Last night I was on the top level of a double decker bus winding through Angel when I spied the flower shop owned by my old friend David (yeah, if you know London, the florist under the statue) and realized we haven’t talked in awhile.
I texted to ask what he is up to and the reply was Darling, I’m in Madrid – would love to see you when I get back!
My answer read in part I’m jetting off to Berlin and then to the states for the summer…
Then I was startled, once again, to find myself in this country writing sentences like that. The oddity was of course underscored by the fact that David and I are from the same faraway heinous hometown.
Who knew we’d even make it out alive, let alone be friends twenty-four years after first meeting? Life is strange. Anyway, more about the wedding reception later – it was of course fantastically fun! Lots of friends old and new, including a chance to gossip with Iain:
What I sound like on the radio:
Interviewer, in somber tone – So Bee, you suffered domestic violence?
Me, laughing – No, I practiced it!
Interviewer, shocked – What, you mean you dished it out??
Me, still laughing – No, I defended myself. I’ve never been a victim of anything!
That is just the bit that I can remember. Of course there was a whole lot of terribly inappropriate disease chit-chat, I was asked to describe the accident (something I can’t even talk to my closest friends about), and I had to suffer through countless compliments. Oh no!
Luckily my brain deletes all that stuff immediately.
I expounded on the link between poverty and violence at great length, but at least she didn’t ask why I am opposed to therapy. The Australians of my acquaintance are good like that.
One hour later, I still feel mildly queasy. I don’t even listen to the radio!
Ten years and three books into this whole thing, it is obvious that regardless of the topic – parenting, activism, reminiscing about having portions of my body hacked off – I just say whatever crazy thing crosses my mind. This may in fact be why I’m asked to appear on the airwaves so often, but still, not my favorite part of the job!
Australian friends: I’ll be chattering away live on ABC radio Thursday evening.
To be extremely simplistic, I left the states because I wanted to live in a place where everyone has access to basic health care.
I can report that the standard and quality of care in the UK is <i>substantially superior</i> to anything I had in the states, and I had access to the best insurance and hospitals in the country.
And you know what? The private insurance industry here is alive and well. It even has that nasty little pre-existing conditions clause going on, along with massive pre-approval paperwork and all the tedious stuff you experience back home.
But if you break a leg, or have an asthma attack in the middle of the night, you get a free ambulance ride to a hospital where they efficiently fix you without charge. In this town, they don’t even ask if you have the right to the services.
It isn’t necessary to believe that a single-payer system would work in the states (I don’t, at least not right now) to acknowledge that the health care system is fucked. Industry reform is on the horizon, and that is why there is so much frantic debate and propagandizing.
The question is, will the reform benefit you or the insurance industry? Someone is going to get something out of the quagmire.
Punk Planet has announced that the magazine will cease publication after the current issue.
The fiscal crisis in the independent publishing world is wide-spread, systemic, and mostly without a solution. Unless publications have patrons (meaning a rich individual sponsor or a lucrative and stable nonprofit) they will almost certainly succumb to the fallout of recent bankruptcies.
Every last one of us. Including all of your most beloved zines and some of your favorite stores.
The facts are simple: newsstand sales do not translate to enough money to print and distribute (and if your distro goes under without paying out, that fact is irrelevant anyway). Subscriptions are better, but not enough. Advertising, as always, is the main source of income, and that is an unreliable revenue stream. Particularly if you are defiantly independent and serve a niche audience.
This has always been true. It’s worse now than it was ten years ago, it will be better in the future and then bad again. The whole thing is cyclical and right now we’re in a dark part of the cycle.
If your favorite publication is still in print, this is what you can do to help:
Buy merchandise and books direct from the source, instead of via external web sites.
Subscribe, and subscribe again.
If you have something to advertise and money to pay for ads, run one.
I don’t play the Who is Next game but can assure you that Punk Planet is not the last. For me this is of course deeply personal, since the people making these announcements are my friends.
AEM was practically a member of my family when we lived in Seattle. Dan Sinker is a truly awesome individual, and the person who took a risk and offered to publish Lessons in Taxidermy after watching one of my performances. Nobody else in the states wanted the book – unless I changed the title and ending.
Punk Planet as an institution had a good run; thirteen years is a long time in publishing terms. But it is never fun to see a project end when the people involved want it to continue, and the readers are still there.
