Tuesday, December 25, 2007

#1. Food.

Christmas for me is about food, not just about indulging, but about special food that only appears once a year. My best Christmas memories are associated with food.

That huge white cake our friend Nick in Syracuse made when we celebrated Little Christmas with him and Michael many years back. And Michael's Italian wedding soup with the little meatballs.

Those dry and not very tasty but fascinating and huge ginger cookies with Victorian-looking paper decals of old St. Nick stuck to them, which my grandmother brought with her from her boyfriend's German bakery in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

When I was growing up, I think we usually had turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, similar to Thanksgiving dinner. In later years, my mother started broiling a loin of beef and serving it with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes. Of course, there was always pumpkin pie and maybe some sort of a cheesecake or other fancy dessert. In the last few years, since my brother and I have started coming for New Year's instead of Christmas, she's done the beef for New Year's dinner, which is very nice. For New Year's Eve last year I made a posole stew with pork and red chili, and I'm going to do that again this year. I like cooking with my mom.

My mother makes about 15 or 20 different kinds of cookies every year. She gives them as gifts and keeps an assortment of them out on a big plate for everyone to nibble on through the day. She started, before I was born, with a few recipes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook: green Christmas tree butter cookies made with a cookie press, little powdered sugar-covered Russian tea cakes, thumbprint cookies rolled in walnuts and filled with chocolate. She still makes those, but over the years she has added and subtracted many others: dark chocolate-dipped macaroons, shortbread, biscotti.

Today J and I are having a small group of friends for dinner, and I'm making carrots roasted with maple, garlic, and thyme, twice-baked potatoes with cheddar and roasted poblano and red bell peppers, sage dressing, and a combination of kale and mustard and turnips green (from the farm) with chipotle. And I'm going to make biscuits.

J made a dark chocolate Southern Comfort pecan pie last night, and someone is bringing an apple pie. I also made little appetizers by stuffing Medjool dates with Parmesan cheese and wrapping them in phyllo pastry, and I'm going to bake them.

I haven't had a chance to make a big holiday meal in years, so I'm very happy and grateful this Christmas Day!

Monday, December 24, 2007

#2. Christmastime in the Trailerpark.

Y'all's finest moment. In a way, though we had many many highs in our 10 years, we were best before we had given it much thought. This recording is from our 1994 CD; we wrote the song for our first Christmas show at Dixon Place in 1992.

"Christmastime in the Trailerpark" was the climactic song of our annual pageant, The Y'all Xmas Xtravaganza, in which we told, year after year, the story of the fateful night the CowGirl Chorus bus crashed in the Forest of Singin' Pine Trees and everyone learned a lesson about the magic of love and absurdity.

Lyrics by J, music by me, backing vocals by the CowGirl Chorus and the Singin' Pine Trees, Cousin Rob on the mandolin, produced by Anthony Erice, and recorded in a cavernous church somewhere in Queens. Christmas alchemy by Y'all.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

#3. The Lights.

I love Christmas lights. I didn't start noticing that I loved them until I lived in New York and I would go all soft at the first sighting of a string of colored lights bordering an apartment window.

One of my family's traditions was a Christmas Eve drive around the neighborhood -- after dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, a later tradition, after my grandmother got too old to come to Indiana for Christmas and insist that my mother make oyster stew for my dad on Christmas Eve even though nobody else would eat it -- to gawk at the gaudy light displays. I love the ones that are bright as noon, stuff on the lawn and on the roof, and all twinkling and blinking and chasing.

The season is about the lights, isn't it? Isn't it about light in a long, dark night, about faith that it is as dark as it will get, and now it's going to get lighter?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

#4. The Saddest Christmas Song in the World.



Judy Garland met Vincent Minnelli -- her first homosexual husband -- when he directed Meet Me in St. Louis, the movie this song is from. (So you could say that we have this film to thank for Liza Minnelli.)

Apparently the original lyrics were even darker and changes were made to brighten it up a little for the film. But the most egregious change -- "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" became "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough" -- was made later, for a Frank Sinatra Christmas album, and now you hardly ever hear the earlier version sung.

The wikipedia entry for the film is worth a read. The very dry plot summary cracked me up. Here's a sample (Tootie is the little girl, played by Margaret O'Brien): "The emotional climax of the movie occurs when Tootie cannot cope with the disruption of her social world, and experiences a violent breakdown in a yard full of snowmen."

Friday, December 21, 2007

#5. It's the Most Wonderful Humbug of the Year.

If you love a good tirade about American Christianity, you can't beat December and you can't beat Christopher Hitchens. He reminds me that I hate what Christmas has become not only because it's evil, but because it's stupid.

I don't agree with a lot of what he writes about other stuff, and, even when he's writing about religion, he tends to overlook the fact that there are some Christians for whom Christ is something other than a passive-aggressive imaginary friend. But, even though I appreciate that there are many people who practice a contemplative Christianity that is worlds different from the born-again shopping mall religion constantly bleating in our faces -- in fact, probably pretty close to my own beliefs and practice -- even those more thoughtful Christians have some explaining to do about that Bible.

Oh, he loves Hanukkah too.

Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

#7. I Wish I Had a River I Could Skate Away On.



(You don't need to watch the video -- nothing happens, this is just the only version of the song I could find to post.)

The last time I saw Richard was Oxford, Ohio in '81.

Until I was 19, I used to say that I didn't like Joni Mitchell because all her songs sounded the same. My sophomore year of college, when I was home for Christmas break, I met a boy. There was a small college in my hometown, and, through high school friends who were going to school there instead of leaving like I did, I met a group of music and theater students who lived off campus, and I would spend most of my evenings with them whenever I was home for breaks. This boy's name was Richard. He was a voice major, smart and funny and effeminate. He wore a bright yellow crewneck pullover sweater.

The two of us ended up alone together after a couple of parties in his room, drunk and stoned, and he played Blue for me. It may have been the first time I'd ever heard it. It was the first time I'd ever heard it. I had never heard anything so beautiful as those songs. I still haven't. Richard and I sat on chairs facing each other and caressed each other's stocking feet (winters are cold in Indiana) and I fell in love -- with Joni Mitchell.

A week or so later, Richard drove to Oxford, Ohio, where I was back at school, about a three hour drive. It was different. Most of that year, my best friend and I (we were also roommates) struggled painfully with whether or not our relationship was sexual, so Richard suddenly in the middle of that was emotionally too complicated, and I couldn't handle it. I snuck off to bed that night, and, when Richard joined me, I pretended to be asleep. He got out of bed and kept my friends up for hours with stories of men who'd mistreated him. He was gone when I got up in the morning.

