Beyoncé Collapses Time and Space:

(As presented on Nov. 10, 2016, at MMLA, St. Louis)

There Is No Such Thing As Dystopia When Beyoncé Is In the Room

            The premise of this panel is to talk about the female body in dystopia—how it performs, the space it can occupy, how it transforms the space or is transformed by it, the ways it enacts or is acted upon. Female bodies are often sites of questions about power, agency, and negation and I certainly don’t think any of us envisioned how sort of perfectly and terribly prescient this topic would be at this exact moment. The female body. In dystopia. Beyoncé and Hillary on stage. How the female body acts and is acted on.

            Which brings us to “Formation” and the way Beyoncé’s body performs its powers upon the visual, physical, and metaphorical spaces of a dystopic and utopic New Orleans, a New Orleans that stands in for the everything else in America. And how it posits multiple black identities: female, male, child, adult, gender queer, the sacred and the profane.  And while Joseph Roach writes in Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, that “Liminality…can be very hard on the people who are trying to live there (281), it also holds true that these spaces “reaffirm the existence of a community without sealing it off from the rest of the world—past, present, and future” (281).

            In its opening scenes, “Formation” recalls the flooding that occurred post Hurricane Katrina, the water and its accompanying destruction, as well as signals to the stasis created by the very nature of flood itself.  Flood is no movement. Flood, for a time, stops time. Eliminates time. And this is where Beyoncé’s body enters and exerts its verbal, visual, political, and historical power, transforming what was at least momentarily understood as a dystopian wasteland into a place that has utopian possibility. It allows that this place of liminality has revealed beneath it multiple black futurities, that America itself has always had multiple futurities made visible by this female body and its particular power. (And yet we should note that this video isn’t only about the female body but that female, here, functions as vessel, as conduit for a whole of marginalized black identities within this community.)

            There are, often, two narratives about New Orleans in the popular culture: one that is the “Big Easy,” of drinking in the streets, a permissive playground where bodies go to drink heavily while drinking in a romanticized history. And while this narrative isn’t exclusively white, it is not about blackness.  AND we have all seen the images pre-Katrina, of people, black bodies, lined up to attempt to leave, to attempt to seek shelter in the Superdome, and, then post, on roofs and in attics, sometimes dead. The images were of homogenization, of the “same” kind of poverty, the “same” discussion of “looting,” of “why didn’t they leave,” of a people and city literally trapped in stasis, in water, unable to move and only represented in a particular way in the public narrative. Poor. Black. Without nuance.

            “Formation” gives space the the world behind the veil, the world that is liminal and yet has always existed. It contains various performances of blackness throughout the physical space of New Orleans. This is significant in a city that is know not only for its performativity but its use of space to celebrate, claim, and subvert identity. The complicated histories of New Orleans have often been understood, read, represented, and made to perform as a space that is outside of time, that it is past, present, and future concurrently, that is both the idea of the thing and the thing itself. As Joseph Roach writes in Cities of the Dead: Circum- Atlantic Performance, taking inspiration from de Certeau’s “Walking in the City,” walking in the city in of New Orleans “activates the spatial logic of a city built to make certain powers and privileges not only seasonally visible but perpetually reproducible” (14). It is this reproducibility, power, and privilege that “Formation” and Beyoncé taps into. It is in New Orleans that past, present, and future are all elided, to hearken back to Faulkner, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past,” and this is especially true and possible in the New Orleans of “Formation.”

            Beyoncé’s multiple identities, both lyrical and physical, within “Formation” engage with this use of space, using not only multiple images of blackness but various historicities, to transform what had been understood as a dystopian state of stasis into a long historical moment, a long dureé of New Orleans, embodied with power—one that has strength and cannot be undone by time or flood or, as alluded to in the video, violence. 

             Beyonce as character is magic a magic being, an amalgamation of power and vulnerability, and we know this because, as she embodies multiple identities, she collapses time and space. She will NOT have your fuckery surrounding the ideas of blackness in these images. She uses her body throughout the visual of “Formation” to represent multiple past, present, and future histories of blackness as they are present in the American South. AND with her body she creates spaces for conversations about police brutality, gender, sexuality, hair, the powerful variety that a black New Orleans holds, and finally, how her body will literally serve as agent in a drowning/baptism that can allow for rebirth, with death as the medium.

