Don't die wondering...
I live in Santa Cruz and Tahoe City, California, and for one month each year in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Since I teach in Austin, Texas, this raises issues of how to define "home", and it's something Cynbe and I often discuss with each other and with friends. The writer Karl Zuckmayr, who is the guardian spirit of Saas-Fee, wrote "Home is not the place where one is born, but rather where one wishes to die." (That's a stela to the right with his words on it.) By that criterion, Santa Cruz is unquestionably home. My family and my deep friends live there. We also have a nice house and great friends and colleagues in Austin. Austin is an island of couth and weirdness in Texas, and I've been fortunate enough to meet some of the weirdest and sweetest and brightest of Austinites.
I must add that because Austin is home to two feuding giants of the supermarket business who keep trying to outdo each other in grandeur, Austin's top supermarkets are jaw-droppingly awesome embarrassments of culinary largesse, perhaps matched only by Berlin's KaDeWe -- postmodern in the sense that they are fantasies of California supermarkets that never existed, just as Miami's Fontainebleau hotel was designed to look like the nonexistent hotels the prospective guests had seen in soap operas on television. We should pack up the contents of just one of those markets and ship it to Bangladesh...they could eat for a year.
Our home in Santa Cruz is in a state park, and our deck overlooks a marine refuge. Here's a view. At the moment we're selling this shack in paradise because the obscene bull market in oceanfront homes makes it highly attractive to do so, and the proceeds will go toward a more modest shack closer to town.
Our home in Austin is a tiny, cramped but cozy cottage we call Geekhaven.
Cynbe, I, /dev/cat, fifteen computers,
and ten thousand books pretty much says
Because the house is so small, we've added some sheds out back. One serves as a shop, where I do my art installation work and fix stuff that's too clumsy to work on in the house. One is Cynbe's gym, and one is storage for the things we intend to put in the dream home large enough to actually hold us and our books both. If and when.
Our Tahoe cabin is a refuge of calm and couth where we can read and write in peace, walk by the lake, and hang at our favorite local joints, Rosie's Café and the Sunnyside Resort.
During the school year I teach Digital Arts and New Media production in the ACTLab (Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory) at UT Austin two days a week. In June I have the privilege of teaching in the experimental interdisciplinary program at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, in the Swiss canton of Valais. The rest of the time I'm either on the road performing, writing, or designing installations. Cynbe and I spend our days making stuff, living online, reading, and raising hell.
The ACTLab is our island of weirdness in the sea of radio and television, like a little model of Austin in the sea of Texas. We have had the incredible good fortune to collect the right mix of bright, loose, risk-taking people...for instance, Joseph Lopez and Brandon Wiley and their ACTLab TV project. I started the ACTLab as the RTF New Media Program in 1993, and we've been chugging along getting stranger and better ever since.
My primary way of presenting my theory and research is by performing it. By this I mean theatrical performance, usually in the form of monologue with technical augmentation (music, video, slides). For the past twelve years I've mounted hundreds of performances in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. Very occasionally a colleague will dragoon me into writing something for an anthology, but at this time writing is not the main focus of my work. However, from time to time I still advise some great students on how to do academic writing.
My secondary way of presenting my theory and research is through gallery installations designed to raise questions about technology, desire, boundary crossings, and the uncanny. You can view some of them here, though I never have enough time to keep my own pages up to date or even working properly.
My intellectual community is spread across the world, from California to Australia to Japan, Taiwan, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark. It's a physical community that only exists on the road, coalescing briefly when we meet at this conference or that festival and disappearing again, but with its strength undiminished, until we meet at the next stop. In its evanescence, yet its ability to retain its force and to bridge space and time without diminishing its members' focus or passion, this community of ours bears many of the characteristics of the Net itself. Onstage I call this evanescent yet persistent interweaving "enlacement", despite Sally Jane Norman's reminding me that the word also means a sexual maneuver. Sexual, schmexual -- new social forms require new descriptive lexica, and why not use terms that imply passion?
Because I hold a tenured academic job, people keep trying to assign me a label. By nature I resist this. If you have to call me something, call me coyote.
