Archive for Creating A/Broad
I am generally a kind person, especially around matters of sex and gender and sexuality, so if someone came up to me and said, “I’ve changed. I thought I was this and now I’m that,” I would be gentle. I would listen carefully, paying attention to cues about how they were feeling about the change in question, and I would support them in that change. Such things can be fluid, and second-guessing our feelings can be disastrous, and it’s okay to not know, or to suddenly know more than you did before. It’s okay, I’d say, people change.
And yet, I am being downright mean to myself these days, about my own sexuality and how it has changed, both in the past and also really recently. It’s still fresh. My head is still spinning.
In the last year, I swung from enthusiastically non-monogamous (using the sailor-in-every-port model) to a deliberate, chosen devotion to only one (as part of a power dynamic that thrills me to my core). Before that, I had slowly slid along the orientation axis from a butch, bearded dyke (20 years ago) to today’s tomboy-femme, clean-shaven babygirl, who has been attracted exclusively to cisgender men for the past 15 years.
And even while I feel deep satisfaction and profound joy and breath-taking excitement more than I ever have about my sex life, I can’t shake the feeling that I have failed. I don’t even know if that is a transitive or intransitive verb, like, do I need to specify someone or some cause that I’ve let down, or have I just, you know, failed?
I don’t know where this comes from. Maybe a sense that, because my stuff has slid more toward heteronormative, I just can’t speak from the margins anymore. Where am I getting that from? No one has ever said that to me. Do people actually say that? Would they? What would I say in response? Am I scared of being called a poser, a sell-out?
My tingling sense of unease is heightened because I generally have lived so publicly. For years, my sex life has been all out there for the world to see, both in life and in my art. But maybe, if no one ever knew that I ID’d as a lesbian those many years ago, then heteronormativity would ensure that no one would spend any time thinking about who I am now. There would be no change to notice or comment on.
Ditto the poly thing. After years of trying monogamy and tripping up repeatedly, I was DIGGING INTO THE BANQUET, I tell you. I went out on dates, and wrote bold lyrical status updates, and made a concerted effort to give full disclosure to new and potential suitors. I was IN IT, up to my fucking armpits. This is the way I prefer it; in general, I don’t like to hide things. The way I am with my one lover now feels right, but I can’t help thinking that if I had kept my personal life more, well, personal, then my current practice of cleaving to one man only wouldn’t feel like such a major break.
It’s the damnedest thing. I still feel queer as fuck and poly as hell, at least in theory. People still look at me, or listen to me, and make all kinds of assumptions, most of which were true at some point in the past. But I don’t see any of it in my life anymore. I followed my bliss, and this is where it has taken me: into a pool of quiet intensity that, to the outside observer, at least, looks "normal."
Why do I even care what I look like? None of those things that have been part of my identify are contingent on behavior or appearances anyway, right? There are lesbians who have never yet touched a woman, there are poly people who still call themselves poly after years of being in a monogamous relationship, there are trans people still with the genitals they were born with. It’s what’s in your head and in your heart.
At least, that is what I’d say to someone who came to me with this kind of story. And it’s the right advice. It’s the right understanding of the fluidity of human sexuality. Fluidity is the right word.
My desires feel like currents; sometimes they have rushed along until I almost drown in them, and sometimes they stir, still but deep. I wouldn’t want to fight them, nor do I want to deny everything that got me to this point, because I really do like where I’ve been and I like where I am now. I just wish I could internalize it for myself a lot faster.
REPEAT TO MYSELF UNTIL I BELIEVE IT: I haven’t failed anyone, not even myself. I’m just good at feeling and riding the flow.
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My newest show is having its world premiere on Friday, June 11. After Montreal I'll be taking nerdfucker to fringe festivals across Canada, a few select US locations, and then I'll bring it to the UK in 2017. For now, enjoy and share!
He and I make time for at least one coffee chat every time I pass through his town, sometimes even a work date, if we can swing it. It’s rejuvenating like whoa. He is both peer and good friend, a rare combination that means we can enjoy each other’s artistic triumphs with unjealous joy. I can tell him personal truths that make me cry, and I know that if I follow the story with a sort of shaky “that would make a great play, huh?”, he won’t think less of me. And though we work in different fields, we can share bits and pieces of our working lives that are similar enough to be useful.
On my most recent visit, he was telling me about the film he had co-written that had done well at a kinda big-deal film festival. There was one late-night showing, but it was full. Industry people offered actual industry opportunities to my friend and his writing partner; it was great, he said.
