“There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies” — Winston Churchill.
Community is important to me as a writer. I had to create community (an online community) through YouTube and blogs. No money. No formal writing education. Living in Backswamp Florida no literary festivals came my way. I scoured the internet for writers whose work inspired me and allowed me to see writing as a living thing. Writing as a method of storytelling. With sounds, colors, and experiences. Michelle Tea is one of those writers I pretend sat in creative writing class with me and we read and
listened to each others work.
How I discovered her I can’t remember. But it was on YouTube. The video clip, Michelle reading at Sizzle, a monthly literary series held at Femina Potens Art Gallery in San Francisco on Market Street. The piece, a 30 year-old queergirl visits her mother in Florida after a devastating hurricane hits her city. The narrator is sleeping with her mother’s 24 year-old neighbor Aidan. Aidan’s going into the military and Aidan’s sister is 17 and pregnant. The group, with two hicks Marcus and Hank, are driving to karaoke night at a Chinese restaurant.
Michelle Tea Reading at Sizzle
I listened to that clip while I wrote. I turned it up high while I showered, while I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, all I could afford to buy. The language and style put me in the scene, in the car, in the restaurant.
Read the excerpt below:
Holy goddamn, Angela said, her snout pressed up against the glass, her eyes picking out shapes in the dark. There’s a boat, she narrated. There’s a couch, there’s fridge or something—a stove? Her hands with their chipped and bitten nails were folded under her belly, cradling the thought of it. How long you think it’ll take to get normal here? Not that it was ever normal, but you know. She gave me a look, like we were in on knowing that this place wasn’t normal, the two of us together in a vehicle of boys who thought this road was the whole world, more or less.
Something about the layout of the karaoke place felt like a really bad brothel. The carpet was chunked with geometry and spattered with oblong cigarette burns; it rolled down a hallway that sprouted private rooms and dead-ended where the hurricane had ripped a chunk of the back wall off. The proprietor shrugged and pointed—I’m still the luckiest! I’m still here! Our room was lined with Naugahyde benches, the covers split, revealing a bulk of foam stuffing. A table was piled with binders listing songs, and a remote control that plugged the songs into the system. The proprietor demonstrated: “The Greatest Love of All” chimed into the room, joined by a video of sheep in a meadow. One sheep turned to face the camera, chomping on grass. It looked alarmed. Everybody’s searching for a hero. The words lit up across the pasture. Never found anyone who could fill my dreams. The proprietor left with a wave.
Michelle, a staple in the San Francisco lit community, is curator of her own reading series, Radar and a founder of a touring poetry/spoken word troupe called Sister Spit. Michelle and Sini Anderson, Sister Spit co-founder, “gathered together a group of some of the most notorious, talented, and just frickin’ interesting women and dykes, and went on tour all over the U.S, according to Sister Spit’s website.
I went through all of Michelle’s videos on YouTube. One of my favorites is titled Passing on the Pen, April 15, 2008 (PART 7). The video forced me to reevaluate some of the chapters in the book and go back and really think about what I was writing and how to pull in the reader.
Michelle Tea Reading at Passing on the Pen
Sister Spit is on tour now. Joining Michelle is Dorothy Allison, Justin Vivian Bond, Cheryl Dunye (Cheryl wrote, directed and starred in her first film which was the first African American lesbian feature film The Watermelon Woman), Erin Markey, Cassie J. Sneider, Kit Yan (an Asian American transman from Hawaii).
Check out Sister Spit for more information.