There’s a familiar kind of story to those close with people who have struggled with addiction, or any life defined by compulsive seeking.
The recipe includes a lot of humor, an obvious heavy pinch of regret, but also, often, a touch of nostalgia for the excitement of chaos. There’s a romance to the self-destruction of losing oneself in a substance, activity or person that thousands of songs and books and movies have detailed.
Jamie Stewart’s new book Anything That Moves, published this spring from And Other Stories, chronicles chunks of Stewart’s life and sexual mis/adventures through a series of non-linear vignettes. Known for the past two decades as founding member of San Jose-born experimental indie band Xiu Xiu (who released an album, Ignore Grief, in March), Stewart includes tales of tour insanity, a backstory behind one of the band’s album covers, and their own upbringing in a creative, damaged family.
The chapters are titled with pseudonyms or descriptions of the stories’ subjects: “Zooey Zuccareli,” “Torino Guy,” “Smoke Boobs,” or the unfortunate classic: “Three Threesomes, None of Them Great.”
Anything That Moves is not quite an addiction memoir—not the kind with a rock bottom and a moment of reckoning, or even with the label addiction applied. But the few mentions of the word are telling, as when Stewart recalls the crash-and-burn of one dalliance: “She sent me a chiding advice pamphlet about sexual addiction and I told her again to never contact me. She replied emphatically with the same. Maybe I was addicted, I thought for one second” (readers can likely guess what the author did in the next second).
Though the book begins with a few childhood anecdotes that more than suggest an environment of poor boundaries (Stewart makes no effort to hide a history of abuse, nor its effect on their relationships), their narrative largely declines the literary trope that demands a fully detailed trauma résumé. Instead, Stewart mixes razor-sharp wit and an occasional dip into surrealism to evoke the real-time rollercoaster-drop of sublime excitement to spine-tingling dread for which sex always holds the possibility (particularly for abuse survivors).
The stylistic inspirations Stewart cites for Anything That Moves are as eclectic as Xiu Xiu’s musical influences. Sandra Cisneros’s House On Mango Street (a novel also written in vignettes) gets a mention, as well as Cormac McCarthy’s “weird, overworked turn[s] of phrase.” A less-canonical influence was the ’70s and ’80s zine Straight To Hell, where writer Boyd McDonald published queer cruising stories sent in by readers.
“People would write in and say ‘I had this great experience in the back of a movie theater,’ or whatever,” Stewart says. “It was at a time where if you were writing about a queer experience, it had to be a tragedy, or you had to be punished. It’s exciting to read those knowing when they were written––people just celebrating the excitement of being bad.”
Stewart blends Straight To Hell’s punk-rock raunchiness with their own lyrical sensibilities to truly cosmic ends: one vignette concludes with a lonely Jamie wondering, “I had no idea who to think about. Lily in Moscow shooting an ICBM of jizz through the atmosphere, or the woman in Washington, DC, launching Reagan-era smoke-flavored boob milk to intercept it?”
Anything That Moves is in turn titillating, cringe-inducing, laugh-out-loud funny and painfully, deeply familiar. But most remarkable is the story’s approach to shame—both others’ and the author’s own. While Stewart’s partners and hookups act in a wide spectrum of unhinged and/or plain harmful behavior (from alcohol-related bodily mishaps to stalking), and while their descriptions can be brutally blunt, there is a paradoxical absence of judgment in the telling of it. Stewart is similarly direct addressing their own mistakes: there’s plenty of remorse, but it’s settled in understanding.
After baring so much of themselves in prose, Stewart admits a relationship with shame, with some laughter:
“Less so in the last couple years, fortunately, but it’s been one of the dominant experiences I’ve had. To be ashamed of feeling shame…I got kinda tired of doing both. One is bad enough. I’m not interested in living like that anymore.”
Anything That Moves
And Other Stories