Friday, January 24, 2014

Chapter 111: In Which I Discuss being a Gypsy

The Philadelphia police department castrates a young black man. The "peace officer" who may have irreversibly ruined this child's life will most likely get a slap on the wrist. I'm from Pittsburgh. The filth who smothered Johnny Gammage to death almost twenty years ago are still on the force, quite content with themselves.

And people wonder why the death of a cop is cause for celebration in the hood. It seems I can't log onto Facebook without another article about these scum brutalizing or killing another innocent person. It's recently come out that more Americans have been killed by police since 9/11 than by the "enemy" in our various foreign wars. Yeah. Obviously al Qaeda are the ones we should be fighting.

I read a good article recently about reclaiming Martin Luther King Day. The author discusses how the government likes to paint Dr. King as this peacenik who wanted cooperation among all the races. No. Dr. King was all about the black. He was fighting a system of apartheid in which black men were routinely murdered, black women were routinely raped, and so much as looking at a white woman could land a black man in jail for life. The reverend doctor taught our people to put their bodies on the line, to make the necessary sacrifices, and in turn ended apartheid in the United States. I can see how the less educated might confuse him with Mandela, since the two men did the exact same thing. King was a crusader for black people. The government will tell you otherwise, but maybe we shouldn't buy into it, since they most likely killed him after their attempts to scare him and police his sexuality didn't work. I'm getting to be of a mind that MLK Day should not be a holiday. The same government that hounded and oppressed this hero are not worthy of saying his name, let alone giving false platitudes in the form of a day off. If blacks want to celebrate his legacy, we should be able to do so any day, every day, in whatever way we choose. The state’s feelings on it are absolutely worthless.

I bring this up because we're sliding back. Part of what Dr. King stopped was castration, a huge tool of white terror. Killing someone is one thing--I can't imagine the sickness it takes to castrate a man. But this was done all the time, well documented in the South, less documented but just as prevalent in the Western U.S. Let's see. Racist vigilantes gunning down black children. Complicit police forces castrating black children. This is starting to look like 1890. Though it's not necessarily a black/white thing. Cops have been killing white people lately, too. The poor are considered a race, and our overseers are more desperate than ever to keep us in check. 

And, well, we have a black president. Who authorized government surveillance on civilians the likes of which this nation has never seen. Personally, I like my dystopias in books. The noose is tightening. When reading about what happened to Darrin Manning, I find myself shocked by my ability to absorb this info and go about my daily life. It makes me question my own humanity. How can I even think about anything else? And does my apathy play into the hands of the oppressors (answer: yes it does).

Gypsy Life

I've been feeling me some Lady Gaga lately. I'm not a big pop music fan, and when she first came out with "Pokerface" I was like "WTF is this crap?" But I downloaded her new album and I'm feeling it. You see, she writes about being a gypsy. And traveling all the time and wanting something permanent but you can't stop rambling. It's like she's SPEAKING to me, man. She also did a Christmas special with the Muppets. Respect.

Also, the music is slammin'. If I'm ever at a club and they play "Aura" or "Artpop," I will start doing lascivious things on the dancefloor. That's a promise.

I've come to the conclusion I'm kind of a gypsy. This is not how I anticipated my life being as I inched toward 30. But it occurred to me over the holiday as I got off a plane in Philly, then took a bus west to spend time with family in Pittsburgh. I caught up with friends, but didn't spend a lot of time with them. I mostly just wrote stories in bars and cafes. 

Oh, and gentrification is happening everywhere. Anybody who tells you it's limited to any one city has blinders on. People are getting priced out of Lawrenceville because of UPMC buying up all the property. And East Liberty? Good god. They might as well just hang up a big "Whites Only" sign as soon as you enter the neighborhood. I never thought to see it in my blue-collar home, but here it is. 

After New Years, I went back to Philly, where I spent about a week crashing on couches. I did a reading with Alex Smith at A Space. Last August, I had a lovely reading there, and they were enthusiastic about having me back. I was recently involved in a relationship with someone in Philadelphia, and went there a lot last year. Never thought Philly would be one of my homes, especially growing up on the other side of the state. Now I feel right at home there. The reading: Alex brought the trippy afrofuturism. Seeing as it was the day after Zora Neale Hurston's birthday, I read a chapter of "Assistant," which I feel is kind of folkloric. Real chill, real nice. Also real cold. That weather was Mother Nature telling humanity to kiss her ass. I went sledding in Clark Park and got so much water in my shoes I thought I would get frostbite. Besides sledding and freezing, I watched The Vampire Diaries on Netflix. Kelly Link gushed over the CW show in an interview (and not in an ironic way), so I had to check it out. She was right. It's a damn addiction. Far better writing than that bullshit True Blood turned into. And it is relieving to see a quality drama that’s not about middle-aged men. Enough of that shit. Vampire Diaries does have something to say about adolescence, particularly girlhood, in no way marred by the standard 30-year-old high schoolers who populate these shows. Those 30-year-olds are sexy. Give me more.

Then to New York, which involved more couchcore. Stayed with a super cool Pittsburgh friend who studies philosophy. She explained the meaning of life to me. I was supposed to do a reading at Singularity & Co., but that fell through, so I caught up with old friends. Damn, I love New York City. Just when it seems I'm having the most fun, I have to go back to the real world. I know my relationship with the city is that of a “gosh, it’s so big and diverse” fantasy space. Living in that rat race would probably be disappointing. 

The NYC writing scene is interesting to me in that you would think a city that big would have a variety of writers at every event. No, you see the same people everywhere. The same goes for the fantasy convention scene, or the lit festival scene. I have learned that, while the number of writers in this world is incalculable, the people who turn it into a social thing is a limited group. All the readings, workshops, panels, parties, are a ritual we go through, whether through desire or compulsion. I love the social aspect because I like being social, but recognize it as something for select people who feel comfortable within in it.

