**edit, re: #8. Turns out the dream conversation and the Ke$ha conversation were two different conversations. Katie Manning had a dream about me. I talked to Carina Finn about Ke$ha. AWP is confusing.
Also, I’m adding a photograph at Molly’s suggestion.
1. The high point of my weekend (or one of them, anyway) was when Vanessa Place approached me and said, “I wish there were more of you.”
And I was like, holy shit, it’s Vanessa Place. (Um um um).
I explained I usually only dress up for live performances, but had decided to stay costumed throughout the conference to disrupt the space or whatever, then mumbled some vaguely incoherent reference to that time when Vanessa served brunch during her panel at AWP Chicago.
Vanessa said, “I appreciate any institutional critique.”
2. Each morning I would wake up relatively early and I would shower and I would shampoo my hair and I would condition my hair and I would wash off all the previous night’s makeup and I would shave my face, even if the scruff was barely there, to keep it as smooth as possible beneath the new day’s makeup, and I would gel and blow-dry and brush and spray my hair into a pompadour, and I would apply primer to my eyes and I would apply pigment to my eyes and I would tear open a package of cup sequins and I would spill the sequins onto the marble counter and I would squeeze a line across my skin with eyelash glue and I would lay down the sequins sequin-by-sequin, and I would make sure they overlapped so as not to leave any gaps where the skin would show through, and all the while, this expression kept running through my head, and that expression was this is where the magic happens.
And then I thought, that expression is totally gross, I hope to God I never say anything like that out loud.
And at the same time, I thought, I wish I had a documentarian in here right now so I could turn my half-finished face to the camera and say, “This is where the magic happens.”
3. Some old ladies who were sitting in a hallway outside one of the Marriot meeting rooms called me over as I walked by, got all excited about my outfit. They were on their way to make the rounds of the various Friday night MFA receptions, and tried to convince me to join them. They said, “Everyone will want you at their party!” These ladies were themselves quite fancy. I mean fantsy with a T-S-Y. One of them had this fabulous headband and the other this glorious hair and these shiny gold shoes. I handed them my postcard with my photograph, URL and email address and one of them exclaimed, “This is the best self promotion since Walt Whitman!”
One of the other ladies asked, How did Walt Whitman promote himself? And the first lady started to tell a story about how Walt Whitman self-published, and some of the antics he used to call attention to his work. I have forgotten the details.
…This made me reflect on how, though I have put a lot a thought into some of the performance and visual art, night life and pop cultural precedents for my costume-texts, I have somehow neglected literature’s own rich lineage of flamboyant singularities.
When I decided to stay costumed throughout AWP, I sort of steeled myself for a chilly reception. I had a lot of ideas in my head about how writers, especially writers in the academy, are fundamentally conservative, are shy and retiring, hate artifice and spectacle, but the truth is I couldn’t walk very far without somebody stopping me to tell me I looked fabulous.
I was fascinated by how many folks were documenting fashion at AWP. Carina Finn (more on Carina later) was one — Cybele Knowles was another. I instantly recognized her name from a story she published in DIAGRAM a couple years ago and which I wrote about here at Big Other. Cybele’s remains one of my favorite stories I’ve read on the internet and she seemed really surprised and happy I remembered it. I find I connect quite strongly to writing about open relationships. There isn’t a whole lot out there. And my attempts to explore my own through fiction have been greeted with pretty mixed reception. People writing the non-normative, perhaps especially in a realist aesthetic, often have to find ways to gracefully interrupt a bunch of existing discourses to even make our characters intelligible.
4. Walking the book fair, random mainstreamy academic journals like Dos Passos Review and Bellingham Review stopped me to ask me what I write, to tell me I should submit and hand me their contest flyers. I guess this is what they’re supposed to be do, but it was kinda like, Yeah, I’m pretty sure my shit isn’t what you’re looking for.
When I told Molly Gaudry about it, she said, You should tell them you write stories just like John Cheever’s.
I said, “From now on, I’ll tell them I’m a faggot Raymond Carver.
(I wonder if Cheever ever sucked Ray’s cock. I mean like when they were both drunk in Iowa. I can’t possibly be the first person who’s wondered this).
5. I stopped to take a peek at Press 53’s table, and Kevin Morgan Watson and some other really nice folksy Southern olderish folks started talking to me about my outfit, my friendship with Meg Pokrass and Meg’s book, and then one of them, this guy whose name I do not know said, “Well if the ice skating career doesn’t work out, you can always try writing.”
6. I walked into the Raul Zurita reading just as Joyelle McSweeney was calling the room to order. Joyelle saw me and said, “Someone very glamorous just walked in. I don’t know who that is, but it makes me very happy.”
I wanted to shout, “I know who you are, Joyelle! I love your formations! NECROPASTORAL!”
Given the gravity of Zurita’s experiences and textual concerns, I feel a certain kind of guilt about using its occasion to call attention to my own frivolous pageantry. And yet at the same time, I refuse to buy into any system of prioritization that would, in the fashion of old-school Marxism, place my queer elevation/exploration of surface aesthetics in opposition with activism or art that addresses state violence and material inequity.
Everything I am, I am (everything I do, I do) simultaneously. I walked into that reading because I recognized its import, because I wanted to be there, dressed like I was dressed because I wanted to do that too.
7. I went to a panel on Teaching Queer Writing moderated by the excellent Andrea Lawlor.
Jackie Wang asked a very smart question about the tension between representing Queer subjectivities and the impulse to transcend representational politics by queering texts more generally and used as an example the criticism that greeted the gurlesque anthology as enabled by queer theory but failing to represent queers.
Eileen Myles, who was one of the panelists, said, “I think the idea that queer theory should replace gay lives is preposterous.”
