Tuesday, January 31, 2006

If You really Loved Me, You Wouldn't Give Me a Thing

In the last three weeks I have had the incredible fortune of:

Spending a weekend at the Chicago Boat and Outdoor Show (truly a Jew adrift on a decidedly gentile sea) selling shoe insoles for a crazed, 21-year old entrepreneur, making amends with two very beautiful-but in the last six months also very estranged-close friends, serving as book signing assistant for famous author Pat Conroy (and later, absconding with the pen he used to sign all the autographs, in the hopes that some sort of writerly power-object could help end this writer’s block), recording songs with my “band” in a real studio, and finding a place to live out in the SF bay area. A lot has happened. But for some reason I feel like starting farther back. Rewind now to the first week in January 2006…

(What follows is in honor of a dear friend and loyal reader, you know who you are…I hope)

It was a Friday morning. I stepped out into soft, wet snow that dissolved into hungry mud puddles as soon as it touched the ground. Occasionally, if you have nowhere in particular to be, there is something oddly soothing about a hangover. What else could make one thankful for the overcast Pittsburgh sky? I walked down Forbes to Wightman feeling full of clean air and peace, and another strange feeling-happiness.

It was the first thing Mark said to me really, after picking me up down the street and bringing me back to his parents house. “Wow, for once you look happy.” He exclaimed handing me a glass of water in the kitchen. I blushed. Our friendship had been forged during my senior year of college, admittedly one of the darkest moments of my life and perhaps in his mind I’m forever frozen in some iconic desperation. “I’m not miserable all the time you know” I smiled back and to prove it went out to 80’s night where we managed to clear a huge chunk of the college-studented dance floor with our outrageous mayhem.

I had come to Pittsburgh that weekend with my father for two reasons: to visit my grandparents and so that Mark and I could work on our plans to move to San Francisco. That weekend we pledged that after six months of hopeful, but ultimately empty talk, we were going to do it. Pack up all our stuff into backpacks and move across the country, unsure of where we would live or work. We would do this because it felt magical and right and important. Because we don’t want to be afraid not to do it. Because we took stock of everything and concluded that there is no possible way we could fuck things up so badly out there that we wouldn’t be able to somehow find our ways back home and pick up where we left off.

I was trying to explain this to a friend at a party a few months ago. Inevitably, at some point in the conversation my city-hopping history finds it’s way to the table. “What are you running from, Abbyg.?” he asked playfully. I shrugged. Only later that night did I realize I should have gently rephrased the question as “What am I running towards?”

I talked about this a little bit late last May as I prepared for a cross-country rock n’ roll tour that turned into three solid months of homelessness and travel. I am elated and dismayed to report that in many ways I still feel exactly the same way as I did last spring.

I leave Chicago on Monday Feb. 6th. It's been difficult to concentrate on reading and writing lately and I realize this might plague me up until the moment I leave. I am traveling down to Mississippi and New Orleans for a couple weeks before arriving in Oakland, CA in order to do some visiting and some serious writing. If this ramble can achieve anything at all, It's my hope to at least set the stage for some timely ruminations, reflections and theories on Stuff (Note the capital ‘S’). Also forthcoming, of course, impressions from one of the few places in this country, to me, still completely shrouded in mystery: the Deep South.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Publication Notation

Sorry for the gap in storytelling. I'm preparing to move across the country and, as you might imagine, have much say about that. In the meantime, I'm happy to announce that one of my stories has been published as part of the mini-book series with fledgling Chicago Indie publishers Featherproof Press . Visit the website to obtain your own, beautifully designed, free copy of my story as well as half a dozen other great little books.

The mini book format is actually an amazing concept, one of the most brilliant new things I've seen in terms of synthesizing the "zine" or literary ephemera cultures with new paradigms of transmiting the written word. Directions on how to print and assemble your copy are in the "mini book" section of the site. While you're there, read a free chapter or two of Brian Costello's sweat and rock n' roll soaked memoir-esque novel The Enchanters Vs. Sprawlburg Springs. It is a fun and clever book, especially for the rock music savvy. Feel free to leave those amazing boys at Featherproof any kind of donation for their creativity and hard work!

more soon!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Everything We've Ever Wondered About Art: AbbyG. "Reponds" To Scandal in the Literary World

I am shelving two works in progress (recollections of my grandparents’ home in Pittsburgh, and a post-Marxist reading of Peter Jackson’s King Kong , to respond briefly to the maelstrom of controversy surrounding authors James Frey and JT Leroy. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed (if that is even the right word when speaking of stories that explore, in harrowingly gory detail, the miserable realms of drug addiction and prostitution) works by both these authors, strenuously recommended them even. Yes, I came to these books under the impression that they were memoirs, i.e. “non-fiction.” Yes, I’m sure that somehow influenced my opinion of the stories as I read and evaluated them. But, for reasons I’m struggling to explain, I just can’t seem to bring myself to feel angry, cheated, or even particularly bothered to find that in reality the stories were (if Frey’s case) embellished or even (in Leroy’s case) completely fabricated.

