Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Delighted to be included in the 2014 Over the Rainbow list of recommended books from the GLBT Roundtable of the American Library Association

Here's the list..

A wonderful review of The End of San Francisco in Front Porch Journal!

"In The End of San Francisco, Sycamore successfully pulls you into a world full of politics and desire and trauma—painting a compelling, vivid portrait of a person’s search for community, love, and self. There are so many fine passages, it’s difficult to select just a few to illustrate the depth, breadth, and originality of this memoir. It’s rare, an encounter with the truly innovative and revolutionary infused with such emotional depth.

This book has heart. It will touch yours in ways you never imagined."

Monday, January 20, 2014

A political stance


Instead of nonprofit, what about no-profit? A political stance, not just a money laundering scheme. Two UPS trucks, parked back to back, maybe someone will write a song about this. So how is it that I just became calm, after a day that felt like everything struggling against nothing. Struggling just to function, which means not functioning. Not functioning in the ways I would like. And is it really just from one week in the dryness of Montana that means my hands and feet so chapped, toes swollen, castor oil all over my hands, moisturizer on feet but within a few minutes they’re dry again.

Today the caretaker at Volunteer Park asked me if I inherited my wardrobe. I love that idea. But I still don’t understand why anyone would want to understand Hollywood. When you’re writing a novel and you start to wonder if this happened—that’s definitely a good sign. Anyone who thinks it's good to live in Seattle if you have migraines is missing the point because these migraines started in Seattle. Maybe there’s nothing comforting. The worst illusion of safety is safety.

I never thought I’d say this, but it’s kind of fun to get up when it’s still dark out, watching the sky go from black to purple to cobalt then something like lavender as the sun rises except then Seattle realness kicks in and it fades to gray. Before two weeks ago, I don’t think I had ever been up before sunrise, except when I was still up from the night before.

Funny that when I did a lot of drugs I always thought I needed to sleep for eight hours exactly, so I would set my alarm to make sure I didn’t sleep too much. And then sometimes I would stay up all night just to reset my body, although I’m not sure what I meant by that exactly. Maybe just caffeine. But what I meant by resetting my body? Maybe it’s good that now I have no idea.

When you lie down on the stretching mat, close your eyes and end up falling asleep. When editing on my new novel is going so well that nothing can touch me—except wait, I better go outside before I turn into a computer. Before there was the screen there was The Scream. Apparently my computer thinks I live in Potwin, Kansas. Should I think about moving?

Whenever you think your memory is not as good as it used to be, it’s important to remember that there used to be less to remember. If your memory is good, then everything you remember is not. From academia to the art world to Gary Shteyngart, someone needs to end this obsession with packaging success as failure. Best Sale of Failure: Success is so Next-season. What if we woke up and everyone wrote like Renee Gladman? “ALL SYSTEMS HAVE COLLAPSED. PEOPLE AND MONEY ARE ONE.” One problem I have with humans is the chain reaction of human thought. Maybe I mean action. One problem I have with human action is human thought.

I wake up thinking that dusts would be a great word. Not that I think we should have sports teams. Last night there were all these screaming drunk people walking uphill towards Broadway and I thought oh, someone won something. Luckily it stopped after a few minutes: there aren’t many bars around here anymore because this is a gay neighborhood—we have banks, supermarkets, and a new OfficeMax.

I wake up thinking about this system we call. Legal. So I wake up thinking about depression. Maybe I already told you that. THE MARKETING OF FAILURE IS OBNOXIOUS. Some of us are trying to express with words what cannot be expressed with words and this is comforting. But it’s hard not to eat what makes you sick when that’s what eating does.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dream of the city


It’s obvious that a gated community is a graveyard. A graveyard has gates, to protect the dead from the living. I’m worried that’s what the city is becoming, suburban suspicion repackaged as imagination, consumption rebranded as creativity. Every new building looks like an office park, and we all know an office park is another kind of graveyard, walling off dreams in search of profit. This is where people want to live now. Driving into this new building, a high-rise, a high-rise with a view, looking out and thinking this is the life.