            The video and the song open with a twanging noise that sounds almost out of time and place—its source is not immediately identifiable, as well as audio of another unnamed voice that says, “What happened at the New Wilins? Bitch I’m back. I’m more popular than ever.” It is that of Messy Mya, a gender queer comedian and personality who was gunned down, who’s murdered was never solved. However, in the world of “Formation,” Messy Mya is ever present. The first time we see Beyoncé she is straddling a police car that is half submerged in floodwaters. While it is unclear that this is meant to represent a moment that is specifically post-Katrina, it is clear that this space, this dystopia, this New Orleans which has been a sight of a very public struggle for black identity, etc., is the site where Beyoncé’s body can do the most work. Where it needs to do the most work. Whereby her body opening literal and metaphorical space for conversation is not only the most useful but is also something that contributes to her power as well. This is dystopia with transformation writ into itself, just simply not yet seen. But Beyoncé has the ability to show, to recognize. Her power is that of vision and of transubstantiation.

            Beyoncé’s first appearance in the video is from afar, the camera approaching her, as she slowly crouches down upon a police car that’s submerged in floodwaters. Her body is authoritative, claiming space in its ranging movements—in the next scene in which she appears she is reclining, comfortable, directly addressing the camera, rebuking the listeners, derisive in tone, for their ridiculous assumptions about her. Haters are corny, she is reckless as she is possessive—all claims she dismisses with an impassive face and physical positioning of her body to display control not only of herself but of the world.

            She is also wearing a red and white dress—Mami Wata, a group of African water spirits, was often portrayed wearing these same colors, “Red symbolizing the color of blood, violence and death, and white symbolizing spirituality, beauty and the female body.” And as Olupona, Jacob writes in African Spirituality(1. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2000. (Wicker 198-222)) "Mami Wata devotees evaluate and transform external forces to shape their own interior lives and lives of those around them.” We also read in an article by Henry John Drewal in "Mami Wata Shrines: Exotica and the Construction of Self "that Mami Wati and her devoties also take “exotic objects, interpret them according to indigenous precepts, invest them with new meanings, and then re-present them in inventive ways to serve their own aesthetic, devotional, and social needs.” We hear Beyoncé engaging in this transformation in her opening lines:  “I wear Roc necklaces because I’m possessive, possessive in this context meaning jealous?” “Nah. I wear this because this shit’s mine,” she seems to say. “I’m reckless in this Givenchy dress?” The reference to the see-through beautifully embellished dress she wore to the Met Gala ball that presented her body as gold and filigreed statuary? “Nah, she says, again. I ain’t reckless. I OWN this world. THIS WORLD IS TRANSFORMED BY ME and or is made in all of my/our images.”

            In these opening scenes we also see her in what appears to be a throw back to the photographs of E.J. Bellocq. Bellocq was a photographer of the women of Storyville, which was a district in New Orleans just outside of the French Quarter where prostitution was de-facto legalized from 1897-1917. While much isn’t known about the photographs or the photographer except that, based upon identifying background materials in the photographs themselves that they were taken in 1910, what IS know about the women of the district was that many of them were “big” characters, owning, at least for a time, significant amounts of property and financial wealth. While the narratives that surround prostitution are difficult—how does one have agency within a system that is designed to marginalize—it is true that we know at least some of these women were, for a time and until New Orleans politics and statues changed their legal status regarding own race and the ownership of property, significant financial beings in their own right. AND they were women who had complicated racial identities, in that they were mixed race but prized for their lightness by the white men who were their customers. But a reading of the E.J. Bellocq photographs show, often, women who were claiming their identities—most of the pictures do not appear to be posed/staged--revealing their physical worlds and thereby their interior ones to be much more than the narrative simply ascribed to them by history.

            HERE CONSIDER SHOWING A PHOTO OF BEYONCE AS PLACAGE AND THAT ONE E.J. BELLOCQ PIC. Just as a cue in.

            After these dismissals, the video moves into an affirmative proclamation of identity through visual and verbal references. “My daddy Alabama, my mama louisiana, you put that creole with that negro get that texas bama” she sings as the frame switches between her and her dancers dancing and a painting of a beautiful dark woman and another painting of what seems to be a family/portrait of African royalty. She continues on with “I like my baby’s hair with baby hair and afros, I like my Negro with his Jackson Five nostrils, got all this money but they can’t take the country out me, got hot sauce in my bag, swag.” She is refuting the public commentary on her child’s hair, is embracing that traditionally African features of her husband, and again affirms herself country black interiority with her carrying of hot sauce.