I fell asleep on the sofa last night around 2 am discussing all this with Eric, who to his credit is a fantastic arguer. I don’t argue so well, as anyone who knows me or has even taken and introductory logic course can testify, so perhaps you, dear readers, can help me make sense of this. Before sketching out some of my thoughts (which will hardly come in a cogent, thesis-driven format), allow me catch you up. A few years ago, James Frey published his riveting memoir A Million Little Pieces , chronicling his odyssey of recovery from an extreme drug addiction. Frey’s book is receiving scrutiny because of allegations that certain events in the story (i.e. A stint in prison) didn’t actually happen. I have heard that you can now return your copy of the book for a refund. (Does this remind you of anything, say, circa 1989? I’ll come back to that later….)

JT Leroy’s story is even murkier. In 2000 a young, reclusive, transgender author appears on the scene with a memoir called Sarah the supposed tale of Leroy’s childhood as a backwoods, teenage truck stop prostitute. Leroy, a supposed HIV positive drug addict, won the sympathy and literary acclaim of celebrities, literary and otherwise. As it turns out , the books as well as the entire persona of JT Leroy, was a scam cooked up by a mysterious author. Now famous writers and literary critics feel duped and embarrassed. Groups are hollering minority exploitation and the lines between art and reality have been gooily blurred. What a mess!

I just struggled for 20 minutes with a paragraph I had to erase because I realized I was attempting to sketch out for you not only 5 years of studies in art history, my moth-eaten philosophy of art, as well the 20th century shift away from enlightenment philosophy and decided that was biting off decidedly more than I can chew (got a new cavity filled over break incidentally). I might as well jump right in. The bullet points maestro! (Consider this an essay test and these are topics to “respond to”)

Consider:

• Uh, does objective truth exist? I told Eric that although I pretty much exclusively read memoirs and works of “creative non-fiction,” I’m not really offended to learn that some of them are not true. In fact, I assume that there is untruth inherent to the stories, not even for the steroid-pumped details included, but more for every omission. When I tell you my stories, I’m sorry to admit it dear reader, but there is lots of information I leave out. It’s still the truth right? I suggested that perhaps it is not the veracity of these books, that appeals to me, per se, but rather, the aesthetic form that emerges from such a narrative premise. Eric asked: Suppose the readers of your blog found out all these stories were actually being written by a 40 year old male house-dad? What would they think? I couldn’t really answer on your behalf but as for myself, I said I would be so impressed with the imposter’s ability to inhabit the banal existence of this aimless, identity-crisis-addled, directionless, 20-something that I wouldn’t really care. “So why does he have to pretend to be you?” Eric asks wisely, “Why can’t he just write a novel, a work of fiction?” Touché, which brings us to bullet #2

• Does art imitate life or is it the other way around? Or both? I’m not bothered if a writer of creative non-fiction charms her way into my world of ideas, but, Eric points out, I might be very bothered if a con-artist charms her way into my life and after performing any number of clever and entertaining lyrical tricks, absconds with, say, my computer. The elaborate sham created by the author of JT Leroy’s books, is in my opinion, one of the most brilliant, provocative works or art I’ve heard about in a long time, if only for the fact that it has caused us to wrestle with such a plethora of deep, deep questions. But it was also mean, and capitalistic. Almost the entire cast had no idea they were involved in the performance, a candid camera of the literary canon if you will. And this author has millions in the bank now. I know I’m asking the oldest questions in the book but to what extent need ethics apply to art? If we forgive these breeches atop the aesthetic peaks of ideas, will it lead to an avalanche of depravity in the “real world” down below? (should a president be able to, I don't know, get away with leading a country into war over false pretenses? Do journalists obliged to report "the truth?") That snowy slope is, after all, rather a slippery one. But although I haven't sorted through all the details, I remain unconvinced.


*The hierarchy of authentic experience.
I’m gonna come out and say it. The Comfortable, privileged and safe literati have an unquenchable thirst for, and grotesque fascination with suffering. I feel qualified to say this because I am describing myself here. Many of us know our comforts were not really earned. We secretly hate ourselves for being so lucky. Our lives are dull and inauthentic. “Out there” (some vague place where life is full of danger and adventure, the stuff that really constitutes “living”) are people with amazing stories to tell. Stories about triumph over adversity. The details are like rubbernecking at the scene of a car accident. These are primal instincts at work. We need to hear the stories from these poor people to make us feel alive, but more over to experience powerful feelings of pity and hope. How dare someone fuck with our sentimentality? Our vicarious nightmarish fantasies? How dare one of US, capitalize on one of THEM? What we call “exploitation” has a good deal to do with our phenomenological strategies for ordering the world. Simply put, if I embellished any of my stories no one would care. Because they are boring stories to begin with. And that’s why I’m not a famous writer. That, or because I wasn’t brilliant, or depraved enough, to pretend to be someone I’m not.

