So it’s nearly Christmas now and I won’t sleep, I’ll think of my mother eating pistachios and drinking beer, for so many years, leaving the shells on the counter – thought maybe that’s what Santa ate and the year when I begged and she made popcorn balls in a big pot on the stove in our apartment that had no walls – a studio, but I didn’t know that word then. That year she hung a string of light-up chili peppers and we had an endless supply of Ferrara Pan. One of the good days. Tonight, on my way to the first family Christmas I’ll have attended in thirteen years, I make tiger butter in the hotel microwave. This thing that sounds like a movie phrase – “in laws.” On my way to see the in laws. For so many years spent Christmas eve in the strip club/morning alone walking up Mission Street at seven a.m., wandering into churches to see the poinsettias and feel difficult things looking at families, hear the music. This year we have gasoline and hotel cable television, we’re so wealthy. This year, don’t tell, I send money to children in other countries for water filters and deworming medicines, wrap the receipts in red and green construction paper and give these as gifts. It isn’t altruism – not nearly enough. Ask Peter Singer. There are so many things I regret/yearn for. I’ve forgotten half of what my grandmother told me, feel it slipping through the open space between my knuckles. On the hotel TV there is Danny Kaye, she loved the actors who could dance. This is the first Christmas with her gone, and I feel depleted by her absence. Want her back, I missed so much, spent so many years feeling alone, and took home her notebook after the funeral and there was what she’d written about her own loneliness. That was the saddest moment, the most monumental regret. This morning in southern Oregon, the sunrise turned the sky electric neon pink and the clouds gold and striated over it like spread butter. The dog making sharp turns on the beach and flinging up wet sand with his tongue out and milky quartz – one million years of trapped water turned to milk/ice/glass and worried smooth, palm-sized, magic, redwood. Won’t sleep because I don’t want to miss the sound of traffic on the highway, thick red glass and Washington wine, Danny Kaye singing the songs my grandmother knew and sang any time the words struck her. Just before she died, her teeth out, gasping, she said “you’re a remarkable woman,” and I want, want, want to believe it.
Last Tuesday, my grandmother passed away. There are so many ways to say that someone has died, but no good ones. It wasn’t like that – passing. She said, “I’m sorry this is taking so long,” even though it wasn’t. She said, “okay, I’m not going anywhere,” and sat up sweating and lived another day to eat cheetos and tell me about prohibition. She’d been having seizures that made her arms flail and made her drop things and exhausted her. We rented a commode. We held her up to bathe her. “Put your arms around me,” I said. And she did, leaning her weight into mine and resting her soft cheek on my shoulder.
“I can do it myself,” she kept saying to all of us. “Bring me my cane, I’ll walk.” And some days, she did do it herself, surprising us all. On Thursday night, she was tired, but singing. On Friday morning, she couldn’t get out of bed even to pee. We bought “Silhouettes” in pink and blue. On Saturday she walked all the way to the porch and ate barbecued chicken and swore.
At the grocery store, I picked out a pink sippy cup with Disney princesses on it because she’d just told me about the time her older brother took her to see Snow White in the movie theater when she was ten, she’d been so frightened of the queen, she loved a Saturday matinee. When I showed her the cup and asked what she’d like in it, water, juice — “whiskey,” she said. And that’s what she had.
There is so much more and I can’t say it.
All through the Czech Republic and East Germany there are fields of sunflowers and fields of corn. By the side of the road are small purple and white flowers. We sleep in towns whose names we don’t know and we shoot in shut down factories, an abandoned prison, a mansion filled with stoups and crucifixes in glass display cases. We shoot in a garden, two days before they are to hold a wedding. While Sandra Romain dunks a Czech boy in the water fountain to fetch coins, deliveries are made – boxes of fruit, new white plates, a pearly smooth fondant cake in three tiers, with rolled white lettering and scalloped edges. For lunch we eat pickles, blue cheese flavored potato chips. We send Sylvia out for stockings, and then we send her out again for more stockings. We send Pavel for towels, a broom, a bucket, a ladder, for more stockings still. We send Jana to pick up the tests. The male models put lydocaine on their asses even when we ask them not to, worried for their health. At night we search for a martini – there are no cocktails in the Czech Republic. No ice. We sleep on single beds in hotel rooms we have to lock ourselves into at night. We walk through cobbled town squares at midnight; the church towers are all lit from below, glowing stone buttresses and ancient clocks. All the models are young and beautiful and speak very little English. The men sit between scenes with erections poking through their towels. We pull stockings on and rip them. We hairspray the runs. We double condom the dildoes and wipe the floggers with premoistened antibacterial cloths. Tomas the translator – who is a weightlifter and a porn performer and who sits every night at dinner with nothing but a glass of water while we have cream soups and boiled potatoes and Bohemia Sekt – rolls his eyes at us constantly, two loud American girls whose suitcases of makeup and shoes and hemp rope he must drive from Prague to Moravia, from Mlada Boleslav to Berlin. We shoot in the rain. A whole day in the rain, naked in stockings and heels, climbing on old tires and walking down railroad tracks with a whip and making faces and saying dirty things in English that the other performers don’t understand. We shoot in puddles and dirt and on concrete, beneath the steel support beams of a half-demolished factory. In all the small towns, at a certain time on a certain afternoon (we don’t know what day or time, because we lose track of the days and the times except to say we have this many hours to shoot, this many hours left before we lose the light) music comes from a loudspeaker somewhere, music and a man’s voice – Tomas says it is a “what do you call it” and I say church? And he says “yes, church” and each day, for three or four minutes we cut and hold until it stops.
