Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Worst Thing?

You know what the worst thing about being a writer is? The absolute worst thing? Worse than the conflict between the need for constant praise and the violent desire to run screaming away from the world; worse than the nights staying up past three in the morning with a pad and a pen and raging insomnia because you're trying to say something and you know you haven't got it quite right just yet, but if you stay up just a little longer and change this little bit here then you might have something that works; worse than the fact that it's almost certainly a one-way ticket to a lifetime of grinding poverty and total dissatisfaction? Worse than that?

It's the fact that occassionally you read something, or hear something, in which someone really pours out their heart, exposes themselves in ways you'd never think they'd dare, rips off a layer of their skin and shows you the fresh fucking blood and muscle beneath...

...and part of you, a horrible, mercenary, assassin-hearted little part of you, is clocking all the mistakes, all the little ways it's not quite right and thinking: 'yeah. I could top this, easy.'

I'm a writer. I hate myself. Sometimes, these facts aren't unrelated.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to have a shower.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Just Don't be a Dick, Dick.

Yesterday I had to 'represent', as I believe you young people say. Walking back from work, I saw a man in a van shouting at a woman in a 4x4 stopped across the roundabout. She was in the wrong, but this guy was leaning out of the cab of his van, shaking his fist at her, shouting 'come on' and generally being a violent arsehole. I thought as fast as I could, realised I couldn't cross the traffic to get to him , so whipped out my Blackberry and trained the camera on him, making sure the fucker saw that was exactly what I was doing. Fortunately, realising someone was watching and recording suddenly made this fellow unaccountably sheepish, and he drove off in a huff.

What would have happened if I hadn't been there? Would he have climbed out of his cab and assaulted her? And how did she feel when she drove home? These things are on my mind today not because I want to show off how much of a hero I am - I'm probably in the running for Poltroon of the Decade - but because today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Violence isn't just hitting. Violence is shouting, violence is creating an intimidating environment, violence is acting in any way with the intent to frighten, subjugate and humiliate a woman purely because of her gender.

There's a hell of a lot of violence against women, cis or trans, in this world, from all kinds of quarters. It isn't just a male-on-female issue, there's violence against women by women too, and there's behaviour that enables violence against certain groups of women by creating a false distinction between them and others(I'm looking at you here, Bindel), and there's the general existence of a rape culture which makes all women (and a hell of a lot of men who aren't total pricks) unsafe, and it all has to stop.

Arguably, that woman yesterday avoided a beating because I happened to be walking past with a camera. That shouldn't have to be the case. However she was in the wrong, the guy in the van should have caught on to himself, held his tongue, and been man enough not to be the oppressor.

A world in which men do that - a world in which we all do that - will be a safer day for all of us. Keep that in mind.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

So yeah, poetry 'n' stuff

The other day I was cleaning out a cupboard, and I found something I'd looked for and failed to find about a week ago: my old recording mike. I last used this thing about a decade ago to record some poems for a probably-long-forgotten project at the Arc in Stockton, back when it was a new venue, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it still worked. I plugged it into my laptop and realised that this now meant I could record some of my actual poems.

Once I'd got over the horror of being forced to listen to recordings of my freakish voice, I did so. Then I looked into ways of uploading them to this blog, and my facebook page.

Turns out the easiest way to do this is to post them as videos. This, however, would entail me having to work out how to use Windows Movie Maker. So I sat my ass down and did so.

The first video, posted only to my FB page, was really just a test to see that the audio uploading worked. But I've spent tonight working on a new video where the images reflect the text, follow each other sequentially and last the whole of the video, giving you something to look at while you listen to me witter on. So, without further ado, here's 'Retreat':


Some more links to blogs discussing the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November 09.

Cheryl Morgan muses on, among other things, the prevalence of transphobic violence in Brazil, and a commenter discloses a tragic story from Italy about yet another way in which the Catholic church seems, to this reader at least, to be on an ongoing quest to make itself as least like Christ as it can possibly get.

The wonderful people at The Angels paint it black in remembrance, providing a list of the fallen.

And Lucy from Catspaw makes the important point that when we talk about the murder of trans people, we're overwhelmingly talking about the murder of trans women, and particularly trans women of colour. Oppressions, as she says, do intersect, and if we're ever going to undo the kyriarchy , as Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza calls it (though in my sci-fi geek heart I still call it the Matrix), then we have to be aware of those intersection points of oppression, and not try to co-opt them to play the I'm-the-most-oppressed game.

