Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The parts that matter

Over the last few weeks, I've been doing final edits on The End of San Francisco with my editor from City Lights – it's been an all-encompassing process! And it's also amazing. I've never had an editor before who spend hours and hours and hours reading through each chapter, and then talking through it on the phone with me, so that we can figure out how to bring the parts that matter the most to the center of attention without losing my intent, the voice, the style, the way the narrative evolves. I've never had an editor before who tells me she had trouble sleeping, because she was thinking about the manuscript. That's something that would happen to me! I've never had an editor before who, after I finally agree to cut a particular paragraph that I've been attached to, writes to me the next day to suggest the perfect place for it. We've been editing the book together, chapter by chapter. And her close reading has enabled me to make some bold decisions. For example, at one point she suggested a new chapter break in a particular place, and I took a look at that new chapter and realized oh, I don't need any of this. Or, wait, there's one section that I could move to the previous chapter, and one to the next chapter, but then let's get rid of the rest. It's not that what I removed wasn’t interesting writing – one story in particular, about how I got married to my best friend during our one year together in college, so that we could get off-campus housing, that's an amazing story but what I realized was that this book doesn't need it. I think it's stronger without – that's what a great editor can help you to imagine, and that's what I'm feeling now, this imagination. Excitement, really, as I'm getting ready to read the whole thing together again – hopefully I will look and realize oh, this is so much stronger – even if I miss certain things, the book as a whole is more impactful, intimate, explosive. Two days, and then it goes off to the printer for prepublication galleys – wish me luck…

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: The book group!

Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?:

The book group!

Hosted by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

discussion: investigation: instigation

Sunday, December 2, 2:30 pm

Capitol Hill Public Library, upstairs meeting room

425 Harvard Ave. E.

Seattle, WA 98102


Yes, yes – it's the book group you’ve been waiting for – we will start in December with Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (AK Press 2012). And then, in successive months, we will bring the delicious discussion to a wide range of titles examining the question we've all been asking...


The book is 20% off at Elliott Bay if you mention this book group – and, if it's not available at your neighborhood bookstore, please harass them and tell them to pull it together – they even have it at Barnes & Noble downtown, okay?


Here's the Facebook invite – feel free to spread the word!


Please do not wear fragrances

This event is free because you are – feel free to contact me with any questions…

(This will be a monthly book discussion group examining the question "Why are faggots so afraid of faggots?" from a variety of angles – on Sunday, January 6 we will read Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging, by Gary L. Atkins)


*Not sponsored by the Seattle Public Library


Friday, October 19, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Final edits, oh my…

Suddenly I'm doing final edits on The End of San Francisco, and oh my it's an all-encompassing process! So draining for my body and mind, but also invigorating – here I thought I was done, but now I'm rearranging all these parts, my editor has suggested extensive revisions in certain places but her ideas are good, it's a challenge but a challenge that I think will make the book better. She suggested a new chapter break in a certain place, but now I'm looking at that section and thinking wait, most of this could go. I could move the few necessary parts about San Francisco to the next chapter, and the few necessary parts about Boston to the chapter after. It's too much work for my hands in such a short time – I wish I had a month, but the publishing industry doesn't work that way. I only have a few weeks at most.

And then I'm also thinking about getting back to working on the new novel, Sketchtasy, since now that seems distant, what was it again? Yes, editing The End of San Francisco is definitely taking all my energy, but that's okay. In two weeks I'm sure it will be sparkling, and hopefully I won't be into much more pain. Then I can get back to that other voice, the one I'm channeling for and from Boston in 1995, which sounds much more relaxing.


Friday, October 05, 2012

I am so sick of pro-military assholes on antiwar programs...

