An Excused Absence: NaNoWriMo

Hello Friends!

It’s that time of year again…NaNoWriMo!  For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, click this.

Official National Novel Writing Month crest.  Image courtsey of http://nanowrimo.org.

Official National Novel Writing Month crest. Image courtsey of http://nanowrimo.org.

Yes, my participation in National Novel WrIting Month last year was, ahem, abysmal at best, but this year I’ve got new resolve and a functioning plan.

That project I’ve been hinting at in my recent posts?  Well, it’s a writing project. A big one.

It’s not a novel in the traditional sense, but it is large in scale, and would benefit from some deadlines and structure.  And NaNoWriMo is just the place to get encouragement and resolve.

So far, I’ve created a Pages Doc with to-do lists for the days leading up to Nov. 1st.  I’ve also made a calendar with writing prompts for each day in November to keep me on track.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Between now and then I have the following to do:

-Plan secret surprise for wife (this will be revealed in December…)
-Organize notes into one Pages Document
-Write blog post alerting readers to my impending and epic absence
-Research & fill out calendar w/ notes for each daily prompt

Yeah, about that last crossed off one…

I’m taking a month off the ol’ blog.  I want to utilize November and get a large chunk of writing done when I’m energized and excited, and I just can’t focus on both this project and MLWT at the same time.  I love you guys, and will still respond to queries and comments and emails, but the posts will have to wait.

You guys know how hard it’s been for me to find a good writing practice.  It’s been so hard I’ve made private most of the posts in which I’m bitching about my writing practice because I sound like a preening ass in them, and so I have nothing to link to for this reference.

And I have a great project right now, honestly, you’re all going to be so impressed if I can make the most of November and come back in December with something great to show for it.  So I have to go.  But I will be back.  And we all might just be really proud of me.

Trust me.

And, in the meantime, be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Greatest (T)its

Dear Readers,

I’ve missed you!  I didn’t post these last two Fridays because I’ve been busy with another writing endeavor, one secret at this point, but as the project evolves, I’ll consider some sneak peeks…

I thought, in the meantime, I’d do a top ten list of the most viewed posts.

The Homepage, at 25,800 views, is killing it, and my About Me page was in the top ten as well.  I took those two out of the list below, as to limit to only posts and not pages.

And so without further adieu, let’s start this party off right with…

10. Post-Op Depression: Ugh. Ok…that was a rough start.  Anyway, on to number 9…

9. Photo Comparison: Face Shape on T: Wherein you get the pleasure of gazing upon me.

8. At Home in the Underground: Departures and Returns: Where your hero says goodbye to an old friend.

7. 11 Weeks Post-Op: What a slick baby!

6. Blog Brothers: Some of the dudes I looked to for fraternity and inspiration when I first started this journey.

5. Day Six: First Look at the New Chest, or Parade of Photos! Gross.  But informative!  (Still gross.)

4. Two Weeks Post-Op: You guys are really into the topless pics, you old pervs.

3. The, as it were, titular post.

2. Top Surgery How-To: Compression Vest and Bandages Daily Regiment: Boring.  But if it makes you happy, I’m supportive.

And the number one most visited post, with over a thousand views is…

1. Top Surgery Check List! Hooray!

You have a favorite that didn’t make it on the list?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  Have a favorite trans blog you’d like to inform me of?  Leave it in the comments!

Thanks for reading, friends, and be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

The Tits Interview: Kim Guare

Hello Comrades!

Since the unveiling of The Tits Interview Series last week, I heard lots of positive murmurings from you folks, and I thank you for your support.  So let’s just keep the ball rolling, shall we?

This week I submit for your enjoyment, multimedia artist Kim Guare.

MLWT: Introduce yourself: who are you and what do you do?

KG: I’m an artist, an organic, local food enthusiast/volunteer farmer, and a chicken lover, not eater. I live and work creatively at all times. And I pack groceries pretty well and honestly…I’m pretty proud of that.

MLWT: Why bother?  (why do you do what you do?)

