Saturday, May 18, 2013

A BRAIN A HEART A HOME THE NERVE



Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about the movie Wizard of Oz feels like they own it to some degree, like it is an artifact from only their own childhood.  For my own part, when I was a kid, the Wizard of Oz used to air on network TV once a year and it used to happen near my birthday, so it was a birthday tradition for me, my mom and her two best friends named Bill (Young Bill and Old Bill) to watch it together on TV as part of my birthday celebration.  This is a particularly poignant memory for me because I loved both Bills, and one I haven’t seen in years and am unable to track down on the internet, and the other one died of cancer in my mom’s house a few years ago, and also, of course my mom and I can't regain the closeness we used to have when I was young enough to get excited over the big deal a network station (I forget which one) made about showing Wizard of Oz.  So this memory of watching Wizard of Oz with them every year is one of those painful poignant stabbing memories.  Now that Gregory Maguire has written the series “The Wicked Years,” where the faaaaamous novel Wicked comes from, I feel like it’s in the collective unconscious to play with themes from the Wizard of Oz, with the collective acknowledgement that the movie is special to so many of us but that our youthful perception of the story is often very different from what occurs to us watching it as grown ups.  For instance not many adults could watch the film without feeling sorry for the wicked witch that nobody feels sorry for her for the brutal way she lost her sister; also, most adults feel that Glinda the Good Witch of the North is sort of a dick for saying stuff like “Only bad witches are ugly” (is she saying that ugly people are bad?  I sort of think so…) or letting Dorothy get in so much trouble before telling her she could’ve just clicked her heels to get home the whole time.  Why did we like this movie so much?  It was just beautiful and special and magical and captured the boredom, terror and wonder of youth really well.

Anyway, before Gregory Maguire’s Oz-for-Adults (erotic fantasy) Wicked Series came out, there were two other books I read, one in high school and one in college, that also used Wizard of Oz as the motif for a sad grown up story.  One was Was by Geoff Ryman, about an Oz-obsessed man dying of AIDS, and the other was called Judy Garland, Ginger Love by Nicole Cooley, about a woman who has an Oz-themed emotional breakdown after the painful experience of birthing a stillborn infant.  I really love both these novels and the way they use the Wizard of Oz.  When the film came out in theatres again in 1999, I was a college sophomore, and I went to see it with one of my best friends.  It was an emotional and spooky night.  I cried so much while watching the movie, it just painted such a perfectly articulated portrait of how beautiful and unfair the world can be.  Then when we left the theatre we realized it was fucking FREEZING, like ice storm cold, and we’d dressed up sort of dopey and cute for the movie, like our version of witches or something (I wish I had pictures), so we were freaked out waiting for the bus in the cold and dark in a part of town too far to walk home from, but we were also buzzed from the movie and nostalgia, just … what a night.  What a terrifying, goofy, young, fun night.  Inspired by seeing the movie again and by the books Was and Judy Garland, Ginger Love, I wrote this little zine here, “Twister.”  It’s not dated, but yeah, I think it was done in the winter of 1999, the day after seeing the movie in the theatre.  Enjoy! 
















Thursday, May 16, 2013

Guest Post by Heather Von St. James: We Beat Cancer Together

Hi Sweethearts,
this blog usually straddles a line between 90's (riot grrrl in particular) nostalgia, diary-type (rants) entries, fiction and poetry, little gestures at visual art, punk ethos, and last but not least, motherhood.  I try not to write too much about motherhood so as not to alienate people who aren't mothers, but of course that's hard since it's quite preoccupying.  One thing that preoccupies me that I don't usually discuss is the way my son is affected by my Marfan's Syndrome.  Anyway, today I'm posting something by a guest writer, Heather Von St. James, about dealing with cancer and motherhood.  It's not quite this blog's usual fare, but it's an empowering and touching story of survival and bravery.
xoxox Robin



We Beat Cancer Together


Even at the young age of seven, my daughter has her response ready anytime someone asks her about cancer, “I saved mommy’s life!” This has become her natural response to the topic; same as if she wanted you to know she was hungry or feeling sick. It’s easy for most people to make light of such a claim from a little girl; however, her response is the god’s honest truth. Anytime she puts it out there, I am always ready to chime in and back her up. I never hesitate to tell people just how right she is- she really did save my life.