            It should be noted that scholar Dr. Yaba Blay in her article “On 'Jackson Five Nostrils,' Creole vs. 'Negro' and Beefing Over Beyoncé's 'Formation'” discusses the very real issues raised in “Formation,” namely the references to Creole, the images that refer to placage and/or Storyville, and the position of Blue Ivy, her daughter, between two girls who are darker in complexion. There has also been discussion about her use of the word “bamma” as it has been used historically in a disparaging way to refer to African Americans who had moved north and were now considered to be “country.” While these are very real concerns that I don’t necessarily feel qualified to speak on to a great degree, I would suggest that a reading of the video and its multiple visions of blackness, its insistence on a multiplicity of representation, the sheer variety of color and sexuality present, to say nothing of the variety of hair that is show, nods toward an inclusive version of blackness that, in the world of “Formation,” does not privilege color but privileges blackness as identity. And yet the history of New Orleans, and America, is one that complicates color in problematic ways. But to quote Roxane Gay, “I trust Beyoncé’s feminism”; the character in the video seems to be claiming/creating space for a story of black life and black history that is inclusive and encompassing.

            In the rest of the video, what we see is Beyoncé, in a variety of costumes, in formation solo and with others, slaying. Beyoncé is shown in a black dress, a giant black hat covering/circling her face, silver jewelry on her neck, hands, and fingers. She is adorned and powerful, flanked by black men in suits. They stand on the front of a porch of what appears to be a white plantation home and they are not inviting entrance. They are claiming ownership of the space AND also, based upon their positioning, are NOT inviting the audience in. THIS IS OURS, the image seems to say. THIS IS NOT FOR YOU. She raises her middle fingers, eyes still covered but mouth painted perfectly and speaking, “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, ‘cause I slay.” She further asserts her power: “I just might get your song played on the radio station. You just might be the next black Bill Gates in the making.” For a moment it sounds as though she is elevating a man above her and I, as a listener, had a pause. And yet she continues, “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making” and that moment revisits her on the police car but when this line is delivered she stands atop the car, arms raised, proclaiming her power to the world.

            She is also shown dancing in a maroon leotard in a book-lined hallway. She is shown dancing in denim in a parking lot, big hair, with a line of dancers who are similarly dressed. She is shown in what looks to be almost a church or some interior space, flowers and masked men and women around her. She has a crown of flowers and looks like a magical creature. The camera looks up at her as she stares back into it—she is otherworldly.  She is shown with long blond braids in an El Camino, hanging out the window, slow motion, her face and hair taking up the whole of the frame. She is present in a drawing room with other women, all dressed in white. They have hair in braids, are a variety of colors, and are vaguely disdainful of the camera and it’s implied eye upon them. (This moment again seems to hearken back to Storyville and/or the system of placage that was present in the city for a number of years.)

            One of the very interesting moments I see in the video is the women all dancing in a drained empty pool. Swimming pools have been historically segregated spaces and now, here is Beyoncé and her crew claiming ownership of a pool, dancing in a choreographed way that hearkens back to a traditionally white image of swimming musicals of the 50s, musicals that were filmed at the same time black people were not allowed access to such spaces. And here it is even further transformed in that they have even removed the water in a place that is located in flood. She has, again, rewritten the space and made it liminal. Time has been collapsed.

            I would also be remiss if I didn’t address the magical dancing boy who, by the power of his dance, is able to transform the police standing in front of him, a line in their own “formation,” to put their hands up TO HIM as we read the caption “Stop Shooting Us.” The young boy, by the magic of his dance, by the magic of his power, by the power vested in him by Beyoncé, is able to transform the formation of police into a benevolent force. THEY MUST SURRENDER TO HIM.

            The challenges of writing about a video like “Formation” are many. Aside from the lyrical content, Formation is a video that is image heavy, and the images themselves are not easy—they are laden with history and imbued with meaning, and so it is difficult to choose what to talk about in a shorter piece like this. There are layers of unpacking to be done, and there is certainly additional work I would like to do with this piece: the images of New Orleans—of churches, of Mardi Gras, of the layers implicity in identity involved in the masking and the history of the use of physical spaces in New Orleans. Of what it means to have a second line in a Jazz Funeral. However, for today, we will have to satisfy ourselves in thinking on how “Formation” and Beyoncé, in formation, begins to claim and create space, to reveal space that has always existed but was rendered invisible to the rest of the world.

 

On Today:

Believes in love, ponies, puppies, the kindness of strangers, that my family are some of the best people I've ever been blessed to know, that words are literally magic, that art will save us, that showing up is the most important thing, that I'd keep you but never like a secret, that roses and raspberries belong together, that the middles of nowhere and Paris and New Orleans are the best places to be, that those who are fiercely smart and hungry are the best people, and that we're all gonna die too soon and so Kurt Vonnegut was right, the best, babies, is to be kind. xoxo-

Sex and New Orleans:

So, for fun, I wrote the short first chapter of what will end up being a smutty fun book set in New Orleans. There will be lots of sex, a little magic, and a Terraplane (mainly 'cause that car is SO dope!) Here's the link on Amazon! It's only a buck! 

