I am agender

Sometime in November 1999, my grandparents asked me for a Christmas list, a task I got on my father’s computer to perform later that afternoon. When my father came downstairs and discovered me doing this, he went on an hours long tirade about my “selfishness” that culminated in the question: “What the hell is wrong with you!?

Shaken by the senseless though familiar yelling and exhausted by carrying the gauzy black secret within me, I finally blurted out: “I’m gay.”

It’s 2020. I’m crouching over a painting in my basement studio when I get a call from my mother. She praises one of my paintings and in the same breath condemns my therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs. 

My cheeks flash. “I’m not going to apologize for the way I conduct my life,” I find myself saying. 

I couldn’t tell you why, but I spent most of the rest of the day crying. I cried and cried from the judgments of people who had never understood me – and I cried from realizing I still didn’t understand me.

Something in the universe whispered the word agender in my ear that night. And I Googled it. I read, and I watched. And I cried, and I cried. And I messaged my partner. And then my other partner. And then my best friend. And then Reddit. 

I’m agender. And suddenly my whole fucking life makes sense. 

When my dad asked me (the only time we played catch) “when I was gonna be a real boy?” 

I was agender. 

When my family shoved girly pics in my face and squealed with laughter at my reaction? 

I was agender. 

When I knew from the age of six that I wasn’t a boy or a girl?

I was agender. 

When I get sir’ed, ma’am’ed or hey faggoted?

I am agender. 

I am agender. I am agender. 

Why do I keep saying it? Because I’ve been walking around for years with this secret I thought would kill or at least end me. But it turns out I was wrong. 

I am agender, and it is saving me from my Hell. 

I have felt like an alien, an outsider, a foreigner all my life. A visitor in all places, often unwelcome. I have the feeling of not knowing what other people are talking about a lot of the time, about awfully important things. 

I managed to escape the dysphoric hell of a proscribed straight life, as I knew I needed to. But setting up shop in the life of a cis gay man didn’t relieve any of my discomfort about who I really was. 

Being attracted to men seemed like the least of my worries when what I was really hiding was that I was a big freaky gender failure. Gay man was an ok metaphor for what I am for a while, but realities only diverged more with time. 

It was the not-gay I figured out first, actually. After twenty years of living as a gay man, I came out last year as bi (by which I mean pan, as so many bi people do these days). 

Being coded as gay by my family by and since the age of 3 no doubt seriously colored my world. And it is not that I am not attracted to men: I am. Perhaps even primarily. 

But what choice did I have but to think of myself as gay when you took me to the pediatrician to find out if I was gay, and gave me constant lectures about the evils and social dangers of homosexuality, and you asked me, over and over and over, if I was gay?

The truth, reasoned away by everyone including me as compulsory heterosexualism, is that I have always been into everyone, but male bisexuality is still barely an option. 

Case closed right? Repressed bisexual, let the pansexual panoply ensue, amen, see you at drag brunch.

But if anything, coming out as bi seemed to double down on putting me in the man box. (Phrasing.) I had some lovely times talking to women when I came out, but I actually experienced some intensely dysphoric feelings at this time as well. Now more than ever the man part (phrasing) seemed really performative and centered. 

Small words? It made me super fucking uncomfortable to be “the” man in the situation. And I promptly fell in love with two men anyway. 

And the discomfort continued. I continued to not understand my role. I continued to use manhood as a cudgel for my behavior and decisions. Clue number one that I was never a man: I had to constantly ask myself what a man might do.

I used to count the days til I would be a man. At which time I very much imagined that the antipathy between me and men would disappear. I remember literally looking up to older boys and men at church and school and thinking, “it’s coming! Someday I’ll be one of you! Someday my balls will be higher than the pew and I’ll have stubble and everyone will just stop looking at me like that!” Of course, before I knew it, I was over six feet tall, fully bearded – and still not one percent a man.