KG: I wouldn’t know what else to do with my time if I didn’t do this. It’s what I live to do. Art brings me joy and incredible opportunities. For example, I had the opportunity to be an artist-in-residence at the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg, Wisconsin were I worked on an organic vegetable farm 3 hours a day, 5 days a week and had the rest of the time to roam free and create. Art also brings me together with other creative minds and it has connected me with the majority of my friends. Art is how I get through the hard times and how I share the good times.

MLWT: Let’s talk process: what’s a day making art look like for Kim?

KG: It starts with me opening up my blinds and letting the sunshine in. My favorite time to make art is right when I wake up until I can’t take how hungry I am. I usually have some idea of what I want to make the night before. So I wake up pretty excited to make it happen. Lately, it more often then not starts with me grabbing my trusty little chicken stencil and some paper. I trace the chicken and then color her in depending on my mood and the quote I’ll have her say. Sometimes she is sassy (my favorite), other times she’s happy and inspired. Fortunately, she is sad less frequently as of late. I cut her out of the paper when I’m done. Then it’s time to instagram her and share her with the world…and my favorite part is picking fabric from my gigantic collection to place beneath her.  When I have a decent collection of little chickens, I drop them off at Chicago coffee shops and storefronts, free for people to take. It’s been a way for me to practice creating just to create and letting go. Not needing to hold on to everything.

Chicken courtesy of Kim Guare.

Chicken courtesy of Kim Guare.

MLWT: What role does your work play in the queer community? (And how do you define “queer?”)

KG: Queer to me is digging deep to know who you really are and what you are really about. Not trying to fit into the mold of what society expects from you and not trying too hard to define what you are because we are always changing/evolving and growing. When I’ve given myself strict definitions it puts me in a box and leaves me no room to just be me. I don’t want to live my life with any expectations for myself…I just want to be.

My chickens often speak of loving yourself and accepting who you are and embracing it. It’s currently a journey I am on and it has been hard but my life feels so much richer. I wish to share that deep love for myself with others. Cause if we truly love ourselves then we can be more compassionate, loving and understanding towards all the people in the world. A person who does not love and accept themselves is a person who will find it easy to hate and we don’t need that in this world!

Chicken courtesy of Kim Guare.

Chicken courtesy of Kim Guare.

MLWT: What work do you most enjoy doing?

KG: More abstract work. I love when I just start grabbing things and putting them together based on how I’m feeling.  It’s so strange (and magical) how much it makes sense to me.

But I also love making crazy, colorful, glitter covered, fabulous, silly creations too. I’m learning to embrace my funky side in my art. Because being serious all the time is a drag.

Chicken courtesy of Kim Guare.

Chicken courtesy of Kim Guare.

MLWT: You farm as well as create art: can you talk a little about the importance of farming to you and the specifics of how you practice it as a city-dweller.  Can farm work be creative?

KG: Farm and art have a lot in common to me. Using your hands, taking a plan or idea and making it happen, taking in the beauty and creating something to share with others.

An 18 x 24 inch page from Kim's fabric book, "Farmer Kim and the Feathery Ladies." Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

An 18 x 24 inch page from Kim’s fabric book, “Farmer Kim and the Feathery Ladies.” Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

Organic farming is so important to me because food is special. It brings us together and nourishes us. We are so detached from knowing how our food got to our table and that’s really scary. I love knowing the awesome people who worked so damn hard to grow my veggies. It makes me appreciate my food even more and dammit, food and the people who grow it should be appreciated!

I usually spend my summers volunteering on organic vegetable farms or urban farms/gardens in Chicago. It’s therapeutic for me. I get this natural high from it that inspires me to make more art and fill my belly. It’s an awesome cycle.

MLWT: What advice would you give to urbanites who want to get more in touch with the natural world?

KG: Well, we do have a lot of cement here. But there are still a lot of beautiful plants and trees everywhere. I think we forget to pay attention to them because they are so few. It’s easier to notice nature when you’re bombarded by it.  But when I take walks in Chicago I see cardinals, flowers, community gardens and trees. It’s about paying attention and not getting too absorbed in the crazy, fast-paced Chicago lifestyle.

As for gardening/farming…there are tons of places to volunteer. Farmers love volunteers, especially if you can take instructions well and don’t doubt your decisions. There are tons of urban agriculture projects popping up in Chicago who welcome volunteers. And I’ve often taken Metra to get to farms in the ‘burbs.