Cameron and I decided to wait until about seven years after we got married to really start considering having children. However, by the time we decided I was 35 and worried about my age leading to complications with the pregnancy. Surprisingly, it only took us about three months, and three pregnancy tests to confirm that I was pregnant! We were both extremely excited to hear that we would be having a baby soon. However, as an expecting mother, my own emotions ranged between nervousness, shock and of course, jubilation.  I’d just smile and rub my belly, knowing our bundle of joy would soon be on the way.

I thought about what type of mom I would be but above all else, I knew I wanted to be a great mom. Fortunately, my entire pregnancy went very smoothly. Unfortunately, things got more stressful towards the end; I had to have an emergency C-section at the last moment. But ever the positive person, I thought, “ At least her head will be round!” I was overwhelmed with joy when I finally got to hold her in my arms. As I held my new daughter and thought about our future together, the moment felt so surreal. I really had no idea just how much adversity we would soon be facing.

Less than four months after her birth, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. My doctor said that without immediate treatment, I would have less than two years to live. Thankfully, while I was distraught with this news, Cameron was listening intently to the doctor and figuring out how we would overcome this obstacle together. We went to Boston and met one of the best mesothelioma physicians in the entire world. He removed my left lung, heart lining and diaphragm lining in a serious operation known as an extrapleural pnuemonectomy. The fatality rate for mesothelioma is around 95 percent; it’s staggering to say the least.

I recovered in the hospital for 18 days, and then for two weeks at an outpatient facility. For the next two months, I recovered at my parents before starting chemo and radiation treatment back home in Minnesota. Honestly, it was my daughter Lily, who gave me the courage and strength to endure this storm. I simply did what any parent would do for their child. I knew that my baby girl needed her mother; I survived every day for her. If not for Lily, I would not have been able to beat my cancer.
 



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Robin Crane Destiny

I'm doing a project where myself and hopefully others choose a favorite photo, then write 1 description of the dream way we'd like to be perceived, and 1 description of an ideal life.  I'm going first to get the ball rolling.









I would like to be thought of as a beautiful artist poet who works a 9-5 desk job out of bravery and necessity to provide well for my family, but for it to be evident that the drudgery of work doesn't touch my soul.  I want to seem smart, funny, nurturing to underdogs, and potty-mouthed.  And for everyone to think that I am a wonderful mother, a little intimidating to strangers, honest about my feelings when I don't like someone, bound for some really special fate, and above all, charmed.

My ideal life involves winning the lottery, keeping my los angeles home, owning a small home in an English Countryside, buying a small home for my mom, dad and Stepmom and my husband's family, writing an absolutely pure, heartbreaking, long, necessary novel that saves lives, teaching as a guest lecturer at Oxford or something. giving my son the best life ever, owning a Volvo, also another home in a French countryside, opening a homeless shelter and a battered women's shelter, and living forever.






2 Sad, eerily prescient death-songs I love (mentioned in a recent post)

 




 






Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Heaven Ghetto




I have a good old friend I haven't been in touch with for years, besides the occasional warm, funny Facebook comment once or twice a year.  I am always collecting people's stories though and I remember that years ago she'd been very sad when a good friend of hers, it'd been a little bit of a romantic friendship, was hit by a car and killed when he was bicycling home from a bar one night.  The song she associated with him, with his sort of tragic fatalistic humor and then the sad way he died, was Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory."  This is one of the coolest songs.  It's poignant and fatalistic itself and it's by the Born to Lose Johnny Thunders, the tough, sexy, feminine/masculine rock god Johnny Thunders, one of the coolest musicians ever.  Listening to that song with her when I was visiting shortly after her friend's death – there was something almost cinematic about this kind of grief.  It was like, this man who was run over on his bike … he'd gone out in a blaze of glory.  He was a tragic figure, a charmer who was also self-defeatingly drunk too often -- he engaged in that courtship with danger that made him so appealing and pseudo-heroic to his friends but that wouldn't/couldn't end well.