Lucy also provides another important service, in providing links to further blogs dealing with TDOR, all of which I urge you to check out.

It isn't November 20th on the Greenwich Meridian anymore, but it's still that day somewhere, and somewhere on this planet, men and women are being oppressed, harassed, and murdered for being themselves. And whatever day of the year it is, that has to stop.

Friday, 20 November 2009


Here is a link. Please read it, and think about it. And think about this:

Risk of being murdered for most people? 1 in 18,000.

Risk of being murdered for transwomen? Between 1 in 8 (for transwomen of colour) and 1 in 12 (for those transwomen lucky enough to have been born caucasian).

I know it can seem wearing for some of you, when I get on my high horse and start having a go at the Mr T Snickers ads, or Julie Bindel's transphobic magazine wankery, but there's a reason why I do it. And that reason is right there, in black and white, in those numbers.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Learning to speak all over again...

Last week I fucked up. I stood in front of a small crowd in a room, read two poems which I then apologised for and fucked off the stage. Nothing wrong with the poems. Nothing wrong with the way I performed them - other than that they were too heavy for the start of a set. I did nothing to soften up the audience. Nothing to get them in a receptive state, make 'em laugh and make 'em let their guard down. No foreplay, basically. And so having failed to properly get them revved up, I finished too early. I'm sorry. This sort of thing almost never happens to me, honest.

Today I looked through a huge portfolio file of my poems, working through them and finding which I could stand by in terms of publication, and those I could stand by in terms of performing. This was born of two anxieties I've had recently: that I need to get my performances right and start giving the audience a little more of a back rub before elbowing their attention point, and that I need to make a proper push toward getting something seriously published. In the whole set of poems I found fourteen poems I could stand to see published (with another two I'd probably grudgingly include) and thirteen I could stand to perform. They weren't all the same poems - publishing and performance have slightly different criteria, but the point is, there were so few of them.

There are times when I wish I could throw out work as fast and perform as confidently as my old self. But it's a wish I know better than to indulge. Because the old me was an arrogant prick, a monster of ego, who treated people badly and did things out of a selfish desire to be loved and then, for some time, a selfish desire to be hated. And I never want to be that person again. Ever.

I've changed. A lot. And I'm continuing to change. Part of that means learning a new language, a new way of being - a new way of speaking. Of performing. For a long time I tried to be a rock star poet because I thought that was the best way to perform, because I thought it was a persona I could wear to give me the confidence I needed. And it did. All drugs confer a benefit, for a time. But that persona wasn't me. It was something I pretended to be which eventually became me and which turned me into someone arrogant and grotesque and actually, when you got down to it, kind of mean.

And now, at long last, I'm at a stage when I want to drop all that shit - both the love-me shit and the hate-me shit, which are two sides of the same damn coin anyway, and just start being me. Perform and publish only the stuff that seems to be truly me, that I can truly own, and present it to people in a way that doesn't beg for their affection or taunt them to attack.

Today, in the dining room of my parents' house, I found an old portfolio from my Creative Writing MA. I haven't really looked at it yet, because I know it'll make me cringe, but it reminded me of how it felt to write things which, awkward and ungainly as they were, still had beauty and truth in them. To dredge something up from my sewer of a heart and say this is me, rather than to try to manipulate for an emotional reaction. And the best reactions I ever got in any case, the ones that meant the most - they were from those poems. Flawed as they were, and delivered so quietly they could barely be heard, because I was so chonically shy in those days.

I want to be heard these days, and I want to perform in a competent way, and I want to give to the audience rather than just take, so I'm prepared to work harder to make my performances interesting. But I want to do it while being true to myself this time. So in that sense, last Thursday's performance was a step forward because that I was doing. Inevitably I'd feel nervous. I'm not the guy I was. But I did it and I didn't bullshit the audience or try to fake who I was. From there I can work on the performance aspect and get better. And only having fourteen poems I'll stand by? Fair enough. Back when I was starting that MA I'd have killed to have four good poems that really said how I thought, so fourteen is frakkin' stellar.

