To Heartbreak Hotel
by Debbie Hu
If we’re going to think about the occupation we’re also going to have to think about what happens in the other room of the occupation. I’ve been thinking about “the other room” a lot lately.
As this body writes it will occasionally go into the other room to masturbate. To think about sexy or strange things. To feel intense, then dull. To take a break from being a writing body. To grow a smell.
Sometimes this rhythm, of writing then masturbating, is one that I can get really into.
* * *
It’s worth noting that to write about the other room is to sensationalize it. It’s to take what is intended as a moment of escape from being a performing person and put that on display, for onlookers to consume as so much irrelevance or else a revealed “secret.” When the secret is sex, it’s a kind of burlesque: I, gendered, perform this for you, knowing that it will be consumed as provocation or maybe pornography. And I feel awkward about it. But a girl once told me a secret about how she writes that brought the framework for this paper into being. I take courage from that to tell some of my secrets on a larger stage, hoping that this act of telling will give us an occasion for being curious about the bodies that aren’t occupying, that it will make us more thoughtful about respecting, protecting, soliciting, or harnessing these bodies’ potentials.
I hope to prompt the recognition that the act of reimagining politics can and perhaps needs to be a wild and personal act.
* * *
While most eyes are trained on the physical space of the occupation, occupiers are roaming streets looking for places to pee. They are going home to shower because they haven’t been home in two days. They are going home to be away from the cold, the visibility, the constant socializing or threat of being socialized. The worst is I’ve had this cough for weeks now, and when I wake up there’s no place to hawk my loogie. They are voicing legitimate complaints about the oppressive gender dynamics of the last General Assembly while they get stoned on a friend’s couch and feel guilty for not sleeping on site.
For anybody who occupies or feels drawn to occupy their city, the other room of the occupation is, of course, structured by the occupation. It is the occupation’s shadow. But it is also what sustains and nourishes the occupation, where the occupation sends its refuse, where those who are/feel unsupported by or unready for whatever the occupation is that day can remain while still having a conduit to the occupation.
What happens in the other room doesn’t show up on the page, but it is part of what vitalizes the page.
How much is the politics of the “other room” a replication of urban capital workforce dynamics of public/private? You bring your positive, motivated, efficient, ambitious self to work—you pop your pills in private. I’ve written about this before, and I’m writing about it again.
Some people have it stranger than others.
And sometimes you don’t get your other room figured out, you can’t find a productive rhythm, you can’t secure all the stuff that needs to be secured before you can venture into the occupation, where they’re trying to secure something that feels remote from your other room. You can’t seem to turn your habits into a habitus, and then there’s you and you’re not at the occupation and all you are is you and your unfulfilled intention to write.
Is THIS why I want to tell you about the Heartbreak Hotel?
I MADE A TRIP ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND THIS IS WHAT I HEARD
We want to found schools. We want to write poetry. We want to work for three years in the advertising industry because we think it will be fascinating. We want to join the roller derby. We want to make pizza with our friends. We want to do Adderall every day. We want to do Adderall once a month, just so we can feel productive. We want to start a band. A community mental health collective. A radical housing co-op. A work/live/performance space. We want to buy an entire fucking ghost town and invite all our friends to live in it and do everything right. We want to get published in Jacket 2. We don’t plan on having kids. We want to fall in love. We want to compost. Have chickens on the back porch. We want to start an urban farm but we don’t know how but I know they did it in Baltimore. We want to be internet famous, we want to be beautiful and interesting, we want to be iconic. We want power/wealth. We want nice things. We want land. We want to move to Oakland. We want to make a zine. We want to start a family.
[Here is a space for the other voices I didn’t hear.]
It’s a good thing I’m pretty. It’s a good thing my parents help out with rent. At least my job lets me travel. People will pay sixty dollars on Etsy for clothes I find at Goodwill. I can always donate my eggs. Last time she donated her eggs the hormones she was injecting into her butt cheek made her produce 25 eggs at once. Sex work through eros.com pays four hundred dollars per hour. It’s good to have regular clients. Sometimes they pay me just so they can eat me out for an hour. LSAT tutoring pays a hundred and twenty five dollars for two hours. I can make websites from anywhere in the world. I’m in credit card debt but I’m betting the monetary system is going to collapse soon anyway, when my credit gets high enough I’m gonna buy a $3000 bike from REI and tour the country and disappear. I have $16,000 in student loans. In five years I’ll have my master plumbing certificate and then I can make thirty dollars an hour. I’ve started selling weed.
