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.

For 3000 dollars, my teeth get straighter.  A luxury.  There are so many ways to make sense of the world through math.  But which one is the right one?

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.

“The monstrous and the formless have as much right as anyone else”  – The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy

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.

Sincerely,

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.

But mostly it’s been about finding new flavors of potato chips and making observations about my body that I’ve rehearsed a million times before.

 

I’m learning how one becomes a nun, and I can see the appeal of it.  At the Dominican Sisterhood in Elmira, they can pickles and crochet, they write and paint and they spend much of their time in “contemplation.”  How dreamy.

I love to tie knots.  I love to tie up girls, that’s the truth.  I love my job with its moments of slumber-party giggle and dance and of course it isn’t god that appeals to me, it’s devotion.  I’m like everyone else: I want to turn the sound off.  I want to be alone with things that don’t pay.

Last week, Sister Spit kicked off their 2012 tour at the SF Library, who I am devoted to.  I want to be a nun of the library.  Erin Markey and I ate fried pickles in Union Square where everything is noise and I was jealous of her cross-country devotional.  Being an artist might mean not being swayed by lace underpants and five-dollar chocolate bars and new dresses.  It might be time to look away from the catalog, the catalogs, the cataloging of every sentence and minute into value-algorithm and ambition-schedule. Give me a daffodil, give me a lemon.  It’s all grocery store, sofa sale, a joke about thread count. It’s all nail polish, button push, rain boot, gold bikini, tell a story.  This week cloister, next week Canada.  Time’s up.

 

Today my love and I play pinball at the laundromat and drink beer and wait for the blankets to dry.  We have a lot of things.  This is my fault.  I think every book and blanket and pair of shoes has a story, and that when you get rid of things the story gets lost.  It isn’t true of course.  But it feels true.  That’s the problem.  I cried once because I had just realized I could never know all the stories of all the people in the whole world.  I was twelve. That year I was very into thinking big thoughts and crying about imaginary things.

The truth is, you can learn a lot of stories.  So many you will never remember them all.  Last week, we were in Berlin, which was not as cold as you would expect – a good thing, because my luggage was lost – and the East German make-up artist and the West German film festival employee told us their stories.  The thing about this film festival is that they had a lot of employees who drove us from one place to another and made sure we had our tickets to everything and timed the make-up, the press events, the red carpet, the awards show arrival, with an incredible efficiency.  Everything we found in Berlin was efficient and impressive.  Grocery stores, coffee, hotel.  Our guide spoke four languages, and in English she told us that when the wall came down, she was nine and her best friend’s family had just snuck through four countries to get to the west, which was two blocks from where she started.  She didn’t know this about her best friend until after the wall came down, and they could just walk the two blocks back to the friend’s old house – which was empty by then.  The neighbors had taken everything after they left.

The East German make-up artist said that when the wall came down it was “like nothing.”  And then she said “I mean like nothing else that I can ever describe.”  She said it was “so big” and “so open.”  She said that before the wall came down, you always knew where you were because if you walked far enough you’d come to the wall.  Even if you were drunk, you could just follow the wall home.  Sometimes, she said, it feels too open now.  Sometimes, she wishes they would put the wall back. “From the East and the West is very different,” she said, “we are all brainwashed different.”

I told the make-up artist how I was embarrassed because the only German phrase I could seem to remember was “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” which would get me exactly no where.  She laughed and laughed, curling my hair. “You are funny,” she said.  Which is nice to be told, especially when it is mostly true by accident.

