Sunday, October 21, 2012

Litcrawl and the Social Animal

Laszlo takes point through the redwoods. Not shown: used toilet paper, trails being destroyed by mountainbiking assholes who scream threats as they pedal away, and the hideous idiot stoner hut some knit-cap ninnies made out of sticks. A female mountain lion has been known to slope through this territory, though, so I can dream.

I can dream.

So, did I fail to pursue the honorable course?

Was the individual in question a nine-year-old kid, a very small adult dressed in a stained green T-shirt and sweatpants, or a hallucination?

Were they drunk, or developmentally disabled, or severely depressed? Or did they have that desperate expression because were they in trouble?

Did they touch my ass, and if so, were they after the ass, or were they after the wallet?

Why did...

Okay, I read at the San Francisco Litquake's Litcrawl last Saturday. And I've had a hard time figuring out how to write about it. The evening was a weird one for me. Many good parts, many confusing parts. And at least one part has had me troubled.


The piece I wrote for the event has proven to be both the most difficult and the most useful piece of writing I've ever done. It confronts my relationship with violence, beginning in childhood and continuing right up to about a month ago. There is little judgment in it, just a recitation of events.

It is on the heavy side. An abused child, I was abusive in my early teens. I do fall into the category of people with a capacity for real violence. But that capacity has allowed me to move confidently and non-violently through threatening situations.

And writing through it in a straightforward, undecorated fashion allowed me to come to terms with what I am. I am not a warrior because I do not wage war. I am not a fighter because I do not fight. But I have chosen to take a heroic stance in life, to place my body at the disposal of the general good and my sense of honor. And so far as anything can be trusted, I can trust in my judgment to do what's right and I can trust others not to fuck with me when I get a certain way.

That feels so much better than being a fucking Jack Abbott-style human time bomb, which was a concern for a while there.

So getting ready to perform this work in front of what I'd convinced myself would be a breakthrough audience -- I'd get seen! I'd be known! San Francisco! Agents! Editors! Bright lights! -- I got myself into a a fairly agitated state by the time the evening rolled around.

Thankfully, the missus had volunteered to get me to the show on time. I didn't have to worry about getting there when the show started. We'd leave Berkeley at six-thirty and get to the Mission in San Francisco by seven, no problem.

This is nuts. REALLY nuts. "Why can't I just walk through walls? They're just a bunch of molecules!" nuts. A nervous non-driver, late that afternoon I had a wave of panic, looked up Litcrawl, and found that they specifically stated that driving to Litcrawl was NOT A THING THAT CAN BE DONE.

The missus is no longer to be made responsible for my transportation. It is all on me now, even if it means I have to start the previous day and fucking walk. I am not going through this again.

If you don't know me, you've never seen me sweat. If you do know me, you have. I sweat like an athletic pig, streams of human gravy pour from me as though my pores were tiny taps. This is what happened when I realized I was going to be taking public transportation at the last possible minute. Any screw-up and I would go from professionally late, where I look like a jerk, to actually late, where I am a jerk.

I was lucky. After sprinting from the BART station, I showed up just as the reading started.

None of my folks were there -- but it turned out that it didn't really matter. Enough people knew me and were glad to see me that I felt part of the scene even though I was on my own. That was good. That was very good. I'd particularly like to thank Justine Clifford (I'm not sure what link Justine might appreciate), Paul Corman-Roberts, Michael Layne Heath, and new-met Pearce Hansen for making me feel welcome.

The venue was tiny, dimly lit, no mic, and crowded. I had to go outside during the other readings, which irked me, because everyone was knocking it out.

Joe Clifford fixed my little red wagon by making me go second. This is what happens to late people, and this is what they deserve.

Now, one of my minor fantasies has been getting a wireless mic so I can roam while I read. Get right down into the audience and really scare the hell out of them.

Well, because of the size of the venue, I was right in the middle of the audience. I had to control my motions and gestures to keep from actually coming into physical contact with people. I was dripping with sweat, still full of juice from the fast walk, and because my piece was a little long (I always keep the length that Joe approves, but this time he'd approved a long piece), I felt obliged to read a little more quickly than usual because of the time constraints. To compensate, I enunciated as clearly as possible, working hard on the short declarative sentences, and trying consciously to fill the space with my voice.

The sweat ran down onto the manuscript as I read. The people closest to me must have gotten a few drops. It was kind of rock-star-ish, and by the time I was done, I'd settled into my public persona.