Do you like shimmery weird comedy? Do you want to start liking it? Do you want to know which community pools in south carolina were like celibate key parties in the 90’s? Do you like really good french fries?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you might want to come see my show.
Tickets are $15.
Kenny Mellman–who is in a band called The Julie Ruin, and also made Kiki and Herb and Our Hit Parade–will be playing the piano.
Tickets are here:
Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. You can read more about this day here.
At this point in my life, I’m lucky to be a sex worker with a lot of resources and a strong sense of agency. This was not always the case. During a time when I had far fewer resources, I am very grateful to have had St. James Infirmary. Occasionally, I went to the Wednesday night drop-in for antibiotics or acupuncture, but most weeks I went just to be in a place where I could be surrounded by other sex workers. A place where I felt normal.
Sequoia was a street worker I met there. She was always smiling. She smiled at me in the clinic, trying on silky tank tops from the donation closet. She smiled every time I saw her on Sixth Street, where her beauty was so striking as to be discordant. We exchanged hey girl’s and I was flattered that she remembered who I was. I did not know her well, but I can never forget her beautiful, kind, smiling face. She was nice to me in a way that felt tremendously generous. It seemed to evidence a generosity of spirit that is rare, and fragile. It was a time in my life when I felt very alone, partially because I had a job where I had sex for money, and I hadn’t yet surrounded myself with people who knew that job wasn’t evidence of my brokenness, and so I was afraid I might actually be broken. I was, and am, so grateful for her kindness.
Sequoia was killed, probably by a client, while working in the park. In the clinic that week they made a collage, lit a candle. Another woman said “I should have been with her that night. She shouldn’t have been working alone.”
Today I read this article, and the phrase “sex work isn’t stigmatized because it is dangerous. Sex work is dangerous because it is stigmatized.” There’s a lot I can say about that idea, but mostly, I want to say this: no one should be working alone.
I mourn today for Sequoia, and I light a candle for the men and women who are on this list, and for the ones who aren’t, and for the ones whose names and stories have been forgotten.
Yesterday, I tied up cute smarty pants Penny Pax. My bondage is getting better, but it’s like poems – always one tiny thing I wish I’d done differently – always a way to make it prettier or simpler or more complicated. Between scenes, she sat by the heater as I pulled the ropes around her ankles, and we talked poetry and hysterectomies and being a Spiegler girl. This year, Penny tells me, they had a Spiegler girl Thanksgiving (like a Charlie Brown Christmas, but with more Uggs) and I remembered when me and Annette and Gia and Roxy were going to get matching sweatpants and ate a lot of mashed potatoes in Woodland Hills. I’m thirty one now, and I’m trying, trying, trying to write this. Meanwhile there are scenes and scenes and scenes and a Christmas tree, bourbon, dog, poems on subject/object/sleep/money, and a family visit to the land of snowfall and corn pudding and peas my mother cooks in an electric wok, between tequila drinks. In the place where most of my family lives, there are long, pretty drives and cheap, cheap groceries and knit hats and big houses with a lot of paint gone. My grandmother believes she is so old and in the morning at a diner where the waitress knows her (one poached egg, one piece of salt-rising toast) she looks at a little tin poster of Debbie Reynolds that I brought her from Berlin, where I don’t tell her I went last month for the porn film festival, and she says “I’m eighty-six and it is so special when people think of me.” I want to tell her how very, very much I think of her, but I will never be able to communicate this. Instead we go to the cemetery and visit her friends. It’s cold and she leans on my arm to maneuver the hilly grass and dry leaves between the graves.
Our tree has glitter balls and disco balls and I spend eighteen hours in front of it, trying to write. When you are directing a porn movie you should always be watching for the moment when you are bored. If you are bored it is time to stop what’s happening and invent a new action.
My mother does the splits at every party at around 11pm. After that she moves on to arm wrestling all comers.