Chapter Two will be coming shortly. It's mostly just for fun, but let me know what you think! 

Disclaimer: It's rated R. 

https://www.amazon.com/Bourbon-Street-Dreams-Chapter-Nights-ebook/dp/B01LZM2RKQ/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1474947053&sr=8-5&keywords=ruby+clementine

Brief Excerpt:

"Phil slid into the driver’s side, started the car, and they were off. Her skin felt like it was crackling, like if they were in the dark everyone would see the little sparks flying off her because of her proximity to this beautiful man. She tried hard to focus but blushed, deep, when he looked over and grinned, turning up the blues on the radio. She mumbled something about the heat and held her hand out to push more air onto her face, not wanting him to know how hard it was, already, for her to stay silent. What she wanted to do was ask him to drive out of town, or to take her to his house, to take her in the backseat of the car..."

A Tale of Two Cities--

Our hearts tend to live in multiple places. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, "My house has more rooms than a whorehouse," and it seems he was right. We often have many loves throughout our lives, and some of those rooms exist, albeit closed, forever. And the way the world works we become scattered over countries and continents.

The way we show love to people is to ask after them, to want to hear their stories, to need to hear their stories, to be curious about them, to have them be curious and desirous readers of us, as text, in return. To pay attention. To try to show up for those we say are important. 

The most efficient and effective way to inadvertently let someone know, or to make them feel, which amounts to about the same thing in practice, you're just not that important is to be that "lazy reader." To not as questions. To forget.

And Marquez also wrote, "If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already."

And I hope I remember to say that to you and you and all those I love when we, too, become scattered over the earth, attached by hearts and phones and screens. 

Love is so much better when up close when we practice reading each other well. 

 

 

and your very flesh shall be a great poem.

so i've been thinking for a while about a thing that happened some time ago: 

i was out, in public, and person was snarky, in earshot to their friends, about what i was wearing. 

this was a surreal moment because "hey, we're not in middle school, and so wtf" but also because my instant default in those moments of attack is to fight or flight. it brings back moments of being assaulted in some ways, as a verbal assault that is related to the body or sexuality is so closely related in my mind to a physical experience, but because it's not that, another part of me wants to not "cause a scene" and so freezes momentarily. 

but what's the other option? to cause a scene? 

it's a strange place to be. as in, when someone is snarky about another person's body or sexuality, which is what that moment was, it's complicated. because i believe that those types of responses come from an internalized patriarchal understanding of sexuality and sexual identity that seems to indicate that a way to gain power, as a woman, is to attempt to cut another woman down. as an action, it's not great thinking and it's certainly unkind, but my default response is to both be sympathetic to the perpetrator as well as want to set them on fire. and by set them on fire i mean also to set fire to the system that has caused them to align themselves with the emotional and literal equivalent of dudes in cars who shout things like "fuck her, i did" as they drive by in cars, anonymous. 

and yet i think a lot of people, a lot of women, who experience this might experience in the same way that i do--in a way that feels like a violation of the body. that feels not unlike that first moment of being locked in a room against your will. or of how you acted against yourself in moments that followed until you could forgive yourself and anyone/everyone involved/peripheral. it's effective for that second because of how sort of unthinking it is. 

and yet forgiveness in these contexts is more about moving on and moving past, not about reconciling yourself with anything. and i'm not lindy west nor am i jessica valenti because those are two women who are infinitely better than i at articulating what it means to be in a body and have it under attack, who can better articulate what it means to actively resist the ways those attacks seek to suppress us, the ways that this is culturally dictated, etc. 

but it's important to be in your body. it's important to understand that "your very flesh shall be a great poem" and, that, maybe until you've read whitman (among other things) and internalized what it means that we can't get out of this loop, not completely, but that sometimes our very existence is an act of resistance, and that, i suppose, we can't live in anger. 

and the snarky part of me is willing to be momentarily sympathetic toward people who won't read whitman. or o'hara. or marquéz. or nabokov. or get about the cherry trees and neruda. 

all y'all m.f.ers need reading. ;) xoxo-

Half-dressed on a lawn chair--

1. Writing erotica means thinking a lot about what sexuality is and how much it is both literally private in that you can't TRULY share the inner life/narrative that drives intellectual/physical/emotional response AND how it is so particular in the ways that one lines up with another. I mean, you can sleep with anyone. But that phrase, "sex, like pizza, even when it's bad it's still pretty good" is in no way true. Bad sex, past a certain age, is just dumb. And in order to be a decent human there is a certain amount of caring with which you must engage. 

And bad pizza is a sort of culinary tragedy. 