The public persona is something I'm having a hard time getting used to. I have found that I do have a capacity to function in noisy, crowded, social environments as long as I have a strong sense of my own significance. (Not importance, just a positive sensation of actual existence.) But it feels very much like being a different person.

I took an acting class a few months back, and have been meaning to write about it. It was just four sessions, but it was fairly mind-bending for me. The type of acting taught in class was focused on social intuition and flexibility of response. These are two areas of massive deficit for me. So acting was a big, serious thing.

And now when I'm in social situations, I have a new level of comfort and grace. Which is good. But it comes at a cost. I normally think hard about everything I say and do, and the majority of my actions are reasoned responses. In order to cope with the overwhelming quantities of information presented to me in conventional social situations, I have to abandon any real depth of thought and concern for others and just go on instinct, just respond flexibly and intuitively to a situation that feels like swimming in rough surf.

Well, I like swimming in rough surf. It's fun. I'm finding great pleasure in the social world now that I feel truly part of mankind...

... but I an't the guy I think I am. The 'identity Sean' is a compulsive analyzer, someone who can't cope with a situation until it has been dissected and the dissection used as the basis for a series of instructive illustrations. 'Social Sean' is a very nice guy in a hearty, good-natured 'hail fellow, well-met' kind of way. But I don't know the son of a bitch well enough to trust him.

Here's an example.

After I read, I stepped into the bar so I could go around to the outside of the building and try and listen to the other readers. I stopped for a second to weigh my desire for a drink against the difficulty of getting one in a crowded bar.

That was when I felt a hand on my ass. I get one every year or two, and have gotten past being freaked out by the experience. I didn't like this one. It had a quality that combined exploration with deniability, it was a sneaky hand. So I turned to confront the owner; at the very least, I'd bad-vibe them.

The person behind me looked like a nine-year-old boy, with a deeply miserable and stupid expression on their face. Dirty, disheveled, and honestly? There was something unwholesome about the way they looked at me. They wanted something.

I looked for a parent and saw no-one.

And my flexible, intuitive reaction? "You're hallucinating, and if you interact with this kid you will be acting like a CRAZY PERSON right after discussing the close control you keep over your homicidal impulses. Bad impression, dude. A very bad impression to make."

So I blinked, nodded, and moved on.

And later that night, while walking and talking with Michael Layne Heath, I saw that person walking next to me, looking up at me with that pleading expression. And again, I refused to believe in them. Normal Sean would at least have said something, confirmed reality, tried to get an idea of what was going on.

But Social Sean just said, "I cannot even understand this, and I have shit to do." I smiled, nodded, made eye contact, and when there was no response other than the pleading gaze? I turned back to Michael.


There is a pretty good chance that the small person was a hallucination.

But I don't think they were. I think I was copping out because I couldn't get a grip on the situation.

On the other hand, the small person could have done something other than (possibly) groping my ass and staring at me with mute wishes.

If it was a kid who needed help, I failed.

If it was a hallucination, I played it off properly.

If it was a small adult, well. That's a little iffy. People who don't have conventional appearances have a hard time making casual social contacts, and if that was the case here? I was supporting the loathsome norm -- or maybe I was politely brushing off an unwanted and uninvited physical contact.

I've got no way of double-checking this, no way to find out what the story is. I just have to live with the mystery.

I wound up taking off early. Not because I felt uncomfortable, but because I felt comfortable and I was having a good time, and my behavior was not entirely under my conscious control. I wonder how much I can trust this Social Sean guy. He means well, but he's pretty shallow, and he might get me in trouble some day.


Andrew said...

Hi Sean - Was your reading video-recorded, or is there somewhere I can read it?

Sean Craven said...

Send me an email at craven dot sean at gmail dot com, and I'll send you a copy. And oh, brother. You are not named, but you are there, and I am still sorry.

Pearce Hansen said...

Despite your misgivings, your reading went very well. You stayed on point, delivery was clean and confident, and the meaning was clearly and succinctly conveyed.

About the 'hallucination:' there was a little person about, but the one I recall had a shaved head, piercings, and sported a pipe. No balaclava cap or pleading expressions, though he did attempt the puppy dog ploy with the females.

Sean Craven said...

No, that dude shows up at the readings often enough so I should have introduced myself by now. This was someone who looked like a child rather than a little person -- assuming I was reading their appearance properly. And thanks for the kind words -- I'll do all the performing they let me.