Into my 30s I kept looking for signs that it was finally happening. I went through second male puberty at this time (still kind of now honestly), which has made me more typically and masculinely “hot” – but even this third-life rush of testosterone has yet to make me a man. 

Other things that have failed to make me a man: Prayer. Mine or others’. Fucking hundreds of (ok like 150) strangers. Denial. Only expressing fear, anger, hunger, and courtly love. Enough whiskey to cause internal bleeding. Beatings. Scoldings. Taunts from family members and passing cars. The pervasive cultural belief that I don’t exist. 

Why is gender so important? You tell me. It’s on the top of every form. Gendered people are the ones who did this shit. 

It’s important enough that being bad at it was the worst observation that could be made about me as a child. I’d argue that what seemed like homophobia – or even more plainly, my family’s presumption that I was homosexual – was in fact a recognition and revulsion of my total inability to, yes, “be a real boy.”

I failed to be interested in sport. I definitely failed to develop a “male gaze.” 

Oh, that male gaze. My family absolutely tortured me for not having that. Recurring flashbacks to the game where they made me look at underwear ads nearly shook me apart a couple months ago, and were the key to realizing I needed to address my PTSD.

Family: what the fuck was I meant to do in that situation? Was I meant to just furiously start beating it to prove my heterosexualism? My boyhood? Are six year old boys meant to have an intuitively sexual response to how capitalism tells adult women to dress to keep it spicy in the bedroom?  

Why was my psychosexual development a fun family game? Are you quite happy with the results? 

Did you win?

 

The dichotomy I divided my notes on this essay into was “beauty and pain.” 

What I want is for coming out as agender to be a pure good, untouched, pristine, and mine. I want to make this peace known. I want to give myself context and make space for myself in the world. 

What it cannot help but also be, though, is a powerful pointer to the source of my trauma: 

I was rejected by my family because I could not be invited behind “either” of the closed doors. 

The locker room of the home is the gendered discussion about your future. This includes things like “the talk,” but also things like your parents’ fantasies about your future family life and the gender-based education you receive to prepare you for it. 

This is an academic way of saying boys get boy talks from their dads and girls get girl talks from their moms. And agender children are driven to the middle of nowhere and told “just because you got it doesn’t mean you have to use it.”

(“Did you tell him about the vas deferens and stuff?” my mom asked. We grunted in response.)

I wasn’t on anyone’s team, and so I kind of wasn’t raised. Not in knowledge of caring for myself or wisdom in interpersonal relationships. I don’t know what binary children are taught in those closed-room discussions, and I charitably posit it’s because I didn’t have a parent who was the same gender as me. 

This is of course all speaking of hypothetical positive education. The negative aspects of gendered education weighed on me every day of my life. 

The meaning of manhood was a lecture I was invited to constantly as a child. The 90s were a dicey time. I could see Cindy Crawford shaving k.d. lang on TV, but I was pretty likely to catch a slap that day. 

I remember watching almosy every adult in my family foam at the mouth when something queer would happen on TV. The phobes were right: the 90s were a bad place to be if you didn’t want to be casually exposed to some gay-ass shit. And grateful as I was for the “Yes I Am” deluge, in my little corner of rural Michigan, I definitely paid a price. 

I still get a vomity feeling at the stop sign on my mom’s street. My dad walked me out there one day in 1993 after RuPaul came on TV and he told me that “gay people can be very funny, but they are all going to Hell.” 

The 90s were also a time when trans feminine people became a fixture of daytime talk shows. The vile phrase “that’s a man, Maury!” has its basis in the reality that middle America met trans people through exploitative games over their morning coffee. Paranoia about being “tricked” by a trans woman fueled an industry of hate on every network’s mid-morning slot. 

Which is a thing I can say now as a grown-up queer. As a baby queer living through it, I felt like I was seeing a glimmer of my world. I remember, age 6, seeing someone on TV say they felt like a half-boy, half-girl, and I told my mother, “that’s like me!” She pursed her lips and looked away. Not the worst reaction, but I sure never spoke of it again. 