8. I met a poet named Carina Finn near the Action Books table who told me she’d seen me across the hall the day before in all my finery and had a dream about me that night where I was a friend of her stepbrother’s. Or was it that my stepbrother was a friend of hers?
We had a conversation about how she wants to be the Ke$ha of poetry, and I said something about how given Ke$ha’s sort-of blankness, one-dimensional vulgarity and fundamental conservatism disguised as rebellion (thinking all the while of Martin Seay’s epic Ke$ha essay), poeticizing her could be quite fruitful, both in terms of complicating Ke$ha, and in terms of fucking with the formality of poetry and poets… I was thinking perhaps more fruitful even than an already-rich text like Gaga. I don’t think what I actually said was anywhere near this articulate (and I’m not sure this is really all that articulate either), but she seemed to groove on it and now we are facebook friends.
9. I was sitting at the Artifice booth when Davis Scheiderman walked up and told me Lance Olsen had seen me across the book fair the day after Davis dressed as a mime for the Table X reading, and later asked Davis if I was Davis in another costume.
I said, “That makes me very happy,” and thought, Shit fuck, I need to find a way to get myself to & Now.
10. When I was walking back from the reading at the zoo still wearing the four inch stilettos I wore for four days straight, my feet were in serious pain from all the cobblestones, so my new friend Alissa and I decided to hail a cab, and while we were perched on the curb I saw a guy stalled in traffic pull out his phone and snap my picture. Then Adam Robinson and his crew drove by, Adam saw us and came to a stop, tried to call us across a full lane of traffic to come get in their car, a shit load of honking cars piled up behind them while traffic kept moving in the lane between us, and so finally I waved him on and we got the next cab.
11. Today, Brandi Wells facebook chatted me to say she enjoyed meeting me, and I told her I wish I’d gotten to see more of her. Then she told me she was talking to some folks in the book fair when I walked by, and was like, “I know him from the internet!” Apparently, these people were talking about me. They were saying, “Look at that dude with the awesome sequins. He even read about sequins!” Then they discussed creating a journal based entirely on sequins.
There is already a journal called Gigantic Sequins, and although its content is not sequins-specifics, it is nonetheless pretty great, and I enjoyed meeting and speaking with its editor Kimberly Ann Southwick.
She was staffing/sharing a table for/with Mark C. from Big Lucks, who I was also very happy to meet, and not just because he’s said some nice things about me on the Big Lucks blog.
12. I spent the last night of the conference in Molly Gaudry’s room at the Savoy, and as Molly, Chris Newgent and I were transporting my bags and Molly’s MLP boxes over from the conference hotels, and I was dragging my giant bag up a hill from the parking lot, still dressed, an older woman asked me, “So what’s the story?”
So I explained we’d been at a writers’ conference, and I wear costumes for live readings. Then after the woman left, Chris Newgent said he’d grown so accustomed to my outfits he didn’t even notice them anymore, and at first could not figure out what the woman was asking us, thought maybe she had at been at AWP and was asking us what kind of stories we wrote.
13. A lot of readings took place in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. We didn’t talk about it very much, but the strip seemed afflicted with some serious (possibly class and race-related) tensions. On Friday night, we came upon a full-on street brawl in progress, shouting crowds gathered on the sidewalk, a police car parked in the center of the street as officers came to break it up. I didn’t feel especially safe on the street and would duck into venues as quickly as possible.
After the Thursday night readings, many of us converged at a bar called Millie and Al’s. That night, I was wearing what is probably my femmiest outfit, and as we walked up to the bar, a young African American man on the sidewalk shouted, “Take that shit off – that’s gay.”
Then on our way in the door, the bouncer, also an African American man, pulled Molly Gaudry aside and said, “Tell your friend we don’t just practice tolerance here, we practice acceptance – and if has any trouble, come straight to me.”
He proceeded to check in with me several times over the course of the evening to make sure nobody was hassling me (I don’t think he realized pretty much everybody inside was an indie lit friend). He also told me the dude who shouted at me was arrested soon thereafter because of an unrelated fight. I am never especially happy when I see someone taken into custody, especially men of color, regardless of what they’ve done — but I was glad the bouncer had my back… and with remarkable attentiveness.
14. Never in my life have I grinded against or been felt up by so many straight dudes. Maybe it was just the phantasmatic spaces – the Literature Party dance floor, AWP itself, whatever – or maybe it was the personalities – I’m told Jamie Iredell touches pretty much everybody – but I couldn’t help wondering whether my costumes also invite a certain level of touching, and if so, what is it about them? I mean why? Is it that I’m made pretty? Do I draw out sublimated desires or attractions? Or do I make people anxious, and is touch a way they manage their anxiety?
15. After the htmlgiant Literature Party, we were standing on the sidewalk figuring out what to do next, and it had started to rain so I popped out an umbrella (not wanting to eff up my makeup, of course, even though the evening was basically already over), and Jamie Iredell was hanging on my shoulder, and Scott Garson and Erin Fitzgerald were standing nearby, and Jamie goes, “I love your balls, man.” So I said, “You wanna name ‘em?” And he slurred, “I’ll call them Timothy… and Yellington!” And I said, “Creative…What do you call yours? Prose and poems?”
16. By now, the pie on a pancake incident has been fairly well-documented, in Molly’s blog and in a series of facebook threads, but I will leave you with this image: Molly Gaudry wielding her fork, stabbing the air, commanding Lily Hoang, “If you don’t finish your desert, you can’t say you ate pie with us at AWP!”
Molly likes to pretend AWP is her everyday life, like she just walked into a bar and randomly ran into all her writer friends, like AWP is its own city and that city is where we live. I hope I hope we can go back soon.