for like a year i was obsessed with celebrity gossip. it was triggered by the merger of tom cruise and katie holmes -tomkat. it was such an oddly compelling display of humanity, society, and fame, i was hooked. fluff sociology is my intellectual cotton candy. my stalking ended when britney spears had one of her infamous meltdowns. the one where she shaved her head and attacked the paparazzi with her umbrella. it was no longer fascinating; it was just depressing.
watching her was sad, and watching us watch her was much worse. because the way we watch is shameful. because you cannot just watch without impact, right? observation changes that which is being observed. fame is physics. fame is twisted. fame is dumb. so dumb i don’t even want to dignify its absurdity by deconstructing it like it matters. the desire to do so pulls from the same narcissism that birthed hollywood in the first place. and a little i can’t help myself…
we play out bizarre fantasies onto these people made objects. i suppose we do this a bit in all our intimate interactions, but we don’t know these people. we don’t care about these people. we fabricate this one-dimensional perfection, and then love and hate them for it. we offer them admiration and then flex our cruelties when they remind us of their humanity. we set them up. we toss children into this whirl of money and abuse, sex and drugs, flattery and fallacy, loneliness and attention, insecurity and adoration, freedom and suffocation, and think it’s cute. and when the structures necessary for hollywood’s economy of celebrity crack its swindled players, we revel in the shame of it and smirk at our superiority. i know we’re being swindled too. and i know the majority of them are just rich and entitled and they’ll be fine, but what it says about all of us is so unfortunate. when people roll their eyes at the shenanigans or self-involvement of celebrity, all i want is empathy. tu eres mi otro yo, and all that.
i get that hollywood stardom may not feel worthy of our compassion, but we treat true artists the same. these are just symptoms of a grander social ill and it kills, and what’s the point of any of this living if there’s no art, music, dance, humor, theater, writing, etc.? we stare at young artists as they disintegrate in front of us and do nothing. or worse, we stare harder and point and criticize and laugh.
when kurt cobain killed himself, i wrote his name in chalk outside of my house. he meant something to me; i knew we lost somebody, i understood why he did it, and i felt complicit. “the montage of heck” reminded me how much kurt cobain’s music gave and how incomplete our version of him was. every single song is breathtaking. seeing his face and recordings of his joy and humor, and writings of his pain and motivation, all the mayhem that comes with genius, inspired and crushed me. i wanted to bury him in my uterus and take care of him. i wish we actually cared about our artists. i can’t imagine struggling between the drive to create and send it out into the world, and the pain of entrusting that creation to a superficial and spiteful culture. plus, y’know, the serious mental health problems that seem to be correlated with great talent. i wish we knew how not to humiliate them. maybe kurt would have died sooner if we hadn’t been there, and maybe he would have lived longer if we’d just been there a little bit more. maybe they all would have.
this is a transcript of my thoughts recorded live in front of a like-minded audience.
how’s everybody doin’ tonight?
[hoots and laughter]
cool. we all enjoying the spoils of capitalism?
[hoots and laughter]
yeah, capitalism can be rough, man… i mean, it’s uh-may-zing, don’t get me wrong. [laughter] but, y’know, it requires that there always be some people struggling at the bottom y’know? and the hope is we have a system that helps rotate folks through the bottom and climb up out of it, and the cycle of life, or struggle or whatever, continues.
