Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Community and Communication: Reflections on the Consent and Interpersonal Communication panel at The Big She Bang V.

I'm just going to say it: I've had a hard time writing lately, and for a while, I was wondering what to do with this blog. For a while, sitting down at my computer and working on posts as if nothing had happened felt wrong to me. My life doesn't exactly feel real lately, and I've had trouble focusing on any one thing for too long since the funeral.

So I've been trying to keep busy in other ways. I've been trying to go out a lot, and I've been doing things that force me to be around people, like going to shows and volunteering. I've been spending time with my family and visiting old friends. I've put a lot of effort into distracting myself.

On Saturday, August 14 I gleefully distracted myself by attending The Big She Bang, where I got to spend time with many fellow rock camp volunteers, talk with some of the organizers of the event, and see some great bands and performers. I also spent a big chunk of that afternoon outside the church where the She Bang was happening, because New York City had some gorgeous weather that day.

But I wasn't outside acting like a high schooler cutting class to go smoke and talk under the bleachers the whole time. I did attend the panel on Consent and Interpersonal Communication, which featured representatives of Support New York and Fuckin' (A).

Having attended one too many sex positive workshops that didn't even start to talk about reproductive and sexual justice or rights in college, I went in to the panel a bit skeptical. But Support New York and Fuckin' (A) presented a truly positive, informative, thought-provoking, and dare I say it mature panel on physically and emotionally safer sex. Panel members shared personal stories, statistical data, and various strategies for engaging with and promoting safer sex, good health, and negotiation of responsibility with sexual partners. In the process, the panel touched on issues like normalizing consent and communication in a decidedly non-consensual and capitalist culture, and reframing personal sexual choices as political choices.

One panelist told a story that I'll never forget, because it made me think about my post-funeral behavior, thought it wasn't a story about grief. A Bay Area native, the panelist told us about his mentor, who was a young queer activist in San Francisco in the '80s. The panelist told us that one day, he asked his mentor what it was like to be be a gay health activist in that time and place. The panelist said that his mentor sighed, "Your community was literally dying around you."

The comment required no explanation; it's a reference to the AIDS crisis that shook the world in the '80s, and had a particular and devastating impact on gay communities in the US. But the panelist told us that after hearing that story, he started to think of his personal choices and his insistence on safer sex and effective communication with his partners as a matter of responsibility to his community.

The story made me think. What about effective communication regarding other issues, issues besides sexual health? What about mental health? If a failure to communicate, and a lack of critical information regarding disease can lead to massive casualties within a community, what would be the result of a failure to communicate feelings, and a lack of information about how to support people and deal with their emotional traumas?

Because of that panelist's story, I faced what I'd been doing all summer: I'd been hanging out with people and going to different stuff, but I hadn't been communicating, at all. I haven't been telling people, people who are friends, about what's been going on with me. I've been hiding, and I've been using going out to keep from having to really deal with my grief. I've been going out and pretending that everything is normal when it isn't.

I've been avoiding my feelings and keeping secrets from the people in my life. I've been self-absorbed, thinking more about my comfort level than anything else. At the same time, I've been needlessly self-sacrificing, justifying not talking about painful things by telling myself "I don't want to bum anyone else out with this, I don't want to be a downer." I've totally neglected my emotional needs, and the impact that my repressed grief could have on the other people in my community. This strikes me as the complete opposite of radical and positive, which is what I'd ideally like both myself and my community to be.

To be clear, I don't think of myself as some sort of scene fixture who has all this influence on everything around her. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm away at school most of the year, and I don't get to spend a lot of time in the actual vicinity of my community. But it doesn't matter how popular or active you are in your neighborhood and at your local events, because every single one of us has an effect on the world around us. Every single one of us is connected to everyone and everything, and we affect each other even when we don't mean to. For that reason we have to communicate with each other. Community requires communication. This might seem obvious, but I need to say it here, if only to be sure that it has been said somewhere.

Since the She Bang, I've gone out of my way to be more open about what I'm going through. I've made a point of telling people that someone I cared about deeply died last month, rather than hoping that they've read about here. I've started asking for help, both in my personal life and with work, including this blog. I am eternally grateful for the personal and professional support I've received.

Because the communication that communities require isn't just the interpersonal sort; mass communication via journalism, music, and other art forms is required as well. Blogs in particular play a specific and important role in the realm of young feminist and queer activism, and especially in the emerging international girl gang underground. As a writer and musician, I have a professional responsibility to my community, in addition to my personal responsibility to my friends and acquaintances, which I take seriously.

So, in other words: the single girl is back in the proverbial office. No more hiding, no more secrets, no more avoidance. From now on, just communication.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hump Day Treat, post-Big She Bang Edition PART TWO!

Today's video is of another band that performed at The Big She Bang, the newly local Aye Nako. What does 'newly local' mean? Well, from what I understand, two thirds of the band recently relocated to Brooklyn from the Bay area, where they went by the name Fleabag. This video is so old that it likely dates back from that era.

Age is nothing but a number though, and this wonderfully-shot video captures the band's joyfully up-tempo sound and blunt delivery. It also shows how endearing and genuine guitarist/vocalist Marilyn and bass player Joe -- whom I am volunteering with at this very moment at rock camp!!! -- both happen to be, onstage and off. So enjoy their sunny, distorted, brazen rock stylings on this hazy, dreary, unseasonably chilly hump day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hump Day Treat, post-Big She Bang Edition

Last Saturday night at The Big She Bang I fell slightly in love with Des Ark. I couldn't have possibly been the only one; vocalist and guitarist Aimee Argote played her solo acoustic set with an expected mix of warmth, aggression, and candor. The performance was disarmingly informal, and Aimee's easy interaction with her audience was truly a thing of beauty.

You can't see it in this particular video, but Aimee is a talented solo performer whose banter is witty, vulgar, and also gracious. She's so funny and so endearing that she more than gets away with habitually stopping a few bars (or even a few choruses) into her songs in order to tell her stories. Oh, and her songs are kind of miserably beautiful. So fall in love with her for yourself here, on this hump day, and also while Des Ark is on tour in the U.S. and Europe this autumn!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Leos Love Gossip edition

As it happens, I have not one, but two close friends celebrating birthdays today. And in further coincidence, both of these friends are fans of The Gossip. Isn't that totally crazy?! Okay, it isn't really. But still: happy hump-day birthday to my favorite fire signed ladies, Stephanie and Jen!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Events Calendar: The Big She-Bang V!

This coming Saturday, Rock and the Single Girl will be at The Big She-Bang V in a completely unofficial capacity. An annual event organized by NYC's For the Birds collective, The Big She-Bang is a day of discussions, art, music, and groups by and for diy feminists. Check out the flier:

I know, I know: it seems too good to be true. So if you're in the NYC/tri-state area, come check it out! Need more info? Try the For the Birds website, facebook, and/or myspace.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bereavement and the Single Girl.

I owe my readers an apology, assuming I have any left. While I don't believe that my month-long absence from the blogosphere broke any hearts or destroyed any lives, I still take this forum, and the dialogues begun with other bloggers and readers seriously, and thusly do not feel it was okay to just cut out like that with no explanation.

But there is an explanation, and a good one. Last month, I had a death in my family. I've been plodding along slowly through the grieving process ever since. First, there was the runaround of the planning and carrying out of the wake and the burial. After that, I was occupied with spending time with my other family members. And then when all the ceremony was over, I found that for the first time since I started blogging, I really just didn't feel like it. For one long week, I didn't feel like doing much of anything but sitting on my couch and feeling sorry for myself.

I know that I've carped on quite a bit in this blog about 'the importance of community'. I feel even more strongly about this issue now because my local community of diy spaces, diy bands, cultural, social and feminist activists, and generally cool and aware folks was what got me off the couch and back to living and doing stuff that matters to me. In the month since the funeral, I've gone to several great shows, volunteered at Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls, and somehow survived a real rager of a 26th birthday party in Brooklyn.

In the last month, I've seen Death First, P.S. Eliot with Big Eyes and football etc., Mortals, Each Others Mothers, The Shondes, and I caught Titfit twice. Going out as if nothing had happened felt strange at first, but I eventually realized and accepted that not going out and living your life doesn't bring your dead loved one back, and that there's no point in punishing yourself. You might as well go out, see your friends, hear some music, and enjoy the healthy distraction from your grief.

From July 11th - 17th, I threw myself into my beloved rock camp. As usual I volunteered to teach guitar and help out in the kitchen, and I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone by teaching the beginner guitar class. I also accepted a request from one of the other guitar teachers to act as a sort of guitar instructor 'point person', because I happened to be the only returning instructor. I don't know that I did a great job with that, but I'm still proud of myself for taking on the responsibility, and even more proud of how well all our campers did, and how successful our end-of-camp showcase was. Being around other like-minded feminist musicians was comforting to me, and knowing that I could control my grief well enough to do something like camp, and focus on something larger than myself for a whole week, made me feel like I would get through this.

A week after camp, a fair number of volunteers got back together again at a crazy birthday party for a friend and musician whose bands I've written about at length. I have to admit that I probably wasn't ready to deal with the unadulterated revelry and enthusiastic debauchery of that evening. There was a lot of dancing going on at this party, but the sadness and disorientation I thought I'd been handling so well turned into even more of a wallflower than usual. Everyone else seemed to be having so much fun, and I stood there watching them and wondering if I would ever possibly feel that good again. I know that I will, at some point, but when I left the party at 3 in the morning I wasn't so sure. Sometimes I'm still not sure.

But I'm still glad that I went, to all of these events. Sometimes it was hard, but I still usually managed to have some fun at them. I got to see people who I enjoy and respect, and it felt good to feel something like normal even if it was only for a little while. It was helpful to see that life does really go on, that there are still shows and parties and other positive things being planned.

Going out and being around people doesn't bring your lost loved one back, but it does remind you and force you to accept that you are still here, and that that's okay. Getting out and going to shows, and teaching young women how to play music, and watching people drink and dance and sing assured me that there are still good times to be had, and that there are still shows to be attended, reviews and articles to be written, bands and activists who deserve to be publicized, and good things to be documented. This community and its righteous activities will still be there, whenever I'm ready to fully get back into them. And it's really helpful to know that, at a time like this.