That was the first time I was passively cruel to a man who didn't deserve it. Not the last, though.

Monday, December 17, 2007

#8. Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.

I'm convinced that people who say they hate fruitcake have never actually eaten fruitcake. It's like people saying they don't like Italian food because Spaghetti-O's are gross. If you've never had a fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery, you've never had fruitcake.

I think it was my grandma that used to order fruitcakes from Collin Street Bakery and send them to us at Christmastime or bring them with her in her suitcase, but I could be mixing up my Christmas memories. It's been known to happen. I do remember the tin they came in with the cowboy superimposed on the Currier & Ives-ish scene on the lid, because my mom kept them and used them for other things, cookies, etc. They still come in those tins.

I didn't get to Texas until I was almost 40 and J and I were touring down here so much and visiting his family. We stopped at the Dr. Pepper plant in Waco and the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, just off I-45 about an hour south of Dallas. We sampled everything and bought an apricot pecan cake. I highly recommend it. If you like sweet things -- if you don't, well, then, you're a lost cause, and besides I don't believe you -- you will like this fruitcake. It's tender and very flavorful and something like 25% pecans.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

#9. Auntie Mame.

From the late eighties to the mid-nineties, I worked the graveyard shift proofreading and word processing in corporate law firms in New York. At one of the firms, I worked with a man named Silvio. He was a native New Yorker, second generation Italian-American, and a bit of a bitchy queen in the old style -- half Sylvester Stallone, half Estelle Getty in Golden Girls. He was sarcastic, very very funny, a great cook, and good to the marrow.

When I met him, his partner (he would have called him his "lover") of many years had just died of AIDS, and we worked together for only a year or so, so I never knew him except as someone who was tender with grief. Most of the time it didn't show, but every once in a while, I'd look over and he'd be staring at the air in front of his face, his eyes wet, utterly lost. Even after you've been working the graveyard shift for years, and your dinner is breakfast, the long night still has the quality of a vigil. In those cramped and smoky -- this was before New York outlawed smoking and before I quit -- proofreading rooms, we might reveal things, laugh harder than our daytime laugh, feel close for a few hours like drunk people and slightly embarrassed when the sun came up.

I had just discovered Auntie Mame -- who turned us on to it? J might remember -- but Silvio knew it by heart. We would recite whole scenes together; well, he would recite them, and I would try to keep up, laughing till my throat hurt. His favorite was the scene when Mame meets Patrick's debutante girlfriend, Glory, who tells the story about the ill-fated ping pong game. It's hilarious. He also loved to do the southern matriarch ("My bougainvilleas!"), who appears in this clip. Silvio did all the voices to a tee, especially, of course, the great Rosalind Russell.


#10. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

In the spirit of my resolution to complain less, and since there are 10 more days till Christmas (rather than shopping days, I like to think of them as "hiding days"), and since I'm done with school for a few weeks and have more time to blog, and above all because scoffing gets old fast, I thought I would do a countdown of the good things about Christmas. Maybe I should have saved this one for last, because it might be the very best thing ever about Christmas, but I can't wait, and besides, this is not meant to be a hierarchical list, but just some things to get us through December. I listened this morning and had a good cry:




The Fairy Tale of New York

by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The rare old mountain tune
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

(chorus)
The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

(chorus)

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

(chorus)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What I Happen to Think.

I for one am glad the primaries are getting earlier and earlier. I'd much rather hear about the election than about shopping. The driver on the shuttle bus yesterday was playing bad Christmas music really loud. I had to sit there and pretend I was Jane Goodall to keep from strangling someone. (I'm trying to coin a word. I like "Chri$tmas," but you can't say it. "Shoppingmas" is clumsy. "Mallmas" sounds like a disease. Any ideas?)

For some reason I've followed an unstated rule to avoid electoral politics here. The reason, in general, is that -- though I love to talk about the candidates and the election with thoughtful, curious people, there are more than enough forums for uninformed people to blow hot air out of their asses at each other without opening up my blog for that. But this morning, I was leaving a comment on a blog I read regularly, and it got to be so long that I decided to move it here. Despite my frustration with the shallowness of media coverage, I do believe that our system depends on a big chaotic exchange of ideas, especially around election time. I think people should tell each other who they're voting for and why. In that spirit, here are a few thoughts on the Democratic primary. It starts with a rant about Nancy Pelosi, because the blog post I was responding to was about her and our ineffectual Democratic Congress:

I never liked Pelosi. The first time I was aware of her was when she became Minority Leader around the time we were going into Afganistan. I was in Indiana at my folks house for the holidays, and she was on the news constantly repeating, "I stand shoulder to shoulder with President Bush, blah, blah..." She just kept saying that, "shoulder to shoulder." She's like a windup doll, with her little scripted phrases.

I used to like Edwards. I liked him last time. I like his focus on poverty. If it were between him and Clinton, I'd vote for him in a second. I just can't get past his Senate vote to invade Iraq. How do you explain that? It was cynical, and his justification for it is disingenuous. How can he say, "If I knew then what I know now..."? I knew then that Bush was lying. How could he not have known?

I'm voting for Obama. Nervously, I remember how good it felt to vote for Clinton in 92 after being so beat up in the 80s by Reagan and Bush the first, feeling so hopeful, and what a crushing disappointment he turned out to be in short order. But I'm better informed this time. In '92, I didn't pay much attention to globalization, big business, or how money worked in elections, so it was easy for me to miss everything that was wrong with Clinton. He was a friend of the gay people, so I voted for him. My support of Obama is more informed.

I don't care if he's got all his t's crossed and i's dotted with the gay people. I used to be a single-issue voter, thinking that homosexual rights could function as a litmus test for the bigger picture. But when the gay rights movement took such a hard turn right in the late 80s, 90s -- with marriage and the military becoming the agenda -- I woke up. At this point, habeas corpus, the balance of powers, the Constitution, are more important than whether or not gay people can get married or kill people in the Middle East or whatever it is they think they should be allowed to do just like straight people. If we can preserve our Constitution, we'll get to civil rights for sexual minorities eventually. I think this election has to be about civil liberties more than civil rights.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Poor Me.

Last week my right pectoral muscle was a little sore, but I didn't think anything of it because since I've been working out every day I get sore now and then. But on Wednesday, I was bench-pressing my little 20 pounds (I spend half my time at the gym removing other people's weights) and after I finished my first set and reached up to start my second set, I felt a sharp pain just to the side of my sternum. I sat there for a few minutes, thinking it would subside, but it got worse and worse, and finally I gave up and went home.

