What’s your daily beauty routine?
To be honest, I don’t have a daily practice. On a good day I do all the things, and on a bad day I do none of them. On a day where I don’t shower, then I don’t wash my face, I don’t put on moisturizer, I don’t put on sunscreen, nothing. On a day where I wash my hair, and shave, and all that, I do it all. I do think I’ve gotten very into skincare, especially during the pandemic and with having all this time at home, I just want to be really moisturized and dewy and try to shave off a few years of my life – or try to make myself appear a little younger – while I am not doing anything much.
What did beauty and self-care look like for you growing up?
My mom is very beauty-focused. She always had nice makeup and face products that were not natural, but definitely higher end. To this day she loves Bobbi Brown, and has her little things that she’s been using forever, but she didn’t really instill a regimen or a self-care technique. Beauty was sort of her private space and when she was in the bathroom, the door would be closed and no one would interrupt her. She took her time. It’s actually so funny saying that out loud, because that’s exactly how I do it in my life now too. The greatest joy in my life is washing my hair, conditioning, shaving, doing the scrubs, rubbing myself down with body oil, doing the face thing, doing my makeup – any time I can feel like I’m a Venusian Goddess in a bath, I am SO there for it. I can spend hours doing all that.
When did you start exploring beauty for yourself, and is natural beauty important to you?
I went to college in Seattle, which is notoriously liberal. People aren’t necessarily too concerned with looking hot or dressing up, but they do care about health, which I think was formative for me. I worked in an organic food coop which turned me on to more natural beauty, like how to use basic ingredients like coconut oil in your hair, almond oil for your cuticles, those sort of almost home-remedy type things, so I would say I started there. I was living on my own for the first time, and choosing products for myself, and I found that a lot of things out there were just terrible. It opened my eyes to the fact that we should know what are in the things we choose to put on our body and instilled in me a commitment to more natural ingredients. I’ve done a full circle on stuff like shampoo, for instance. I started out with the regular hippie brands for my hair, and even went through a phase of using Dr. Bronners but It was just terrible. My hair was matted, knotted, and would think “why am I doing this? It’s not doing anything for my hair?”. That’s when I realized I had to do something different. First, I started on the salon brands for something more elevated, but after a while, I found myself sort of back to square one. My solution was to move on to a shampoo with transparent ingredients, which felt important to me. The one I’ve landed on now has all natural ingredients, it’s biodegradable, shampoo and conditioner in one, and the brand even sends you a pouch of refills when you run out. It’s great, because I end up with less products and packaging to handle every month.
What is your earliest memory of beauty?
That’s actually related to the bathroom as well. The bathroom my brother and I shared had these old original windows with a sort of textured bubbly glass to block out people from seeing in. The way the light would come through that window, I can still see it so vividly. It was such an exhilarating experience. Recognizing how this was a really beautiful fleeting occurrence, the light filtering through this old glass from the 30s or 40s, it almost looked like skin under a microscope, sort of bumpy. It just made this gorgeous light show in the bathroom, and I think at that time in my life, when I was a kid with siblings, I really cherished those moments where I got to be alone. I have very fond memories of this weird little light…
What does Beauty mean to you?
This sort of feels like the “what is the meaning of life?” question. I’m not sure that beauty can really mean anything. It just is. An ocean slamming against a rock, spraying fine mist into the air that then refracts sunlight into rainbow sheets will be beautiful regardless of whether or not I am there to glean any of its meaning. And if I do witness it, can it really mean something? Maybe I feel something like happiness, wonder, hope—it depends on the day or who I am. Beauty is phenomena. It’s just always happening all around us, with or without our attention. However, when beauty is found and shared or when beauty is translated into something that can be seen, felt, tasted, heard, worn, smelled—like when someone successfully makes something beautiful—beauty becomes ACTION. To live and act beautifully, to create beauty, that is what makes life worth living! Or that is at least what I live for, the act of beauty.
Moving beyond beauty a bit, what is the conversation surrounding sustainability and the environment like in your circle?
It’s hard to say what the overriding conversation is, but one thing I can address is that to be conscious of what strain you’re putting on the environment and what things you are taking in or ingesting is such a dichotomous and conflicting relationship. The impact that the things you bring into your life has is huge. Plastic is not cool, and I think my friends and the people I associate with agree with that, but then we all still order things on Amazon. The stuff comes in all this plastic packaging, cardboard that you’re just gonna rip open and then promptly throw away, not to mention the truck it was delivered on that uses fossil fuel. Its like, I’m buying reusable pads to replace the cotton rounds, but should I do it through Amazon? Did I actually help at all? There’s such a contradiction in everything that we do. I try to buy products that don’t come in plastic containers, but the next minute I’m covering my entire body in glitter, which is just microplastic that washes down into the ocean which some people might argue is worse than discarding a plastic bottle that at least gets recycled. I honestly find it overwhelming. There are so many decisions to be made, and at some point you eventually are going to make decisions that completely contradicts the ones you’ve made previously, so you have to find some peace with that and choose your battles. Growing up, all you heard was “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!”, and that was ingrained in my head as a young kid. Now, I just think that that phrase doesn’t really help a lot. Recycling shouldn’t be the heaviest focus. Reduce and reuse seem more viable at this point, but they seem to have been forgotten. I think you can make such a bigger impact by doing those two.
