Michelle Tea on Sister Spit, tit-ins and how to deal with Mercury retrograde
You used to write an astrology column for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Body + Soul magazine. Do you have any advice for people when Mercury is in retrograde?
Oh, it's so terrible! I mean, there's just nothing we can do except persevere and suffer together and cut each other slack when shit fucks up, because it's going to. And just wait, because it will go out of retrograde again like it always does and then it will go in like it always does. We have this huge curse, we always tour during a Mercury retrograde. I can't tell you how many Mercury retrograde tours we've done. We toured Europe on a Mercury retrograde and it was, like, awful [laughs]. I mean, it was awful for me, but the people on the tour actually had quite a lovely time, but it was difficult as the tour's sort of leader, and a lot of it was just classic Mercury retrograde stuff. So I am traveling with my little astrological calendar that tells you everything that's happening astrologically every single day, so we can concentrate on what else is going on, what's in our favor, what's gonna help us conquer Mercury retrograde on that day. Mars is retrograde right now, too, which is also horrible.
What does that mean?
Mars is like your energy level, it's your ambition, it's your drive, it's the mechanics of what makes things go. When Mars is retrograde it's like you don't have the energy for things, you don't understand how to go straight ahead, your efforts are blocked. It's tough. And to have that and Mercury together is a hard time right now. But they go direct in April, both of them, so there's a light at the end [laughs].
So what happened on the European tour that was caused by Mercury in retrograde?
Well, you know, was it caused by Mercury in retrograde or was it caused by total irresponsibility? And which is which? The thing that was the hardest about that tour was that the person we got to be our van driver through continental Europe, who was the only person on the whole tour who was actually guaranteed to get paid was this crazy, mean, alcoholic crusty punk who lived in a van from Slovenia. And she was just terrible. She hated us and her drinking just got worse and worse and she was less and less able to hide it from us and it was very stressful. We missed a boat because of her. We had to drive our van onto a cargo boat and take it across the Baltic to get to another show and we got lost in the forest of Sweden, just lost in this forest. It was crazy. And then we ended up getting on this other boat instead that was filled with truck drivers and trucks and we were the only females on the whole boat. It was really intense. So yeah, it was very hard. It's just hard to do a DIY tour for Sister Spit because it's a very expensive tour. So we were just performing in a lot of squats with a lot of sliding scale cover charges, a lot of no one turned away, and to a lot of people who feel entitled to get art for free. So we just kept losing money, which means that money was coming out of Sister Spit's parent organization, which is RADAR Productions, so we just lost money and that's just very stressful for a small, queer, literary organization to lose money.
Why do you think that is that people feel entitled to get art for free?
You know, I don't know. I think that there's this really cool idea that's like anti-establishment, anti-art world, anti-capitalist about how art should be free. And I think that's a cool concept, but it doesn't actually get applied to the echelons that could be most helped by it. It's not like suddenly Damien Hirst is selling his work for $3. It gets applied to really low income artists who are struggling to make it anyway. So it's a kind of idealistic idea, but where it gets applied is very harmful to art and artists. I donate my time as a writer and artist all the time, but when you're on a tour like that that's not the time for that, that's the time for people to show their appreciation and support of what you're doing by, you know, paying at the door. It's extra stressful and insulting in situations where we have these huge audiences where they're all drinking beer and they're all smoking cigarettes and you can just see what people's priorities are. It's extra irritating and annoying in sort of politicized communities where you're like, really? You're not gonna pay these artists who traveled thousands of miles to share their work with you? So that was the mindset that I was in on our European tour. I was very bitter and I don't like being bitter because I'm a very optimistic and positive person, but that was a very rough experience.
What do you hope that people get out of coming to see Sister Spit?
I really hope that they get a great literary entertainment experience, you know, that they're able to have their minds blown a little bit and really have that experience of relating to people who are reading. I think that's a cool thing that Sister Spit does is the people that we bring, sometimes it's the same person and the same piece, you're both really identifying with them and really kind of getting your mind blown by them at the same time. I think we do a good job of provoking people to think differently and also just really reflecting back to our audience their lives. A lot of our audiences are queers and feminists and outsiders that in general don't get their lives reflected back to them. And I hope that people find their next new favorite writer and artist who they're obsessed with.