I have this photo stuck to my refrigerator with a magnet. I'm seven years old, in my grandmother's backyard, wearing Grandma's fur jacket, hat, sunglasses, jewelry, white gloves, heels, and daintily displaying her handbag. I'm ecstatically happy in my heteronormal gender play. In my grandmother's backyard there was a bird fountain made of poured concrete that my older cousins decorated with colorful bits of broken bottles and pottery—and rhubarb grew along the edge of the yard, where it met the alley. We'd pick it and my grandmother would stew it with cinnamon and oranges. And before Shell Oil bought up the surrounding fields and we had to worry that an oil tank might explode and consume Grandma and her house in a giant orange blaze that reached up toward the heavens, my father would forage wild asparagus, and Grandma would cook it in cream sauce. My father loved anything creamed, we'd have creamed chipped beef on toast, which he said in the army they called shit on a shingle.
I loved spending the weekend with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandpa was a mean drunk, but he was only mean to Grandma. He loved me dearly. Sometimes he'd take me to the neighborhood bar with him, other times we'd watch TV, eating pineapple sherbet sprinkled with peanuts. The love of grandparents is uncomplicated, the lightness of having a carefree affair versus the complicated drama of life at home with Mom and Dad. My parents got along, but childhood with them on Oakdale Avenue more often than not felt like a bad marriage. If we move from figurative language to real life, I suppose my situation is reversed at the moment—carefree marriage, bad affair.
When I look at this photo it embodies for me what I always thought love should be like, open and unguarded and unquestioning. A beaming me-ness, a beaming smile of acceptance and gratitude for the other behind the camera. The grace of the shared loving eye. A childlikeness that can sometimes bleed into childishness—I know I'm not easy—but I've always loved with an unguardedness. Luckily, Kevin loves that way as well. I think of the obituary I read online not long after Kathy Acker's death—by her former lover in London, the one she demonized in the end, whom all her friends hated—but I found his memories of her quite moving. He said that when Kathy was touched she threw herself into it totally, like a child or an animal. Which makes so much sense, considering her writing, her astonishing ability to link into primal spaces and move through them as if they were physical terrain.
It's always confused me to encounter people whose love was complex, a doling out and then withholding, an obsession with control. People who cause you so much pain that eventually it doesn't matter if they love you or not, you just want the pain to go away. It's been a rough couple of weeks for me, and my friends have been wonderful, listening, offering love, and telling me over and over again that I was lovable. I'm astonished how many people told me they loved me these past couple of weeks. I didn't ask for that, it just seemed to be in the air I needed to hear that and people said it to me. My mainstays have been Marcus, Bhanu, and Bruce. But there's also been Donna and Karen and Chris. And, of course, Kevin.
I've spent a lot of time talking with Bruce Boone lately, long phone calls, and then last night a springlike evening in the Castro. We met at the farmer's market on Noe, next to the Cafe Flore, then took our bounty back to his place, and sat on his front steps with his dog, Sadie. We talked to the guy who lives in the building next door, as he watered the potted plants on the sidewalk, and we watched people walk by. The weather was beautiful, a refreshing breeze and a hyper-real brightness, and it reminded me of my youth, and of being in college in Bloomington, always living in houses with big front porches. Then we walked over to Church Street for Chinese food, then back towards Castro for peppermint tea (me) and cherry pie (Bruce) at Sweet Inspirations.
Bruce talked about writing his latest blog entry, and his relationship with Jamie, who passed away a little over a year ago. The last time I talked with Jamie was a few weeks before he died, probably the final weekend he was coherent. (After that he'd be this shadowy figure in the bed, moaning, as Bruce and I sat in the kitchen eating mochi and drinking tea.) Bruce told me that I had hurt Jamie's feelings the last time I'd come over, that he felt like I'd been distant. Bruce said I needed to give him more attention. So I brought Jamie a box of truffles from Joseph Schmidt and sat in the bedroom with him and chatted. He told me that he was calling up all the people he cared about and telling them that he loved them. He said we don't tell people enough how much we love them, and knowing that he was dying gave him the opportunity to do this, so that knowledge was a blessing in a way.