MLWT: Who’s your favorite contemporary artist?

KG: Molly Costello, Cathi Schwalbe, N. Masani Landfair and I don’t just say that because they are my friends. They just happen to be my friends because I think they are so talented and really saying something important through their work.

MLWT: Can you talk about an experience with art that has been profoundly moving for you? What work has shaped your work?

KG: Learning about Keith Haring’s work in 8th grade art class really changed how I viewed art and made me feel I could actually be an artist. Before I’d learned about Keith, I thought art was above me. His work was fun and simple. It was for kids and adults. And it got serious too with his work on AIDS awareness. He was just so real and he painted how he lived–bright, full, and funky. Also as a confused queer teen, it was great to see him drawing and loving penises all the damn time.

In New York at the Haring Exhibit.  Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

In New York at the Haring Exhibit. Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

In 2012 it just so happened I was in New York City at the same time the Brooklyn Museum was having an exhibition of Keith Haring’s work from 1978-1982. I got to be in the presence of many of his large murals. I was overwhelmed with emotions and I definitely shed some tears.

MLWT: Can you tell us about how you came to be invested in animal rights?

I think being raised in a house with 13 animals at a time played a big role. At an early age I learned that animals are special just like me. They have feelings and different personalities. If you don’t pay attention to them, you won’t see it and they just all look and act the same. But I know they are all unique because I take the time to notice.

"29 Feet Per Square Meter," 39 x 39 inches, twigs, wire, red tape, 2013.  Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

“29 Feet Per Square Meter,” 39 x 39 inches, twigs, wire, red tape, 2013. Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

When I was a freshman in high school it hit me that I was sorta grown up and I could just decide to stop eating meat. So I did and so did my sister…and there was hell to pay but we made it through. Also, I was in love with Davey Havok from A.F.I. and he was vegan…so ya know.

Animals are so incredible. It’s so lovely how we can connect with them without speaking the same language. I just want to let them do their thing and not get in the way of it.

MLWT: What’s a dream project for you?

KG: I’ve made 3 pieces so far about the seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables in the Midwest. With these pieces I’ve painted the fruit or vegetable on paper in all it’s many shapes and sizes accompanied by the months it is harvested. I’ve always wanted to have a space where I could fill the walls top to bottom with a ton of these pieces.  I think it would be really important and eye opening for people to enter a room like that because we are very unaware of when certain veggies and fruits are actually available in the Midwest and at their best for eating.

Also, I really don’t care for the conventional gallery setting of 4 pieces on a huge wall 5 feet apart from one another trapped in a frame. It works for a lot of people but it’s just not what my art is about and I’d love a space that would let me fill the walls how I’d want to.

"Harvesting the Strawberry in the Midwest", 35 x 14 inches, watercolor on paper, string, fabric, 2012.  Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

“Harvesting the Strawberry in the Midwest”, 35 x 14 inches, watercolor on paper, string, fabric, 2012. Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

MLWT: Let’s talk medium: you work in textiles but have a degree in watercolor and your city chicken series seems to be in neither of those.  What’s your favorite medium to work in, and what are its benefits and limitations?

KG: I use to go with watercolor artist, then mixed media artist, then installation artist, then fiber artist and now I’m just sticking with artist. Titles are the worst.

I think when it comes down to it, I love fabric the most, at least for now. I love the textures, the opaque colors, the way it naturally binds with thread. I use it like I use watercolor. It’s like I paint with fabric. It can be built up and layered. And touching it is part of the joy. Fabric has a story. I very rarely buy new fabric. I love donations from friends and the scrap bins at fabric stores. I have every color I could ever need and it brings me real joy to look at my pile of fabric each day. So many possibilities!

"Rosa Bianca Heirloom Eggplant", 32 x 28 inches, fabric thread, 2011.  Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

“Rosa Bianca Heirloom Eggplant”, 32 x 28 inches, fabric thread, 2011. Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

Limitations…its time consuming. I often want to have an idea and just make it with ease. With an abstract watercolor painting I could accomplish what I’m trying to portray in a day. But with fabric there is lots of messy thread involved, and cutting, and pinning before sewing, and bobbins running out, and being poked repeatedly from the needles and making huge mistakes that take forever to fix. But, I still like all that too in a way.

