We spent family day at LACMA, visiting Chris Burden’s fantastically popular Metropolis II. We loved it- the energy, the million little twists and turns to look at, and, of course, the CHOO CHOOS! It was frenetic and oddly meditative at the same time.
I found it amusing that Chris Burden, an artist famous for having himself nailed (yes, nailed) to a Volkswagen, has created the cult fave activity for families in LA right now. Does this mean that the world is going to let me pen a children’s book someday? I hope so.
For the past couple of days my inbox has been full of, “Have you heard this, yet?” and, “Check this out!” and, “OMG, Mike Daisey!” The storytellers of the world are abuzz with this latest scandal, in which the much-lauded monologuist Mike Daisey is called out by This American Life for fabricating aspects of the story he told on the show, which was culled from his latest theater piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.
Now, I really respect Mike Daisey and he has a few monologues that I love- particularly the one he does about PT Barnum (ironically). I will tell you something that all storytellers know: some of every story is fiction. Every time you tell a story, you are further from the the actual event. Every time you tell a story, you are really telling a story about the story as you last told it. This is how stories live and breathe and transform. I would argue that this is how stories become MORE truthful, not less. But they often become less accurate. Truth is a slippery thing. There’s room for slipperiness in stories, just not in journalism.
And I believe that’s where Mike Daisey got into trouble- when he presented the story as journalism, which was probably never his intention. I can imagine that things just snowballed on him. The story blew up. Things got out of hand. And I suspect he rationalized his lies to himself by saying that there was so much good being done as a result. The story he told was about the genuinely terrible conditions of the workers in the Apple factory in China. Mike’s voice had a hand in those conditions changing. I sympathize with Mike, but at the same time I think his intentionally misleading people is inexcusable, regardless of the result.
I will also say that I saw The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs months ago, and it left a funny taste in my mouth. I didn’t much like it. Not because I doubted its veracity, but because I thought that Mike was so clearly manipulating the emotions of the audience for political reasons- in order to inspire action on their part that would facilitate a change that Mike wanted to see happen. In my opinion, that’s where art starts to turn into propaganda. At which point, I get a little less interested and a lot more guarded, regardless of how righteous the cause. So my complaint wasn’t that the piece was a lie, but rather that it was generally condescending and coercive.
As for lies, I’m going to tell some tonight.
I’m about to go stand on a stage tonight and tell a story about something that happened to me nearly twenty years ago. And I will look the audience members in the eye and I will say this line…
I stood at the bar and calculated that in two hours I had made exactly fifteen dollars.
And I will probably be lying. I have no idea if it was seventeen dollars or if it was twenty or if it was twelve. I will also say I bought a neon pink bikini, when the truth is that I can’t remember the color. Or I think that I can remember it, but I’m probably just remembering the last time I told the story. Tricky stuff, stories. Twisted stuff, memory.
But I will be telling the story of a girl who transformed herself into someone new overnight by simply imagining it to be true. And I will tell the story of how she only later realized that she should have been more careful about what she imagined. And that story, friends, is dead true.
Here is the cover for the Portuguese translation of Some Girls. I looked up the title. Apparently “comprada” means “purchased,” similar to Spanish. It’s interesting to me that none of the foreign translations have used the original title. I’ve been told that it’s because the Rolling Stones reference gets lost and that without it, it’s not as exciting. I’m just thrilled that the book is finding its way into so many different languages.
Here are some highlights from the recent NY performance of my solo show, MOTHER TONGUE. For those of you who haven’t heard me go on about it ad nauseam already, the show is a multi-character, autobiographical piece revolving around the themes of adoption, blood, tribe and identity. It follows my circuitous journey to get pregnant and, when that proves unsuccessful, to adopt T in Ethiopia.
Hang in until the end for some awesome pics of T. That’s one way to get your kids to be enthusiastic about your creative endeavors- include giant projected pictures of them.
Micro-aggressions are described by Chester M Pierce as: brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.
