I was 27 when I moved to San Francisco in 1989 with my four-year-old daughter, and into the house of Cork Marcheschi, an artist I’d been dating for four months. When we met, I was living in San Jose, miserable and struggling to find my place is a city where I’d spent most of my life but that never felt like home. When I bemoaned the state of my life, Cork laughed and said something along the lines of “your currency means nothing here.”
Not long after moving in, I began working with Cork in his studio, building giant sculptures for public art sites and private collections all over the world. I’d gone from art school, where I painted intentionally boring paintings and collaborated on unintentionally boring performance art pieces, to installing sculptures in German museums, and being the guest of art collectors whose walls were decorated with works of art that I’d been tested on in art history class a year earlier.
Our dinner table was filled with artists and musicians, photographers and filmmakers. Our upstairs neighbor was the photographer Charles Gatewood. The book, Modern Primitives, that featured tons of his photographs, had just come out and he was king of the underground. Tommy built sets for the Star Wars movies, Julia was a chef at Chez’ Pannisse. Everyone was someone, doing something. For years I sat at the table and listened to stories of success and failure, rejection and reinvention. I learned that being an artist, even a successful one, was hard and took backbone, but most of all I learned that art was work like any other.
At the time I was both ambitious and directionless. I plunked around in the studio, painting now and then, but mostly bounced from one uninspired medium to another. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I discovered writing, and when I did I hit the ground running. I wrote funny essays and diligently sent them out to publications all over the country, many of whom published them. The essays bled into writing short stories, then those short stories got longer, and turned into a book. I sent the manuscript to the roommate of a friend of a friend in London. A few months later, I received a fax offering me a two-book contract.
I continued to work in Cork’s studio even after we split up seven years on. Eventually I started working with other artists, helping to land projects for them, while writing at night. I waitressed, and refinished furniture and made signs, while writing at night. My first book, Objects of Desire, came out only in the UK, in 1998, the same year I was nearly killed in an Aikido accident.
For nearly a year I stopped going out, I stopped seeing friends because I was too exhausted to peel myself off the couch. I stopped doing everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I took my daughter to school, fed her, and ran up a mountain of debt just keeping the house running. I knew I’d fully recovered when I began to write again. A few years later, MacAdam Cage, a San Francisco publishing house, published my comedic memoir called The Toaster Broke So We Got Married, then The Night Garden, which was equal parts novel and love letter to San Francisco.
Somewhere along the line, I became burned out on publishing and the anguish that always seems to go along with it. I became more interested in creating a life I wanted to be a part of, and I let my writing catapult me into world after world, scene after scene, like a dilettante with a good excuse. Time after time these excursions, that always started out as writing research, turned into real life. Researching a pirate radio station, thinking it would be a good place to set a novel, led to me doing five years of weekly radio shows at Pirate Cat Radio. Hundreds of hours of shows have failed to be spun into literary success.
In 2008, my husband and I moved to India for his work. I figured I would finally have the time and space to work on my pirate radio novel. Instead, I was swallowed up into the sparkling chaos that is India. I wrote a ton, but only about India.
When we returned to San Francisco 18 months later, I was invited to join the flag team of Extra Action Marching Band, which sounded like another perfect writing subject. I spent the next two years fully immersed in the band. My life was a blur of silver pom moms and fur bikinis, bruises and rehearsals. We performed countless shows in Bay Area nightclubs and bar rooms, and festivals across Europe. I made some of the best memories of my life, even if they were set against an epic and depleting backdrop of drama. None of which I’ve written about, yet.
Nearly 30 years on, I’m still spending my currency where it has value. I’m still living the life that has bled into art, and doing the art that has become my life. Some of those experiences will make it to the page in some form, someday, while others will live in the magical ether while I push ahead and make more memories, which I may of may or may not write about.
This past year has been spent producing Lovesick – The Cat Allergy Musical, a show I wrote with songwriter/musician Jim Fourniadis, which ran first at the Exit theater, then at the Shelton. Lily Marcheschi, a magnificent 18-year-old performer, whose father taught me the value of my own currency, was a key cast member in both runs.
Living the stories is the fun part, the rest is work.
Check out Pamela’s website: wildeastimports.com.