Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Catastrophe! Hee.

Holy CATS, it is fascinating when science can tell a novelist their historical fiction may have been fiction in the historical documents themselves. I was happily reading along, this Atlantic piece about Greenland ice core sampling and how it correlates to the Roman economy and conquests ... when it casually BLEW MY WEE AND PALTRY MIND with an aside about the Plague of Justinian. Which just happens to be awfully important to my WIP's action, themes, even those aspects of my work which I literally don't even believe in.

The mention, in the article, of absence of evidence of Justinian's Plague in the ice record does not equate to evidence of absence. (Evidence of exaggeration? Always possible. Discoveries can indicate many things.) I am content to accept Procopius, amongst others. Lucky thing: I am neither scientist nor historian, and as a novelist of historical fiction, I need not dash down the twin rabbit holes of history *nor* science to justify my theories as to how the "Dark Ages" (I don't even believe in) began. Ahh, liberty!



Do you know, I do believe some authorial bits of my brain may be awakening? Well, my my my ...

Monday, May 14, 2018

PROSSA-seez

Since my last post, there has been some indication of life in the WIP. I have the comments to thank, in part, but also mindfulness that baby steps really are the most important, sometimes.

After a week at work that was extremely difficult - not because the work was hard, but thanks to office politics which demand emotional and professional bandwidth I don't have these days - I've returned for a new week with my head down and my feet steady. You have to keep your ambitions small when things are overwhelming, and a week that ends with the advice to document difficulties is overwhelming.

So the WIP may be viewed as a saving grace - something for my brain and soul to resort to, which is "under my control" (cue the laugh track of every author I know enjoying the idea they "control" their writing). Well, perhaps it is just a refuge - a puzzle to work under stress, a world outside the one I have to occupy day-to-day. A promise to be winkled out.

A week ago, it was scary facing the dragon, but right now it is oddly satisfying to contemplate going at something so big. With work being just as daunting, the strange truth is that the butter knife is turning out to be an unexpectedly efficacious tool.

The thing is to see it as a TOOL, rather than a weapon.

I don't want to kill a dragon. I want to write a book. It does seem rather fighting-a-beast terrifying, given that I have been out of the world I want to build for so long, but thanks to perspective and a certain assist from Jeff Sypeck, I realize that not only is this not a fight ... the fact is, it's an enterprise I can take or leave, and that somehow makes me want to claim it, to get the best of it, to create something remarkable.

Or just create something.

Whatever the words, the point is *motivation* - something I have not had for six months, really.

As with the WIP, so goes the job. I'm off my game - even just cognitively, my mom and I both are up against forgetting things, being blankly unable to identify how to deal with things, the recurring embarrassment of displaying our sieve-brains. It's pretty giddy, but I have trust that it is temporary. You have to.

And you have to work for a living. And, if you're a writer, you have to write. You don't have to publish, but you have to *write*.



And so. I entered my credentials for the expense system at work. All I'll need to do to start that item on my to-do list is hit "enter" when that bubbles up to the top of said list.

I sorted piles. I knew which pile is the easily-dispatched stuff, and I knew which pile I had to defer for today. It left me with a nice proportion of stuff I knew could be managed. I managed it. Printed nameplates. Scanned uploads. Scanned several small things to email to specific people. Deferred the items I'll have to scan and share around looking for who should see it. Laid out two FedExes. I'll enter credentials for that in the morning.

It sounds, perhaps, unbearably elementary, but it's just conscious inrementals I usually implement every day without the consciousness part:

What is routine is now something I have to think about, but that doesn't mean it's not advancing.



Inevitably, this is where I get all writerly and point out that it's the same for the WIP. Ooh, meta.

But it's true. Opening the doc can be a step, but of late it's not enough. One window amongst others can be ignored, so - having realized that research is my entry point - I squared off with the manuscript and found a piece of research I could manage. It is so vanishingly small it may seem silly: but, it was an image, already followed by the character description it inspired. I deleted the image.

That is work on a manuscript. Tiny work? Undoubtedly. But it is "in there", and "in" is where I wanted to be. Right?

This led me on to a more substantial idea, which might get very exciting indeed. The WIP having been born out of research for The Ax and the Vase, there are relics of that novel in this one. I put them in place in the years when WIP was related to Ax, even if it never was a "sequel" in my mind. And ... the stunningly obvious fact has at last pierced my callused brain, which is: that work is not relevant to this work.

My next step may be some deletions. If I ever feel the need to refer back to anything in Ax, I always have that manuscript available. But that may be absurd conjecture.

In the meantime: deletion is work. It is "in." I want to be in. So some extensive surgery could feel really good.

Leila: remember the time you got me to cut 60 pages out of Ax? I will think of you with a bloodthirsty smile as I get to slicing again.