I recently wrote a letter to a lot of strangers about my grandmother, who is the most amazing whiskey-drinking, Bella-Abzug-admiring, pro-gay-rights Catholic feminist dime-store piano player.  And since Stephen and I just wrote a movie in which the mother character is kind of a villain, I wanted to tell you that my own mother is actually completely amazing.  My mother has been very excited about the movie, and she’s been watching everything you can find on the internet about the Berlin Film Festival, and really I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about it, since I just keep doing things that don’t make really great mom-conversation pieces – like her friends are all “my son just cured cancer” and my mom’s like: “oh my daughter’s a sex radical and she just co-wrote a movie where the mom character is evil.” Or at least that’s how I imagine the conversations go. (It isn’t true, by the way, about the mom character – she isn’t actually evil – who is?).  But see, my mom really loves me and tries to understand me even while she decides what we can and can’t tell my grandma.  Even while I keep doing things like being a sex radical that she really, really can not understand, and has all kinds of complicated feelings around.  Because in her own way, my mother was a sex radical too – in that she grew up Catholic and wanted to be an altar boy and prayed daily and believed everything and then, sometime around 1973, decided that birth control, abortion, and divorce weren’t mortal sins but choices that people might actually have to make sometimes.  My mom has done a lot of changing in her life, and she’s changing for me too, even though I don’t make it easy.

Last year, when I got married, my mom called me crying because she couldn’t pay for the wedding, which I guess she had gotten it into her head that she was supposed to do for some reason.  Is that a tradition?  I never wanted her to pay for the wedding, of course.  I tried to tell her: “Mom, your daughter is a big queer, and there are a million queers out there whose parents don’t even let their kids come home to visit. It’s enough that you love me so well.” Or that’s what I tried to say.

I’m so, so grateful for my mom.  I wanted to say that here.  At my wedding, she did the splits on the dance floor.  Oh yeah, my mom also used to be a gymnast and actually knows how to do the splits.  All my friends cheered.  She put her arms straight up in the air.  My whole life she tried to get me to fight the patriarchy by not wearing pink or ruffles or girl things.  At my wedding, she wore a pink dress, because of course, it is my favorite color.

I’ve been living in a luxury hotel for the last 40 days and 40 nights. There are routines here.

I am in a play. The setting of the play is a hotel room. Our production is site-specific. I live in the hotel room where we perform the play twice a night, five nights a week. So half of my home is covered in army netting, bamboo, tropical plants, a crushed velvet tiger painting and houses 28 chairs for audience members. It’s lush. There are fruit flies. The sheets have big flowers on them. Pink, Red.  I watched How to Marry A Millionaire here on Netflix Instant and Marilyn Monroe kept calling things Creamy.

Yesterday I was sick with a gross cold. I was in the other half of the suite. It is bleach white and charcoal. Plates on the wall. Faders on the light switches. The deepest bath tub in America. I spent 32 hours in a king size bed with a pile of dirty kleenexes, a casio keyboard that me and my sister and brother got for christmas one year, a sack of clementines, and some really slow wifi energy charges inside of my laptop computer.

I heard a maid come in. I heard her walk through where the audience sits, past the bed where I pretend to almost have sex in front of an audience eighty times a night Wednesday thru Sunday, and then I saw her peek her head around the corner to where I was lying with my kleenexes.  I muted the episode of Smash I was watching on Hulu. She wanted to know if she could clean the room. I didn’t know. Could she? Is it her job or my job to clean this up? If I’m sick, isn’t it my mom’s job? Could I go somewhere in my pajamas? Or could I just lay in the bed while she changed the sheets? Am I a quadriplegic?

We both had these “honor thy mother and father” looks on our faces like we were about to get the shit kicked out of us if we did the wrong thing.

“I’m sick,” I said. And laughed a tiny bit to let her know that being sick is…funny?

When should she come back to clean, she wanted to know.  In my congested nasal passages, the answer was Never, but I didn’t want to get her in trouble with mom and dad. I made up a time. 5pm. But I knew how Groundhog’s Day that would be. She’d come in at 5pm and walk past the chairs, the ferocious tiger painting. She’d turn the corner and see me still trying to stream Smash on Hulu at 240 pixels per second, but this time it would be obvious that I had eaten some microwave oatmeal.