2. I once made out with a lovely, beautiful man and, then, in the interest of trying to be honest and ethical, told him I also had feelings for a mutual friend. I was trying to be open and kind, and my feelings for someone else had nothing to do with the fact that I found him attractive, lovely, and was someone about whom I was curious and wanted to make dinner and get to know. I wanted to find out if I had "intentions" because I was pleasantly surprised to find out, in that moment, I did! Totally backfired--understandably, I suppose. Sometimes, just like with sex, it's hard to express what we mean in a way that is understood the way we intend by another. Such a bummer as it was the first time I'd enjoyed myself in a while. 

3. Lust is a strange beast--and the older I get is driven by those people with whom you feel both nervous and comfortable, challenged and accepted. Make me want to snuggle even as you've made me blush and I'm over the moon. 

On Love and Whisky-

The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind--

I won a cocktail contest that involved making a drink with Tullamore DEW whisky and telling a story along with it. What follows is, mostly, that story: 

One of the great pleasures of summer is lying outside on a lawn chair, in my underwear, for at least a few minutes a day either deliberately reading or, sometimes, reclining with my eyes closed, just listening to the sounds of nature and the city buzz and bustle around me. I was determined to read Ulysses but just couldn't seem to make myself forge ahead. So I left the book outside. All summer. Hoping someone would steal it out of the yard or, perhaps, that the rain would destroy it. That one of the dogs would use it as a chew toy and put me out of my "misery." And yet Joyce's book survived. 

And I was thinking about this, about how literature survives, how anything created out of love survives, how literature is translation of spirit, how anything created out of love and desire and passion survives. How the same could be said about Irish whisky and the nature of storytelling. 

And I was thinking about how Joyce set his novel on a single day, June 16th, 1904, to pay homage the that particular date as it was the day that he walked around with a woman he'd just met who would someday be his wife. How art is nuanced and layered, like whisky, like love, like people.

Which brings me to Bloomsday and the fact that, on Bloomsday in 2004, on the 100th anniversary of the fateful day in the book, the city of Dublin fed 10,000 people an Irish breakfast. So the drink I made had at least some of the elements of love and that breakfast in mind. The drink consisted of freshly squeezed lemon juice, orange marmalade, a toasted barley and tellicherry peppercorn syrup, an egg white, mascarpone, and, of course, Tullamore DEW. Shake with ice then without and serve over ice. Add soda and top with just a sprinkle of cracked black pepper. Many of the elements of an Irish breakfast and all of the love. 

The toast was essentially a riff on the passage where Molly speaks about lust and sex and is "Yes, yes, yes"------When I first held a glass of Tully in my hand, I heard it whisper a question: "Do you love me?" And I whispered back, "Oh, yes yes yes." But it asked me again, more urgently: "Do you love me?" And this time, I brought the glass to my mouth so that wet lips and whisky could meet, all sweetness and spiced desire, took a sip, and said, aloud, "Oh, yes, yes, yes." So, I hope that whenever you share a glass of Tully with someone you love, it, too, ends with a kiss and a "Yes, yes, yes!"

So now I'm getting to go to Ireland to tour the distillery and think about the nature of stories and love and craft and desire and what it means to translate love and desire into something tangible. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately--this idea that love is passion, is knowledge, is dedication, is desire, that those things are the only thing that seem to satisfy.  A sort of singular pursuits of excellence. That the desire for knowledge is the thing that saves us. 

I have been thinking back to a time i told someone I loved dearly how I felt in no uncertain terms. I was eloquent and wrote, beautifully, of desire and understanding and care and all the reasons for the three, in essence, how I understood the beloved to be both human and, in my eyes, often magic. People become magic when they are beloved, at least in some ways. But I also articulated the embrace of flaws and how, in my old age, I've come to understand the flaws in myself and others as the things to be adored. How our flaws, as well as our strengths, are the things that makes us more perfectly ourselves and how that is something to be cherished. These are all the things I said. And meant truly and sincerely and with such love and affection. And I was, essentially, met with a "reader" who was not ready to read this personal "Ulysses."

Which was heartbreaking. And bittersweet and a little wry as I thought about how I had left this great book outside unattended and hoping it would disappear because the idea of reading seemed like it would ask a lot of me. And when I finally did read, it was a lot, but it was also magical and rewarding.

And yet that experience was, in some ways, no different than reading Ulysses or any other great work of art. We HAVE to be bold and loving and careful and attentive readers of any text, whether it be human or literary or otherwise. We have to accept the limitations of that text and of, perhaps, ourselves as readers. And, continue on and try, try, again until we reach new plateaus of understandings and new iterations of "yes, yes, yes." 

