Ian MacDonald reviews Dodie Bellamy

EMU Student Ian MacDonald responds to Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse reading:

Dodie Bellamy “Whistle While you Dixie”

The few pictures I had seen of Dodie Bellamy in the few works of hers I’d read did not seem to reflect her real-life counterpart. From my vantage amongst the stadium seats I saw her emerge from the adjoining hallway and though I immediately recognized her, her presence was different than I expected; more “hetero-normative” (to borrow a turn of phrase that seems to frequently pop up in her work). Nothing at all then like the academic caricature/extra from a Tim Burton movie that I had foolishly anticipated.  In truth, she reminded me of my mother. And with that association in mind, I suddenly imagined my mother giving voice to some of Dodie’s more colorful writings, my own mother saying thing like “I’m curling back on my spine, ass up in the air, cunt pointed towards the ceiling, and he’s plunging into me” and as this played out across my mind’s eye in all its shakey-cam, neon splendor the real Dodie took the stage and began to read and the horrible spell was mercifully broken.

And before long, my revulsion gave way to laughter. The ensuing pieces Dodie read from we’re comical and immeasurably honest, illuminative and entertaining. There was happy giggling at regular intervals. As I sat and listened and laughed with everyone else I wondered how she choose what to read for these sort of things and how her own perceptions of the venue might influence this choice. Did she decide prior to arriving or was the decision made upon entering the room and appraising for the first time all the faces in attendance? If it is the latter, what was it about our face, Eastern Michigan University’s face, that implored her to share stories and musings about the “inherent male-ness” of whistling, the not-so-subtle libidinal subtext from a scene out of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and an autobiographical account of a young and amorous Dodie hitching a ride with an even younger and more amorous glue-sniffing boy? (All of these from her new chapbook Whistle While You Dixie)

My classmates and I were tasked with not only attending the reading but with asking a question during the Q and A session to follow. Our teacher advised us not to ask something like “So what’s next for Dodie?” the implication being: don’t embarrass me. The night before I sat with my laptop and brainstormed a number of questions, all of which by night’s end, I was sure, would embarrass my teacher. So with a shrug for time wasted I Ctrl-A’ed them into a big blue block of text and hit Delete. Poof!

It was when I passed the little table on the way into the auditorium the next day that I finally thought of a question. The table displayed three short stacks of one of Dodie’s books, presumably to be sold and signed after the reading. It struck me as a small number, maybe fifteen in total that comprised those three stacks and even though I was reasonably sure a great many more hid beneath the table I found myself lamenting the thought that Dodie probably didn’t make much money as an author. Ascending the steps toward my seat I looked across all the faces and wondered how many of them aspired to be writers and of those, how many would actually go on to make a living at it? Would I? Do colleges bear any responsibility for churning out far more applicants than the market can bear or does it fall entirely on the students who go into debt majoring in say, underwater basket weaving, against the practical wishes of their parents?

Dodie responded to my question with her trademark honesty and frankness. Writing in the New Narrative genre (and even mainstream genres) usually requires independent wealth or supplemental income; and the internet seems ripe to amplify rather than decrease this necessity. We’ll see. All I can say is that I enjoyed the reading and I hope she sold all the books she brought — and that my question didn’t embarrass my teacher.