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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by Shelly F. Marlow


Dream: I found a mermaid's tail made of wood or possibly plaster, in an antique shop. It belonged to me.

I have been writing a book for the past five years. The working title is Swann In Love Again/The Lesbian Arabian Nights. Here is the prologue:

DEAR VIOLET,

IT'S THE BEGINNING OF THE NINETIES, THE GAY '90S. It's strange how I have this sense of optimism--from the holidays finally being over? More like a clean slate feeling, something in the air, an ocean harvest. Old wounds fading, old, old wounds surfacing not unmanageably. Life's ironies, soap operas still satelliting some days.

Don't be alarmed but I wanted to tell you that I had three lumps removed from my left shoulder. Under a microscope the doctor discovered there was something miniature in each lump.

The first lump had a little paddle with a painting of a deer and a bear in evergreen woods with the words "FOR THE CUTE LITTLE DEER WITH THE BARE BEHIND." This paddle was the terror back when we were little, but now we'd know what to do with it--we have become sexualized to our abuses.

The second lump was made up of thin layers which turned out to be microfiche of a poster that said "Mental Patients' Rights" on it. There was a picture of two orderlies holding a squatting woman over a bucket, they are holding her labia open from each side, she is supposed to pee. Which makes me think of you, my own Aunt Violet, who spent so many years in a mental institution, your existence a secret to me until you got out.

The third lump turned out to be a miniature/microscopic grandfather clock with angels painted on the face, and a slot for coins and a coin return--someone's nanosecond to buy time.

Well I have to go now and play in my girlgroup called Seven Why's and the Snow Dwarf. This is one way of dealing with my rage. Maybe you can come down and hear our pop hit version of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" or my favorite song, "It's a Witch Thang, You Wouldn't Understand." Though, my dear Aunt, I think you would . . . .

Love As Always, Swann

I'm thinking I'll have to change the title because of the following reasons:

1. There is a movie called Swann In Love that I am referring to, but I do not want to get sued.

2. Swann in the Lesbian Arabian Nights sounds like a pornographic comic book or a seventies sexploitation film. Well maybe that works. I know of the Arabic language, but is there really a place still considered Arabian? Are there any heretic lesbians there? I am so enjoying reading Peter Lamborn Wilson's fantastic book Scandal Heresies of Islam, where he explains how different religions mix together, in, for example, Java, where Sufism, Buddhism, and Hinduism are blended by some groups and the politicians are expected to also be sorcerers. In this side of the globe, I am related by blood to a coven of lesbian rabbi witches. Swann is a Jewish lesbian dervish who gets visions of Mary while making love with an ex-nun. There are not too many lesbians in the 1001 Arabian Nights Tales, the movie versions, including the Pasolini's, and the English translation by Sir Richard Burton, during the 19th century.

In the translation by Burton, there is one elderly lesbian who, on a moonlit night by a river bank, she sees a muscle-bound princess who is wrestling and winning matches with, one by one, a group of her female friends. The elderly woman challenges the strong princess to wrestle her naked. The challenge is laughed at, then accepted. The older woman is thrown down in a humiliating way, by the princess. Then the princess goes off with some guy.

Now we'd say: Look Grandma, you have to take responsibility for your own sexual needs, you don't have to chase some young muscle-bound princess when you could make love with that river or waterfall as in the Javanese kunbum (water meditation) or get a nice fitting dildo for some g-spot multiple orgasms. Then move that orgasmic energy through your body, devoting the energy to peace or love---or who or whatever.

My other motivation for that book is to write about obsessive love.

Ingres painting of two women lying naked together and embracing shows up in the Swann in Love movie. One of the women who modeled for this painting was Whistler's ex-mistress who did take up with a woman after she was with Whistler.

These are both photos of myself that I painted when I was 17. I'm wearing a silk dress with hoofed feet, a mustache and horns on my head. I know the horns relate to Michaelangelo's sculpture of Moses.

Moses has horns coming out of his head in this sculpture. This is because of a mistranslation of Hebrew to Italian, somehow the word for rays of light got mixed up with the word for horns. Moses was described as having rays of light coming out of his forehead. Some people, still think that Jews have horns growing out of our foreheads. A female Pan (opposite from Ophelia who dies of love) with an aggressive mustache, herself a symbol of Lust. Or a man dressed as a woman, no really, a woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman.

The self-portrait in a tuxedo with wings indicates I felt it was much safer to be male in 1976. Maybe even divine. I was a drag king with wings. This is me imitating you (my brothers) imitating an angel in formal(e) wear.

Shelley F. Marlow

Brooklyn, New York

1997

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