Sunday, November 23, 2008

Exposing my self

i've been wandering around all day in a fog. over the last hour or so it's occurred to me that it's because i'm tired. my feet hurt. my knees hurt. my hips hurt. okay, all of that can be traced to dancing in ridiculous heels last night -- but the outside of my forearms? my neck? i guess it's like this when tension leaves the body.

what i've realized during the last hour of slow consciousness (see slow food, slow growth) is that although i am tired, i am also really and truly better than i was a year ago or two. it's not just that i didn't pass out in the middle of the night and rip my forehead open, as i did at the end of exposure '07. and it's not that i find this easy: although i wrote breezily a few days back that i had lost track of my identity as dr zwicker, that kind of emotional dislocation is profound, for me. this week of supreme highs (bathhouse) and fears (will people come to the festival? will they like it? will our small board survive it?) and frustrations (which aren't worth rehearsing) and fragmentation (from 9-9:30 i'm schlepper, from 9:30-11:00 i'm teacher, from 11:00-1:00 i'm hzwicker@ualberta and zwickerhzwicker@gmail, then dr zee, then doctoral supervisor, then, starting at 4:00, professional lesbian, then sombre audience member) and neglect (does walking to the car count as exercise? how many nights a week is it ok to eat trail mix for dinner?): this kind of disaggregation is precisely what the doctor didn't order.

but i'm ok. i'm not great. in particular, i'm still bothered by that perennial sense that i should have done more; it grieved and guilted me to leave the party last night, for instance, knowing how much work it would be to take it down, and i can't believe i forgot, literally forgot, to go to play on friday night after the amy fung event at the ARTery. i feel uneasy, unsettled, uncertain -- all those "un"s suggesting that i don't feel any identifiable thing, just the opposite of many things. my sensitivities are dialed up, so i still don't know whether i'm right to be upset about the unlimited business, and i am spending way too much time fretting about people who are, really, tangential to my life (but did KW seem out of sorts to anyone else this week?). i don't know what i'll do with all this unclaimed time on my hands, nor how i'll survive without sending and receiving a hundred exposure-related emails a day. i worry, what if my sense of self really is predicated on being indispensable to others?

as i pause and read the paragraph i just wrote -- slow consciousness, remember? -- i'm struck by the repetition of "not knowing." apparently, i find it emotionally dangerous not to know. (my name is heather, and i'm a control freak....). but it's puzzling, nonetheless. isn't the unknown one of the main things to love about art? and isn't risk built into dealing with people? i'm all about grooving on folks who are unlike me, and i love seeing a painting or a photograph or a performance or a room -- the starlite lounge last night comes to mind -- that startles or intrigues or comforts or moves me into a different mental and emotional space.

it's odd, then, homeopathically odd, that the things that scare me the most are the things i seek to do. i probably should have been a bank teller, not a teacher who falls in love with her classes right before they end. i should work on safe events like the olympics rather than start-up queer arts and culture fests. i should make friends with the old and settled, not the up-and-comers who regularly leave this city.

"expose yourself" was the slogan of this year's festival. it's only now, as i spend a day musing and loitering, that i really understand that challenge. i'm pleased to discover that i'm well enough to meet it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


in a word: incredible.

we planned for 100, hoped for 125, and we were past that number in the first hour. all in all, we had close to 400 people at the bathhouse over the evening.

everybody was there: swarthy men and bright-eyed graduate students, groups of curious girls, swishy boys, pretty boys, grown-up women, transfolk, drag queens in street clothes, dykes -- friends, strangers... i wish we'd had a tape recorder at the front door, just to capture people's first reactions on walking into the dark red maze. some were anxious and wanted direction: "which way should we go? what should we not miss?" others were just excited: "OMG i can't believe i'm here!" yet others came through the door and you could actually see them adjust their facial expression from nervous to cruisy to cool.

we had art pieces in a dozen rooms and along the halls. marshall set up spotlights to augment the dim and highlight the art, and we provided flashlights for people to use if they chose. norman omar's painting of half a dozen men in towels leaning up against one another covered one hallway, for instance; we installed shane golby's rabbit hutch along one wall and put CW carson's terrifying clown images into three rooms on the opposite wall. one of my personal favorites was dolan badger's installation about fucking the indian (again).... really powerful, and beautiful, understated and bold, at once. anthea black silkscreened a gayle rubin room, a patrick califia room and a cynthia plaster room that you could only view through glory holes. the TVs throughout the bathhouse are all wired together. on one, we screened tom kalin and gran fury's AIDS has not left the building, on the second, sandi somers' whimsical the panty portal and on the third, a buck angel porn called buckback mountain (confession: it was hard not to go with v for vagina). seeing these three together, as you could in the movie room, worked surprisingly well.