I don't know why I listened to this whole program. From the beginning it was clear that there would be at least one pro-military asshole using his (military) training in order to dominate – I am so sick of pro-military ("objective") assholes on antiwar programs. Can I say that again? I am so sick of pro-military assholes on antiwar programs. I don't mean to suggest that he didn't have some interesting information, just that the overall analysis was blighted because of his conscious lack of political engagement. At least the person from Iraq Veterans Against the War brought a global antiwar focus into the picture (and did have the last word), but unfortunately this crucial perspective was sidelined – if the antiwar perspective is sidelined even on an antiwar program, how will an antiwar analysis ever gain more traction?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Because it's painful

            Help! I'm supposed to be doing something, but I can't do anything. I don't even know what happened, what made me so exhausted today, obliterated, unable to function. I mean I went outside for a walk in the gorgeous weather, yes the weather is staying gorgeous and it's hard to imagine I mean it's not hard to imagine because it's staying gorgeous. So I went out for a walk, and then sunbathed in the park, came back home and now I can't do anything. But look, I did something – I went on a walk, to the park. I came back. I talked to Gina on the phone. Of course I cooked, earlier in the day, and later on I have plans. But I can't figure out what to do right now, since I can't do anything. Maybe I shouldn't think about doing something, I mean I know I could get back in bed, but I'm pretty sure that would make me feel worse, so I'm trying to avoid that scenario.

            I guess what I'm saying is that my brain, my brain, my brain won't work, won't work today, or at least right now, so should I get back in bed? That just sounds so awful. I could take a shower, but that sounds awful too. I have a whole list of all the things, large and small, that I want to do, but can’t, not right now, so maybe, maybe I will get back in bed or listen to a feldenkrais CD, yes I think I'll try that first, that will be the first attempt. I wish I had other feldenkrais CDs to listen to, other feldenkrais CDs that didn't stimulate my pain instead of calming it because calm is the point, right? And outside it looks like they might be starting construction across the street soon, demolishing the big old house that's a nonprofit, to make something bigger — I mean I hope not, but there is a lot of surveying going on, surveying the angle or the land or something I'm not sure. Although I'm glad that there are so many smokers standing there. Now it's all the fabric softener poison blowing in from downstairs, that didn't used to happen so often but now. But now it happens.

What else do I want to say from this point of exhaustion overwhelm? Oh, I had an idea, an idea about this horrible intestinal bloating that's been going on for the last however many years, three or so I think, right? And then I realized oh, it started around when my relationship with Chris ended, that was four years ago I guess, almost exactly 4 years, so I wonder if there's a connection. A connection between the end of the relationship that made me feel the safest, in my body, the end of that relationship without any ability to process it, to have closure. I wonder if somehow that relates to the bloating.

And then, when I was thinking about this, I started thinking about how Chris used to have a lot of intestinal pain, and how he would always make these really loud and aggressive farts and at the time I thought this was part of some kind of masculine performance, which it might have been, but also I think he was responding to intestinal pain, I didn't quite understand at the time. And so that makes me wonder if I have his intestinal pain — and I know maybe that sounds ridiculous, but I just thought I'd mention it. Since I can't figure out what to do, I might as well think about anything that might help, right? So I called Seattle Counseling Services, or no first they make you fill out a form online, so I filled out the form online, although they won't be useful for me unless they have therapists on staff who do something other than talk therapy. Talk therapy just makes me more tired: I can talk to anyone. I need something that goes into my body, something calming and relaxing, a release. I liked that sand tray work I was doing in Santa Fe, and I wouldn't mind something else even more body-oriented. Anyway, I filled out the form – that was last Friday. They say they usually get back in four business days, which I guess would be today. But not yet.

Outside there’s that brown van starting with a lot of noise. I haven't seen it starting before, just when it's parked. There’s no time limit on street parking in this part of Capitol Hill, so sometimes it stays in the same spot for a while. That's when I notice it. Does it have a dear antler on the front? Something misogynist on the side. Anyway, a guy with long hair, driving, and I can still smell the fumes.