Which I guess would be a great transition into OH YEAH, THAT OTHER TIME I CAME OUT AS TRANS

All these memories came welling up out of me when I did training for the Speakers’ Bureau of the Office of LGBT Affairs (now known as the Spectrum Center) at UofM. I got to college, no one was looking, and suddenly trans was a thing you – or I even! – could be. 

But sometimes you don’t get the compassion and support you’re looking for when you come out. Sometimes your partner says your identity just reinforces the gender binary cause they’re scared you want bottom surgery. Sometimes trans people you look up to say your identity sounds offensive to “real” trans people like them. Sometimes you realize if you can’t get first level support, there’s no way you can do this in front of the whole world. So you spend 15 more years in the closet. 

At least that’s what happened to me. 

On some level I did not show up for myself until I decided to sort my gender identity. I had a persistent feeling of not being entirely real. And now I know that’s because I used violence against myself every day to stay that way. 

I thought my non-binary experience wasn’t real enough to “count.” That “real” trans people counted for more, and that my voice was not trans enough to contribute. I let my internalized transphobia tell me that I needed to wait, that my marginal identity was a distraction from something more important. 

Not to mention the real and present fear of losing anyone, everyone, and everything at any time. I write every word of this knowing there will be unintended, chaotic fallout. I write it anyway. It is not optional. It is the truth. 

There is no “trend” that could reach back into my earliest memories and make me trans. I am not trying to be cool. I am not auditioning for oppression points. I do not want to take the mic and make everything about me. I am trying to describe myself, and live my life in a way that makes sense to me. 

I finally figured out I deserve that. Trendy or not, coined in the last twenty years or not, agender is what the fuck I am. There’s no way to make all binary cis or trans people “like” or “respect” that. And that’s not my concern, either. 

My camp may be small, but my dysphoria is mighty. 

My dad asked me last Thanksgiving to…give logical proofs of the existence of trans people? I guess his question was something was like how trans people know they’re trans. And I politely demurred, referring him to the actual experiences of trans people (since I knew he meant binary trans people) – and of course on some level feeling panicked because I did have something to say. 

I have had the feeling of being given the wrong assignment at birth for pretty much as long as I can remember. My soul shakes in revulsion when someone calls me a man. I have no innate sense of what being a man would even be like.

I did not live as a man, but as an imitation of one. And it nearly killed me. I thought I had to constantly strive to be a man, or I would die. But it was rather the attempt that poisoned me every day. 

I have no sense of belonging in men and women jokes. Even before I could reallly accept that I was nonbinary, in my heart, all of culture has made me scream – what about the rest of us? 

That feeling you have – that you might be clutching right now – that says, “I’m a man/woman/etc.” – yeah, I don’t have that. That’s my elevator pitch for agender identity. 

I tried, y’all. It’s just not there. And I don’t know or care why. 

I don’t want to be special. What I want is for what I am to have already been an option so that I didn’t have to spend three decades in a tar pit of despair and dysphoria. But I didn’t get that option. And so I’m finally taking up the mantle of being one of the first agender elders. 

I do not know what this means for my presentation, other than some cute new they/them earrings. If I may, my humble complaint as your agender friend is that binary people have gendered fucking EVERYTHING. 

Everything from moustaches to loving friendships has a gender. Every shade of every color, every gesture, every food has been assigned a gender identity. Ships are girls and Jupiter is zaddy. Y’all are maniacs. 

Point is, no matter how I present now, people will by default compare and contrast it to the gender binary and put me wherever they want. Some people seem to think I need to become a featureless space alien if I’m really going to be agender, and neither the effort nor the effect speak to how I actually experience myself. 

I don’t need a new uniform – I need you to understand that more than one kind of soul can pilot this ship. 