MLWT: Kim your chickens appear all over the city, can you talk about the intersection of art and community action?

KG: My favorite kind of conversation to have with another person is about feelings. So the chickens have been a way for me to share my joys, sadness, frustration, laughter with others and that makes me really happy. Some people have gotten in contact with me after finding a chicken and it’s great to be connected with another person through a mutual feeling. It’s so scary when we think we are alone in the world, the only one feeling sad. We are all struggling and enjoying life and it’s beautiful that we share that.

Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

Image courtesy of Kim Guare.

MLWT: Anything you’d like to add? (promo for an upcoming show, places we can find your art, shout-outs to homies, etc.)

KG: I currently have big chickens on display at Delicious (3827 North Lincoln Ave.), a vegetarian/vegan coffee shop in Lincoln Square in Chicago. I titled the show “Chicken Thoughts” and they will be up for the month of September.

Also! For the past three months I have had a monthly craft night at my place where people are invited to come over and create or just hang out with creative people. This month’s craft night will be on Tuesday, September 30th, from 5-9pm. Send me an email if you’re interested in joining at kimguare@yahoo.com.

And lastly, I have a website, KimGuare.com and a blog, KimGuare.blogspot.com. Check em out! <3

MLWT: Thanks for your time, Kim!

If you’re an artist who would like to be featured on My Life Without Tits, please send an inquiry to mylifewithouttits [at] gmail [dot] com.  Next week we return to regular scheduled blogging.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

The Tits Interview: Connor Creagan

Hello there!

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I work at that quirky grocery store chain everyone loves and loses their shit over when mentioned in conversation at dinner parties, family reunions, and other social gatherings. I am grateful for my job, and one of my favorite things about it is that I work with lots of interesting people, people for whom, like me, it is their day gig, and in their spare time they are most likely performing some kind of art or hobby. I wanted a way to interact with their artistic sides and support them as artists, but how? This is how:

Readers, welcome to the first official* installment of The Tits Interviews…

Each artist I interview will be “queer” in some way, as to be relevant to my blog and its LGBT leanings. But, there are lots of way to be queer, and so an artist’s queerness might not have to do with their gender or orientation. Also, let it be known anything in [brackets] is me talking. Enough of my delineations, let’s get to the interview!

MLWT: Introduce yourself: who are you and what do you do?

CC: My name’s Connor Creagan, got my BFA from SAIC [School of the Art Institute in Chicago] about a year ago. I have a studio where I work on art projects and an apartment where I tend to my chameleon.

MLWT: Let’s talk process: what’s a day making art look like for Connor?

CC: My process is very much reference based. Whether the references are coming from everyday objects and images, pop culture, or history, I’m always trying to give back to the world as much as it gives me. I tend to have a hard time sitting still, so I block my time throughout the day in my studio to give each of my eccentricities their moment in the spotlight. To be more specific, a studio day for me includes lots and lots of drawing, singing, dancing, and online shopping/scouring.

MLWT: What role does your work play in the queer community? (And how do you define “queer?”)

CC: To be honest, I’m not sure what role my work plays in the queer community. That is, I make art and am a homosexual male, and I am grappling with whether or not the two are mutually exclusive. I’m inclined to believe that they are. I would say, though, that many of the figures in my drawings are queer bodies, in that their forms dance along the line between fluid and graphic. I define queer as flexibility in a way.

MLWT: What are you working on currently?

CC: Currently I’m finishing up my longest series yet, a fifty page book of angels and demons dancing. [...] I’ve only got 2 pages to go!

MLWT: You’re on Flickr, you’re on YouTube.  What do you find compelling in a movement or image?

CC: What I find most compelling about a movement is the varying degrees of control. Like a key change in music, for example. That jump takes a tremendous amount of control, but is also a forfeiture of control as it pushes the voice closer to its limits. In other words, it’s raising the stakes! And if the stakes aren’t high than what’s the point? Some examples of such key changes include but are not limited to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Beyonce’s Love on Top, and Cheryl Lynn’s Got to Be Real.

MLWT: What memory do you have of the first time you created art intentionally?

