up to her ear, and I will probably start crying again.

After the fire escape, I go to the post office, where they tell me that the money orders my mother purchased at the post office might be counterfeit. They won’t cash them. There’s no book to look up the numbers anymore, and even though the money orders went through the scanner there’s no Benjamin Franklin hologram. I thought the point of a Postal Service money order was that you could cash it at a post office. I go to the bank to deposit checks, but most of them are more than six months old so they won’t deposit them; I need to call and get new checks.

I should’ve gone earlier, but I guess it took me more than six months to get a new bank account, I wanted a smaller bank because the big banks are robbing the country, they can cash their checks any time, their money orders are never questioned. Now I’m back at the larger bank, because the smaller bank returned these checks but I thought they would be fine here. Some of them are even issued by this bank. Today I feel like I’m not the type of person to live in this world, I want to go back to that cash economy where you count your twenties for every payment. Or, I just want to have more energy, so that I don’t end up waiting for the bus on the way back so hypoglycemic that I’m flattened, until I remember that I didn’t bring a bag so that I could walk. So I walk.

When I get back inside, I’m crying again. This time it’s on the phone with my mother, when she says -- what does she say? My grandmother is dying. Not in those words, but then I say hold on, and then when I get back on the phone I say sorry, my mother says you don’t have to say sorry, and then I’m sobbing again I say hold on. I walk into the other room, I’m sobbing and choking now too and my mother’s saying something into the headset, I can hear her voice vibrating and then I hear a call waiting click, and then when I get back on the phone she is saying something: you can take as long as you want and then I’m sobbing again, and then I take longer, and then I’m back on the phone.

My mother says that’s what we should all be doing, it is sad, you’re crying for all of us, and I don’t know what I think of that but I say that I’m glad she’s doing what my grandmother wants, that she’s not trying to force her to stay alive, some people do awful things to their relatives just because they want them to stay alive, not because of what their relatives want, and my mother says like what? I say I don’t know, she said she didn’t want any more operations, right? She doesn’t want to be in any more pain, and I’m glad you’re respecting her wishes.

When we got off the phone, I say I love you, just because it’s what I’m feeling, it’s not something we usually say to one another and my mother says I love you, and then I go into the bathroom to run a bath, and when I get back in the kitchen there’s a message from my mother: I just wanted to call to say goodnight.

Maybe the ringer isn’t on; I’m using the corded phone, because even a cordless landline with a headset emits a certain amount of radiation -- there are two cell phone towers across the street from me, there’s wireless everywhere, and I wonder if it matters that the covering of the cordless phone antenna fell off. I wonder about the high-pitched shrieking device that human ears can’t hear, the one that keeps mice and rats away -- could that be affecting my health too? Yesterday, when I talked to my sister, she told me she was trying to stop eating sugar because she didn’t want to get cancer; our father ate a lot of sugar, drank a lot of Diet Coke.

Did he eat a lot of sugar? I can’t even remember that. The phone rings, and it’s my mother again, she says I wanted to tell you that I really admire you and you’re important to me and I love you, and I say thanks. We talk more about my grandmother, and I wonder if she knows why I was crying. I wonder if I know. I mean I do know, but I’m surprised; I’m surprised that it’s affecting me so much. I get in the bath, and when I get out of the bath Hilary calls -- I just read your blog, are you okay? No, I’m not okay -- I just got out of the bath, and I need to take a nap. I’ll call you later.

Hilary and her sister are waiting for the results of their mother’s biopsy. I get in bed; immediately my stomach bloats up, maybe I shouldn’t ever lie down. Eventually I fall asleep; I could sleep longer, but I want to sleep later on too. I get up; I feel horrible; my stomach hurts so much. I’m crying again. I’m crying because do they ever give you what you want, this thing called family, does it ever work? I just want to talk to my grandmother about color and texture and light and the open feeling I’m trying to create in my work. Mostly that open feeling. She will never allow herself to understand. I didn’t even realize how much it would mean to me.

Randy calls, he says you won’t believe this but I’m in the emergency room. What? Yes, Randy says -- I was in Buena Vista Park, and someone hit me in the face. I didn’t even see him, but then he hit me in the face and I was running and telling people help, someone hit me, and there was all this blood in my face and I got scared but the first three guys just stared at me and then the fourth one took me to the emergency room. I’m okay now, but I don’t want to look in the mirror-- they have to do stitches. I think I should go -- they’re about to see me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


The shower is a good place to cry, all this moisture. No, it’s the warmth, the escape, the alone in my body with all this moisture. I’m crying because maybe my grandmother is about to die, that’s what my sister thinks. That’s what my mother told her, although she left me a different message, she said: Rose can’t say very much but she seems to understand. She definitely can’t talk on the phone right now, though, so that’s why I’m not leaving her number.

