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Word of mouth

by Jim Piechota

Word of mouth

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms by Michelle Tea; Amethyst Editions, $18.95

Outspoken, forceful, and eminently significant, Michelle Tea has been a literary force of nature for well over a decade. In "Against Memoir," her first collection of essays and speeches, she delivers opinion, history, and introspective thought with the one-two gut-punch the author is known for in both her nonfiction and fictional offerings.

There are more than 20 entries here, each meticulously crafted and arranged; some are as new as from 2017, others more than a decade old. As a queer feminist, Tea, 47, infuses each section with opinions, perspectives, and warnings galore on how our queer counterculture could suffer unless behaviors and attitudes shift. The book is split into three parts: Arts & Music, Love & Queerness, and Writing & Life. Tea infuses each section with black humor, tough love, avant-garde creativity, and stark honesty.

Her anecdotal pieces are riveting and offer personal glimpses into the author's life, akin to her 2015 memoir "How To Grow Up." Each entry hums with authentic heart. In the opener, she reflects on her days traversing the Tucson, Arizona desert "in the midst of what I now refer to as my Radical Lesbian Feminist Nervous Breakdown" pondering the turbulence of her adolescence, the awareness of "something dark and perverse" inside of her, and her interest in the life and work of radical Valerie Solanas (1936-88), known for her "SCUM Manifesto" and her murder attempt on Andy Warhol in 1968.

An essay on her early days in San Francisco as a burgeoning writer and goth girl finds her "drunk in the daylight and also at night and about having sex in dark, damp rooms, hands smelling like cigarettes and pussy, the beds perpetually grimy, flat on the dusty floor." In other pieces, Tea is still discovering herself in 1980s Boston, commingling with "goths, skaters, art fags, punks, and misfit-alternatives."

Tea's voice remains original and consistent. She discusses the movie "Times Square" in great detail, the "sex laced throughout" Prince's masterpiece "Purple Rain," her alcoholism and subsequent sobriety, her dislike of emotions, a miscarriage, and the birth of her son. She also dares to list 24 gender myths with authority, and offers up some tough, timeless and priceless advice on "How To Not Be a Queer Douchebag." This is the kind of wisdom that should be printed on pamphlets and cast out from San Francisco rooftops. The same goes for her galvanizing city-dweller-call-to-action "Pigeon Manifesto," which begins, "The revolution will not begin in your backyard, because you do not have a backyard."

Michelle Tea has a lot to say, and we are listening. Her latest, the author's 15th book, is an urgent cultural proclamation.


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