Last night as we walked down 18th Street, Bruce told me his love for Jamie was unconditional. And when I didn't respond right away, he said you're pausing at that. And I said I didn't know if human love could be unconditional. He said he loved Jamie no matter what, and I said you certainly went through a lot with him. Bruce said, yes, he was a drug addict. And we discussed Jamie's drug problem and its impact on Bruce's life. He said, isn't your love for Kevin unconditional? And I said it seems like it could survive just about anything. But what if Kevin changed, what if he became a horrible person? Would I still love him then? I said I'd take care of him through anything. We agreed that it was unlikely Kevin would change. I said to Bruce, what if Jamie cheated on you, would you still love him then. Bruce said that was the one thing he couldn't have tolerated. I asked him why that was important to him, and he said he didn't know, it just was. I like that, not having to rationalize one's needs.
We talked about Bernini's Saint Teresa in Ecstacy, which Bruce had mentioned on the phone the night before and which I spent a good amount of time yesterday looking at images of online.
The kinkiness of merging of pagan and Catholic, of sexuality and spirituality. The way Saint Teresa is totally throwing herself into it. Like an animal or a child.
Here's me spending the day in bed with Sylvia and Ted. The pictures on the wall are by Fran Herndon, the one on the left I love to lie in bed and stare at, "The Death of the Poet," a lithograph she did in collaboration with Jack Spicer. I've been in varying degrees of sickish and sick since Friday, but have been going out anyway. Today when I woke up I felt too weak to leave home. Canceled my class and crawled back in bed and slept until 2:00. The dramatic symptoms have passed, but I still have this profound exhaustion and inability to stomach food. Managed some cardboardy tasting instant oatmeal and green tea. After a week of diva-level emotional upheaval, I feel oddly calm. I look at the cats on my blue hand-blocked Indian comforter cover I bought in Vancouver a couple of years ago, and I feel contentment. We were staying at Scott Watson's, in Scott's room, and Scott had a similar cover on his bed, so I went over to Commercial Avenue and got one too. When I got home, as I was stuffing the comforter into it, in excitement at our return and fury at our absence, Sylvia squatted and peed on it. That she's still around is a testament to my ability to love.
Tuesday night I went to hear Eileen Myles read from her new novel, Inferno, at Modern Times Bookstore in the Mission. I've heard her read from it many times, and I never get tired of that. I could go hear Eileen read from this book every night. The audience felt the same, a good mixture of hip young dykes and older poets and artists. Afterward, Eileen and I went out for tea at Ritual Cafe and then for latenight tacos at the place on Mission next to the 24th Street BART Station. Our conversation was divinely personal—gossip, relationships, writing projects, and how to hold it all together. Of course I told her all about my emotional upheaval—and she was a focused, compassionate listener. Eileen talked about various spiritual practices she's engaged in, and said if she let them slide, she started to believe what was in her mind. I've thought a lot about that this past week, the issue of not believing everything that's in my mind. I asked her how she handed it when personal stuff intrudes upon her writing space, meaning the psychological space necessary to let the writing flow, and she kind of acted like she didn't understand the question. It seems that Eileen doesn't allow anything to intrude upon that space. She continues to be my hero.
Friday night Kevin and I went out to dinner with Bradford Nordeen at Mystic Cafe on Castro Street. The Castro was packed with pre-Folsom Street Fair revelers. Outside the Castro Street MUNI Station was a gaggle of totally naked men, most of them not young, lounging about, like scrawny white pigeons. A couple of them had remarkably long penises. Later in the evening, when Bradford and I were talking about them, Kevin said, "What naked men?" Bradford and I were like, how could you miss them? We talked leisurely about films, gay artists and magazines, gossip, art writing, relationships. Bradford told me that whenever I lose focus on my life goals, I could text him and he'd tell me to get back on track. I tried it on Saturday, and he did tell me to get it together. My sickness, at this point, was moving from background to foreground, and when I got home my intestines were churning.
I woke up Saturday feeling worse, headache and kind of queasy, but got dressed and drove with Kevin to Soquel, which is near Santa Cruz, for Suzi Markham and Terry Olson's wedding. Actually, they were married a couple of years ago, so this was the belated wedding feast. Here's Suzi in her lovely, lush green gown, with feather boa. I miss having her here in San Francisco, but her life in Santa Cruz seems good. I'm happy for her. The drive there along the coast highway was, predictably, glorious. I had many fond flashbacks to the quarter I taught at UC Santa Cruz and made that drive twice a week, the sense of tunneling through this ecstatic landscape, moutains and surf. Each night after class, I watched the sun set over the ocean. Life felt good. I hadn't taught much back then, and that was ultra-exciting as well. My teaching was more radical back then—or, rather, now I measure out the radicalness according the situation, rather than having it be an all-pervasive mode. But, then, I feel that's true of most areas of my life, as I've gotten older, the sense of providing the world with multiples lenses rather than one "This Is Me, Take It or Leave It" mode. Though in some instances—and this is quite poignant for me at the moment—"This Is Me, Take It or Leave It" is what's called for.
