words and images by mk swanson
Bad Girl Needs an Audience

Bad Girl Needs an Audience

Simmering on Slippers post (actually, Slippers and Anna’s comments at Migrant Art Worker) and whether art is blunted by the application of chemical happiness, the Wench began listening obsessively to music. Two kinds: blues by women and extremely loud and explicit rock. Hmm. What do these have in common? What does Money Honey or Honey Hush have in common with Bad Girlfriend? The answer is, dirty girls–bad girls who want sexy boys, easy money, and freedom.

How, the reader who is not on musical acid asks, does this relate to chemical happiness? Bear with me… it will get there, eventually, because my subconscious says so.

I have been calling back my shadow, and it has been making me physically sick, giving me night fevers and tearing apart my ability to write lucid prose. And now, the shadow of my unlived life is reminding me that one of my favorite things used to be writing poetry and lyrics. Dark, angry poetry. Lyrics that make me cry. Suddenly, I want to write songs that tell everything I know about love and sex and getting what I want out of life.

I read Lynn‘s fabulous Facebook post about karaoke last week with horror. None of that for me! I said. Except that I actually want to shake my lovemaker in front of an audience. Maybe for real (I love to dance, at least, the old me did), but maybe in print.

When I was very, very depressed (1978 through 1998, give or take a few good months) I wrote a horde of poetry. Hard for me to tell, but I think it was pretty good. In my good times, I even wrote essays, stories, and a novel that were not embarrassing. Then came  Effexor, Wellbutrin,  St Johns Wort, and four different mental health professionals. In time, I stopped thinking regularly about how I could commit suicide without anyone knowing. (Would they believe it if I “accidentally” drove off a bridge? Was the bridge high enough to kill me for real, not just in a brain dead kind of way?)

Over the 12 years since I started getting help for my whiteout (I always associated depression with white instead of black) I thought I had lost my desire, my edge. I became a cog in the machine, working so hard for just money and not living for myself. I would have put it down to chemical assistance tamping down my fire, but I have been off that for years, now. I could have said that depression squeezed the beauty out of me better than happiness, but how did that account for the four novels I have written since, the gorgeous man I share my life with (a creative endeavor every day) and the literal garden I move around every spring, trying to find the perfect configuration?

My answer to whether chemical assistance deadens art is NO NO NO NO. At the worst, it calms the pain to let the art happen more slowly, because the urgency to create-or-suicide is gone. At the best, (and I think, usually) it keeps the artist ALIVE to create more art, different art; to get older and consume the shadow; to finally be wise enough to be happy and be creative at the same time.

I am going to take my evolving self and write some filthy songs about women with brains and ass.

Now, if I could sing like Katie, bang drums like in a Rob Zombie song, and dance like… a 20-year-old me.


  1. Gorgeous, LOUD post, my pal! I do hear every single word you're shouting.

    First, to me, this IS karaoke–yes, a writerly sort of karaoke, but messy and out loud and entirely audible to your audience.

    Second, in new-writers' workshop tonight, I asked folks to make a do-able list of what simple efforts they could make in the next week that would infuse/support their writing lives.

    Then I asked them to think of one CRAZY, impossible, gorgeous, insane thing that they could only dream about and never, ever possibly accomplish.

    So, they told two tame things each–and their crazy thing. And you KNOW those crazy things LIT UP THE FREAKIN' ROOM with the energy.

    (I bet you'll feel it still charged when you come next week!)

    Anyway, I think that this post seems to be your big wild voice singing out. And I'd want to ask if you could break out a few little do-ables to edge you in the direction you are aiming.

    And, too, did you know that Amy Tan is in A ROCK BAND with Matt Groenig and Steven King. I am absolutely not kidding. The band is called "The Rock Bottom Remainders." Amy sings and plays guitar–and, not incidentally, where's white go-go boots or black thigh-highs.

    Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=421SwDZg97U

    Hugs to all of your wild crazy spark. You BOUSPANK!!!

    (That's my word verification for this comment. I think I'm going to make a poem of them someday.)


  2. Posting on Prozac

    Bad ass, brainy and shakin' her thing – I like your integrated shadow side. I think your shadow side and my shadow side ought to have a party! I'll leave yoga girl at home and bring the tequilla. Jamie, you bring your bad self too!

    Hmmm…shadow party. Pull out your worst traits from the dark closet of sub-personalities and try them on – see if they still fit. Too bad I got rid of that black leather mini skirt. We'll need loud music and good drugs (if I'm going to stay up past 11:00. As I recall, shadow girl always had a little help.)

    I promise not to puke on your herb garden.

  3. MK–

    After Julie's launch, Anna and I talked about what our costumes would look like at the Shadow Party.

    We didn't puke–and I'm doing a corollary post over at Slippers.


