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.
I am at a café and now my digestive tract is coated with cappuccino. It is hopefully my last brush with espresso. This year I was self-diagnosed with “hypochondria of the liberal” which means I know too much about food I love to keep on letting it inside of my body. A big thank you to principles of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
I have psoriasis. I have noticed with wide silent eyes in the mirror that it is getting worse as time passes.
I went to an herbalist in Chinatown who put his thumb on the underside of my wrist for some moments. I let my heart beat for him and then he said the word “Liver.” Liver it is. Cappuccino is very bad for the liver, says my acupuncturist. Her name is Famous. That’s what she told me to call her. So I do and then I let Famous stick pins inside of me and tape aluminum foil to my back while she shocks me with an electric wand. I leave with tiny thumb tacks taped in a circle around my lower back, and when they fall out I put them in a tiny jam jar my mom gave me. She has every kind of jar you can save.
This summer, I brought The Irish Horse home to meet my mother and she gave us part of her old jar collection for our new home. They say that Psoriasis is genetic, but I am the only person in my family that has it. I have my dad’s cankles and my mom’s hershey kiss tits but I’m the only one with the linebacker jaw and the auto-immune skin disorder that goes by the name “White Dagger Sore” in Chinese Dermatology. I get what this means.
In high school, a boy accused me and my best friend of being Ellen Degeneres and Anne Heche. He said that I was Ellen. For some reason, it was way more humiliating to be the Ellen of that relationship. If I was going to be accused of being a lesbian, at least let me be the one that wears dresses.
My mom really loved Ellen’s first TV sitcom, Ellen. Ellen is also my mom’s name which was part of the reason she liked it. It must be cool to see your name in lights. On the show, Ellen came out as gay over the loudspeaker at the airport by accident. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it is inside of my memory that that is the moment my mom stopped liking Ellen. It was years after this moment and before Ellen’s comeback that that boy accused me of being Ellen. It maybe was the double whammy of being accused of being the most notorious lesbian of all time and of being my mother, Ellen. Two things women who fancy themselves as straight don’t like to be accused of.
I am not allowed to drink anymore. Or have coffee. or wheat. or dairy. And that’s mostly what all these thoughts are about. But the cappuccino is inside of me right now. We are hugging goodbye.
Yesterday, we were girdled secretaries with glossy toes. Gia was back and she bounced, and we squealed to see her. We all wanted to take off our perfect costumes because the heat on the top floor of the castle is thick and sleepy and damp in mid-July. Our hair bubbled up frothy on our heads, full of pins and bows. Tonight there will be cupcakes and milk onstage. Monday was jockstraps and leather somewhere off Castro Street. We too are image makers and the impulse is deep and old and persistent. Is this about money? And yet it’s also an act of love. But not the way they always taught: “love-making,” a phrase that never made sense to me. This is not how love is made. It’s concrete and viscera, the wet and hard and dirt and rope. This work smells like braking trains and oranges and that’s a different kind of love.
“You’re doing a public service,” someone tells me, but it isn’t true. As the power dynamics change, it only becomes more mine.
Ask me what I want on any given day and I can not tell you. “Sleep,” I’ll say, or “popcorn.” Nothing changes that, no matter what ceremonies, no matter what books and planes. I want: 500 words a day, all pink everything, whiskey, beauty, complex problems to unravel. I want wet and glitter and love. But none of that illuminates a path.
It’s a new project now, being an ageless age and evil in photographs and the painful sorting of poems in Oakland with Joseph. How can I be a maker? 500 words a day, minimum.
“I won’t put my makeup on for less than 400 dollars,” I once heard a woman say.
The dog as usual sleeps about it and his eyelids move rapidly, his face squashed against my leg. There are so many of us trying to make. In the morning before makeup I think about journalists, consume so much of the work of journalists both clumsy and skilled and I think of what’s been written about me and by me and which of the words can teach me something. What can I do? That is not rhetorical.
Outside of our house there are ginko trees, olive trees, eucalyptus. All of the trees are green and silver like money.
I am now an MFA graduate. Thesis handed over in two different fonts (oops), class reading read, children and parents scandalized, plastic cups of champagne drunk and sucked fingers of frosting. The following night in the lower east side we drank five bottles of wine and ate things that were cooked in aluminum foil and Chrissy took pictures of us to make us look old. It rained and I needed new shoes and the Met is still a sacred temple of history and white roses from the institution at Arles. It’s the blue in the white, there’s pink and green and all these colors in the white, but the blue is what takes my breath away – you can’t see it here, you have to actually stand in front of the thing, which is why paintings should never be reproduced – we forget that we haven’t really seen them. But that’s elitist I’m sure, and where would I be without pictures in books? And of course there should never be rules about art except do it and look at it and love it and give Erin Markey your money.
Thank you Joss Whedon for making all my nerd dreams come true, and thank you to my husband for living with my nerd dreams. The problem with “husband” is that it sounds so old-fashioned and straight and while I can’t help but admit that I’ve taken advantage of that straight-appearing-privilege when returning pants bought with his credit card and talking on the phone to a lady from the bank who hears the word “husband” and is blind to his birth name still printed in her computer, sometimes a girl just wants to be seen. Maybe this is a problem with living in San Francisco – we all want too much to be seen and it leads to things like “art cars” and “playa time.” Maybe we should all just content ourselves with being rather than appearing. Thank you Thoreau.
But Thursday I head to Inside Out in Toronto (which my husband keeps trying to teach me to say correctly, it’s one word he tells me, exasperated by my American accent), and in addition to Toronto, I’m practicing saying partner – although it is vastly inferior even to words like lover that cannot escape their connotations – because partner is better than “my husband, who is a transgender man” (imagine that second part whispered real creepy-like) (not, of course, that who you’re with defines who you are – we know that by now, right?) or walking around with “queer” embroidered on my skirt-hems. It’s this strange and precarious and politically useless feeling – recognizing and not wanting your own passing privilege. Who cares? What is it for? Why do we need to be things all the time? In the end, you can forget I said all of this. And here, of course, is a related essay.
But I meant to tell you about Avengers saving the world with science (thank you JW) and popcorn in soup and the “monstrous and formless” which is more about writing than biological mutation.
But there isn’t time, as usual, so next month – when we spend forty-eight hours with forty-eight Irish Catholics drinking whiskey-coffee and beer all day in grass that smells like hot water and dirt.
I love the smell of dirt.
On the radio, they say that you can tell how socially powerful someone is by how infrequently they use the pronoun “I.”
Thank you Erin Markey for the pink cupcakes with glittery sprinkles – now I know I’m an artist.
Lorelei Lee M.F.A.
I’m sitting on a chaise lounge in the lobby of the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto drinking free coffee and knowing for sure that my leggings are the thing that keep this travel outfit from working.
This morning I woke up in room 311. The room has a name and the name is Trading Post.
On the website, they describe the room like this:
Room 311 has a strong masculine feel yet strives to be comfortable and warm and give the dweller a feeling of calm. This room has humorous qualities as well and tries to contrast rural, self-sufficient qualities against urban luxury.
That room description could also be an Erin Markey description. And I might start using it as a bio.
I’ve been traveling for twenty days now. Touring with Sister Spit. Everyday is both a winding road and a new destination.