Gesturing Towards Intimacy: An Interview with Janice Lee


The Sky Isn't Blue Janice Lee

The first time I met Janice Lee was at an off-site AWP reading in Seattle. She was wearing a black leather jacket and looked cool and tough as fuck, and was there to read from the chapbook she co-wrote with Will Alexander, The Transparent as Witness (from Solar Luxuriance). Over the years since (and before!) I’ve run into Janice online and IRL many times, all of which attest to her way-of-being-in-the-world: cool and tough as fuck as her leather jacket promised, and also generous, supportive, and constantly working on her own books while also engaging with and helping sustain literature in her community. We talked over email about her book The Sky Isn’t Blue (CCM 2016), colors and textures, and how everything is everything– plus a brand new excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Imagine a Death.

Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and most recently the essay collection The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). She currently lives in Los Angeles and is Editor of the imprint #RECURRENT for Civil Coping Mechanisms, Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, Assistant Editor at Fanzine, and Co-Editor (w/ Maggie Nelson) of SUBLEVEL, the new online literary magazine based in the CalArts MFA Writing Program. She can be found online at janicel.com.

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Gina Abelkop: I visited the Entropy post in which you first published a draft of “The Salton Sea,” a section in your book The Sky Isn’t Blue, and loved so much that an essay on the poetics of space engaged so closely with sound and image, referencing Django Reinhardt and Wilco, the sound of water in your video from the Salton Sea– it’s a multisensory reading experience on the level of the sensory in addition to language. What was it like moving a text from a home on the internet to a home in a physical book– how did that shift the parameters of the project?

Janice Lee: There were rewrites, additions, deletions. Also thinking about how most of the images were less necessary in the book. I needed to reframe the project. The essays online were more like blog posts, immediate reactions, confessionals. It was a way for me to combat my writer’s block by writing, by articulating what I was feeling, and the immediate space of the internet allowed me to be urgent and honest and open. So for the book, there was a little bit of “cleaning up,” bringing the slightly more raw writing to the page, but I also wanted to preserve a lot of that. So it’s not a completely rewritten, polished book because the original feelings and thoughts, even if flawed, were important to keep intact for me.

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“Healing is Sparse and Concealed:” A Review of Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible

Cover of Cristy C. Road's Indestructible.

Indestructible, via Microcosm Publishing

As a queer brown girl, adolescence was cruel and oftentimes ruthless. But in Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible: Growing Up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami, queer brown adolescence is rebellion, self-discovery, and self-determination. Indestructible is an illustrated novel exploring the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality within the feminist punk rock scene of 1990s Miami. For Road, punk subculture was more than loud music and DIY fashion. It provided avenues for subverting misogyny and normativity, in reconstituting female pleasure and sexuality, and in navigating the cultural barriers and discrepancies between America and Cuba. Set in a typerwriter-esque font and Xerox-style printing that mirrors zine-making, Indestructible redefines the growing-up narrative, giving it a new form, a dissonant voice, and a queer aberrant body.

The memoir begins with Road expanding the interpretation of coming-of-age, stating, “[T]he enticement of adolescence [goes] beyond any new pubes and first kisses” (11). For Road, adolescence was first orgasms, defying white and Cuban beauty standards, and negotiating the collisions between girl/womanhood and queerness. Road poses the questions I was too afraid to ask as an adolescent: “‘Why do women compete?’ ‘Why do men abuse power?’ ‘Why doesn’t anyone think it’s normal that I masturbate?’ ‘Why does the way I pee, the way I fuck, or the way my chest looks dictate the language that’s acceptable for me to use?’” (28). These questions are not only explored and answered through Road’s various musings and conversations, but the many one-page and two-page black-and-white spreads illustrate the experimentation, aberration, and resistance of queer punk bodies to normativity and authority. The bold, black lines that curve around brown female bodies and the intricate patterns and textures of clothing aid in transporting the reader into Road’s world of Latinx punk subculture. Art and DIY manifesting in and on punk bodies was essential to the movement, and Road does a stunning job demonstrating this reality through graphic storytelling. Continue reading

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A Love Letter to Single Mothers & Their Daughters — For the Gilmore Girls and the Rest of Us

 