CC: My first camera phone! I would set the camera to “Black and White” setting and go crazy. But in terms of what I see as art now, I’d say I was able to make art with intention when I learned I didn’t have to paint everything.

MLWT: Whose work are you into right now?  What about it’s so great?

CC: So so many people (alive and dead) that I’m just going to list the first names that come to my head along with what I really love about their work (or else this could actually go on forever):

Maria Lassnig – painting

Self Portrait Under Plastic by Maria Lessnig. Image courtesy of http://momaps1.org.

Self Portrait Under Plastic by Maria Lessnig. Image courtesy of http://momaps1.org.

Patrick Killoran – wit

Jason Dodge – narrative

David Hockney – drawing

Portrait of Nick Wilder by David Hockney.  Image courtesy of http://www.ibiblio.org/.

Portrait of Nick Wilder by David Hockney. Image courtesy of http://www.ibiblio.org/.

Pilvi Takala – humor

Ellsworth Kelly (specifically his still life drawings) – economy

Ellsworth Kelly still life, image courtesy of http://mhsartgallerymac.wikispaces.com.

Ellsworth Kelly still life, image courtesy of http://mhsartgallerymac.wikispaces.com.

Ed Ruscha – poetry

"Pretty Eyes, Electric Bills" by Ed Ruscha. Image courtesy of http://feliciafbaby.blogspot.com.

“Pretty Eyes, Electric Bills” by Ed Ruscha. Image courtesy of http://feliciafbaby.blogspot.com.

Elad Lassry – structure

Manet – hands

Hand detail from Manet's Plum Brandy.  Image courtesy of http://www.headforart.com.

Hand detail from Manet’s Plum Brandy. Image courtesy of http://www.headforart.com.

MLWT: What’s currently bringing you to tears?

CC: Last time I cried was during an episode of Kid Nation. It’s a reality show where 40 children ages 8-14 have to live in “Bonanza City” (this ghost town in the middle of the desert) for 40 days. Each week the council representing the 4 classes of children (upper, middle, lower, and cooks) select a Kid of the Week to give the Golden Star to. The Golden Star is worth its weight in gold and whoever gets it gets to call their parents. I cried when one of my favorites got the star and called her mom.

MLWT: Who’s your favorite (anything) right now? Why are you so jazzed about him/her/it?

CC: Been very into Mykki Blanco lately- her songs are super… chunky in a super sexy way. Also loving linen pants! They’re just so soft and relaxed, makes me feel free whenever I wear my pair.


(not pictured: linen pants)

MLWT: Best place to chill in Chicago? What’s fun there?

CC: Not trying to throw any shade but my back porch is definitely my favorite place to chill in Chicago. I’m not a homebody but if I’m tying to chill after a day you will find me with a drink and a bunny rabbit on the back porch.

MLWT: Tell me about the video on your website: title?  Would you call it “dancing,” that you’re doing?  How do you think the venue influences the mood?  Is the four-pained window shadow that appears on the wall near the end of the piece an actual shadow (something about it looks unreal to me–it doesn’t seem to correspond to the actual windows, and it echoes the Microsoft icon in its four panels…)?

CC: The video is titled Richard Serra Piece, as those are Richard Serra sculptures that I am grinding on. Yes, not so much dancing, but grinding. The venue is the Dia:Beacon, a haven for minimalist and conceptual art in Beacon, New York. It’s incredibly clean and white, and was quiet like a church. Cameras aren’t allowed so we had to sneak one in and there was a museum employee patrolling the sculptures so we had to keep an eye out for that, too. The whole church-mood of the space is really 50% of what the video does as a model of action before a huge history. In this case a history of monumental male/masculine art. I wanted to communicate this idea of a screw loose in the cathedral, an idea totally contingent on the venue. And yes the window shadow is real! It does echo Microsoft doesn’t it? I’m happy with that reference what with art’s whole “window to another world” paradigm. I think it’s a really rich image and I feel fortunate that it decided to make an appearance, thanks, Sun!

MLWT: Let’s talk about your monkey show: at “Regal Cinema Presents Connor and Sam” last month, you had a primate theme, can you talk a little bit about what your intentions were for that show, and what you learned from that experience?

From Connor's show, "Regal Cinema Presents: Connor and Sam."

