Friday Interview Series: Amber DiPietra

Amber DiPietra with IwamotoScott Architecture’s Jellyfish House, 2005—6; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © IwamotoScott Architecture
Once, Amber Di Pietra and I spent three ecstatic days together in her Bay Area flat drinking the Bustelo coffee of Amber’s Floridian childhood [intoxicatingly delicious] and talking about love/not love, the body, syntax and energy healing through the palm.  When Amber was part of the Kelsey Street Press collective, she edited my book, humanimal [a project for future children].  I was a writer, but I wasn’t yet the writer who had envisioned BAN.  The true and remarkable exchange with Amber about soft tissue “bundles” of tissue that aren’t released by light touch, always, but rather by abrasion — or, as Amber said: “what bursts” — has been a massive influence on my writing.  How the commas mark the cross-fiber friction.  A history of violence.  Contact of various kinds.
A syntax that is aligned with the nervous system.
With the body.
With what inhibits or permits the capacity to move.
To have a different kind of sex, perhaps.
The sex, as we used to say: with what you want to become.
For obvious reasons, it’s a complicated thing to talk ethically about the body across disciplines — a thinking through of [across] questions of migration, disability and trauma.  The questions of access happen differently.  “The soft tissue rotates,” wrote Amber, in an email, so long ago.  I think of Amber lying down in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for example, allowing her limbs to be gently moved or rearranged by the audience members.  It was a curation by Suzanne Stein.  Poets were invited to select any piece of art in the museum and perform or talk next to it.  Beneath it.  Amber lay down on the floor, twitching, a kind of radical Feldenkreis — a sensing —  as she said — discharging something — that was then received.  Was it received?  I included an image from it in a how-to manual for the general public: How to Write a Poem.
“6. Bioluminesce. Write sentences in a darkened room.  Lie on the floor and have other people gently rearrange your limbs. A poetry of hotel rooms, jungles and urban aquariums.”
We had just seen the poet Beth Murray give a talk on homeopathy and poetics through the figure of the jellyfish in the Subterranean Art House — a curation by Eleni Stecopolous for her extraordinary Poetics of Healing series.  How the jellyfish group surges in at the site of the Gulf Oil spill.  To accompany her own jellyfish action in the art museum, Amber wrote:
“I lay on the floor with the crown of my head tucked against the vitrine which held a scale model of Jellyfish House. An assistant read the Chart Notes from a clipboard. Meanwhile, a messy sheaf of papers was handed to an audience member. This was the Discharge Plan, which quickly became dispersed between different audience members. The Discharge Plan included printed text (typed fragments of poetry written by me or texts quoted from the poets David Wolach and Jack Frost), as well as large sheets of sketch paper with handwritten text and drawings by residents at Laguna Honda Hospital, where I work as a Transition Coordinator. It became clear from the reading of the Chart Notes that audience members were being asked to approach the “patient or resident’s” (my own) prone body and help in the “rehabilitation/discharge process” by moving the body’s limbs, one joint at a time, until she was standing. This part of the performance lasted approximately 10 minutes. During that time, audience participants approached and followed these instructions. The movements did not amount to noticeable changes in the body’s position. Eventually, a participant helped me to my feet and I collected the scattered Discharge Plan from the audience, walked over to my mobility scooter, sat down, and read from the Discharge Plan.
—Amber DiPietra.”
Okay, I don’t know if I am getting the timing of these curations and jellyfish performances/talks muddled up, but there it is — a set of performance instructions for the body — as it is — and also for others.  I still can’t overcome my intense regret that I did not see this performance in person.  And that I don’t get to see Amber DiPietra every day for Bustelo coffee with condensed milk from a can.
I want to swim in the sea with Amber!  With dolphins!!!!!!  Stupid life!  Why don’t I live in St. Petersburg, Florida?   In an ideal world, I would start a healing center and performance/activist retreat with Amber DiPietra and all of our mutual and non-mutual friends.  And also our enemies!  Okay, this is not about me wanting to stab myself with a fork because I don’t see Amber more often, a feeling that is accruing as I am connecting to her incredible heart and presence and fierceness and energy and work as I write these preliminary notes!!!!!!!!!
Amber has transformed her art and life practices in the last two years since I saw her in the Bay. The jellyfish incident is in the past, so to speak.  I want to acknowledge, as well, as I write these words, the passing of the poet-healer Beth Murray.  Gold light to you, Beth Murray, and to your beautiful work in the world.  As it was. Animal to human and back again.
What is happening in the present, which itself is so mixed, so not what we thought?
I wanted to know more about Amber in the present time — what it means to fall “in real time,” as Amber says. What is going on in Florida?!!!
The kinds of communal and visceral practices Amber immerses herself in — these: attempts — and “bursts” — have evolved to include sex work — and a coming-to-writing in another way.  What has happened to syntax?  To the conversation — only ever always just begun — across body [life] writing, movement, healing and social justice?
For these reasons I wanted to interview the visionary activist and performance artist-poet, Amber DiPietra.  In Ban, I wrote: “I want a literature that is not made of literature.”  Amber’s work, for me, aligns with this longing I have — for a literature of this nature.  A literature of the body that is unlike any other literature of the body that I have read: before.