The butterknife is a tool. Which can do a great deal, in the right hands (and when you know where to apply it).

It's pretty exciting.



I'm coming back to life. Not from death. Just from a long detour.

Thanks to Jeff and Leila, especially, for helping me find the path - and maybe lighting fires under my posterior.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Saturation

One of the things about going through a dry spell as an author of historical fiction is that getting back to writing involves more than simply ass-in-chair hours. When you leave behind a work involving masses of research, world-building, and characters who possess entirely different mindsets than the modern American cube-farmer, you become desaturated.

Writing fantasy or histfic or sci fi (just a few examples, I know) means world building. And when you stop building - researching, occupying, *knowing* a place and its denizens - you become desaturated. It's extremely difficult to be in that world again on a dime, when you have neglected it for a long time.

To the exclusion of much social life, and to no complaint of any kind (I would have been nowhere else), I have focused on my family for a good six months now. With my stepfather's decline stretching across eight years, my immersion has been NOTHING next to my mom's. (To say nothing of the man himself, which seems cruelly self-involved.) But, as family circulates through all our lives, so has his failty.

And, yeah, I saw that typo. But it fits. Let's make it a word: failty. (Perfectly cromulent.)

A loved one's failty is the job and the beloved duty of those who care for him - caring, in the emotional sense, inevitably comes with caring in the custodial sense, if we live long enough. And writers often are alive, and love other people (often - not always!), and so we get distracted.

Hell, writers get distracted easier'n magpies, we all know that. How else would writing blogs ever survive?



Coming out of distraction ... there are levels, for a world-building author. You can still write about the peculiarity of someone's gaze (har), or some contained scene that exists within the greater context, but doesn't require reference to the context, with all the researched or invented knowledge of the world within easy recall.

Still, sitting down to the manuscript as a whole is terrifying. "I don't remember the context for the earliest anti-semitic riots in Christendom" or "Oh geez, how OLD was this character at this point?" I'll be frank: I can even forget who was alive when, and continuity in historicals can get so detailed you can screw up some other part of the book even noodling with what you think of as a contained scene. Containers leak, and sooner or later you've piddled your continuity all over. And cleanup can be death-defying.

(Literally - see also, that bit about forgetting who's even alive when.)

It's been a LONG time since I was doing the "W" part of the WIP.


It's always been the case with me, that I can read something I wrote and, if enough time has gone by, it won't even feel like reading my own work. Even being able to recall constructing a scene, the product of the work put in still seems fresh to me, unfamiliar. There is much brain science here, underlying the way authors say "I am a conduit" - but basically, the stream of consciousness we navigate doesn't always seem like it runs through our brains as it does a greater dynamic in which our souls are mere passengers.

(Yeah, and WOW on that piece of work. I *told* you I haven't been writing! Be forgiving, please. I'm making up lame pun-words at this point; you knew the risks, reading this.)

This unfamiliarity can be freshness, but it's also symptomatic of losing the headspace. The fixtures of research and writing are important as you keep going, but are all too easily rewired incorrectly, or even lost.

As long as it's been since I was writing the WIP: it's even longer since I was researching it.



And there it is, perhaps ...

Perhaps my "in" is with research, rather than writing.

Sometimes the ass-in-the-chair isn't scripting out a scene ... sometimes, it's mapping what happens where. What to use, and what doesn't serve. Who needs to be where, rather than the dialogue they provide once they're in situ.

Maybe I need to get myself in place - remember the place - before I try saying what happens in it.


A thought. I'll think about that, then.

Collection

Holy. Hell. How have I never discovered Frock Flicks before? Well, I have found it now, and wanted to share with y'all the terrible secret of our times: the great hairpin shortage through which we are suffering. (Calling to mind my own loathing of beachy waves and bitchin' velvet ...) The bit about interns ... hee! Beautiful comedic writing blended with splendid costume blogging. Count me IN.

When thirteen is GOOD luck - just a short, sweet article about some hero truck drivers. Also here. Click for a little uplift!


Okay, this draft post is ageing, so even though it's on the brief side, let's hit "publish" rather than waiting for inspiration, which seems to be even more minimal ...

Friday, May 4, 2018

Nope, still not posting ...

... still not writing either. Sigh.

But tonight, I pulled up Over the Edge to watch, and this woke up one of the happier memory parts of my brain.



Cheap Trick is OSUM, man.



But (... for now ...) that is all.

See you some time soon though, fella babies. I can't stay shut up for but so long.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Collection

Danger, Will Robinson! Plot bunnies ahead! But wow is this a GREAT mind-blower for Friday the 13th. The Atlantic on the possibility of truly ANCIENT civilization (... ?). Man, oh man, the fiction you could write riffing on this idea! OSUM. This appeals to me immensely, with my increasing thing about systems and scale ...

