“I can’t believe it!” Kaui (Blogmistress and Goddess of Patience) said to me recently.
“So-and-so said such-and-such to you and you weren’t insulted at all.”
“Huh. . . I guess I don’t remember.”
“You WEREN’T insulted,” Kaui said. “You don’t get insulted easily.”
“I guess not.”
“Ummmm. . . guess I don’t notice.”
In the late 1960’s my friend, Diane Nelson, a psychologist, and I taught a graduate seminar at The San Francisco Art Institute called, “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” a brilliant line of Yoko Ono’s. Even then, when the women’s movement was experiencing some early birthing pains, the line was a stunner. It had certainly never occurred to me before— obviously Blacks (the correct hip term for African American then. . .) were oppressed and various other racial, social, economic groups. . . NO ONE seemed to notice that women everywhere were in the same leaky boat.
Other faculty members objected to the title. We were raided by a radical women’s group from Berkeley because we had a male teaching assistant. Those were the days. Lots of action, political and otherwise. We also had male graduate students in our seminar, not considered pc.
One of our first guest lecturers was Margo St. James, the famous San Francisco prostitute, who’d organized Coyote, the first whores’ collective— San Francisco being one of the few cities where prostitution was not run by a mob of men. Margo was one of my personal heroes and the whole class was very excited. . . we were going to interview a real WHORE. But the day of the class I got a call from Margo postponing for a week. What to do? I decided each member of the class, men and women, would take a turn sitting in the center of the group while the rest of the class asked them the questions they’d prepared. We were surprisingly creative with our answers. The big surprise, I guess, being that we all knew what it would be like to be a whore.
The next week when Margo turned up we went downstairs to the cafeteria to grab a cup of coffee before class. Truth is, I was a little worried. By the end of the class the week before our questions had become extremely intimate. I didn’t want to offend or distress Margo— so I described what we had done and asked if there were any areas she would prefer not to talk about.
Margo was wearing loose black pants, an embroidered shirt, black boots and a big black cowboy hat. Her dark hair was loose; she had smooth olive skin, and a slight slope to her profile that suggested she might be part Native American. I already knew she’d made up her professional name.
She laughed, pushed her cowboy hat back on her head with the heel of her hand and delivered one of the great all-time lines, “look AliceAnne,” she said, “you can’t insult a whore.”
My world was rocked! I got it.
THIS was the source of her phenomenal personal power, her largeness of spirit, her mana. Nothing insulted her. She had nothing to protect, nothing to defend. Whores were at the bottom of the ladder of female occupations— (just below psychics I realized a few years later when I left my prestigious title behind, Professor of Humanities and English, to go to London in search of a teacher who would guide me in this strange new territory).
Never a good reason to be insulted that I can think of.
Here’s a good joke about psychics and whores. The two professions are surprisingly similar. We both become extremely intimate with someone in a very short period of time and then they give us money. Psychics, of course, will do it with almost anybody.
ART IS HARD
I saw that written on a bathroom wall at The San Francisco Art Institute (the little one outside of the new lecture hall. . . when the lecture hall was new), and I thought it was brilliant. Later I remembered that I had written it a few years before when I was teaching there. I disguised my handwriting because I didn’t think teachers should be writing on bathroom walls (unless responding to personal messages to them, which also sometimes appeared). I don’t think art is hard, for me it’s more like play. Playing around. . . making movies about something you want to see, writing something you want to read. Nevertheless, I am always enchanted when someone writes something thoughtful and brilliant about what I have accomplished, or says how important it was to them in some way.
On the other hand I wrote The Last of the Dream People because I felt EVERYONE needed to know what was in it. . . HOW to dream. That still seems important to me. But the book didn’t sell well. I give copies away at every opportunity. But I imagine many artists must look at their work and feel inside themselves such deep pleasure, wonder even. “I did that!” ” “It is beautiful.” “How could I have made something so perfect?” Things like that. That’s how I would like to feel.
FAULTLINES —read this book!
My friend, John Knoop, is a hero. Until a freak bicycle accident derailed
him, he was one of the most successful documentary filmmakers in the country. . . co-producer and cameraman for special reports for the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour in the hotspots of Asia, Eastern Europe, South and Central America. Faultlines, his memoir, spins together tales of his travels, world affairs, his loves, guerilla wars. . . and some of the extraordinary risks he took to get the best footage for the story.
You can download his gorgeous illustrated book (for free!) at his website: http://www.johnknoop.com/