I don’t know about society. I don’t know about movements. I do know what I’m asking of the people who care about me. 

My name is Schlomo. I use they/them pronouns. I am agender. 

Avoid calling me things like man, boy, and he. Be open to being gently corrected. I may wince. We’re going to get through it. Laugh with me, as I even misgender myself sometimes. 

Listen to more nonbinary people. Stop whispering about how dumb you think gender-neutral pronouns are. Stop thinking about who is or isn’t real. 

And if you are nonbinary and you’re reading this and you don’t know if you can do it – you can. Giving up the effortful charade of living as the wrong gender has supercharged my life. The timing is yours – but the pride you’ll feel will fuel you. 

The house is a myth in which I do not appear

The house is a myth in which I do not appear

Why can’t I just talk to you?
We’re gonna be ok. Just gotta open up

A misty girl floats through the kitchen.
I watch you do your makeup.
Buffalo Bill kills fat girls in the next room. 

Holding that big fat Zach Morris phone as he
beat me from some other gray room
for how I was raising his daughter.

The house is a blue rectangle in which I hid.
I had my own blue rectangle inside.
Blue was the cheating lover’s chair
you tossed on the front lawn.
I have a hurt brunette woman living inside me, too.

Why can’t I just talk to you?
When was that ever a possibility?
You were sad. You were tired. I became your little boyfriend.
I managed the little blue rectangle while you were at work.
I rubbed your back and listened to your problems.
I wonder if I had insomnia just to see you.

You watched me disappear.
30 pounds underweight.
I get it. My pain wasn’t as painful as your pain.
I get it. My sadness wasn’t as sad as your sadness.

“Oh, Erik, you’re borderline!”
you said when I was honest.
“You’re a lucky little boy,”
you said when he threw me by the hair.

You laughed. You all shoved those girly pics in my face
and you laughed as I squirmed. I still can’t
look at stripteases. I still can
barely admit I like women. 

Stick that in your generational homophobia and smoke it:
You shoved a little bi kid into a big gay closet.

And so I was the gentle family faggot,
with the expansive bosom and the
waves of fear. And I 

Strove and I strove, and often teachers are nice
to kids who have no one. (Course
sometimes they make you stand in
literal closets
on suspicion of queerness,

And no, that’s not a metaphor, that’s a
thing that happened to your 12-year-old.
In case you were
wondering. Like, to comfort yourself.)

Sometimes teachers tell your dad you’re
precocious and
then you get in hit in the head in a
tan 90s car while AM radio plays basketball scores.

What’s that like, three,
four times a childhood?
We can, we can all agree on that, right?

It was never kids I feared.
Well, except relations.
When they hold you down and shower you in rubber spiders.
But the adults were right there,
throwing them and laughing.

And it wasn’t the kids who’d take me out in the woods and
tell me about the horrors of Hell that await the licentious faggot.
Kids can make fun of your shoes,
but they can’t reach inside your psyche and make you
fear ever kissing will mean
total soul oblivion.

They told me they wanted to toughen me up for the world.
But the world was ever as awful as them.

Are you gay? What was I, 6?
Are you gay? Maybe you thought you were helping.

But no one ever stopped to say
maybe the boy is just fine the way he is.
Guess I had been blown all the way off course.
Marry the blonde pizza heiress.

Marry the blonde pizza heiress!
Every little queer youth has some version of
Marry the blonde pizza heiress!

Dad’s manager’s kid, arranged marriage at 10, so sweet.
Queers, hear this:
They are mad that we aren’t them again.

An unbroken line of straight(~ish) people before you have done this,
w
hy can’t you?
Maybe it was especially painful for you.

You hate my honesty. You hate that
no closet can hold me. That I
have the chance to become myself
after all these haunted years of lying. 

Why can’t I just talk to you?
Because instead of ever, ever listening to me,
you’d point at a mental image of your father and
call me a drama queen.
That’s why.