But wait – more thoughts, since this is kind of helping to clear my brain. Or, maybe not to clear it, but something calming, a little bit invigorating, now I notice a headache, sinuses, plus a headache around the whole back of my head up to my temples, is that the same headache or two different headaches connecting? Next week I have an appointment with the doctor to talk about the test for small intestine bacterial overgrowth, that's the test where I had to stop taking probiotics for a month, then eat nothing but white rice for a whole day, and then the next day do this series of breath tests before eating. Several different doctors recommended the task, but it took me a while to actually do it. And guess what? The test results came back: inconclusive.

Literally, that's what it says. What is the point of a test if it comes back saying inconclusive? They want me to take it again, but I've already started probiotics again, I mean this was a month ago, and I've been taking probiotics for a month. They think the test didn't work because I didn't do it in the lab, but I think the test didn't work because the test doesn't work. Or, didn't work. That much we know. I can't take it in the lab, because I would have to go in fasting, and get there by 8:30 at the latest, which means I would have to ruin my night of sleep, which always wrecks me, no matter what, all for a test that's going to come back saying inconclusive.

I do feel a bit inconclusive about this writing. I feel great about the process, actually, so glad I sat down to start something that didn't feel as overwhelming as the rest. I feel inconclusive about where to stop: now? Now? Do I have anything else to say?

Oh — I sent my mother the manuscript for The End of San Francisco. I don't usually do that, but I did start to wonder what she might think about the beginning and the end. The beginning is visiting my father before he died. The end is childhood. Those are the parts where she plays a large role, those are stressful parts in the way that they were and are stressful in my life. Stressful is an incredible understatement.

But anyway, she didn't have much to say about the beginning, her power struggle with me over whether I would even be able to have any time alone with my father, whether I would be able to say what I wanted. She just said: it was hard to read. But I did read it.

But then, all these funny comments about drugs, she didn't realize I did all those drugs and how did I get off drugs? And, strangely, I hadn’t thought of the book as telling her something about me. I don't know why I didn't think that, but I didn't. Maybe because I was thinking about how she would react to the parts about her, which are critical, intense, maybe overwhelming, suffocating even.

She did say something about how I've had all these intense emotional relationships, which was kind of interesting. A lot of intimacy with these friends, really strong emotional bonds — that's what she said. I wrote down a few other things that she said, things I wanted to remember, but now I can't find that piece of paper. It's somewhere on my kitchen table/desk — oh, here it is, just when I thought I wasn't going to find it.

She said: it feels like I'm right there with you, like I'm not looking at it from a distance — almost like a movie but it's not fantasy it's real. Like I'm there with you in those bars and it’s so vibrant. That actually felt validating — my mother doesn't read much, or actually she read two newspapers every day, the New York Times and the Washington Post, but she doesn't read many books. She has trouble paying attention, that's what she says. Maybe I have a disability – but, it's too late to do anything about it. That's what she said last time.

But actually, the way she read it, her experience of it is exactly what I want people to feel, that you're closer because of the way it's written without a bridge between reader and writing, everything moves so fast and you either enter or you do not. A lot of people will not. And yes, my mother also fixates on ridiculous things like my use of the word fag — really, you haven't gotten used to that yet? Or, how I got off drugs, whatever that means. How come she didn't know, she wonders.

Why would you know?

She asks some questions and I can't tell if she registers the answers necessarily. Like, what was the question that made me respond that it was never safe in our house? I can't remember. But then, after we got off the phone, I realized, when she was talking about drugs, laughing at a part where I talk about the Xanax samples I got from my father's medicine cabinet, and she said something about how she never realized how accessible all those drugs were. And then, she asked me how I got off drugs.

My mother doesn't really know anything about doing drugs. She does know about Xanax, drugs like that, but coke or ecstasy are pot or crystal or whatever — she doesn't know anything about those drugs. I realize I want to explain what drugs did for me. I needed them to get away. I needed them because I never felt safety. I needed them because I wanted to escape. I never felt safety, because she never provided that. I didn't even know what that would mean. Sometimes I'm still not sure. I used to feel that safety with Chris. One day I will feel it again.