It doesn't pay to try all the smart boys know why
It doesn't mean I didn't try
I'll just never know why
It isn't 'cause I'm all alone
Oh, baby, you're not home
And when I'm home Big deal, I'm still alone

You can't put your arms around a memory

Don't try, don't try

XXX



 My own "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" is two of the posthumous singles by 2Pac, "I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto" and "I Ain't Mad at Cha."

I was going to high school in Los Angeles, in the 1990's.  I was riot grrrl style punk, meaning no Mohawk or Misfits t-shirt, but instead hairy legs and armpits, tiaras and vintage dresses with lots of holes in them.  Most of my friends we grown ups between age 25-28 who helped drive my teenage riot grrrl band to our shows, recorded my songs, invited me to their grown up parties and felt faintly like my mentors.  I did also have a high school life, but this part of my life is full of puppy dog tails and other carnage.  The realities a young person has to keep under their hat just because they don't even have the words to voice the ugliness or any reason to trust in the adults who should protect them, oh god, so many of the things that happened in my high school, a blue ribbon school with accolades, was disgusting.  And sort of felt commonplace at the same time.  I can only imagine how much that's been amplified now, when teenagers seem to be filming gang rapes they participate in and posting them to their Facebook pages as boasts, etc.  Uh, let's just agree that high school is hard.  It all seemed so commonplace too.  Once I found out a sweet 13 year old was "dating" a 28 year old school security guard on our campus.  I found out about this because he'd been making a play for me too, and I'd had a crush on him that devolved into realizing he was a child predator, and then I tried to find out who else he was dating, to warn them against him.  The 13 year old (she may have been as young as 11, actually – my highschool was also a Junior High) really thought she was his girlfriend though, and felt bad about giving him blue balls when she didn't give him sex, and let him force himself on her to keep him happy, etc. Guess what?  Her bitch guidance counselor knew about this and to her, the girl was just someone silly she put up with and chided now and again.  Guess what else?  This security guard had a molestation history elsewhere (the summer camp he worked at).  I tried to 1) befriend this girl and convince her to stay away from him, and 2) get this guy in trouble, but guess what else? He was the son of some bigwig on the school board so, basically, fuck.  Another pitfall of being a teenager girl, I guess – the possibility of being raped by the school security guard and having no recourse against him. 

This information was meant to give you an idea of the lens through which I saw high school.  My real social life lay with the grown-up artists and musicians of my fair city, and in high school, I felt like an outsider and a protector of other girls, but not like a girl myself.  Except with Jameson Dowd.  I felt like a girl with him.  He was one of the most popular boys in our school, and part of the appeal, at least to me, was how smart he was, how into the Beats, and how he had that self-defeating urge to act dumb, mouth off to the teachers who tried to help him, and to walk around stoned with a bemused smile on his face.  Everyone around us labored under the delusion that high school would last forever.  Me and him knew it was just 4 years of our lives.  We saw ourselves in context.  And when there was nobody around, when by some happy coincidence we'd both ditched our classes in favor of the arts room and sat at a corner table drawing and exchanging sarcastic flirtations, I could have gladly spent the whole day there with him.  He was blue eyed, suspicious, bound and determined to kill off all boredom and angst with weed.  His smile was sly.  Time stood still.  This was my crush.  In a way, we belonged to each other.  We were both in on the same secret of horribleness and the coolness that protected us from harm as well as kindness.

Years later Friendster existed and I looked him up on it but no Jameson Dowd.  Then Myspace was the big thing and I looked him up unsuccessfully again.  He also wasn't on Facebook.  But one day I was emailing with someone else from our old school who casually mentioned Jameson Dowd's recent death to me.

Of course he would be dead at 30.  How else could it have gone?  He hadn't stayed at my high school but had instead moved on to the much cooler but too drug-culture arts school LACHSA.  He was also self-defeating.  He always kept the beautifully written essay he'd been about to turn in in his backpack at the last minute, and lied instead: "I forgot to do it."  He was just that kind of debonair aspiring loser.  So of course he was dead at 30.