If you can fix this truth in your minds, namely, that the true use of books is to make you wiser and better, you will have both profit and pleasure form what you read.
--Sarah Fielding

Oh my gosh, what a splendid piece of YA literary history. Also, I love a teacher names Mrs. Teachum. I just like the word teachum, like hokum, absurdum, or bunkum but so much more appealing. Go make with the click.

And a little more from Smithsonian Magazine - e-cigs are using the same advertising gambits decades and even generations-since prohibited for combustible cigarettes. PLUS a back-to-school special ad, which I don't think the old school ever even tried. Stay classy, vape-producers!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mourning.

I would hardly be the first, and it's hardly the first time I've thought this myself - but the loss, through the 20th century, of traditional mourning practices in the United States is also a loss of an important signal between us as humans. It's been tempting, since my stepfather's death, to find some way to communicate, without having to have awkward conversations with strangers or acquaintances, that I have just endured a loss. With even the black armband all but vanished, mourning itself is an awkward proposition anymore.

There has been an increasing sense, for me, that it's time to move on. Nobody has pressed this upon me, but with weeks passing at a clip (I almost cannot believe it's been nearly three now), there is an inescapable feeling that continuing to Have The Feels about my stepfather's death is already drama-queening. That, to be frank, there is only the briefest of periods we can get away with not being okay and getting on with the day-to-day.

It would be ... if not nice, then certainly convenient, to have an unspoken signal of mourning. If one is to get on with the day-to-day, not having to *speak* about the loss of a loved one would certainly facilitate that. But the human heart is what it is, and it still hurts when people you're not sure even "know about it" register no sympathy. There is confusion - do I tell this person I see every day? Why should I have to do that? It feels like dramatics to lay that on people - particularly when you're not sure whether they know already. Some people won't speak because it's been more than a few days, and the news-cycle of life has sailed. Some people won't speak because they are sensitive to the pain of loss. Some people won't speak because they are awkward with the subject. Some people won't speak because they do not know. As the bereaved, it would be easier to know - is this person in ignorance, or are they being kind? It HELPS to understand.

So much of communication is nonverbal.

And so, if I had a signal, I could at least understand the words that do come toward me. And I could also communicate this important thing about myself, without having to stop time in the workroom to say, "Yeah, my stepfather just died." And leave someone feeling VERY awkward.

My guess is, this is one more gift Americans have accidentally or heedlessly imposed upon the world. In the rush to imprint our informality, nonconformity, and expectations upon human interaction, we have obliterated some forms of signal someone figured wasn't necessary, and over time the social enforcement that is conformity (har) ended up killing off this branch of etiquette. Uncomfortable, restrictive, depressing, perhaps even importunate upon the carefree (har) lives of other individuals.

Goodbye, mourning. Seriously, has anyone seen real mourning since Jackie Kennedy? I can't so much as remember consistently black garb at funerals; my mom, as it happens, wore poppy-red over a red and black dress, to the funeral inspiring me to discuss this whole thing. She is a great believer in the reaffirmation of life in vivid (the word means lively, after all) color.

I wore black. He was a bit more traditional. And he deserves to be mourned.

Indeed, since he died, I have kept my wardrobe more on the sober side ever since. If I can't go around in mourning jewelry (that people will understand as such, as opposed to thinking I just picked coz I'm goth-ly tinged), at least I can calibrate my mien to less flamboyance. And wear *less* jewelry. I actually applied a shot of brown hairspray to cover the blue hair, in fact, before the funeral; and at least once or twice since. I'm not even wearing highlighting cosmetics these days; bright eyes just seem inappropriate. (And the simpler the eye makeup, the less smear when I slip and find myself crying. In the middle of a meeting. Because: dork. In mourning.)

Three weeks. And already, I find myself embarrassed to even SAY "I am in mourning" (except to that one actual human telemarketer who called, and I could not take it). In the culture I've grown up in, mourning itself is unseemly, because it imposes upon those around us the distasteful necessity of sensitivity, or just the reminder of mortality. Mourning for three WEEKS, well. That is just melodramatic.



And yet, I am impelled to say - at least here - he deserves more than weeks. And what he has taught me, perhaps especially in his own final week, which was horrific ... will stay with me for the rest of my life. I still don't understand everything I saw and experienced, and it's both something to process and also to extrapolate from: for all I went through the eternity and power and heartbreak of his deathbed, my mom has been enduring as a caregiver for years now. His decline, in fact, goes back eight years - I still remember the Mother's Day lunch we shared, when we had to hold his arm back out to the parking lot.