The house is a myth in which I do not appear.
The role did not exist, so
I was not cast. It’s
plain as the fucking magnificent pink triangle tattoo on my neck
that my presence is an irritant. It starts a
drop that grows a cloud. 

I can’t go to the house anymore.
I can’t hear another recitation of the
Myth of How I Didn’t Become Erik, Firstborn of the Dales.

Here’s something I need you to know:
There is no Erik.
Erik is a scared little boy who died a long time ago.

I am the main sequence star who arose from the
ashes of Erik’s supernova.
More metallic, more stable, more burnt.
Ready to live a long time. 

I don’t play violin. I didn’t get the girl.
But I don’t hate myself anymore. And I don’t care if that inconveniences anyone. 

I think you’re all in a tremendous lot of pain.
I believe deep down I just inherited the family sickness.
It can’t be judged out, though no one notices that.
It seems like no one is going to make it out intact. 

Love hurts, but it’s not meant to make you die. 

Here I leave the burning effigy of Erik, the man I was intended to be.
The one who married the pizza heiress and kept you in your old age.
Mourn him if you must.
I would rather you consider the place in the house his
descendent can only imagine. 

What is it like not to be disinvited?
What is it like to be enough?
What is it like to have your family structure unquestioned?
Until one baby queer tries out his legs.

It’s hard to give a
fuck about the weather when you’ve
seen the things I’ve seen. So I guess maybe I just don’t
know what to say. 

My name is Schlomo. Let’s start there. 

Everyone can make art

Everyone can make art

Who is an artist if not a person who makes art? Artists are not born or made in classrooms. They bring themselves into reality when they create art.

Anyone can make art, I thought. But no, that seems like an insult to both. Everyone can make art. 

Yes. That is much better.

Plans for art are not art. Art is art. We often go through gestational periods when we do not make art, and we wonder why we do not succeed as artists.

Great paintings are not contemplated; they are painted. Along with a thousand other failed attempts and frustrating tries. Art may seem to keep you out, but no one is barred from the door. 

Expect to be continually embarrassed – that is how you know you’re growing. But embarrassment should not mean a lack of love; love every piece that gets you where you will go.

Art creates peace in the mind. It invents a problem and proposes a solution. It is an imposition of order on chaos we create. Everyone can find an art that matches the resonance of their own longing. 

If you can make art, you can make peace. And everyone can make art.

Nothing can stop you from making art. You will not have all the tools you want or the skills you think you need. Honestly: fuck it. I started making art out of trash, and so can you. Art isn’t made of the “right” materials; it’s made of accepting the will to create.

You don’t need a class. You don’t need another visit to the craft store. You need to go make something right damn now. 

A man is a hollow thing that goes to a grave

A man is a hollow thing that goes to a grave

A man is a hollow thing that

goes to a grave. His

middle is a scarp of dank

rooms that no longer connect. The

feeling of being a man is having

nowhere to turn. A 

man is a hollow thing that goes to a grave.

A man is a hollow thing that 

waits for a bus. He gets

high and puts on sunglasses and hopes

nobody will see him. He’s

going to a town where they

break his back for pennies. A

man is a hollow thing that waits for a bus.

A boy is not a hollow thing. He’s got

guts and verve just like 

any sensible person. But

laughing is girly and

kindness is queer. A

boy is a thing that gets scooped out.

A man is a hollow thing 

haunted by a father. A

ghost himself treading on crocheted eggshells,

made an ass by the haint of his own. The

primordial father had one bad Tuesday,

but was never allowed to cry. A

man is a hollow thing haunted by a father.

How do I know I’m a man?

My utter uselessness makes me

wish I were dead.

A man is a hollow thing that goes to a grave.

The Art That Made Me: Boys for Pele

ToriPelePRCindyPalmano_HiRes-1475769424-640x509 (1)

CREDIT: Cindy Palmano

I was 15 or 16 the first time I heard Boys for Pele.

