Starling

Some of you who follow me on Tumblr may have noticed an increase in random photos of birds, white bedrooms, and gingers.  This is not due to a new pet, a house remodel, or a sudden crush.  It’s actually because Erin McRae and I have written a novel, which we’re happy to report will be published by Torquere Press in 2014 (note: for those of you not familiar, Torquere is a long-time publisher of LGBT romances and there may be some images on that site you may not wish to click through to at work).

Our book, Starling, is a fairy tale about fame and everything that goes right, and ridiculously wrong, when you’re the kid who effectively gets discovered in a diner.  Set in Los Angeles amongst an incestuous group of friends during next year’s television season, Starling is about figuring out how to do life when it feels like the whole world is watching.

Starling is just one of many things in the hopper around here.  I’ve got a bunch of other projects at hand, some with announcements sooner and some with announcements later.  Erin’s working on a ton of stuff too.

Meanwhile, funny story for you:  Always. Check. Your. Spam. Filter.  Because if we had checked ours sooner, we would have been telling you this story a month ago.

Oooopsie.

Luckily, the team at Torquere is lovely.

When we have a specific release date for Starling we will let you know.

 

Catching Fire and the most unsettling sandwich advertising campaign ever

In 2012, the thing that most excited me about the then forthcoming film of The Hunger Games was the associated product tie-in advertising campaigns.  This year, with the release of Catching Fire (which is as compelling as the first film while being a lot more emotionally brutal), I’m stuck on the advertising once again.

A Cover Girl makeup collection with much higher visibility, than the makeup tie-ins of 2012 doesn’t surprise me in the least.  Nor does the luxury chocolate collection.  Sure, they’re uncomfortable, but affection for and playing at movie magic villainy is nothing new.  It’s just that the intense consumerism and reality TV horror strikes a little closer to home in the holiday shopping season and an economic climate that has been rough for a long time now.

What’s perhaps most surprising, however, is the Subway sandwiches tie-in, because while the other product connections arguably position the consumer as part of the wealthy and elite in the Capitol (regardless of what you think of the aspirational quality of Cover Girl as a brand), the Subway promotion explicitly positions the consumer as the resident of a District.

While the book series tells us some in the Districts live well and have enough to eat, the District narrative as we are exposed to it is largely one of struggle, starvation, injustice, exploitation, and poverty.  The Games are part of an abusive system that kills District children and also holds out that political ritual as a ticket to a better individual and collective life.

Everything about the Subway campaign is fascinating, however, in its sheer audacity, and at times, something that I think resembles a deeply unpleasant honesty.  That the sandwiches are touted as “What the Victors Eat” makes it clear that we all need fuel for our (possibly life and death) struggles to survive.

That’s grim enough, but that we’re supposed to be eager to participate in the restaurant-based game through which we can win our own “victory tour” is bizarre, considering how well that works out for Katniss and Peeta and the fact that Victory Tours in the book are about death and, traditionally, insincere mourning as a form of control.

That the promotion also seeks to raise money to Feeding America (by going to a Subway location, taking a photo of their Catching Fire-related promotions, and tweeting it to get Subway to “help donate a meal”) in a way where the effort/reward ratio seems unfortunate at best, also screams particularly loudly of the Capitol and coerced collaboration.

While I don’t think engaging with and enjoying marketing is innately evil even when playing at villainy, or that luxury chocolates, makeup, and unsettlingly marketed sandwiches are our biggest problems, I do think that there are ways to play in the space of The Hunger Games series that do a lot more good than tweeting photos of Subway sandwich posters. These ways include the Odds in Our Favor and We Are the Districts programs from The Harry Potter Alliance.

However, if anyone ever happens to see any industry press on how decisions were made in putting that Subway campaign together, please send it my way.  I’m desperately curious about the audacity vs. didn’t actually read the books/see the movies ratio.

Personal: Haven’t the foggiest what you will find here

Twenty years ago, I was a poet.  Longer ago than that even.

I began writing poetry in high school, as a teenager, took the gift of the Writers Market book for poetry my parents gave me each year and sent my words out.  Sometimes, people even published them.  And when I got on the Internet in 1990, and then joined a BBS which will not be named, I wrote my words there too.

I didn’t just write them.  I used them.  When I was in pain.  When I was angry.  When I was wrathful. When I had desire I did not know how to meet the consequences of; when lovers ignored me; when the politics of friendship confused me; when the cruelties of the Internet made me certain I was supposed to stop talking and just didn’t know how, I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Some more things got published.  Some more things got rejected.  I won some contests, performed at some poetry slams, got email from people I didn’t know: the father who shared one of my poems with his son after a first heartbreak; the man who worked at NASA and sent me pictures of the sky.

