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Tagged personal life

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Where are you from? (thoughts from an itinerant artist)

Where are you from?

My shoulders creep up to my ears every time I hear that question, a common conversational gambit. It’s an opening salvo in most small-talk skirmishes, one that is mostly about figuring out one another’s places, one’s clan, and setting up parameters and expectations for subsequent cultural references. As casual as the question sounds, it is PACKED with significance, both for the person asking and the person being asked, so I rarely know how to answer, because I don’t know what the question really is.

Where is your accent from?

I don't really know. All over, I guess. They sure don’t talk like this where I was born and raised. They don’t talk like anything there. I’ve been told that the native Pacific Northwest accent is one of the least inflected accents in the US. Frankly, after traveling around North America and the UK, I find myself liking inflections. I want some for myself, which is good, because I tend to absorb surrounding speech patterns quickly.

I’ve lived on and left both coasts, but still carry traces of each. I speak too quickly for the West coast; they look at me funny. I absorbed a slight Bostonian drawl, can put on a hard, fast New York shtick that is convincing enough for everyone except New Yorkers, those suspicious fucks, they can tell I’m not from there. And then there are the pesky Canadianisms that have crept in, the question tone at the end of sentences, the “eh” (it’s a real thing).

Where is your home base?

Sometimes people ask me this question outright, and then it’s easy to answer: “my car.” Hopefully they’ll laugh and I’ll laugh and we’ll just forget this tangled branch of the conversation. Any other answer, the real answer, leaves me stumbling along through a geopolitical swamp.

I get my mail in Massachusetts; I have clothes and cookware still in Montreal, which is where I’ll be returning to at the beginning of December. I’m relocating my base of operations to Manchester at the end of the year. All of those places have legal ramifications and sometimes hardcore paperwork challenges for me to keep my connections there. You don’t want to hear the boring, stressful details, and I don’t want to relive them every time I hear the question.

Where is your fan base?

On Facebook.

Where is your community?

Whether that’s a performance community, a kink scene, or a city where I know the best place to buy produce, as long as I travel, I will never have this. I get over it; I have to. I join the groups on fetlife, stay in touch with locals as best as I can, but I will always be the carpetbagger. The one community I most consistently have had is itself composed of transient parts—Fringe artists touring Canada—and it disbands at the end of the summer, and I’m older and not up to or interested in all the late-night shenanigans, and I missed three summers before coming back this year and BOY can I feel that the divide has grown. Besides which, did I mention I’m moving to England?

You see why I don’t like to think about this question, and all the variants of it: The answers are there, but they are dissatisfactory in one way or another. They take too long to explain. They are something that I’m trying to change. They’re highly personal, inappropriately so for most conversational environments, in the same way that most people don’t really want to hear how you’re doing when they ask how you’re doing.

Where am I from? It’s just too messy and weird to get into sometimes. Besides, right now I’d much rather focus on where I’m going.

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Sexuality and sea change, and supporting everyone’s journey but my own

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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Reclaiming home

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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