But the moment that stood out for him was when the entire theatre erupted in laughter at a joke he had written. My friend’s face got all soft in a way that had nothing to do with the can of beer he was cradling. That joke was his baby, you could tell. “There was plenty else in the movie that I had done,” he said, “but that was my favorite bit. I wrote that joke myself, and they loved it… if I do nothing else creative in my life, I will always have that moment.”
He was quick to say how weird it was, to feel so strongly about one little joke, but I thought, no, that’s not weird at all. And as he smiled and glowed in that remembered moment, I thought how such moments are essential for artists to have.
Look, we all know—even if we’re still struggling with the how-to's—that business is important, the hustle and the grind, the planning and visioning. We know, too, or we’re learning, how to bring forth the art, to get good at the craft. All of this takes work, and I’m willing to do it. But I can’t lose sight of my own moments, when I know that my work is affecting someone, deeply, when I know that I’m on the right track:
- That one time in 2010, in Winnipeg, where an audience member spoke out for the first time during Phone Whore. That freaked you out, didn’t it, I say toward the end, and someone answered, from the audience, “YES.”
- The first time I told my story, about a caller who probably passed away, at Stand-Up Tragedy in London. The room was quiet while my voice cracked.
- The time two women came up to me after a performance of the lesbian monologue from The Pretty One. "That was us,” said the one, while the other woman clutched her hand and grinned and wiped away tears.
It’s not weird to hang onto those memories. It’s essential. Because while hitting one’s Patreon goals or getting good reviews or running these Fringe marathons are important and perhaps necessary objective outcomes, they are not what keeps me going. They’re external, and therefore not enough to fuel the fire.
I need the feeling that suffuses my bones when I see that my work has landed and stuck. I want that vibration that passes between my soul and someone else’s. I want to look out at a particularly challenging point in a play, and find someone’s eyes on me, focused and intent. They want to see, even thought it’s hard.
There are moments like that, and my friend’s story reminded me to keep those strong in my memory, to not dismiss them just because I can’t put them down in my artist CV or quote them on a poster or trade them in for money. Because when there is no real way to know whether or not I’m “doing it right,” then at least I have this to set my creative compass by.
“Follow your bliss” ain’t just for hippies.
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I have a little bit of custom textile art in an embroidery hoop; it reads “HOME IS WHERE THE KEY FITS.” I commissioned the piece two or three years ago, in what I now recognize was a fit of trying to make myself feel better about my itinerant lifestyle, of ramping myself up to feel stronger and more empowered and choiceful in what felt like a forever-on-tour life.
As everyone knows, putting a belief down in a cross-stitch sampler or some other displayable textile medium doubles the Don’t-Give-A-Fuck factor, and of course putting an anti-home sentiment into a medium that implies having a home to hang it in, well, the irony was perfect and I was feeling a little militant, and so it made sense.
Since I lacked any set physical home space, then yes, home would have to be where I laid my head at night. Whilst touring, I never have the same bed for more than a week or two in a row, so I had to say it to myself in order to keep coming to terms with it. HOME IS WHERE THE KEY FITS.
I made home where I could find it. Fuck the nuclear-family, stack-of-plates, well-filled-spice-rack life. That wasn’t for people like me, I thought, and so I said “fuck you” and commissioned the piece and silently cursed my travel kitchen kit and hardened myself to never knowing how those strange pillows would work out for my neck. Who cares. I don’t need home. Hell, I don’t even want it.
Except maybe…. Just maybe I did. I was slowly realizing over the past few years, maybe home was something that I hadn’t figured out. When I finally met someone who I could actually imagine nesting with again—not just imagine it, but crave it—when I looked around at other artists and thought, wait, they have home bases, how do they do that? They are mostly independently wealthy, but hey, that’s just circumstance, I can catch up, right? These were thoughts I had.
These aren’t just random thoughts, though. Recently I have been feeling my entire inside landscape shifting around this concept of home. It feels weird, like there's a new and necessary organ growing inside me, and my body is trying to make room for it. I’m growing a second heart, and it needs room. It needs a home. It needs an actual place with this other actual specific person where I can rest at night. I can’t be blasé about it anymore. That’s just what I need.
I’ve known this, but I didn’t know it until this last weekend, when I had to unpack the storage pod that I had packed over four years ago. I sat on the floor, in my partner's house, surrounded by the flotsam of lives I thought I wanted, vestiges of homes that eventually became husks of themselves in the face of lives unshared. These were my dreams of domesticity, drifts of dishes and cookbooks and funky linens and my one piece of art, domestic goddess, she hasn’t had a wall to hang on in four years. I looked at it all, and sifted through it, and got into multiple arguments with my partner, because we're trying to disentangle and separate and he has his own hurts and grievances around that whole process, but I’m the one writing this, so I just kept on looking through and leaking tears the whole time.