At the wedding, Kevin and I basically hung out with the poets from San Francisco. Above is our poet's corner: Kevin, Brent Cunningham, Mina, Melissa Benham, and Cynthia Sailers. This is the third wedding that all of us attended recently, beginning with Brent and Melissa's wedding, then Stephanie Young and Clive Worsley's wedding, and now Suzi and Terry's. With each wedding, the percentage of poets diminished, so that here at Suzi's we were the only survivors, like the finalists in a reality TV show. We grabbed a table and ate dinner together and chatted and laughed for hours. I'd never spent much time talking with Melissa or Cynthia, so that was the biggest pleasure of the event for me. We talked about poetry, relationships, gossip, and small press book distribution. Brent said he and Small Press Distribution coworker Laura Moriarty had a stimulating lunch with Stephen Motika, who we had dinner plans with on Sunday night. Cynthia raved about a psychic that many local poets consult, and even though I've never been impressed with psychics, I emailed him when I got home and requested a phone chat.
As we drove home, the headache I had all day got worse and this queasiness set in and grew and grew. Was up much of the night throwing up, horrible, horrible nausea. The only way I could get to sleep, I was feeling so miserable, was to lie on the couch in the dark with the TV turned on low and try to find something totally non-challenging to watch. Saw the beginning of Dune, but even that had this giant monstrous head in a tank. Would wake up every once in a while and see a snippet of a scene in a flash. Kyle MacLachlan wearing the desert suit that recycled his fluids so he could go for weeks without drinking. The next time I woke up it was a movie about a child serial killer and I turned off the TV.
Sunday I spent much of the day in bed, while my neighborhood was flooded with people attending the Folsom Street Fair, which is 2 blocks from where I live. I had an hour phone conversation with the psychic Cynthia recommended, and, yes I was impressed with him. Among other things, he gave me advice about a situation that's causing me anxiety, and after talking to him, I felt much calmer. That calm has continued, and even though I haven't yet done any of the things the psychic recommended to heal myself in regards to the situation, it feels like I received a healing from just talking with him, like I've moved from fear to clarity. Later in the afternoon I decided to walk to Rainbow Grocery, which also borders the Folsom Street Fair, to buy some instant food for today, in case I wasn't feeling up to fixing anything. Some fair-goers were at Rainbow, and while I've grown used to seeing naked and near naked bodies on the streets of San Francisco, it was jarring to see them in a natural foods store, with those little plastic baskets on their arms. In the evening Kevin and I went to dinner with Stephen Motika at Osha Thai on 3rd Street. I ate some coconut soup, but it didn't go down well. It would be impossible to even begin to list what was talked about, as Stephen has such a sharp and quick mind—the topics flew out of his mouth, plus, as I wasn't feeling well, I sometimes would fade in and out of it all. While I tried to figure out what to order, Kevin and Stephen, who didn't seem to find figuring out what to order as challenging as I did, had a lively exchange about Unlimited Intimacy, Tim Dean's book on barebacking, versus Edelman's No Future, which boiled down to a strange, frightening culture of hope versus despair. Lots and lots of talk about books, publishing, plans for Nightboat Books projects we're engaged in together, gossip, poets, poetry, Poets House (where Stephen works). Kevin and I came home and watched Mad Men, and went to bed. I slept soundly and now it's all about peace, weakness, this blog, and the cats. The only thing I regret about the week was missing the launch of Stranger in Town, poetry genius Cedar Sigo's new collection from City Lights. I heard his reading was fantastic. Sylvia's twitching her whiskers and paws as if she's dreaming, but her eyes are half open. That's what I feel like, like my fingers are twitching out a dream here. It's a rich dream, don't you think?
Kevin found some undeveloped film from the 80s, and here's a few images of Small Press Traffic when it was a bookstore on 24th Street in Noe Valley. There's some fading of quality, but they're readable. They were taken in the early 80s, before Kevin and I were married or even together, but judging from the predominance of Kevin pix on the roll, I'd say something was in the air.
Kevin Killian looking literary.
Me looking ghostly.
Edith Jenkins giving a reading.
Me and Kevin looking innocent.
Lisa Bernstein and Bob Gluck.