I’ll confess that I was excited to write a piece about the Gilmore Girls reboot. The idea of course came before Trump happened. I was not anticipating the reboot to be a racist, misogynist, body-shaming, ageist, and flat out weird piece of garbage, but I guess it’s fitting, since so is Trump (badum ching). I was ready for it to be a capitalist fetish fest but not like that, not an excruciating series that confirms that Lorelei lost the struggle to save her daughter and herself from bourgeois entitled nonsense. Remember when Lorelei wouldn’t let Emily buy her daughter extra skirts for school because she doesn’t need them? I know this battle was already done with the appearance of Logan, but the reboot—with its sad, bizarre, and uneven writing—confirmed for me that Gilmore Girls is a cautionary tale for women and girls who want to imagine and create their own homes, their own joys. And it is for that reason that I want to write about Gilmore Girls—especially now considering Netflix talk of a possible second revival.

Gilmore Girls came out when I was just out of high school (a shocking fact because I think of it as a backdrop to my high school years). I was working at a chain restaurant where I had to sing about sombreros while I attended community college full-time. I was driven by getting out of my particular small town, driven by the strangely abrupt alert feeling that coming out of family transition and trauma rattled in me, driven by my mother who would drape a blanket over my shoulders as I typed away on an aged computer late into the night, me smelling of “faquitas” (Really it was butter that they’d drop on a skillet so that it’d look sizzling hot, so yes my skin was great then) and coffee. My mom was working like she’s always worked (a lot) and created her own spaces like she always had—waking before the sun and sipping coffee while slowly walking her garden. We were coming off of four years of rebuilding and creating home. We would watch Gilmore Girls between hurried dinner and homework and ironing tomorrow’s clothes and washing dishes and talking about that person at work and wringing out stockings and feeding the dog. Continue reading

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The Drumpf Notebooks, February 12, 2017

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I Can’t Rank My Loyalties: An Interview with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel Harmless Like You is not a comfort read. At least, for me, a woman who has yet to be married or have a child, its themes revolve around a marriage at the point of potential break and a child abandoned by his mother. Reading the novel, I couldn’t help but fear “what if I do it all wrong, too? What if motherhood and marriage are jobs some people just aren’t meant for?” Luckily, I got to right to the source of the novel’s intense themes and ask Hisayo Buchanan about these questions and more:

Kati Heng: Harmless Like You touches on the hard questions many of us without kids are most scared to ask: What if I’m not meant to be a parent? What if I’m bad at it? The novel explores this idea; but, taken from your side and not the characters: Do you believe parenthood is a choice you make, or a role that naturally suits some and not others? Does it fall somewhere in the middle? Continue reading

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Cosmic Femme Punk Visionary: A Conversation with Taleen Kali

Taleen Kali photo by Emery Becker

I first encountered Taleen Kali at a small zine fair that was taking place in an open air courtyard in an arty Los Angeles strip mall. “How LA,” I thought. While browsing, I was struck by Taleen’s beautifully put together publication, DUM DUM Zine, and the sense of both playfulness and artistic gravitas surrounded her. So of course, after picking up a copy of the zine, I did what any fangirl would do: I followed her on Instagram. Through the images and stories she shares I learned about Taleen’s work as a yoga instructor, guitar shredder, dog-mom to an adorable pup named Leelo, her recent shoot with BUST magazine as a glitter makeup model, and got a sense that there’s almost a mystical girl gang that hovers around her. She seemed to embody the spirit of Weird Sister, so of course I had to talk with her more. We caught up over email about intersecting artistic identities and communities, cultivating creative rituals to survive these current political times, and the upcoming EP she is recording.

Eleanor Whitney: You do so much! You are a writer, editor, artist, musician, yogi, glitter makeup model and all around badass. Do you distinguish between your different projects or do you see them more as one integrated art practice?

Taleen Kali: The glitter makeup story for BUST Magazine was definitely a fun surprise!

As an interdisciplinary artist my projects have always been conduits, helping me to excavate and express different parts of my identity. I think it’s human nature to compartmentalize, yet the more stuff I make the more I realize it’s coming from the same source, even if it’s expressed through different mediums.

EW: You have played in punk bands around L.A. for a few years and now you are gearing up to record and release a solo EP and play a type of music you describe as “cosmic femme punk.” How did you hit on that description for your sound?

