Monday, October 25, 2010

Dragon, Pirate, Mountain, Dust

Burning Man 2010: dragon tail, pirate flag, mountains, and dust. There's a LOT going on here.
As a college freshman, I studied ancient Greek and Roman humanities at Reed. One of the assignments I remember being insulted by, and one of the only assignments I was ever insulted by, and also one of the only assignments I remember, was a sort of scavenger-hunt we were supposed to perform over the course of a week. The point was to collect as many references to ancient Greek gods and goddesses, characters from the Iliad, pieces of architecture that resembled columns of the Parthenon, and so on, that we could find in our daily lives. I was insulted by this assignment because it seemed like something I might have had to do in high school, had I gone to an okay high school instead of a desperately under-funded Los Angeles Unified school. The point is, I didn't feel like carrying my little list around everywhere and jotting down things like: "Goodyear tires logo: Hermes winged foot." I did do it, of course, because I am what's known as a "good student."

And what happened was that I found so many references to ancient Greece in my daily life I felt a little scared. I felt scared knowing that I had just been cruising through a visual media culture that made references I didn't know before, because that meant that the academic culture I was entering was going to make a thousand times more. And of course, it did.

Skip ahead some years later, to a very similar feeling that happened when I read Nabokov's Lolita for the first time. I read the novel very soon after I'd been first introduced to Derrida, and there was a sort of dizzying effect to Nabokov's text as I felt I could fall inside each page, and this was a physical sensation that never stopped after I taught the book 8 times, because Derrida had told me I was already bleeding in through the spaces between the words.

I am back in grad school, attending seminars with extremely smart abstract thinkers, finding myself awash in visual imagery and idiosyncratic connections that sometimes enhance the discourse and at other times make it jumbled and clunky. Tonight I watched a Miyazaki film called "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" for a class I'm taking on anime--and really, the way anime can be seen as a portal to a new relation to technology a la Heidegger. And I was heartened by the fact that someone out there has a brain that moves in lateral, brightly colored directions like mine.

If that meant nothing to you, know this: I cried many times during the film, as connections came slamming through me: this is America, this is the global political body, this is the demonized dream of environmentalism, this is the problem of the ivory tower, this is Anthony, this is my old cat Boots and my new adopted cat Bembo, this is me, this is the unbelievably beautiful piece of visual art that somehow got enough people and money behind it to get MADE. And I fell into the movie in the same way I fall into a page. And the depth of these connections, the allusions I felt moving backward (the film was made in 1984, but visually seemed to reference Burning Man 2010 and Star Wars: the Clone Wars), the sheer weight of connectivity I don't understand because I haven't, still haven't read enough books or seen enough film was almost too much.

I know that for some people, in fact, it IS too much. They give up and watch TV without thinking about what that TV might be referencing. They give up and do all kinds of things, with the general theme of ignorance, indifference, or disinterest. This is the condition that most troubles people who worry about "the postmodern." But for me, those glimpses into the rampant allusive-ness of the world are like a drug. I want to see more. I want to trace them. I don't pretend I'll find origins, really, but I want to find swarms and packs and pockets and concentric circles of connection. I want to peel off and paste on layer after layer of the collage.

At the Getty last weekend for my Mom's birthday, I looked at ancient Greek art that I'd studied at some point at Reed. I saw a bust I recognized from a book cover. I read and remembered, vaguely, certain customs, names of gods and goddesses, and as we strolled out into the garden, I tried to figure out why the Koi in the pond "worked" with everything else. Pure aesthetics? Some reference in Ovid? Some cultural exchange between the Greeks and elsewhere that I don't know about? The questions are pleasurable. They're worthwhile. They feel like practicing piano or going for a run--I may not get an instant return on this hour, but if I keep it up, someday I'll have a moment when that little "click" will turn over, that flush of recognition, and I'll grab the arm of the person I'm with and crazily try to explain it. Eventually, one day, I'll get a piece memorized, I'll notice a new shapeliness to my calves, I'll read something new and feel I can love it more because I understand that it is a piece of homage to another book I already love.

I'm pretty sure I'm not arguing art for art's sake, although it may seem that way. What ultimately drives this desire and pleasure is a humanist passion: the more connectivity I can discuss, the more I can show, the more others can feel, the less distanced and dehumanized and disembodied we will be together. I actually believe this is possible, as a life-praxis, not just an academic exercise.