Eventually, the BBS died.  And eventually, I stopped writing, not just poetry, but everything.  It was easier; boys were more willing to date me; I could pretend I was normal, and there was a lot of lucrative to be had in the office drag dot.com glory of the late ’90s.

Eventually, though, I got back to words, or admitted, more readily, that I had never left them.  The boys were gone anyway.  So were the dot.coms, and the century, and the World Trade Center.

But while I came back to fiction and non-fiction, I never really came back to poetry.  I published something in Rattle on accident because of a friend, and I envisioned a poetry project or two I never felt able to execute on.

My brain has changed, and, by-and-large, it’s not something that really bothers me.  I’ve enough to do, as arguably evidenced by my complete inability to keep up with NaBloWriMo this nearly over month.

But in April of this year almost gone, an old friend from those days of being the girl who posted poetry on the Internet, found a stack of print outs from that BBS of my work.  She asked me if I wanted them, and I said, why not?

Until today, I hadn’t opened the envelope.

Some of the work I remember.  Some of it I don’t.  Much of what I’ve allowed myself to read has made me cringe.  In many cases, I am more interested by the evolution of my signature files on the pages as my sign-off migrate from Sinead O’Connor (“there is no other troy for me to burn”) to Kristen Hersh (“’til i wake your ghost”) to U2 (“i must be an acrobat, to look like this and act like that”) to things I no longer even know the source of without Googling (“you knew how easily i bruised; it’s a soreness i would never lose”).  Apparently that last one is Erica Jong.

It’s a weird stack of paper.  A hard read.  I don’t know if it tells me I was the poet I remember, that my resume says I was; or if I really wasn’t.  So few of these things would I say now, or say this way.

But there was one thing I did, a lot, when I was sad, and that was to write on this BBS, in the third person, about Little girl (“Little girl got to be pretty for a year…. Little girl has long legs.  Little girl has useful hands”). These were not poems, they were not meant as art.  They were pain and wrath and a desperate attempt to explain my feeling of being an object and to deflect — through a demonstration of my grief and otherness — cruelty that these posts, frankly, only invited.

I thought they were lost forever.  They might well have been, if not for my friend’s printouts and her offer to send them to me.  I’m grateful to have them now, to see the record, not of the writer I was, but of the girl I was at an age when I was discovering how the things I made people feel made them see themselves and the way I allowed myself to carry, or not carry, the consequences of that.

All of this really happened.  I was a writer, in that I wrote words that sometimes meant something to someone, often not in ways I intended.  And I suppose, I am one now, essentially in the same way.  But, wow, those two things aren’t really joined in time or subject or style or narrative technology.

There isn’t really a lesson in this, for me or for you.  It’s just 50 pages of words I don’t know if I’ll ever share with anyone ever again.  But once I did.

If anyone ever offers you an envelope from your past, say yes, I think.  Open it eventually.  Recognize that even when you were silent, you were always speaking.

The title of this entry is the opening of the note my friend enclosed with the printouts.

American Horror Story: Wounds as weapons

Sometimes, I feel like the loneliest person in fandom.  When Tumblr asks Who in the Glee cast would you most like to have lunch with? I always say Ryan Murphy.  That’s not just about avoiding the awkward about cute boys and the intensity of various fandom factions.  I really, really am a huge Ryan Murhy fan, which is a little bit like being a Russel T. Davies fan if you watch British TV — people wonder what’s wrong with you, even as they’re all watching the guy’s show(s).

Being a Ryan Murphy fan and being someone who struggles with the horror genre is, however, particularly frustrating right now.  Because he’s definitely doing some of his most intellectually interesting and uncomfortably confronting work on American Horror Story.  The problem is, I can barely watch it. Not because it’s gory, but because his imagination brings my deepest, darkest intrusive thoughts to visual life with far too much regularity.

I still haven’t, despite strong personal interest, watched AHS: Asylum because of the degree to which medicalized punishment for Otherness is pretty much the one narrative place I don’t quite have the endurance to go.  Mainly, because even if it didn’t happen like that, it still really happened.  It still does.

