Friday, March 29, 2019

“[A]ngel headed hipsters” and a Critical Mass: Book Launch for Illuminations on Market Street, Cannibal Girls, Labor Rallies, and and Other Adventures Looking for a Story in New York City

LA Kauffman writes:
"25 years ago, undercover at the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" conference. (My undercover exploits make a brief cameo appearance inBenjamin Heim Shepard's new novel..."

Free speech of speech free banner reappearing from the basement. 

Photos from a book launch  by Jamie Leo and  a selfie with Tim Murphy,  
who inspired. 

“Activists from Rise and Resist, with co-sponsors 350NYC, Food and Water Watch New York, and 350 Brooklyn gathered at the Koch Plaza outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC on March 24, 2019 to call for a massive global response and urgent action to end our climate emergency and demanding the rejection of climate denial and delay. (Photo and caption by Erik McGregor) — with Benjamin Heim Shepard at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.”

“CUNY students, faculty, community members, and New Yorkers set to march across Brooklyn bridge from city hall to Brooklyn Borough Hall, calling on state lawmakers to invest in CUNY
— with Benjamin Heim Shepard. . (Photo and caption by Erik McGregor)”

The revolting lesbians say u don't need the money that bad metropolitan museum!!! Climate change is real!!!!

All week, I was  terrified about the book launch for  Illuminations on Market Street.
Tracing the story of a novel, not a study of a social  movement, which is my usual  terrain.
As it turns out, the two are not that different.
All my books grow out of  movements and interactions,
Sex and social justice,  
Reflections on a zeitgeist.
Layers and layers  of stories. 
Dancing through the air,
Into a pen,
Onto scribbles on a notebook.
Into a manuscript.
The novel followed, with a lot more room for that
Blurry space between what was and what should, could or might have been.
With less subterfuge.
Notions of truth have more to do with obfuscation and power.
"Confuse truth with  fiction," riot girls tell us. 
"...attempt to denaturalize the manufacturing of the truth..."
Those spaces in between the sentences and official accounts are more interesting.
Fiction/memoir blur
Fred / Wilma.
Gender and literary binaries,
Declining in significance.

The genesis an ACT UP demonstration in which we threw the ashes of our dead friends on the state house in Sacramento.
I came home, crashed, felt more down than I had ever felt and I started writing.
AIDS was still raging but for a minute I’d felt like we were stopping it at the demo.
Instead, the lives of people around me were ending. 
Everyone had a story here. 
 But I didn’t know what mine was. 
So I started writing and exploring.
An autobiography or roman a clef,
As real life dances with a façade.
 Newly minted names in homage real people, twisting through time,
between details, nonfiction and the fiction, wherever our stories take us.
These days all our stories blur lines and genres. 
We tell stories about our lives, giving or taking a detail here, embellishing on an escapade there, without letting the truth get between ourselves and stories we tell with our friends around us.
Thinking of Blanche who didn’t tell the truth as much as what ought to have been the truth.
The lines between growing up, the fictions we read, the movies we see, the blogs recalling where it all happened is a porous one built on the scaffolding of countless magic realist novels, and narratives, experiences and genres.  
But shaping the story, between five presidential administrations, one parent’s death, moves from San Francisco to Chicago New York, countless trips back, before I opened the old notebook and realized how I needed to write the story.
Finally finishing it and living to tell the tale. 
Recalling the old heros who inspired the story.
So many amazing people fought to make sense of the catastrophe.  It exposed our best and worst. People like Eric Sawyer, who recalled all the friends whenever we went to DC to get arrested, Cleve Jones, who helped me recall what it all meant, Tim Murphy who was there when Keith died, who helped me attempt to disrupt the Trump inauguration, covering countless demonstrations over the year, helped inspire me to push it forward.
Drafting the book in 1992 while working 12-8 shifts in an AIDS housing program in San Francisco, turning it into a story for all of us,
those who enjoy queer stories, coming of age narratives, stories about growing up, sexuality, coming of age, AIDS/queer San Francisco and Texas.
We all have our sentimental educations.  
We can all reject shame and be our whole selves.

All weekend, I tried to prep for the book talk, inviting people, posting fb updates, taking care of chores, going to a few protests,
and then getting on with the business of the book talk.
But as usually happens, New York got in the way.
Gumbo and friends on Friday.
Joe unfolded some old banners we thought were lost  in the basement.
Things fall apart.
When they are ready to.
That’s the way it goes.
Not sure if there was enough pepper in the gumbo.
But Joe fish, Gene’s  company offered enough of a mix.

Group work class on Saturday.
We grow in relations to others.
That’s the message over and over. 
Finding out who we are in groups,
Learning  to let go of cynicism of the culture, voices which implores us not to care.

Arriving at 9 Am, an  elephant was  in  the room.
Fred’s dad died, noted one of the  students.
Lessons plans gone,
Tell me about him,
brought him back.
Sometimes our students are the best.
Sharing  and learning from  each other.
Looking at the pain long enough for it to lose its grip.
Transforming the feeling.

From here to there.
Brooklyn to Manhattan,
Over  the bridge we marched back,
Students and faculty marching  for CUNY.
No budget cuts.
We need a people’s university,
[B]ased on openness and accessibility,” noted John Gallagher:   
 “That experiment that Townsend Harris started in 1847 and that Morrill and Lincoln put forward in the middle of the Civil War is one that we all participate in with great dedication and commitment.