Last week I fucked up. But I know that I'm going to get better.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Why I Fight

I don't have, and for as far back as I can remember have never had, anything approaching a conventional religion. Oh, sure, I was raised Catholic, but even at infants' school I was the kid who annoyed the teachers by asking difficult questions about the rules. One of my earliest memories of theological argument is of me sitting in the tiny class library in my third-form infants' class, showing another student a picture of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness in one of those cool illustrated bibles they do for kids (I maintain that adult bibles would look a lot better with those fantastic, fully-painted kitschy illustrations), pointing at Satan and going 'This is God' and then pointing at Jesus going 'this is the Devil.' I was a Gnostic at the age of nine! Needless to say the kid freaked, went and told the teacher, and I got me a good shouting-at. The point is, I never bought the official line from Christianity, and I still don't.

As I was growing up I became fascinated by alternative religious movements. I flirted with wicca, as most teens do, but it felt...neutered, somehow. Wicca is too nice for me. There's too much sweetness and light in it. Or at least there was in the wicca that was being touted when I was growing up. My feeling is that it may, post-Buffy, have gotten a little darker and made a little more room for the nasty things in life, but, I dunno, whatever. Most wiccans I met never looked, to me, as if they could last half a round in a mage-off with Granny Weatherwax, so I moved on.

What I eventually settled on, religion-wise, was my current practice, which is one of devotion to an orisha in the Santeria pantheon called Yemaya. Yemaya's a sea goddess, and I've always had an affinity for the sea. Large bodies of water have always calmed me. Standing by the lake or the sea has the same effect for me as standing in a gothic cathedral, an intense, numinous sense of awe and wonder. But it isn't just that. If it was just a sea-god thing, I could pick any number of deities. No, the reason I like Yemaya, the reason she's the only god-like-entity I could ever truly get behind, is because of a story.

See, Yemaya has a son, Chango, the fire orisha. And Chango is a cocky motherfucker. Swaggers all around the place, cheats on his wives and concubines any chance he gets, takes vengeance on anyone who fucks with him: generally Chango is a big, dick-swingin' playa. Any woman he wants, he gets, and he will break any heart without regret. But Chango's an orphan. He's never known his mother.

Then, one night, Chango finds Yemaya at a big feast, and she looks incredible. He doesn't know who she is but he wants this woman. So he swaggers over and tries his usual thing. Yemaya does know who Chango is and takes major offence at being propositioned by him, especially in such a disrespectful manner, but doesn't show it. Instead, she leads him out to the beach, and gets in the sea with him. Then, when Chango's in the sea, she cooks up a big storm and tries to drown him. The whole scene gets so bad that Aganju, Chango's father (or possibly his brother - these syncretistic religions are confusing like that) even comes along and pleads with Yemaya to spare the boy. Yemaya replies with the incredibly zen line: 'I will save him when he is willing to drown.'

(That is the part I love about this myth, that line. You'll only be saved when you give in to the ocean. When you let go of the heroic ego and dissolve into oceanic experience. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

So of course Chango, being a total badass, is not willing to drown, so down he goes. Yemaya lets him back up, and asks him again, and again he basically gives her the finger. So down he goes again. The third time - and of course it's always the third time in mythology, but you knew that - the third time, Chango relents, gives in, and tells Yemaya that she can drown him if she wants to. And so she lets him live.

What I like about this story is the confrontation between the heroic, swaggering, masculine, heroic ego and the deeper, subtler yin energies represented by Yemaya. And the fact that ultimately the masculine hero is powerless against those forces. As all heroes are. You can swagger all you like, you can boldly go wherever you frakkin' want to but boy, at some point, you're gonna go down in that ocean. Your precious strength is going to leave you. You will lose your power to exert your will upon the world. You will sink into the ocean of aging. The ocean of infirmity. The ocean of senility. The ocean of forgetting. The ocean of death.

But that needn't be a bad thing. If you're willing to descend, the ocean ceases to be frightening. And, like quicksand, if you keep your head, all of these oceans can be swum in. Even the ocean of dying.

Of course there are other oceans which are just as much of a threat to the heroic ego: the ocean of mystical experience, the ocean of compassion, the ocean of love. All these things are a threat to the masculine hero because they remind him how small he is. And he can't have that.

We live in a hyper-masculine culture at the moment. We live in a culture afraid to go down in any of those oceans. A culture so macho that, as George Monbiot points out, we fight back against the growing evidence that parts of our planet are literally sinking into the ocean with ever more ludicrous, environment damaging behaviour. A culture which erects hurtful, disabling standards of masculinity which ultimately punish both those who don't conform and those who do. Our culture at this time is like Chango, thrashing around in that ocean, ignorant, confused and striking out in that confusion uselessly, unable to see that it can only change when it makes peace with reality, and abandons the heroic ego. Unable to see that it can only be saved when it's willing to drown.