From Connor’s show, “Regal Cinema Presents: Connor and Sam.”

CC: That show came from a desire to show where no one else had shown before- and gallery openings are so often simply parties that I felt what better space than a Party Room to draw attention to that. I thought of it as “guerilla” in a way, and my love of word play took it from there. My intention for the show was a push for difference and visibility, using the primate motif to highlight the many factors and consequences of such an endeavor, i.e. learning a new language, scale, time, and loss.

Portrait of the artist by Eli.

Portrait of the artist by Eli.

MLWT: What advice would you give artists planning their first show?

CC: Show what you want people to see, give them something they didn’t know that they wanted, be logical, be passionate, and show with a friend(s) or whose work you love.

MLWT: I find your piece, “Now There Is Nothi” evocative and full of potential: it raises lots of questions for me, which is one of the things I love about visual art.  How do you know when a piece is finished?  As a writer, I’m always going back and tinkering with phrases and line breaks, and obviously deadlines have a hand in calling some piece of work “finished.”  Is it solely a feeling of completing that you’re arriving at, or is it sometimes something more or different?

Image by Connor Creagan

Image by Connor Creagan

CC: It just said something better than I had in mind. It was originally going to read “Now there is nothing we can’t do,” speaking to the nebulous nature of art making, do-what-ever-call-it-art blah blah cynical blah. I stopped where I did because I realized I didn’t have to do it all at once and when I came back to it I realized that it actually proposed something about the status of nothing in a way that surprised and excited me. I wasn’t going to do anything to ruin that.

MLWT: “Boys Fighting” is so lovely: it feels very primal, and in that way, natural.  Also, the light touch of the drawing gives it a nice gentle quality, for me there is more sadness in it than anger.  Your thoughts?

Image by Connor Creagan

Image by Connor Creagan

CC: Why thank you and yes. The drawing for me is really about the structure of murder through the lens of violent children. The structure is sensitive and blunt, sad yet direct, the action is simple, the causes complex- a timeless act which is relayed back to us through screens.

MLWT: Let’s end with this: why bother?  (Why make art?)

CC: Good question and one I constantly ask myself. I bother because I want to see, stage, and play with/against the structure of things, and I want to invite others to play as well.

Thanks for your time, Connor!  And I encourage you readers to seek out more of Connor’s work at his site, Connorcreagan.com.

Are you a “queer” artist who would liked to be interviewed on My Life Without Tits?  Drop me an email at mylifewithouttits [at] gmail to be considered!

Thanks for readings, friends, and remember, be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*This is the first official artist interview in the Tits Interview series, but you astute readers will no doubt remember I interviewed Audrey MC about her book here, and those of you who’ve dug around in the Tit archives, or who are a reader from way back, will remember I interviewed K about her feelings about my top surgery here.

At Home in the Underground: Departures and Returns

1.
In my early 20s I was a butchy dyke, an Ani-listening, bad poetry writing, worse guitar playing kid from the suburbs.  I had lots of company, as far as being a kid from the suburbs went.  On the other fronts, not so much: I didn’t know a single gay kid, let alone a trans one.  In every other way I was average.  I read my shitty poetry at the open mic night once a month at the local Boarders, surrounded by strip malls and Applebees-type restaurants.  I played my guitar on the front porch with my friends at my Grandmother’s house.  I made mix tapes from my dual cassette player and read Rolling Stone during my breaks at work as the manager of a local chain music store.  It was the late 90’s and I was spending upwards of two hours a day in my bedroom writing.  Without an editor or writing community, I believed the work I was doing to be of global import.  And that was true in a sense: the world needs shitty poets because good poets are born out of them.  The world did not need my shitty poetry.

2.
After an ill-conceived affair with my best friend’s girl and a string of, let’s call them, “missed connections” between myself and some of my “straight” female friends, I had just gotten my first honest to god, interested in me, girlfriend.  It was during this time in my life, the time when one says things they don’t mean and does thing they don’t want to do because one is still very immature, and is equal measures that immaturity and bravado, that my friend Shawn told me about an open mic he heard of in the city.*

An open mic in Chicago?  I was ecstatic.  Next weekend we were parking down the street from the Burkhart Underground, an institution on Halsted for Chicago’s “Angelheaded Hipsters.”