I now know for certain that I have to read Chip Delany. I have seen the master read, but never sat down with any of his books. Alex Smith explained to me why his writing is so great. Dhalgren sounded especially intriguing. When I was in NYC, I chanced upon a collection of essays and interviews. In one interview, the first question is where he thinks humanity will be in the future. He proceeds to rip them a new one for the foolishness of asking a science fiction author such a question. He calls them frivolous and says they're wasting his time. Good lord, it's awesome.

Speaking of frivolous: I attended an 80s fantasy movie trivia night at Freddy's Bar. The friend I was staying with had an interest in bar trivia, and got me intrigued, so when I saw the event notice online, I was there. Did I win? Of course I won. How would Elwin Cotman not win such a contest? 

I got there an hour late, but these nice folks visiting from Tennessee let me join their team. The host, who was dressed as Jareth the Goblin King (natch), had a nice variety of questions, albeit some that nobody would have ever known. There were questions from Princess Bride, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Willow, Black Cauldron, The Secret of NIMH, Last Unicorn, Legend, Neverending Story, and a Worst Witch question for good measure. Not too shabby. No Ladyhawke or Dragonslayer, but, y'know, you can only ask so many. Luckily, I had just watched Neverending Story, so stuff like Bastion's full name was fresh in my head. There's a few I missed that I'm still kicking myself over. Fezzick was wearing a HOLOCAUST CLOAK. I knew it! Ugh. And the teddy bear was named LANCELOT. How do you forget that?

There was a bullshit moment during the costume contest when some dude who was doing an (admittedly impressive) Elliot/ET costume with his girlfriend made some dumbass comment about how he couldn't find any Mexicans to stand it the basket, so he had to use her instead. This is a) racist, b) makes no sense, c) not funny, d) also kind of sexist, and e) really fucking racist. The crowd booed him sufficiently for me to still feel comfortable in the space, and there was some upset from the crowd when he won. The host disavowed the comment, which is nice, but his ass should have been disqualified. And, again, I have to question my tolerance for racism, as I didn't pelt him with fruit or something like that. That killed my buzz. It sucks I can't even go to a stupid trivia contest without that oppressive bullshit popping up.

The contest ended up in a tie between my team and another one. Long story short, I had to engage with this dude in a karaoke contest as the tiebreaker. He did the Neverending Story theme. Pretty good. But in choosing that one, he left me "Magic Dance," which was a mistake. My team won and I got a little trophy. It was glorious.

I hit up some bars, and went to a poetry reading in Chinatown. I paid a visit to Singularity & Co. and talked with the fellow manning the story about language styles in science fiction/fantasy. He hooked me up with some of the books from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. Hopefully one day I'll actually read at their spot. I organize readings around my travels. If I'm going to be in a city for any reason, I see if I can get a little something going. Who knows when I'll next be in NYC? After three days, I hauled my luggage and traveled back to Philly. Passing through. Trains. Planes. Buses. Couches. No permanence. This was especially on my mind because so many of the friends I stayed with own property, have long-term partners, or have lived in one place for over a decade. They are stable people, with all the comforts therein.

My good friend Patty Templeton recently posted on her blog about how she is quitting her job to couchsurf for a year and focus on writing. Depending on the goodwill of friends so you don't have to worry about bills and whatnot. Forget the stigma against couchsurfing: having friends who will put you up for a year so you can pursue your dreams is about as wonderful as it gets. Those are friends who straight up love you, who want you in their house, who treasure your company. I've been doing the same thing, albeit in a different way. I haven't worked a "real" job in almost four years. I am currently in the academy, which is the modern-day patronage system. They pay to perform perfunctory educational tasks on the merit of the art I do, and will, produce. However, there is a sacrifice. Teaching/taking classes takes time away from other interests, and I see the appeal to dropping all pretense of respectability and just finding a spot where I can lay, obligation-free, to work on my writing.

Writing--that's what this whole nomadic lifestyle has been about. Finding the time and space to be an artist; supporting myself as well as I could while living the writing life. I had a full-time job back in 2010, but the adventure was elsewhere. And the funny part is, I can't say whether it's worked out. I was very productive when I worked full time. I set aside my space to write, used it to the fullest, had an interesting job that kept my mind going (social work), and used my weekends to host readings and do promotion. Plus, I had income to fall back on. Since then, I have slowed my output, due to school and tour planning.

Am I a better writer? Definitely. Am I also a less productive one? Definitely.

I turn thirty on February 18th. How I lasted this long, what with all the close calls, sketchy scenarios, all the cops and neighborhood watch trying to castrate my ass, I'll never know. I live in Louisiana during the school year. There are nice people here, but I don't know many of them well. I am not a fixture in their community. My close friends are scattered across the world. I always envisioned having a weeklong 30th birthday celebration surrounded by friends, traveling out of town, holding a reading with my favorite local writers. That's something I could have had, if I had stayed in one place. But I'm looking at spending my birthday in the company of strangers. I considered flying off to one of my other haunts, but I think there's something that will be spiritually satisfying from accepting where I am physically. The desire to constantly be elsewhere is toxic in its own way, and I often fall prey to this. So I will do something for my thirtieth. It just won't be extravagant. And I’ll be at AWP this year, so maybe that can count as the party.

In other news, I've been reading Blood Meridian. Somebody needs to adapt this into a five hour long most depressing movie ever. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Gonna throw it out there that as far as I can tell g*psy is a slur pretty side-eyed by the Roma people?

    (Also very disappoint at lack of Ladyhawke)

  3. I debated using the word. Obviously I'm not a Roma, and I could have just as easily said "nomad." To be honest, I couldn't get the term out my head, so I ran with it.