Crossing back to holy Brooklyn.
Where the Cannibal  Girls were playing.
“We’re the Cannibal Girls  and  we eat men!”
They roared through a thirty minute set.
The microphones in one place, the singers somewhere else.
Just like Darby all those years ago.
Guitars and drums roaring.
Pushing back against a  world that says women are to be seen not heard. 
Smashing and bashing back.
Kids dancing  and  snapping photos, inventing a world.

Up to Garrison and back for the talk.
The spring opening up.

Down to Judson.
Where is the talk?
The bulletin says the Assembly Hall
The flyer the Meeting Hall.

Up to the Met with Rise and Resist
Lives r on the line, we r running out of time!!!!
No coal no oil keep it in the soil. 
The met should rename the Koch plaza climate denier plaza! #renametheplaza

Back down 5th, past Larry Kramer’s
Through the Arch.
Washington Square park,
Where Poets imagined.
Mourners marched.
Beatnics rioted.
And  Bette saved the  day.

March 24, 2019.
It  was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s birthday,
A century of poems,
Howls and Trials.
Fifty years after Jack became daisies.
Twenty eight after Allen.
32 after we started ACTing UP!

Eric joined us. 
He was there from the beginning.
He told us about it all.
Met Larry  in the gym.
Larry asked me to show up.
And that made all the difference,
He replied, tracing his story.
From Colorado to New York,
Moving for the sex.
Many loves, many losses.
Standing with Bob Rafsky outside Judson in 1992.
“For Mark Fisher: ‘We beg, we pray, we demand that this epidemic end!’ Bob roared.

I think we’ve been here before.

Micah called us all saints.

And Karen told her story:
“Karen is an old school activist who learned from Maxine Wolf that you have to change your tactics over time so that you can stay involved and not burn out. Karen was doing street activism defending reproductive rights with WHAM (women's health action & mobilization), teaching women menstrual extraction (a self-help abortion technique), and doing AIDS activism with ACT UP from 1989-2004. Then she had a son and transitioned to more fundraising and support roles. She's an open book so ask away…”

And ask away we did.

I stammered along.
The microphone by my ear,
Like father like daughter.
Try to rehearse it a few times.
They suggested.
But it was fine.

Sold books,
Shared stories.

As my worlds  of activism collided.
The environmentalists and the AIDS heroes.
Judsonites, Dan, Jane, and company,
Friends remembering.
Sharing all those stories that had lived in the old notebooks that followed me from Dallas to Los Angeles to Poughkeepsie to Dallas to Princeton to Claremont to San Francisco to
Chicago to New York,
Where they called.

Take  me down.

Remember the Critical Mass ride?

When Brad joined us from Oregon.

Sasha from New York.

And LAK went undercover, joining Greg for the ride.

What did Julie mean?

What happened they asked from the shelves?

Was any of it real, they demanded?

What happens when we die?

How much sex is too much sex?

What your favorite position she asked in Italian Class.

All those stories demanded an audience.

So I followed them.

Drafting the notes.

Into the Illuminations on Market Street.

Chatting for hours once it was done.

Afterward, LAK wrote
“Wonderful book launch for Benjamin Heim Shepard's ILLUMINATIONS ON MARKET STREET with panel discussion on sex, death, and activism during the AIDS crisis featuring Ben, Micah Bucey, Karen Rampacher, and Eric Sawyer. The fierce activism of ACT UP, recalled Sawyer, "activated the endorphins that sex did" in an era when HIV infection meant near-certain death.”

Jamie Leo wrote
“From knowing the ever-joyful Benjamin Heim Shepard, you will possibly be quite surprised what a gut punch his new book is. Activist heros Karen Ramspacher and Eric Sawyer rode side-saddle with Judson Memorial’s Micah Bucey in a thoughtful, harrowing, and hilarious tour of history – San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere, via excerpts and discussion of Ben’s ‘Illuminations on Market Street’.
Brilliant and VERY generous AIDS, civil rights, and envonmental activists I’ve been in the trenches with for over three decades (and whose work has lifted countless numbers of people thorough the darkest days) were there, along with some remarkably inspiring young activists.
Thank you Wendy BrawerJay BlotcherEve SicularJeffrey GriglakLee RainesBrian GriffinKen KiddRay SageL.A. Kauffman, Tom Blewitt, Diane Green Lent, Brownie Johnson... (Elizabeth Meixell, hope your ears are finally cooling off!)”

Thank you Jay.
Thank you Caroline.

Thank you world.

Three more New York readings:

Sunday, April 7, 4:00PM
NYC LGBTQ Community Center
208 West 13 Street, NYC

Thursday, April 11, 5:00PM
New York City College of Technology Bookstore
259 Adams St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Author in conversation with writer Mark Noonan, professor of English at NYCCT and co-author with Shepard of Brooklyn Tides: The Fall and Rise of a Global Borough.

Scenes from the  launch  by Diane Greene Lent. 
Thank you Diane, Karen, Eric, Micah, LAK,  Judson,  
and everyone who came. 

Final photos by Ken Schles and Jay Blotcher

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