Spending the day, sitting on my bed, doing class work. A peaceful, but oppressively muggy day. I haven't kept up the blog because my attentions have been elsewhere, a big elsewhere. To catch up, Neil's painting didn't fade all that much. A tribute to the non-sunny San Francisco weather for that month and some sort of existential tenacity, I suppose. I'm deeply immersed in tenacity at the moment, feeling such longing for a situation in my life that seems to be slipping away from me. You know how it is when someone enters your life and you feel reborn, and all your loneliness is suddenly gone, you have this blessed state where loneliness is this thing on the distant horizon, like it feels it will never approach you again. And then things shift, a deal breaker arises between you and your person, and when you try to talk about it, your person shuts you down, so there's no place to go but towards that terrifying horizon. I keep finding myself wavering in my resolve, but then I read an email from a couple of days ago where the person ridicules my vulnerability, and I resolve to keep moving towards that looming horizon.
My ridiculously extended horizon metaphor reminds me of one of Bruno Fazzolari's Lost Paintings, currently on display at Margaret Tedesco's [2nd floor projects]:
Kevin wrote the catalogue essay for the show, a brilliant essay, reading it I felt teary-eyed to be married to such a brilliant mind and writer—and if he were editing this blog, he'd make me take out that last statement as being too embarrassing—Kevin talks about Bruno's use of horizon in this painting:
Like the other pictures it seems to inhabit a landscape rather than a portrait space, and here you can see a familiar horizon four-fifths down the page—not the most comforting proportion, but one often used by Turner and other painters with gigantic and tormented skies—so the earth shrinks from the sky as if wounded by it. Here the line of the horizon—I guess that word should appear in quotes always, because it’s not a horizon, only lazy thinking makes it so—the line is dramatically broken, ripped in half—or is it an optical illusion caused by the placement of yellow—a dramatic splash of color that I can only describe as a conflagration.
Love "the earth shrinks from the sky as if wounded by it." That's what I was feeling like at the beginning of Bruno's opening last night, the pain in my heart feeling vast as the sky. Artist Colter Jacobsen was standing in the hallway outside the gallery, so I stopped and talked with him before entering. Colter is a confidante, so I could speak candidly about what was going on with me. Colter talked about his inability to write a project proposal, but then as soon as the deadline passed he had all this energy to write two inspired project proposals, but he wrote them more like poems than project proposal format. Working in a form that feels naturally to you. I sometimes think of this in terms of heterosexuality, like heterosexuality was never a form that felt natural to me. That Kevin came to me as a gift to create this in-between state, like our marriage is a poem rather than an overburdened project proposal.
Bruno's paintings were lovely, Bruno was lovely in his vintage-y blue plaid rayon shirt which I so enjoyed rubbing, feeling the muscles in his arm beneath the fabric. Sorry, Bruno, for being such a letch. I saw Donal Mosher and Mike Palmieri, who were in town for a screening of their documentary, October Country, as well as to do some filming in Santa Cruz for their latest project, which centers around drug test subjects and medical drug consumers. Whenever they tell me about the drug project, it feels so sad and frightening, capitalism invading and destroying the body.
I had the delightful surprise to see Bradford Nordeen and Deric Carner, who were in town for, among other things, the opening of a friend's baby store on Valencia Street in the Mission. Bradford and Kevin are collaborating on a evening of queer experimental films at ATA, What Is Life Without Living, which will happen this Thursday, September 23 at 8 p.m. Sounds great, but I'll be teaching at that time. Sad face.
By the end of the evening I had moved from stiff, suffering heroine mode to having a good time. Talking with artist Matt Gordon and his friend Patrick, who's a young curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Matt emits a blend of irony, sweetness, and humor, with an extremely low-key manner that I always find intriguing. He can say the most outlandish things without showing any affect on his face, which to me feels like an invitation to play, so I did play. His studio is in the basement of his building and he sometimes plays music loudly when he's working, disturbing the next door neighbors, whose living room shares a wall with his studio, and he feels no remorse for their pain. If he were my neighbor I'd hate him, which is interesting to think about, to so like someone who in a slightly different situation I would hate. He'd hate me too, because I'd be a bitch to him. Again, I think back to something I read many years ago that Lacan said, that all relationships were about finding the right distance. Due to memory and time, I make no claims on the accuracy of this statement, as far as Lacan goes. And now I'm thinking back to that looming horizon I'm facing.
I should get back to work, I should read Ariana Reines' blog for inspiration. Missing Ariana's reading at Small Press Traffic last week is one of the biggest regrets of my year. No one can do disconcerting vulnerability the way Ariana does. I'm in awe of her.