So I backpedaled on the 5pm thing. And we hovered in anxious silence. Sad giggles. Neither of us spoke the other’s language.   I wanted to be honest with her. (And with everybody I would ever meet.) And once I remembered that, I knew what to say. I pointed to the phone.  “Oh, I’ll just call down when I’m ready?”

Our faces changed. It was like we were giving each other secret back rubs in another dimension.

“You just call them.”

Now we knew the things to say. We said them.

She walked back through the Tennessee Williams set and was gone.

Until the next day at around the same time.

Once again, I leave used up eyelashes everywhere.  It’s cold here and I’m sleepy.  Last night in the make-up room, getting ready for the thirty-girl live-on-the-internet lingerie pyjama party, me and Gia and Aidenn and Brande and Pony sang along to Belinda Carlisle and curled each other’s hair and shared beauty tips and it was like my ten-year-old self had imagined it all into being.  I’m old now, a real grown-up, drinking espresso on Saturday morning and writing post-wedding thank-you cards.

photo by Michelle Tea

In Akumal, it was nesting season, and the turtles came up on the beach at night like tanks with dinosaur heads.  From twenty feet away in the dark, you could just make out their big flippers flinging sand up and across their own backs, with a rough thwacking sound like in a movie gangster digging a hole for the body.  The CEA with their red flashlights kept everyone back and quiet, until one night when the turtle had stopped digging and been only a still black shape for at least ten minutes, and the man with the red flashlight waved us in close.   A dozen tourists from the US and Italy and northern Mexico moved in quietly to flank the nest, and the turtle became slowly visible, three feet wide, her shell crusted with sand and red-brown curls of seaweed that seemed to be rooted and growing there.    The man with the flashlight touched the turtle’s front flipper, shone his red light on the numbered metal tag there, and then moved around to her backside and used his arm to push the banks of the nest out wider so we could see right in.  The turtle didn’t move at all, just continued to lay her eggs and we watched them drop – a pile of sticky ping-pong sized tapioca balls deep in the damp sand.  We stayed there watching for thirty minutes or an hour, who could tell how long?  And the woman next to me held her little telephone out in front of her with its lights off – she could not possibly have seen an image on its little screen – making the world’s most boring vacation video to prove that she’d been there.   All of a sudden, seeing something we could not, the man with the red flashlight waved us all away, and we stepped back before the turtle began to move again.  Maybe she was tired or just careful – she moved a little sand into the nest with her flippers (like a child making angels in the snow) and then paused for an entire minute before repeating the motion.  Warm damp air, black beach, our skin sticky, the waves continuing to rush in and out, and this ancient animal slowly, slowly, burying her secret nest.  Finally she must have decided it was well-hidden; she began to turn around, clockwise, a few inches at a time, until she faced the water.  Then, her back still heaped with sand, like something out of a myth, she walked back into the ocean.

Back in San Francisco, Brande glues my lashes on one more time.  Next week she’ll go back to Los Angeles and I’ll go back to New York and last night was just one more party at which fifteen new girls learned how to wear a glitter dildo.  Next week I’ll return to my schedule of ten mid-air hours a week, doing my homework at 30,000 feet, and all of this seems like a kind of mythology.  Art-making and naked-on-the-internet and Hollywood movie stars acting out lines I’ve written.  Not to mention hurricanes in Manhattan and famous NYU faculty at the welcome reception eating grilled shrimp on a stick.  Last night there were nervous girls in bright lipstick and daring girls in bright lipstick and both of them reminded me of me.  Reminded me of being a grown-up, still pop sing-along, head still turned by ribbons, post-adolescent and still eyelashes everywhere.

Sugarland 2009

Early one morning, we heard shouting on the beach and ran down with our coffee cups and sleep-crazy hair to see Elyo, the head of the red-flashlight turtle-keepers, helping the new-hatched baby turtles out of the sand to keep them safe from birds.  They were small as plums.  Flat plums with strong legs and perky little faces, and when he let them go into the sea, two or three at a time, they scrambled like wind up toys, were turned over by the first waves and then got back up to try again until they finally got past the edge of the water and caught the current – tiny, determined creatures riding out into the wide water.