So on to Dublin (and a quick jaunt to London to see a beloved friend of mine who'll be there) and to continued reading and writing and translation as constant acts of love. 

May we ever be better readers seeking to not only understand and cherish, but, in doing so, create ever more perfect texts of all kinds. 

Speaking out means being seen:

When I was 23 I was date raped by a friend.

And IT WASN'T MY FAULT.

Let's talk for a minute about how this all happened. This isn't something I talk about publicly, but that also seems wrong. 
He was a man who was friends with all of my friends. He took me out one night. We went to Sanctuary. Were there for a while. Got drunk. While he was in the bathroom another man tried to talk to me, to buy me a drink. When the dude came back he promptly got into a fistfight with the guy trying to say hi, just for saying hi to me, and so we were thrown out. I was scared. And 23. I'd never called a cab. Didn't know where I was. Didn't have a cell phone. No one offered to intervene. So I said I wanted him to take me home. Scared. Upset. He took me home. I said I just wanted to go to bed. He insisted on coming in. I didn't want him to come into my bedroom. So we sat on the couch. He said he didn't want to go home yet. So I put on a movie. Said he should go. That I was fine. I was scared. OF HIM. He said he wanted to stay. He said I should go to bed. He walked me into my room and locked the door. I had roommates at the time--two very nice and not very large young men who were younger than me and this was something we were, in many ways, all too young to deal with--and so, even though I said I didn't want to have sex, he made out with me. Had sex with me. I again said I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS. He didn't care. What happened next was what a lot of rape survivors do. We get VERY QUIET. Because survival involves shutting down. Emotionally. IntellectualIy. He finally left. IT WAS HORRIBLE. I woke up with bite marks and bruises, none of which were pleasurable, and made a trip to planned parenthood the next day. No, I didn't SCREAM. I didn't fight. BECAUSE A LOT OF RAPE IS ABOUT NEGATION. IT IS NOT ABOUT THE PERSON IT IS HAPPENING TO. IT IS ABOUT THE ASSHOLE OF A HUMAN NOT CARING THAT YOU, TOO, ARE A REAL HUMAN WHO MATTERS. 
This is why the Stanford woman speaking out matters. 
This is why I'm telling you. 
The aftermath was "fine." What the aftermath was was also years of then being in a relationship that was with a very physically gentle man who was also horrible to me, because it was so hard for me to figure out what being present was. Being present became REALLY FUCKING HARD in romantic relationships. 
This is why the Stanford woman speaking out matters. 
This is why I'm telling you.

(This story isn't about "sorry that happened to you." This story is about talking about what this all means.)

Much love y'all!

Sheila--from the backyard on a lawnchair in my underwear, which always feels like the best act of defiance.

A DTF "Down to Feast" Version of Coq au Vin

1. Get chicken legs. Dry them and season with salt and pepper. 
2. Pour flour in a shallow bowl. Coat each piece of chicken in flour. 
3. Get thick bacon. Cut it up into small pieces. Cook in LARGE saute pan. Take out bacon and set aside. 
4. Cut up one onion and, say, three-four cloves of garlic. (More traditional recipes use pearl onions so you can but also who cares? And you can adjust garlic to taste--for me there is never enough garlic.) Saute in pan. 
5. Add chicken to pan. Cook 'til each piece is browned on each side. You might have to work in stages depending on how much chicken you're cooking so that you don't crowd the pan. Take chicken out and set aside for a few minutes. 
6. Add mushrooms. Cook 'til soft. 
7. When soft, add 1/4 cup cognac to the pan. (Careful here or you could start a fire.) Don't have cognac? Totally fair. I often use bourbon. The point of this step is to use a spoon while the liquor sizzles to pull up all the little brown bits of beautiful flavor from the bottom of the pan. 
8. Put the chicken and bacon back in the pan. Add about 2 tbs of tomato past to the pan. Add two cups of chicken stock AND at least two cups of red wine (a burgundy is nice, but really any big red wine works) to the pan. Also add a sprinkle of herbs de provence. (If you don't own this they sell it at the grocery store--it's essentially just an herb blend that is beautiful and you should have in your kitchen anyway.) 
9. Allow this to simmer gently for about 30-40 minutes AND until chicken is completely cooked. 
10. You now have 30-40 minutes to "fuck first" so plan your time accordingly!  
11. Set the dinner table.
12. Enjoy.

Cookbook Writing Plans for the Summer:

I think there should be a sex-positive cookbook that pairs the meal you're making with the sex you want to have called "Fuck First," (thanks Dan Savage) because as any good cook and human knows, if the meal is that good you're gonna need to nap about it after. Make dinner. While it's finishing, fuck first. Eat. Nap. Repeat. (ESSENTIAL COOKING TOOL: LATEX GLOVES BECAUSE PEPPERS.)

