Ezra Furman, August Hall, 2022.05.21
She took the stage in a patterned white blouse, a skirt with broad stripes at bottom, the same pearls she’s worn everywhere for years. The drums settled on a blunt dirge, kick, snare, kick, snare, while she slung on her Tele and tried to get a signal out of it, a process that ended up needing a new cord swapped in. Every time something seemed about to happen and then didn’t, the crowd cheered.
I thought she might introduce new material, but the first song was “Can I Sleep In Your Brain,” and I knew all the songs after that too, all the best beloved tracks from the last three records. Cathexis and displacement work together and it’s strange now to think that I could go see Savages or Sleater-Kinney without understanding how hard I was trying to put myself up there; at the same time, it doesn’t seem to diminish the investment to have it in the open. She’s eight years younger than me and all the songs about being young and queer are such as to trigger torrents of Jamesian regret for the life unlived: very old stories, the spring before I started this blog, some kind of graduation dance gala at a fancy venue in San Francisco where I crumpled into paper under a horror which I couldn’t then name and would now call revulsion at a choreography in which I was playing a young man. “You are Henry James!” Lauren rebuked me that night. “You won’t engage the vicissitudes of life. You should go out there, you should dance with your beautiful girlfriend.” I knew I should do it; where was the barrier?
It was obviously Not Normal in youth, and Not Very Normal even later, to identify with James that much. I didn’t understand that I was relying on him for an account of just how complex and extended a space a closet can be.
Bowie in “Ashes to Ashes,” “I’ve never done good things / I've never done bad things / I never did anything,” always felt like another rebuke, which might have been a surprise to people who knew me and did think of me as having done things, if not as many things as Bowie did. Compare Margaret Talbot, explaining the kids to readers of the New Yorker: “[Mitski’s] fan base is more particular…. Young Asian women and young queer people make up a lot of it. Her L.G.B.T. admirers seem to respond to the way her songs evoke, with theatrical grandeur, the covert emotions of someone outside the mainstream. At her shows, I’ve noticed that an unusually large proportion of the audience is there alone.”
“In this venue I feel safe,” said EF at the close of the show, “I feel that life is possible. Outside is the night, which is dangerous, I can’t protect you there, but you should know that the night by rights belongs to us”—and into a scorched rendition of Patti Smith, which is how I learned that my current brand of eyeliner doesn’t run. Walking to the exit under the house lights I felt fleetingly like aristocracy, that the evening had been transacted especially for me, the exact inverse of the everyday shame and fear which gets more tractable with time but doesn’t (I think can’t) go away.
In one of the Latin American trans ethnographies I’ve been reading they ask an interviewee something about political action, and she answers, Andar por la calle luciendo como luzco es un acto político. Idiomatically you’d translate luciendo como luzco as “looking the way I look,” but lucir is literally to shine, and there’s a sense in there of showing off, resplendent.
Next week I have to fly back to Mountain Time for the funeral of a grandfather who never said an unkind word to me but watched Fox News up until the end, at the same Catholic church where several years ago the priest took the opportunity, over my grandmother’s coffin, to contrast her pious family life with a depraved culture of men marrying men and women marrying women. My presence in the pew wasn’t a political act that day. Now it will have to be, and I’ll have to carry Patti Smith and everyone else out there on my own.
Stopped at the Asian Art Museum and the library, fixed the name on my card, picked up Las biuty queens in Spanish. The sun came out while I was indoors but the March wind kept up and I kept my knit cap on. The city finally back, everyone picking up their affairs. The new tent encampment off Civic Center screened from tourists by opaque fencing, voices inside explaining routine around the portable toilets, and I, coward, glad for less chance of those voices yelling at me. In Alamo Square I kept my mask off when ordering from the “Lady Falcon” coffee truck: a step.
The nice thing about the painting galleries at the Asian is how often they have to rotate. The standouts this time were Gao Qipei fishing in the mountains (messy pine needles, as they splay in life) and this amazing, amazing rock by Jeong Hak-gyo, painted in the last year of the Joseon. Did he know the 500-year order was about to fall to the Japanese? Had it fallen already? The inscription says “At the age of seventy-nine, in a dream.”
Went past the house on Broderick Street where I crashed in 2000, the café where I wrote my first manuscript, now a sake bar, on through the panhandle and the park and out to Ocean Beach. Four hours in all, sore heels even in a good pair of Converses, but the air stayed cool. I never had to take off my coat.
Well if I remain passive and you just want to cuddle
Then we should be OK and we won’t get in a muddle
Beginner’s mind, grocer’s assistant’s mind. I forgot to go to my koan class. I forgot the piano tuner was coming, didn’t answer the doorbell out of fear and felt bad for days about wasting his morning.
We have Cesar Chavez Day off work; most unusually, no one needs me for other purposes. The heat wave is past and it’s really quite chilly out, but I thought I might walk across San Francisco and find out what else I’m afraid of.
You read something like this, and drive down to quiet north Berkeley to have someone at the UPS store stamp your Notarized Affidavit of Gender Error, and it’s all so easy, just endlessly shocking how easy each new step is, here and now. This is like the tenth administrative procedure I’ve been through, and of course the forms all take hours and implicate you in flowcharts of this depending on that, but the state in its lumbering way wants me to be happy.