On the note of community, can you tell me a little bit about yours? I see such a circle of strong, powerful and colorful characters around you, but I’d love to hear your take on it
Gosh, what an interesting question during this current state of severe isolation. In many ways, I feel so removed from any sense of close-knit community, which in some ways is not too dissimilar from my life before the pandemic. It’s not that I don’t forge close bonds with people, but more that I try not to belong in any one place. I never want to get too comfortable with a scene or group of people, or be too predictable about who I’m with or where I’m going, though I do tend to make whichever cafe has the best espresso and is closest to my apartment, my Cheers. I am a writer after all! (Shout out to Hamlet on Rogers Ave in Flatbush!). But, I think you’re right, I do surround myself with “powerful” and “colorful” characters. I think that’s maybe a consequence of seeking out relationships with people who are so unmistakably in touch with their own power and purpose. I’m drawn to people who are unapologetically themselves and understand what they want, and often times these people are vibrant, loud sort of personalities. However, I also live for quiet types, introverts, people who only share themselves when they know it will have the most impact. It’s important to me to find some kind of connection with almost anyone, and for the most part, I can. I know that’s a weird thing to assert, particularly during this cultural moment where we’ve been made to feel so different from one another, but I really don’t think we are that different. It’s sad, but I think we’re finally waking up to the fact that social media is an insidious modern malady, duping us into feeling connected to “the entire internet” when really we’re just insulating ourselves with people who look and think (and buy) like we do. So I actively try to combat that. I always say hi to my neighbors. If I pet someone’s dog on the street, I make sure to greet their owner first. Maybe I’m misremembering pre-pandemic life through rose-tinted lenses, but I like to think I make myself open and available for human connection with just about everyone (except on the subway, DO NOT talk to me on the subway!). Also, I’m a natural connector and love knowing a little something about everyone. One of my favorite things to do, pre-pandemic of course, is to throw parties and see what happens when my friends get to meet each other. You were at my housewarming party before the city shut down, remember how fun that was? People who met at that party in February of 2020 fell in love and have since moved in together! I am energized by surrounding myself with lots of varying perspectives, people of different ages, backgrounds, life experience. What can I say, it’s the Sagittarius in me to be adventurous, especially with people.
I wanted to hear the story about your current project, Pubic Access. Tell me about that.
Basically, the talk show started out as a production with Phile Magazine (the International Journal of Desire and Curiosity, ed). They were looking for a way to do events with the magazine and had tried doing some kink nights at bars etc, but nothing was really congealing. I had submitted some of my poetry, so I ended up doing a reading from my bedroom where I was reading poems into a dildo acting as a microphone. It ended up being a really fun way to do stuff with them, and they asked me if I would be interested in hosting a show with them translating some of what the publication does into a stage show, inviting guests etc. We did two live shows called ‘Strangers With Candystore’ before the city shut down in March last year because of Covid. Doing those live shows at the Sultan Room was such a dream, everyone involved really felt strongly that this was something that was going to take off, and then it just ended so abruptly. We were looking for a way to continue some version of the project and over the summer, our friend Zak Krevitt was organizing a fundraiser called ‘Towards Utopia’ which was motivated by the events that erupted this spring. BLM primarily, but also the way in which many minority groups had been shut down from working because of the pandemic. He was identifying these vulnerable groups and figuring out a way to get them support, and it ended up being a hugely successful print sale where a large group of artists submitted prints with all the proceeds going to FOR THE GWORLS , G.L.I.T.S. and SWOP BROOKLYN. While it was ongoing, we did a live show in support and called it ‘Strangers with Candystore: Pubic Access’. We realized Covid wasn’t going anywhere but had a lot of fun doing that and got a lot of positive feedback, so we decided to keep going in that direction. We didn’t need a live audience, this worked, we could just create recorded content! So we were just trying to make fun stuff in this weird time to bring people together and also carry that spirit from ‘Towards Utopia’ of bringing focus to mutual aid – working within your community to support people who are more vulnerable or whose livelihoods are completely gone because of the pandemic. It’s hard to be a hooker when there is an airborne disease flying around, you know? I started assessing what I had and what I needed. I just thought: I don’t really need money! I sure could use a lot more, but for the time being, I am employed, I have an apartment, I have a credit card and there are so many people that have needs bigger than mine. If I can create something that can bring attention to a need that exists in my community, I want to do that and build up the people who are suffering the most. I also learned that connecting people around something in a fun way and not just making people feel guilty about keeping their stimulus check was a great way to show my support for these people while they got educated and entertained by watching our show
Was that a conscious choice, to make it hilarious, or is that just a natural expression for you?
