Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I Learned in 2008

My parents were in New York this year for my 30th birthday. After two AMOK shows in Harlem we walked probably two miles along 125th Street from Madison Avenue all the way over to Broadway. It could have been a few blocks past Broadway. It was dark, there were hundreds of people out. I was cranky, hungry and dirty with glitter and circus grime. We ended up, about 15 of us, at a Cuban diner, late-ish, practically closing the place. Over dinner, Jennifer asked Jenny and I to talk about what plans, what resolutions, we might have for the coming year--it's Jenny's birthday too on 9/21; I could not ask for a more inspiring birthday twin.

I wasn't prepared to talk extemporaneously about my plans. I didn't have any. At that point, about 8 weeks into full-speed circus mode, I barely had time to plan a good breakfast, never mind reflect on the past year and the one ahead--and turning 30--this thing that everyone was asking me about. Jenny spoke eloquently about having attended a wedding and finding herself out of place, about being reminded of who you are, who you are not. We all nodded our heads; I felt humbled by the exactness, the clarity of her story. When it was my turn, I went on a few minutes about trying to live in the moment--whatever that means--and I wasn't exactly happy with the way it all came out. I knew that I was feeling so many other things, having so many other important, meaningful realizations, but that I felt unable to articulate the details at that time.

It's been a few months, and I think I've figured it out.

At Thanksgiving this year, we were asked to write down something we were thankful for on a strip of paper, and put it in a bowl. Everyone's papers were passed around, one thankful-for-thing was pulled out, read aloud anonymously, and the bowl was passed along. Here is what I wrote: "I am thankful for the realization that I am the only one who should define my career."

Somewhere along the way, 2008 taught me that what I want from the world, what I want from my life, is really nothing more than community. In my early 20s, I felt a pressure, partly from myself, partly from the outside world, to become a certain kind of writer. The benchmarks for this kind of writer are, I thought: a story about you in the New York Times Magazine, perhaps a scathing review, a glowing review, a mention that you are "one to watch." A member of the 20 under 20. Or the 30 under 30. (Is there a 40 under 40? Probably not.) I thought that this was the kind of writer I needed to be, even wanted to be. I picked up random books at the Barnes & Noble, read a few pages--clearly I was more "talented" than these writers. Clearly, I had more skills with language and more interest in making art than this schlocky waste of trees. Right?

Okay, sort of. Maybe.

Something has shifted in me. Reviews would be nice. Press would be nice. Magazine covers would be a fun experience. (But do writers end up magazine covers anyway? Are reviews actually nice?) I realized somewhere that the only thing conventional publishing had to offer me is money. Money and perhaps a certain trajectory--and, of course, none of it is guaranteed. My interest in the "book" world has waned. I'm less interested in doing the work that it takes to get published. I'm less interested in doing any kind of work that's not fulfilling. And that kind of work is not fulfilling.

What is fulfilling: Writing. Sitting at home, alone with the words and the screen and the voices in my head. Sharing my work with the artists that make up my community. My circus community, my friends, my peers, other artists whose work I have learned from, explored, been slayed by. Should a book deal come sliding under my door tomorrow morning, you bet I'm signing it. But the enchantment of publishing has worn off for me. The idea that things come from it has worn off. Yes, they do--many things can come from it.

But then, what else is fulfilling: The work I've delved into in the last two or three years. Bringing vital, community-building theater, all for free, with queer visibility, to the people of New York City. Sharing in the amazing, taste-bud-exploding bounty of the earth with the joyful, the ornery, the elderly, the children, the people of all cultures and races, with farmers and farmer's daughters. To be squeezed into shape by the seasons, watching flakes drop out of the sky one at a time until the branches are covered and the world is quiet and white. To watch children, third graders, fifth grades, talk about a painting that they've never seen before, something complex and wonderful, and say to the teacher "I feel like I love this picture because it has in it everything that I feel every day."

The other idea here, the one that has just occurred to me is this: I am grateful. My writing has slowed--mostly due to lack of bandwidth, and partly due to the current project, which is long, extremely difficult, and often (I think) beyond my creative powers, as if my eyes were bigger than my stomach. None of this means that I am not writing, or won't write, or have given it up. It only means that I find myself so honored and grateful and empowered by the work that I am doing, that the writing sometimes too introspective, too contained, too idiosyncratic. The only times I am pulled toward it, are the times that I feel the need to hold myself closer, to hide the flame from the wind. As it were. Those moments still happen, of course. (One is happening now!)