A graveyard can be a beautiful place to imagine the dead and our lives that remain, to study the stones and names and look at the way that tree pushes those graves to the side, another kind of history. A graveyard can be a beautiful place to get away from the living, even just to look at the trees and maybe even sky, those clouds growing bolder. But we cannot live in a graveyard, and that’s what I’m worried the city is becoming: a graveyard of ideas walling us into stagnation. Dead ideas are easier to cultivate, maybe a little bit of formaldehyde will do the trick.

The dream of the city is that you will meet everything and everyone you never imagined. Does this dream even exist anymore?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I didn't realize people watched the Golden Globes


Positive thinking is the worst thing I can imagine. Breaking into the art world vs. Breaking the art world. Someone needs to end the phrase I SOLD THE BOOK. Because you’ve been working on it for five years, is selling it really the most important thing? Of course, it’s wonderful to get it published, and to announce that, but can’t we make that announcement instead of immediately monetizing it? Especially when most people are getting basically nothing for something they worked on for so long, in so many ways both describable and indescribable.
 
Given their track record, I think we should change Google Alerts to Google UnAlerts. Anyone who says they’re not judging is obviously judging. Queers who like Dennis Cooper disturb me, but straight guys? That’s just scary. When CALL FOR ARTISTS really means PAY US TO SHOW YOUR WORK. Besides, what could be worse than someone who says they’re not judging? Isn’t judging what means we’re alive? And, it would be nice if the toilet actually flushed.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The problem with the past


Oh, the posthumous canonization machine must stop, please make it stop. PLEASE STOP THE CANON. I have never been a weekend person, but one good thing about the weekend is that they actually turn the heat on in my building between 9 and 5. You know, because if we’re here during the week at that time, obviously we shouldn’t be. One of the problems with the current situation where no one uses the phone as the phone anymore is that my mother does.

If we need a canon, it should be the Homophobia Canon. The Misogyny Canon. The Racism Canon. Oh, wait, we already have those. But I mean if we need a canon, it should be what not to read. I guess we already have that too, but it needs to be relabeled. Serious relabeling is necessary. Excuse me, but I might just need to endlessly type the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon the canon the cannon. This project of creating an alternate canon (or canons) is seriously misguided. It’s not who’s in the canon that matters, it’s who’s not. And here’s the story of Seattle: suddenly it’s sunny. But not for long. The problem with the past is the present.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Oh, look, I reviewed Sex Workers Unite by Melinda Chateauvert for the San Francisco Chronicle...

Bay Area sex worker activist Carol Leigh coined the gender-neutral term "sex work" in 1978 to describe the myriad ways that people exchange sexual services for money, from street prostitution to phone sex, stripping to erotic massage to nude computer repair. The beauty of the term is its expansiveness - if both sex and work are part of everyday experience, what exactly constitutes sex work? Go ahead - think about that meaningful glance you got from the bank teller when you were making a deposit.

Here I am


            Don’t you love it when a receipt for $320.19 of groceries tell you at the bottom: YOU SAVED $.39. I also get pretty excited when the size of a bunch of kale shrinks by one half, and the price goes down by a quarter. My first thought when returning to Seattle: It’s dark here. (But it’s night.) And then, driving through downtown and the International District: this is bleak. And then, getting closer to my neighborhood: I LIVE IN THIS SUBURBAN HELLHOLE?! And:
There’s an OfficeMax on Broadway, the symbolic center of gay Seattle, along with the eight or nine banks. Yes, IT GETS BETTER. In my apartment: I can’t believe how cluttered this is. I can’t believe I have so many plants. I need to get rid of that second sofa. I can’t believe how small my kitchen is, especially how the stove is tucked underneath the kitchen shelves. Even the bathroom feels small. I do like the new view out the kitchen window since they tore down the house across the street, the colors of the downtown skyline glittering at night. But that won’t last long.

            In the morning — oh, I love these plants! And, looking out the living room window, noticing how impressive that tree is, even without the leaves. All the trees, my favorite thing about Seattle. It’s dark here, almost doesn’t feel like day until about 10 am and they keep the lights on in the construction site all day long.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Still waiting for the list of all the books we should not read in 2014


Don't drone and drive. Don't drone and clone. Don't drone and moan. Don't drone and groan. Now I really better order something. The only thing I know about Hollywood is that it doesn’t know me. Movies, that is. Let me rephrase that: the only thing I know about Hollywood movies is that they don’t know me. I feel like the number of queer spaces where you can truly offer scathing opinions is dwindling so fast. I’m worried that soon there won’t be any left, and then what will be the point of queer? Another version of groupthink posturing as progress, that’s not what I’m looking for. When I say scathing opinions, I mean honesty. I mean saying what you think, not as a power tool (or a tool for power), but as a way of opening up the possibilities for connection.