AHS: Coven, which I am watching, is by Murphy’s own admission, a campier, funnier show.  But it’s still horrifying — and again, not for the gore. This is particularly clear in the way it showcases a litany of female focused horrors: self-injury, deceitful competition between women, the non-metaphorical links between sex and death, the false redemption fame and objectification are meant to promise us.

At its heart, of course, all of Murphy’s work is, arguably, about trauma survivors.  It is as clear in Gabourey Sibide’s Queenie on AHS as it is in Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel on Glee.  It’s hardly surprising.  After all, Murphy is also working on bringing The Normal Heart to HBO.  Because while marginalized people are always, arguably, trauma survivors, the tight generational bond some of us share because of queerness and AIDS and activism is particularly illustrative.  It is one of the other things that often makes me feel lonely in fandom; I burst into tears every time I see the All My Friends Are Dead dinosaur, and yet when I try to talk about these experiences I often get the message — from myself as well as others — that I shouldn’t.

Weirdly, however, Murphy’s obsession with trauma and its transformative nature may be something he most clearly articulated during the nearly unwatchable, often annoying, and now cancelled reality TV show The Glee Project, in which contestants competed for a role on the FOX show.  With the exception of Alex Newell, the most interesting performers didn’t win (I’m looking at you, Charlie Lubeck).  But in the sea of all that, one interesting thing Murphy always seemed to ask the contestants, over and over again, was What is your wound?

Most often, this generated people talking about the things in their lives and the reception of their identities and experiences that most hurt.  It led to more than a few Tumblr conversations where people tried to identify and craft elevator pitches for their own wounds.

But last night, when I watched Queenie slash her own throat and dip her hand in a glass of acid to inflict the wounds produced on others, I finally understood.  When Ryan Murphy asks his potential actors What is your wound? what he means is How are you going to kill me?

Valerie’s Letter Day

It’s Valerie’s Letter Day, and so I’m posting it again, the way I always do, despite the fact that I have not reread the graphic novel in years or rewatched the movie ever.  Mainly, because I’m afraid to.

Both forms of the story hit at sort of terrible moments in my life.  The college situation, when I first read the graphic novel, I’ve talked about before to probably the fullest extent I’ll ever want to; it leaves out a lot.  The day I watched the V for Vendetta film, alone at a crappy theater in Chelsea, was the day I got sick.

At I first thought was food poisoning, what my baffled doctors suggested might be anything from gall bladder disease to cancer, and what ultimately turned out to be my far less scary but seriously unpleasant celiac disease.  But, for the first week, before all that happened, I thought I was have a psychosomatic reaction to the film’s long montage-based sequences of medicalized torture as political punishment.

When I read Valerie’s Letter, I know grace, poetry, survival, and pride.  When I engage with its larger context, however, I just feel afraid.  As much as that’s terrible, it’s also probably should be.

I’ve whispered I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot to myself more times than I really know how to explain.  I’ve wished that to be something I’ve been less needful of, and over time, it’s even been true; the world as I experience it today is, as relates to Valerie’s letter, barely recognizable from 1989.  And as glad as I am of that, that we have roses (again) and that Valerie never quite was, I am also remain so damn glad of that sentence about a place I’ve never been and a year fifteen before I was born.

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

– Valerie

Julius Caesar: But Brutus Says He Was Ambitious

Friends keep telling me to see Donmar Warehouse’s all-female production of Julius Caesar set in a women’s prison.  It’s a lovely recommendation, and a funny one, since I actually saw it just a day or two after it opened. That I haven’t, until tonight, found my way to writing about it speaks perhaps to its impact on me as as much as to my schedule.

Although it felt muddled at times in terms of devices — Was this Julius Caesar set in or performed in a women’s prison?  Was the rupturing of the forth wall about placing us in the prison or having prison escape its bounds? — the heightened reality and evocation of war through petty politics and electric guitars evoked more Oz than Orange is the New Black, and the acting was uniformly stellar.

But nothing mattered so much as the performance of one of Mark Antony’s critical speeches, which continues to haunt me some four weeks later.  The role is performed by Cush Jumbo (my Whovian readers may remember her as Lois Habiba in Torchwood: Children of Earth). In it, he (the production does not change pronouns for these women) attempts to make sense of why Julius Cesar has had to die, while also grieving his friend.

But Brutus says he was ambitious is repeated throughout the speech with increasing bewilderment, contempt, and even bitter acceptance by Mark Antony.  It’s always been a powerful moment, but in this production, it carried even more force — justifying both the all-female cast and dwarfing the other elements of the production both stylistic and narrative.