TK: All the writing and music projects over the years helped me figure out what I really wanted to write, and ultimately sing about: transcending the bullshit, comprehending the beauty of the divine feminine, and elevating my surroundings. Arriving at that mindset is what cosmic femme punk means to me.

Over time my music began to evolve from this “doom” persona, becoming less about bleak narratives and more about sonic expression and reclaiming femme visibility, and getting to decide what that means. As a first generation Armenian American it’s really important for me to use my voice and resources to uplift fellow women of color, queer communities, trans folx, and other marginalized voices. What we need to talk about will change too as media and culture evolves, so I thought: why not start with “FEMME AS FUCK” and go from there?

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On the Road: 20 Years of Sister Spit

20 Years of Sister Spit

I’ve always understood the allure of the road. A chance to play at something else, something bigger, get swallowed up, get away.

My childhood was filled with curly lipped churchgoers who spoke in tongues, an aunt with curious hands, a stultifying fatphobia that ripped my tongue out of my mouth, and an unstable mother who liked meth houses.

I survived this through the pathological pursuit of achievement, a rabid dick-hunger that activated an ancient understanding of pussy as barter, and the most meticulously crafted isolation—a rococo house with no doorknobs. I built a road out of my past one trophy, one fuck, one stifled meltdown at a time. Roads—metaphorical and literal—are precious to me, representing motion, change, and the promise of a novelty that touches me and awakens my heart.

I’m about to hit the (literal) road with seven other writers and artists for the Sister Spit 20th Anniversary Tour. Started in 1997 by Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson, Sister Spit was a brazen response to the dude-saturated open mic scene of 1990s San Francisco. The tour is legendary for having started as an all-girl lineup traveling the country by road and bringing provocative observations about the strange world that had built itself around them—stories of sex and love and survival and the million ways a country can disappoint you. Continue reading

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FIGHT Harder: NYC Poets Organize In Trump Era

FIGHT Harder: NYC Poets Organize In Trump Era

NYC poets: Join us for a strategic planning meeting to prepare for the literary activism of the year ahead.

Where: Bureau of General Services-Queer Division208 W 13th St, Rm 210, New York, New York 10011

When: TOMORROW, Saturday 2/25, 4-6 PM

From the event’s Facebook page:

Tenative Agenda:

– What social/governmental issues do we want addressed in the coming year

– What literary activist issues do we want addressed in the coming year

– What strategies for activism have we seen be successful?

– Where and how do we focus our energy?” Continue reading

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#Girlgaze: The Girls Behind the Camera

#girlgaze

On the day of the inauguration, I spent a few hours with photographs by young women artists at the #girlgaze: a frame of mind exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in LA. It was my personal West Coast protest: what better place to focus my attention for a few hours than on a diverse, global array of girl artists. 

It felt political to enter a space designed with the aesthetics of a teenage girl’s bedroom in mind–all neon pink, selfie-generating machine, and Lana del Ray on the playlist–and to call that space not lesser-than, not derided, not frivolous, but art. Important art.

The Girlgaze project, a multimedia digital platform “that generates visibility and creates community for the next generation of female photographers,” was founded by Amanda de Cadenet, along with an impressive team of collaborators. Their mission is to “support girls behind the camera.” Their manifesto, posted at the entrance to the show, reads:

We are taking back the word girl. We are pushing back against the cultural projections and traditional gender roles imposed upon girls from the outside world, media and culture. Instead, we aim to represent the intelligence, creativity, complexity and diversity of girls’ experience—across nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and economic background—by taking the camera into our own hands. It is up to us—those who identify with being a girl—to show our perspectives, tell our stories, and determine our own identity, sexuality, and beauty.

I interviewed one of the artists in the exhibit, Abby Berger, who, at sixteen years old at the time of her acceptance to the show (though she’s now seventeen), was one of the youngest #girlgaze artists. Abby, who lives in New Orleans, is also the daughter of a friend of mine. I remember when my girlfriend shared with me that her daughter’s photography was gaining some notoriety on Instagram. A few months later, this friend told me Abby’s work would be shown in Beverly Hillsand I knew immediately that she meant the #girlgaze exhibit.

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SAD Lamp: A Comic

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