My mother wanted to know how I got off drugs. I thought that was a silly phrase — getting off drugs. What would I say? How I stopped doing drugs. I told her: willpower. But was it hard, she asked. It felt silly talking about something so small in comparison to the legacy of her abuse, not that it wasn't hard to stop doing drugs, but that was something I succeeded at. I have not succeeded at healing from the legacy of her abuse, unfortunately. I told her it was hard not to want drugs anymore, that was the hardest part.

Now I don't want drugs, or I rarely do, anyway. I guess it's been 11 1/2 years since I've done drugs, actually. But sometimes, it just feels like I don't do drugs, because I already feel so awful, and I know that I wouldn't be able to handle feeling worse. I guess that's still willpower. Often I wonder: where would I be without will? No, I don't wonder that. I wonder what it would be like to be able to do things without relying entirely on will. Do you know what I mean? Like, I could just have a good idea, and then do it, and it would be fun, relaxing, energizing. Not the way it always is: I have a good idea, and then I have no energy, and then I have to do everything possible to get energy anyway, and then once I do something, something satisfying, usually I crash, and feel worse, and then, well, back to the same thing. Over and over. No matter how much I change in my life, no matter how much I cut out, no matter how much I make things as calm and quiet and intimate as possible.

Let's study the air: it's soft, cool. Let's study the sky: blue, bluer than I would have expected. Let's study the trees, the smaller ones blowing more than the taller ones, except up top. The grasses blowing the most. Look at this tree, leaves with dead flowers flying around almost in a circle: I hope they don't chop down a tree to build some awful new building. They almost surely will. At some point I thought that the fabric softener smell was actually the smell of this tree, maybe a lilac. Maybe it was.

            But wait: where is that final sentence, that final sentence on this scrap of paper, did I lose it? That final sentence from my mother — oh, here it is: I'm a little bit afraid of reading it because it's painful.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The blue in the Elmer's glue label

Okay, let's take a break for the photo booth – you remember: that's my excuse for going to Avalon. The only problem is that the photo booth is always broken. Let me tell you what I have so far. The first one is X, I've got on the silver lame shirt, and you can see that big zit on my cheek. Good thing the photo booth is black and white, right? I'm doing that thing with my tongue so that in one picture my whole cheek pops out like I have a tumor — talk about glamour. For some reason my face takes up most of the frame, in the first picture I'm kissing Abby and her lips look so big. Billy's on the side, almost out of the picture I guess you could say.

Next one: K now — and, as you know, I don't use the word fierce lightly, but Abby is looking fierce with those big sunglasses and the silver pearls wrapped around her neck. We're giving a little bit of the twins look with matching pink headbands and for some reason I've wrapped ribbon all around my neck; it's getting stuck and honey, I look like an advertisement for rehab. The third one’s the best. Abby's got the red wig on with the curls in front. We're doing the headbands again and I love the way she’s drawn eyelashes onto her face with eyeliner or something, just little lines beneath her eyes and in the last one I've got my mouth open and she's smoking her cigarette like it's a poison dart, which I guess it is. I love the one where I'm licking her cheek, and she's got this exaggerated expression of disgust but her tongue is snaking out towards mine. Oh – and those big foam ‘70s flower things that I’ve made into earrings – the ones that match the rollers in my hair – flawless.

Speaking of Avalon, we're on our way. I wasn't planning on going — okay, never mind with that act, the point is that we’re on the highway and my eyes are rolling back: I can't believe how beautiful the lights are, the way the stars fly by and I've never noticed before how much color there is in the sky. There's the color of the sky itself, yes it's dark but then also there are all kinds of blues — cobalt, midnight, navy, blueberry, sapphire, blackberry, the blue in the Elmer's glue label, why my thinking about that, dumpster blue, office socks blue, rubber band blue, black-and-blue blue or is it blue and black? And yes, there must be something called diamond blue, right, unless the diamonds are the stars but we already know that. And, they’re every possible green and red and pink and orange and aqua and lavender and yes, we’re just flying right through them, we're stars in the stars and why don't we do this more often, oh it's so relaxing, oh I want to stay here forever, please let’s keep flying through the sky okay, let's keep flying.