It still hurts. It's a bit better, but it still hurts. I haven't been back to the gym since. Yesterday, I decided that I would go and spend some time on the elliptical machine, just to keep in the habit of going there every day, but my chest hurt and I was feeling crappy, so I blew it off. (I took Nyquil three nights in a row because my coughing was keeping me awake; Nyquil always makes me feel sleepy all the next day.) But I think the main reason I was feeling pissy is that I was just mad about my gym routine being interrupted. Since I started in mid-September, I have worked out religiously 5 days a week. I only missed two days that whole time. I had just begun to really notice a change in the shape of my body, and I was enjoying it.

Since I'm such a novice at this working out thing, I thought I'd look for some advice on what to do about my injury. I found a couple of web sites, one of them called Real Jock (a "gay fitness community"), or something like that. I couldn't find any information about healing from injuries, but they have hookup ads. (You can't be a gay anything without hookup ads, and besides, we're all working out so that we can have more sex anyway, right? so why not put it all on the same web site. Now I'm even more annoyed.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Reason for the Season.

Today was the last day of classes. My only Friday class is (was) Biology at 9, so I came home afterwards, had an early lunch, and went back to the library to get a head start on preparing for my English final. Usually when I study at the library, I sit in a big common area on the first floor where there are lots of comfy leather couches and chairs, but today that area was crowded so I ventured up into the stacks and found a study carrel. When I emerged at 5:30, it was dusk already, and, as I walked out onto the big open plaza in front of the library, despite the fact that it's 75 degrees out, the particular light at that time of day blindsided me with Christmas melancholy.

Whereas for the first 40-some years of my life, Christmas was an anchor, a moment of absolute predictability and the purest rest I got all year, in the last several years it has become an emotional tangle that may never work itself out. Christmastime feels like a big hole in the middle of the calendar. It's not what it used to be, it's not what I wish it were, it's sort of nothing but memory and sadness.

The first concrete thought I had when I walked out of the library -- after that wave of indistinct nostalgia -- was of my second winter in New York. My first winter there, I was in school (1981), but I dropped out after a year and got a job at Pearl Paint on Canal Street, unloading trucks and stocking shelves. Because I spent most of the work day going back and forth from the overheated store to the frigid street, and because I smoked like a chimney and didn't sleep enough, I caught a bad cold which turned into bronchitis which, because I didn't have health insurance, turned into pneumonia. Late one night when I was coughing so hard I could hardly breath, my roommate and a guy I was dating at the time took me to the emergency room at Beth Israel a few blocks up 1st Avenue. If I remember right, that was the first (and only, until recently) year that I didn't spend Christmas with my family in Indiana. I couldn't afford the trip.

(I'm sure the reason that experience came to mind is that I have a mild cough today, due to allergies, and a few days ago I strained a chest muscle at the gym and it still hurts. The combination of the two unrelated symptoms echoes -- faintly -- the feeling of pneumonia.)

I should say that I don't think I ever celebrated Christmas, really. We called it that, and we celebrated on the 25th, but my family was not religious. My mother attends a Unitarian Universalist church now, and she and my dad were Catholic when they were younger, but ours was a secular household. Christmas was about the tree, snow, lights, candles, food. We didn't use the word, but it was a pagan holiday at our house. We celebrated the Solstice.

When J and I had a more traditional relationship (at least in the eyes of my family), we went together to Indiana every year. And my brother's longtime companion would be there, and my sister's husband. My mother baked insane quantities of cookies (she still does). We spent long evenings talking and eating. We went out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve and came home and exchanged gifts. Many years, it was the one time that we were all together.

Three things converged to change everything: 1) The last year and a half before J and I separated, we had a third partner, R. My mom had a hard time with it. J and R and I were together for about 17 months, which spanned one Christmas. My mother told me that I couldn't bring both J and R home that year. I'll save the whole story for another day and just say that it was a very painful time in my relationship with my mother. (We avoided the issue by booking a high paying gig in Aspen on Christmas. They put us up in a ritzy hotel, and I spent a very surreal Christmas Eve, sitting in an outdoor jacuzzi surrounded by snow.)

I don't want to create the impression that my mother is an intolerant monster. There's too much evidence to the contrary. She was the one I learned tolerance from. Some of my earliest memories are of her organizing neighborhood association meetings in the early 70s to fight racist realtors in Indianapolis when black families started moving into our neighborhood and everybody started moving out. Maybe because I grew up in such a liberal family -- when I was 20 and still hadn't come out, my impatient mother left a book called something like "How to Talk to Your Gay Son" in a magazine rack in the family room where I would see it -- maybe because my mother always spoke out against intolerance and bigotry and small mindedness, is why it was such a blow when she refused to accept my unconventional relationship.

The result was that for the first time in my life, my chosen family was not automatically incorporated into my biological family. My whole notion of family, something that had never given me a moment of tension, was blown apart. Further complicating things in the succeeding years, J and I separated for a few years but now we live together again. Though our relationship was in many ways not much like a traditional marriage, in some ways it was. But now, who knows what it is? J ignores Christmas altogether -- his super-religious family ruined it for him, which I think is why he enjoyed my family Christmas so much back then.

(The first year after we separated, J and I took a road trip to Florida for Christmas. On the way, we stopped at a hostel in southern Georgia where all the sleeping cabins are treehouses in a swamp, and then we drove down and spent Christmas Day in Key West.)

The other two trends that have changed things are 2) my sister has three young boys, so their Christmas is now all about Santa Claus, etc. She and her family live close to my mom and dad, but a lot of their celebration centers around the kids, naturally, so logistically it's not effortless like it was when we all just converged at my mom and dad's house. And 3) I get more and more uncomfortable with exchanging gifts. My family is not too crazy with it, but as I've simplified my life (and gotten poorer) over the years, Christmas throws the contrast into relief and I'm never quite sure how to deal with it. I always end up feeling judgmental and ungrateful, so I just avoid it.

Lately, I've been thinking about my ex-boyfriend B, who I was with in my twenties. He's a Christmas fanatic -- and an atheist as far as I know -- but we always had a huge tree and lots of lights in our Brooklyn apartment. Christmas music playing all the time, the good stuff, like Waverly Consort or Emmylou Harris's Christmas album. I loved it. Maybe I should go spend Christmas with him. I wonder how his partner would feel about that? Or maybe I should track down that sweet guy who took me to the hospital and sat with me and rubbed my back while I coughed in the waiting room for 8 hours until a doctor saw me. We only dated for a few weeks. All I remember is that his name was Paul. I wonder what he's doing for Christmas.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

One Movement.