I didn’t drink or do drugs or have any sex in high school. I was compulsively extracurricular. I was in every play. I was an editor of our newspaper. I was president of the Thespian Club. My best friend was president of the Latin Club. Not Latin as in Latino but as in the Latin language almost all western languages are based on. I was studying Spanish. I was jealous. But not because Spanish is just a beauty mark on Latin’s pretty face, but that she was in a club that I was not in. I liked the idea of being in “clubs.”

I always took a voluntary extra early morning class too. Nobody was forcing me and I didn’t even really want to. It just felt like I should always be at school. I was at school from 7am til about 9pm every day. When I wasn’t at school I was hanging out at Kroger. Which is a grocery store chain in the South. They had a campaign called “Dare to Compare” which allowed you to compare the tastes of, say, Snyder’s hard pretzels to the taste of Kroger brand hard pretzels. Me and Natalie would shut our eyes and dare each other to compare. In a blind taste test, the name brand always tasted better than the Kroger brand. And we felt really smug about our scientific process of finding that out. If the price hike was simply about money spent on Chips Ahoy’s ad campaign, then YUMMY.  Those commercials are delicious. And all you have to do to find that out is close your eyes, stick out your tongue and trust your best friend. Not a problem.

We decided to do a Kroger photo shoot. We had to do it in aisle that didn’t have a lot of traffic. Paper products. Not as beautiful as canned goods or produce for a photo shoot, but it bought us time. Natalie pretended to run over my body with a grocery cart. Garrett snapped the photos. I tried to make fake pain look different each time. Natalie had to change her motivation for running over me each time. Sometimes she feigned malice, sometimes it was a tragic accident, sometimes she was heroic. Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” played over the PA.

This is my first memory of reverence.

I said to Natalie, “My future husband will have to sing this song to me.  And mean every word of it. And he will have to think of it on his own.”

I never felt so sure of anything.

Setting up nearly impossible rules for my romantic future. Only Natalie knew the rules. I drove Natalie and I to school every day and we would always play oldies. It was hard to get her to sing. (She was a stage manager theatre person.) But if you sang hard, she would forget herself and do the same thing. In my Volvo.

Right now I am in love. With somebody who seems like a husband. Strong. Short hair. Big dad kind of smiles. Freckles. We are trying to live together. We currently do not.  We’re trying to live in this one apartment with stained glass windows and no buzzer.

I looked up the etymology of “husband.” It’s a combo of the Old Norse hus which means house and bondi which means dweller.

It’s a much simpler idea than I thought it was. Everything’s always like that.

The Kroger photo shoot pictures were part of a surprise calendar that Natalie made for me for Christmas. One picture for every month of one year. When the year is over, the calendar no longer serves a purpose. I keep it in my bedroom at my parent’s house.

I am playing a newlywed right now in a play. She is covered in bruises and scratches and although the source of these bruises is the mystery of the play, I choose to believe that they are from her husband. I choose to believe that she feels lots of different ways about this, and one of them is turned on.

 

I remember when Lovefool came out on the Romeo and Juliet Soundtrack. I would shut my bedroom door. Lock it. Blast that shit. Watch myself dance in the full length mirror. Once, my friend Logan pretended like one of the posts of my canopy bed was a stripper pole and did sexy dances with it. to Lovefool. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen anybody do. I knew it was bad.  So I just quietly checked the doorknob. To make sure.

Last night, I got to be in a show with the singer of that song. Nina Persson. She wore a mustard yellow blouse and a grey pencil skirt and pretended to be a therapist while she sang the Bruno Mars chorus of Lighters. Everybody in the audience put their lighters in the air. But I don’t smoke.

So I held up a candle.