Our culture has too much Chango in it: too much of the damaging, big-dick-swinging badass. And the collateral damage is there for all to see, in the rape statistics, the suicide statistics, the domestic violence statistics, the harassment which women suffer daily from ignorant male pricks, the homophobia, cissexism and heteronormativity which expose anyone who fails to conform to the prescribed templates of masculine and feminine to be liable to discrimination and violence, and the scars on the wrists of those young men and women who, beaten down by their failure to live up to a warped world's expectations of 'the normal' can see no recourse but to punish themselves.

Our culture needs an overwhelming dose of Yemaya's forces right now. Before we blow ourselves to shreds or choke ourselves to death with greenhouse gases, we need a big, big loan from the girl zone to make us see that all our thrashing about is useless - but if we make peace with the ocean, if we accept that we're going to drown, we may yet be spared.

This has been a longer post than I expected, but then this is a complex topic. Anyway, that's all I have to say for the moment on it. Doubtless there'll be more stuff later but, for now, I need to shower and get my nails on for tonight's gig. Laterz, yeah?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Operation: Sex Change the title of a game I proposed to MB that would, I swear, have made them a cool billion, but did they go for it? No. They thought a game in which the player has to carry out a perfect vaginoplasty (link NSFW, BTW) on a ruddy-nosed cartoon man might be, and I quote 'pushing the envelope in a direction we, as a family games manufacturer, really don't want to go, and if you keep calling our office high on drugs in the middle of the night we'll have you bludgeoned', and instead went with a Simpsons tie-in edition of the old Operation! franchise. Pussies.

Not really of course. What Operation:Sex Change is, in fact, is a Facebook Campaign set up by people from Bekhsoos, a queer arab magazine, to draw attention to the problems faced by transgendered people around the world, and in particular to draw attention to the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. It's a pretty simple idea: you go on Facebook, you change your gender identity on your profile, publish the change to your profile and, when people ask why, you tell them about the campaign.

Readers of this blog will know that as someone who self-identifies as genderqueer I often explore related issues on this blog and in my work, and will not be wholly surprised to note that on my FB profile I now appear to be one of those HOT LOCAL GIRLS facebook ads are always telling us we should meet up with RIGHT NOW. But I'd also like to encourage you to do the same. As Cheryl Morgan points out, it doesn't hurt, and it's only temporary. Go on, live dangerously.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Don't get me wrong, I still hate the Tories an' that...

...but this guy shows that disgust at the Sun's latest sickening and over-hyped attack on Gordon Brown goes beyond party allegiances. I can forgive Jacqui Janes for her anger about this, and I can appreciate that she's probably being milked for quotes by some red-top bottom-feeder, but I can't forgive the Sun for deciding to make a story out of what boils down, in the end, to picking on a disabled man.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Just Writing Week: Another Worstdraft

The arcade beneath the office block,
plague hospital beyond, the Georgian close
tucked neat behind the underpass,
the weed-choked steps, a hanging wasteland garden
walked by hungry eyes at night
but safe as houses in the day;

these places, all the others, every view
we saw together, every path we both danced down
while swapping sugar-high perspectives:
what happened to the way we used to walk?
When did we start shuffling and shambling
with the rest, start creeping to their tempo
and not keeping our own beat?
If you came here, if I went to your town,
would you, just once, wish to dance again?

Tell Me Why (I Don't Like Sundays)

Ah, Sunday morning, and here I am up way before the sun getting ready for work. I have to get up stupid early because I need to make sure to get the bus into work at the right time. The bus I need to get only runs once an hour on Sunday in off-peak time, and this is definitely off-peak time.

You have to hand it to the kyriarchy (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's more nuanced term for the dark forces who would rule this planet - go read the link, it's important), it played a blinder when it convinced us that allowing shops to trade on sunday would give us all more freedom. Of course it hasn't. But it oppresses us in different ways, and we only think that some of those ways are freedom.

