daisy chain


Video, 8 minutes, 25 seconds.

In 1951, William Joseph O’Leary is 22 years old. That same year, Kersti Frigell turns seven, and is already bored with the world. She grows up pretty fast, turning into kind of a glamourous babe, and him, well, he’s off getting married, stealing cars, selling drugs and getting stoned…

They meet in the bar of the Georges V Hotel in Paris, France. He can’t pronounce her name. He calls her Shasti, and she calls him William J.

Then this happens.

And then this happens.

And then I happen.

He’s not too unhappy about it, though there is some initial confusion as to whether or not she is going to go home to Sweden and start a home for unwed mothers when he insists she have an abortion. He does okay. He likes carrying me around on his shoulders, and I like it too.

I turn into kind of an intense kid, and pretty soon we all move back to Paris. Apparently William J is in some sort of trouble and we all have to “get the hell out of Dodge” as he puts it. Getting the Hell out of Dodge is a phrase I hear repeatedly. But it’s okay. My mother loves Paris. Somewhere in here, they have my sister. We are a nuclear family with a chewy center.

Some crazy stuff happens, and we all move to Germany. My mother hates Germany. I’m not too fond of it either, but I go to kindergarten on an air force base, which I think is pretty cool. I like the sound of the planes. I discover my father’s porn stash.

This is Oh, Wicked Wanda! Oh, Wicked Wanda! is a British satirical adult comic strip, written by Frederic Mullally, and drawn by Ron Embleton. The strip regularly appeared in Penthouse magazine from 1973 to 1980.

She is my first comic book, and my first super hero. I love her and desperately want to become her sidekick, Candy Floss. I am 5 years old.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Hmm.”

I learn to read very young. We have no television, so I devour everything I can get my hands on. My father has an extensive library of paperbacks. Coffee, Tea, or Me? Is one of them. It is ostensibly the memoirs of a couple of sexually adventurous young stewardesses. They aren’t called flight attendants then. I love the cover very much and play stewardesses with my sister. She sits while I serve her. We play a lot of fantasy games. Here I am, a rich and glamorous woman with her cat. That’s my sister.

As it turns out, William J is a sexist, and has very specific ideas of what makes a woman interesting, desirable and ultimately valuable. Most of these ideas are wrong. But I don’t know that yet. All I know was that I want to be one of these pretty ladies. Like my mother.

William J also has a thing for Jonny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, and Frank Sinatra. I know all the lyrics to I Did It My Way by the time I am six. He also likes the Beatles. This is the cover for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think it was the most amazing picture I have ever seen. I still think this.

My mother still hates Germany. She’s also beginning to hate William J. More crazy stuff happens, she gets fed up and leaves and goes to Sweden, taking my sister and me with her. She has a summer of love. William J is heartbroken and angry.

William J convinces her to give Belgium a try. We move to Mons. “It’s an armpit,” my mother says, “with no redeeming value.” Which is funny, because the word Mons in English actually means the exterior rise of a woman’s vagina.

My 19-year-old babysitter takes a sexual interest in me. I am 9. I never tell. I know my father will kill him, and I don’t want William J to go to jail.

But I re-discover comics in Belgium. Real, wholesome comics, with stories that don’t involve sex and sadomasochism.

After about a year, William J announces our return to the United States. My mother is skeptical. She smokes her last cigarette on the plane.

Upon our return to New York City, I go from this: (pretty girl) to this: (nerd girl) pretty quickly. Childhood is miserable. I am picked on relentlessly. My taste in comics becomes even more innocent.

My parents divorce, and we get a TV for the very first time.

I am enchanted.

Shaun Cassidy is my first boy crush. And with him, my nascent sexuality bleeds over everything. I look for somewhere to put it. I retreat into my head.

The Mighty Isis convinces me that I need only find that one ancient mystical bracelet buried in some old lady’s thrift shop jewelry box and my legacy as the lost child of super-heroes will be restored. I will become powerful, desirable and free. The Bionic Woman will be my guide. I will use my powers for good.

I start to get really bored with Archie’s can’t-choose-between-Betty-and-Veronica bullshit. I begin to steal comics…and other things. I start off with the Xmen and assorted superhero comics. I’m particularly enamored of a chick named Dazzler, whom I find very glam. This leads quickly into Vampirella, and then the heavier stuff. By the time I turn 15, I am full onto the European masters Liberatore and Moebius, and BAM, I’m right back where I started, only now I’m actually having sex.

I discover music for real and my aesthetic tastes take a turn for sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk and cyberpunk.

I discover that the people writing my books have wide purviews, encompassing philosophy, poetry, sociology, and politics as well as science.

I drop out of high school, my father dies, I go to film school, and have a nervous breakdown.

But that’s neither here nor there.

I become fascinated by the links between power, mysticism and sex. Convinced that they play a major role in the underlying codes of civilization, I begin to investigate in earnest. Semiotic theory, the mysteries of non-verbal communication. Umberto Eco, Foucault, Baudrillard…I begin to understand that I might learn to wield that kind of power.

I start looking at things, and people, more closely.

I start looking under things and people more carefully.

The first truly important book I read is The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski.

The book tells of a young wandering Jewish or Roma (it’s never made clear) boy’s encounters with peasants engaged in all forms of sexual and social deviance: incest, bestiality and rape, and a huge amount of lustful violence during WWII. The title comes from a chapter wherein a professional bird catcher takes one of his captured birds and paints it several colors. Then he releases the bird to fly in search of a flock of its kin, but when it finds them, they see it as an intruder and rip it apart in the sky.

I am never the same after that book.

I realize I am a Painted Bird.

In some of my darker moments, I recite the following:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

It’s called the Litany against Fear. Frank Herbert wrote it in Dune, which is a science fiction story about a once-lush planet turned to sand after The Great Jihad.