The end of the semester and the daffodils are blooming:

Working on the end of the semester chapter revisions which is both good work and tedious to no end. I sort of cherish the heavy mental lifting required by scholarly work, which is different from the sort of mental dancing necessary for creative work, but it doesn't quite provide the same pleasure. Ah well. All necessary "evil."

The past year was a LOT of hard work for me personally and has paid off in a fair number of publications as well as some personal emotional evolutions. I'd never submitted anything to be published until November of this 2016, so this has all been so heartening. It's true I also probably should have been doing it before, but I'm doing it now and that's really all that matters. (And isn't that mostly the secret to life? To work and try and when we understand new things to do them to the best of our ability and remain open, to know vulnerability for what it is--strength, and to forgive ourselves and those around and carry on? I think so.) That said, good lord I have some BIG writing goals for he summer and that will be a fun adventure of itself. 

And in thinking about this idea of evolution, in thinking about how most people are doing the best they can, in how sometimes you can almost take for granted someone who accepts you for who you are and STILL finds you dreamy, the following-- 

Say "I love you" when the spirit moves you. We're all gonna die soon.

Today Was Exhausting, or, What Happens When I Forget about Love-

This was a hard year. An emotionally exhausting year. In the fall, my dad got sick, suddenly, and we didn't know if he would recover. Thankfully, eventually, he did. But in that time of uncertainty I felt almost constantly like I wanted to throw up--to throw up that empty and confused physical space that had somehow appeared somewhere just above my stomach. It was both okay and wrenching.

At the same time, I was struggling desperately to make sense of my dissertation so that I could continue and finish my program. Thankfully I rallied and elevated my thinking and did. But these two things in which my father and my love of words were both imperiled in a particular way was devastating--hard to make sense of and hard to hold up under. 

Lately, finally, I've been feeling better. Like I'm finally uncoiling a bit. No longer so tightly wound just holding everything together and in. But today was a hard day. I'm just tired. I need the semester to end. I've literally not done anything that just FELT GOOD or was just pleasure for pleasure's sake since, oh, probably last August. That is exhausting. And so today I was tired and read one of those articles that say something to the effect of "getting a Ph.D. is stupid because you'll never get an academic job," etc. and then continue on to berate the reader with a series of statements that seemed designed exclusively to shame the person going to graduate school and to elevate the reader (who has, more times than not, "seen the error of their ways and now understands how STUPID they were to also go to graduate school") and these articles are horrible. I don't know what good they do except express a particularly insidious sort of superiority that is mostly directed toward people who are doing something out of love. And that, I gotta say, seems cruel. As in, I don't expect to necessarily get a tenure track job, or a job at a university, after this is done. I'd hope to. But I don't expect to. I DO THIS BECAUSE I ACTUALLY LOVE IT AND CONSIDER IT A GREAT PRIVILEGE TO GET TO SPEND PART OF MY LIFE PRIVILEGING WORDS AND BOOKS AND MAKING MEANING OF THE WORLD and fuck those people in those articles for wanting to take a shit on that pleasure and simple joy. It is joy that may very well have an expiration date. I'm going to enjoy this every day and fuck your article, yo. 

In some ways, they have to be written by people who can ONLY see that particular and immediate employment as the goal because, seemingly, in their hearts and the cores of their beings, don't value pleasure and creation or, because they didn't get a job, have maneuvered themselves into that headspace to make sense of their sadness. Which is understandable but, I would argue, not a way to live in pleasure. 

If you don't value pleasure or possible creation, then why write? Read? Paint? Appreciate Prince? Kiss? Have sex? Share a moment with a beautiful man, the both of you lusting after a jukebox silhouette? Do anything well out of love and desire? 

I'll have no more truck with these no-souled fools. I wanna do it for love, for passion, for the sheer hotness of it all. For the way that anything pleasurable feels a little like misbehaving AND like dancing. That sheer thrill of a bead of sweat running down your back as you're half-dressed on a lawn chair on a 90 degree summer, all tan and sweating like like the aftermath...

"UNBOSSED AND UNBOUGHT", or, seeing bell hooks and Hari Kondabolu

Tonight I went with a good friend to see bell hooks and Hari Kondabolu at St. Norbert University in De Pere Wisconsin. It was lovely--bell hooks is funny, confident as hell, and sort of sweetly charming. and hari kondabolu was funny, thoughtful, and did an endearing impromptu performance of his "feminist dick joke" at hooks' prompting. it was a wonderful night. 