I don't have any ACT UP pictures, but here's a picture of me at the NOW "March for Women's Lives" in Washington in 1989. I have the same haircut and glasses again. Maybe I should get a black leather bomber jacket, too.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

World AIDS Day.

One of my classes -- for those who haven't been keeping up -- is Biology of AIDS. It has been fascinating and difficult, and I'm so glad I took it. We started in September with chemistry, the nature of chemical bonds, moving on to genetics into cell biology, the immune system, microorganisms and viruses, epidemiology, and on into public health and drug therapy and research, and prevention efforts.

On Friday, we had a guest lecturer from the University health service (whatever it's called) who spent last summer in Tanzania, volunteering with a group doing HIV prevention and treatment education in a small village. She gave a presentation about the experience. She showed lots of slides of the Tanzanians she lived and worked with, along the lines of National Geographic photos, beautiful traditional African dress, ebony skin, big smiles, and lots of dust. At the end, she showed a few short video clips of the villagers singing and dancing.

She said that they sang and danced on and off all day long, at the drop of a hat. Any time there was a lull in activity, they spontaneously began singing. The video clips unexpectedly moved me. It's easy, and I guess dangerous in a way, to romanticize that sort of thing, to trivialize, to condescend -- "Look at the charming natives" -- but the images filled me with the same longing I feel sometimes for a kind of generalized Appalachian past when people got out banjos or a jaw harp and sang songs on the front porch at night. Maybe it's eighty percent nostalgia, but I think there's some amount of blood memory in that longing, a yearning that gets more intense as our modern world spins us farther and farther from each other, community, family, god.

(And of course I feel profoundly conflicted about any longing I might feel for a "natural" community, because those traditional structures have not, at least not those in my particular European lineage, been kind to sexual deviants, which is probably why as a teenager I began to run screaming from anything that looked like traditional community or family.)

After her presentation, she handed out little embroidered red ribbon stickers and "safe sex kits" -- small ziplock bags with condoms and lube and information about STDs. Maybe I was emotionally primed by the video of the African villagers, but those safe sex kits really got me. They reminded me of the mid-80s, when it was so exhilarating to finally know what was causing AIDS and how it could be prevented, and we all had a feeling of solidarity and purpose, because, now that they knew what caused it, it was only a matter of time before there would be a vaccine or a cure, and until then we would keep having great sex because we had this new exotic sexy device called a condom -- "safe sex is hot sex!" Condoms were everywhere it seemed, handfuls of them, big bowls full, like candy everywhere you looked. And the burst of activism was powerful and exciting -- all those demonstrations and marches and the boys in their cutoff jeans and ACT UP t-shirts, shouting.

I remember when we all rode in buses to somewhere in Maryland or Virginia, to demonstrate outside the FDA headquarters building in 1988. (I only know the year because I looked it up. My recollection is a little foggy.) One of our slogans at that time was something to the effect that more Americans had died of AIDS than died in Vietnam, which was some 40,000, I think, and at the time we were terribly indignant and saddened by such an impossibly high number. Blows my mind.

Twenty-five years later -- and I've just taken this course and learned that the nature of this virus is such that it's difficult to imagine there ever being anything as neat and clean as a vaccine or cure -- they're still handing out "safe sex kits," trying to get college students to use condoms, and I'm 46 and still trying to keep it together, still trying not to get infected.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Last Night, I Couldn't ...

I took me two hours to get to sleep last night, and then I couldn't stay asleep. I woke up 4 times to pee. Completely unpredictable. I should have been sleepy when I went to bed at 11:30 -- I get up at 5:30 a.m. on Mondays -- but I wasn't. I had slept extra-soundly the previous three nights, so maybe I was just all rested up. I woke up (again) at 5, but, instead of getting up and doing something, I lay in bed till 6 and tortured myself trying to figure out my cash flow for the next two months.

I slept some, I know, because I dreamed that I was in the back seat of a car with my English professor trying to come up with an instance of female bisexuality in Southern literature.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Enchanted.

J and I are Amy Adams's biggest fans, so we couldn't wait to see Enchanted. I think the word I see most often used to describe her is "incandescent," and she is. The rest of the cast is great too, but I could barely keep track of what was going on in the scenes she's not in, because my mind was going c'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon until she reappeared.

Most of the reviews I've read this morning, the positive ones anyway, say that Amy Adams makes the movie. She certainly lights it up, but it's a pretty interesting film for other reasons, too. The big musical numbers are hilarious and thrilling. Each new layer of Busby Berkeley nonsense they added on to the Central Park number made me laugh hard and I still teared up at the end. Is it ironic? Or is it us? Is the production number in Central Park any more ironic than Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley?

There are obvious clues that you're not supposed to take it too seriously, like when the princess summons the rats and cockroaches to help her, Cinderella style, clean the lawyer's apartment. But the song they sing is the real deal. You know because Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz wrote it. It is, simultaneously, the thing and a parody of the thing. I'm sure there's a fancy-schmancy word for that. Postmodernism?

But in the end the movie, like a cat that falls out the window and does a couple of flips but lands on its feet, turns out to be selling the regressive Disney happily-ever-after fantasy after all. Which -- because I was thinking how'd you do that? instead of oh, please! -- ends up being satisfying instead of infuriating.

Why is it that, even when you know it's a load of crap, it's so much fun to believe it for a couple hours? It may only be because I want so badly for Amy Adams to be happy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Boundaries II.

I titled that last post "Boundaries" because I was going to write about my sister but then I got waylaid with Todd Haynes and never got there. The subjects of Z, Todd Haynes, and my sister were related in several ways.

Z is my guinea pig for a new way of relating to loved ones that I suspect is better than any other way. I've not kept anything from him. And even the stuff that I would have been tempted to keep from him, like my feelings about him, he has read here, so even that barrier is broken. So, though our friendship has been in some ways superficial because we don't spend a lot of time together, it is complete, clean. We can be present, in the present, with each other, because there's no debris from the past clogging things up. I don't edit myself with Z and he still likes me, and that is a powerful lesson. I try to take that lesson into the other relationships in my life, and for the most part it improves them.

It's complicated in older relationships, though, because I have a history of having edited what I've shared with them. There is that debris. So, when I tell a friend something about me he didn't know, I am not only telling him that particular thing (which I probably kept from him because I thought he might not like me if he knew), I am also telling him that I've kept a secret from him. This has been a pattern -- presenting an incomplete picture of myself because I fear being rejected, then getting angry because "you don't know me!" -- and I aim to stop it. This blog helps. The artist in me naturally wants to approach it as a literary project, and that helps me to not limit what I write.