Mom is still learning, too. Just how long this road has been. How, bit by bit, her own liberty to move in the world was curtailed - sometimes by my stepfather's will (he developed terrified and aching separation anxiety), and always by his frailty. How she did it all herself, and kept him home.

Six months ago, I was firmly of the belief that I would NEVER die in a hospital. My own dad's death left me sure it was barbaric and awful. My own dad's death came fast, though.

Now, I am not so sure. Being home might be nice, if I could be assured of sudden death (and that The Poobahs would not starve). It has an allure - who would wish to be in a hospital at the end?

But a slow death at home ... knowing that I could be alone, is that something to sign up for in all eagerness? Not that I'm interested in artificial prolongation, but the variables in horror - if I were alone, and broke a hip (my stepfather's final crisis was a break, and this is often a precipitating factor for those already in decline), what would I endure, ensconsed at home yes, but immobilized, in pain ... ?

Even with caregivers, death at home isn't some peaceful slipping away in one's own bed. Indeed, a standard bed is a horrible, dangerous place. Only after a hospital bed was delivered did my stepfather subside from cruel restlessness and the torture of his broken bones. And by "subside" I do not mean he found comfort. Only some respite, and that incomplete itself.

I learned from him; and sat with him, and tried to give him silence. Sound made him uncomfortable, so I stopped even indulging myself telling him how much I loved him. Or that he could go on. We told him that a lot. He didn't need to hear it, he wasn't holding out for permission to die.


And this too, I learned from him ... death doesn't always answer to the pretty stories we apply to it. It's not always a saga of fulfillment, someone waiting until an important figure comes to their side and releases them. It's not even always a question of release. The man my stepfather was? He had life left, and he was going to use it all up. All of it. Where for six years, he literally begged for death, once it announced it was come, he wrung out of his body the last *iota* of life left to him. Death wasn't impatient for him; those of us around him were.

It is a harrowing thing, a week long deathbed. Human chatter becomes intolerable, and I understand his responses when it was pushed on him, or shot over him as if he were barely there. He was there.

Even outside the room where he lay, the prognostications of "when" ... the stories about crows haunting us, or passed family members coming to take him away ... were not merely exhausting, they became irrelevant quickly as he kept on living on ... and we undoubtedly crossed into distasteful territory, more than once. People coming and going, speaking loudly of meals once shared, or playing music he would have hated ... crossing with those who came to sing, to pray, to just be beside him.

I think (and this may just be a story I tell myself) I became more silent as the days passed, simply because that was the only gift I had left to give to him. I stopped typing one day, because I felt the sound of my keystrokes, even, were too much to bear. I didn't hold his hand constantly, I stopped telling him he was the best stepfather ever, or that I loved him, or how much he amazed me.

I just never stopped kissing his head. Breathing the smells of him - not all of them beautiful. And yet, I both miss the scent of him and find myself having a sort of PTSD series of flashbacks to the smell that seemed most emblematic of him in his last year or so. The smell of his death began long before he ever broke a bone.



I miss him, and I love him, and I mourn him, and just thinking it makes me weep silently.

One of the funniest people I ever knew.

Someone who, never having been a father before, took on our whole family when he was not a strapping youth, and who found ways to laugh alongside us. Great G-d, it was not always easy - for him, or for us. The first years were difficult.

But the past eight? The past six? The years since my brother's family moved, and it's been me, mom, and him? The time it took for me to go from reluctance, to content, to tenderness?

I am blessed to have had these years.

Their passing deserves observation.

My stepfather deserves mourning.

Friday, April 6, 2018

DRAG, the Series: Human

I have decided to leave this series of posts, intentionally, in a very draft form. This owes to the upheaval of the past month of my personal life, yes ... but it also feels fitting, as the entire point of this discussion of drag is about construction and challenging assumptions. To smooth it all into coherent, long prose might obscure the various parts, and thoughts, I have put into this, and they perhaps should stand out starkly. In honesty, much of what I say is just intros to the links embedded. And so, here is this series. Unfinished. Challenging - to me, in one sense, and to the audience in another. Seems right ...

The essence of the art form is compassion.


Stories - both the wit onstage, and the realities of the performers: we all know these glorious manifestations were born of pain. Even the most loved and supported queens, who have enjoyed acceptance from their friends and/or families (genetic or adopted, by whatever means) performing right now are up against the WORLD of those who do not. And acceptance by those nearest and dearest is hardly guaranteed. Probably not a queen standing has not endured humiliation, doubts cast upon them, and discrimination - never even to mention the scrutiny of strangers who consider they have a right to particular knowledge of the most intimate aspects of their lives and even bodies. And yet, these people devote themselves to the art and entertainment they provide. This is not a minor risk ... even as many queens say their drag is their armor, the main reason it can be such is that they are forced to *need* armor at all ...