I think I’ve always gone the route of joy, levity, and light. That’s what I respond to and where I’m naturally drawn. I went to art school and armed with an MFA, but weirdly ended up teaching in college for a little while. I quickly figured out that the way to get young people to pay attention, the way to command a classroom, is to be entertaining and to be fun. Nobody wants to feel stupid or bored, nobody wants to feel like you’re wasting their time. I kinda honed this skill that I didn’t know I had, of being an entertainer, and I did it in a college setting! I was obviously teaching them about creative writing and poetry, but I was doing it in a way that was not very dissimilar to how I am on Pubic Access. Obviously I did not interview them with a dildo, but you know, making jokes, moving around the room in my weird outfits, wearing lots of glitter, really being as true to myself as possible. I got a lot of great results from that. While I’m really glad I don’t teach college any more, I feel very grateful that I got that time, because I learned that if you want people to pay attention to you, you could just do it in a way that is fun and nice that actually works. You don’t have to be pretentious, overly intellectual, or didactic. It was such a roundabout way to experience that revelation but it was very informative and allowed me to be in touch with my practice as a poet in a way that I hadn’t seen in an academic sense. Going to art school is such serious business, everyone is so sensitive and workshopping is painful, and this teaching experience made me realize that you can have a good time and laugh while doing serious stuff! That’s the crazy thing to me about humor, you can almost tell the truth better because people are listening. People want to listen if their expectation is that they are going to be entertained. You can say some really serious shit by being funny and playful. That’s been such an integral realization to my own work and practice as a poet.
Poetry isn’t necessarily always regarded as a “funny” artform, is it?
There certainly are forms of poetry that come from a place of humor, but I think I’m thinking more about ideas, sentiments, and impressions, that can come through in a seemingly jokey poem. I thought of this poem earlier when we were talking about glitter;I have a poem called “Glitter” from a series of poems each named after crayon colors, which of course includes a glitter set. This poem is called “Glitter (sky blue)”, which starts very lightly, just as a poem about putting glitter on my eyes, seeing it wash down the drain, finding its way into the ocean and ending up on the bottom of the sea floor, fish eating it… But then the poem spins way out into things like patriarchy and talking about how I wear glitter as an affront to men, because I’m a faggot – it gets so dark. It’s actually one of the darker poems of that collection, but it starts with an almost ditzy ‘I’m just putting glitter on my eyes!”
I’m glad we’ve moved into talking about your poetry. Your latest collection “Hi Angels” had a profound impact on me, a poetry novice. Can you tell me a little more about it?
Thank you! One thing I haven’t spoken much about regarding that project is how the idea actually came about. I started reading “The Book of Transformations” (another title for the I Ching), an ancient Chinese philosophical text that people have used as a oracle piece. It involves throwing these sticks and reading how they fall, which is a lot more complicated than that of course, but an idea from the I ching is that there are these invisible entities in our world that are called helpers, and they’re sort of in charge of everything that happens. The helper of Rain, the Helper of Sleep, the Helper of Boners…anything that occurs in nature has come to fruition because of one of these helpers. I started to look at the world in this way, all these little helpers facilitating my life, making the subway run, bringing the foods that I eat to me, and allowing them to have been created. It really started to shift the way I saw the world around me. Prior to the pandemic, I did a lot of commuting and I would find myself looking around at these people. Not necessarily making up stories about them, but definitely thinking about how they got here, what helpers helped them get to this point where we’re sitting across from each other on the subway. I started writing these poems that are each dedicated to what I consider a helper of New York City and I called them ‘Angels’. The I Ching is very adamant about not calling them angels, but it worked for me as a poet, it was a good shorthand. That’s where that collection started. It has some typographical residue as well, the fact that they were written mostly on a phone makes them a little bit shorter. Right now I am finishing up this collection of Cray Cray Ooh La La, which is 148 poems, each based on Crayola crayon colors. I’ve written 30 of them so far. They’re being sent around right now to see if there’s any interest in publishing them as I am slogging through the rest of the colors. I have swatches of all the colors on my wall to keep me motivated, it’s very beautiful to look at.
I am so enamored by the work done by Black and Pink. They have chapters all around the US that are organizing toward a future that includes prison abolition. Until then, there are so many things you can do to improve the lives of incarcerated people. From sending commissary money to folks on the inside to redistributing funds for people who get to come home, Black and Pink is expressly organizing support for the LGBTQ+ incarcerated community. They also have this fab pen pal project where you get matched with an inmate for correspondence. It’s an easy way to make a new friend amidst the pandemic and affirm someone who has more or less been discarded by the system.
Also the work that The Black Trans Travel Fund is doing to provide Black trans women with financial resources to self-determine safer travel is so vital. America has a race problem, absolutely. But it also has a transphobia problem. This fund is such a simple and effective way to keep some of the most vulnerable people in our community safe from dangerous or violent situations.
This GoFundMe raising Emergency Funds for Undocumented Families and Youth during Covid-19. Due to the persistent xenophobic fuckery doled out by Trump’s administration, undocumented people in the US have not had access to any of the benefits from Covid-19 relief plans. This mutual aid, organized by a bad ass team of mostly Latinx folks, are working to secure financial support for undocumented children and their families who are struggling.