we printed e.g. crichton's dirty soap prints on waterproof paper and hung them around the shower and on the floor. we had paige gratland's celebrity lesbian fists, silicon, displayed on black slate. josee aubin oullette took over the steam rooom and filled it with simple ink drawings of the everyday objects that get transformed by being in a bathhouse -- towels, lockers, pillows, beds, keys. it was a little treasure hunt of a maze, illuminated with sexy blacklights.

upstairs, four performance artists held court. antonio bavaro was dr glockensprockensphree (?sp), dispensing advice for the sex addicted. put a coin in her slot and kristine nutting opened the door to her confessional. todd janes's tearoom allowed for anything -- anything -- and was really moving, a space for intimacy in the place you generally come to avoid it, while julianna barabas, wearing a full-length white greek dress, washed, massaged and oiled your hands while singing to you. many people commented that hers felt like the dirtiest piece of all.

anyway, it was a marvelous evening, way beyond our wildest dreams. more than any of the art in particular, the night itself was the event: wandering halls, getting lost in the dark, bumping into strangers, imagining yourself in the sling next to the chainlink fence.... the crowd was perhaps the best art installation of all.

for pictures, program and rowan bayne's exquisite blog on the event, go here. for todd janes's take on his own art, go here. jackson's photos are all over, esp at the exposure fb page.

tonight? i sat on the sofa for five hours, catching up on design blogs and without a trace reruns. that's bliss of another sort.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Who what where when

in about 12 hours the second annual exposure festival will be half over.

it's a fantastic festival. loud and queer was a sellout; james loney was incredible (i blogged about it here); and i've just come in from screening the incredibly moving she's a boy i knew, by vancouver film whiz gwen haworth, also in attendance to field questions and comments from the audience. tomorrow we deck out the bathhouse with art for a one-night extravaganza that has buzz all over -- well, actually, all over the country: the rumour is that CBC is running the story nationally.

but i am tired.

i knew from last year that this week would be tough, but knowing is not the same as living fatigue. my days are peppered with paying artists' cab fares, chasing down films that don't arrive, finding a stepladder, troubleshooting stanchions, speaking to media (a special hell, for me -- remember, i don't like vacation snaps), and trying to keep everybody else's spirits up. over in another email account, i still have my day job to attend to, and i feel worryingly distant from my colleagues and students this week. dr zwicker, i wonder: who's that? if it weren't for ted's can-do and mo's just-don't, i don't think i'd be standing at 10pm this monday night.

how tired am i? going to a command-performance queer meet-and-greet this afternoon, i found myself sharing an elevator with a woman from the united way, heading to the same event. dammit, i thought, small talk 31 floors before i'm ready. i did what i always do in such circumstances, which is channel my sister, the fund development officer who can chat up anybody. as the elevator doors closed on us, i arranged a pleasant look on my face and said, "united way! november's a busy month for you, isn't it? one of your busiest, i think i've heard. barb, is it? let me introduce myself, i'm heather zwicker. i teach in the english department at the ufoa but this week i'm also the board chair for exposure, edmonton's queer arts and culture festival." she looked a bit uncomfortable, like she was trying to find the right words to say. quick: be chipper. what would shannon do? "it's a multidisciplinary arts and culture festival," i said, "and hasn't it been a fantastic week in edmonton? salman rushdie was here on thursday, and thomas king spoke at city hall on saturday -- oh, and the university mounted a historical production of orfeo on saturday, did you catch that? i didn't, i was actually giving a paper at the parkland conference, but i heard that it was stunning, and i'm sorry i couldn't have been two places at once, because the films they showed as part of the festival of ideas sounded just phenomenal." i smiled super-brightly, then paused to inhale. she seized her moment. "sorry to interrupt," said barb, reaching for the door open button, "but i think the elevator isn't moving." and indeed, there we were, right where we started. just tireder.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The not-so-silent auction

i should have stopped to think, but you know me: i love an auction. where else do you get that one-on-everyone competitive thing in a shopping experience where the deals are guaranteed and all the money's going to a good cause? it's pretty heady.

but speaking of "pretty" -- and i'm saying this because i love you all -- if you're ever offered a cosmetics package at a queer festival, stop and think. the stuff is going to be drag-queen-friendly. it's not just the shave cream (which, at least, is travel sized), or the gold lip gloss (which can't look totally gold once it's spread all over your lips); it's not just the turquoise eyeshadow (turquoise will be making a comeback any day now), or the enormous powder puff (i've been meaning to get some enormous powder). it's not even the false eyelashes. well, it's a little bit the false eyelashes, which i can't see wearing to my day job.

no, the really difficult part here is that there are things in this package i can't even begin to identify. like "solar bits." body glitter, you might be thinking, pityingly (what kind of femme is she?). but it's black, and not "black" like somebody with dark skin might want to wear, but, like, jet black. read the tag line, you're thinking. okay: "pearlized clusters." does that help? didn't think so.