In my hectic life I've had six major careers, give or take. School and the process of credentialing were pleasant interruptions. By the time I applied to the History of Consciousness Board at UCSC I'd had five of what could reasonably be called careers. The first was in research, at Bell Labs. Next came feral art and filmmaking in New York. The feral art was about constructing domes on the roofs of buildings and filling them with projections and surround sound -- boring now, innovative then. Feral art also meant constructing extremely long magnetic tape loops and recording music I created using them. I built my recorders -- magnetic tape and lacquer disk -- from scratch. Here's a pic of my Mark II lacquer mastering lathe, circa 1960. Film had a deeper pull. Yes, I was freelance, but I also mainlined at a legit, vanilla production house to put food on the table. They made industrial films touting the virtues of tranquilizers, among other things, and filled in idle times with Italian porn shoots. True to my nature, I was their jack of all trades, building specialized projection equipment, shooting B-roll, editing scripts, running the optical printers, and being the occasional extra in the porn films. At least it was steady. As an auteur, the closest I came to fame was when our film lost to Jonas Mekas' Hallelujah The Hills at the New York Underground Film Festival. I hear that some of our stuff is still in distribution through cooperatives like Canyon Cinema, though the persona I inhabited when they were made is not one I intend to revisit.
During that time I was also traveling up and down the East coast's intellectually rich academic corridor, showing up on the doorstep of this professor or that and asking if I could audit their classes. Although I was broke, fortunately I had intellectual capital to share, and in this way I managed to get a deep and rather complex education at the high graduate level in a variety of specialties ranging from English literature to internal medicine. While this lifestyle was vertiginous and fraught, it was also extremely satisfying. I was continually challenged to exceed myself, and wasn't exposed to the stultifying but soothing social conditioning a conventional education provides. If you have the guts, I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, it did leave me with the view that, given enough effort, anything is possible, and that social identity is infinitely fungible. This view was likely at the heart of my theorizing (in The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age) about an incarnation of the vampire Lestat with a doctorate in anthropology, for whom identity was a boat momentarily at anchor in a sea of possibilities.
Somewhere in there I met the amazing Billie Harris, and next thing I knew, I was a graduate student in the Board of Studies of the History of Consciousness at UCSC, where I studied with Donna Haraway, Jim Clifford, Hayden White et.al. That experience was like being suddenly transported to heaven, and led to my academic career (but, of course, not without the customary weird drama between UCSD and UTexas, but let's move on.)
If you've been paying attention, you probably noticed that I was building mastering lathes in the '60s. In the 70s mainstream rock music scene I left other traces of my passage, working with Jimi Hendrix et.al. at the Record Plant in New York City and later with Crosby, Nash et.al., Van Morrison, Marty Balin, the Airplane and the Dead and all sorts of other wonderful weirdos at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco and L.A. (Those were my home studios, that is, the ones at which I was a staff engineer, though during the same period I was working at a dozen or so other studios in various cities. You can find my name on all sorts of unexpected albums, if you know which of a vast assortment of aliases I was working under at that particular time).
From 1974 to 1978 or so, I lived and worked with the Olivia Records collective, a radical feminist music company located at that time in Los Angeles, where my presence and the fact of my transgendered identity caused a tempest in the separatist teapot. (For more info about the opening salvo, a contretemps with an extraordinarily mean-spirited academic transphobe who abused her position to call out and attack, by name, individual transgendered people under color of professional publication, see this Wikipedia article.)
Nonetheless, those were wonderful times -- times when we felt we were genuinely changing the world. Here's a pic of me at the board, probably at Different Fur Studios in San Francisco during the overdubs for an Olivia album by the group BeBe K'Roche. It's my favorite of the ones taken during the session, but the one we used in the album liner is this one, because it's in focus. Besides, it gives me that kohl-eyed come-hither look, which is not makeup but most likely the result of being mid-project and consequently sleepless for days or weeks.
Somewhere in there I was technical director for the 10th anniversary celebration of Starhawk's "The Spiral Dance" at Fort Mason in San Francisco (public ritual for 6,000 people!), and hung around to do a lot more technical support for the Reclaiming collective. I'm still an active HP and Elder in the Maric tradition, via Alison Harlow and the Covenant of the Goddess folk, and what came after.