In the town where my grandmother lives, there is always weather outside the windows. After turkey, after mince-meat and lemon merengue and coffee beside the big nameless silver tools and machines in my uncle’s warehouse, we drive through flurries that thrill our California brains, my teenage sisters in the back seat talking about vampire romance. Back at the Days Inn, we hurry to our room to watch chunks of white fly past the window, too dazzled and tired to be out there tasting it.
So I’ve had some surgery and been laying in bed for three weeks, not writing, not reading anything except what can be found on the internet. Looking at maps of Berlin and Copenhagen and northern Italy and handmade jewelry out of pennies and new pajamas I’m not going to buy because that would be giving in. It’s not the kind of surgery you will notice in a picture – though that would be more exciting. Instead it’s the kind that just makes you tired for a long time so when you try to go back to work too soon you end up in your lingerie and perfect imitation sexy military uniform, hair done, eyelashes, and lying on a prop bed with a gallon ziplock of ice unable to spray a new recruit with water and tell her what a lesbian she’s about to be. It’s embarrassing, not being able to do your job.
On November 22nd I will have worked for the same company for ten years. I’m hoping for a gold-plated thong, but I hear the traditional tenth anniversary metal is only tin and I already have an aluminum foil bikini. So.
It will have to be cupcakes.
I’m thirty one now and I’ve eaten caviar and been to Africa. My mother gave up Japan to have babies. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane but I’ve jumped inside an airplane hangar of trampolines and I’ve been filmed emerging from the waves in Cabo San Lucas like a porn Charlie’s Angel. Next week I’ll be in Denmark, searching out the home of Hamlet. I’ll be in Berlin, answering questions about a film I cowrote. Caviar is like little bubbles full of salt water. Pop pop in your teeth. I’ve seen a temple submerged in the Nile for fifty years and then taken apart in 40,000 pieces and rebuilt. Seen the comic-strip painted walls of a mountain tomb three thousand years old. I’ve eaten mashed potatoes in both New York, New York and “New York New York” Las Vegas. I’ve been paid to spank a Tony award winning Broadway producer and to publish four poems. I can read music and apologize in four languages including American Sign. I can cook a turkey and a tofurkey on the same afternoon. I’m thirty one and some days rich off pornography and I still haven’t finished a book or really learned to play the violin or started an orphanage or a foster kids scholarship fund. I’m grateful that balancing checkbooks is a thing of the past.
Every other poem or journal entry or blog post I write is an inventory, and for this lo siento. Je suis desolee. I’m sorry.
I want to be the kind of person that a little sparrow on the sidewalk sees and thinks to itself “I’m gonna jump into her hand right now and nestle my little feathery head into her fingers. I want her to hold my whole little fragile body there and be so sweet to me.” But I never get the vibe that this is what they are thinking. House sparrows are everywhere in New York. There are about 14 sparrows for every one human in New York. Does that mean I have to hunt for the 14 that want me to hold them ?
Once I was asked to do an outdoor performance for a street festival in New York. Outdoor performances require a lot of planning. You have to compete with the sky and the architecture and all the people who didn’t mean to be in the audience and actually don’t care that you are doing a performance. I don’t mind these constraints, but they are the kinds of constraints that I usually don’t work with. I can’t just slap on a costume and rattle off a tried-and-true favorite that works on a normal stage or club or gallery. For this, I had to make something new, specifically conceptualized for the feel of being outside on the street in the east village of New York City on a Saturday afternoon in 2009.
This is what I came up with: I would buy a box of saltines and a jar of peanut butter. I would spread peanut butter all over me, head-to-toe, and stick the saltines to the peanut butter. I would have a tiled, crispy saltine skin. I would climb the stairs to the stage, put the empty Saltines box at my feet, fill the last peanut butter spot on my body with the last cracker, and extend my arms. Cue the music. A karaoke track. I would start to sing “Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag)” from Mary Poppins as stylistically close to Julie Andrews as I could. After a while, hopefully some pigeons would try to eat the saltines off of my body while I sang. Maybe by the end, I would be a human covered in Pigeons. Another part of me felt hopeful that some pigeons would NOT try to eat the saltines off of my body while I sang. I had never had wild animals eat anything off of my body and didn’t feel that confident or at-ease about it. I also had some fear around pigeons not really noticing or caring. Even though I knew this would potentially be the most hilarious and dangerous and glorious piece ever, a couple hours before the performance I called the festival and told them I was sick.
I know there are people who can charm birds. But they have worked at it. You can’t just “have a knack” because you want a knack. You have to develop a knack. No matter what people think a knack is. I want to have a knack for everything. And then when I realize what kind of time and effort it takes to develop the knacks, I get mad. Because I truly do want to put in the time and the effort, but NOT if there are only 24 hours in a day and if i’m not immortal.
When I got back from France a couple weeks ago, I became really determined to be a French speaker. Not really being in a position to spend money on tuition, I arranged a barter. With a French school. I will clean their office every Sunday at 11 am and they will teach me French.
