Shenny: Dolls Playing With Dolls
My Fellow Shennyer:
Twice since the last Shenny, I watched the Love Boat episode starring Andy Warhol. Are you familiar? A year before he died, Warhol played himself on an episode where he went around the boat taking polaroids of women to choose one whose portrait he’d paint. Turns out the mom from Happy Days (married in this episode to the dad from Happy Days / original Cabot Cove sheriff on Murder, She Wrote) was once a Factory denizen named Marina Del Ray, and she spends much of her trip hiding from Andy and his entourage lest her husband learn her secret.
I won’t spoil the episode for you, but there’s a B-plot where Andy Griffith and Cloris Leachman look for a stamp worth millions of dollars.
Why twice? We’ve had 2 houseguests who both requested it. Not like they had to twist our arms. When your relationship to TV is as troubled as mine (watching it is the thing I’ve done the most in my life, other than sleep), bad TV shows are healthy. They highlight how strange it is to look at faces of people prettier and famous-er than us, whose problems always get happily tidied up.
Where am I going with this? I haven’t read a book in over a week, sick as I’ve been. Next on the list (owing to a recommendation from Endorsed Item No. 2 below), are the diaries of Lou Sullivan, who wrote ‘I wanna look like what I am but don’t know what someone like me looks like.’
I can read that sentence a million times.
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1. Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City (2000)
Last time I wrote about duration in art, and lately I’ve been thinking about repetition. Here are the opening lyrics to ‘Let’s Get Out’, my favorite track on this record I just discovered, the band’s only release: ‘Ting ting / Look around / Just information / In the leaves, in the leaves, in the leaves, in the leaves, in the leaves / Ting ting / Look around / Just information / In the leaves, in the leaves, in the leaves / L-G-O, L-G-O / Chi sign // I still believe in getting low I still believe / History of half-past ten / Calling you I mix two numbers up / I mix them up / Two numbers calling you / I mix them up / Two numbers go’ Then it repeats much of that all over again, carried by the band’s driving guitar lines (think laid-back Sleater-Kinney):
I love that the mania of singer Sue Tompkins’s vocals is only noticed in retrospect, dissolving as they do into the instrumentation. Music is rhythm and rhythm is repetition, so it makes sense that it can not only bear lots of repeats but excels from them (think every bassline you’ve ever loved). In line also with last week’s Shenny on vision, I’d love to write an essay that did to my mind what a Life Without Buildings song does to my body. The problem: if an essay leads you through the process of a thought, there’s nothing more frustrating than being returned to an idea again and again. Who writes essays with good repeats?
2. Kevin Brazil’s ‘Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness’ (Granta, 2020)
‘When identity is bought at the cost of solidarity with others, that individuality is forever mortgaged to unhappiness.’ What a smart thing I’ve never heard anyone describe before, about one of the traps we queers fall into, given that our first act of identification comes always in opposition to our hetero family members. Brazil’s essay is a must-read for anybody writing memoir, with lots to say against memoir not exactly as a form, but as the form that outlines our individuality by tracing a history of suffering. Instead, Brazil’s essay (which has just been expanded to a book) is a call for memoir as ‘a form in which the self is created by its openness to others.’ For this is where queer happiness is found, in the connections queers make after we find one another, outside the consanguineous family. As a bonus, he comes up with a useful variation on the Bechdel Test: ‘is there a scene where two queer friends appear without, and without discussing, their family trauma or their fucked-up lovers?’ Amazing how many celebrated Books About Queer Lives fail this test. Read the entire essay here.
Dolls Playing With Dolls
Last night, in a dream, I had to disguise myself—or perhaps I got to? I don’t recall the circumstances, but I recall the person I transformed to: she had a heavy ankle-length grey woolen skirt, black sweater (maybe a turtleneck), and a black cardigan that hung down below her hips. She wore a wide-brimmed black hat, not unlike Lydia Deetz’s:
But she wasn’t goth. The thing I remember most was her hair—big, thick, long, and messy—and her name: Pawle, spelled that way. (I think it was short for Pawlette.) Most folks would call the Pawle I was ‘dowdy’, but hiding as her, or just being her, the word I felt was ‘collected.’ All my many parts were together.
I woke hearing in that choice of name an echo of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, a book I can’t stop writing about. Paul, able to transform his body at will, can become Pawle just by concentrating. For the rest of us, there’s pop-up Halloween shops.
One of the oldest family jokes I remember hearing was that when I was 4, I asked for a Barbie for Christmas. I didn’t remember making my Christmas list at age 4, I was too young, but my mom kept all of our lists in a spiral notebook, and there it was: the evidence. My sisters and parents would remind one another of this wish whenever it could get a quick laugh, my turn to play the butt of our joking. Jenny likely had hers, too; how many times did we laugh about the time when she first saw the ocean, stepped in to her ankles, looked down at the water sliding out to the sea, and fell over, dizzied by the illusion of the world slipping away from her?
Jenny’s joke was about what she did, mine was about what I was: a boy who liked Barbies, and it was the first thing—in a long list—I learned I needed to hide about myself. When I was sure I was another heterosexual, I told myself that I was just the youngest kid, with two older sisters. They liked to play with Barbies and I liked to play with my sisters, so I played whatever games they said we would. Then, when I chose to be gay, I looked back fondly at the 4-year-old who knew exactly what he wanted and went for it.
Worth noting that Santa didn’t bring him a Barbie that year.
The best thing about playing with a Barbie was that she was a grownup. She had her own Corvette and camper and condo, with elevator. Also: she was the oldest, with a little sister. When no actual grownups were around you could push her up against Ken and make kissing sounds.
Were you into Wild Flag when they released their album—god, eleven years ago? In 2011, I lived in Tuscaloosa and drove to campus every day in my 2001 Saturn LS, which had been modded with one of those 10-disc changers in the trunk; Wild Flag came up maybe once a week, and when it did I couldn’t stop dancing in my car. Just the opening bass-keyboard riff of the record would do it:
In Alabama, I was not in a good place. And I don’t only mean that geographically. I was hiding a lot of things about myself, living several lies. When I listened to Wild Flag, I’d turn myself into a better someone else, someone I could be proud of, who was pals with the gals in White Flag and got to tour with them as their on-stage go-go boy. I’d stand in my fantasy over in the corner of the stage wearing just a pair of jean shorts, and maybe some white canvas All-Stars, shimmying my dollbody to their hits, trying not to pull too much focus.
This week’s natatorium is the Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall in Helsinki.