As I write this, I am flying north from Charlotte to New York City, on my way home from being in Tennessee for a few days, visiting family, feeling bored and loved, feeling happy and fed. I wrote this in an email on the flight down -- and it sums up how I'm feeling now, too:
I wonder if people -- People with a capital P, the gyrating human mass -- are somehow bettered for having been offered this perspective. This morning, on CNN, I heard that at 8:00am there were already more than 1900 planes in the air above the United States. What sort of amazing release would that collective sigh create if all 20,000 or so people looked out their windows at the play of sunlight on the clouds? I wonder if we'd fall out of the sky. Or lift right on up through the layers into space itself. Beyond, toward the horizon, the sky fades from a darker blue into a thin strip of bright lightness. Beyond that is the ocean. I can't see it, but I trust that it's there.
Another thing I am thinking of--people on the ground should write messages on rooftops to people in the air. "Hang in there." "Good Luck." "We Believe in You."

Happy 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Temporary Solution / Thank You

In the guest bathroom, where I stay when I visit my parents' house in Chattanooga, on the back of the toilet there is a bottle of spearmint-eucalyptus hand lotion. When I walk into the room, my eyes pick out the bottle instantly, but on closer inspection, I read it more clearly. These two scents, at all costs, I try to avoid. On the bureau in the same bedroom is a bottle of Gold Bond Advanced Healing lotion, which claims to have a "fresh scent," as well as language printed on the front of the bottle claiming that it is "fast-absorbing." In my coat pocket, I have a small bottle -- 2 oz., or just enough to get me through TSA security -- of something lotion I bought at the airport. At home, there is a tub of shay butter direct from Africa, two bottles of Aveda lotion (one "cooling with oatmeal," and another "regular.") In my shoulder bag, which I carry with me everywhere, there is a 3 oz. tube of Vaseline Intensive Therapy Cream.

Every year, about the middle of October, sometimes closer to November, the skin on my hands and fingers becomes drier, and drier, until, it seems, that it just dies, becomes rough, and starts to flake away. It's a function of the weather, the dry air, the cold, and I'm sure me biting my nails doesn't help. I try to combat all this by applying a series of lotions and creams--hence the above obsession. I have convinced myself that some combination of these creams will do the trick, and that I have just to find the right order, the right dosage, as if it's a riddle to be solved by trials. Got any other solutions? Really, please share.

The good news is, that I seem to have found some combination of the Gold Bond and the Vaseline Intensive Care -- starting just after coming from the shower with the former -- and ending about a half hour after first and second application with the latter.

Sorry the posts have been slower than normal, the holidays have been distracting, and fun and fabulous. I send a huge thank you out to all my loyal readers.

Have a fantastic new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I've always liked using 'spectacular' as a noun. For the last few weeks, I've been inciting jealous fits in many of my peers, upon sharing (confessing? bragging?) that I'd be seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with my boyfriend and my favorite lesbians. I've been here almost 11 years and I'd never seen it -- and upon hearing months ago that Laura & Amy were also itching to take part, I got us a chunk of second mezzanine tickets.

Radio City Music Hall is probably my favorite venue in the entire city -- it's just the most beautiful space, and it remains the largest indoor theater in the world. I learned last night that it was designed to look like a sunrise as seen from an ocean liner. How smart is that? Small details that make it unique: the ramped entrance, the oval lobby, the curtain--okay, not so small, as it's also the largest in the world.

The show itself can I explain that I never wanted it to end, and yet I needed it to stop. One huge number after another, Rockettes in costume after costume, the huge stage elevators, ice skating, an LED screen as wide and tall as a city block, fireworks, Flying by Foy, plushy bears doing bits from The Nutcracker, and (with help from that screen,) an infinite number of Santas dancing off into oblivion. Oh, and then there's the whole sheep, camels, Christchild, procession scene -- including the most lush blue curtain I've ever seen, like insanely beautiful draping. Then big finale where the song lyrics are projected onto the beaming gold walls of the theater and that part where the mylar ribbons explode into the space. There's no time to rest, to catch your breath. Plus, there's a 3D movie at the opening, with glasses tucked inside your program.

It's not bad -- it's actually fantastic. But it's garish, saccharine, and I guess in the end what makes it a little grating is the fact that every number essentially runs at the same speed. There's only one level here, and it's balls-out, breakneck. Theatrically, it sort of goes on an on, and then when it's over, you want intermission and another 90 minutes. The whole thing is so baffling.