On a good day I can make fifty dollars in tips. I’m thinking about getting a yoga teaching certificate. My friend invited me out to California to trim weed. I meant to work on my resume today. I’m thinking of applying to graduate school. I’ve heard they want more minorities to apply. I’m thinking of going back to college. I want to get a job so I’m not just bleeding money. If I had two hundred dollars I know exactly what I’d do with it. The only other person I’ve told this to is my therapist but my mother gives me forty dollars for my meds every week but lately I’ve been pocketing the money. I’ve been a nanny for the past year but I’m kind of ready to try something new.
My parents don’t approve. My parents support me. My parents gave me a lot of money at once because in their head you don’t ever spend all of your money. My parents work all the time, my mom works three jobs, if they had more money they’d give it to me. Every time I talk to my dad he asks about law school. My mom is dying of cancer. My parents are old. My parents don’t know who Susan Sontag is. My dad lives in Dubai and works for a multinational and I live on this commune. My mother travels.
I MADE A TRIP ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND I GOT VERY CONFUSED AND FELT VERY LONELY AND SPENT WEEKS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT “MONEY” AND LOVE AND THERE I WAS LIVING ON A COMMUNE AND THERE I WAS IN BALTIMORE NO ABRUPTLY THERE I WAS IN LINCOLN NO SAN ANTONIO NO I WAS AND MEANWHILE THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT HAPPENED AND
Here I am, on this page.
Lately what’s been occupying me has been the page.
I just had the impulse to try to be funny.
I want to tell you about this thing that was born on October 23rd, the day I bought a typewriter. It’s called “Heartbreak Hotel.” It’s been my “other room,” a place to squander some time and some words and do the embarrassing thing, the queer thing, except it’s not embarrassing it’s just what you do and it’s pleasurable, when you turn off the thing that tells you it’s embarrassing.
I am trying to imagine myself being loved . I am learning this, most recently from Eileen Myles.
“I try and act like it’s mine. The culture. That I’m its beloved son. It’s not an impossible conceit. But it’s hard. Because a woman, reflexively, often feels unloved.”
(Although it feels weird that she doesn’t at least give the nod to trans/queer/ethnic/lower class/marginalized groups in general, those who don’t even get pie charts.) I see these comfortable, slow talkers at the General Assembly and they have wisdom and they’re older and they’re white men, and they’re probably used to people listening to their wisdom. Almost all of the girls or queers I admire speak in short snappy sentences. They’re good at inflection. They’re good at the sales pitch. The well-timed comment. But if it’s boring and it’s coming out of an Asian girl’s mouth then she’s just a boring Asian girl. Some of that mindset had entered my pen.
Anyways, on October 23rd at the Goodwill Electronics store in Lincoln I found a robin’s-egg-blue Smith Corona for three dollars.
That day I misplaced my journal and thought I might have lost it.
That night I got stoned and I was frustrated with myself for not writing. So I typed a manifesto called THE WRITE WRITE JUST FUCKING WRITE MANIFESTO. “It is important to get out of the habit of checking to see if what you’re doing is proper and valid before doing it,” I wrote. “Exuberance is not incompatible with care and beauty. Slowness and sadness are not incompatible with diligence. If you have never seen anything like what you are writing don’t be scared be excited. If you feel like you’ve seen what you are writing 1,000 times don’t hate yourself get pumped. You are in an arena you know,” I wrote. “It is important to have concrete goals rather than abstract ones such as ‘being loved’… Your need for other people will have to sort itself out.”
It was late at night, and I was feeling that queer freedom that sometimes comes late at night, when you feel like you’re living in “extra” time that you can do whatever you want with. And there was this phrase, “Heartbreak Hotel,” which had appeared already twice in my typewriting that day, though I do not know where it came from. I wanted to write.
So I started a new page and typed, “Heartbreak Hotel, day 1.”