so after the excitement of my big "win" (and that's another thing about silent auctions, but isn't "winning" so much better, so much less greedy and ostentatious, so much luckier, than just "buying"?), i'm left with a bag of cosmetics that make me feel inadequate. which, when you step back for a second, is one big reason you'd buy cosmetics in the first place.

while i'm handing out silent auction advice: beware of the pity bid. if nobody else has bid on something by the second intermission, they're not going to, and you're going home with a stack of brad fraser books.

on the upside: mo seems to like her new watch.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Keep hope alive

i had one of the worst sleeps in history, yet i'm perfectly content. every 20 minutes or so i woke myself up asking, "is it true? is it really true?" happily, over and over i could put myself back to sleep with a comforting yes: yes, Barack Obama has been elected president of the united states.

i've been caught off guard by how much this election means to me, what it means, symbolically, for the US to elect a black president -- but also an urban president, a liberal, a cosmopolitan. the footage from kenya last night was meaningful not only because it was east africa, which always stirs me, but because for the first time in living memory, maybe the first time in history, the white house has lived connections to another part of the world. it makes it that much more difficult for america to recede into an isolationist exceptionalism.

and then there's the fact that he's african american. like everybody, i've known this all year. when i taught the james baldwin story "sonny's blues" to my first-year students earlier this semester, we ran through the history of slavery, the invention of the cotton gin, the urbanization of african americans in the north, the harlem renaissance, and the nascent civil rights movement. we watched billie holiday sing "strange fruit" (yeah: it's on youtube), and i ended the discussion by saying, "and that's why it's a big deal that there's an african american running for president."

in spite of all this consciousness, there was something, i don't know, different and shocking and inescapable and wonderful about seeing barack and michelle obama with their daughters on stage in grant park chicago last night, knowing that all four of them -- the whole family -- will be moving to the white house this winter. throughout the campaign, something, i suspect it's tokenism, though it's also the fact of cosmopolitanism and the fact of liberalism and the fact of complexity, something made it possible, perhaps even necessary, to see past the fact of barack's blackness (to invoke fanon). but the whole damn family is black, and they're all part of the big show now, all four of 'em, and it's michelle who's going to be walking the razorline of smart, stylish, self-possessed and supportive, and there will be black girls (black girls!) playing in the back yard of 1600 pennsylvania. obama's election is a Big Deal.

so i'm happy today. i'm happy for my former student, linda, who teaches in small-town arkansas. she writes, "There are just no words... I think there were scenes across the South and the nation akin to that which Maya Angelou describes when Joe Louis won the title of Heavyweight Champion of the world. ... I can't wait to get to school this morning. I can't wait to see Dr. Mallory, my colleague who taught in segregated schools and was a student at SAU when blacks were not allowed anywhere on campus outside the classroom. I can't wait to see my black students."

i'm happy for my friends al and sue in seattle, sue in particular being a lifelong democrat.

i'm happy for jesse jackson, whose "keep hope alive!" speech i was fortunate enough to hear in california in the fall of 1988. that's 20 years ago now, and 20 years after MLK's murder -- though at the time the '60s felt ancient, while the '80s feel like yesterday to me now. there is a world of learning there.

i'm happy for deidre and hector, their son eric and the baby they'll have in february. they're new yorkers, and maybe new yorkers don't have to feel so freakishly out of kilter with the country they're a part of, the country they were repatriated into after 9/11. i'm happy for new york.

i'm happy for all three of marcia and leerom's kids, who will grow up with barack obama as their president, and i'm happy for marcia, who protested nuclear arms at the original ground zero in nevada in the 70s and 80s, and i'm happy for lee and the progressive synagogue the family's part of.

i'm relieved and happy and relieved and -- did i say relieved? -- for the whole world this morning.

there's no one to feel unhappy for. during mccain's concession speech, which i agree was very gracious, i realized that in a profound sense he never had much to lose during this election. he's old, he's white, he's conservative, he's male -- the world remains his oyster. he can live the rest of his life off the "i ran against barack obama" stories if he wants to.

right now, though i hasten to add that i'm high on hope and sleeplessness, i don't even feel terribly unhappy about the queers who can't marry. there is work to be done, no doubt, and not least with conservative african americans who, if polls can be believed, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bans on gay marriage.

but this morning hope is tangible, and i want to remember that "hope" is for us too. not just americans, not just african americans, not just democrats or centrists, but all of us who live for progressive change. there is plenty to despair about in the world, especially over the last 7 years, and there's always room for better. facebook status updates are being qualified already, from last night's jubilation to a more measured tone that notes the disappointments of prop 8.

i get it. but as for me, i'm not going to change my update yet. hope is an unknown territory, and i'm going to take the risk of living there a while.