This is a great audience, I realize that right after I start reading and everyone is laughing right away, even laughing it things that I didn’t realize were funny but that’s the point of a reading: the engagement. And then, right when the story shifts, boom, the energy in the room is so dramatically different; even though it’s my writing that’s doing this, it’s almost too dramatic to feel at all. This part about when I first remembered I was sexually abused, how it comes through talking about first finding other queers and freaks in San Francisco in the early -‘90s and now I’ve read it a few times at readings and it always surprises me how much I feel it when I’m reading it and I guess that’s the writing, translating into the reading, and my sister is here at this reading too so that’s intense, also a new friend who might be crying and I keep wondering what would happen if I started crying, it would ruin the performance of the writing, right? Or, would it? I keep wondering.
And then the questions: so intimate and layered, this is a really varied audience in terms of age and gender and race and even perhaps sub/cultural affiliation. I keep talking about vulnerability, that’s what happens, that’s what I keep feeling. One person who’s just fled a childhood home in the Inland Empire, asking about the vulnerability because I said something about how as a kid I learned to cultivate invulnerability in order to survive, but now it’s vulnerability that I think will help me most and she wants to know when I first learned that. I guess when I first remembered I was sexually abused, when I was 19.
And I also talk about nostalgia as violence. Because the early-‘90s in San Francisco were the most formative years for me but I don’t want to create a mythology of a golden age. Yes, that’s where and when I learned how to create outsider queer culture on my own terms, how to find others like and not like me, how to dream of accountability intimacy and negotiation and relationships created through desire, desire created through relationships, the politics of desire, the politics of relationships, relationships through politics, all of this. But also it felt like everywhere people were dying AIDS drug addiction and suicide, it was a desperate time and I don’t want to erase that desperation.
Every time it is a desperate time, for those of us trying to self-actualize in a world that wants us to die or disappear. Or wants to swallow our creativity into a lifestyle product. The myth of a golden age prevents us from imagining new possibilities in whatever age we live in.
And I’m talking about Patti Smith’s Just Kids and how she perpetuates this myth of New York in the ‘70s, that she was just hanging out and somehow propelled into the upper echelons of permanent stardom. That doesn’t happen to people who are just hanging out. It doesn’t happen to 99.9% of people who are trying to make it happen. There are many flaws in the book, but perhaps the most egregious ones in me is the way she keeps the mechanisms that propelled her to stardom invisible – she was just in the right time at the right place, right? We can never be there, will never be there, again.
And speaking of that place, the Chelsea Hotel where so much of the mythmaking of Just Kids takes place, someone tells me after the reading that Patti Smith is actually part of the business partnership attempting to evict all the remaining residents. These are the dreamers that didn’t make it to start on like Patti – the ones who have survived, that is. I need to find out more about this hideousness – somehow I didn’t expect the figurative violence of Patti’s mythmaking to manifest itself so blatantly. More to think about – the clarity that touring gives me about my own work and its place in the world, I will think about all of this more.