To this end, I also wanted to draw attention, also, to the Somatechnics conference in Arizona this April, that, quite frankly, looks bloody fantastic.  I regret [intensely] that I will be in New York.  Here is an excerpt from the panel Amber is on with Denise Leto, Margit Galater and Violet Juno, from Amber’s blog: [thus typos — “blips” — “errata” — unedited/intact]:
“Opening Trauma into Transformation: The Politics and Poetics of Embodied Knowledge in Physical Difference and Disability
This panel explores loss, sexuality, movement, and trauma through the lens of performance art, dance, disability, ​poetry, and sex work. As intertwined artists, the bright light we stand in is that of transformation through embodied inquiry. Elements of the panel invite audience participation/sensory immersion.
Amber DiPietra:
“The Disabled Sex(ological Body) Worker: a Poetics of invisible, Intimate Performance”
Amber Dipietra, as a body and personality, has moved on an arc from socially-isolated child with a disability, to poet, to disability advocate, to escort, to intimacy coach. She recently moved from San Francisco to St. Petersburg, FL where she has started a a local chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, Find her at adipietra.blogspot.comand”
The interview has to begin now, because it’s snowing in Colorado.
My questions will appear before the interview in red, as Amber sent her responses by email in a different order and so I will just cut and paste those emails.

Questions for Amber:

for someone i miss.  you.

1.  I have always known you as someone working through the corollary practice.  So that it’s not just writing.  But this other kind of work.  Can you talk about your corollary practices in the Bay Area and what they are now that you are based in Florida?

2.  What is it like living in St.Petersburg?

3.  Define: errata, blips.  How has the writing you do on your blog Falling In Real Time evolved?

4.  We met through feminist small press culture in the Bay Area, but also our shared interest in a) owls, b) what a day is, c) being with others in ways that can’t be predicted.  Can you say something about c) and the experience of what you call “palmetry.”  Don’t worry.  I will try to pre-explain this interview for our readers in  a) Bhutan, b) Portland, Oregon, c) Sydney.

5.  Who are you and who do you love?

6.  Look up the poem FAIRIES by Mei-mei Bersenbrugge on Lana Turner Journal (online.) I invite you to select a line or set of lines, and to respond to them with reference [gesture] to your own dream of writing and what the writing [not writing] might be.

7.  Can you take a picture of the contents of your handbag or satchel and annotate them.  Or list them.  I think that would be satisfying.

8.  Tell me how to make the amazing coffee you once made for me in San Francisco (that never tasted the same when I tried to make it by myself.)

9.  Who were your meat ancestors?

10. How did your jellyfish performance at the San Francisco MoMA change what happened afterwards in your writing?  [I will link to it in my question, but you could also summarize or describe what that was.]