Here's a couple of clips from the evening. The first is one of the Rockette's opening numbers -- there seemed to be a few different opening numbers, the first of which has them all dressed like S&M-ish reindeer, tethered by velvet rope to Santa's sleigh. Then, the second clip is part of the Million Santas number, what you see coming down from above is a rack of handbells.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaser Trailer, Vol. 2

In his office, which was a large gray oval, Dr. Samuelsson lifted a stack of papers on his glass-topped desk and fetched a pen from underneath them. He scrawled some notes onto a yellow pad—possible morning rituals, a list of phone calls to make—and then turned to look out the window, where a yellowthroat had landed on a branch. He watched it a few moments, its gleaming yellow breast shining in the sunlight. But when he reached for his camera, it startled and flew away. “Damn,” he muttered.

Allyn peeked in from the hallway. “Doctor? Rudine is ready for her initial mapping.”

“Thank you, darling. Tell her I’ll be just a minute or two more.” He fussed with the papers, moving them from one stack to another.

“She’s ready now.” Allyn smiled. “A bit fussy. The cap needs refitting, I think.”

“It’s fine.”

“She’s right, actually," she said. "It’s fine for now, but I’ll see if I can resize it this afternoon.”

“That’s why I married you,” he said.

Friday, December 12, 2008


-Someone graffiti'd on a wall along 34th Street "United We Stank."

-We're going skiing in Maine for Kip's 45th Birthday!

-We're going to see Sandra Bernhard at Joe's Pub just after Xmas!!

-We're seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with my two favorite lesbians!!!

-Exciting things are happening at the Circus!!!!

-I unstuck a lid for one of the ladies at the jam stand today at the market--and felt like a hero.

-Then I came home and removed a splinter from my finger--and felt totally self-sufficient.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

On Reading in Public

In the last year or so, I've had the pleasant opportunity to read my work in public, at various venues (bookstores and dive bars,) to various audiences (lots of friends, welcoming strangers and uninterested strangers,) and to (I think) a generally a positive reaction. However, what's really rewarding about the experience is how it teaches you about your work in general--the way it affects people, the way it sounds in the room, how it can surprise even you who wrote it and edited it 9,000 times, and how, in the end, you have no control whatsoever over the work once it's out in the world.

When you're asked to read something--this goes for me; I don't know how other writers do it--you either read what you're asked to read (in the case of a book release party, or reading on a theme,) or you pick something else. The choosing is where the weirdness starts to occur. I find that you're given a few options: 1) Read something that people will like, 2) Read something that you think will make people like you, 3) Read something popular, or funny, or charming, 4) Read what you want to read.

What's weird about all this is that the only one you have real control over is the last one, though you have to combat all this self-inflicted pressure to do one of the others. You want people to be entertained--there's nothing worse than a writer who's reading badly, not engaged, and not, as I say, recognizing that this is a performative moment! People came out, maybe in the cold, maybe in the rain, when the could be home watching TV, some paid a fee, and so you really need to bring your shit to the table. But also worse is the writer who picks something that's not really what his audience wants to hear--too erudite, wrong for the venue, messy.

Reading in public has taught me something about my work that maybe I already felt a little here and there, but has now been confirmed in a totally awesome and unexpected way. I generally like to read the more introspective, meloncholy, uneventful, detailed pieces. Not the funny stuff--do I even write funny stuff?--not the flashier, pop-culture-filled stuff that I think will get an immediate reaction. What's fascinating me lately is how I don't get much reaction during the reading--I only mean compared to, say, other writers on the same bill--no groans, or grunts of interest, or whatever goofy sounds an audience makes. But I think I'm getting a lot of reaction after.

When people come up to tell me that they enjoyed the reading, or the piece, they are doing it in this totally weird, almost private way. It's as if several things are happening at once. The writing is about a fragile person, and maybe they are projecting that fragility onto me, the writer, and they take an extra kind of care with their physical approach. (Or maybe this is always how you approach a stranger?) They talk quietly. They don't want to shake my hand. They stand a bit away and lean their top half forward to say something personal, or vaguely confessional. I don't know what's going on here--I'm not new to performing in public, but I am still somewhat new to reading in public. Maybe other writers have this same observation.

So I'm learning something new about how all the time and effort I put into making writing that's clear, emotional, and meaningful is making people feel. It's been a lovely opportunity. I'm very grateful.