When the Sick Rule the World

My second Dodie Bellamy book was a much less ecstatic experience than reading The Buddhist a few years ago. Maybe the magic has worn off and I’m annoyed by all the insider gossip/name-dropping/self-reverential stuff. Yes, yes, you’re pals with Eileen Myles and knew Kathy Acker, how lovely.

This is a ragtag collection of essays of varying quality. I enjoyed Whistle While You Dixie briefly, her rants against the old adage that whistling women bring no good (“why is whistling a male thing?”) and pointing out the oddity of the sound itself (“Whistling is freakish, like a wheeze that has been unnaturally domesticated.”)

There are parts of other essays that are worthwhile, like Digging Through Kathy Acker’s Stuff wherein she badgers Matias for some jewelry he promised that she could have of Acker’s. In the essay, she mentions Acker responding to a talk Bellamy gave praising Acker and citing a passage that Acker later stated she stole from Juan Goytisolo. Bellamy admits that she was inspired by Acker’s thievery and pumped her novel Letters of Mina Harker full of “anything and everything that crossed my path.” But when the Bay Guardian reviewed the book and quoted a passage, it was a passage she’d ripped off from Gail Scott’s Heroine. Also learned that Acker used to hold her classes at Edinburgh Castle instead of at the Art Institute.

The excruciatingly long essay, In the Shadow of Twitter Towers, closes out the book. Lots of beefs with this one despite us sharing common sentiment about gentrification and tech killing the city. No one calls NEMA a Twitter Tower, for one thing. I did like her characterization of the Google buses: “slugs with dark eyeless windows – giant white slugs of capitalism clogging traffic with their slime.” She apparently lives on Minna St. a block away from the Uber HQ where cab drivers were protesting. “San Francisco won’t stop screeching as if its heart were being ripped out. A bad place doesn’t spring up on its own. Something creates it. Atrocity births ghosts; soulless gentrification herds the desperate into ghettos away from moneyed eyes of tourists… I say hi to a young guy at a bus stop and he turns his head away. I share a table in a cafe with a woman and she stares at her phone the entire meal, never acknowledging my presence. All these clean, clean people – I stare at them trying to crack the mystery of how they do it, walk down the street impeccable as a doll wrapped in plastic.” Bellamy even co-opts some text from Daphne Gottlieb to express her frustration: “Were you in another city, state, place, neighborhood that changed drastically because of a seizure by people with money? What did you do? Where did you go? I was just thinking that I haven’t been evicted (yet), but my culture has. I have been in San Francisco 24 years. San Francisco raised me. I don’t know if I could survive in the wild. Where do I go? What do I do?”

The Buddhist

buddhistThis came to me via InterLibraryLoan, glorious ILL, from a college in Michigan after I stumbled across a breadcrumb for it in Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts. It’s a shame no Bay Area library has a copy, since the work takes place here and has quintessential SF elements like getting Taoist internal organ massages and channeling her raccoon spirit animal. I’m not sure what to call this project—blog to book? Dodie took posts from her blog about working through a breakup with a Buddhist quasi-celebrity teacher and with various editing and the addition of the 1,000 character eponymous story, published it. It’s the story of recovery from a bad relationship (with the buddhist, demoted to lowercase) while in the comfort of an open marriage with a gay man, Kevin Killian, whom she met in 1981 in the “extremely charged scene of radical, queer, New Narrative writers working in San Francisco,” and with whom she is very much in love.

Once again, Eileen Myles stumbles into my path, Dodie mentioning her reading at Modern Times to promote Inferno back in 2010, then having tea at Ritual Cafe then latenight tacos. “Our conversation was divinely personal—gossip, relationships, writing projects, and how to hold it all together… Eileen talked about various spiritual practices she’s engaged in, and said if she let them slide, she started to believe what was in her mind.”

Once again, Bruce Connor and Jay de Feo cross my path, as Dodie mentions finding Connor’s 1967 film, The White Rose, detailing the removal of de Feo’s 1 ton painting/sculpture from her Fillmore Street studio, set to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. And another new friend of mine popped up, Dodie reading Eva Hesse Spectres 1960, the catalog from the Eva Hesse show at the Hammer in LA. “My understanding of Hesse’s paintings is deepening through reading about them, but that pales before their incomprehensible confrontation. One is stopped before them in awe.”

“Journaling–or blogging–doesn’t have the same ability to hold strong emotion as does ‘real writing.’ A polished piece demands distance, that you sustain a meditative state for hours in which both you and your material are transformed. A sort of tempering. The rush of journal writing is more like a wave—there are plenty of waves behind it.”

She cites a fuzzy memory of a Lacan saying that “all relationships are about finding the right distance.”

To listen to: Pema Chodron’s This moment is the perfect teacher

To read: Helen Molesworth’s writing on art (Me, You, Us: Eva Hesse’s Early Paintings, plus whatever else she’s written)

To watch: Kathe Izzo (The Love Arist) and Carolee Schneemann, feminist performance artists. And Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975).

To discover: the world of experimental writing in the Bay Area. Duh.