Threshold:

Threshold:

Image by Simon Johnson

Outside: Image by Simon Johnson

3.
Before the Underground, I had just gotten out of my sing-songy, strict iambic pentameter, end rhyme, unrequited love poetry phase and had recently entered the world of angry, political, spoken word poetry.  These poems were just as awful as the unrequited love ones, but they centered mainly on being gay and self-righteous.  Let me take the time here to publicly thank Shawn for coming to EVERY SINGLE, UNDOUBTEDLY MISERABLE open mic I have ever performed in, AND for telling me the bold-faced lie that I was good.  It’s that kind of abject and harmless truth skewering that bolsters multi-decade friendships.

bye 2

Fred across the street:

Inside:

Inside: 1

Inside: 2

Inside: 2

I was intimidated and intrigued: Burkhart’s place was a commercial space on Halsted Street, in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, an area equal parts recently-graduated frat boy, flamboyant drag queen, J Crew urban yuppie, and gay bar go-go dancer.  Once we walked through the looking glass, on the other side of the picture window was a home for some of Chicago’s marginalized artists: Burkhart opened his home every Thursday night for any performer or audience to be welcomed through his door.  A suggested four dollar donation would get you entry, coffee from his kitchen upstairs, and a seat for the show.  That first night there I did a shaky rendition of my best piece, something exuberant and naive, and to my surprise, Fred emerged from the back and cheered for me when it was over.  Fred was many things to many people, but no one can argue he was a champion for all kids who needed someone to believe in them.

06-16-02

My (old) name at the bottom: a flyer for the Underground, June 2002.

4.
The Underground had an open floor plan with some scattered tables and chairs and the walls were covered in art: photography, drawings, paintings, some by Burkhart, some from the myriad people who wandered in and out of his life.  Burkhart was a fastidious photographer: his subjects ranged from the BDSM scene to white supremacists.  There’s an old story about the time Fred spent many months with the KKK, photographing them, and when finally one member approached him and asked, “[s]o brother, when you gonna join us?” Fred replied, “I’ll sooner join the Girl Scouts than you clowns.”  The subsequent beating they gave Burkhart nearly killed him.  Fred was brutally honest.  Fred was kind and likable.  Fred was an artist and a patron of the arts.  He was a lover, of the aesthetic and, surely, of more than one of his nude subjects.

"Burkhart and unidentified female object" Image by Fred Burkhart.

“Burkhart and unidentified female object” Image by Fred Burkhart.

Fred would stand in front, or peek his head around a load bearing post, or whistle from the top floor when I was reading something he thought particularly about.  After I was finished, he’d give me his notes.  Fred encouraged me to speak my voice, and would be quite curt when he thought what I was saying wasn’t authentic to my experience.  Fred Burkhart was my first editor.

My first night performing in the Underground was punctuated by rotating bouts of eagerness and nerves.  There was a sign-up sheet going around for performers; I nervously scribbled my name and gulped down the butterflies.  Shawn and I took a seat somewhere in the middle, and what we saw that night was no different than any other open mic in the midwest: covers of Cure songs, full bands lugging their own gear.  A few poets, mostly white, mostly young.  But the energy was different from what I felt in the suburbs.  I was surrounded by strangers in a house that wasn’t mine.  There were mysterious corners and tattoos and fishnets and eyeliner.  There were thin men reading Dostoyevsky and artists parked in the rear, painting.  In the backyard, there was a chessboard under a tree.  It was Oz.  I was the scarecrow.  I went to Burkhart with the hope of being made a poet.  During our friendship Burkhart taught me I was a poet all along.

I would return many Thursdays thereafter, and even worked my way into a resident poet position there, performing as the headliner more than once.  I was just learning, without knowing it had a title, blank verse.  I got bored with spoken word and started writing these weird Frank O’Hara-esque, New York School of poets pieces without having read any O’Hara or having any idea who the New York School poets were.  But my nights at the Underground became fewer when, in the fall, I left my day job and went to college in Iowa.  It was time for me to start studying some of this poetry stuff I purported to love.

