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My world has many paths

Compersion, in poly terms, is the happiness one experiences watching their partner being happy in love/sex with another person(s). I feel like there must be a parallel concept/word in the performing arts, for when one is genuinely happy watching other artists succeed. What we call it doesn’t really matter, I guess, because I usually experience the opposite: I wrestle with professional envy, all the time.

Don’t get me wrong! I am also happy for my successful friends, I am! People are fucking talented and giving, and I am fortunate to have these folks in my life. I also intellectually know that success is not a finite thing. Success is actually an infinitely replenishing pie, and in theory it is possible for everyone to have a slice. But lurking right there in the background of my happiness and my intellectual understanding, there it is: envy.

I get it looking at people’s line-ups at Fringes, or media coverage, or Facebook photos of audiences, even though I know full well that what goes on Facebook is slanted heavily to sunshine and rainbows. For me, envy is like depression, in some ways. It’s a jerk, and it makes me think jerky thoughts, and it’s just there.

I used to feel really bad about it, like, not only was I a shitty colleague, but I was also a shitty friend. When my envy crept in, an oily dark stain on my soul, I could feel myself retreating further and further into a shadowy corner. I peeked around at all of the happy faces—some happy because they were having big successes and others I guess happy because they did possess that ability that I lacked—and I felt even shittier. I forced my face into an expression more friendly and welcoming and happy, because otherwise I was in danger of turning into a malevolent troll. Or I just went home and got my grump on in private.

This is not ever a good space for me to be in, but given how financially rough this past summer’s tour was, I was in it all the time and it was eating my heart out from the inside. Fortunately, I recently found a mantra that will hopefully—over time, as I get better at it—lead me out.

“My world has many paths.”

It’s a short sentence, but I really thought it through. It involves three concepts or beliefs that feel important to me:

  • I own this world that I move through. I don’t mean literally, just… it’s mine, the way that I perceive it is uniquely mine, and I have some power—often more than I think— to change it.
  • There are many ways through that world. Sometimes I just have to clear away some of the underbrush, and sometimes the paths don’t even exist until I lay down the cobble stones, and sometimes I’m trotting along on someone else’s path for a while, but I get to choose the ways that I go. There’s no judgment attached to any of these paths, either; they are all just ways and means to get to where I want to be.
  • Success means many different things, and I get to decide the metrics.

I say this mantra now, when I’m feeling fragile and envious, to remind myself that I am actively creating my life, and it will be different from other people’s lives. The way that they are working is not going to be the way that I work.

Our successes will look different, because surely our visions are different too. I am aiming for different goals, some of which may not come to fruition for a while, slow-burn projects. I am diversifying my income streams, a literal application of the “many paths” philosophy.

I don’t ­think this is me making the best out of sour grapes. (I mean, maybe it is, but if that’s what I’ve got, I’d rather make some nice balsamic vinegar, you know?) I choose to think of it rather as reframing my place in the spaces where I thought I had to live. If I do not succeed in that particular way, it is not the end of the world. I have other ways of surviving and thriving.

It also helps me remember that the work I bring to the world is unique and needed. I will probably not ever have a blockbuster hit in indie theatre, or be running an intense route of workshops and sex-ed conferences, or whatever. But that’s okay. I know how to write the work that sings for me, and teach the workshops that feel important. I write blog posts that resonate for some, and create erotica that makes people jump for joy, and host Smut Slams that are rowdy and replenishing at the same time, and I do many other things that no one else can do.

<inhale>

My world has many paths.

<exhale>

*****

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Recalibrating my privacy settings

While touring nerdfucker this summer, I noticed how much people expected autobiography from me. People kept asking, “Does that actually exist?” that is, are there people who play chess on other people’s backs? Or, “Did that really happen?” e.g. have I really, somewhere in my colorful past, allowed someone to play a game of chess on my back?

My answers to the first question varied along the spectrum between I have no idea, but it’s possible to some people have more money than sense. The second question is a little more interesting, because while I have never gotten painted up for the purpose of using my back as a playing surface for any game, I have certainly been in situations with nerd and geek men where I gave freely of my gifts and my love and support, and got utterly used in return.

I’m not going to go into the specifics, because it’s not useful and it’s still too close to home, way too close, if home is the place where my heart lives with reasonable expectations of just being able to feel feelings without having to write an award-winning play about them just yet. I’m allowed to have that space.

No one will give that space to me, of course, not when I’ve built my performance career up to this point using see-through walls and almost total lack of boundaries. I mine my life for the stories I tell. That’s what people have come to know and love and expect, if not actually demand, from me.

This is fine. These are important stories to tell, exploring significant areas in internal and interpersonal psychology, things that don’t get discussed, and I have been happy to use my own experiences as an entry point for larger discussion. But it’s probably no coincidence that my interest in exploring fictional situations and characters has increased at the same time that my own life has gotten increasingly more complex, and different from what it has been. My excavations are more challenging, and I am not operating on my own anymore.

For example, I am in an astonishing, deepening relationship with someone whose parameters around privacy preclude using many of our sex stories for Smut Slams. I could easily say, well, but those are my stories, too, as I have in the past, for smut slam stories and my plays as well.

But these are not parallel situations. My past stories are past, involving people whom no one would any longer connect with me. Those stories are over; they shaped me and they’re done. This lover now, we are still going, we are still shaping each other. I hope that we always will, and I don’t want to fuck up that process by telling about it.

This is part of the dilemma with which I have been wrestling from the beginning of my career as a playwright/performer: when is it okay to write these stories, and how, and when do I hang on to them, for a later release or never?

For Smut Slam stories, well, since I have decided to go “mono” (monogamous) on all y’all’s asses—this has been true for over a year now, BTW—this means that my new stories at slams are no longer from the here and now, but mined from the time before. I've already decided that I will need to dig back through my sexual history, even more than I did while writing slut (r)evolution, sifting for useable stories with distinct narratives that rely on something other than immediacy for their impact. (Dammit, I wish I hadn’t black-out-drunk so much in college. My slam bank would be spilling over.) The current sex, the filth of the moment, I will continue to explore full-out, but only with my lover. These are our stories to learn from and laugh at; these are our private smut slams.

And for plays… well. These too require more thought lately. Sometimes I will hold off because the story is not done yet; as I noted before, observing a situation or a dynamic can be enough to change it, in unexpected and occasionally problematic ways. Sometimes I need distance and perspective to be able to write and convey what really happened. And sometimes I will hold off, or write a fictional piece, because I can if I want to. I don’t have to give it all, if I’m afraid or confused, or if I want to go deeper with it than I feel safe doing with the real situation and the real name of the real actual person. The stories from nerdfucker, for example, the main story, that is how I chose to tell it, because it really was too damn close to my own stuff.

So instead, I chose to explore that story in metaphor, in expanded or exaggerated form, limning the outlines of feeling-truth as best as I could with something other than the complete and actual, factual truth. There are actually different kinds of truth and feelings, and I am bringing them home.

In this home space, I get to keep deciding how to tell the stories I want to tell. Just because I used to tell everyone everything before, doesn’t mean I’m going to keep doing it, not in the way that my fans might always recognize. I think you’ll like it; those of you who have seen my new works already do. But I don’t want to get caught up in that too much. More important than how you like these new directions and dynamics is how I like them, how they feel on me, in me, around me.

I’m resetting, recalibrating, renovating. This is my new home.

*****

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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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