My high school best friend bought a burned copy to my house to listen to while we made art from things found in my mother’s garage. I had introduced her to Amos, but she was the one with the home computer. (Sorry, Tori, it was rural Michigan in ~2002, but I did grow up to eventually buy all your albums.)

I had first stumbled into Tori Amos thanks to my sister’s membership in a mail-order CD club, when completing her order for 5c or whatever led to my selection of Tori’s then-current To Venus and Back (1999). The album didn’t immediately sink in, and it ended up in a discard pile along with another album that would soon become extremely important to me, Ani DiFranco’s Up Up Up Up Up Up (but that’s another story).

Somehow the purple discs did make their way back out of the drawer, largely on the strength of the live second disc. This featured “Sugar,” which I would now stan for as one of the best live rock recordings of the 90’s (how tragic that this was a soundcheck and no one clapped for her!).

Talking about To Venus and Back at school helped me find the other kids at school who knew more about this lavender bean sí, and on the strength of their recommendations I slowly made my way through her catalog.

I can’t tell you what order that happened in anymore. I can tell you the most important moment was putting on Boys for Pele for the first time in my mom’s garage while I smashed and painted and cobbled back together bits of wood.

The moment was not important because we immediately liked the music – I remember a lot of face-pulling and “what the hell is this?” glances before we gave up and put on something else around the third track.

Because let’s face it – Boys for Pele is not music you put on to listen to with other people. It’s not pleasant background noise for you to converse over or hum along to a catchy chorus.

It’s real fucking art. And it’s scary.

ToriAmosBoysforPelealbumcover

Pele sounds like its unnerving visual imagery – which I would of course not see for some time, having just a blank CD. But if you’ve never heard the album, I can comfortably tell you it sounds exactly like a muddy redhead holding a rifle and singing hymns while flanked by snakes and dead chickens. (Or dancing in flames. Or, yes, nursing a piglet.)

Boys for Pele almost rasps into existence. Over an unidentified mechanical humming, for nearly the first two minutes of the record, Amos plays just a single note, a lonely G, as she dreamily scratches out the vocals of the Beauty Queen half of “Beauty Queen/Horses.”

Like much of Amos’ work, the listener is left to infer, as opposed to knowing that these surreal words have meaning:

She’s a Beauty Queen.
In my sweet bean bag in the street,
Take it down out to the laundry scene…
Don’t know why she’s in my hand.
Can’t figure what it is, but…
I lie again.
What’s more important is the exercise of this strong unique instrument – Tori Amos can “sing pretty,” but she can also forge steel in cauldron of her jowls, and this is the Amos we get to know on Pele.
 
As “Horses” becomes “Blood Roses,” you start to get the feeling that Tori Amos is a champion in a sport you’ve never heard of. Combining church and performance art, the one-woman harpsichord concerto where “I’ve shaved every place where you’ve been, boy” takes a sledge hammer to the idea of a pop song. Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink were good, very good, but on some level they were just music. Pele was the first record Amos produced herself, and it marks the biggest artistic leap of her career. 
 

You think I’m a queer
I think you’re a queer
I think you’re a queer
Said I think you’re a queer

Pele has a very punk ethos, if punk were made by a noted piano prodigy in an abandoned church in the 90s. You can hear the recording process and energy in songs like “Father Lucifer,” which had revelatory enough content for me, struggling to find meaning in the hell of nowhere Michigan as the son of a preacher man. (Also of note to my impressionable teen mind was Muhammad My Friend, a song in imaginary dialogue with the prophet of Islam in which Amos suggests that Jesus was a woman.) “Father Lucifer” twists its vine into a chorus of Toris who lift their pareidolic, overlapping cries to the heavens:

Everyday’s my wedding day
Though baby’s still in his comatose state
I’ll die my own Easter eggs
Don’t go yet
And Beenie lost the sunset but that’s but that’s OK
Does Joe bring flowers to Marilyn’s grave
And girls that eat pizza but never gain weight

You can memorize the words if you want, but it won’t help. You’re having a psychedelic trip on another world and you don’t speak the language. Best to thank the shaman for her services instead of asking for her crib notes. 