AMBER — is it possible to answer these questions in any form that seems fit?

love, BK

PS: The corollary practice. Ok. Let’s add this question.

What is the relationship between sex work and writing for you: right now?  Can you say something about your sex work, too, and how you came to it.

Amber DiPietra’s emails in response to the questions above.  Amber speaks about the chakra system below, and so I thought I might highlight some astonishing phrases and responses or parts of responses below in BLUE, which is to say the color or light that emanates from: the throat chakra!  There were also amazing photos of the street as seen from the balcony, versus the contents of a handbag, but I couldn’t download them.  Perhaps will add later.


BK, answers will be coming later tonight…


BK, this is absolutely the best time ever to be conversing with you on your blog. As many things are shifting in my life, seismically. Like the time you came to take care of me when I was a black hole of broken hearted nests and we drank Café Bustelo. Things are still shifting according to heartbreak and longing, but in a more ecstatic way. Please note, there will be many, hopefully, poetic typos in this interview. I have decided, that is my organic style as a writer, a somatic writer. I am using speech to text now. It is a way to swim in writing, despite arthritis and glaucoma. It is making me more in love with the writing than I ever have been. Because I never wanted to be a writer really, I wanted to be Cyndi Lauper a Madonna, from the time I was three years old. It is all about performance and process. Typos are shit and the dirt of language, for that reason I like to leave them, or a good majority of them, in there. Shit, get a language, poetry, Madonna, Cindy lopper, pictures of colors which correspond to chakras… I am going to send them to you and you can include them in the interview on the blog if you want. Here is the first, as a corresponds to read, the sacrum.

The red red dirty red of the New Orleans kind of place I live in now. I was ashamed, but I had lost my mind, thought I had failed, when I left San Francisco and return to my native Florida. But things are starting to make sense here, it’s the route for me. The root chakra. We didn’t talk about chakras when I did the rituals with you, to prepare me for my life as a bodyworker. But they had become an easy translation. Easy as in accessible. I make a conversation with the spine through the chakras and especially their colors. Usually, this is a sensual conversation. It is about the way a person’s body receives sensual energy and is revitalize their sensual energy, as it touches every part of their life, sexual and nonsexual per se. That is how I became a sex worker. Shortly after you and I did our rituals, though at the time I had no idea they would leave there. I have always been a sexual artist though. Poetry and graduate school was just an excuse for me to keep using my disabled woman’s body as a sexual lens and and empowered sacred plaything. Recently, I got my certification as a sexological bodyworker from the Institute of advanced studies of human sexuality in San Francisco. Interestingly, it was half a block away from the apartment I lived in for eight years in San Francisco, though I was not ready to merge with it until I had left California. Sexbod work is only legal in California, Canada, and assorted other countries. In Florida, I am a more generic intimacy coach and performance artist. I am in despair about my writing. I do not know what form I wanted to live in writing seems to constrict need a form. I am much more in love with doing bodywork, with the spine, instead of manifesting as writing. But I know I won’t be truly happy until I figure out how to live again as a writer, so this interview with you is a nice new doorway to that.

Part three so yes, I am a sex worker. Which, means, in our society, something illegitimate, marginal, illegal. I am doing my work in the light, but I am just the same as any sex worker. And I am proud to say that I started the Florida chapter of the  National grassroots nonprofit, the sex workers out reach project. I should send you a link to that. I will. We need more people to join! Besides New Orleans, we’re the only other SWOP this in the south, besides Nola.

Living in St. Petersburg is a miracle unfolding. Florida is the place time forgot. John Stewart, has unfortunately, given it it’s absurd moniker. But as a sex worker, I am more than happy to live in the is phallus of the United States. It is 85° right now, it is February, I am sitting on a friends balcony, it is a Wednesday, Rihanna is blasting from the sidewalk bar, there are people in business suits and bathing suits. I was suicidally depressed when I came back to Florida. I came to be reborn. I left Florida because I felt like I could never have a culture, the opportunity, the sex I wanted here, disabled woman and as a poet. So when I move back, nearly 2 years ago, I felt that I had hit bottom. I came back to die. And now I am alive again, in a different way, feeling closer to the earth that I have ever been.