  4. Hey MK,
    Start with the filthy songs about women with brains and ass. As the songs roll off your tongue and make you giggle, the rush of Norepinephrine and dopamine will divert pain away from your frontal lobe and, as the levels of those drugs decrease, serontin uptake will have a systemic effect that trigger song # 2, which I know will make you even happier than song # 1.
    Keep eating. Even if we throw up, our bodies always absorb the nutrients before anything goes back up the way it came it !

  5. Susan, your response was incredible! So apropos of the process as I'm experiencing it. I plan to keep eating, partly because apparently once you innocently ask for the shadow to return, it comes back in spades. All kinds of punny material in that word, yes?

    As for the shadow party, I think that's a great idea. Can I find an outfit that embodies Gaia and the Whore at the same time?

  6. I'm picturing her more as a free love kinda gal, giving it away for free. The dark side of that is all those microbes crawling around. She is responsible for those life forms too. Can you go as Gaia with Gonorrhea? Susan could probably help with that.

    Sorry, terrible idea. Whatever Gaia's shadow is, we can be sure it's big!

  7. Here's what Erica Jong says about creativity. It seems this "shadow boxing" is a necessary part of the process.

    "Creativity demands nothing less than all you have. It means revealing murderous rage, the marksman behind the writing desk, the demons that confound us all.
    " How can creativity be other than a terrifying force full of unexpected turnings? If you give your life to creativity, you give up forever the promise to be a good girl. Creativity will inevitably lead you to give away dark family secrets. It will lead you into the labyrinth to face the minotaur. You can't face the minotaur and stay a good girl. You can't look the minotaur in the eye and continue to silence the artist in yourself." –Fear of Fifty

    Damn. that's good. So go ahead, bad girl! You are in the labyrinth and ready to face the minotaur!

  8. That was a great piece from Erica Jong, Anna. I am looking for a way to reawaken the bad girl I used to be–I think she is much more creative and much more capable of growth than the hobbled creature I've formed out of what was left.
    This weekend I read old letters I wrote and looked through photographs, trying to get rid of excess baggage. More shadow comes back. I am wondering if being depressed was a field of study all its own. I hope it was, because my depression left little time for any other thing. It consumed my life for 20 years.
    Right now, I feel like I am the mental and spiritual equivalent of a grad student, just beginning to figure things out–which may explain why I am often treated like a child. Perhaps my lack of wisdom is showing.

  9. Girlz–

    Am deriving good mojo from this line of thought. Thanks for keeping it up.

    Here's a random response from my brain: About 25 years ago, when I actually was a Bad Girl, I noticed that whenever She was ready to reinvigorate HerSelf, I would march myself off to the hairdresser and get the shortest haircut I could talk him/her into giving me.

    There was something anti-Sampsonian about the act of cutting the locks. I found myself re-empowered, feeling stronger, clearer, cleaner from it.

    As I write this, I'm remembering those Amazon Bad Girlz, who sliced off their right breasts to allow the pull and release of the bow to fly more swiftly.

    At 52, I'm sticking with the haircut.

  10. I have to say, at 55, Bad Girl has lost most of her appeal. She was way too cool (or so she thought), often hungover,knowledgeable and always looking for the next party. Exhausting!

    However, I could probably be talked into a shadow artist date…a tattoo parlor, a gay bar with a ladies night, a sleazy biker dive (all for the sake of art and finding MK's lost BG, mind you.) BUT I'm staying clear of the hairdresser…

    MK…20 years of depression (!) should make you pretty knowledgeable about it. A PhD in the field. And from that experience must come a wisdom that others who have not been in that dark place for more that a few days at a time can ever acquire. I see you not as a grad student of life but rather as an old soul.

    My word verification: bravion (makes me think of brave women, Amazon BGs)

  11. I don't know how that word "knowledgeable " leaped up into the first paragraph…darn words.

    Word verification: domphag! …sounds like a very not-PC cuss word

  12. Hey, Dark-Girls–

    See what you've started, MK? I've got Shadows dancing all over Those Slippers!

    And my mother is having dark dreams of my dad, her mother, and others who haunt her, have been repressed.

    Was e-mailing with a friend tonight who said she'd be by to read Wench, because "who could sleep with all this activity going on"!

    That's what I'm talking about.

    And, Anna, I think you should go off on a Shadow Date and write about it here. Report back.

    MK, you may never need to write another post!


  13. Very interesting. I am less intrigued with the idea that depression is a necessary part of enlightenment. I am more of the opinion that people who seek enlightenment might also be the kind of people for whom depression is a possibility.
    It is a beautiful article!

  14. Have you thought about maybe writing a letter to the SUN responding to that article?

    You have wonderful things to say about this topic–and a wonderful way of saying them.

    Your fan,

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