In spite of that grief reflex, I knew that I didn't want the lives that went with this stuff. A lot of it was passed on, or will be donated out. I was ready to let it go. But I saved a few bits and bobs, and packed them up in boxes, and I’ve shipped them off to the UK to await my arrival, and then the domestic goddess will once again have her world.
Home is where the key fits, yes. (Otherwise it’s breaking and entering.) But that’s not enough for me anymore. Home is where the spice rack is shared. Home is where my fancy red bedspread will go, on a bed warmed by two. Yes, sometimes I'll still be on tour, but I know there will be space there for that as well. Because home is where my second heart, my creative, loving soul, will have room to thrive.
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Last night was the opening night of the showcase run of nerdfucker; not the premiere, but the preview, where my director and I get to see what it feels like doing the play for an actual audience in an actual theatre space, as opposed to doing it in my large but still nontheatrical living room for just him and the dish rack and the huge indifferent eye of the washing machine.
So, even though for publicity purposes the full-out premiere is at the Montreal Fringe Festival in a month and a half, the emotional truth is that last night was the premiere. Yes, I was nervous. For a couple of weeks I’ve been nervous. No, years. I meant to say years. I have been nervous about this play for a couple of years. It’s entirely possible that it took me this long to write because I was nervous about it, and it’s been really interesting, almost clinically so, to watch the different kinds of nerves develop.
For example, yesterday, when I was sitting outside of my flat having a cigarette 45 minutes before leaving for the theatre, I realized that I couldn’t feel the afternoon sun, even when I tried to focus on it. Huh, I thought with a sort of bemused detachment. That’s interesting. This must be an out-of-body moment.
I can catalogue my theatre terrors now.
The jumbled panic of mid-script line-learning. The stoic, chronic yet low-grade clicking of expenses adding up. The trembling awe of wondering if anything I do ever can live up to a really good show title. The cold looming shadow of growing older and staying poor in pursuit of my art.
These are all valid anxieties and fears; I say this as much for a needed self-affirmation as for any of you who are struggling with the same shit. But oh, Christ, I’ll be honest: some days I long for simpler fears, like the kind I had when I was getting ready to perform Phone Whore for the first time, in February 2010.
My first solo play, my first solo tour, hell, my first solo performance longer than 4 minutes and 35 seconds … it was all so new that I hadn’t learned to discern the differences in my feelings. Everything just coalesced into a giant leaden mass inside my chest: WHAT IF I CAN’T DO THIS?
The question was big, bold, and simple, like chunky words carved from cartoon blocks of stone and landing with a boom in a children’s TV program. And the answer was similarly simple: then I won’t do it anymore. I had nothing invested in it, if I couldn’t do it. I was just trying it out. I had no way of knowing until I did it. Empirical, simple, done.
Six years later, I know. I have many ways of knowing. I have my own experiences to draw from, five plays, three recurring events, countless gigs and media interviews and promo stunts… I can look at all of it and have a pretty good idea of what’s going down, what could go wrong, and what rough spots lie ahead. I know where I want to be, personally and professionally, in a year, five years, maybe even 20, and I have an increasingly clear idea of what it’s going to take to get there. I know how much posters cost to print in 50 cities around the world. I know what red flags to look for in co-producers. I know what the air in a theatre feels like when an audience is bored, and when it’s on the edge of its seat.
As my self-knowledge grows, so grows my taxonomy of terror. That sounds like a geek horror movie, but really, knowledge is power. It’s how I can have those moments like yesterday, when I couldn’t feel the sun on my skin, but managed to avoid a secondary freak-out of WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME. Ah, I nod my head. This is another manifestation of nervous. And when my fingers could not stop shaking for the first half of last night’s show, I didn’t beat myself up for it. That’s where the stage fright is going, I thought, not my lungs but my fingers. Okay.
I don’t get any more scared than I was six years ago. I just get different kinds of scared. I’ve developed discernment, which helps me better sort out solutions and coping mechanisms. I’m not going to downplay it: some of the fears are seriously primal, survival-level shit, especially the stuff to do with money. But at least now I know what’s happening, I know what these feelings mean.
And breaking the fear down into its component parts changes the basic question from WHAT IF I CAN’T DO THIS to HOW CAN I DO THIS.
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(An earlier version of this article appeared in The Charlebois Post in June 2013. I've had about three more years to soak in it, and edited/expanded it accordingly.)