HEARTBREAK HOTEL, day 1I am not going to decide in advance if t his is a journal entry or essay or poem or what. In the beginni ng you had a beaky laughy face. [. . .] Do I still sometimes lo ok good to you? I who have never been brave enough to be cheesy or sentimental I WHO SPENT ALL MY TIME Worrying whether I was b eing cheesy or sentimental without Knowing it. I SAY ENOUGH! Th is is day one in Heartbreak Hotel. When you are in Heartbreak H otel you are not on your Love Trip. You are not on your quest f or new love. You are living in the past in a way that the past never let you live in it. (Let’s face it: heartbreak when it wa s happening before you decided to let it happen heartbreak It l eaked all over the place It wasn’t a hotel because you had to d o the cleaning. It wasn’t a hotel because you couldn’t stay in it You never even got a moment’s rest.) [. . .] Learn here. Sta y here. Be here. Do here.
I went to bed. I had made a place where I could pause in my mourning, a place where I could bide in or bear things. The feeling of it being only “day 1” excited me, in addition to the feeling of being in an uncharted writing space.
The next morning, waking up alone, in a strange city in which I have no history, I still wanted to write. I wanted to write a world in which my writing couldn’t be in bad taste and where there was no wrong way for me to relate to my feelings. I wanted to write a world in which I could write.
HEARTBREAK HOTEL, day 2 “When are you gonna come out of there, girl?” [. . .] HEARTBREAK HOTEL is about someone saying “and af ter he said that, Debbie pointed out—rightly, I might add—…” HE ARTBREAK HOTEL is about wanting to want your own space. i want to want my own space forever. [. . .] i am writing out of you r ight now HEARTBREAK HOTEL whatever you are. [. . .] HEARTBREAK HOTEL is where I go when love is the worry worrying at the gnaw ing (when that is all it is) and I say ENOUGH. Here are all my re serves of strength. Fight or flight becoming I DON’T CARE WH O I SEEM LIKE I WILL SHOW MY OBSESSION becoming WELL THAT IS EN OUGH. I HAVE SHOWN YOU WHAT I AM AND IT HAS BEEN FOUND WANTING AND SO ENOUGH. I AM BOOKING MYSELF A VACATION IN THE HEARTBREAK HOTEL. i have the money to do so.
In the Heartbreak Hotel I was severing myself from a narrative that no longer worked for me, through writing. I was learning that on the page you can do whatever you want. You can write yourself or rewrite yourself or unwrite yourself, for as long as you want and for as long as you feel safe. In the same way that a hotel is a liminal space between the domestic and the new, the accepting home and the critical public, Heartbreak Hotel was becoming for me a liminal space between journal and world. Because in a journal, in my journal at least, the bargain was that in return for it being a home space that no one would ever see, I could write what I want. But then it started being a boring space. Heartbreak Hotel still had the feeling of a stage, a proscenium where I could enact my own reality for an audience that was TBA.
I took time to describe the Heartbreak Hotel from inside and from the outside. On the inside it has “soundproof walls, of course, to keep in the typewriting sounds.”
[. . .] the HEARTBREAK HOTEL is everything you could want in a home but it doesn’t feel lived-in, it will never feel lived-in in the se nse of having pictures taped to the refrigerator wall you don’t even remember taping there. a teleporter for your therapist to come visit you in your room some good porn? [. . .] a map showing the whereabouts of your heartache at all times so you can know without having to ask a clarity potion so you can feel clear when you want & a confusion potion so you can feel like you have a healthy dose of reality
On the evening of day 2 in the Heartbreak Hotel I felt anxious and sad because I had thought for a while that my Love Narrative might resume but then it never arrived. (Later it did arrive but not quite as a Love Narrative and we went dumpster diving.) I spent a paragraph typing “this is nothing.”
I felt like I’d “betrayed” the Heartbreak Hotel because I wanted out, I wanted to be free to choose my Love Narrative again.
HEARTBREAK HOTEL, evening of day 2[. . .] Right now I think I am not in Heartbreak Hotel because right no w I just want everything to be O.K. I am wanting the one thing that you are not allowed to want in Heartbreak Hotel: To bring the freedom inside these walls out into the world. To choose He artbreak Hotel is to choose freedom over the possibility of ful lness. The good thing about Heartbreak Hotel, though, is that it’s ope n 24/7/365. You can always come back so long as you are willing to travel the way. Like many places, it can look both more allu ring and more desolate from a distance. From a distance it can look like an impossible lifestyle decision. Time to check out the real world, then.
Since I was no longer in the Heartbreak Hotel, I wrote from The World.