What You Don’t Know About TV’s Top Women. President Obama says he’s never met anyone who would prefer an unemployment check to the “pride” of a job. Proving, once again, that he needs to get out more. I still don’t understand why anyone would be excited that Stephen King is anywhere. Doctors always like to make sure that they’re not sure. The Amtrak employee on the phone tells me my train is running all kinds of late. Off the rails doesn’t sound quite as good when thinking about train travel. My train is running about 12 hours late, and the bloating right now, why is the bloating in my guts so horrible right now? I took a nap because I couldn’t think, but now I can’t think. If there’s an internal server error, maybe it’s my life.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I could write about Whitefish, Montana, where the snow stays white


I'm serious — the snow stays white. Just don’t go to bed too early, because there’s an air-raid siren, or something like that, every night at exactly 10 pm. It's incredibly loud. Not sure what it's for, especially in a town where most things close at 6. Although, across from the big café that closes at 3 on Sundays, there’s a café that opens at 2, and stays open all the way until 9 pm. The signs telling people to watch after their dogs call them companion animals. People stare, but they don’t stare as much as they do in other places where people stare. There’s a beautiful bike trail, especially beautiful right now because there’s no one on it. It’s covered in snow. You can look out at the frozen river, watch the crows in trees. If you walk far enough, you’ll get to Whitefish Lake and the public beach, which right now is pure white, continuing most of the way into the lake and you can only tell where it starts because there’s a dock that leads to the water, but there’s no water. Way in the distance, a little bit of blue. The snowy mountains right there.

            Although it’s a tourist town, it’s a tourist town that still has useful things downtown: an all-purpose grocery store, a health food store, hardware store, cafes, healthcare practitioners. Not like Santa Fe, where downtown is really only for tourists. But Santa Fe is a big city in comparison to Whitefish, 10 times the size. Like Santa Fe, everyone drives a big truck and there must not be emissions standards because of the fumes. I can’t tell if they are dirt roads, because of all the snow. Unlike Santa Fe, I could live here without a car, and still get around pretty easily to everything I needed. I mean if I could live here.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

“When nobody exists really, there’s room for everybody.”


I can’t decide whether I liked this book, In My Room, by Guillaume Dustan. Something about the narrator never felt believable, his distance. His distance from sex, even while present, no, that was fully believable. It’s that there was nothing else but this distance. A little more, at the end. When he was at a bar in London, talking about the pretty boys only looking for pretty boys, studied disdain as the only way of predicting attraction. I’m not sure what made it feel so much like an older guy writing from the point of view of a younger guy, something about the clinical detachment, but it’s not like younger guys can’t be clinical and detached.

I kept thinking Dustan was really writing about the ‘70s, even though the book takes place in the ‘90s. Maybe it’s the gay leather culture he’s describing, which still seems stuck in the ‘70s with its rigid adherence to masculinist roles or a certain style of exploring those roles even when not rigid. For example, the narrator in the book certainly goes both ways with equal abandon. Maybe it’s that both roles seem the same — fucking or getting fucked it’s just a different kind of abandon. But that’s true, or can be true. I think it’s that either way it’s still a butch exploration. Not that calling the submissive role femme would be any progress, but I am curious about femininity and where it can and usually cannot take place in gay male spaces unless it becomes sideshow, stage show or quick campy banter abandoned, hidden and denied once anything sexual comes into play.

So this is good, this book is making me think. I got distracted from what made the narrator’s youth not feel believable to me, like a charade, but then that’s also what the book is about. This charade of gay male promiscuity in the face of AIDS in the mid-‘90s in Paris in a sexual culture where everyone is assumed to be HIV-positive, even if this isn’t the case. I think the narrator’s struggles as an HIV-positive man, struggles with sexual safety and risk-taking, pleasure and responsibility in the face of a coldness inside and outside, all of this felt realistic. If I didn’t see that this book was published in 1996, I would think it was someone looking back at the mid-‘90s through the lens of today. I think because of the nihilism, but also the sexual risk-taking with regards to safe and unsafe, which to me feels like it didn’t become so widespread and expected until a little later, when protease inhibitors made HIV into a somewhat more manageable condition for many. I wonder if it felt more manageable in Paris earlier on, even without protease inhibitors, because of national healthcare.