With the launch of Terrible Sex Tips, and the forthcoming premiere of nerdfucker, and the concomitant release of those half-naked promo shots, I have had to come to terms again with my body.
You would think this shouldn’t be such a big deal. Look at the nerdfucker photos that were already out; the naked segment in for | play; the sets I did five years ago for the Naked Comedy Showcase. Look what I wear out in public, for fucks’ sake. But if the truth be told, I mostly just sail through on bravado and get-‘er-done. I inhabit my body, I know what I can do with it; I don’t actually look at it. I hardly ever watch video of me.
This is fairly common among performers; it feels weird to juxtapose our experience of performing live with a captured moving image. What is that thing I do with my eyebrow? Why did I make that movement right there? Is that really the way my voice sounds? Playback through a machine is imperfect—charisma doesn’t record well—and visuals captured in the small box of a video frame are differently experienced than a live, sweaty actor on a stage.
But my own reflexive reluctance to look at myself comes from someplace deeper than just that disconnect between experience-in-the-flesh and technology. It’s from a lifetime of being a big girl. And even though I’ve been going for years seemingly indifferent to comments or heckles or slurs or stares of disbelief, I still feel them and it’s still hard. With the premiere of a show that turns out to have body issues tangled up in the plot line, along with a host of other difficult issues, those feelings are just going to keep up and up and up.
Sometimes I worry that, between being openly sexual and openly fat, I am spending an unsustainable amount of energy maintaining my psychological defenses. It’s challenging enough walking down the street—a one-woman slutwalk, my own personal body-acceptance rally—but when I sit down and think about what I’m doing out in the performance world, what I’m trying to do out there, it makes me a little dizzy.
I mean, let’s look at the state of the union. Most larger actresses get the best-friend or the jolly neighbor or the matronly restaurateur roles. Women are routinely badgered to lose weight to get parts; Margaret Cho is only the most outspoken about that horrifying situation, but I’ve heard of dozens of others. And women of all sizes get shoved under the media microscope and put on the covers of magazines with headline critiques of every inch of their bodies. As a late bloomer I realized a long time ago that I’m not going to get anywhere following the standard show-biz trajectories, to which I say “thank god”. That is no way to live.
It helps that I’m a writer as well as a performer. I’ve got things to say and conversations to start. So Fringe, right? That should be easy! Totally counter-cultural and down with whatever people bring, right?
Except no. The people who make up the Fringe is soaking in the same cultural values as larger society; we can’t help it. We can only decide how we respond to those values, examine them, express them to ourselves and to others, go along with them or strike out on our own path. Most people aren’t examining those values.
As a result, larger women tend to occupy the same tenuous real estate in Fringe land as they would in Hollywood, which is to say, not much and it’s kinda crappy. There is a dearth of female solo artists out here anyway, and fat female solo artists? Forget about it. Before I went to Edinburgh for the first time in 2013, I think the only other fat woman I’ve seen doing solo work was doing a fucking weight-loss show. Now I am friends with a couple of other Fringe fatties, but that’s it, and I don’t even know if they’d be cool with me calling them “fattie” in the first place, so whatever.
We select out, see. Women who are told that they aren’t attractive, certainly not attractive enough to be on stage, aren’t going to get as much support or reward in going for it. Fuck support, I’d settle for non-hostile. But the reviews talk about appearances, and the way some people look at me (“how dare she wear that short skirt? Doesn’t she realize how fat she is?”) feels the same whether I’m flyering a line-up or just walking down the street. Then there’s the occasional vitriol from an audience member, someone angry that I have the gall to talk about having a sex life, to be a performer, too, and be fat at the same time. I push it away, I laugh it off, or, you know, write stuff like this, but it still sucks, which is why I keep going. The reaction is the reason.
I didn’t start out in Fringe thinking that I was repping body acceptance in any way. In fact, when I began doing solo work after nearly a decade of doing fat-positive dance and community theatre, I felt as though I had deliberately dropped the torch. I still sometimes look back on that time and feel guilty about leaving it. But then I think about the people who have come up to me during my six years of touring who thank me for being so brave.
I’m not always sure whether they’re talking about saying the word cock or being naked in a theatre full of strangers, and frankly, it never seems like the right moment to ask them what exactly they are thanking me for. So I say “you’re welcome. I feel very strongly about doing this work,” which is true in either case. Sometimes when people tell me I’m being so brave, it can feel condescending, like, WHOA YOU ARE A FREAK. But sometimes I think they mean, “thank you for being someone who looks a little like me.” Or, "thank you for doing something that I wish I could, but can't right now."