The current cover of NME features a naked photo of Beth Ditto. Last week a celebrity gossip magazine also put the same image on the cover, juxtaposed with a series of way-too-thin women with fake breasts in bikinis, and an exclusive titled Mel B’s Amazing Diet Secret.
The actual article about Beth is quite positive, and essentially has a you go girl attitude. This, however, is one page in a big glossy parade of articles that say exactly the opposite, including extremely harsh criticism of assorted Z list celebrities I’ve never even heard of, with photographs.
Beth is someone I know in real life so my reaction to this is stronger than it would be normally – toxic body image messages from mainstream culture normally have no traction in my brain. I simply do not care what anyone thinks of how I look – good, bad, or indifferent.
Beauty is a social construct, and the ideal is different depending on where and when you live. I grew up poor and mutilated in a western consumer culture at the end of a censorious century. This taught me many important lessons, not least of which is the fact that the only opinion that matters about my appearance is my own. I’m not healthy or beautiful by any objective standard, but my body is amazing, and I love it, no matter what.
The reaction to the NME cover is irritating in part because Beth is smoking hot. People want to know her, in all meanings of the word. It is not necessary to conform to mainstream standards to be sexy and desirable. In fact, the opposite is often true.
Thinking otherwise is just a sham, and people should get over it.
Nautical thought of the day: it is difficult to board a vessel when the shore has disappeared. That kind of sums up my life in general, but today the specific challenge is the fact that the river has flooded.
The Bumps are a completely typical Cambridge experience that sort of sums up life here.
It goes like this: Ride bike two or three miles into countryside. Chain bike to tree next to pub. Purchase pint of beer. Sit on the grass next to river. Wait. Talk to charming companion (on this occasion, blonde ten year old boy). Wait. Fidget. Buy crisps for child. Watch losing teams row past in desultory fashion. Observe elderly rowing enthusiasts talking about victories of previous century. Listen to teenage rowing enthusiasts chatting on mobile phones about victories earlier in the day. Notice that there is a youngster running a punt ferry service so racing fans on the other side of the river can get drunk too. Try to prevent Don’t Pay the Ferryman from playing in brain. Think about how this event is the culmination of all the activity I observe on the river, every day, all year long. Ponder why anyone would bother while also admiring the sheer physicality of it all. Remember which of your friends was a rower in youth, and snicker. Jump with fright when the PA system starts to shriek that the race has started. Stand and watch with crowd as several boats stream past the pub garden.
Feel incredibly thrilled at the spectacle – which lasts approximately two minutes:
I am often asked why I left the states, and the answer is complicated – mostly political concepts about access to health care, but also highly personal. And I generally just don’t wanna talk about it. I often say Because I could.
Here is one reason though. This is what a kids meal looks like in France:
Of course my son recoiled in horror over the snails, but that isn’t the point!
Why do I always end up talking to clinical psychologists at 3:00 AM? Or a better question, why did I end up singing American Pie at top volume with aforesaid psychologist without missing one single word? The answer is simple: there isn’t anything better to do in Cambridge!
I tried to lurk about in the garden and contemplate the question posed by the song (can music save your mortal soul?). My answer: No, because I don’t believe in the concept of a soul. Though a song could save your life, if you let it.
Then I was dragged back into the party, where I exercised my vestigial conversational skills for several hours. I am generally the only civilian at academic parties and last night was no different.
Rachel coaxed me to talk about my career but I resisted for the most part. It amuses me to inform snobbish people who care about status that I am just hanging out.
The psychologist, as they tend to, managed to extract a more complete answer, including a synopsis of Lessons in Taxidermy, and my standard lecture about how horrific tragedy is just another learning opportunity. Or something along those lines – we were drinking champagne, after all!
Then I met this fascinating fellow who studies blood. The title of his book/thesis (these things are never clear to me) is Veins of Devotion, which I think hilarious. The wealth of Williams were present and I chatted with one extensively about how this town is so strange and perverse and riddled with sexual scandals.
Jean and Peter showed up at midnight and at least one of them has figured out that I know some gossip, though I just put my finger on my chin and stared at the ceiling rather than sharing:
The party was a final hurrah for Rachel, who goes back to Canada to be a professor and grownup and whatnot. I know that our friendship will continue, but life here will be substantially different without her particular sort of genius.
Goodbye, Rachel! I’ll miss you!