It is a toughie. Knowing that the most efficient way for me to be an elegant French speaker is to become a janitor.
I started the cleaning a couple weeks ago. My classes don’t start til mid-november so I’m not a janitor who speaks French yet –AKA a French Maid. I am simply a janitor. There are several pieces of me who feel embarrassed about this. But I think the embarrassment comes from the fact that I like it so much. There are very clear goals. Wipe the toilets down. Wipe the marker boards down. Vacuum leaves. It is easy for me to understand how to achieve the goals and I achieve them. It takes me two hours. I don’t strategize before or evaluate after. It feels perfect. It is not a job where I have to get people to want to hire me back and respect my work and believe that my ideas are credible in the world of art, that I’m young and hungry and pretty. That i have the kind of potential anybody could tap AND OIL WOULD FLOOD OUT OF ME AND WE’RE ALL GONNA BE MILLIONAIRES. It is a job where I move my arm really fast to the Die Antwoord Pandora station.
But what if liking being a janitor means that being a janitor is my destiny? From the day of my birth, I’m pretty sure my parents made it a priority to get me into college so that I would never have this destiny. (But if they knew that letting birds eat peanut butter saltines off of you while you did your best Julie Andrews was a job they would have hoped for janitor. Or lawyer.)
I am being told by multiple people in my life right now that you don’t just decide you want something and get it immediately. Or that it’s wrong to believe that you are something when you haven’t really proved it. The value of practice versus the value of imagination/entitlement. I lean towards valuing the imagination parts of me. But now i guess it’s time to believe that there are more than 24 hours in a day and that I am immortal so that I can put in the time to develop the real knack for all of these things that I want to be and do.
At the end of September, I went to Zagreb, Croatia for a week. I was dancing naked in a show. And then I went to Paris for a week. I walked around for hours every day, ordered a lot of “veh” and muttered “Je suis desolee. Je ne parle pas Francais. Parlez vous Anglais?” to people who chose to talk to me. I did it so they would like me for my American modesty. OR. If they weren’t sold on that look, then maybe the classic “a girl who is sorry.” I felt embarrassed to love France so much and to be so dumb in the mouth.
I’ve been home for a week and a half.
The hardest thing and the only thing I am obligated to do right now is work on my own musical web series project. Which is why I’ve been trying to find lots of other things to do. Like, I enrolled in a French class.
Also, I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed and found an article somebody had posted: “How Capitalism Can Save Art” by Camille Paglia. One of Paglia’s claims is that young artists don’t have any vocational skills. They don’t actually know how to do anything with their hands that doesn’t involve a computer. And that this creates a really sterile liberal-upper-middle-class-studio-art BFA/MFA alienation from the rest of the world. Paglia’s very “THE SIXTIES MEANT SOMETHING REAL.” And I felt very YEAH about it. I immediately google searched “trade school NYC.” I wanted to find something along the lines of fixing a car or making a tiny stool out of wood—a class I forfeited in middle school to take keyboarding. So the first thing that came up in my google search, of course, was a conceptual trade school, a school that operates on a barter system, being run out of a gallery at the New School.
Forgot about the stool. I took a two day course called “Digital Cinemantics: Movie Making in the 21st Century” taught by a guy who renamed himself Noemi Charlotte Thieves after moving out of his Mom’s house. He had a Muslim name, and as a thirteen year old in post-911 Florida, he got detained at the airport for hours every time he tried to fly anywhere since. His old name included parts of four of the suicide bomber’s names. His first name is now the same as my Grandma’s. She died when I was really little so it felt pretty special to be at the table with another Naomi as a big girl. In exchange for his grandmotherly 21st century digital filmmaking knowledge, I brought potato chips with ridges to his first class, and for the 2nd day of the course, I will be making him dinner.
I also took an i-ching class. I brought Polish cookies and learned how to read people’s fortunes with nickels using the oldest spiritual book people still care about. I’ve been reading some of my fortunes too.
Yesterday, I held my nickels between my palms and asked the i-ching, “What can I expect if I choose to produce the musical webseries, The Dardy Family Home Movies, myself?” I tossed them six times. And this is what she told me.
or Organized Discipline.
If you hold or aspire to a position of leadership, remember that the true leader captures the hearts of the people, and articulates a clear, simple vision that binds them together…. Only when the state is economically prosperous can the army be strong… Only when the army is disciplined can the state be protected from disruptive outside forces.
Modesty and generosity at the center can be a magnetic force that keeps the relationships intact.
Solidarity among all elements is essential for success at this time.
Steven is letting me borrow his snare drum.
Tomorrow I am taking a software coding class and a cyanotype photograms glass.
Then I am obligated to rally the troops. Rat a tat tat.