Part four I am looking at your list of questions, but not going in chronological order. You taught me that. I have had to overcome my Virgo nature. About the coffee question, you made that. You woke up before me on those foggy Berkeley mornings and brought me that coffee. But yes, it yes, it was my Cuban ancestors who are responsible for its existence. My meat ancestors — Sicilians, Galicians, provisional Cubans who came to Florida to work and cigar factories. They made the city that I now live in. They are insular, Xena phobic, overprotective, fears, lusty but ashamed when it comes to the body. I am bringing them to their limit, with their knowledge of the erotic work I do. Right here, in their town. Miraculously, this has come with some great acceptance on their part, and crazy transformations.

My performance piece at the San Francisco Museum of modern Art made me never want to write again. Made me just want to lie on the floor and always have people interact with my limbs. Then I became an intimacy coach. Now I am looking for a way to document that that seems like art. People can go to my website  I do Skype, FaceTime, and phone session so I can work with anyone anywhere. Don’t worry, I will not document anyone who does not want to document their Internet erotic processes. The poetry that comes out of my work as a sex worker/intimacy couch is just that, poetry. Not a tell-all.
Oh, by the way, the word palmetry still applies. Even though I do erotic body work now, I also do palm work for people. Palmetry, what a fake palm reader poet who lives in Florida would do. It is energy work and collaborative storytelling for transformation, localized to the palm of the hand. A way to meditate on the work we have done in the world and what we can hold onto and what we need to let go of, with and beyond our hands. MG Robert says she pictures of me having a booth in St. Petersburg Beach, wearing red jewels in my hair. Doing palmetree. I hope that becomes true. I need a break from the sex stuff. I also want to work 2 feet away from the Gulf of Mexico. Right now, I have to drive there, or be driven there. Florida is still a great challenge for people like me, with disabilities, who cannot drive.  In that Segway, it is very important to note that I used to be a disability advocate, that was a major part of my identity as of just a few years ago in San Francisco.and I guess I still am. But I have no desire to do that in the traditional way here. The system is too depressing, too depressed, two backward. Still.  The kind of disability advocate I am in the south is as sexual healer/anarchist/artist.
I am still marveling at the fairies poem. But what I want to say about Mei Mei Bersenbrugge, her book — The roses – – help me open up a Space to begin to write a photo color memoir, and correspondence to the colors of the chakras, and correspondence for me leaving my old life and coming back to Florida. I am still trying to bring that to publication format. But just having written it, when I thought I was dying last year, it was something. Okay, as they speak to me about chakras in my daily life.
Oh, one more thing, you asked about how my blog, falling in real time has evolved. Well, it went dead for a while. I have three other blogs… Sex worker blogs and such, my identity has become fragmented. I am seeking a way to re-integrate it. It is been a process of coming out and reforming. Now though, I think I will return to my personal blog and more things will start to live there again.
In reading this interview and/or hiring me as a sex(ological body) worker, you are participating in erotic immersive art, and not “illegal sex acts”.

[Chakra Notes: After the interview is published, Amber sends me a sequence of photographs — real time — of the chakra system: with captions.  Here they are: out of order.  Vibrant. With a sentence beneath:]

Orange, sexual chakra or the center of passion for creation. My bedspread, even on a green morning
The white and the black, I did geode split open, of the crown chakra, photos of meat ancestors
Violet glittery dark interior third eye. The woman holds it owl. Rose oil and Violet glitter never too much
Dirty red red, street red.  Root chakra, the ground.
Saw Florida interior Winter green. The heart.
Solar plexus with yellow walls. Every thing that we have/been/held by.
Wading Space in the Gulf. Blue throat chakra bathroom walls.