The biggest barrier to it is the ego. Wanting to feel like I already know what someone is going to say or show to me. Wanting to feel that triumph in argument, wanting to above all not lose face in front of people whose admiration I crave. When I am able to stop seeing through the ego-lens, I don't become a relativist or a confused little baby lost in the fog. I become even more convinced that creative moments of connection, collaboration, and realization of creative impulse is the way out. The way through, the way in, the way toward a moment in which the Dragon (spirit-body), the Pirate (the people's power to resist and organize), the Mountain (wisdom), and the Dust (the everyday made extraordinary) not only coexist in a lucky photo, but ARE together in my body and my body of work.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

...And We're Back!

What happened here? 
I'll tell you what. I went to Burning Man, I turned 31, I started a PhD program in Comparative Literature at UC Riverside, and my novel came out.

That's right, folks. Remember a few months ago when I was writing
about how I think self-publishing is a potential vanguard movement for fiction writers? Well, click here and visit A Crack in Everything at I hope you're inspired to support me when you do.

If you live anywhere near LA, come join me at the book events!

I've been going a little crazy reading heavy lit theory for many hours of the day, and then spending my "free time" trying to do marketing. I've designed purple underwear with "There is A Crack in Everything" printed on the butt. I've made custom condoms with the phrase "Even though there's A Crack in Everything" printed on them. (The novel is about a sex educator). I've bought a huge mounted poster of the cover to set in an easel at events. It's nuts, really, how much time, money, and energy can go into a project like this--I could be promoting full time, if I wanted to. Instead, I'm going to cut and paste the back cover copy of the book here and then write about the problem of "autobiographical fiction."

So here's what the back of the book says: 

Twenty-five-year-old Tamina is a sharp-witted Jersey girl living in Hollywood with a near-phobic response to mismatching colors, an addiction to pedicures, and a hectic job teaching comprehensive sex education to urban youth. Suffering the consequences of a violent assault, Tam looks for relief in romance and LA's underground erotic entertainment scene. However, when Tam's young attacker unexpectedly resurfaces among a crowd of drag queens, porn stars, and musicians, Tam finally must make real choices. Fear or confrontation. Cynicism or curiosity. Silence or honesty. It would be surreal, if it wasn't LA.

Nearly everyone who's read the novel so far has wondered, "How much of Tamina is you?" and I'd like to answer this question once and for all.

Some. Some of her is me. Most of her is not me.

The truth is, I had a lot more in common with Tamina, in temperament, when I began the book. Her politics are my politics. Her experiences are not really my experiences. Her life is fiction. Her emotional problems resonate with me, and that's why I wrote them. Beginning six years ago.

Tamina is stressed out. She's anxious a lot of the time. She has a hard time telling people the abject honest truth about how she feels because she's afraid of being rejected. I used to feel this way a lot more often than I do now. It was freeing to me to write this character, because once I'd exposed some of these emotional realities I was more able to address them. Granted, they haven't gone away. But I don't worry as much about how people are perceiving me, and I would like to thank Tamina for that. She took some of the burden from me, I think.

In addition, this is a sexy novel--there's a very erotic scene about 2/3 of the way through, in addition to sexual tension between many of the characters, and I've already been fielding questions about whether the sex scene came from my imagination or my experience. So I'll answer that question, too. Both.

I think that Americans are obsessed with historicity, memoir, and "what really happened." I'm bored by the constant pursuit of an objective past truth or a pure memory, when it comes to literature. I believe that the desire to figure out the exact inspiration for any piece of fiction is a deadly moment--it's a way to kill the creative potential in reading. It's a way to fix a book in a particular point, instead of allowing it a spinning, fluid, expansive life of inspiring people. Sometimes authors have fantastically exciting stories about the origin of a book. But often the reading of a book is a truly creative act on the part of the reader, and too much interference from an author can be restrictive, I think.

I'm actually lucky that I'm self-publishing in an age when authors have to be visible. I'm young, I'm blonde, and I'm extroverted. There was a time when those things would not matter nearly as much as they do now. If I were shy this whole business would be more stressful than an MRI for a claustrophobic.

So I rumble along, trying to figure out the machinery of promotion. I try not to be too insanely attached to any particular outcome for A Crack in Everything, and just be grateful that its got a physical form. Because holding it in my hands, after all this time, is a pleasure of nearly transcendent character.