Thursday, April 4, 2019

“if one is called upon to tell about one's life”: On Bluestockings, Sex, Loss and Illuminations on Market Street

Illuminations on Market Street: Reading at Bluestockings - Benjamin Heim Shepard, author of Sustainable Urbanism and other non-fiction works, and Emily Gallagher discuss Shepard’s first novel, Illuminations on Market Street. The story begins in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Cab is on the deep end of a losing streak. After having been dumped yet again, he moves to Haight-Ashbury fresh out of college. It is the middle of a recession, before the dot-com boom, and AIDS is an immediate and untreatable reality. A story about AIDS and sex, acting up and praying for the dead, this is a story about living and fighting in the face of insurmountable challenges. (Photo by Erik McGregor) — with Benjamin Heim Shepard atBluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center.

Ivy Arce wrote: 
"Grateful for today. To hear and see Benjamin read his book. Always a painful reminder of what we have gone through. Thank you, Benjamin, for capturing the essence of that fight, that loss, that deep love we have for each other because of the AIDS epidemic. Academic, ACT UP New York member, and veteran social justice activist Benjamin Heim Shepard in conversation with Emily Gallagher. #ENDAIDS — with Erik R. McGregorBenjamin Heim Shepard andVirginia Vitzthum at Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center."

Next reading  this Sunday  at 4 PM.  

I’ll never forget my friend Katherine, an activist I met in SexPanic! handing me a flyer for the first New York Reclaim  the Streets action in 1998, at an anti-queer bashing action, public space activism bursting at the seams, overlapping between movements.
Wearing a black mask, she told me about a new project was planning.

A few weeks later,
She started Bluestockings, the name a nod to
a secret history of subversive
women,  suffragettes and radicals.
signaling a dialogue between past practices, insurrectionary possibilities.

Since then, activism has bubbled around the space.

When my friend Brook L took over the space in 2003, the remaining members of Reclaim the Streets, dedicated the space as a Patriot Act Free Zone,
Holding a fundraiser.

I’ve performed at countless readings and events there, with Church Ladies for Choice, book release parties, and even a few readings of my own.

Sunday would be another such moment.
But not before a little street activism and craziness.

We read the Communist Manifesto on Saturday with  Stanley.

The words read like poetry,
The struggles have only continued.

“How do you create a different world,
How do you bring the proletariat into history,” wondered Stanley,
As  we sat chatting at the People’s Forum.
“What  does it  take  to make history,
Not just a living wage?”

Riffing on debates over organizational efforts and reproduction,
Coalition politics vs revolutionary strategies, debates that go on and on and on.

“There is hardly any dialogue today,” he lamented,
worrying about a dwindling  public sphere for ideas

Lets read some women, I suggested as we wrapped up our conversation.

Stanley mentioned Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai, a Russian Communist revolutionary, and the author of

·         “I wanted to be free. I wanted to express desires on my own, to shape my own little life,” she    wrote, reflecting on  sexual  liberation and revolution. 
·         She confessed:
·        Nothing is more difficult than writing an autobiography. What should be emphasized? Just what is of general interest? It is advisable, above all, to write honestly and dispense with any of the conventional introductory protestations of modesty. For if one is called upon to tell about one's life so as to make the events that made it what it became useful to the general public, it can mean only that one must have already wrought something positive in life, accomplished a task that people recognize. Accordingly it is a matter of forgetting that one is writing about oneself, of making an effort to abjure one's ego so as to give an account, as objectively as possible, of one's life…..looking back while prying, simultaneously, into the future, I will also be presenting to myself the most crucial turning points of my being and accomplishments. In this way I may succeed in setting into bold relief that which concerns the women's liberation struggle and, further, the social significance which it has…”

In some  ways, her life story feels complete, at least in  her own terms.
·        “I have succeeded in structuring my intimate life according to my own standards and I make no secret of my love experiences anymore than does a man. Above all, however, I never let my feelings, the joy or pain of love take the first place in my life inasmuch as creativity, activity, struggle always occupied the foreground….

Hopefully, we can all succeed in doing so.
Still aspiring,
trying to shape our own  lives,
and tell a few of our stories.

Its what we do every day, we walk out the door, 
To street actions.
To the galleries,
Throughout the city.

It’s what I was thinking,  riding through the village on Sunday, walking from Judson up to 41st street,
Running into  monologist into Penny  Arcade,
Telling her I loved her show.
She made me laugh. 
Made my dad laugh.
Back to Brooklyn,
Back to East 19th street,
Where we were acting up.

“Hey cutie,” Bran wrote
“Have you been thinking about making a difference in the 2020 Presidential election???  Well, ACT UP has the protest for you tomorrow at 5pm near Union Square.
VWHAT: Big Pharma Out, People In
WHEN: Sun, March 31 from 5-7pm
WHERE: 113 E19th St. NYC
DIRECTIONS: Take the 4,5,6,L,N,R,Q,W to 14th St. Union Square
See you there!”

Thinking about the Gore’s  greed kills zaps from years ago,
I rode  to the action

“You’re gonna get Bush elected” one of Gore’s handlers greeted us outside as we condemned Gore backing up US trade rules instead of people with HIV in 1999 before  the election.

“Gillibrand u can't hide, why r u on pharma's side?” activists chanted.
“Health care is a human right, not just for the rich and white!
Pharma donations are bad for our nation!”

