Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Here is an essay that I wrote a few months ago about riot grrl and zines and their effect on my life.  It's a bit of an explanation of my current mess.  There is hope that it will be in a book of essays on riot grrl edited by Jane Graham.

I remember the early nineties very clearly. What drove me then was a sense of voicelessness, and a sense that I must motivate to have my voice heard. As a teenager, in the pre-internet era, all we had to go on was mass media and whatever scraps of subculture we could find. Elusive zines slipped into bags in record stores I’d begged my mom to drive me to. Late nights poring over 120 Minutes on MTV in search of a band that resonated. When my friend mail-ordered Bikini Kill’s Revolution Grrrl Style Now in 1992, our proto-feminist consciousness exploded. Wheatpasting the high school, covering our binders with stickers and slogans, putting out our first zines, “Hot Lunch,” “Gun Moll,” Bedtime Stories for Trivial Teens,” and “Backcomb Backtalk.” What coalesced was a sense of agency, that we were part of a rising cultural movement, and that we could use that collective voice to speak out against what wronged us. To make, and remake, a world we’d rather live in.

        Yes, the rhetoric was strong in those days. Those heady days of living in punk houses with slogans and the ubiquitous stars scrawled in spray paint on the walls, sometimes I miss them. There was a sense that we lived outside of society, when, in fact, we were students at Reed College, and for all of our revolutionary ferver I still studied by candlelight when the electricity went out.

         Punk is made up of paradoxes and so is my current life.

         When I graduated from college, the necessities of earning a living cut me off creatively. I moved to San Francisco where there was employable industry beyond Portland’s strip clubs, and discovered that to keep that pricy apartment I had to work nine to five and Saturdays too. The pain of not writing, not painting, not zinemaking, was eclipsed and dulled by the discovery of seductive nightlife and the drugs that came with it. After being fired again, I took the severance and unemployment and set myself to write a novel about disillusionment. That was to become Jet Set Desolate.

When the bottom fell out on my finances I left San Francisco and went to the CalArts Critical Studies program, a writing program with a theoretical component. There I found a creative community without the strictures of punk dogma. I ended up living in Los Angeles, sharing a guest house with my lesbian partner. Now I feel as if the feminist ethos is still with me, but the punk aspect has been modified for comfortable beds, a clean house, and a more responsible approach.

My lover is a woman, a beautiful girl nine years younger than me who is as enthusiastic about riot grrrl music and zine culture as I once was. Together we made a zine called “Paranoid,” and started a band called Cherry Ames Army Nurse. Throughout my relationship with her I’ve had a renewal of the passion, devotion and D.I.Y. that was missing through the long, lonely years in San Francisco.

I have chosen not to raise a family due to the worsening of my mental illness. I have bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms. Going on federal disability (SSDI) after graduate school, the need to earn a living was diminished, and I became more available for creative projects. I am still an outsider, more so, perhaps, that when it was my entire life ethos and I proclaimed it with my tattoos, spikes and stench. It is no longer a collectively imagined unifying subculture, but the faulty wiring of my brain that keeps me outside.

Now, after several institutionalizations and suitcases of pills, I’ve been designated disabled, and thus live off a small stipend from the government. Over the year that my post-MFA breakdown immobilized me, my first novel was accepted by a publisher. Jet Set Desolate was published by Future Fiction London this September. A poetry book, Lorazepam and the Valley of Skin / 730910-2155 is currently at the printers and should be out soon from valeveil.

What drives me now is different that what drove me then. I now have many more avenues available for self-expression, like blogging, my website, social networking, painting, etc…  I now feel I must work not simply to be heard, but to say something coherent and worthy. The air is aflutter with Tweets, but honing a thesis and saying something precise is far more difficult.

It is also difficult when you are on heavy tranquilizers. My bipolar disorder necessitates a regimen of pills, namely Abilify, Lexapro, Lamictal, and Ativan. The Ativan, (or Lorazepam, it’s generic name) is an anti-convulsant sedative-hypnotic that hinders my productivity and judgment. However, the Ativan is necessary because it stops the voices, the endless nagging, criticizing, hammering away at my mind. I strove so hard to find my voice that now the voices attacking me are constant. They rattle at the edges of my sense telling me what’s wrong with me, and how I am being monitored and investigate for some sort of murky wrongdoing.

What drives me now is more the desire to speak and write and paint and communicate with others despite these hindrances. What drives me now is the desire to have a good and productive life with my partner, despite the turmoil of the past.

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