Drag Race capitalizes on turning self-expression into a competition - and then overturns all narratives about "winning" as Miss Congeniality and runners-up become superstars on tides of fan support ... or queens walk off voluntarily, messianic (no, seriously) figures simultaneously rejecting the crown and glorifying it, simultaneously gaming and messy, and - well - Miss Congeniality incarnate. The show has exemplified reality television's outcomes, where "winning" ends up meaningless - and might almost ruin the game, for some.


We all contain multitudes. Some of us may be less aware of that most of the time, and some may play it up more consciously, but few of us are glam queens 100% of the time any more than we're litter-cleaning schlubs 100% of the time.

Third genders

What is "authentic" anyway?


One of the major focal points of drag is the synthetic ideals we've applied to the idea of "femininity" - and thereby, obliquely, pointing to the synthetic nature of the masculine, and of binary sexuality and humanity. Drag queens rarely dress like (everyday, cis) women. I am in lug-heeled boots, jeans, and a chunky sweater as I write this - and, on average, a drag queen is not to be caught dead in the attire that outfits most "women" throughout our lives. A queen is OTT, pointed (ahem), fabulous. If a drag queen is a showgirl, the point is the showing-girliness. If the spotlight is on, it's not going to shine without some glitter.

Pigments are often seen as the root of complex symbolic behavior. Think of the way we use color on clothes, flags, and tattoos—all signals of social identity.


This series of posts has discussed the depths of social, cultural, *human* behavior in a lot of depth, and I've linked the dickens out of things which point to the fact that "human" does not strictly mean man-woman/nuclear family/hetero/binary/cis etc.

If "we" are hundreds of thousands of years old, and even before anatomically modern humanity we engaged in recognizeably human society and culture, how is it even possible to presume what any one of us thinks we know is any form of bedrock truth? If we were built to be, and survive only because we are, flexible and adaptable, why are there people who think their is safety lies in rigidity, in immutable definition and narrow parameters?

Why are people afraid of drag queens?

As natural as it is to be adaptable, it is also natural and human to harbor fear - and the original interpersonal fear, the greatest fear outside of fire and flood and hungry, toothy predators: is The Other. The person we do not know.

The person we do not understand.

As human as it is to self-decorate and put on uncomfortable shoes or shocking color: it is just as human to fear drawing attention, to fear those who brave it, and to fear behavior we cannot understand because we cannot bring ourselves to it at all.

Human innovation, our ingenuity itself, is born of fear and need. The need to eat and self-protect created community and the cultures we built to sustain the human herds within which we found it safest to function.

DRAG, the Series: Gender

I have decided to leave this series of posts, intentionally, in a very draft form. This owes to the upheaval of the past month of my personal life, yes ... but it also feels fitting, as the entire point of this discussion of drag is about construction and challenging assumptions. To smooth it all into coherent, long prose might obscure the various parts, and thoughts, I have put into this, and they perhaps should stand out starkly. In honesty, much of what I say is just intros to the links embedded. And so, here is this series. Unfinished. Challenging - to me, in one sense, and to the audience in another. Seems right ...

We're all born naked, and the rest is drag.
--RuPaul Charles


Cis
Genderqueer
Nonbinary

PINK LABELING

CODED presentation and what that means: masculine marketing - cuck - shaming - feminized restriction

"Feminine" and "masculine" codes and symbology are taught and learned, not genetically determined.

HOW "natural" is binary sexuality ... third gender (only three?) ... why do we punish gender variance and respond to it so viscerally? Why do people care how someone else loves, or uses their body? Why are other bodies' behaviors important to our minds? Why do we refer to nonbinary pronouns, people, behavior as gender TRANSGRESSIVE?

Clearly, the underlying conceptualization of gender implied by these taxonomies is at variance with the idea that physical sex is fixed, marked by genitalia, and binary.



It's hard not to assume, growing up with a given set of assumptions, that these reflect the way the world "is" in some immutable way. But each of us, throughout the millennia of history and prehistory, grew up in a finite time and place - and the slightest observance of the world beyond our lives reveals that even in one given time there is a multiplicity of assumptions, even closer than we often like to imagine. Multiply this multiplicity across time and distance, and the variety of human culture is impossible not to acknowledge. Only the presumption of rock-solid correctness is bewildering, when you really look at humanity.

And so the challenge to heteronormative sexuality and gender should hardly be as surprising as it seems to be, for many people. But our emotional attachment to what we think we know means we cling to it with the strength of fear, or morality; all the things that reassure us deep inside.