The words filled  the  street, following  me as I rode  to Bluestockings  for our event:


March 31, 2019 @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm

“The story begins in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Cab is on the deep end of a losing streak. After having been dumped yet again, he moves to Haight-Ashbury fresh out of college. It is the middle of a recession, before the dot-com boom, and AIDS is an immediate and untreatable reality. A story about AIDS and sex, acting up and praying for the dead, this is a story about living and fighting in the face of insurmountable challenges.”
A conversation with, 
Emily Gallagher, “an essayist and a community organizer. She has lost close friends and lovers to: a skateboarding accident, a psychotic break, a catastrophic fire, and most recently, a drug overdose.

Emily and I met during the Kavanaugh zaps organized by the Center for Popular  Democracy and Housing  Works last fall.

She wrote essays about his life and blog about a boyfriend who overdosed,
Called /silencehaunted.

Over  the weekend, we chatted about what the  conversation  would look  like.

Simultaneously feeling close to and estranged from people; what does it mean to know someone?

It means to move beyond the projection, beyond, the illusion.

Some people are better  at that than other,
feeling both outside and inside of a subterranean world of sex and connection but not having ownership of it.

-          AIDS left everyone a littler queerer…
-          Straight in the sheets queer in the streets,
-           but there was a lot more to it than that that.
-          Its an identity and it isn’t.
-          I wasn’t that identity.
-          I  didn’t have that history.
-          But I did.
-          But I could pass.
-          Unlike others.,
-          Who perished.
-          Cab wasn’t  part of it, but he was.
being near to people, and trying to help or save people who are on the precipice of dying.

Fisting… let god in,  let the spirit it.
Open  yourself to everything.

Music or rituals you turn to in order to cope with death, when people you loved died
MacCarthur Park, dancing to remember.
I loved the rituals…  the ghost dances… acting up, screaming, catharsis,  dancing… praying for the dead, but  fighting like hell for the living…

Connecting to other people closely after loss.
Through changes…remains.
Like John Dunne.
Valedictions Forbidding Mourning. 

I’ve read about half the book (oops!) but I really have enjoyed it so far,
She told me.
Chatting away at Bluestockings.

Reflecting  on losing the earth you know for greater knowing;
Thomas Wolfe wondered what happens when we leave old worlds,  stripping  down old identities,
To the point when we’re bare.
Identity less.
To  lose the life you have for greater life;
To leave the friends you loved for greater loving;
To find a land more kind than  home,
More large than  the earth.”

Emily followed with a meditation  on  loss,
Her  own blog on the
year of magical thinking,  the crazy, out of this world thinking  we all experience after loss.

Joan Didion suggests:
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” 

Yet, literally crazy is what we often become.

Emily shared one of her posts from silencehaunted:

illegal lewks

“I feel like i’ve lost my mind and the thing they don’t tell you, that now i understand and illuminates so much about my ex boyfriend who was manic depressive, is that it is so FUN to lose your mind.  All those things holding you back like, manners, or getting tired, or like not wanting to spend money… those things are all gone for me.
Yesterday i saw a guy in a car almost kill a cyclist (why not just keep going with the death everywhere right? I mean come on, last week my older lady friend died, this week my boyfriend,,, logical next step is me witnessing an actual death in front of my face) so i started taking pictures of the license plate and the driver got out of the car and started hassling me and following me.  “Why you taka da picture? Why you taka it? You a cyclist bitch so you only care about cycles?” I just turned around and got RIGHT in his face and said, “MY BOYFRIEND DIED AND I DON’T HAVE ANY SPACE FOR YOUR SHIT SO GO AHEAD AND FUCK OFF”
and guess what, he said, “oh i’m sorry!” and walked away.  Amazing.  I recommend it.
i started the day in a skull shirt and then i met up with Emily and Allie and again, these people could have been my friends the whole time.  We went vintage shopping and picked out clothes for you and then i found such a great slutty outfit that was like sort of “nice” also and i bought it and just wore it and delighted in showing the world my midriff which i always spared them from.
It was nice to be with another maniac all day.  Also she was such a generous maniac.  She sidled up to the bartender while i was in the bathroom and said, “hey her boyfriend just died could you not charge her?” and while that wasn’t possible she did haggle my bill down to 20 buck from 80.
My filter’s gone.  The part of my body that says, that’s enough now, or you need this now, it’s just gone. I didn’t change my tampon. I didn’t water the plants (i am worried about my plants) I didn’t take a shower, my ponytail was in so long it was getting matted and i had to rip the hairtie out of it.  My phone died and i didn’t care the only thing i worried about was people thinking i was dead.  I washed my face last night and complimented myself on it all the way back to bed.  I can’t sleep now just like you couldn’t sleep.  This insomnia alone is enough to make you completely nuts.
Oren is this the bender you always wanted us to join you on? Did you plan this all out?
listen pal i get it.  I get all of it.  I get why you wanted to get off this fucking planet.  This place sucks very often. I just don’t know how i’m going to cope without getting to tell you all about everything.  The only good thing about life sucking sometimes was looking forward to making fun of life with you.
my friends have been so here for me.  I wish i could feel it more.  I see them there and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  But i basically can’t feel anything at all at all right now, i’m just a projection on a screen in a movie theater or a tap dancer on a little rugged piece of tile going going going trying to keep my jazz hands up...

Emily finished.

The grief is where we  figure out who we are
 and what we are going  to  be.

As we wrapped up,
We thanked everyone at Bluestockings.
Went out for a drink to share a few more  stories,
A few more confidences,
Secret histories of activism  and grief,
Gossip and possibilities,
more and more stories to share.
Riding home, all the stories accompanied me, 
Emily’s grief, Alexandra’s revolutions, Penny’s monologues
Dancing through my mind on the way home.
if one is called upon to tell about one's life” there are any number of ways of telling
And of hearing. 

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