Ladyfest

Bee's picture
Wed, 07/08/2009 - 03:52 -- Bee

Restored from the archives. First published July 2002.

For the last three or four years, when I've done shows with Ariel they have always included either a slide show with music or a live band.

This is a fact that we both forgot, or neglected to plan around, when getting ready for Ladyfest.

Without the other elements, our reading went much faster, leaving an abundant amount of time for Q&A.

Q&A is not my favorite activity, nor does it enter the top ten list of best things about my job. I don't hate it, or cringe in anticipation, I just wish it could be avoided or replaced with something else. Like an ice cream social.

The first question was so why did you really shut down the discussion boards?

I gave the true, appropriately phrased answer; that by the end, the volunteers were dealing with 50,000 new messages each month. I had made a promise to continue moderating all of the messages, to retain our political identity in the face of rapid growth. Or stop growing. It was never my goal to be popular; instead, I wanted the site to be pertinent.

In the Q&A I said that at a certain traffic level the boards were not sustainable, that the growth of the community eventually assured the end. I went over the statistics, the extraordinary cost of running it, and the amazing accomplishments of the first five years. I talked about how lucky I feel to have started something so important, and how happy I am to see new communities forming to continue the work.

Other questions followed a familiar pattern, and then the group started talking about the politics of ADHD. We had an interesting, faceted debate about drugs, mental health services, nutrition.

After the session I talked to the woman who asked about the boards. She said I thought you would say you shut it down because of all the people dogging each other.

I laughed and shrugged. The social drama at the end was ugly, incomprehensible. But it was only one symptom of the disease that ate away at the project.

When I decided to shut down the Hipmama.com boards, the process took a long time. I canvassed the volunteers, and consulted professionals for advice. I lamented and schemed and tried all of my tricks to keep the project going, to divert trouble, to cure the sickness, to find a solution. It wasn't simple, or easy, but in the end, shutting down was the only possible answer.

I can talk about the unique challenges of managing resources in a new medium, the server problems, the state of the economy, the mood of a country about to embark on a war, the organizational theories of change. I can be honest and criticize my own failings.

But it is hard to articulate in public how sad I feel about the loss. I never say when I finished deleting the forums, I put my head down on the table and sobbed until my eyes swelled shut.

****

On the way into the venue on Saturday, I saw Inga smoking. I said hello and she hugged me and we smiled at each other and then Nomy said Inga, will you kiss me? and Inga turned away, her cigarette swinging out and burning my hand between the pointer and index fingers.

I yelped, shook my hand, laughed. Inga recoiled and then grabbed the hand, pressing kisses between my knuckles. She held on for a minute but then I saw that a line of fans had formed to say hello to her. I retrieved my singed hand and went in the building.

Later Inga found me and said I'm so sorry. I was going to apologize on stage but then I forgot.

****

Ladyfest is an excellent festival, but we have too much to do. We missed many of the shows and films I wanted to see and set off on alternative adventures.

Byron & I took the train to Oakland and visited Soulmine and her family. She has a new baby named Zen, a tiny little human, only ten days old. We ate Vietnamese food and admired the high arching ceilings. I suggested that when the boys are older, they could install one of those play structures, the kind you find at fast food restaurants, without taxing the space of the apartment. I said the boys can sleep in transparent bubble bedrooms in the sky.

We wandered through the city with Hiya, eating cheap burritos and drinking in bars with too-loud eighties jukeboxes. We talked about literature and landscape and family. We talked about lost fathers, and the politics of expensive small towns. She was visibly shocked to discover that I am a true geek girl, a hardcore Linux user, a first-generation web veteran.

We tried to have drinks at The Tonga Room; we desired to partake of the tiki atmosphere, the floating band, the rain storms and ambience, but we were turned away. The place closes early, so if you want to visit, plan ahead.

Two couples, split boy girl between two cars: an ancient Alfa Romeo and a Ford Falcon. I pretended it was safe. We had great fun at the Gold Dust, a tourist bar on Union Square that serves drinks until 1:59 AM.

***

We visited the Bitch table to say hello to Andi. Byron wandered off across the cafeteria, exploring the maze of girl products and publications on display for the Ladyfest Bazaar.

After a few minutes I saw him gesturing to me and walked over to see what he wanted. He was standing behind a pillar talking to a man sitting at one of the merch tables. They were talking about eyeglasses, and Byron wanted to show off my spectacles.

We stood next to the pillar discussing vintage glasses, where to buy them, the relative joy and pleasure of wearing them, sharing tips on deals and procurement. I pulled out my sunglasses, a gold shade with starburst rhinestones, and the man said we have a pair like this in blue.