Nothing in the play felt like it mattered more than that speech as I watched it, and four weeks later, I remain in the same place — clutching at the indictment of Antony’s words, at a woman pronouncing ambition (and gossip) the reason for the death of another woman. A group of women decided Caesar was ambitious and whispered about it, curse and sentence.

The nature of the ambition, the form of its execution, was ultimately rendered irrelevant, because of how the moment forced the audience to confront its own beliefs not just about ambition in general, but about competition and ambition amongst women.  It is not comfortable and requires an eye towards misogyny both internalized and external.

Since seeing the production, but Brutus says he was ambitious has become something of an internal catch phrase for me, a reminder of the spaces between ambition as generalized virtue, gendered sin, and useful tool for specific achievement amid the also often gendered consequences of desire.

Having been reminded of these spaces, however, I am left with no answer, not for Caesar, not for the Donmar’s production which reaches far and stumbles often (mostly around the characters that were also female in the original text), and not for myself.  But I do keep wondering if there was some way Caesar could have wanted the world — a world, any world, no matter how small — politely, and if that would have made any difference.

Julius Caesar runs through November 9 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY.  Catch it if you can.

Marathon Day

Today was marathon day.  In all the years I’ve lived in New York (and that’s all the years, except for college), I’ve never lived more than a block from the route, whether I was in Harlem, Williamsburg, the Upper East Side, or my current neighborhood without a name (South Slope? Greenwood Heights? Sunset Park North? Clearly this frustration is becoming a thing).

For me, the marathon is as much part of the mythos of New York City as it is of the classical education of my childhood, where the origins of the distance of a marathon were drilled into our heads year after year.  It was always a thing I dreamed of being able to do, the same way I dreamed of being as pretty as Alexander the Great, who, once I became an adult, I found out apparently wasn’t pretty at all.

For a long time, running a marathon was something I was sure I would never be able to do.  Later, when I realized all the ridiculous stuff I could do simply by choosing to and working hard, I had to accept that the romance I felt towards the race — or at least the idea of the race — would always remain solely that.  The time I would have to devote to that achievement I have chosen to devote to other achievements.  It’s a loss, and a win, I’m more or less comfortable with, even if I continue to resent the limits of a 24-hour day and a need for sleep.

None of this, however, stops me from always going out to the route for at least a little bit.  My favorite things about the marathon are, and I think this is true of any marathon in any major city, the way it becomes a massive block party.  In a ten block stretch between my house and the supermarket, I saw three local bands, two DJs, a school-funding bake sale, four small business ventures, five people dressed as bananas, and a whole lot of cow bells.  Also, precarious viewing from roofs.  And one Boston Strong sign.

Somewhere, in all of it, two people I knew a couple of decades ago were running, a fact I know only thanks to the magic of Facebook.  I either didn’t get to the route early enough, or stay late enough, to cheer them on, but I felt glad of their being there.  It made a myth that has always been close enough to touch and yet also completely unreachable, just a little bit closer.

IMG_3240 IMG_3242  IMG_3246 IMG_3249

Personal: Haircut hell redux, this time with a happier ending

I got my hair cut today.  Super short after many months of growing it out for a combination of reasons that have included curiosity, laziness, and the acute awareness that people are generally kinder to me when I have long hair, even if it’s, I’m pretty sure, less attractive on me than short hair.

The thing is, the longer my hair, the less kind I am to myself, and it shows, I think, in everything from my carriage to my ability to care for it.  It’s no coincidence that the first text I got from a friend after posting the new look to the Internet mentioned that I looked less tired.

But getting my hair cut is hard.  Salons never want to cut it as short and as masculine as I tend to want it, even out here at the intersection of Park Slope and Green-Wood Cemetery.  For you non-New Yorkers, that means I live at the crossroads of DIY hipsters and lesbian mommies.  Yet, the stylists who are willing to chop it off don’t necessarily know how, and this is complicated by my hair texture — extremely thick, extremely coarse, and pretty damn curly.

This time around, I decided to go to Decatur & Sons, based on the random Twitter recommendation of Elliott Sailors, a professional model in her 30s currently getting a ton of media attention for chopping off her hair and pursuing male modeling to extend her career.

While knowing where to go, and having an idea of what I wanted should have made it easier, it was still complicated for me to feel like I had a right both to be in the very male space of Decatur & Sons and to ask for something I only knew was sort of a choice because of someone who is basically beautiful for a living.