My mom, who knows I love drag, and who even helped me to shop for the baby drag queen I used to sell to on eBay a few years back, still recoils at the whole thing. She's of a certain age and background, she's Southern Baptist, she's conservative. She never has had the vitriol for gay men so many like her harbor, but she does prefer not to think about it. Just recently, she was talking about watching Project Runway, and a man was in heels but his outfit was more athletic than stereotypically feminine. I told her, drag these days is less and less about synthesizing the "feminine" than it is about questioning what is stereotypically masculine. Heels aren't meant to evoke a paradigmatic "woman" - they are just to certain men's taste, or they are a question mark of a kind. Challenge.

Drag is no longer all about "female impersonation" if it ever was. Given the recency and locality of strictly heterosexual and binary sexuality and gender notions - given cultures who accept "third" genders and familial relations based on paradigms other than the modern Western nuclear family - heck, even given just the two-generation definition we've narrowed that down to, where even a household of three generations, or offspring living with parents past certain threshholds of adulthood, are looked askance, the het/cis/binary is a correspondingly narrowed view of roles. At a point where many are questioning the validity of 4-person nuclear households, questioning het/cis/binary roles is as natural as living outside them is.

Going along with all this fee-lossy-fizing is the point that "drag" as such is not even strictly a description of a specific form of entertainment. Not all drag is a staged performance. Like any persona in anyone's day-to-day life, drag is for many just their life - see the quote at the top of this post. Just as not all drag queens are cis or gay men, not all drag takes place on a stage, and not all drag is specifically a portrayal of women.



Controversy about RuPaul's statements on trans women.

My own baby queen ... ?


Fat, Femme, and Asian   Feminizing and exoticizing race ... glorification and elevation of the marginalized - even within subcultural/marginalized terms.


Clothing in terms of menswear, women's wear ...



History of female impersonation, passing,
We know that Joane of Arc didn't go in for dresses, but we also know that her practical, spiritual, individual mode of dress and behavior met not only her needs but answered to something much larger than one young woman. It still answers, for many, even centuries after the wars she fought have been, as far as this can be said, resolved. What she was and what she did continues to be meaningful even though she, her armies, and her Dauphin, are all dust. Her transgressions speak to us.

There have always been as many practical reasons to blur, to cross, or to sneak behind constructed boundaries as there are deep-seated objections to conformity.


DRAG, the Series: Costume

I have decided to leave this series of posts, intentionally, in a very draft form. This owes to the upheaval of the past month of my personal life, yes ... but it also feels fitting, as the entire point of this discussion of drag is about construction and challenging assumptions. To smooth it all into coherent, long prose might obscure the various parts, and thoughts, I have put into this, and they perhaps should stand out starkly. In honesty, much of what I say is just intros to the links embedded. And so, here is this series. Unfinished. Challenging - to me, in one sense, and to the audience in another. Seems right ...


We began sewing at least 50,000 years ago. Clothing and textile ever since have been used not only for practical purposes, but symbolic ... and, if you think you are not dressed symbolically, even if you're reading this in your jammies, think again. LOOK again.

Most of us choose our symbols out of prefabricated options, sometimes with more consideration than others. But think about a drag queen; as often as not, she has created her own "look" - not merely in terms of painted features, but also in costume. A queen is a seamstress, a model, a performer - wearing a thousand themes through a thousand nights, and generally conceiving and creating every aspect of a look and a performance all on their own. A queen is inspired to a theme, but also has to look to practicals - is the piece I'm making utilitarian for me to sing, or lip synch, or dance, or all of the above? What are the optical principles in presentation - in a dark hall or bar, in front of this crowd or that, in front of dozens - or hundreds - or thousands?

Dressing outlandishly is an art. Indeed, *many* arts. From design to performance, from choosing materials to deploying them, drag is head-to-toe ... inflatables, headpieces, shoes, unexpected materials. There is engineering to consider - will this prosthetic makeup hold up to the movement of my face, will the paper gown survive sitting down, or a long meet-and-greet with fans?


Makeup AND costume



fashion history and what's old is new again ... The study of the history of costume is the study of history itself, and perhaps a more insightful one than strictly reading direct sources. Looking at modes and methods of dress can tell the story of social priorities - even scandals - and deepens our understanding of the times in which surviving textiles or portraits were made. Oh MY!


what is appropriate to wear where. Clothing as instruction: this is for girls, this is for boys ... the eye it takes not just to see these distortions, but then to parlay them into art, beauty, and commentary.

Our culture is about choosing an identity and sticking with it so people can market shit to you
--RuPaul Charles



You hear often that drag is an "armor." The thing is, this is true for everyone, every day. The importance of costume exists for EVERYBODY, even those who think they're not doing it, not paying attention. If you dress yourself at all - and if you don't (there is no escape, Major Major) - we present ourselves to the world, even when we're not dressing up for other people. Even when all we present is what we prepared just to manage the physical act of living.