In addition to the Beatles he'd loved so much, he and his circle of friends also loved 2Pac Shakur.  They were sheltered teens who for some reason felt a kinship with the autobiographical hero in 2Pac's songs about impending death and living a fucked up life to the fullest in the meantime.  Somehow, this spoke to them.  I guess they were all just fatalists.
I went to the memorial service, held at the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  I cried.  I spoke a bit, saying that when everyone else, even many of his friends, teased me horribly for being ugly and weird (his sweet sad mom chimed in to say I was beautiful), he was always my friend.  I didn't tell anyone that once when we'd been flirting more than usual, his friend JH told me that he thought Jameson liked me and asked if I wanted him to tell him I liked him, to see what developed.  It was too much for me.  Instead I told JH that I sort of liked him and asked if he wanted to hang out sometime, and he was dumbstruck by this weird, dumb move of mine, replying with 'uh maybe.  Maybe we can hang out sometime.  I'll give you a call."  I'd never been on a date, and I never would, for years.  JH never called because he didn't like me.  And I didn't like him.  I'd just been too scared to at the prospect of getting to have Jameson maybe.  I was a militant riot grrrl.  I was in a well known band with a popular zine.  I made myself look ugly on purpose.  Tenderness from someone wasn't a bullet point on my to-do list.  So I'd screwed up my chance.  It was better that way, really.  It felt special going through high school untouched.

Anyway, the memorial service was sad, as can be expected.  His dad had died the year before, so now his mom was all alone.  I would never again get to think 'maybe me and jameson will be friends someday.'  The saddest thing was to find out that he had lived literally two blocks down from my place.  I hear he was lonely there.  There, in that building so close to mine, he'd snorted the last lines of cocaine that gave him his heart attack.  I could have run into him but I didn't and he died alone on a couch in his living room, Hollywood CA, where dreams are made.

His best friend, another fatalistic 2Pac fan but with no charisma, died a year or so later, a fatal asthma attack.  He'd loved Jameson.

Now there are 2 2Pac songs I hear that I turn up as loud as my ears can stand it and cry and sing and roll down the windows and let the implications of wasted, finished life wash over me.    I cry and sing to "I wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto (one of 2Pac's posthumous singles):  

And for the first time everybody let go, And the streets is death row, I wonder if Heaven got a ghetto.

Of course, it's ridiculous in a sense for middle class white boys to relate to music like this.  I feel as though Jameson and his friend were drawn to the hopelessness though, and almost as if they wanted to die young, like some mythical gangster, like 2Pac.  I feel like they knew. 
The other song that gets to me is "I Ain't Mad at Cha."  I'm printing these lyrics in their entirety because I find the storyline compelling.  It's like the story of 2Pac's life, and it's sentimental.  When I hear this song, I imagine Jameson listening to it as a teen and being drawn to the storyline and the sentiment, of a man who has moved on from his childhood friends and home and doesn't really belong in either his new life or the life he grew up in – he's stuck in a lonesome limbo, but he appreciates the endeavors of those he used to be close to, even when he's aware that he's being judged by these people.  See, it's too late to belong with is old friends again.  It's almost like he's dead already and letting people know he carried no grudges to the grave.  This was another posthumous single. 

I hated this songs when I was a teenager and spent my stolen ditch moments with Jameson.  Now I'm a good deal older.  Jameson is dead, and so is his best friend.  2Pac is dead.  I feel like these 3 were in love with the sense of foreboding.

If only I'd run into him in our old neighborhood, and I couldn't have stopped him from doing the drugs that killed him, but it would have been nice to see him one last time.  There was something special about him.  Everyone knew it.