I guess it makes sense that my mother would leave my sister a different message, a message that said come, come now, because my mother knows that I can’t really do that. I mean I could do that, but taking the plane would destroy me. It’s also possible that my grandmother isn’t about to die -- a year or two ago, one of the times when my grandmother fell, my mother thought she was about to die, but then she got better.

I’m thinking about what it would mean if I wasn’t able to say goodbye in person. How much would that hurt? Would it be better or worse than the pain of taking a plane, taking a plane and maybe canceling all my other plans for travel in the next month: the film screening in Seattle, LA to visit my sister, Santa Fe to see if I want to move there.

If my grandmother is dying, I could go to Baltimore after Santa Fe, I could take the train to Chicago and then from Chicago to Baltimore. That probably makes the most sense, except my sister thinks my grandmother might die now, I guess one of the doctors says she might only have a few weeks. She needed an operation that she didn’t want, but she agreed to it because they said otherwise she would die, but now there’s fluid in her lungs and they wanted to do a second operation but she’s refused it.

Maybe she wants to die. I know she said before that she didn’t want any more operations, that more pain wasn’t worth it. She’s 93 or maybe even older, sometimes it seems like she moves her age back a bit, but definitely she’s at least 93. She’s outlived her husband and her only son, all of her brothers and even their wives. The one thing she wants to do is to spend more time in the studio so she can make more art; if she survives, she might not be able to do that anymore. That might mean that she doesn’t want to survive.

Rose meant a lot to me as a kid, she was the only person around me that built her life around art: I thought it was everything to her, and maybe that meant it to could be everything to me. It wasn’t everything to her; when I decided to leave college, she told me that if she could do it all over again she would have finished. She might have even said: instead of becoming an artist. I felt like she was renouncing her whole life in order to get me to change my mind: status and respectability were more important to her than my autonomy or dreaming. Later, I felt betrayed in many other ways too -- she wanted me to take out my earrings when I was around her; she didn’t like the way people looked at me, which meant that I should change; she wanted me to make up with my father. Now, when we talk on the phone, mostly she wants to tell me that everything I’m doing is wrong.

Still, all of this can’t erase the place she still inhabits in my heart, that place where a glimpse at the light shining behind shadow can make me hopeful, at least for a moment, what was it that I was looking at earlier? Oh, those pale green leaves against the peach building: if my grandmother and I were closer, I would call her all the time and say listen, you won’t believe this color combination. And she wouldn’t tell me that I must not want to get better, otherwise I would try Lyrica.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Getting used to it

Something about how, when I first moved back to San Francisco I would get dressed up all the time, full saturated glitter makeup wig sculpture extravagance, or not all the time, but for every Gay Shame demo and often when I went out, and sometimes just when I left the house, why not? I guess that’s when I was glad to be back where, at least sometime sit was possible to actualize that West Coast full freakshow glamour potential -- I certainly hadn’t felt that in New York, that was for sure. When did the possibilities start to fade, that’s what I’m wondering. When did the pain and exhaustion surround me so much that even dressing up like that sounds like way too much to risk for my body the crash?

It was also here that the pain went from something that felt like a bad injury to a permanence that surrounds me. Is it possible that, in leaving, I can move in the opposite direction with the pain and exhaustion too? Who knows. Walking into the gym I’m studying the back of this woman’s hair, big fluorescent pink and green clips, and then when she turns around she says oh, I love your coat -- I love your colors, I don’t see colors like that very often, most people don’t wear enough colors -- this is dark for me.

Aside from the hair clips, she’s wearing mostly black. There’s something about her smile that feels so genuine, and her look hints at Burning Man or Bay Area realness, which is comforting in this gym of corporate striving. Actually, it makes me think of Santa Fe, maybe there will be people like this in Santa Fe, maybe that will be a good thing. I mean, I’m also certain to encounter the full spectrum of New Age mania, selfishness masquerading as spirituality, but I’m already getting used to the range in my head, like on the phone with the feldenkrais practitioner who says he’ll be out of town when I’m there, but he recommends another practitioner in Santa Fe, something about how she’s doing a training in their office and I say: in the same space? No, he says, in Santa Fe.

Wait: this doesn’t make sense in writing, but on the phone it felt like he thought I was asking something vague and mystical, like: is she on the same spiritual plane? But no, just in Santa Fe. I’m getting used to it, even if I don’t know what I’m getting used to, yet.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Seattle, here I come...

