I could have moved back to Portland after I’d been rejected from every grad school I’d applied to and was (once again) adrift without a plan. But I didn’t want to. I’d worked through high school and college with one intention on my mind: Move to New York. I couldn’t just box it all up and leave after 2ish years. There was more. There had to be.
Well, okay. There was a dude. Several, in fact. It was just when MySpace got popular and it was really easy to get dates. But the one dude I was really into was one I met through friends. He had deep dimples and a great smile. He listened. He was smart–very smart. Much smarter than any of the guys I dated in college who called themselves intellectuals. We were powerfully into each other. But he drank a lot and scotch made him mean. He’d also decided that although he said he was crazy about me, he needed to experience “The Single Life,” or whatever that meant, but still date me because he was crazy about me and “couldn’t get me out of his skin”. My ego needed him to give up that Single Life Experience. I needed to know I was irresistible. We broke up a couple of times and each time I made him swear never to talk to me again. He wouldn’t call because he actually respected my boundaries (when I set them), which absolutely infuriated me. Didn’t he know he was supposed to chase me??? And show up at my door and beg me to take him back???? Apparently not. And then I’d create a time to run into him. And we’d go through the whole thing again. On the second-t0-last time I made him swear to not call me ever again, I threw myself into art to distract my wounded ego.
I wanted to see what I could do, so I dedicated a year to trying everything. I did. And one year turned to several. Stand-up, burlesque, music-comedy on the guitar, just weirder and weirder performance art. Storytelling. Sometimes, I just got onstage and started yelling at everyone. Once, I got onstage and was fully silent for six minutes which really, really creeped out the dudes from the sausage factory (aka, would-be comics) who were there trying to get their time onstage and couldn’t handle a woman staring at them for six minutes without taking her clothes off.
I got an idea for a blog and started writing through the voice of Sister Mary Manhattan–the potty-mouthed Astrologer Nun. Eventually, she started appearing in person. I wore fishnets, a low-cut blouse, a habit decked with rhinestones, and a sensible black skirt and answered everyone’s questions about their Astrological signs. It was actually kind of good, but I wasn’t really into producing. Stand-up comedy would have meant me spending every evening in sticky clubs trying to get stage time. My burlesque was both horrifying and hilarious, but if I actually wanted to take the art seriously, I would have to put a LOT of work into it, and I didn’t love the creation and behind-the-scenes stuff enough for 2 1/2 minutes onstage. I loved being in character. I created one named Gina the Crack Whore Poet who would panhandle the audience and proposition dudes to “be her boyfriend,” before getting on stage to read really depressing poetry and cry. Sometimes, Gina would take off her clothes to Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” and weep while trying to shake her pasties made from mylar and masking tape (from whatever she would have stolen from the storage room at the methadone clinic). Everything about it was wrong. So very, very wrong. And I loved it.
Famous people drifted through the scene. Moby made regular appearances. Once, Gina propositioned him and he was very kind in how her turned her down–patting her shoulder and wishing her a good night, apologizing for not being able to stay and watch her read her poem. Once, I got to go to his house party. My friend Rev and I shortsheeted all the beds in his house. I think Parker Posey was climbing on the roof at the same time. Jonathan Ames performed regularly, once bringing Jason Schwartzman with him in order to study our community as research for Bored to Death. Strange little lab rats, we were. Fiona Apple appeared a few times, too. Reggie Watts. I have to say–all of these people are very, very nice.
During all of this, I landed a 9-5 job at a college uptown and a tiny apartment nearby. It was great. The job was boring but the people were nice and they didn’t seem to notice that I usually came to work on less than three hours of sleep. After work, I would go downtown and perform or watch performances at open mics. I’d get home between 1-2, sleep for a few hours, get up, go to work, come home and nap, and then go back out again. My life was full of false eyelashes, cheap second-hand clothing, and wonderful, wonderful people.
The scene was what I needed. The only expectation was that you be yourself and you be kind. You didn’t have to be good at what you did. You just had to do it and do it unapologetically. The weirder, the wilder, the better. The only crimes in the scene were being undeservedly mean to other people or holding back your personal weirdness. I brought all of mine, which was considerably less than most everyone else there. I was The Witch. That was my contribution to the Weird Stone Soup of the scene–thing people could blog home about after an evening out with us for the first time. Meanwhile, I kept combing through different things I could do and couldn’t figure out what I would do that I could get through all the way to the end. At the open mics, when people ran out of things to say, they’d call out “Q&A!” One day I said, “Q&A! I can talk about lots of things. Tarot, Sex, Witchcraft…”
“WITCHCRAFT!!!!” The audience screamed. Clearly, they wanted to know more.
I remember being surprised in that dark room, on that dirty stage, that this is what everyone wanted to know about. I started to wonder how I could somehow merge the creative things I loved to do with Witchcraft and finally make something of myself.
This was a period of my life when I learned one of the greatest lessons I’ve personally experienced: Not getting what I want is sometimes the greatest thing that can happen to me. No offense to Mr. Dimples, but at one time I really wanted to be with him and now I’m very glad that I am not. At one time, I thought graduate school was all I wanted. But my time on the fringes of the fringe of the underground arts scene in New York gave me a very different, very deep creative education that never would have happened had I holed up in a graduate program somewhere. I learned to love my work. I learned to stick up for it–unapologetically. I learned that supporting others takes nothing away from my work. I also found my creative voice. I do not think that I personally would have found it in a classroom. I needed to find it in the dark temples in the backs of bars on the islands of dreams that many call New York City.
Failure turned out to be a great friend. It’s something I would learn over and over again over the next few years….