Dignity & Tenderness

Dignity and tenderness should apply - The Modern Lovers

Researching Louise Fitzhugh for an essay I’m writing, I realized how much she likes to draw people curled up like onions—-at top, Harriet M. Welsch is dancing (as an onion), and at bottom, Hugh and Marcia, Suzuki Beane’s parents, are sleeping. "I want you to feel," says Miss Berry, Harriet’s drama teacher, "that one morning you woke up as one of these vegetables, one of these dear vegetables, nestling in the earth, warm in the heat and power and magic of growth, or striving tall above the ground, pushing through, bit by bit in the miracle of birth, waiting for that glorious moment when you will be… “

"Eaten," Harriet whispered to Sport.

" …once and for all, your essential and beautiful self, full-grown, radiant." Miss Berry’s eyes were beginning to glaze. One arm was outstretched toward the skylight; half of her hair had fallen over one ear. She held the pose in silence.

The state of my ideas today leads me to prefer not the essay (and that amount of peremptoriness that it allows) but the dialog genre, a real dialog, in other words discussing with a non-fictional interlocutor, but at the same time still a fictitious dialog, in other words written while pretending that it is spoken.

— Italo Calvino, 1974 (more)

that coda.

that coda.

I just can’t understand why you don’t write, Mali. Don’t take this the wrong way but when I listen to you talking I feel as though I’m reading a nineteenth-century novel. I’m almost certain, too, that if you’d written your story, it would have ended differently. I’m not saying better but differently. Maybe whatever it is that’s stopping you from writing is the same thing that stopped you from leaving Farid? If I had your talent, do you know what I would have done? I’d have left Farid right away, blindness or no blindness, and made him the hero of a great saga. You know what it is you really lack? Cruelty. You have to kill to create. You have to go to war, make up your mind, be decisive, turn the page. You have to be megalomaniac and you have to be fair. It’s not megalomania you’re lacking, Mali, it’s the courage to show it. Take any of the authors you admire, and tell me if they aren’t killers. Dostoevsky, Balzac, Dickens, Proust, Conrad, Kafka … their weapons are different but the fact is they’re all responsible for a thousand deaths. Do you know why the world they invent holds up? It’s because the ground of the other one is strewn with corpses. In their work, tears and blood flow and dry like ink—thick and fast. In a good novel, everything is plucked from real life, plucked mercilessly, everything, absolutely everything, a nose, a hat, a colour, a tree.

- from Dominique Eddé’s Kite, trans. Ros Schwartz

And Acker and Duras and Bernstein Sycamore and Rodoreda and Lispector. Still. This book, people. Phew.

images: (green) from Spectropia at the Morbid Anatomy Library, (skeleton) from the Rider-Waite tarot.

don’t you want to help?
go over there and get in the box.

above: from Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, Daniel Clowes)

The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or dencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultraviolence. - Alex, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I ordered french fries and a large milk. It was a down time between buses. There weren’t any other customers. The station was small but with very high ceilings that made sounds echo. The hanging lights had the longest pull strings I’d ever seen and there were flies hanging on them, swaying in the weak little breeze made by a dying fan. 

The milk was ice-cold and I drank it so fast I got a stabbing headache. I was pushing on my forehead hard with both hands and the waitress’s face got a little softer. “Thirsty, huh?” I nodded. “Where you headed?” I shrugged.

"Your uncle said Dentsville. Did I hear him say he was your uncle? You have people out that way?"

I said, “Can I have another milk?”

She put it down in front of me and I went for it. I couldn’t put it down. She started laughing when I asked for a third one. She said, “Good lord. I hope you don’t drink your liquor like that!”

I said, “No.” - Roberta Rohbeson, Cruddy by Lynda Barry

The first installment of my monthly book column, MAINTENANCE - named for Mierle Laderman Ukeles, pictured here - is up now at Bad at Sports.

Even if you just set up a video camera on a tripod and push record randomly without making a decision about what’s in front of the camera or when, you and the camera are making edits. – Wynne Greenwood in Colouring Outside The Lines, 2008

Something’s missing that was once essential to me and is so no longer. I don’t need it anymore, as though I had lost a third leg that until then kept me from walking but made me a stable tripod. It’s the third leg that’s now missing. And I’ve gone back to being someone I never was. I’ve gone back to having something I never had before: just my two legs. – Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H., 1964

2000: more shows in olympia.all the shows where i’d make the video the day of the show, like when cola first talked and was wearing the same outfit as tracy and said ‘anybody can do what you’re doing.’ – show archive, tracyandtheplastics.com

So Tracy + the Plastics (1999-2006) is Wynne Greenwood’s band. The sounds are Wynne, on drum machine and disc sampler and mic. The performances are Wynne too, singing and acting as Tracy, live, and standing in front of a video with the Plastics—Nikki and Cola—in it.

The Plastics are Wynne too, and they exist only in the video (and also, in a choose-your-own-adventure murder mystery movie Wynne wrote. In that version, the Plastics are a girl group, a girl gang who operate a pawn shop and replace parts of their bodies with electrically-colored pieces of plastic that fell from the sky sometimes). Tracy and Nikki and Cola talk to each other—like, Tracy will tell Cola there’s peanut butter on her face, or Nikki’ll be checking email and somebody wants her to do something terrible, and she’ll say Tracy, what the hell?

Tracy and Nikki and Cola talk to you too—like, they’ll start clapping and singing together, and ask you to help. “Everybody should mean everybody,” says Tracy. “That should mean you, and you and you, and everybody.” Her voice sounds young and sarcastic, a little birdlike at the edges. Straight truth to power. “Maybe pretend that you are in the grocery store, having to defend your queer body or your radical politics. Pretend you’re trying to figure out an accessible language for you to use together. Don’t stop. Just don’t stop.”

There is a moment on the Women’s Liberation Rock Band comp that came out a couple years ago, it’s the audience at a show after a song, in the 1970s, and they’re screaming “play it again!” They don’t want a new song, they don’t want to go home, they want the moment again. When Cola interrupts Tracy’s monologues and asks her to “sing the song about being gay,” Wynne holograms that moment—not “sing it again,” but “don’t stop singing,” and “don’t forget the other song,” and break down the walls behind and in front, then suddenly we’re all on stage and we’re all trying to sing together. Cola probably still has peanut butter on her face, but that’s OK too.

P.S. These are Tracy + the Plastics’ albums: Muscler’s Guide to Videonics (Chainsaw, 2001), Forever Sucks EP (Chainsaw, 2002), Culture for Pigeon (Troubleman Unlimited, 2004), Real Damage Split EP w/ the Gossip (Dim Mak, 2005). “Henrietta” is my personal favorite Tracy + the Plastics song, so maybe start with that one if you’re looking for a place to start. The “heyyyyy hey heys” on “What You Still Want” are stunners too though, especially if you like deep-bending your knees when you’re dancing.                                   

P.P.S. These are some of the bands I saw play with Tracy, in case like you want to hear more from that time and headspace: The Gossip, Sleater-Kinney, The Need, Lesbians on Ecstasy, Jackie O Motherfucker, Le Tigre, Erase Errata, Peaches, The Quails, Mika Miko, and Anna Oxygen. There’s a full list on her website.

IMAGES: (red) Wynne Greenwood by Stephanie Mitchell, (blue) Pintura Habitada by Helena Almeida

LOVE: I wrote this because my dear Christy LeMaster asked me to. She featured Culture for Pigeon at April’s Crimson Glow, and printed this mini-essay in the program. Love also to Crimson Glow’s Claire and Latham, and to the Whistler for hosting.