I found out last week that my sister has been reading my blog. I had a feeling. When I started this, I didn't tell anyone for a while. I wanted it to be anonymous at first, so I could get used to the freedom. Since my family knows more about me than anyone because our relationships cover more years, I suppose there's also more they don't know. And even though, in recent years, I've tried to be more open with them, share more of my life with them, I see them once maybe twice a year. I want them to know all about me, but how to do you do that when the conversation is so limited?

I imagine most people don't talk openly with their parents about their sex lives. (I have a good friend in Syracuse who is very close to his fairly conservative Italian Catholic mother and will talk about any sexual subject in front of her, sometime just to make her blush, but I envy their openness, and I especially envy their sense of humor about the discomfort). Part of this reticence is appropriate I guess. There are, I suppose, valid reasons for setting different boundaries in different relationships, different rules regarding what of ourselves we share with which people. Some things are legitimately private, I guess, maybe especially between adults and children. I guess. Mostly I think the whole boundaries thing is just an excuse for keeping secrets.

My difficulty, so much of my life, being honest about sex was some combination of an intense discomfort associated with nakedness because my parents are Midwestern and modest and sexually conservative (my parents never talked to me about sex, no birds and bees, nothing, and I feel for them, I understand how it happens, but still -- what kind of message does that send to a kid?) and a deep shame that my emerging sexual feelings were about boys. (As far as training in how to disguise and dissemble sexual feelings, my teenage years were like boot camp.) To my never-ending annoyance, that particular shame can still be very fresh all these decades later, like, for instance, when I strike up a friendship with a guy in one of my classes and I dread the moment in casual conversation when I'm going to be faced with revealing or avoiding revealing that I am a homosexual. It's as simple as being asked, "Do you have a girlfriend?" and having to decide, "Do I really want to deal with this person's discomfort right now?" I get so fucking weary of that. (This a great example of how this pattern starts, with that first little lie which later is the secret -- why didn't you tell me that before?)

So, though it made me a little woozy for a while to know that my sister was reading this stuff, I was glad. It's like mining, you can only get so deep with a pickaxe and shovel (Christmas visits, the occasional email or phone call) -- sometimes you have to blast a big hole to get somewhere.

Boundaries.

Last week, or maybe the week before, I had dinner with Z and his new boyfriend, R. We hadn't seen each other in a while. I missed him. He suggested dinner, the three of us, which I jumped at because I didn't (or thought I didn't) make a good impression when I met R a while back, and I was glad for another chance. So we had dinner, very nice. R is a sweet man, and it made me happy (in a sort of maternal way) to see them hold hands as they walked into the restaurant, to see their affection for each other, to see how much R cares about Z. Happy, as in sad. Because it used to be me holding Z's hand and it used to be me who Z looked at with affection (it's not maternal any more, is it?). Am I entitled to feel wistful about a man I more or less pushed away because I didn't want the attachment? (My opinion about that kind of love is like my opinion about God: It would be nice, but c'mon, really, you can't be serious.)

Over dinner, we talked about aGLIFF -- the gay film festival here, last month. Life in a Box was in it, in 2005. I think they've had a lot of administrative problems, I'm not sure what-all, but the staff has turned over a couple times in the last few years. In my opinion, the programming is uneven and frustrating, but these queer festivals have an impossible mandate -- they have to please such wildly different tastes. They have to program a certain number of silly shirtless boy films (Eating Out, etc.) to please the suburban gay men who actually buy tickets and make donations to the festival while maintaining some artistic credibility for snobs like me who complain about the lowbrow programming.

(I kicked myself plenty of times for not choosing a shirtless boy still from Life in a Box to promote it at the queer festivals. There are plenty of shirtless shots in Life in a Box. It hardly matters what the film is about, if the still in the program shows a shirtless boy, the lines are long. But then you have the problem of an audience expecting something your film is not going to provide. Maybe I'm second-guessing. Maybe all they're expecting is a flash of skin, and they don't care what the rest of the film is about. And maybe it's good that the shirtless promo shots bring the suburban gay male crowd to the theater to see some more serious work. And how condescending was that last sentence?)

Anyway, Z and R said that they'd seen only one film in this year's festival, and they hated it, they thought it was the worst thing they'd ever seen. I asked what it was. It was Poison.

"Poison? Todd Haynes? Prison sex? Spitting?"

"That's the one."

"That's one of my all-time favorite films."

Now, I've already disproved the movie test. And I would not think poorly of someone who doesn't like Poison. Even though I'm a huge admirer of Todd Haynes, I don't always love his films, and Poison is a difficult film. His films are often too cerebral for me, and it's hard to get past the thick layer of style to whatever emotional content is underneath. But still I think he's a real artist. (Though I'm sure it's come out in dribs and drabs here, someday I will put together some working version of my argument that real artists deserve regard whether we like their work or not.) I gave Z and R a little background on Todd Haynes and Poison. I wasn't trying to try to change their minds, but I felt compelled to offer some context for their reaction. I don't think they were looking for context, they just hated the film. Which is fine.

What was jarring though, is that Z said and R agreed that he doesn't like sad films. They don't interest him, he doesn't want to watch them. I live for sad films. And sad books, and sad songs, and sad plays. Sad pictures. Sad people. Sad weather, sad dogs, sad days. I had not really thought of it in such simple terms before that conversation. I feel cheated if there's no sadness in a movie. Happy is fine too, but only because it makes sad sadder.

Regardless of what we know about the movie test, and even though we had a really nice dinner and the conversation about the film was not awkward or uncomfortable, it emphasized to me how separate I am from the two of them, how separate I am now from Z.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Grandma.

I had a haunting dream about my grandmother several nights ago. I'd forgotten about it till just now when I found written on the pad by my bed, "grandma dream letter. I am dying, I am dead, etc." There's not much more that I remember of the dream, just the strange, slightly terrifying but exciting feeling of reading a letter that I knew was from my grandmother somewhere on her way out of earthly consciousness.

My grandmother was 97 when she died a few years ago. She and I had been close when I was young. At the time, she lived in Waukegan, Illinois, the town where my mother and father met and married and where I was born. Actually, my mother lived on a farm in Gurnee, and I think they got married in a church in Lake Forest or one of the other little farm towns around there, before that whole area turned from small farms to suburban sprawl. But my father lived in Waukegan with his mother.

