Ping, what’s this. Debbie is sending images to my iphone by mistake (the cat in Cambridge, Debbie as a 14-year-old Goth, a queer lit mag). She sends the last image deliberately, a cartoon of Action Lesbian nosediving from the sky. Action Lesbian is a special edition of Action Man, launched by the real-life toy company Palitoy IN MY DREAMS. Soft vinyl painted head-first, Action Lesbian is hurtling towards a lake. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Chinese created considerably less splash in the diving pool than the British. This resulted in higher marks and Olympic medals for the Chinese. As Action Lesbian approaches the lake, I wonder whether the splash she’s about to create is at the forefront of her mind. THE LAKE IS ALIVE WITH CROCODILES. A Google image search of the cartoon produces zero results. I wonder where Debbie got it from, where she found it. Debbie is a miracle unearther of archival imagery, a visuals wizard, and a DIY filmmaker. I reply by quizzing her about her relation to crocodiles. Aren’t crocodiles your spirit guides, Debbie? They are, Debbie confirms. Debbie is not a fan of crocodiles. But she’s dealing with it (the fact that her least favourite animals are her spirit guides). Debbie now emails me an essay she wrote, Dream of a Crocodile. Dream of a Crocodile evolves from a dream in which a crocodile makes itself known as Debbie’s spirit guide into a reflection on crocodiles from various disciplinary angles. If Debbie were to submit Dream of a Crocodile to the Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, she would make the shortlist I don’t see why not. Gaudy Bauble isn’t eligible for the Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize. Gaudy Bauble is a hybrid fiction or a prose poem, depending on what indie press or writing contest I’m submitting it to. One of Gaudy Bauble‘s protagonists is wearing a T-shirt with a crocodile print, that’s the closest I ever got to a croc. Unless Culture Club’s Karma CHAMELEON counts? OF COURSE IT COUNTS! One Karma Chameleon counts for several crocodiles. Once, in the mid-1980s, circumstances (a family wedding, my mum) required a genderqueer child (me) to wear a glitzy frock. Jetzt wird aber einmal ein Kleidchen angezogen. I said yes ok, I wear this. I pointed to a picture of Boy George in full Bodymap gear. Bodymap (1982-1990s) is a now defunct London fashion label. The Karma Chameleon guided me through adolescence, but I don’t have a spirit guide now, I’m spiritually single. It hits me that Action Lesbian might be my spirit guide. ACTION LESBIAN IS ADOPTING ME AS HER SPIRIT FOLLOWER!! It’s only apposite that she should come to me not in a dream, but in a hybrid fiction. I whatsapp Debbie to tell her about Action Lesbian, my present-day spirit guide. “Great!” Debbie replies. “There’s only one problem.” Problem? I ask, what problem?! “Action Lesbian is torpedoing headfirst into a lake alive with crocodiles.” Oh no, SHE IS! What is this cartoon, I text-shout at Debbie. I’m finding myself in the unique position of having to rescue my spirit guide, of having to divert her from her hell-bent trajectory. Action Lesbian breaks the surface of the lake causing zero splashes. Bubbles rise where she enters (zero splashes). Somewhere in Cambridgeshire, Debbie recalls her crocodiles. Like some narrative overlord, Debbie counteracts the savaging of my spirit guide by her spirit guides. As a consequence Action Lesbian is swimming in a protected lake. It may appear natural, but a lot of labour went into staging this predictably short-lived lakeside idyll.
