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On the Road Again

Batya’s Trusty Van Takes her Between Festivals


Sunday, August 21, 2011

On the road now between shows, from FloydFest X in Virginia to the OutWrite LGBT Book Fair in DC, where I participated in anthology, Milk and Honey, read from Opening Palms, the book I put together from the first year and a half of this column (and then some), and my novel The Nightmares of Sasha Weitzwoman.

I am sitting here at the Toyota shop in Greenville, North Carolina; a town where I once had a two-year gig teaching writing and women’s literature at a state university until the budget cuts. I needed an oil change, so brought in my Sienna white minivan.

Well, the van was white once, when I lived here. Now it has been marked numerous times, in bright colors. With paintings of fire breathing dragons, women snake charmers, devas, Shaushkas, Durgas, women’s symbols, as well as slogans and phrases such as “Bienvenidos,” “Art is alive and well in Argentina,” “Michfest or bust,” Bless it be,” “Question everything,” “Let it shine,” “Your destiny is in your hands,” “Born this way,” “Be true to yourself,” “Take time 4u…” Whatever comes to anyone’s mind.

I used to leave the paints out in the parking lot whenever I worked a festival, on the bumper of the vehicle, but gradually I learned I had to supervise and explain one-to-one: nothing obscene, nothing on the windows or mirrors, no business logos, and you have to clean the brushes.

At the end of FloydFest, two young women for whom I had read palms up top by main stage in someone else’s shop (there was not much traffic in my own spot during the fest), came by. They were interested. One gave me five bucks to pull a card. I invited her to paint her experience of her card on the roof. So she did. Then we talked about the story.

So the expressive van has become a continual, collaborative art project. The van gets her picture taken a lot, in parking lots, from Chicago to where I am driving to a gig in Wisconsin, in front of Home Depot. The creator is the inner being amongst us all. I just drive around the continual gallery. The conversations generated become part of the piece.

Jill Johnston, an art critic of the sixties who used to write for the Villave Voice, wrote in her memoir, Paper Daughter, which I am reading right now, that the flower power insidious challenge to the establishment was the challenge—the belief that “how you feel and act is more important than what you are and do and how much money you make or things you own.”

That was the centerpiece of our revolution, and the minivan in I drive around to work at festivals expresses just that, and fits right in at sites. Though it looks a little odd at Toyota dealerships; I will give them that. But they will take my money I made earning palms. I will be at the Meher Retreat Center in Myrtle Beach by tonight. Guess everything will be all right.

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