While some of my many jobs are sometimes about being paid for what I look like, I’m 41, going grey, and still struggle with having always been striking at best, which is a thing boys often say about girls they’re not comfortable admitting their desire for.  It’s a silly wound, one perhaps over-generalized for the sake of the literary, but most of us harbor wounds like this at least sometimes — sharp and strange and filled with narrative primacy.

However — and the point of this story is totally the however — Thorin did an awesome job with my hair (so much hair, it took forever!), and my comfort, and knowing how to tailor the ideas I had to both my hair texture and the length of my face.  I will so be keeping this look up, with, I suspect, decreasing amounts of trepidation.

Long ago and faraway here I took a break from my pop culture ramblings to rage post about my need for a barbershop for dykes.  In terms of comment volume it’s one of this site’s most popular posts ever.  As such, I figure today’s adventures qualify as a valid update.

Cabin in the Woods: The horror is in the tropes

One day, I will celebrate Halloween again.  Despite it being Patty’s favorite holiday, since we got together over six years ago, it’s pretty much been a wash.  I’m often out of the country.  One of us invariably has the flu.  It rains.  Last night was no exception.

I tried to be festive though, and told Patty we should watch a horror movie of her choosing, even though my relationship with the genre is largely one of complicated disinterest, general anxiety, and eye-related phobias.  Thankfully, she chose Cabin in the Woods.

Unfortunately for me as a blogger (a blogger who is, by the way, doing NaBloPoMo instead of NaNoWriMo, since the traditional November activity feels sort of redundant to the many writing tasks I have going on right now, mostly involving critical revisions on several projects and a lot of stuff I’m hoping to be able to discuss RSN), Cabin in the Woods is best experienced if you know absolutely nothing about it going in.  Which means it’s ow my job to convince you to watch a movie I can’t tell you anything about.  Ooops.

For me, because Cabin in the Woods plays with tropes and the fourth wall, it was a really fun viewing experience, but I know that’s a YMMV stylistic choice for a lot of audiences.  Perhaps more interestingly, and to my surprise, I was even disappointed when it got markedly less creepy (and a little bit lazy for it) in its second half.

It also made me feel a fondness for Joss Whedon’s work that I haven’t in while.  I like Buffy and I love Angel (despite that terrible “Connor is annoying” season that’s unfortunately structurally essential), am fond of Firefly; and am actually intrigued by Dollhouse. Yet, there’s only so much of the patented and interchangeable Joss Whedon tough!waif heroine device I can take.  My attempts to care about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I don’t; it’s low-rent American Torchwood) have highlighted my irritation with that persistent weakness in Whedon’s work, while also leaving me deeply resistant to the idea of clever being enough in any script.

If you don’t like horror, Cabin in the Woods is the horror movie for you.  It’s funny in its send-up of the genre; it gets less scary after the first 30 minutes; the gore is extremely fake; and Bradley Whitford as a guy with a really important job that is death by 1,000 paper cuts is always a joy.

Anyone else got any horror movie recommendations for people who hate horror?  Because after another foiled Halloween, they would fill my house with peace, joy, and microwave popcorn.

Inception: The Musical – September 29th in NYC!

ImageYou are waiting for a musical. A musical that will spoof the far, far most successful film Christopher Nolan ever made that didn’t involve bats. You know where you can hear this musical, but you can’t be sure of the lyrics. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re all just having a good time together, and thought that you might want to share it.

Treble Entendre presents, Inception, an original musical by Erica Kudisch. 

Dom Cobb and his Dream Team may be the best in the business, but when they try to extract from the mind of a famous composer/lyricist, well… they really should’ve known what would happen.  Featuring Way Station favorites Antonella Inserra and Hilary Thomas as Eames and Arthur, with Joy Seldin, Kofi Mills, Marshall Honorof, Abigail Unger, Erica Kudisch, Rebecca Rozakis, and introducing Mr. Charles Rozakis as Dom. 

The show will be performed in concert with a ten-minute intermission, and some apologies to Joss Whedon.  

You may recognize several names here from Dogboy & Justine or various Kinkstarter events.  That’s because Treble Entendre is the same production company that brought you those adventures.  We’re thrilled to be welcoming people back, as well as to be welcoming some new performers to their first project with us.

Sunday, September 29th. 2:00 pm. The Way Station

683 Washington Avenue, Prospect Heights Brooklyn

(A to Washington | 2/3 to Brooklyn Museum | Q to 7th Ave)

21+, No Cover (please tip your bar tender and be kind to the hat if you can).