A short while ago, Debbie Facebooked me an image (artwork) for Gaudy Bauble. It looks like a film-still from The Goonies, or so. The image depicts two children, one wearing trousers (a girl), the other one wearing a dress (also a girl). The dress-wearing girl is holding an elongated sign saying “Camp Crystal […]”. A low resolution .jpg (18k), the third word after “Camp” and “Crystal” is illegible, a pixelated blur. I love “Camp Crystal”, the image, and its relation to Gaudy Bauble. I can see it on the back-cover of the novel, above the endorsements and instead of the author headshot. Thanks to Debbie, the image is also my Twitter header. I am scrutinising my Twitter header on my iphone screen now. The third word on the sign is “L…”, it is “La…”, it is “Lake”! Camp Crystal Lake!! The thing is suddenly googleable. “Camp Crystal Lake (est. 1935) is a fictional summer camp in New Jersey, featured in the American horror franchise Friday the 13th (1980-2014).” Friday the 13th?! American horror franchise?! NO! Debbie. That’s Debbie again, circulating controversial media. During my formative years within white working class subcultures, I ‘learnt’ (was forced) to ‘appreciate’ (not question) the subversiveness of Heavy Metal, the horror and Gothic genres, slasher, splatter and gore B-movies and C-movies, and I continue to recognise the DIY ethos behind Hershell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, for example. (Blood Feast‘s original soundtrack was performed by the ex-schoolteacher director Hershell G. himself, a minimalist score for solo organ, kettledrum, and female screams.) I continue to recognise horror’s relation to ancient folklore, and its significance within queer subcultures (many New Narrative writers have riffed on the horror genres, for example). But I do not need Friday the 13th in my life, and I did not need it in ’86. The Karma Chameleon came every night, kissing my cheek and stroking my hair, and still I barely coped with the real-life terror of my real-life adolescence (featuring death by AIDS, suicide by hanging, child abuse, parental neglect, gender dysphoria, misogyny, homophobia, and the live implosion of a family, not in chronological order). “Debbie,” I whatsapp. “I was a delicate child, I am a delicate poet. I did not need Friday the 13th in ’86, and I do not need it now. PS: I am telling you this whilst wearing an original Bodymap outfit.” I mention my Bodymap outfit to Debbie as a reminder of the camp anti-horror aesthetic I have been pursuing, in Gaudy Bauble and In Real Life. I’m making the point that my camp (aesthetic) and her Camp (Crystal Lake) have nothing to do with each other. Our camps could not be further apart. “Ah ok,” Debbie replies re my Bodymap outfit. “I thought I saw you wearing a Body COUNT T-shirt (the L.A.-based Heavy Metal band), stretchy jeans and pink hi-tops in Crystal Palace last week. My mistake. Sorry, cat-kiss emoji.” I happen to live in Crystal Palace, it’s true. I have this to say in my defense, I reconcile contradictions. I return my attention to Action Lesbian, dabbling blithely in Camp Crystal Lake.
Action Lesbian emerges from Camp Crystal Lake wearing a (weird looking) gold medal. She looks like a highly decorated champion diver and a DIY drag queen (runny mascara) at the same time. Nothing in my own personal background encouraged an Olympic diving career. On closer inspection, Action Lesbian’s medal looks unofficial. It’s really a gold lamé flannel, velcroed to Action Lesbian’s shirt! As if to illustrate its provisional nature, Action Lesbian removes her ‘medal’ from its place on her chest, and drapes it onto her head like a dripping tiara. Turns out, my spirit guide is a bit of a chameleon. Gold-medal-winning diver today, queen of the avant-garde tomorrow. (I thought Debbie was the queen of the avant-garde, but no.) Nothing in Action Lesbian’s personal background encouraged an Olympic diving career either. She just knows how to emerge from a crisis looking spot on. We crisis-manage in style, Action Lesbian and I, and that’s what shapes our shared poetics. “Nice Bodymap outfit,” Action Lesbian says, I say why thank you. “Nice tiara. Impressive recovery too,” I add, complimenting Action Lesbian on her escape from Camp Crystal Lake. She says thank you I gave it my all. Our subsequent hand-holding constitutes a poetic ritual channelling working class talent into text in a really gay way. Then we go home and we co-found a publishing press (/ Press) and we reissue Take It Like A Man by Boy George (/ Press, 2017) and with the proceeds we publish truly marginalised work with mainstream appeal for the very first time in human history. Debbie in Cambridgeshire is our publishing strategist and narrative overlord who keeps it together when Action Lesbian and I lose perspective which sometimes happens but increasingly less frequently, increasingly more frequently our views are on point, and our fictions are always totally different. If our croc-infested waters were diving pools, could we compete for Olympic medals? Would we? Or would we take our chances, crafting gold lamé counterfeits and pretty tiaras? THE LATTER OF COURSE, OUTSIDERS FOR LIFE!!
Isabel Waidner's New Romantic & Tender Hearts (2016) is published at Berfrois, Fantômas Takes Sutton (2016) is published at 3:AM Magazine, and Avant-Ice (2016) is published at Minor Literature[s]. Waidner contributed to the Dictionary of Lost Languages (2015) alongside Sarah Wood, Ali Smith, and Olivia Laing. As part of the Indie band Klang, she released records on UK labels Rough Trade (2003) and Blast First (2004). Waidner co-edits T.A.M. (an underground lit journal). She teaches at Goldsmiths (University of London). www.waidner.org @isabelwaidner