I’ll say it: it takes an extraordinary exertion of will to persist as a performer who doesn’t fit in the box. We don’t get praise for it; survival is our reward. If I stopped to think about it too much, I might never perform publicly ever again. And there is more at stake than my own career, my own vision. It’s not just personal, it is TOTALLY political. My friend and colleague, the late Heather MacAllister, said it best: “Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it's political.”
And any time I can look at myself in a video or photo, look at my own performing body and love it for every marvelous thing it can do… that is political, too.
Sex, body, politics, performing... it all comes together right here. Become a patron of mine over on Patreon and support the glorious convergence.
A few nights ago I was prepping for the last stretch in a busy day. Rehearsal and line read-throughs for nerdfucker had taken precedence, as well they should, it’s MY NEXT SHOW.Read More »
What is a Smut Slam, and how does it work?
Simply put, it’s a community storytelling open-mic featuring real-life first-person sex stories. We draw out storytellers one slip at a time, as the night rolls on. There are judges and prizes and a chance to participate anonymously with the Fuckbucket (anonymous questions and confessions).
Why a Smut Slam works is a different question. Often it feels like it won’t work at all. There are moments at the beginnings of every Smut Slam, where the bucket for teller entry slips is rattling with only four slips, or two, or one. And the room is full of expectant eyes, all trained on me, waiting for the show to happen, which is my cue to step up to the microphone and say something like, “you people know that this is an open mic, right? You are the show.”
Over the five years of doing Smut Slams around North America and the UK, I have learned not to panic. I have learned to prepare my judges for the possibility of needing to tell a story, and I have learned that, for most of those nights, though the teller bucket may have nothing but tumbleweeds for the first 20 minutes, by the time the second or third story has been told, audience members are nudging each other and finally picking up the little pink slips, and you can feel it in the air, a sort of collective sigh of “oh! I can do that.” At intermission the telling bucket fills up a little bit, and no one needs to know that I was panicking.
As sometimes happens with my projects, Smut Slam started out being a promotional happening, to coincide with the world premiere of my play slut (r)evolution. But Smut Slam quickly became its own style of event, taking on a life of its own and driving off, not giving a single flying fuck that I had accomplished my original goals. People want it on its own merits. The Slams are more popular than my award-winning theatre shows. I don’t even take that personally anymore. It’s just the nature of theatre, so I just make sure to always schedule a Smut Slam before a theatrical run, and rely on one to subsidize the other.
The other thing, the important thing, about my projects is this… I create them because I want it in my own life, and I don’t have time to wait around for other people to create what I want. I do it my own damn self.
Before that first Smut Slam in Boston in 2011, I had started attending and telling at story slams in the region. Storytelling seemed like a good skill to develop for my performance toolbox, I thought, and it was.
But I always felt like the odd one out at those non-smutty slams. I found myself biting back the obscenities even though, from a narrative point of view, they would have been by far the best artistic choice for that particular story. I discarded many a good story for public telling because, even though organizers told me it was an adult event and that I could use whatever language I wanted, I could tell instinctively that wasn’t actually true.
The audiences at those non-smutty events were not the audience for the stories I wanted to tell at that time. I wanted space where those stories, my stories, would be honored as the important things that they were and could be. I also knew, or perhaps I just hoped really hard, that there were other people out there who wanted the same thing.
I have maintained for years that there is no room in our society, as it stands now, to talk honestly about sex. While this in itself is not disastrous on the same scale as the refugee crises or global climate change or authoritarian presidential candidates, it is one more way that we are killing ourselves. And finding a way to open up that space is one more way that we can save ourselves. If we don’t find community, we will perish alone. Actually and metaphorically, we cannot change the world by ourselves.
Smut Slams are a community of sorts. People laugh a lot at these slams, but they are also nodding their heads, and taking down notes, and grabbing tightly hold of their lover’s hands, or occasionally crying. Smut Slam is, above all, a place of honesty and connection. If we’re lucky, we have friends and lovers with whom we can share our authentic sex selves. But in general, that connection is so fucking rare. I wanted it, and I guessed that other people would want it, too.
So yeah, Smut Slams work because some people are voyeurs and some people are exhibitionists and many people do love a good awkward sex story, you know, we can all identify with feeling nervous and making the first move and not having anyplace to urgently fuck, and dogs and/or parents and/or the priest coming into the garage/room/confessional at the wrong moment.
But Smut Slams also work, because … there is no space for this sharing and connecting, anywhere else. There is no place quite like this, where we can tell a story, maybe something we’ve never told before, and we know that we are being heard.
Most of what I write is about this: making space for our sex lives to be heard. If you think that's important and you have the means, step up and become a patron of mine over on Patreon.