If humanity as a whole is constantly evoking, demolishing, reimagining, and retrieving our fashions, even as we feel the need to just-as-constantly make fun of what is old. Sometimes, those among us creating the real rules by which we actually live are those of us destroying what, ideally, we might like to be the rules. Drag is destruction, and simultaneously it is creation. That's a hellaciously difficult magic trick, and it is one of the keys of beauty itself.

Self-decoration is older than homo sapiens itself; in the ochre of ancient hominid burials, we see the urge to beauty - to self-presentation - in the deepest history of what we are. It is tied to religion and death, and without it there is no culture, no society at all.
............ "The only thing I didn't like was the makeup" ... "You don't need makeup"


"Fake it till you make it" ...

Grand Guignol
We use exposure to our fears to get over our fears, but also for the *thrill* of the fear.


Not long ago, I was watching an episode of "Lucifer" in which an immortal character is costumed in a completely innocuous sweater with a peter-pan collar. She's in no way presented with fantasy color or extreme style, but her sweater is embroidered with dozens of bees. It wasn't a design choice 99% of viewers would even register, but for the very few who would, it was meaningful - and quietly gratifying.

All our clothing is projection. Drag is projection. Projection of wishes, projection of feelings, projection of fears - thrilling, and inuring. And beautiful


DRAG, the Series: Challenge

I have decided to leave this series of posts, intentionally, in a very draft form. This owes to the upheaval of the past month of my personal life, yes ... but it also feels fitting, as the entire point of this discussion of drag is about construction and challenging assumptions. To smooth it all into coherent, long prose might obscure the various parts, and thoughts, I have put into this, and they perhaps should stand out starkly. In honesty, much of what I say is just intros to the links embedded. And so, here is this series. Unfinished. Challenging - to me, in one sense, and to the audience in another. Seems right ...


The thing about most offputting entertainments and art forms throughout history is this: they *mean* to be offputting. To a certain audience. Ugliness, cacophany, discomfort in art are a direct challenge, always, to prevailing assumptions. And right now, for a western-centric culture out to homogenize the world, a culture which has dressed men the same for upward of 200 years, there can be little wonder that one of the most popular challenges is the industrial-scale insurgency of drag

I’m not doing drag to give you makeup tips. This has always been a political statement.
RuPaul Charles

Nancy Pelosi ... YOUTUBE CLIP OF HER FROM RDR



There is no one way to be gay ... or drag, or masculine, or feminine, or a particular age, or republican, or spiritual. More specifically: there is no wrong way to be any of these things, or any others.

I do Goth wrong. In my life, the very essence of nonconformity has been ... showing up at a tattoo convention and having a triple piercing removed. "You went to a tattoo festival and got yourself UN-maimed," my brother said, and it was a revelation to me. Or wearing sky blue and glitter lipgloss to a Type O Negative show, or putting together a 40s-vintage ensemble, but wearing forest green lipstick amongst otherwise "authentic" hair and clothing and period-perfect makeup.

We. All. Contain. Multitudes.



People have been weird since we've been people: truly, independently, fiercely weird. We have also been "people" for more than three hundred thousand years - not merely hairy little tool-users who put the dead away systematically or even ritually - but engaging in trade, and even processing pigment from stone.

Using pigment to permanently mark ourselves.

Pigment is at the heart not only of art, but of self-decoration. And even self-decoration performs double-duty - many people are aware that eyeliner dates back thousands of years, but fewer realize its practical application, in reducing visual glare in a very sunny region. The principal of dark patches on the face to improve bright-light vision survives today, quite prominently.



Our attachment to our tools and our expressions is the basis for the very concept of sin.



Fishy aesthetic versus Acid BettyDirt WomanDivine (both glamorous and un-"pretty", using symbols of the former and co-opting the latter to invent something new)...

Perhaps especially during the 1970s and 1980s, punk and drag had a lot in common, and RuPaul's early days show a grungy, harder-edged New Wave image.



This post "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" and I'll publish it anyway ... this post is a challenge. Ooh, how meta.


DRAG, the Series: Beauty

I have decided to leave this series of posts, intentionally, in a very draft form. This owes to the upheaval of the past month of my personal life, yes ... but it also feels fitting, as the entire point of this discussion of drag is about construction and challenging assumptions. To smooth it all into coherent, long prose might obscure the various parts, and thoughts, I have put into this, and they perhaps should stand out starkly. In honesty, much of what I say is just intros to the links embedded. And so, here is this series. Unfinished. Challenging - to me, in one sense, and to the audience in another. Seems right ...

The only thing I didn't like was the makeup.