It oppresses me because I have to get up this goddam early. It oppresses me because so much of my time is spent trying to find a way around the crappiness of the Sunday morning bus schedules so I can get my ass into work without being late and without being so bloody early it hurts. It oppresses the bus driver who has to be there in that bus driving my sorry arse into work in the morning, and the guys at McDonalds who have to be in there even earlier than I do to give us other Sunday-working mofos our coffee while we wait for the managers to arrive and open up the shops we work in. The only people who think they're liberated by this system are the people who don't have to work on Sunday, the middle class folks who get to spend Sunday morning nice and comfy in their beds before they go out shopping.

But here's the news from those below: if you're taking your ass out shopping on a Sunday, then your ass is not liberated. Because you have accepted the idea that your role as a passive consumer, as a cog in the neo-'liberal' capitalist economic machine, can know no bounds. You are accepting that there is no space, no time in your life which cannot be commercialised. I don't agree with the Christians on a lot of grounds, but one area where I do agree with them is that, when we decided to treat Sunday as basically just another shopping day, we lost something. We lost the idea that there might be one day a week when Mammon didn't reign supreme.

This Sunday, readers, don't go shopping. Don't necessarily go to church, either, but do something different. Start a little project at home - something you can get started on without going out and buying materials for it. Visit a museum (do not go to the gift shop). Go for a walk in the woods, go running, take a trip to the seaside. Read that book you haven't got around to. Listen to some music. Visit a friend. Step out of the machinery, start focusing on the idea that maybe there ought to be more commerce-free areas of life. And stop submitting to the collective hypnosis that tells you you are free because you can buy useless consumer tchotchkes on a Sunday, and which oppresses us all.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Just Writing Week

I've christened this week (roughly this week anyway - from last night to my gig at the Jazz Cafe on Thursday) Just Writing Week, in my world anyway. I'm paring my tweeting and my Facebook participation back to less hyperactive levels and trying to spend the time writing instead. This is pretty much worstdrafting - throwing words out and seeing what happens - but I thought it would be interesting to post up what emerges on here, given that this is, y'know, sort of meant to be a poetry blog and that.

So, here's the first result. It doesn't have a name yet and it's maybe a little misshapen. Cradle it gently, as you might tend a wounded bird:

I come to again
in this hotel room dark
where paranoia eats the curtains
like a fleet of moths

the wine and whiskey in my bloodstream
laying plans with my enemy hormones,
chemical defence to make my body
shuck my soul, leave me just another zombi
in the low sun light of day

so inviting
this annihilation

all you have to do
is one more whiskey,
let yourself go under

be submerged
in dreams of other flesh, memories
of her piano
and the screams still ringing
their defiance
on this too-tame night

and now the sun’s too bright
through these windows
which do not open fully,
a suicide and lawsuit prophylactic,
this attempt to dodge
the human liability

this sun too bright
and last thing I remember
it was night

(and yes, I am reading Caitlin R Kiernan again. You should be too.)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Interactive Poetry Rides Again!

Remember the Interactive Poetry Experiment I was trying to pull off at the Trafalgar Square gig? I'm gonna get another run at it. At Newcastle's celebrations for the International Day of Human Rights (which will run for three days because we divvent dee things by halves oop here, pet), and under the aegis of Newcastle City for Peace, I shall be having another go at the 'I'm afraid to say it but...' collaborative poem idea at Newcastle Central Library on December 12th. And this time, there will be audience!

I'm massively excited about this. I was really looking forward to doing something with my plinth-time that got beyond my usual rockstar-poet ego-trip, included people and gave them space in which to speak their fears, so I was kinda bummed when it didn't go quite as it should have due to their not being a lot of people in Trafalgar Square at four in the morning (who knew?) and I just had to default back to performing. Getting a second chance to have a crack at it, in the service of such an important cause, is an honour. I'll be posting more about my plans for this one in the coming days, I'm sure, so stay tuned.

Anyway. Tea now, then pub later for me. Stay classy, people.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Buttocks and Hairy Chests

The Fishblog salutes the courage of Irish hurler Donal Og Cusack, who has shown a degree of courage not seen among England's ball-chasing, DJ-assaulting community in coming out as gay. In a sport as macho as hurling, whose players are seen as archetypes of Irish masculine virtue, it takes, well, balls to come out and admit to the truth of your sexuality, instead of shamming around with a Model-Actress-Whatever girlfriend from reality show central casting.

The Fishblog also commiserates with Donal on the fact that his coming out has been celebrated in verse with this, well, not very good effort from usually very good indeed Irish novelist Colm Toibin.

I mean - 'I love their buttocks and their hairy chests', Colm? Really?