I have to go to work. Before I leave I will tell you about one of the best presents I ever got (true story, I swear). When I was 16, shortly after we’d been busted for smoking cigarettes at school and had to make a very costly appearance in juvenile court with our drawn-faced mothers (through which I sat on the bench sullenly hunched over a copy of Notes from the Underground, Jenny gave me her one and only Milli Vanilli tape. As you may recall, when the Milli Vanilli lip-synching scandal broke, people rushed to the stores to return their “in authentic” tapes for a cash refund. I’m inclined to think this eagerness to recover a buck demonstrates a human impulse equally onerous to the one that prompted the fraudulent producers of the record to fabricate (ha ha, Fab!) a product and mislead a popular culture market. I’m not sure why I was so enthralled to have that tape. I think I really liked the songs. I might have had inkling that I possessed a relic from a site, which, as an adult, I’d come to view as one of the most important ruptures in contemporary theory.

Now days no one really cares about that scandal. Shakira sings through a mic that adjusts her pitch when it leaves her mouth. We have bent and stretched a little on what we find acceptable when it comes to authentic and inauthentic. And my guess is that we will continue to do so.

You won’t catch me asking the library to refund the 20 cents in fines I incurred on my copy of A Million Little Pieces. I considered, for a laugh, returning the copy of JT Leroy’s Sarah that I shoplifted from a Naperville Barnes and Noble (“yeah, turns out it wasn’t a real story, so here, you can have it back, sorry about that”), but I don’t think so. Besides, if you want to know the whole story, the book was a present to Victor (who was the first to break all this news to me and another reader who enjoyed it very much even when he found out it wasn’t “real”).


There is lots and lots of reading to be done on these scandals. So Enjoy!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Who Doing What? Turning Penetration Outside-In

We’re exiting the freeway in Maumee, OH to get some gas, dad and I. He’d forgotten to bring any music for the trip so I’m nervously playing DJ on the seek button. The Who comes on and I settle back cautiously. This seems like something Dad will be fine with. But within moments I’m feeling a little uncomfortable. I stare out the passenger window into the flat, grey, rainy afternoon, lost in over-analysis, watching drops of water wiggle on the window.

The refrain you know so well:

Mama’s got a squeezebox, daddy never sleeps at night

I guess it occurred to me before but I never really thought about it. The squeezebox, of course, is the vagina. Daddy never sleeps at night because he’s getting so hella laid. Any implied musical cacophony probably signifies mother’s spirited libido (after all, amorous unions have been described through musical metaphor since the dawn of time). As far as musical instruments go, the accordion (layered audibly but not exactly prominently into the driving, acoustic mix- particularly towards the end) is a brilliant sign for female sexuality through the anatomical locus thereof. The squeezing of the instrument required to produce its sound references the flexing of vaginal muscles- highly instrumental (ha ha) in facilitating .

Mama the accordionist is a capable and empowered lover. The next line of the refrain solidifies her agency: she goes in and out and in and out… I mean, hold on here, this is no mistake, the most obvious mechanical component of sexual intercourse, the penetration and ensuing thrusting motion, commonly the exclusive biological enterprise of the male sexual domain, is here repossessed and ascribed to the female. If the binary terms “in” and “out” do not refer here to entrance and exit but rather to expansion and contraction, we have ourselves a radically different linguistical reading of the very concept of penetration as it effects our perception of female/male sexual intercourse.

When I was 19, I got to go see Gloria Steinam speak at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. My dad, somewhat of a local celebrity, got free tickets through his work but had no interest in attending. One of the most memorable parts of her talk was when Steinam (laughing amiably, I might add) asked the audience “Why is it that we refer to sex as “penetration?” Why, instead, don’t we call it “envelopment?” It was also that night that I learned the existence of the word “gynocentric.” Kind of gets you thinking.

Is this song then a castration/emasculation ballad? I like to think it isn’t, that it manages to exalt and empower female sexuality without any of the Freudian hysteria, male anxiety normally associated with this shift in thinking. (As an aside, I delight in this choice of words, as hysteria, as we all know, was a uniquely female pathology fabricated exclusively by male doctors). But that may not be the case. We would have to establish, however, how content daddy is to be so sleep deprived. Is it the thrilling, exciting, sleep-is-for-the-dead, stay up drinking and lovin’ till the morning light kind of sleep deprivation or is it the up all night, tortured, restless, anxious and worried kind of sleepless. Is daddy in a crisis of masculinity? Worse still, even if he is enjoying himself in the present, is mama just another archetypal succubus, oversexed, hedonistic ultimately leading him down the path to ruin? With her musical prowess is she more like his unreliable muse, or his brilliant teacher, possessing musical genius usually reserved for males?

Um.

I don’t know. Do you? I just love pop music.