Because in general Pele resists literal interpretation. There are songs that are a little easier to follow in a conventional sense, like the gothic turns of southern racism in “Little Amsterdam” or reaching out to a friend in “Hey Jupiter.” But far more emblematic are songs like “Caught a Lite Sneeze,” which reached 60 on the Hot 100, even with its screaming and harpsichord solos. (You can hear Amos recording the absolutely haunting background vocals that characterize “Caught a Lite Sneeze” and other songs on the album in this making of documentary.)

The spire is hot
And my cells can’t feed
And you still got that Belle dragging your foots
I’m hiding it well Sister Ernestine
But I still got that Belle
Dragging my foots
There are things we can read, like references to her childhood piano teacher, a nun named Sister Ernestine. But without lots of outside help, I’d defy anyone to say they know what those words mean. 
 
And this is one of the primary things I love about Tori Amos: she writes songs to complete them the way they ought to be, not to sell records or impress people. Boys for Pele is an oil-soaked rag in a mechanic’s garage, it is a piano bench, and that piano bench is upside down and made of ants. Boys for Pele is an invitation to a once-a-millennium religious rite that exposes and cleanses the American mid-Atlantic of all its sins. And to reach out in this way, it is also the exact sound of an LSD headache, illuming the corners of the mind and sketching the monsters. 
 
The story of “Marianne” is one of the most noted from the record; famously, what you hear on the album is Amos writing and recording the song in real time (with instrumentation added later).
Sometimes the songs come in snippets… Then once in a rare while you’ll have a song like “Marianne” that comes all at once. I was waiting for everyone to finish setting up while we were recording at the church in Ireland and “Marianne” just came out. So what you hear on tape was “Marianne” being written and recorded — words, music, everything — in one take. It rarely happens in that complete kind of form. Songs typically come in 8-bar phrases with the melody and a few key words, and that gives you a blue print to begin building a foundation around. But I don’t always have the tape recorder running when they come. [A Piano liner notes – 2006]
On the song’s strange opening lines, Amos told Keyboard magazine:
“Tuna, rubber, a little blubber in my igloo…” For me to say that line in another way would just make it really gross and crass. Sometimes it’s just about how something makes you feel. You’ve got to go there, you’ve got to be willing to take that trip.
The song, about the OD death of a friend named Maryanne, combined with other stories, is one of the strongest and most uniquely Tori things in Tori Amos’ career. With enough sign posts to see that Amos is mourning the loss of a friend, the song also deploys powerful, surrealistic and associative imagery to celebrate life. 
the weasel squeaks faster than a seven day week
I said Timmy and that purple Monkey
are all down
at Bobby’s house
making themselves pesters and lesters and jesters and my
traitors of kind
and I’m just having thoughts of Marianne
she could outrun the fastest slug
Songs like the brief “Way Down” live in this same place. Documenting a mysterious decline (“way down”) punctuated by the high life (“gonna meet a great big star / gonna drive his great big car / gonna have it all here on the way down”), the song fuses serial killers with a southern gospel choir in a way so familiar it is almost eldritch. This song, this record, are for people like me – who have sat through a bunch of church and felt a bunch of fear. 
 
The album is in many ways the ‘upside down’ of straight (as in normal) America’s obsession with itself. Tackling The Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” Amos sings in “In the Springtime of his Voodoo“:
 
Standin’ on a corner in Winslow Arizona
And I’m quite sure I’m in the wrong song
Two girls sixty five got a piece tied up in the
Back seat
“Honey we’re Recovering Christians”
Amos turns the plaint of a white guy with too many lovers into a reflection of what she had given up for stupid men. Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey’s escape car becomes a site of threatened violence at the hands of the fallen. Amos rises to lead herself from the path she shouldn’t have taken, and legions of fans would come to welcome the lamplight. 
 