I’m not a comedian, per-se, but I am a storyteller and I often find myself sharing a stage with comics. So I’m pretty comfortable getting in the ring and slugging it out with big, loud racism or sexism, or ability-ism (please tell me the right word for this if you’ve been to a liberal arts college more recently than me, which is to say anytime since the industrial revolution). I’ve cheerfully burned a few professional bridges by standing up at the mic and saying, “Hey, you’re an asshole and here’s why…” I have fond memories of an evening during which a woman stood up ahead of me and told a story in which the humor depended on the collective assumption that she should be horrified that her internet date turned out to have an adoptive kid with special needs. I followed and took it upon myself to point out that I could see why she was staying single.
But micro-aggressions are often more confusing. For some that I face regularly, I have memorized responses (He’s so lucky. No, we’re lucky.). But when I’m caught off guard, I often don’t know what to do.
For instance, I was recently in a doctor’s office getting ready for the painful removal of a surgical dressing, when he told me a story that involved a “big black guy” coming to his door at 6:30 at night. You know- someone who just didn’t look like he, “belonged in the neighborhood.” And I sat there with my mouth shut and didn’t say a thing. My friend in the waiting room heard the whole exchange. She put a picture of Tariku in my face when we walked out the door and said, “You know this is going to be the big black guy who doesn’t belong in his neighborhood, right?” And I was like- sue me. I didn’t want to have a big confrontation with the guy about to rip a bandage off my face, okay?
But then I was at a reading a couple of weeks ago and another reader began by describing a “dark lady with a mustache” on an airplane and I knew we were in for it. He went on to mock her accent and her eager friendliness, calling her “Gunga-din.” And again, I sat silently. I meant to speak to him afterward, but I was talking to readers; I was signing books. Then I had to run out so I could get home and let the babysitter go. I told myself there simply hadn’t been time. But there probably had. I was just overwhelmed with everything going on. I didn’t have the right words.
There isn’t always a mic in front of my face. And even when there is, the situations are sometimes delicate, the offense subtle. I can’t always find the right joke with which to counter. And those are the kind of moments that haunt me for days. Why did I stay silent? Was I being cowardly? Opportunistic? Should I have said something? And if so, what?
I don’t think there’s a way to get this perfect. But I’d like to get better at it. I think that opening up a dialogue is always a good start.
I’m fantasizing about doing a “Shit People Say to Trans-Racial Families” video (with all my spare time, but what the hell). Who’s with me? Leave a comment and tell me your pet-peeve micro-aggression. And if you’re in the LA area, let me know if you want to be in it!
Is he yours?
This is T with Kristen Howerton’s kids, btw. Man, I love those peanuts. I’m totally recruiting them for the video.
Today is T’s actual birthday, but we celebrated on Sunday. Last year, I fought for our right to party. This year, I just called his two besties three days in advance and had them meet us at Descanso Gardens. We chowed Babycakes gluten-free brownie cake (best. ever.) and then let the boys ride the train until they almost threw up.
That was it, folks. And it was such a great, sun-dappled, mellow day.
I could say all that stuff- I can’t believe how big he is. He’s growing up so fast. Blah blah. And it’s all true. But mostly, his birthday stuns me because I look at him and think how much he survived to get here. I marvel at the resilience of his joyful heart. It’s the honor of my life to witness the miracle that is him in this world.
Mike Kelley was my neighbor. Or at least his work was my neighbor. His studio was in the Farley Building at the corner of our street. I took this picture of the discarded flowers after his memorial. For a couple of days last weekend, his videos played on a huge screen in his studio while people came and went. We wandered through and felt a little bit like grief tourists, so we didn’t stay long.
I met him a couple of times, but we didn’t really know him. T likes to ride his scooter around the parking lot behind the Farley Building and I always loved to peek in the back door, to catch glimpses of the process.
I find Mike Kelley’s work challenging and inspiring. I had weird moments of synchronicity with it. Shortly after he moved into the Farley Building, Scott and I walked into a bookstore in NY and there was a huge Destroy All Monsters installation. We bought a signed copy of one of his movies. We found it kind of wonderful and kind of unwatchable at the same time.
I’m saddened by the news of his suicide. In some part because my hope is that as artists, our work somehow redeems our suffering. Of course, some suffering is irredeemable. Some suffering is unendurable.
And as with all things, being a mother has totally transformed the lens through which I view the world. I always look at suicides now and think- that was someone’s baby.
He’s a loss to the world. And to our small corner of it.