and, in the meantime, a lot of us have to sort of make ends meet through “gigs.” y’know, the gig economy is pretty strong these days. i’ve had some good gigs for a while… i’ve been parking bikes for a long time, some babysitting, some sex work… [laughter]
and sex work isn’t as easy as it used to be. [laughter] tech bro johns aren’t cruising in their ubers down capp st., y’know… [laughter] now, you gotta get online or get an app… and the market is just super saturated. [laughter]
plus, i only do ass work… [laughter] and i know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, “well, she’s got a niche market. she must be doing fine.” [laughter] but since everyone has an asshole. [laughter] well… i don’t want to be an assholist… or is it orificist? [laughter] ok, most everyone on the gender spectrum has an asshole… right? [laughter] so, there’s a lot more competition… [laughter]
what i’ve discovered though, these days, of all the wuhn-derful things the tech industry has brought us… [laughter] like indifference and white men… [laughter] is a deregulated economy where everything that used to be illegal… like picking up passengers in your car or running illegal hotels… is now legal! [laughter] it’s a wonderful time to be a capitalist! [laughter] we’re just sharing, y’know? i don’t want your money. [laughter] i just have this thing and we’re gonna trade it for something you have. like, whatever’s in your wallet. some paper currency or your credit card number… or whatever, dude. totally chill. [laughter] actually, no, just your credit card number. [laughter] and complete access to your phone so they can steal your thoughts. [laughter]
so, with this new entrepreneurial spirit, i’ve decided to airbnb my anus… [laughter]
have any of your ever been on these sites? or signed up? i mean, they’re pretty cool. they’re totally disrupting… humanity and decency. [laughter] they offer you this easy to use appy website thing to help connect you to johns or visitors or whatever to share your space. and they’re not like pimps either. [laughter] they’re just a platform to help people share currency for sex or products. i mean, they do take a cut and they don’t care if your shit gets smashed… but not pimpy at all. [laughter] they’re really chill. [laughter]
anyway… first you have to describe your unit, as it were, and i had to think on that one but i just decided to be straight to the point, y’know? so i typed in *pretend to type on keyboard* “cozy, back-door getaway.” boom. [laughter]
and then, they want you to put a picture up, and y’know, everyone has these beautiful 360 panoramic shots of their dwellings, and they’re all staged, like they’re renting out pottery barn… is pottery barn still around… [laughter] aside: it’s sad when you grow nostalgic for shit you hate, huh? that’s when you know it got bad… [laughter]
so anyway, i haven’t been to yoga in like ever so i just didn’t have the reach *act out reaching behind me to take a picture of my ass* [laughter] wasn’t gonna work. so, i taped my phone to my dog’s face [laughter] cause that makes sense, right? and kinda’ crouched in front of him *crouches and spreads butt cheeks* [laughter] but i forgot to switch the camera around, cause i had been banking selfies earlier… [laughter] and so all i got were pictures of his face. and you should have seen it… i’ve never seen such a look of surprise and hope in my life, like “oh my god, we’re really finally doing this. ok, keep it cool, man…” [laughter]
so that didn’t work… [laughter] i decided it might be best to just be mysterious, y’know. everyone loves mystery. so i put up a lovely picture of a brown starfish at the bottom of the ocean. [laughter] right?
then you have to describe your place… [laughter] so this is my blurb, tell me what you think: “nestled in a small community of cheeky neighbors, ease your way into this ‘off the beaten path’ posterior unit. it’s a tight squeeze, so just one person per night, please! wifi available! bleached upon request.” [laughter] is that ok?
then, you can like put in all the amenities, so i was like pets ok? *check* [laughter] well, there is a kitty like right around the corner. [laughter] doorman? kind of? sure. *check* [laughter], wheelchair accessible? hell yeah! *check* [laughter] smoking allowed? probably. *check* [laughter]
so that was it! super easy, right? and then, i didn’t find anything about maximum number of nights and that kind of worries me cause while i’m sure in time i’ll start expanding [laughter], i just don’t want to be put in any compromising positions right away, y’know? [laughter] plus, i mean the maintenance fees alone. [laughter] i’ll probably have to put in an irrigation system or something. [laughter] hire a landscaper. *rolls eyes* [laughter] and now, y’know, i’m just kind of concerned about it all, but… i’m sure i’ll reap rewards in the end. *wink* [laughter]
you guys have been great! thanks! [applause]
life is full of tough choices. when, for whatever reason, you have some economic and social privilege, your lifestyle decisions are more likely to impact everyone around you. where you live, where you work, if you travel, how you travel, what you buy, how you buy it, how you get rid of it, and how you interact with others can be convivial or inadvertently violent. gentrification, por ejemplo, is violence.
i try to live a thoughtful life. from my quotidian interactions -making sure the person who was there first gets served first, trying not to make garbage- to my larger life -career decisions, money matters- and at the end of the day, no matter what i decide and what i disregard, i must own up to what i am doing, if nothing else. it is in this vein that i will openly admit i am a selfish, entitled, lazy, ignorant gentrifier.
i moved to the mission neighborhood of san francisco in 2001, at the end of the dot com bust. i’m not sure where in the displacement timeline i arrived. since i was half asleep or half awake when i got there, i wasn’t too concerned. i loved san francisco and the mission. it was the only place that ever felt like home.
i came back the bay area from my 10 month self-imposed sabbatical in 2012, only to realize my peer group had gentrified me out of the city (whether or not they are actually my peers is a disputable point). i knew right away i was going to be part of the giant wave, which had started years ago, of young professionals moving to the east bay, and to cool, dangerous oakland, in particular. this broke my heart, and still does. i love san francisco, and i love oakland; i didn’t want to kill oakland the same way i helped kill the mission.