AND i'm so excited to have two pieces in the newest issue of Literary Orphans go live today! while i've been in graduate school for a while and so writing is not new to me, working again creatively has been a new adventure. or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it's one i'd put aside for the past decade and it feels great to start reworking those muscles and that voice. 

i'm very thankful it's almost summer. i'm sick to death of being cold and long, hardcore, for sun and sweat and afternoons spent digging in dirt and arms scratched by roses. while i'm not in love right now, the happiness of summer sure feels f'ing close. 

best-

sheila

Gender relations in 2016--

i work really hard at different jobs and do my best to enjoy and be of service at them all. i'm a year away from a Ph.D. i've been published, although only four times, but i'm working for more. sometimes i screw up and then i try to do better. i like roses and gardening and books and dogs and garlic and new orleans and france and swearing and saltwater and sweat and the words vellichor and mellange and that Paris is a place and that Paris Green is a color/poison and black leather boots and dorothy allison's "skin" and the poetry of frank o'hara and i keep reading baudrillard so that someday i'll have it and foucault's the history of sexuality is dope and the most pleasurable time i've had in years was just as much about words and narrative driving desire as it was about getting naked and yet i get messages on the internet that include pics of people's abs and comments about my ass.      BLOW UP THE INTERNET.

Drinking champagne out of a coupe with a Goodwill sticker on the bottom:

Today I started working on a new piece that has an emotional event as its reason for unfolding and found myself equating the protagonist's emotional state with that of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill--how an emotionally heavy event can feel like that pump, underwater, both needing to spill into the water to relieve pressure while equally needing to be filled and stopped. It lead me down a research path involving drilling mud, oil spewing into the sea both of the earth but not of that space, needing to be capped, but that capping isn't enough, that it somehow needs to be ended. It was a strange metaphor but one that I hope proves useful. And it was pleasantly strange to consider how the mind works. How the mind finds ways to explain itself that feel both strange and completely true. How the work of writing is both intensely pleasurable but can feel like working out with heavy ropes, their undulations both waves visual and sonic, the work hard and beautiful. 

9.14.17--

Vulnerability is hard. But it is the necessary thing if a meaningful life is the goal. To be honest about what feeds you and what saves you is not always pleasant--it's hard for me to admit sometimes that what I really want is to write and use words. That what gives me really happiness is struggling with language and trying to create something with beauty and meaning--that what really gives me happiness is intimacy and communion with people who do similar work with language and form and substance, with art, because those are the relationships that speak to the heart and the soul. That I struggle sometimes with the how of connection, that while in my heart I know this is true for everyone, I sometimes let frustration get the better of me when my needs of "lighting up the brain" aren't met. That I need to set boundaries AND practice meeting everyone where they are because we're all in it together. Because to go all in on that means to admit the possibility of temporary failures. But to deny who we really are and what we really need and are fed by means feeding little hungry interior monsters with the emotional/intellectual equivalent of sadness doritos and canned poverty chef boyardee instead of the balm of gilead.

What we want are roses and poems and love and food from the garden (transformed earth and rain and sunshine): what literally and figuratively feed us. 

I'm practicing wholeheartedly and consistently going all in. Always practicing.

8.25.15--

And i'm talking with Ginsberg and dreaming of Whitman and walking the streets of Paris holding long-distance hands with O'Hara in New York (where I've never been and thankfully he can take me for the first time) and I pass by Proust and Chopin (they're sleeping and won't wake--who can blame them? The stones and hills are as beautiful as they are warm in the late August afternoon.) 

Everything seems perfectly planned in Haussmann's city. One footfall leads into another and another and onto a perfectly lined boulevard of perfect trees where the faintest sounds of Chopin on a piano sound like a Parisian Pied Piper leading me to the most perfect chocolate ice-cream cone and the most perfect date, watching the man at the piano. 

Mr. O'Hara, sometimes I wonder if all this talking with you and the others is healthy but I'd like to believe you wouldn't mind. Especially if we chat as I walk, a cone from Berthillon for lunch. 

 

8.12.15-- The hibiscus are blooming,

and the wind's a steam grate Monroe'ing them into flashing their giant stop signs to the neighborhood. 

Red saucer petals waving "go back!" and 

red is the longest wavelength and the color of the heart 

and yet, why it didn't reach across the ocean and whisper "stop! stay where you are! home is home and home alone hand on cheeks but no hijinks just too much quiet and no city to wander and wonder so stop! stay!"

 

The hibiscus are cruel masters--beautiful and unfeeling--

they demand touch and kiss (don't I hope for the same?) by sun and water.

They know better but...now we're

reunited and it feels so 

quiet. 

 

Monetized space filled with grass and flowers and raspberries--

beautiful quarter acre cells filled with scents and room for heartbreak.