Waukegan was, maybe still is, a slightly seedy town on Lake Michigan. There's a Navy training base there. Grandma lived alone in an apartment downtown. (She and my grandfather had divorced and then he died in the early 60s and she didn't remarry.) The block always seemed to be lit up bright even at night, and bustling with sailors and other people in fancy clothes. There was a candy store on the first floor where we bought caramel corn sometimes. You had to push a button downstairs and wait for her to buzz you in, which I thought was very glamorous. I'm sure those visits, my grandmother's apartment with the pegboard wall covered top to bottom with her oil paintings, like a studio in Paris -- she painted, some original but mostly copies of Impressionist landscapes and such, which she sold -- car horns, bits of overheard conversation on the street below, I'm sure that's when I fell in love with city life. She used to say to me, conspiratorially, "You and I are city folks, aren't we?" A couple of times, I was allowed to visit her for a few days by myself, and we'd go out for Chinese or, if we had dinner at home, she'd make sandwiches with tinned sardines, or we'd eat crackers with processed cheese that came in a jelly jar. I was in heaven.

A few years after my parents married and my brother and I were both born within a couple years, my father got a job in Indiana and we moved. It was only a few hours drive, but back then moving 4 hours away was like moving to China, so we went from seeing Grandma frequently to seeing her once or twice a year. When she would visit my family, first in Indianapolis and then in the little college town where we moved when I was 12, she would get us kids all dressed and take us out "bumming." We'd window shop all afternoon and then have a "hamburg" at the Woolworth's counter. She wouldn't go out of the house without putting on a dress and dark red lipstick.

Soon after I left for college and then New York, she moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. She had other family in that area and I think it was where she grew up, though my knowledge of her biography, or my father's for that matter, is pretty vague, but it meant that we saw very little of her. For years, she took the Greyhound down to Indiana every Christmas, but as she got older she did that less and less. She wouldn't fly. I got busy with my life. We wrote letters, she sent packages of weird stuff, used Christmas decorations, odd expired snacks, knick-knacks.

Four or five years before she died, when I hadn't seen her in several years, J and I planned a leg of our tour in southern Minnesota so we could visit her -- by this time she had moved from her high-rise apartment to an assisted living facility. J and I had been playing shows in retirement homes, so she booked us a gig at her place. I don't know why this was the only time we did that; seems like it would have been the natural thing to do since we were traveling all over the Midwest anyway, to book shows in that area more regularly so I could see her during those last years of her life, but that was the only time we did it. (As I look at that last sentence, I have to laugh, because so much in those years of Y'all, in retrospect, looks like needless chaos, and it seems as though a few small changes in our organization would have made things much more sensible and functional, but we were flying by the seat of our pants and always, always our life consisted of about 20% more than we could manage.)

Anyway, we did a show for Grandma and all her little old lady friends at the retirement home. She wore her Y'all t-shirt all day and beamed through the whole show. She and J hit it off instantly. J has a thing for little old ladies, and Grandma has a thing for tall, handsome men. (I'm not sure what she made of him in his green lace dress on stage, but to be honest, I'm not sure what any of the old folks we performed for made of that. They enjoyed the show, and that's what's important.) I'm not exaggerating when I say that watching her and J laugh together -- I have pictures to remind me -- is one of my sweetest memories, one of the high points of my whole life. We spent two days there, and it was the last time I saw her.

My parents visited her more regularly those last years. She became more and more frail, though I don't think there was any particular health problem besides the fact that she was very, very old. Eventually she moved to the nursing wing of the home, and she began to withdraw. My parents were with her shortly before she died. My mother described her to me later as just sort of curled up at the foot of her bed, and I don't remember if these were the words my mother used, but the image I took is of her almost turning inside out, trying to disappear. It's an image that haunts me.

There's so much more I could write about Grandma, and I imagine I will -- I feel her living spirit in me every day -- but that's enough for now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tsk. Tsk.

I can be picky about language. But I'm also usually ready, before most of my bookish friends, to throw in the towel when a certain "incorrect" usage becomes common.

Like the disappearance of the word "whom," or like "they" and "their" as genderless singular pronouns, since "zhe" and "herm" never really caught on. I'm slowly getting used to that. I don't like the role of pursed-lipped school marm, but I do appreciate precision in written and spoken language, so it can be a hard call. When do you give up?

I think I see "loose" used for "lose" more and more often. In fact, I think I see this more often than I actually see the word "lose" written. And now I'm starting to notice that people use "lead" instead of "led." These are both spelling rather than syntax issues, and I tend to be even less resistant to spelling irregularities. Sometimes I even like them. I like "thru" and "tho." I like "tonite." English could certainly stand some housecleaning in the spelling department. Lose/loose and led/lead types of problems are inevitable when your language has more exceptions than rules. Still, it's jarring, because in my head, "Did you lose your sweater?" is very different from "Did you loose your sweater?"

Friday, November 2, 2007

Hair on the Face.

Word is that mustaches are making a comeback. That's infuriating news, because I thought I had finally settled on some facial hair that I wouldn't have to shave off after a year or two because everyone else was sporting it too.

I like facial hair, but I don't have a lot of choices because most of my beard is patchy and thin. It's thick enough on my chin and upper lip, so for a while I had a goatee. But the whiskers on my chin grow sideways, so I looked like the bottom half of my head was caught in a windstorm while the upper half remained undisturbed. I gave up and shaved it off, but I left the mustache, at first because I thought it was funny, but then I decided it was kind of sexy -- and nobody had mustaches, at least not last year -- so I kept it.

Before the goatee, I had that little patch under the lip for many, many years. I thought it suited me. I resisted shaving it off when it became popular, but eventually it got so ubiquitous I couldn't stand it any more.

It's not like I need to make a huge statement or anything, but I do like to appear a little unusual. I think it's because of my shyness. Because I have trouble actually talking to new people, I need to telegraph something about me with my appearance. And I just like facial hair. I like it on other men, I like it on myself. It's manly, and I like that.

Pee-Shy.

I promise I won't turn this blog into a dream journal, but this one was so weird and disturbing and funny that I can't not write it down.

I was moving back to New York and moving back in with my friend JG on E. 10th St. (JG was my first roommate in New York. We went to Parsons together. I lived with her from 1981 to 1983 and again, after leaving my first long-term relationship, broke and desperate, from 1990 to 1992. We were very close, but she was one of a handful of women I knew in college and immediately after with whom I had difficult friendships. I was always falling short of their expectations of me.) In the dream, the situation felt very precarious and I felt emotionally fragile. J dropped me off there with only a small suitcase and, I think, one box, and he drove away.

I had barely arrived and set down my stuff. I was going to pee when JG walked into the room and said "What are you doing?" I said I was going to pee, and she said she had to go too. (There were two toilets in the living room.) I turned around and saw that she was completely naked. This in itself wasn't a surprise; JG was often naked. She liked being naked. What was a surprise is that she had a big honkin' pink shlong. I tried to swallow my shock, and I tried unsuccessfully to urinate (I've gotten very pee-shy in my old age).

When she was done, we were standing in the kitchen talking, and I said something like, "I see you have a penis now." And she said, "Right, and you're going to be giving me some." I said, "Some what?" "Blowjobs! I'll give you some too." I said, "No! Absolutely not. That's not what this is about. I'm not going to do that." She looked terribly wounded, and she ran away. She started moving her stuff back into the bedroom that she had cleared out for me.

I was suddenly really, really upset and scared. I decided to call J and ask him to come get me, but my cell phone wouldn't work. I kept punching "8," which is the speed dial for J, but when I would press "Call," it would go to another menu. Every time I tried it, something different would happen. (I don't know J's number by heart to just dial it.) I kept trying and trying and trying. I knew that I had no place to go. I woke up.

When I went back to sleep later, I returned to the dream. I was still in JG's apartment. There was a party. I was avoiding her and covertly trying to arrange to get the hell out. Our mutual friend from Parsons, F, was there. We were leaning against a wall in the bedroom talking. (He was one of those boys in college who become really aggravating to their friends because they take forEVer to come out even though everybody already knows. Those boys are usually Catholic, aren't they?) I was trying to get him to give me his phone number, but I sensed that he didn't want to give it to me. I had an escape plan in my head that required his number. I was coming on to him, salaciously, considering we were at a party and surrounded by people holding cocktails and talking.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

One More Day.

I usually think the whole Mercury-in-retrograde thing is pretty silly. Like El Niño, it turns into an explanation of every little inconvenience or difficulty that happens to occur. As if these things don't happen all the time without an astrological excuse. But tell that to my cell phone, which I think must be watching the calender, because about three times a year it goes haywire.

I think my friends have gotten the message that I hate talking on the phone, and nobody calls me any more. I have the cheapest plan available which I think is 400 minutes, and still I only use about 150 of them. My phone gets more use as my alarm clock. Two days ago, instead of snoozing for 6 minutes like it's supposed to, it snoozed for an hour and a half. Seriously, it still said "snoozing" on the screen when I woke up with barely enough time to get to class. And this morning, though it was set for 6:30, like always, it went off at 1:59. When I went to reset it, it was still set for 6:30.

According to this web site that J sent me, today is the last day of this period of Mercury in retrograde, and the last four days, including today, are supposed to be the worst.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fear of Heights.

Thank you all of you who ordered CDs. I sold a handful, and it'll help with the bills. One curious thing happened, though. Every time a CD is ordered, CDBaby sends me an email with the name and email address of who bought it so I can put it on my mailing list (if I had a mailing list), unless the customer blocks his or her personal info. Even if it's an anonymous order, I still get the city and state that it's being shipped to. One of the CDs that was ordered this week went to the same suburb of Indianapolis where my sister and her family live. Now, I've never told my family that I have a blog.

Not that it's such a big secret -- it's on the Internet -- but I feel some freedom in what I write about if it's not in the back on my mind that this forum is my family's first source of news about me. I'm close to my family, and I share more and more of my life with them as I get older, and I share more with my brother and sister than I do with my parents, but there are things I censor, mostly things having to do with sex or having to do with the general precariousness of my life.

In a way, I like these "getting caught" moments. When we were on the road, J and I were blogging weekly about our experiences, alternating weeks. The way I created my blog entries, since I was keeping a pretty detailed personal journal at the time, was to start with my personal journal and edit out the arguments and the sex and anything else I didn't want to share with our fans, and then I'd post it on our web site.

Well, once I had to go back and replace an archived blog page, I don't remember why, and when I went to repost the edited page on the web site, I accidentally posted my personal journal page instead. That particular diary entry happened to contain some juicy stuff: lots of relationship strife and a meditation on Internet sex and taking naked pictures of myself. Since we seldom had occasion to read old blog entries, the page stayed there for months. We found out while we were Scotland and in the middle of the most difficult time in a very difficult patch in our lives -- and the way we found out is another harrowing story which I won't go into here. But curiously, after it blew over, I felt relieved and even exhilarated.

I'm very afraid of heights, but lately I'll make myself walk right up to a railing on a high balcony or the edge of a cliff, because I learn that just because it's terrifying doesn't mean it's going to hurt me. It's one less thing to be afraid of when the world doesn't end because somebody caught you masturbating or whatever, and that's reassuring.

It could be a coincidence that someone in my sister's town ordered a CD. It may not be her. But how do I find out? If I ask her, "Do you read my blog?" and she says, "What blog?" what do I say then? It'll seem like it's a big secret.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Today.

The second flurry of exams is past now. (By chance, all my courses are on an irregular exam schedule, with either 3 or 4 tests, instead of the traditional midterm and final. For most students, the upcoming week is midterms.)

I got a 98 on my American Government exam. I missed a question about executive agreements. It was a multiple choice question, and there were only two possible answers given what I knew about executive agreements, which are agreements made by the president with governments of other countries, which are like treaties but don't have to be ratified by the Senate. I knew that. The distinction between the two answers was that one said executive agreements have to be within U.S. law and the other said they could be outside of U.S. law. I finished the rest of the test and then pondered that question for about 10 minutes. It was silly to fret about it, because I had no idea which was correct. That particular piece of information wasn't in my notes, it wasn't in the textbook. It must have been something the professor said in lecture and I hadn't written it down. I just took a guess, and I could have done that ten minutes earlier.

So, a 98 is pretty good, but I still wanted to know the answer, just to know. I approached the professor after class yesterday and asked her. She said, "Well, if you read the question carefully, there was only one possible answer," which struck me at first as an odd response. She must have thought I was questioning the fairness of the question. I can understand why she might be defensive, because students question everything, trying to get an extra point here or there. It's incredible how much bargaining with professors goes on. I don't remember that we did that when I was young. Maybe I was just too timid to bargain.

Anyway, I wanted to say, "I read the question carefully about 25 times. That's not the problem. The problem is that I still don't know the answer." I didn't say that. She told me that executive agreements have to be within U.S. law because the president is acting as a U.S. citizen when he makes these agreements, whereas a treaty is outside of U.S. because it is an agreement between or among governments. That's what I wanted to know. (My slogan -- "Academia: it's not just about learning.")