I'm coming to town March 20 for the Seattle premiere of my first film, All That Sheltering Emptiness, made in collaboration with Gina Carducci…

It’s showing at a delicious night of sex worker made media called …

Saturday, March 20, 8pm
Northwest Film Forum
1515 12th Ave, Seattle WA 98122

Tickets cost $6 for Film Forum members, $6.50 for seniors and $9 for general admission. Tickets are available at or by calling (1-800) 838-3006, and you might want to get them early...

Here’s the blurb for the night:

From the Sangli district in the rural south of India to the life of a New York City callboy, sex workers have reached out through the medium of film to share their myriad of experiences. To combat the misrepresentations in the mainstream media of those who trade erotic labor, sex workers and sex worker activists aim to reduce stigmatization by becoming their own authors, reporters and organizers. LET'S DO IT! includes films from Seattle filmmakers Kinsey Bell (Manicured) and Basil Shadid and billie rain (Humor Me), as well the performance film I Want You, with multimedia artist Sadie Lune, experimental work by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Gina Carducci (All That Sheltering Emptiness) and the documentary shorts In Our Own Image and Taking the Pledge, among others. The evening's program will highlight some of the artistic and political achievements of sex workers, and explore the complicated challenges unique to those in the sex industry.

Following the screening will be a delicious panel discussion with local starlight Miss Indigo Blue (Academy of Burlesque), local writer and sex worker Sophia J. Russel and billie rain (dual power infamy), out of town guest Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (author of So Many Ways To Sleep Badly) and other special guests. Everyone is encouraged to join this discussion!

The evening's event is a benefit to raise funds for a local resource guide by and for sex workers. The night's frivolities will include food, beverages, music and a raffle.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

They took it

Everyone knows that a song like Tyler Moore/Mary or Walk for Me can send me into that endless track of clubland memories, when the queens would come out those songs were for us we were ready. Randy found a mix with both of those songs, 1995 Boston late-night standards, and then I’m talking about when I moved to Seattle and the music was awful until I got to this one club and oh that DJ was slamming us, this was still before DJs were considered unapproachable stars so I went upstairs and asked him if he had any mix tapes. He looked at me like straight boys look at crazy faggots, I mean there are plenty of faggots who look at crazy faggots like that too but he was the real thing. I was so enraged -- what are you doing playing bitch queen realness when you’re some kind of fratboy?

I still don’t understand it -- like this new Claude VonStroke song Beat That Bird where he takes that awful Beat That Bitch with a Bat song and ramps it up, twisting it into jump rope sassiness and even though a bird is the same thing as a bitch, the album is called Bird Brain, with a picture of a bird in a nest on Claude VonStroke’s head, the label is called Dirty Bird -- in other words he is that bitch, I mean bird, I hope I’m reading the rest wrong and he’s not some straightboy jumping into the queen’s territory, Maybe he’s a Detroit runway diva landing in San Francisco and playing for the straightest crowds in town no not the straightest in town but close, I mean when Randy and I went to hear him I don’t think we saw a single other fag in the packed club.

Randy says they took it, that sound, and of course he’s right but why does this still confuse me? It’s the way those beats make me feel, here I am turning the volume all the way up so I can jump and shriek, it’s hot in here so I take off my sweatshirts and then I’m throwing down my moves in boxers, oh this is why people take off their shirts in clubs, it’s not just some embarrassing manly showiness it’s the way oh, this is my skin. I remember when I first moved back to San Francisco, and I went out with Chris and Zee and they were scandalized when I took off my shirt, I said it was because otherwise I would get a rash, which was true, but it was also the fastest I ever picked anyone up, then I was from New York and I was doing New York things like taking off my shirt in a club, hello gym queen, but we all know that didn’t last -- oh the pain, maybe it rescued me from something.

Here’s what I’m thinking while I’m dancing: I really would love to be able to do this some time, throw my body in and out and shake with the beats and not worry the whole time that I’m going to hurt myself. I want to dance for more than five minutes, is that too much to ask? I’m joking with Randy, saying I’m really going to find the clubs when I get to Santa Fe -- you know, where club life started: New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles… and Santa Fe. He says you never know. I just want to feel this way that I feel in the morning for maybe two minutes on a good day before I crash, I just want to feel this way for a while I want to breathe. I want to throw on some crazy outfit and fling everything out on the dance floor and then leave like I was some mesmerizing catastrophic shaking like flying dream what was that? At least a half hour, a half hour of that beauty that escape that hopefulness, not so soon those too-familiar caverns of broken body overwhelm.