I Ain't Mad at Cha
Change, shit
I guess change is good for any of us
Whatever it take for any of y'all niggaz to get up out the hood
Shit, I'm wit cha, I ain't mad at cha
Got nuttin but love for ya, do your thing boy

Yeah, all the homies that I ain't talk to in a while
I'ma send this one out for y'all, knahmean?
Cause I ain't mad at cha
Heard y'all tearin up shit out there, kickin up dust
[Danny Boy] I ain't...
Givin a motherfucker, heheheheheh
Yeah, niggaz
[Danny Boy] ...mad at cha
Cause I ain't mad at cha

[Verse One: 2Pac]

Now we was once two niggaz of the same kind
Quick to holla at a hoochie with the same line
You was just a little smaller but you still roller
Got stretched to Y.A. and hit the hood swoll
Member when you had a jheri curl didn't quite learn
On the block, witcha glock, trippin off sherm
Collect calls to the till, sayin how ya changed
Oh you a Muslim now, no more dope game
Heard you might be comin home, just got bail
Wanna go to the Mosque, don't wanna chase tail
I seems I lost my little homie he's a changed man
Hit the pen and now no sinnin is the game plan
When I talk about money all you see is the struggle
When I tell you I'm livin large you tell me it's trouble
Congratulation on the weddin, I hope your wife know
She got a playa for life, and that's no bullshitin
I know we grew apart, you probably don't remember
I used to fiend for your sister, but never went up in her
And I can see us after school, we'd BOMB
on the first motherfucker with the wrong shit on
Now the whole shit's changed, and we don't even kick it
Got a big money scheme, and you ain't even with it
Hmm, knew in my heart you was the same motherfucker bad
Go toe to toe when it's time for roll you got a brother's back
And I can't even trip, cause I'm just laughin at cha
You tryin hard to maintain, then go ahead
cause I ain't mad at cha
(Hmm, I ain't mad at cha)

[Chorus: Danny Boy]

I ain't, mad, at cha [2Pac:] (I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad, at cha

[Verse Two: 2Pac]

We used to be like distant cousins, fightin, playin dozens
Whole neighborhood buzzin, knowin, that we wasn't
Used to catch us on the roof or behind the stairs
I'm gettin blitzed and I reminsce on all the times we shared
Besides bumpin n grindin wasn't nothin on our mind
In time we learned to live a life of crime
Rewind us back, to a time was much too young to know
I caught a felony lovin the way the guns blow
And even though we seperated, you said that you'd wait
Don't give nobody no coochie while I be locked up state
I kiss my Mama goodbye, and wipe the tears from her lonely eyes
Said I'll return but I gotta fight the fate's arrived
Don't shed a tear, cause Mama I ain't happy here
I'm through trial, no more smiles, for a couple years
They got me goin mad, I'm knockin busters on they backs
in my cell, thinkin, "Hell, I know one day I'll be back"
As soon as I touch down
I told my girl I'll be there, so prepare, to get fucked down
The homies wanna kick it, but I'm just laughin at cha
Cause youse a down ass bitch, and I ain't mad at cha

[Chorus: Danny Boy]

I ain't, mad, at cha [2Pac:] (I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad, at cha [2Pac:] (A true down ass bitch, and I ain't mad at cha)

[Verse Three: 2Pac]

Well guess who's movin up, this nigga's ballin now
Bitches be callin to get it, hookers keep fallin down
He went from nuttin to lots, ten carots to rock
Went from a nobody nigga to the big, man on the block
He's Mister local celebrity, addicted to move a key
Most hated by enemy, escape in the Luxury
See, first you was our nigga but you made it, so the choice is made
Now we gotta slay you why you faded, in the younger days
So full of pain while the weapons blaze
Gettin so high off that bomb hopin we make it, to the better days
Cause crime pays, and in time, you'll find a rhyme'll blaze
You'll feel the fire from the niggaz in my younger days
So many changed on me, so many tried to plot
That I keep a glock beside my head, when will it stop?
Til God return me to my essence
Cause even as a adolescents, I refuse to be a convalescent
So many questions, and they ask me if I'm still down
I moved up out of the ghetto, so I ain't real now?
They got so much to say, but I'm just laughin at cha
You niggaz just don't know, but I ain't mad at cha

[Chorus: Danny Boy]

I ain't, mad at cha [2Pac:] (and I ain't mad at cha)
Iiiiiiiii ain't mad [2Pac:] (hell nah I ain't mad at cha) at cha
I ain't, mad at mha [2Pac:] (and I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad at cha [2Pac:] (I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad at cha, noooo
I ain't mad at chaaaaahhhhhhhh