<%@ Language=VBScript %> <%response.buffer = TRUE%> Tea, Anyone?
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Tea, Anyone?

Tune into a conversation with Michelle Tea and who knows what dykey, convoluted, real-life story you'll end up with next.

by Hadley Scott
Photo by Phyllis Christopher


Sassy, punky, raw, dirty, true and familiar. These words immediately come to mind to describe spoken word artist and author, Michelle Tea, as evidenced on the first page of her book Valencia, just nominated for a Lambda Literary Award:

"I sloshed away from the bar with my drink, sending little tsunamis of beer onto my hands, soaking into the wrist of my shirt. Don’t ask me what I was wearing. Something to impress Whats-Her-Name, the girl I wasn’t dating. She had a girlfriend, she didn’t need two. She needed someone to sleep naked with and share some sexual tension, and for that position I made myself available."

So begins the liquid ride through Tea’s book of inebriated lesbian avenging and sexy adventure. Tea’s writing is charged with exhilarating energy that appeals with a bang and claws its way into your head.

This book does not fall short on girls, everywhere, on every page, there are girls. Immediately we encounter Petra and her violent, knife-wielding safe sex; and Willa, the jaded poet with eyelashes from here to eternity, who won’t take her clothes off, even to fuck; and Gwynn, the recreational wrist slasher; and Iris, the Piscean boy dyke and careless heartbreaker.

Poetic and frantic, insightful and energetic, this work brilliantly evokes the ups and downs of tangled affairs, drugs, and friendships in a post-punk, urban, dyke setting. Valencia is more of a memoir although it's classified as fiction, which Tea explains, "calling it fiction kind of saves my ass a little bit." I’m left amazed that any one person has the stamina to go through so much chaos in such a short period of time.

A fast read, only because I was unable to put it down. I mean, this girl’s life is so wild that I was vicariously captivated by her adventures, and left feeling a little bored with my life at the end. She also shows us that in every nook and cranny of life lurks a novel.

But Tea also documents quiet moments with insightful metaphor-driven prose:

"Moving toward my house with the windows open wide like big mouths eating the sky. You could sit in the window and be it’s teeth, my favorite place to be."

What is marvelous about Valencia is Tea’s ability to relate her personal interactions with a tremendous amount of heart and soul, giving the story the depth it needs to endlessly engage. Further, she doesn’t overanalyze her world -- that task is given over to the reader.

Instead, she chooses to reflect on her actions and let the reader know how she feels about things as they unfold. Here Tea reflects on the gnawing emptiness she experiences with one of her girlfriends:
"Every night she pressed knives to my throat, or called me on the phone and invited me over to cuddle ... and still I went home and wrote poems about how it wasn’t enough. Something gaped in me, stupid and puckered like the maw of a fish, that ugly."

While Tea doesn’t hesitate to be brutally honest about others, she doesn’t spare herself either. Tea brings the reader fully into the moment by explicitly conveying the intimate details of her own experiences, details that resonate with the sometimes gawky exploration of life that every reader can relate to.

"The awkwardness of not knowing someone’s body, I had no idea what to do. I shoved my fingers into her. You can do it harder, she said, and I did. These girls. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t hurting her. I remembered Petra, the last place my fist had been. The vagina is not a delicate place, I was learning this slowly."

Tea is presently working on a 400-page book called The Chelsea Whistle, but she made time for an interview. She says the new book deals with "family stuff, childhood and adolescence."

When asked what she would be doing if she wasn't writing, Tea responds: "I don't have much skill or interest in anything besides writing. I can read tarot cards -- maybe I would have gone deeper into that and really honed my psychic ability and made a few guest appearances on Unsolved Mysteries."

Tea is also the cofounder of Sister Spit, an all women’s spoken word group from San Francisco that came into being in 1994. Tea describes the catalyst that drove Sister Spit to life:

"Me and Sini Anderson, who also started Sister Spit, liked going to the drunken, belligerent boy open mics, and yelling at everyone to shut the fuck up before we read, and heckling the stupid boys trying to be Bukowski. But we knew the city was filled with girls who would not want to deal with that to read their poems, and who could blame them? So we made a space where they'd be listened to and appreciated, without having to crack a beer bottle over someone's head. [So] Sister Spit came into being ... as a weekly, girls-only alternative to the male dominated spoken word scene in the city. It was always free, and though everyone was welcome in the audience, it was girls only on the stage -- and girls includes tranny girls and tranny boys too, for that matter. However you’re girl."

Read this book, this woman rocks!

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