Friday, March 05, 2010

A part of something

It’s when I travel that I feel connected to something called queer. Here I feel so exhausted by the limitations of every option I’ve glimpsed, and I don’t have the energy to create what I really want. That’s what I want: that energy.

When I start to think about leaving, I think about other options. Even glancing at craigslist Santa Fe, and there are all these posts about how horrible the sex shop employees treat the fags who cruise there, and then I think maybe I should post about creating our own space, even if I’m not there I could post to see what people say, right? Oh, wait -- people are already posting about wanting to get the place shut down, although the person posting the most often talks about trying to get it shut down by the health department, relying on that old homophobic tactic to challenge homophobia. But what do I know? I’m not there yet.

I want to feel like I’m a part of something again, something I feel every day. I don’t know if that will happen in Santa Fe, or wherever I decide to move, but I know that I need to move in order to find out. When I have energy, I get excited about moving. But I rarely have energy, I mean it comes and goes so fast, for a few minutes on the fire escape I’m flying, but then I come inside and it’s all pain tucked behind eyes closing into crash.

I know I felt more energy in the past, but it’s not like there was a time when I felt great. But there was a time when everything didn’t feel so draining, right? I’m sinking further into the permanence of exhaustion surrounding me, I know I’m sinking and I’m trying to pull myself out.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Have you tried this? It’s very relaxing...

I’m sitting on the fire escape, back to the sun, watching the shadow of my head, hair blowing in the wind, like I’m watching myself watching myself. When I breathe in, I can see my shoulders go up, neck move a little to the right. My stomach hurts. I can’t see that.

Getting ready

I’m getting ready to leave. Not literally, but literally. I wonder what I’ll miss: this view, the sky, the light of the buildings late at night, the view from Buena Vista when the clouds get pink, the way a group of upscale tourists start talking to a few older working-class types at the bus stop in Chinese and then four or five other people join in the conversation, all in Chinese, talking about how to get to Sunset Avenue.

When I walk around I look up at the buildings and think: what would this look like in Santa Fe? I breathe in the air, that soft moist nighttime air that feels the clearest, and I wonder: what would this feel like if it were dry? When I have energy, I get excited -- I’m done with San Francisco, right? I can always move back a fourth time.

But I rarely have energy, and then I get overwhelmed. I mean I’m already overwhelmed, but then I get more overwhelmed -- earlier I went to the gym and then I got that calm clear feeling afterwards, but almost immediately the sinus sadness dreary headache eyes closing sinking like what else can I do besides lie down on the stretching mat or read craigslist postings, I think I’ll lie down.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

But still

Here I am a few floors above Market Street, staring outside and thinking about what it feels like in my body now, I mean what it feels like to feel okay, calm, hopeful even, because that’s how I feel right now. In a few minutes I might crash, but I want to feel what this feels like. Is it something about my skin, the way the air fits underneath my clothes and then my fingertips ready to float? Maybe it’s my breath, like there’s more space here in my chest, more rise in the rise and fall. Or maybe it’s this feeling like I could close my eyes and fall right to sleep, or does that mean I’m crashing? Let’s stop thinking about it.

I might as well tell you that I’m at the gym, maybe a surprise because you thought I gave up after that first disastrous time swimming two laps or maybe it was one and then the next day, oh I don’t even want to tell you about the next day. Right after I felt calm like this, until the pain, which actually started right when I got home, that drill between my shoulder blades and then I was so exhausted I had to get back in bed.

Anyway, I’m still trying, still trying to get to a point where maybe I can exercise more. So I scheduled a few swimming lessons, now what I do mostly is float and kick a little and then I’m done in five or 10 minutes probably, although altogether it takes about two hours with leaving the house and getting there and taking a shower and sitting in the steam room to warm up and doing a few stretches and maybe waiting because sometimes all the lanes n the pool are full and then kind of swimming and then back to the steam room and the shower and the locker room and then upstairs above Market Street, eating in the lounge where sometimes people say and watch TV way too loud or drink cocktails, it seems kind of strange to me to get cocktails right after the gym but anyway I guess I’m the one who probably looks strange to them.

And then there’s the bus home, it’s only six blocks or so but of course I can’t walk with my bag so then I walk a block and check out what’s going on in the display windows of posh and not-quite-posh, over to the bus stop, sometimes I have to wait and sometimes it comes right away. Maybe I’m getting somewhere, I guess my back is hurting a little now, maybe it will get worse soon, I can feel myself getting tired again, my lips want to fold down like that child’s sadness that wraps around me these days whenever I’m still like that’s me, that’s me that child but still I feel more hopeful, even when my eyes start closing like anything is too much, the familiar exhaustion always overwhelming but still.