Though I don’t know how to take this framing, that with the increasingly superfluous concept of “legal sex” not being set up as a mutable field, the only way to square certain things with the administrative state is to fire up the DeLorean, take it back to Schenectady in 1978 and correct a grievous
HTTP/1.1 444 Gender Error
Better than compulsory surgery, obviously.
Better than having your eye shot out in St. Petersburg. Obviously.
My and R.’s citizenship documents just came in the mail from Luxembourg. I was a teenager when I learned my last name came from one of those tiny dots on the map that no one had ever been to; and I carried it around as a cute fact for 25 years or so until J., who digs around on ancestry.com, discovered it was possible to apply for citizenship by descent going back to the Congress of Vienna, so long as that descent was exclusively through the male line prior to 1969. One of those interference patterns between past and present law, of course—so, thanks, patriarchy?
It’s a castle in the sky, a tax shelter, an extremely expensive crystal globe bobbing on the waves. I’ve never been, we don’t have money to go, I’m not good enough in any of the three official languages and because of my birth certificate I’m currently inscribed in the national registry as a man. So, things to work on. But from afar it feels to me like some kind of Euro-Berkeley. The world comes in to study and work and can’t find anywhere affordable to rent. There are restaurants. You can grow up to four cannabis plants in your home or garden. The prime minister is gay (odd that Serbia shares the distinction). The minister of justice, whose office has been handling the citizenship stuff, is a year older than me and presents like junior faculty.
Also because of my birth certificate, it occurred to me no one in Luxembourg would know how to pronounce “Schenectady.” Schenectady to Schengen.
I’m sorry that it took a war for me to pick up the long-on-deck Ukrainian book in the house, Your Ad Could Go Here by Oksana Zabuzhko. Something about the title and cover art made me think it was going to be frivolous, but it’s not, it’s fantastic.
So she went to the European Parliament. What’s a writer supposed to do.
Out for a new passport photo, the nice clerk at CVS stands me in front of a pull-down screen with cardboard flaps leaning to either side as largely futile barriers against sidelight from the windows—“Sorry,” he says, “we don’t have an actual booth, and I hate where they put this thing, it’s the worst light in the store. Everyone hates these. Okay—one, two, three. Have a look. That’s okay? Good enough? Thanks for being easy. People come in here thinking it’s going to be some kind of glamour shot. I’m going to have it for ten years, they say, and yeah, but who’s ever going to see it?”
I had to take my glasses off for the pic and in the drugstore light I look like a pretty severe old bird, Patricia Highsmith in decline. J. loves the air of judgment and hopes it grows on me. It might! It doesn’t matter, I need something legally valid for the next year and after FFS I’ll do it over again.
The more settled I get in my body, the more my face feels like some strange guy’s mug crudely Photoshopped over my own. N. says she can’t see it and that is very sweet of her. The face doc owns a couple of beautiful cats, I saw their pictures, and J. wondered, how much time does he spend thinking about their skulls?
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I much preferred the SQL injection.
More apocalyptic cartoons with R. The Legend of Korra, season 2, last episodes. It’s always the same myth and always a fun one, shattering and renewal, girls flying through the ether. Puella Magi Madoka Magica made me cry oceans though.
A bit of rain today. Smelled like life, wasn’t enough.
To grow up in the belle époque 1989-2001 was to come of age in one of history’s suburbs. Comfortable and safe, lacking other experience, we supposed it was the comfort and safety that we hated. We drew maps of imaginary neighborhoods and plotted getaways. We threw rocks at the picture windows.
Now and then a machine drove in from some other neighborhood, the past or future, did business unclear to us and went on its way. We never looked into those doings. There was always food in the stores and the stores were without interest, well lit and all alike.
There was someone on a gilded couch eating all the money, we knew that, but there was no way to get to him. He was like the weather and the weather never changed.
We hated the suburb because nothing ever happened and there was no way out. Nothing can change, we said over and over, nothing can ever change really; and that was the worst curse any place or time could land you with.
are you alright? You haven't updated since last September
I really haven’t, and then it took me another several weeks to notice this from January because most of what comes into the comment box these days is flat-footed attempts at SQL injection. I am all right, often much better than all right, more all right than the world seems to be; but I've lost sight of local geography. Space and time, pure forms of intuition, scrambled. At the moment. Coming clearer, maybe.
Hi! I hope you’re all right too.
I read Jack the Modernist. (J. asked, is the title an imperative?) There’s a lot to admire, the omnivory and the light touch, but I swear to God, all this New Narrative was beamed in from some other planet where sex is somehow just itself, congruent with life, and neither a joke nor an agony. What are you supposed to do with that? (If you’d come up in a different generation, says a voice, or known earlier what you were; and well, maybe, but that thought is troubling also.)
It’s not going to be a matter of pride to find yourself so lined up with the other Glück on this score. Still, it’s strengthening to know your place, or at least believe that you know it. Bob Glück says, If you can read this without feeling anything, give up. I won’t though.