I picked up this book at Calamus Books in Boston, with yellowing pages since I’m sure it’s been sitting on the shelf since the English translation was published in1998. I was drawn to the spine because I could tell it was part of the High Risk series on UK publisher Serpent’s Tail, with a fluorescent split-image cover design by Rex Ray and I’m always drawn to those covers. And to the books, or at least to looking at them. I bought the book because from the back cover it seemed to take place in a similar culture to the one I describe in the novel I’m finishing now, Sketchtasy, which takes place in Boston in 1995/’96, but the mindset is so dramatically different. And yes, this narrator is a bit older, 27 or so, whereas mine in 22. But also I think it’s that he’s in a world of older gay men, and my narrator is not in that world. I was not in that world. Or, I was in that world, in those worlds, when they were paying me. Or, when I was in a cruising space. But I was never allowed to be part of those worlds, exactly. And, really I would never have allowed myself to be too much a part, since I was always so suspicious of the lack of political engagement, the studied indifference, the groupthink required.

So now I’m thinking that I’ve always been in these cultures — gay male public sex culture, leather culture, cruising spaces — but I’ve never been part of them. No matter how many hundreds of times I’ve had sex in these public spaces, they have never felt welcoming to me. Because of masculinity and the ways that I refuse to play the part. But still I’m always there. I’m a part, and I’m apart. At first it felt so uncomfortable, and then I learned the rules, and it felt uncomfortable, but more comfortable, familiar, and then maybe around when I stopped turning tricks it just felt like too much to negotiate these spaces and places to obtain a kind of sex that was feeling less and less hopeful. And then, over the last few years the whole thing has just collapsed. I haven’t had sex in over six months, I can’t tell if I want to. I only jerk off about once a month, I think. Really. I don’t even know what I want.

The first time I got fucked without a condom, in San Francisco in 1996, at a bar not so different from the ones in Paris Dustan describes, it was in the back of the bar and I was smashed and this guy pulled me back onto his dick without asking, and it felt so good but I pulled away because what was I doing, and he pulled me back. And after that, I was so freaked out. About the lack of consent. About the lack of safety.

But also I was on my way to a trick I believe, a paying trick, and so I held my emotions in and ordered another cocktail. Or maybe I had just come from a trick? But that kind of cavalier feeling towards sexual safety and risk-taking, I didn’t really feel that so much until later, although obviously it was going on, that’s what I’m realizing now. Realizing that I realized, but not quite. I was cavalier toward other thing, right? That mentality always lurked in the realm of paying tricks who almost always prioritized their pleasure over my safety, I mean actually the first time I got fucked without a condom was way back when I first started turning tricks, probably in 1993, and I didn’t realize this one trick had fucked me without a condom until I tested positive for rectal gonorrhea and I realized he had slipped it off without telling me. This made me stop getting fucked by paying tricks for several years.

 So I guess I’m saying I don’t exactly believe this character in the book because his interior doesn’t contain the same range of thoughts that mine did at the time. Which is silly, right, because all our interiors contain and fail to contain a different range of thoughts. Why couldn’t sexual nihilism have arrived earlier in his world, especially since the world he inhabits is exclusively a mainstream gay/leather world.

I think I know what feels like it’s missing — the specificity that brought the narrator to this particular place. We know it’s gay male sexual culture, and leather culture, in bars and clubs and back rooms in Paris, but what about the rest? We don’t get anything about the rest. That’s the coldness, that’s what makes the book feel so trapped, and maybe that’s what makes it intriguing.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

This is new, and it might be happy, and in any case we can hope

When you drop a contact lens in the sink, sink, sink. Searching all the textures of water and hair, the reflected surfaces. Go in the other room for a new one, fresh from the box, are contact lenses fresh? You return to the bathroom ready to pull open that metal plastic packet but there the lost contact lens is, staring at you from the gray towel hanging on the shower rod, eye level.