Well into our conversation we made haphazard introductions. The man said I'm just an old pervert and I looked at the table he was sitting next to: sex manuals and anthologies. This was Dr. Robert Lawrence, partner of Carol Queen. He pointed at Carol, wearing sleek aluminum frames, and asked if he could take our picture.

****

We walked from Union Square through the Tenderloin and mixed up Market and Mission and Valencia and detoured around and over the wrong hills and saw abject poverty, fulsome street culture, cops with their billy clubs out for action.

Byron kept saying just a few more blocks and went rummaging in my bag for the map, visibly sticking out of his pocket, until I snapped and told him he can't navigate around his own pants. He laughed and we kept walking.

In front of a massive stone building on Market Street, we saw a tiny girl with long hair standing next to an old beat-up Subaru stuffed full of boxes, clothes spilling out and pressing against the windows. She seemed to be looking straight at us and she screamed what the fuck are you doing?

We kept walking, averting our eyes. The huge building and the line of cars created an acoustic tunnel for the screams of the girl. We drew closer, and I glanced over; she was very pretty and maybe eighteen years old.

What the fuck are you doing? You know I'm trying to get out of town! she yelled, and I realized there was a tattooed boy walking behind us. He approached this girl and shrugged and mumbled sorry.

Sorry isn't fucking good enough, what the fuck is the matter with you? She was still screaming even though the boy was now in standing in front of her, and we had reached the car.

I don't want to have a fight with you on the street he said I'm sorry.

Sorry isn't fucking good enough she yelled, pulling back her fist and punching the boy on the shoulder, it isn't fucking good enough.

The boy held up his hands, tattooed to the knuckle, his baggy tshirt flapping in the wind. I'm not going to do this he whispered and I could only hear him because I had slowed down to make sure the girl was okay.

It hadn't occured to me to wonder if the boy was okay.

The boy turned to walk away down the street as his girlfriend shrieked at him. We were next to the couple and then behind them as he quickened his pace and the girl ran behind. She launched at his back, grabbed his arms, wrenched his elbows backwards, screaming You so fucking will do this, you fucking asshole as he tried to shrug her off, tried to walk away.

I walked slowly, eyes on the pavement, wondering if I should say anything, call the cops, meet his eyes and tell him it would all be okay if he just kept walking.

****

It is a sad, sick fact: I am happiest when I have a task to accomplish. I like goals and deadlines.

After our workshop we walked to the Bazaar area to set up a vending table. Ariel and Maria needed to run errands so I sat down with the shirts and books. Inga set up next to me and we settled in for a long day of talking strangers into parting with their dollars.

Most people seemed too shy to approach any of the vendor tables, so after awhile Inga and I took to calling them over and offering free stuff. She was giving away stickers, but since I didn't have anything small I started to give away my zine. I offered all passerby the opportunity to pick one of the five and smiled big and lots of people lingered at the table, buying some of our stuff, or talking to us for awhile. A boy with piercings said I collect milagros, can I take a picture of your arm? so I pulled the sleeve of my dress up and leaned forward.

Lynne Breedlove dashed into the cafeteria and jumped up on top of the table to shout Attention K-Mart shoppers! I'm going on stage in five minutes! and the next thing I knew, I had agreed to sell merch for her: a new book called Godspeed, cd's by Tribe 8 and Sister Spit.

I take a very strange and possibly sinister delight in vending for other people. It is always much easier to promote the work of a friend or colleague than respond to questions about what I'm doing. I sat at the table and chatted people up, trying to convince them that they really need these books, shirts, cd's.

We were in the cafeteria of Mission High, and it was like being in high school again, except all the regular kids were missing. I wondered if high school would have been tolerable if only the eccentrics, thespians, punks, and queer kids had been allowed access to the school. But then again, no, because then the disenfranchised kids would have had to find internal equilibrium, appoint a bully, dissolve in cliqueishness.

It seems inevitable, part of every community.

But it was a nice little thought, and sitting there with all the positive girl energy and happiness, the bands playing in the auditorium, I decided to enjoy the afternoon.

The people staffing the AK Press table started a game of tag.

Michelle Tea stopped by and sat with me and we talked about her new book, chatted about our publisher. Lynne sat down too and then Ariel and Maria came back. The cafeteria emptied out, and we decided to go play pool. But I looked at the clock and realized it was time to go to the airport, time to end this trip. I said goodbye to my friends and we walked to the train.