rent in sf bordered on criminal before i left, and now it’s just murder. the idea of waiting in line for an open house with people half my age who make three times my salary vying for the chance to spend 60% of my income to live in a hobbit hole made me want to vomit. i’m selfish. i didn’t want to live in a house with ten other tech bros who party all night having money fights, or a family of co-op’y folks where i have to consensus myself into oblivion. i’m wasteful. i’ve had to make tough choices, and, in the end, it meant no choice at all. i could not afford the only choice that would have created the least amount of damage. my life then went on pause as i became paralyzed in transient sublet mode waiting for the gods to reopen those san francisco golden gates and let me back in. i was a yuppie refugee.
i’m well aware this is a complete insult to actual refugees who have not been bestowed my unearned privilege. and yet, that’s how it felt all the same: temporarily stuck in a place that was not mine and stubbornly refusing to plant roots because one day maybe the wall would come tumbling down and i could return. i was not alone, either. i saw others wandering aimlessly around -generally in a car because, y’know, it’s the east bay- pining the fog, a decent burrito, and that apartment they gave up years ago (damn it!). we are not committed to this place; we were pushed on to the good people of oakland, and we have money, which makes us dangerous.
pieces of the san francisco diaspora were everywhere: the leather daddy walking around lake merritt, the knowing look of defeat on the faces of my fellow commuters, the long lines for ice cream and brunch, and the preternatural bloom of pretentious beer gardens. and if this were all we left in our wake, i could learn to live with it. if it were paired with a conscious acknowledgment of said intrusions and active steps to ghettoize ourselves in berkeley, i could have committed to that thoughtful life (even if did not include pupusas). but we all just watch(ed) and did more of the same. we watch(ed) the rents go up and up, we watch(ed) west and east oakland families get evicted and replaced by our cooperatives and artist lofts, we watch(ed) as day by day the class and ethnic hue of passengers getting off at the west macarthur bart station became monochromatic, we watch(ed) our tech overlords barrel down streets in their tinted buses, and we watch(ed) as newly evicted huddled masses carry their used ikea furniture further inland -to live in places where there are no jobs so they have to commute to their old neighborhoods to work because people who can live wherever they want made the choice to displace them. antioch, ho! and don’t tell me you can’t afford to live in a richer neighborhood. you just want to eat brunch. quit playin. i watch(ed), and tried to stay very, very quiet.
because, honestly, who wants to be that guy? or date that guy? or spend any time around that guy? the angry one; the bitter one; the one that doesn’t want to go to the new place with the delicious sweet potato fries because they remember the affordable sandwich shop that used to be there; the one that cringes when you excitedly tell them about the apartment you “found” in west oakland/east oakland/fruitvale, and cringes more when you don’t know/don’t care what that neighborhood used to be or where those neighbors are now; the one that shakes her fist in your face when you talk about how gentrification improves the economy and makes oakland safer. well, maybe i don’t always stay that quiet…
“i hella ❤ oakland,” they say. if you really loved oakland, really, really, loved the small pocket of oakland you claim to know, you would move up the hill and try to advocate for economic and social justice development that is supportive of the desires of oakland’s most underresourced; those that have been respirando lucha for decades (do you know the deep rebellion that runs through this place?). admire it from afar, create your own culture somewhere else (i hear you’re fond of the desert once a year… no, I’m kidding, please don’t fuck up the desert), and invest your social and economic capitol in ways that are supportive of folks who created the culture you think you love but are truly just eating alive. the culture that will have to add one more struggle to its list after you realize detroit got cool and move there. your physical and economic existence is displacing someone else’s. it doesn’t matter if you clean litter up around your block or talk to your neighbors because you also call the cops on them, and you’re fooling yourself if you think anyone is grateful to wash dishes for you in one of the 20 new cafes or happy hour spots only you can afford. for those of us who remember what 40th and telegraph, city center, the laurel district, etc., used to look like, we know it wasn’t pretty. but it was honest. the artisanal glitz, foodie, faux indie nonsense that’s happening now, is uglier. it’s uglier because it is an ignorant lie wrapped in oblivion with a condescending, god damn, giant fucking pink fuzzy mustache on it (disruption is doublespeak for deregulation, asshat); because it creates more hunger and desperation; because it divides us more; because it swept poverty somewhere else.
the only constant thing in life is change, and that doesn’t mean all kinds of change are inevitable. thoughtlessly devouring the communities around you -whether in your big decisions or in your small ones- is a choice. gentrification is not inevitable. it is a choice. actually, it’s a series of choices made by individuals, and the only person i can control is myself.
and so i did sneak back across the border into fogtown two years after my return, and it’s more of the same. i returned to my beautiful, abusive, lover that i cannot leave and barely recognize anymore. where i pay 60% of my income for a 270 square foot shoebox; where the weight of a possible eviction presses heavily on my heart; where packs of white boys manspread all over the sidewalk; where city hall sold our soul; where no one seems to care and i choose to shout as loud as i can.