Last night Iain</a> texted to tell me he had lunch with my New Best Friend (TM) and to catch up on gossip. At some point I mentioned how bewildered I am now that I have assorted new social skills.
I said I’m old! No longer cute and sexy!
He replied Bah. Course yr still hot!
I protested that I always do stuff late and backwards!
His very sensible answer was I guess it is a nicer time to learn tho. As at least all the other human nature psychology stuff is in place. And you have more money for hot lady clothes.
True. When my grandma was thirty-six she gave birth to her seventh child, and became a grandmother for the first time. Her life as a working class woman raising a crazy crew of children on a farm in the rural NW is something I simply cannot imagine, even though I grew up in the same place with the same people.
What did she think about at my age – what did she love?
There is no record, no journals or letters; she even burned many of the photographs of the children. I have many scraps of evidence about life on the farm and it is impossible to put together an accurate narrative. I know she considered her life easier than what her mother went through, as a divorced woman raising six children without money or education.
My own mother was in turn thirty-six when I presented her with a grandchild. I know very well what her life was like that year, what worried her or made her laugh. She was still paying off the bills from the disease that nearly killed me. It was all was painful beyond measure, with no relief on the horizon.
I am an only child and I created more grief for her than can possibly be calculated. But she persevered. They all persevered.
But I do not have the values that kept most of the women in my family in one place an entire lifetime. I’m not the sort to settle, and I don’t believe in fate.
If anything I take after my fiendish great-grandmother, a woman so determined to reinvent herself we do not even know our true surname. Where was she at this age? Nobody knows.
One day last week I was at the Maypole with Rachel and she said I’ve been thinking about generosity. Write something about that for me!
I inquired about what aspect of the concept she has been reflecting on, and the short answer was: hosts and guests.
That one is easy. I believe that it is critically important to be an excellent host, and also an extremely well-behaved guest. My standards when I am the host are high in many respects; I abdicate all work time in favor of showing people around town. When I have money I pay for everything. I throw parties or arrange adventures or just hang around, according to the desire of the visitor.
Smaller details sometimes get overlooked – I am not a dependable source of freshly laundered towels, for instance. But I open my home (or rather boat) to a nonstop stream of friends.
If I’m the guest, I do not have requests beyond minimal physical requirements. This means nothing more than water, tea, and a warm place to sleep – and I am capable of sorting all three without assistance. I may have a few errands to run (can’t buy my lipstick here in Cambridge, and I have to get it somewhere!) but the rest of the itinerary is completely open. Or closed – I am perfectly happy to amuse myself.
Essentially, I presume that people offer what they can give. I take what I can accept.
I am in fact notoriously compulsive about all sorts of things, but I travel without expectations. Sometimes I stay in hotel rooms that cost more per night than I paid in rent in a whole year as a student. Other times I find myself sleeping rough in a filthy punk house.
Sometimes when I get off an airplane I am met by a driver holding a sign with my name on it. Other times I find myself stranded without anyone to call. The experiences are equal, because the facts do not matter.
I’ve had just as much fun on tour with fifteen people and one towel as I’ve had lounging around a penthouse apartment in Rome.
I have friends of all sorts, all over the world, and enjoy their company. I love to perform, get a huge thrill out of throwing and attending parties and events – I like people. Yet one of my happiest memories of last year was sitting alone in a laundromat in San Francisco eating cinnamon jelly beans.
The loneliest moment I had all year long occurred in my favorite bar, surrounded by friends who adore me.
That is how life works sometimes.
It is of course impossible to skip all of the negative stuff: I’ve been disappointed, frustrated, angry, and lost – routinely. I’m a confused, disheveled, working class kid who has wandered far from home. I often make stupid mistakes. I am fully aware of my own limitations, and that can be excruciating. Half the time I even know in advance which experiences will be disturbing.
The trick is that understanding something might be difficult has never proved a deterrent. In fact, if I notice that I am scared, I fling myself at whatever has frightened me.
Right now I am scheduling trips that will keep me on the road for a few months. I don’t know if I will have fun, or if anything will go according to plan, but it will be interesting and useful. No matter what happens.
Generosity is not about material gifts or gain; it is an attitude that can be exercised everywhere, all the time.
The absolute most genius part of the entire trip:
Yesterday I was happily humming along, sweeping leaves off the top of my boat, and pulled the gangplank off to clean it. In a flash I was struck suddenly at the peculiarity that I am in charge of a gangplank, let alone a boat, and that of course dilated into a larger sense of astonishment that I live in Cambridge, England.