I continued to email Fred, and he would correspond back.  He was the first person to treat me like a writer.  And without his encouragement I wouldn’t be the confident public speaker that I am today.  I have had many teachers in my life, and Fred was one of them.  For many people he was more than that, for me, he was just what I needed: he wasn’t a confidant, he wasn’t a relative, he was a guy who heard my shitty poems and said, I hear you.  Do better.  And at that time, it was all I needed to keep at it.  It wasn’t Fred that was going to make me a poet, it was practice.  Fred taught me that.

12-22-02

5.
Just last week I walked down Halsted past the old Underground.  He moved his operation a few years back, while I was in Massachusetts at grad school, when his lot was purchased and renovated into condos.  As I walked down the street I ruminated on my time there, and thought about searching for him.  Three days later a mutual friend would tell me Fred Burkhart succumbed to the cancer that had plagued him for the last four years of his life.

There are beautiful tributes on his Facebook page, and scores of articles written in memory of him, that you can find here, and here, and his homepage is still up here.

I feel equal parts happy and sad.  I wish I could have told him about the impact he had on my life, but there are oodles of other artists and writers and photographers who told him everyday how important he was to the Chicago alternative arts scene.  He had his fans, his followers, his groupies, for over 40 years in Chicago: he undoubtedly knew his place in the scene.  On this earthly plane, I guess I am glad to have left Fred guessing about whatever happened to that kid with the poems.  He surely had a mystical/spiritual side, and if his consciousness is still out there, I’m glad for him to maybe catch me walking to the bus, pen between my fingers, and know I’m still at it.

Fred had his share of time with the Beat Generation poets, and you wouldn’t be out of line to think of to the oft-quoted Kerouac line from On The Road, you know, the bit about the mad ones:

tumblr_magqc2ngEy1rqrbrao1_1280

But right now, ruminating on Burkhart, It occurs to me he was the shambler and the mad one, he was Jack and Neal, the observer and observed.

Borges wrote, “[t]ime is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”  I think of all the little fires Fred set off in the hearts and minds of the lives he touched.  Yeah, Fred the consummate burner.  Burning, as in emerging out of and returning to dust.  Consummate, as in accomplishment and intercourse.  Yeah, Fred would have liked that.

In his element:

Fred.

Be nice to yourselves, 
Your Pal Eli

*”The city” is meant here, in this post and forever on this blog, to mean Chicago.

Regular Scheduled Programming…

Has hit a bump, as last week I didn’t post.  I’ve got some big posts coming up, with interviews and how-to videos, and so I missed last week as I’m planning up-coming weeks.  I didn’t want to miss two in a row, though, so here I am!

As my content right now is under construction, I just wanted to touch base (for my own journaling) and leave some links of note (to inform and entertain).

Let’s get the business out of the way:

Sugar Consumption

I’ve been doing really well!  During the work week, I have less than a serving a day of sweet treats.  One day last week I did eat a handful of mini cookies in the break room, but other than that I’ve been abstaining, and not really missing it.  For reference, I began this refined abstinence five weeks ago (from tomorrow).  Over the weekend last week, I had a ice cream cone with one scoop.  This weekend I split a half of a piece of wedding cake K and I had stashed in the freezer.  I count it as a win when I have two or fewer servings during the work week total, and one serving on the weekend.

Jump Rope, Sucker!

This  section really is about jump roping.  As in, I am so tired of an ongoing leg problem that keeps me from running, that I’ve decided to try jump rope for cardio.  See its many benefits here.

I love it!  It’s super fun, and every day I get a little better at it.  I started last week, and have done it 3 of the last 4 days.  I’ve got a little pain in my knee/shin on the right side, so I took a day off, which is the side of the pre-existing leg pain.  I think I was jumping higher than necessary to avoid double-jumping.  Basically I’m not rotating the rope fast enough to avoid the double jump, so for now I do it, until I’m better at it.  Presumably it will take more than three endeavors to be an expert.  

Fun Stuff

Here are some trans-related things I’ve found on the internet this past week, to occupy you until I come back next week with a sweet Queer Artist Post.

No doubt you’ve seen Laverne Cox erupt in joy at Beyonce’s VMA performance. 

But have you seen Brothers, a web series centered on a group of NY trans guys?

Ok, that’s it for now, but I’ll be back next week with another post.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli