Cristy Road: Bad Habits and Beyond
Nov 26, 2008
By: Juliet Linderman
"...And, like Brooklyn, the human heart is divided into several humble portals, each with a function, relevance, history, and culture distinct to its region. Every developmental blow cripples the antiquity of its boroughs, and every imperfect experience cripples the wellbeing of every corner of the heart. But the city doesn't stop, and the human heart trudges on with clandestine motivation...."
And so begins Bad Habits: A Love Story, the latest novel from author/illustrator/'zine publisher/punk-rock visionary Cristy C. Road, hitting bookshelves this week. To celebrate the book's release, Road organized a punk show/reading at Death by Audio in Williamsburg last Saturday, featuring five bands (including Road's own, The Homewreckers), two author readings and a row of tables covered in a wide array of 'zines, brought in full-force by the For the Birds feminist collective.
Bad Habits, Road's second novel, is the story of a Cuban-American girl named Carmencita Gutierrez Alonzo who, after passing through a series of cities since leaving her home in Miami, has recently settled in Brooklyn, somewhere between Greenpoint and Bushwick. While the story of Carmencita and her struggles with love, sex, substance abuse and adjusting to a new city are characterized as fiction, they are loosely, though certainly, based around Road's real-life experiences.
"Carmencita moves to New York to escape the drama in her life," Road explained. "The story is about the experience of being somewhere new, and her journey to rebuild her relationship with sex and love. Growing up Catholic-Cuban makes Carmencita's association with sex awkward, and she has to figure out what is healthy and normal according to her culture. And it has to do with my own experiences moving to New York. The book takes place in a house under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and that's where I moved when I came here. It's a blend of Bushwick and Greenpoint, and living in those places made me able to write this."
26-year-old Road is, like Carmencita, a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami and, like Carmencita, traveled through several East Coast cities before moving to Brooklyn in 2005. Road's first novel, Indestructible, is based on her experiences as a teenager, and can be seen as something of a precursor to Bad Habits.
"When I moved to New York, I realized just how much loose baggage I had," Road said. "I started going through a lot of personal processes to try and sort everything out, so Bad Habits is sort of the result of a personal quest."
One of the central themes of Bad Habits is the tension that exists between trying to reconcile the deep-seated influence of strict family tradition and cultural roots, and Carmencita's personal desire to forge an identity within a feminist and queer punk-rock scene. In addition, the story of Carmencita's struggles, illuminated by Road's unabashedly brutal and emotionally honest language and illustrations, are inextricably intertwined with the urban environment and the gritty, difficult experience of city life, making New York City itself an integral player in the story (as suggested in the very first few pages). Every crack in the pavement, every broken window, every piece of plaster that falls from the ceiling becomes an element of human frailty and fragility, but also of the resilience, endurance and tenacity of the spirit.
"This story is about the destruction of the human soul and psyche," Road said. "And these breakdowns coincide with the destruction of Coney Island, for example, and the acknowledgement of gentrification. And it's also about understanding that, that's just life."
Though Bad Habits is her first full-length book, Road has been writing and making art for as long as she can remember. At the age of 14, Road began publishing a Green Day fanzine entitled, The Green 'Zine, quickly carving out a place for herself amidst the local, (and to some extent, national, as her 'zine got more and more popular), punk scene. Like both Bad Habits and Indestructible, the publication of Green 'Zine served as a vehicle for Road's development as a writer and artist, as well as a storyteller, in addition to helping her create and cultivate an identity of her own as a feminist, an anarchist, an activist and a punk.
"When I was 12, I discovered Green Day," Road said. "I was always an awkward kid, kind of quiet. I always had a hard time adapting to the world, and balancing my personal identity between what I was and what I thought my family may want me to be. I wanted to be in the punk scene, and I knew a few older kids who were, but they hated Green Day. But for me, Green Day was all I had. I used to listen to those songs about questioning religion and questioning sexuality, and I felt supported. I thought the reasons for those kids hating Green Day was classist, so I decided to make a 'zine about it. I'd put it out three times a year. At first it was all Green Day, but eventually it became mostly personal stories, a lot of writing about being queer in the punk rock community."
Just as Cristy Road was born of the punk scene, it seemed only appropriate for her book release party to double as a punk show, featuring her favorite local bands: Cheeky, Love or Perish, the Measure, Each Other's Mothers and The Homewreckers, Road's own band for which she sings and plays lead guitar. While Road chose the bands based on taste, she also made a concerted effort to create a queer-friendly, feminist-positive atmosphere.
"The punk community in Florida was too straight and sometimes too white (outside of Miami)," Road said. "It's good to be around more queer people, and more women. All these bands were my top choices, and there were just happened to be just as many women as men. I wanted to have a show that reps what the scene is now, and it's not just white dudes anymore."
Road was also careful to mention the significance of creating a partnership between punk rock and literature, as a means to motivate, inspire, galvanize and educate all the young punks.
"Youth culture today is all about irony," Road said. "Nobody wants to educate each other anymore. Punk rock was invented to help us process our anger, and we can't process it like the Sex Pistols forever. We are going to process it by reading, sharing and explaining what our songs are about before we play them."
And so, as she approached the microphone, Road, who stands just over five feet with jet-black hair, red lips and a tattoo covering her entire chest, lulled the raucous crowd into respectful silence sets as she opened a copy Bad Habits and began to read aloud.
"Parts of my blood are made up of gorgeous revolution," she said, her eyes directed downwards at the pages in front of her, but it was impossible to tell if the words were supposed to be Carmencita's or her own.