But then all of a sudden it switches and I'm in a panic, grabbing the steering wheel so tightly, sweat dripping down my face — oh my God we’re going to die, I say, oh my God — and everyone's saying Mattilda, it's okay, it's okay, we’re going to be okay, Mattilda, it's just the highway, we'll be there soon. I'm so scared we’re going so fast and then I can't figure out how to get over to the exit in time, help, there are so many cars, help, can someone look out for me, please, can someone look. And then we miss the exit so we have to get off but there's nowhere to stop before turning around to get back on but luckily then the calm part of the ecstasy is back and am I really closing my eyes on the highway, leaning back in the seat, just tell me when we’re there, okay, tell me when we're there.

And then when we finally get there I'm strung out again, biting my nails, chewing on my face —there's too much speed in this ecstasy, are you sure we have to go to this fucking club?


Monday, October 01, 2012

Convenient for cocktails

Abby says she wants to make a roommate flyer and it turns out great, she even draws the two of us at the bottom, with the Boston skyline — honey, you should make comics. Okay, trick number three. I'm not counting Michael, the one in Roslindale, who called me again, or that mess at Jacque’s, just the ones from my ad in the Phoenix, which is pretty expensive, but since there aren’t many boys advertising in Boston I realize I can charge 150 instead of 100. Anyway, trick number three is in Cambridge again — I thought I would be spending a lot of time in the South End, but I guess it's all about Cambridge. This guy wants me to fuck him with a dildo and that’s definitely easier than staying hard in a condom, which is what we try first. And honey, this dildo is huge. I can't believe how much of it he can take and then of course he starts with the porn talk, someone should ban that shit, although it's pretty funny the way he keeps saying yeah, fuck me with that big black cock, fuck me with that black horsemeat, fuck me with that black monster donkey dick— I guess it's better than subjecting an actual black person to his racist shit. After a while, the fucking starts to hurt my hand, and there's no end in sight but when I tell him we’re getting close to an hour, boom just like that he shoots all over my hand.

Aaron comes up for a visit, and the first thing he says is that he's leaving Brown at the end of the year, moving to San Francisco —congratulations, I say, although I can't help wondering if she's copying me. Doesn't really matter, I guess — just get the fuck away, before it’s too late. It's Monday night so we all get ready for Quest, and I'm a little worried she's going to be intimidated about how drugged-out everyone is, but actually I think she kind of loves it. Especially Miss Greenback, 6 foot six plus heels, in her green bikini modeling the sagging center, grinding her teeth because of all the coke she’s done for the last 20 years. And I do mean 20 years. The rest of us carry around little vials, but Miss Greenback carries hers around in something that looks like a test tube.

On the second night, Aaron tells me he kind of has a crush on Abby, and is that okay, and I kind of wonder why she's asking me, but then I realize it's starting to seem like Abby and I are a couple. I mean, we get dressed up together, we go out together, we get high together, we get strung out together, we rant together, sometimes we even lie down on the sofa together when we’re falling apart, but it's not a sexual thing, although then when she and Aaron end up sleeping together I kind of start to wonder why.

Trick number four: the Four Seasons, I grab a crystal from one of the chandeliers. I think I'm going to start a collection. Number five: just down the street at the Copley Plaza, another crystal. Number six: finally in the South End, I mean not finally like I want to be there, although it is convenient for cocktails, especially since it's Friday night and I'm kind of rolling in it so I call the house and we all meet at the Eagle, cocktails on me.

Number seven: this one's actually hot, a student at Northeastern, no not Northeastern but the technical school that I hadn't heard of before, what was it called again? WIT — that's right, Wentworth Institute of Technology, that's about as witty as it can get. He says he’s straight, doesn't want to make out, and is $40 okay? $40, are you kidding? That's all I have, he says.

Okay, don't tell anyone, but I take the $40. He comes too fast – honey, you'll never hear me saying that again. I go to the Fens.