Boys for Pele is about broken things. Broken America. Broken hearts. Broken souls. Broken beds. But from the offer of a hand in the dark to Talula to her pure faith in a friend in Twinkle, Amos seems to be saying: I’m here. I’ve been there. I’ve cried those tears and I’ve blamed myself. But I’ve visited the real holy people and I’ve listened to their words and I’ve taken their potions, and I’ve tried to learn their lessons. And we’re going to get through this, you and me, with Ayahuasca and Mrs. Jesus and the hills of Virginia and Ireland.
 
Sure that star can twinkle
And you’re watching it do
Boy so hard boy so hard
But I know a girl
Twice as hard
And I’m sure
Said I’m sure she’s watching it too
No matter what she’s got in her right dresser
Tied
I know she’s watching that star
Once I could get alone with it and not judge its lack of conventionality to look cool, Boys for Pele became one of my first proofs that I even deserved to survive my childhood. 
 
I didn’t know, or didn’t really understand that other people suffered from religion and its effects on society the way I did. I felt so alone – rejected by Sky God and his followers but still feeling the flow of ‘something’ through me and out into the universe. For me, Boys for Pele is inexorably wrapped up with feelings of being punished and suffering for being different in Sky God’s America. 
 
It’s an intensely personal album – Tori Amos doesn’t say, “I’m a feminist, I’m here standing up for women and queers” – she invents a whole new feminist language that gave voice and thereby hope to people weighed down by the patriarchy in the parts of America where white Jesus wins elections. 
 
I think Tori Amos really started to believe in herself on Boys for Pele, and it helped me and many others do the same. Amos would go on from Pele to albums like From the Choirgirl Hotel and Scarlet’s Walk, on which she cemented her role as the pantheistic shaman of America’s strange. 
 
The hints of Tori’s spirit leader banner borne out through Pele bloom in the wrenching “Jackie’s Strength” from 1998’s Choirgirl
 
Full disclosure: I just had a much needed cry while watching that video. The juxtaposition of the power of Tori’s friendship with the struggles of outsider life in the video, and thinking that Tori had found the strength to send her light into the world…well, hell if I didn’t start blubbering. 
 
Tori Amos let people like me know that there was hope. I’m not laying my teenage survival at her feet or anything, but hell if I know who I’d be without the path she blazed for me. I don’t enjoy the thought experiment of imagining what my life would be like without Tori Amos’ music. I can’t think of anything that would fill that void. 
 
TL;DR: Boys for Pele is good and if you like America or rock music or haunted houses or firetrucks, you should listen to it. 

Starberries

Starberries

Rahn stood hunched over the case of starberries, their brilliant black bodies and green seeds buoying his mood.

It had been a difficult morning. He got a message that Farnn from the kitchen hadn’t remembered the hallucinogenic tea he had purchased. His neighbor was 11 ticks late to let him out of the parkway. He slammed a tentacle into the door of the vehicle his roommate was letting him use while he was away on vacation in Kloripa. The mood passed as he drove, but returned as he sat through a lecture about his manager’s bad habits.

They normally didn’t let him prepare and package food; he had felt left out since being transferred to produce. Normally the glory of standing in back and focusing on one task fell to his coworkers, but that morning Frbu hadn’t wanted to do starberries.

The starberries arrived in cases of quarter units. The starberries on top of each quarter were to be inspected for quality and turned over to hide their leaves. This fussy, preposterous task (“this can’t possibly be a standard procedure, right?”) amused and horrified Rahn, but he found that he understood it.

It was impossible – or at least unnecessary – to look for meaning while he packaged the starberries. He smiled. He could respect the universe again.

Until the vice president and the spiiz monger started loudly discussing their Kargwaii vacations. Then he wanted to start class war.