My family, consanguine and affinal, lives on both coasts. To the east Bob, Daphne, Arden and Teddy. To the west my daughter Tani; my ex Darcy, who is #2 of Tani's three moms; Brenny, and Barbara.
Politically speaking, and as a theoretical positionality, I've always maintained that I'm lesbian and polyamorous, which makes it difficult to explain why I've been in a monogamous heterosexual marriage for the last twenty years. As a writer and artist and Jewish pagan drama queen, I've always thought of happiness in teleological terms, as something you fought for and struggled toward and, well, achieved, like a stupendous job of work; and which you achieved, if at all, kinda like enlightenment, in a sort of grand éclat. Color me stupid, then, when I slowly became aware that happiness (and, more to the point, contentment) may have a pernicious way of sneaking up on you and biting you in the ass when you least expect it. This didn't cross my mind until one fine afternoon Cynbe absently asked me how long we'd been together. "Uh...Twenty Frackin' years," I said, with some measure of astonishment at finally being confronted with the number. He just grinned.
A brief paean to my hubby: Living with Cynbe is exquisitely geekly. We met online in pursuit of the eclectic and unabashedly utopian goal of writing software to enable new forms of online sociality. His opening salvo -- a post to a mailing list in which, within four paragraphs, he dissected abstruse procedural programming languages, hard science fiction, and Sharon Traweek's anthropology of high energy physics -- made my eyeballs pop like Malaga grapes. I responded in kind, as best I could, and at first neither of us could believe the other was real: bots, maybe, programmed to emulate scholars with eclectic and political interests. Our fascination with the online mode continued long after we'd begun living with each other in meatspace, and for years we sat companionably side by side on the couch, each with our laptop, furiously emailing each other.
The primary thing I do not understand about our relationship is why in hell Cynbe puts up with me.
Yes, I am transgendered. Yes, transgender is part of my research, theory, and academic praxis. I am politically active in the field. I wrote The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto, which some theorists believe is one of the foundational texts in Transgender Studies. Recently Susan Stryker and the University of Indiana at Bloomington hosted a conference in honor of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Posttranssexual Manifesto, at which Susan asked me to read the final section of the Manifesto aloud in front of 500 academics. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and the most exhilarating and humbling and...well, insert just about any other emotion you'd care to. Keep in mind that when I wrote the Manifesto I was the only visible trans in academia (Donna and I discussed whether publishing the paper would end my career), and although I'd dreamed of having colleagues some day, I honestly didn't expect the situation to change very much for many years to come. So you can imagine that looking out into an auditorium with 500 people, many of them trans, who were there for a conference on Transgender Studies (which didn't quite exist yet, but which, thanks to Susan, does now) was, well, very special.
Periodically I teach a course called Trans: Dangerous Border Violations which has a transgender component, among other components relating to boundary crossings. Some time ago I was invited to do a workshop on art and politics and an evening performance at Camp Trans in August 2005, and speak at Trans events as often as I can.
Cynbe and I do most of our work online in one form or another, so we need major screen real estate, and geek toys should always be celebrated. Here's Cynbe's screen, six twenty-one inch monitors in a 3x2 array. It's displaying a high-resolution Hubble Deep Field plate across all six screens (4800x2400 pixels), for that Star Trek bridge look. Those rectangular things at either end are the speakers. Here's mine, with Knut sittin' in. The proof of concept arrays were built by Jeff Beall; I designed and built the production versions. It took a lot of work to make Cynbe's 200-pound screen array appear to float lightly and unsupported in air. Hmm, maybe that's why he puts up with me -- every software geek needs a hardware geek wife.
I also seem to have a peculiar relationship to Joshua trees. I have some half-baked idea that they're really aliens who were trapped on Earth millennia ago, said what the hell, and put down roots, as it were. They're tough, independent, silent, hardy, resilient, repel predators, and like hugs, though they pretend they don't.
I add to this faq as I have the chance. That's all for now, folks.
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