This town, more than most, is a transient sort of place. The student population – tens of thousands of people – swells and dissipates every few weeks, notable to me only insofar as it is sometimes hard to buy bread.
Old friends show up to marvel at the eccentricity of my life here, then they go home again. I make new friends, and they finish their degree or sabbatical and leave.
The people in my family scatter across the world and come back together in unpredictable ways. I spend perhaps a third of each year traveling. Most of my time when I’m in town is spent on a narrowboat – and though it is moored securely, I can pull up stakes and move any time.
Even the most serious commitments I have agreed to are contingent on the fact that I can, and will, make impetuous decisions and alter everything without warning. As far as I can recollect the choice to abandon my first career was made on a whim one afternoon.
Moving away from Portland, leaving Seattle, emigrating here – all completely random choices involving nothing much more involved than just saying yes.
Earlier this evening I said I didn’t expect to live long enough to have all of these new problems and concerns!
Byron replied I didn’t expect you to live this long either.
Then we watched a DVD of Pet Shop Boys videos Satnam pressed on us last night. I’ve never taken much notice of the band, but have officially Changed My Mind (this is what happens when you get old, I suppose). In fact, Being Boring made me cry.
I got over it.
Since I’ve only been in water something like three times in twenty years it would be a mistake to say that I have a typical swimming costume, but on the rare event I go in this is what I wear: all of my clothes. I stay covered neck to ankle, without exception.
I could claim that this is on doctors orders, but technically my physicians have issued strict rules including no sunlight whatsoever not to mention no chlorine, no exertion, no fun….
Ok, they never said the bit about fun, but really, I’m not supposed to go anywhere or do anything.
This time around I packed in a rush and couldn’t find a long-sleeved shirt at all, so my swimsuit consisted of cut-off tights, knee-length shorts, and a ratty shirt from one of my book tours turned inside out (I never wear my own merchandise). This perilous assemblage was augmented by several layers of sunblock and an umbrella.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did in fact swim in the pool – it was awfully hard to resist given that it was at the bottom of the cliff face, and there was the adorable child clamoring for attention, and my allergies can’t be that severe, right? Wrong. But I was careful! And yeah, I worked in public health long enough to know that is a stupid excuse.
But anyway, on the way up to the room I spied myself in a mirror, my hair all wet and wild, looking nothing at all like myself because the clothes are so far off what I’ve been wearing the last few years. For a moment I entertained the thought of ditching the dresses and digging out my Carrharts.
Though I gave Ariel my black hoodie (with the explicit reminder that it had major fertility vibes attached) and can’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to replace it, so never mind!
Lucky me, the day I made it to the beach was stormy and dark, so I was able to frolic without endangering my so-called health.
Byron didn’t get wet:
You didn’t really think I’d post a full pic of my idiotic outfit, did you?
Notes from the south of France, where it is raining! I find this quite excellent and ran around joyfully in the sea since the sun was hiding, but the other people huddled in the hotel lobby are not amused.
I was just doing something technical using a stupid PC (I never, ever touch Windows products if I can help it) and Byron offered to take over the task. I exclaimed Hey! What do you think I am?!
His response was instant: Decorative!
The other night in a very fancy restaurant I said Hey, did I ever tell you the story of how I learned to swim?
The assembled quorum of simultaneously informed me that the topic was Not Appropriate for Dinner.
What?! I think the story funny! Plus I didn’t die, obviously!
What is the one type of thing I love more than any other, in my travels around the world?
Well, obviously, a grotto!
Not just The Grotto in Portland, but also that cafe in Zurich, Casa Bonita in Denver, a dozen other precious false places…. and now to join the ranks, a Vietnamese restaurant in France!
The stairs to get in:
I failed to photograph a sufficient ration of the mirrors, false ceiling, fish tank walls, murals, and fake shrubbery everywhere….
In fact, I was so thrilled I went without lipstick most of the dinner:
The food was excellent – spring rolls and pho equivalent to the stuff I could get back home in Seattle living in the CD, which is rare to nonexistent in England.
The waiter found us adorable and lavished us with attention, treats, and presents, including a pregnant dolphin for my son:
Free sake for the adults served in naughty cups:
And for me, a fan: