Sunday, November 21, 2010

Steamcon II: Weird Weird West

What an event! And now it's so long ago that I am having trouble remembering every breathless, gushing ounce of praise I was going to level at the internet in Steamcon's favor...

The über highlights!

1. It was the best dressed convention I have ever attended. I have shamelessly 'jacked that sentiment from a good friend of mine who was also in attendance. She's a fashion designer, if that adds the gravid tone I am looking for when I say (write?) so. IT WAS SO WELL DRESSED.

2. It included a badass expo hall full of delicious things to buy. None of which I had money for, but I hovered over things a LOT. Alright, that's a lie. I did buy some home-concocted tea from the wonderful B. Fuller's Mortar & Pestle, based locally in Burien, WA. Mmm, gotta love that home brew.

3. There were many booths for many things, like the bands performing that night, as well as the beloved Dr. Steel.

4. There was an art gallery entirely for Steampunk art and it was also a silent auction! More hovering ensued.

5. One of the panels was Steampunk Ghost Hunting, a tag team between the League of S.T.E.A.M. (who also make a huge cameo in Panic! At the Disco's new single, Ballad of Mona Lisa, available on the excellent album Vices & Virtues) and a....legitimate....Steampunk....Ghosthunting team which I can't recall the name of because I am a DESPICABLE human being!!

6. It included Outlaw Night, which, as I have previously reviewed, featured my personal favorite Steamy band, ABNEY PARK!! HUZZAH!!! Airship pirates, Victorian wenches, and Long Islands were had by all. (except me, I was driving. duh :P)

Now for round two this coming October - Steamcon III: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea!!

Abney Park


What an experience, ladies and gentlemen. What a FREAKIN' AMAZING EXPERIENCE.
There's so much to tell and so little time to do it in. To begin, they were headed by two bands, Bakelite 78 and Ghoultown.

Bakelite 78, another Seattle-native band, is composed of a host of members including (but not limited to) Robert Rial, Ariel Bolles, Jason Grey, Bob Kessler and Rich Unetich on a host of instruments including (but not limited to) guitar, upright bass, accordion, harmonica, trumpet, and the good ol' vocal cords. My personal favorite jam of theirs is called The World's Fair Hotel. For you dark-humored listeners and readers out there, you will know exactly why I enjoy this song so much. I am also a fan of the way this band sounds overall - it's a very singing-through-a-megaphone, or maybe a tin can, sound, and it's wonderfully grungy.

Ghoultown is what has been dubbed "hellbilly." As I have very little experience with psychobilly, I honestly can't compare them, sorry about that one. What I can tell you is that they are from Texas and proud to be "the most talented band of deviants this side of hell" (see their bio). Though I think former Texas Ranger Cole McGee might have something to say about that, Count Lyle, Jake Middlefinger, Lizard Lazario, Santi, Dalton Black, and Randy Grimm are goin' to hell in wild style.

The main event, Abney Park, while a tad late due to the over-zealotry of Ghoultown, was rarin' and ready to go. There were some bumpy moments along the way (example: Captain Robert looks over his oversized microphone to menace the floundering techies in the back: "Is it possible that we cannot hear the keyboard because it is on mute? Is it possible we can't go on with this song because it isn't turned on?" [/scaryman]) they were wonderful, funny, enthusiastic, and cursed a f***ton. Headed by the aforementioned captain, the other members - Nathaniel Johnstone, Kristina Erickson, Dan Cedarman, and Jody Ellen - were joined by dancers, stiltwalkers, and FIREBREATHERS. I was beside myself with joy. And, of course, it was just in time for us to hear songs from their two latest and greatest albums, Æther Shanties and The End of Days, both of which I HIGHLY recommend.

They were a hoot, the night was a blast, I hope they come back next year!

PS - Visit the Abney Park Steampunk Market. You know you want to.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Boy with Flowers by Ely Shipley

Boy with Flowers is the 2007 winner of the Barrow Street Press' book prize and Ely Shipley's first published book of poetry.

Like the other collections of poetry I've read this year, Boy with Flowers is a vivid glimpse into another world. It may look familiar around the edges, but it's made up of change, strife and acceptance, and, especially, self-creation.

Like Southern Comfort, Boy with Flowers is very important for the Trans community: Ely Shipley himself is a Transperson, which he openly examines in his work. I can only hope that it helps to spread awareness and legitimacy for the community.

I admire this collection for many reasons, first and foremost for how unapologetic it is. It flows its course, regardless of what could be seen as taboo subjects, references, topics, musings, and it is beautiful in doing so. In this respect I am reminded of Elizabeth Colen, when she visited us, and the discussion we had about her use of the word "cunt" (a word I don't particularly like; she said that she divorces it from its offensive associations and prefers the sound of it over the sound of its synonyms). The universe which Shipley shows his audience in his work is full of violence, sex, memories, angels, rain, reflections, cities and dimes, and it has a kind of grit in its detail.

I would absolutely recommend this work. It's a wild ride, certainly, but well worth it, and liberating in its execution.

Here, take a look.

For anyone who is interested, below is a list of essays we read throughout the quarter. Some of them are simple, some of them are mind-staggeringly difficult, most are more than slightly outdated. However, they all have merit after their own fashion and I would recommend the majority of them to pretty much anybody.

Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality, by Gayle S. Rubin
Epistemology of the Closet, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Chicano Men: A Cartography of Homosexual Identity and Behavior, by Tomás Almaguer
Imitation and Gender Insubordination, by Judith Butler
The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, by Audre Lorde
Looking for Trouble, by Kobena Mercer
Capitalism and Gay Identity, by John D'Emilio
All of these, and many, many more such essays may be found in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, published by Routledge.

Southern Comfort

Now for another installment from the English 227 LGBT broadcast.

Southern Comfort, directed by Kate Davis and released in 2001, is a documentary detailing the lives and journeys of Robert Eads and the people dear to him.

Honestly, much of this film seemed to me to go hand in hand with Freeheld. The connections between them are monotonously obvious, but my mind drew them nevertheless: in both, the person who is the primary focus of the piece is battling terminal cancer and both have themes of struggle against and rejection from parts of the larger "normative" societies they live in. However, Southern Comfort has a host of themes and issues all its own.

For one, it centers around the lives and struggles of Transfolk, who, we discussed several times in class, are "a minority within a minority," especially where education and awareness are concerned. There seems on a whole to be less opportunity for Transfolk to form their own communities, become established as an identity, and be accepted outside of the larger LGB superminority. In a way, Southern Comfort is a motion against this lack of proverbial social screentime.

The film takes its name from another institution which is working towards stronger Transfolk communities, the convention Southern Comfort. It is the largest conference of its kind in the United States and has a reputation of safety and inclusiveness for all LGBT people.

Throughout the documentary, Robert and the people nearest and dearest to him - his "chosen family," as he would say - discuss the issues and concepts of passing, identity formation, rejection, acceptance, self-creation, and the attempt at forging the ideal community. All of these are legitimate, important, and exceedingly prone to triggering conversation (or debate).

Like Freeheld, Southern Comfort is poignant, heart-felt, and vivid, and, also like Freeheld, I would absolutely recommend it.

Wiki, both for the film and the convention

Fun Fact for all you Grammar Geeks:
I have it on very good authority that
Transgender is an adjective.
Transsexual is a noun.
And don't let tell you otherwise!

Money for Sunsets, by Elizabeth J. Colen

2009 winner of the Steel Toe Books Prize in Poetry, Money for Sunsets is the first published work of Bellingham native Elizabeth J. Colen. What's really exciting is that, through my infamous English class, I was able to both hear her read her work and meet her - twice.

What I find very impressive is that Colen manages to work in what I have always regarded as a rather touchy, even volatile, medium, the elusive prose-poem. It's formatted like prose, which can have the accompanying effect of leaving a page looking empty, especially with short pieces. However, her poems more than stand up for themselves. Nearly every one carries with it that enigmatic quality that makes one want to read it over again as soon as it's done. That said, her imagery is vivid, sometimes in a dangerous or even chilling way. It's a very good thing.

This vividness, in my mind, is what holds the manuscript as a whole together. It is not a linear work, like most poetry collections, and a little light was shed on the subject by the author herself. When she visited our class she said she revised many of the pieces to make it easier for her audience to interpret the "I" voice as the same person all the way through. This made me narrow my eyes, and for good reason; she went on to explain that in her own personal interpretation the "I" voice is seldom meant to be the same character. The beauty of poetry - and art as a whole - is that once the work leaves the nest, so to speak, it is subject to a number of interpretations limited only by the number of people it reaches.

There are many things which are represented in Money for Sunsets, and I honestly think that, with an open mind, there can be something for everyone found in its world.

Pay Steel Toe Books a visit at their website!
And go buy Money for Sunsets!

Also, keep a weather eye on the horizon - she's going to be coming out with another manuscript soon! The working title as she told it to us is What Weaponry. Also, if the two characters represented in it end up reminding you of the ones in her poem 50 Miles of Shoulder you may well be on to something.

Happy Reading!


This was one of the many films we watched in my English GLBT literature class.

Released in 2007, Freeheld was directed and produced by Cynthia Wade, with the help of additional producers Matthew Syrett and Vanessa Roth. It has won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary in 2008. Significant, suspenseful, and heartfelt, the documentary tells the story of Lieutenant Laurel Hester, a policewoman dying of lung cancer who is, despite it, fighting for the right to leave her pension to her partner, Stacie against the ruling of the Ocean County, New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders.

This film is shot with a brutal sort of honesty. Little is withheld, especially with regards to the physical and emotional deterioration of both Laurel and Stacie as their - and their community's - campaign against the Freeholders goes on. While Freeheld can be very empowering in the regard that a community comes together to try and make a difference in the face of adversity and discrimination, it is also starkly grounding: after all, 2007 was not that long ago.

I would recommend this film for all of these reasons, especially for its down to earth, unyielding honesty about the nature of communities, the nature of the American court system of not very long ago at all, and especially the nature of the human condition at its most sensitive time - at its close.

Additional Information at:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

I'm not even sure I can form fully coherent sentences at this point. This Tragicomic (as it calls itself) is a shocking, poignant masterwork.

Alison Bechdel is perhaps best recognized for her long-standing comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, but her memoir graphic novel Fun Home is what has made her name "household." Having been published now in multiple languages, Fun Home sat atop the New York Times' hardcover nonfiction bestseller list for two weeks and was reviewed positively by a slew of publications including but by no means limited to The New York Times, Seattle Times, and London’s The Times. It has also received a slew of awards, such as the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book, the Publishing Triangle-Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award, the Stonewall Book Award for non-fiction, and the Lambda Literary Award for "Lesbian Memoir and Biography".

One of the many parts of this comic and/or graphic novel I enjoyed the most was that the narrative is decidedly nonlinear. I have come, in retrospect, to perceive this work as occurring in concentric circles on the face of recollection, like ripples perhaps, all stemming from the singular event which spawned them. (No spoilers this time: I can't bring myself to. If you're curious you'll just have to go and read it.) However, I think the aspect which I enjoyed most was the manner in which the story was told as it pertains to other literary works. Although Bechdel's use of literary reference in Fun Home has been criticized, I think it is wildly significant. It highlights one of the few qualities that link her and the other central character, her father, intrinsically, and it puts special emphasis on the manner of her own self-creation. In addition it demonstrates an exceptional attention to detail, and a rather profound understanding of stories which are far from simplistic [like Ulysses].

In all, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is more than worth it. Looking back on it now, I can't wait to read it again.

Here's a link to Alison Bechdel's Website
Looking for a copy? Try Amazon!