On its opening weekend, I went to see A Wrinkle in Time with a group of people, most of them new to me, and one of the most interesting counterpoints to the diversity and inclusion celebrated by the film was the quote above. Stated by someone I suspect would consider their liberal cred to be beyond reproach, the idea was that The Mrs. Ws' fantastical appearances set a bad example for little girls by way of cosmetics.

This was said to me at a time I had my hair jacked up to Jesus, was wearing all metallics, and my eyeshadow was silver and not at all subtle. Also, I have blue hair for pete's sakes.

The lady opining did not join us after the movie, but I have been stuck with her restrictive liberal ideals in the same way I've been struck and confounded by prescriptivist liberality before. The way I really hate.

If feminism is about choice, what feminist is to say it is INVALID right on its face (and do pardon the pun, please) for a woman to wear makeup? Or a man? And if makeup is an evil tool of the conformity-enforcing Evil Beauty Industry, out to subjugate women into narrow beauty ideals ... where is it bedazzled eyebrows and green glitter eyeshadow fit in to this narrow, cis, white ideal?

As I have said before. Sometimes, makeup is not about remediation. It's special effects. And nobody - man, woman, or anyone else - gets to prescribe for me what is limiting, or to limit me by "setting me free" from it either.



silhouette - of period clothing, of presumed gender-conforming bodies, of nonconforming bodies

corsetry jewelry

cleavage, highlight/shadow ("The champagne glass") - controlling light itself, synthesizing it for illusion

erasing the face to repaint stereotypical femininity, or owning one's own features to challenge the binary (bald queens, eyebrows) ... Kevyn Aucoin's erasure art, queens who emphasize their own - amplification versus obliteration ... the BEAT face



Self-decoration predates anatomically modern humanity itself. We have been decorating ourselves since before "we" WERE "ourselves" - ochre and seashell jewelry, religion, trade, and art reach as far back as our current understanding takes us. Pre-human, prehistoric. Cro magnon and Neanderthal man created beauty as well as tools, and the tools of beauty and art date back over 160,000 years.



Advent of "I can draw what I want" marketing and autonomy over rigid fashion - STYLE over fashion ... still an industry, but emphasis affected by people's needs. How much can commercial interests still command people reshaping themselves? How much has the narrow beauty standard *really* changed? Really at the point where individuals are using the beauty industry, or still beholden to beauty standards?



As with most things, the alterations we perform to create beauty can pass into The Uncanny Valley, where synthesizing the suppleness of youth with plumpers and tightening becomes ghastly. Pop culture obsesses, at times, on hatred of this tendency - making fun of everyone from always-a-target Jocelyn Wildenstein to the Jenners/Kardashians for "overdoing it" ... and this both happens in drag, and is played-with in drag. Not a few queens proudly name their alterations, and it's difficult not to suspect that many who do it do so less for ideals of beauty than for the exaggeration of those ideals - for intentional effect. Special effects.

Drag USES the Uncanny Valley, gooses it - can transform it from challenge into a new definition of beauty.


Scale

God said let there be lights in the firmament of the Heaven, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.


My lifespan seems a small enough thing to me.

To a fruitfly, it might seem a wasteland of time, beyond bearing.

To a molecule ... to an atom, to a gluon ... all existing at such different scales: would my life seem vanishingly short, or extraordinary in its immensity?

A living cell might exist within a comprehensible "human" scale, though it comes and goes more quickly than we do.

The molecule - these can be broken so easily, or may hold tight for eons and eons. Some unstable and brief, some all but immortal from where humanity stands.

Down into the tenacious atom ... the nucleus ... these buzzing, speeding systems outstripping any velocity we can understand - are we great, slow, neverending collossi, or fleeting organisms, so ephemeral as to be irrelevant? So tempting to conceive a universe in the orbit of an atom. So human.

And, if space folds into itself, who is to say that scale does not ... that Horton was right, along with every one of us when we discover the mind within the brain we already had: that, though we know the universe is the greatness around us, we also occupy the greatness which encloses lives and systems and universes impossibly small? That there are systems within us; planes we do not understand which make us up. Not merely the individual cells coming and going, each one's life one necessary part of what we think is "our" own life - but symbiants - even the impulses and autonomic actions that preserve life, but we do not create.

We are minuscule and immense; it is all in how we look - outward, and inward.

And we owe debt both to the greatness beyond us, as well as the greatness we enclose, which contains all we think is "small" ... That we are both gargantuan and infinitessimal, and that our part is to BE part of both these scales: in the universe, which is the organism of which all our lives are the tiniest part: and as the universe, within which myriad forces exist, dependent upon us, or making up the magic and meat that *is* us.



My lifespan seems a small enough thing to me.

But if I do not honor its scale, it might as well be nothing at all.