THE WORLD, day 1I spent today in the world rather than in Heart break Hotel. I am still processing what that means for Heartbre ak Hotel. I am pretty sure it will still stay open and in busin ess, patronized by a queer brand of formerly-open person who ha s decided to close for a little while. [. . .] Here are some things THE WORLD has that HEARTBREAK HOTEL lacks: Parks, trees, e.g. outdoors stuff, advice, good advice, bad adv ice, opinions, weather, chance, publicity, kisses, well you kno w what I mean you can have kisses in Heartbreak Hotel but they are gray and unsatisfying, moments when your mood doesn’t matte r, when the world is your mood (in HH your mood is your world), a feeling of decisions coming easily. THE WORLD is impossible t o describe fully like any world but more so. How will I continue my writing project if I keep extending my s ojourn out here? I believe that I still live in Heartbreak Hotel though. I am go ing to camp outside for a while, that’s all. And I will describ e the view from outside.
Already here I see myself thinking of the Heartbreak Hotel not just as a head space or a fantasy space but as a writing project, still a new, delicate, sensitive topic for me. Me: an institution-bound, parent-pleasing girl who has had little experience with assigning herself projects. The rhythm of days, the journalistic feel, the liminality of it helped me to live in/with it. I knew how to write and I had been journaling forever. I was also stimulated by the creative reflexivity of it, the feeling that I was constructing the Heartbreak Hotel as I wrote, free to change the project as I worked on it without it totally collapsing into formlessness.
Did the specter of the occupation, this feeling of camping in a new, self-determining space while your old space remained, influence my way of thinking about the world versus the Heartbreak Hotel?
HEARTBREAK HOTEL, the view from outsideThe word that comes to m ind is “imposing.” It seems kind of sterile. It seems like a pl ace where distractions don’t really distract. In Heartbreak Hot el nothing distracts, everything is wonderful or terrible or th ere, just like everything else, neither more nor less than ever ything else. It seems a little bit like, why would you live there unless you “had” to. It also seems well-defended and cozy. You might be wondering how to get to Heartbreak Hotel. Well I’m not entirely sure how I found it myself; it certainly wasn’t on any maps that anyone ever gave me. I mean I knew abou t Heartbreak but I didn’t know that there was a secret place in side of Heartbreak which (for a price, of course) could give yo u space. From the inside it seems like space from THE WORLD but from the outside it seems like maybe it just gives you space fr om insecurity. Which is correct, the inside view or the outside view? It has to be both. [. . .] THINGS THAT THE HEARTBREAK HOTEL HAS THAT THE WORLD DOESN’T HAVE: All of the things that your shrunken desire desires, space or p erhaps what is more, a fixed amount of space, rather than the c onstantly fluctuating amount of space that THE WORLD gives you, all the attendant things of space—permissiveness, freedom—lots of mirrors, “enclave,” What’s comforting is that the Heartbreak Hotel promises to neve r promise that it can be a home, while being there to house you for as long as you can find it, afford it, and bear it.
The thing about the Heartbreak Hotel for me is that the writing of it kind of provides the temporality of the other room, the one you go into for a second to masturbate or vomit, and then you come back out and live your life a little bit more smoothly. And it’s always there and you can always book yourself a vacation in the Heartbreak Hotel but you would never want to live there because it’s a hotel.
“It promises to never promise that it can be a home,” I wrote. Was I saying this about the Heartbreak Hotel or about writing in general? I was experiencing the forgotten freedom of crafting my writing to a standard that wasn’t already fixed in my head. This sensation was a homey sensation. But there was the shifting problem of audience—the outside lens that let me peer into my writing as something new and exciting. I wanted to please an audience. And it was exciting that, in the reader-writer relationship, whether I pleased an audience was a matter of writing rather than being. A different kind of passivity, a different kind of agency: I had the sense that the page would never give me what my words lacked—that all of the plenitude writing gave me came from the writing itself, that I could never just offer myself up to Heartbreak Hotel and have things unfold for me as though automatically, as I had imagined offering myself up to my parents, to grad school, to particular/amalgamated boys, to a new life in China. None of these things were going to be the ship for me. In Heartbreak Hotel I found an aquarium to flounder in while I waited to be ready for the sea.
Writing is a weird kind of freedom. You can do whatever you want but what’s the point unless someone else would enjoy it or at least you would enjoy it? Eve Sedgwick has written beautifully on the way multiple energies in writing resolve themselves into a reader-friendly form in a disciplinary process that is not without pleasure:
The main component of… “authority” seems to me to be the presentation of a piece of writing as the now-under-control palimpsest of some earlier, plurivocal drama or struggle: among tones, among dictions, among genres. The visible marks of solicitous care and of self-repression, the scrupulously almost not legible map of exorbitance half-erased by discipline, the very “careful [one might add very pleasurable] orchestration of spontaneity and pageantry” (the same with which one’s parents took one over their lap): these stigmata of “decisiveness” in and authority over one’s language are recognizable as such by their family resemblance to the power, rage, and assault that parents present to the child with a demand for compulsory misrecognition of them as discretion and love.
I love this description of the process of writing, but part of me desires something more. Isn’t there writing that is just joyful and free, that forgets itself in the moment of writing and plays and burbles again, because it can, and when it remembers authority and audience, setting aside the pleasures of being an authority and of pleasing an authority for the exhilaration of being inappropriate, of being excessive, of being “itself,” of taking pleasure in the public flaunting of norms and the display of your own personal grossness? Because maybe you can’t know in advance what someone else would enjoy or what you would enjoy. Maybe there’s something great about the exhibitionistic thrill of showing your writing, undone. Of writing stuff that you can’t even quite bear to go back and look at after you’ve put it down on the page knowing it’s going to go public.
It seems that this is my queer relationship with writing. I take from Eve Sedgwick (and my friends) courage in my perverse desire to write like this, hoping, like a personal ad, that someone will want to be on the receiving end.
So, here I am.
(I feel like Eve Sedgwick and I have had similar experiences with parental authority.)
Every time I type “here I am” it makes me laugh.
I’ve been typing it a lot when I don’t know what to say next. It feels different from typing “this is nothing.”
Last night I went to the Occupy Lincoln General Assembly (I haven’t done anything Occupy Lincoln-related in weeks) and signed up to help plan a party and an anti-consumer flash mob on Black Friday. I am helping to plan a community festival. And last night when the cops descended on Zuccotti, I participated in a strange open forum until 4 a.m., collective worry turned paranoid. I don’t say these things to brag, exactly, or to justify myself, because I know it’s such a small contribution. And yet:
Cindy Crabb writes in her inspiring zine, DORIS:
There were ideas about how to go about life. One idea was that you had to fix yourself before you could fix the world. One idea was that the world was going to shit so fast there was no time for internal work, just revolution now. One idea was that the two things informed each other. That part of your inside problems were because of a lack of meaningful social engagement. I went with that one. (The Encyclopedia of Doris, p. 218)
I’ve been trying to reconcile all of these things, my privilege with my oppression, my logic with my whimsy, my youth with my growing up, my desires for sex or maybe just companionship with growing independent, and the loneliness too, and through it all I sometimes trust pleasure and I sometimes trust responsibility, and sometimes I trust conflicting things that different people say to me at different times. I want to come out into the public where I can participate in change but also I don’t know how. These thoughts I think and the things I feel are so violent and inarticulate and just sit scared and irrelevant inside of me when I am at a GA, when I am at a forum, where they seem to be talking about things that won’t help, where people sometimes seem like aliens.
But I trust Cindy when she says that self-development and world change are a balancing act, except her point is that they don’t have to be opposed, it doesn’t have to be a matter of balancing the one with the other. I share her belief that you shouldn’t have to lock up your crazy bits inside of you. You might have to find forms or rooms to do it in—you gotta write the space where you can write!—but letting them out in the world can be a good, regardless of whether the thing you’ve let out is “good.” And letting them out might create room for other things, other change. And, on the flip side, political action might help you write.
* * *
What is this document that I’ve created, even? Is it a self-case study? A document of my crazy so that other people can take me as a case study? A way to justify this weird thing I’ve made so I can feel like I’m not living in a vacuum? An article about Occupy? An article trying to wrap my head around (give a new voice to?) the whole weird depressed too-much-free-time entitled differently-privileged creatively-aspiring internetty deracinated generation that I’m in, the one that feels the desire to occupy or be occupied or something or everything?
I’m kind of out on a limb here but it feels kind of nice.
I think I’m a writer.
**Originally published on The Hypocrite Reader