I got a 92 on my Biology exam last week. Adding my 10 points of extra credit, my score is 102! I also got an A on that English paper I blogged about recently. In Spanish I'm hovering somewhere between an A and B, I think, and I'm working as hard as I possibly can, so I just have to be happy with that.

I had a dream last night that I was being chased by a giant cat. It looked like a house cat but as big as a house. (Like in the Japanese horror films, where they'd film a fly or something and project it really huge so it looked like a monster.) After I escaped from the cat, I was on a ledge somewhere miles up in the sky, and there were tiny babies and kittens crawling around, some of them falling off the edge, while a veterinarian was explaining to me an elaborate medical procedure -- like an autopsy performed while they were still alive -- which was done on the babies and kittens after they fell. And somebody was eating French fries, which I could smell but not see.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dear Mom & Dad: School is great. Please send money.

I was planning to get a part-time job once I got settled into my classes. I even applied for a cooking job at a neighborhood cafe in July and they told me they'd probably need someone in September. Then school started, and it was immediately overwhelming, so I put it off, and I put it off. Every once in a while the thought would pop into my head that my financial aid is going to run out some time around November, and I would think I need to get a job soon!, and then I'd have a Biology test or a panic attack about Spanish or a paper due, and suddenly I'm not thinking about money any more. Anything that gets me to stop thinking about money is fine by me, believe me, but now it's almost November and I don't have the rent. Every day I wonder, why am I incapable of managing all the parts of my life at the same time?

On that note, I thought I would mention to my readers, some of whom are friends but many of whom I don't know from Adam, that, if you have been curious about my work, now would be the time to buy a CD. (It's the soundtrack to the documentary called Life in a Box, which I made 2 years ago and which is very good but cost a lot of money we never made back, which is a big part of why I'm so broke now.) It played in lots of festivals in 2005; people liked it, and they liked the music.

I had 1000 CDs made because I was sure the film would be shown on TV and theaters and I'd sell enough CDs to pay the credit card debt I racked up finishing the editing. (Lack of pride and foolhardy optimism are the foundation of all art.)

I get $11 every time someone buys a CD. That means, if 30 people buy one each (or if 1 person buys 30), I can pay the rent next week. If I sell 60, I can pay the rent in December, too. Wow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fall.

I did find out today in my advising session that I will not, after all, be able to finish my B.A. by next spring, but nothing could come close to spoiling my great mood because it's finally, really fall. I went to sleep last night with my door and all my windows wide open, and I woke up at 4:30 to a huge racket outside, wind and rain in the trees, and the temperature had dropped about 30 degrees. I shut the windows and pulled up my blankets and went back to sleep for an hour. All morning, on my way to the bus and to and from classes, it poured and the wind tried to rip my umbrella right out of my hands, my feet got soaked because (this is the other thing I found out today) the soles of my shoes are cracked, and I was smiling bigger than I've smiled in months.

Now the rain has stopped, but it's still windy and the air is dry, and I want a t-shirt that says I survived.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Today.

I can't say that I enjoyed today much. I have a mountain of homework to get done this weekend, the bulk of it (besides Spanish, which takes up about 50% of my life) a couple chapters in my microbiology textbook. I dread that book because it's so slow and requires such intense focus -- I'm a fairly slow reader to being with, but this book is crazy slow; it probably takes me an hour to read 7 or 8 pages -- and after about an hour of it, I cannot stay awake to save my life. It's not that it isn't interesting; in fact, it's fascinating. It's just so dense and foreign.

After a couple hours of that, I borrowed J's truck to pick up our box of produce from the CSA. (J went with a friend this afternoon to Maker Faire, an event here in town that I'm still not entirely clear on.) When I had the cooler packed with our veggies and stowed in the back of the truck, I found I had locked the keys inside the truck. I had to walk home, which is not such a great hardship, it's only about a 25 minutes walk, but I was mad at myself and frustrated because I had so much studying to do and it was hottest part of the afternoon, and I was already resenting the time I had to devote to the vegetables, washing, prepping, etc. And because the CSA vegetables are one of my favorite things in life, I was resenting that I was resenting them and not enjoying them today. Yeesh.

I called J from home, but he didn't get the message for a couple hours. By that time, I had gotten over my little episode. He picked up the truck and the vegetables on his way home. I made dinner for us and J's friend: fried okra, yellow squash sauteed with garlic and basil and Parmesan cheese, and a salad of cut lettuce, arugula, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers with a lemon vinaigrette. Boy, it was good.

I forgot to mention the other factor in my response to the Tony Kushner event the other night (if you're curious, you can read J's blog account of it too -- his telling has a similar sort of tangled up ending; it gets to be such a rat's nest when you try to pull apart the various threads): I had discovered that afternoon that I may not be able to finish my degree by next spring. I'm having trouble figuring out the degree requirements, and I have an appointment with my adviser on Monday, but it looks like there are too many requirements for me to finish in 3 more semesters. That bummed me out. I had made peace with the fact that I was going to be like 52 when I finish my MFA (which is what all this nonsense is about). So another year on top of that...

There are days when I wish I was 65 because 1) I could collect social security, and 2) I wouldn't have so many years left to have to make sense of.

Friday, October 19, 2007

That's What They Call Baggage.

Last night, the Ransom Center sponsored a "chat" with Tony Kushner and Steven Dietz (a playwright I'm not familiar with, but he teaches here at U.T.). It was one of those things where a couple famous artists or writers or intellectuals sit in upholstered chairs on a stage with lots of potted ferns and pontificate about their work and art and culture and the audience hangs on every word, chuckles reverently at the high-brow jokes, etc. I love these things.

I lived in New York when Angels in America was on Broadway, but I didn't see it. I think my excuse was that I couldn't afford it, but I'm not sure if that excuse holds water because, if I'd really wanted to see it, I could have saved up. My negative attitude -- at the time -- about Broadway probably came into play, but I remember being aware that this play was different and important, and I was pretty involved in ACT UP at the time, so I'm not sure why I missed it, except that life then was narrow and harried and, working full-time and doing theater, I didn't have time or energy for much of anything else. I saw the Mike Nichols HBO adaptation just last year on DVD and I still can hardly find words to describe how it shook me.

(I really wanted to see Caroline, or Change, which was on Broadway when I was living in New York again in 2003 editing Life in a Box, but it was very popular, and it was impossible to get discounted tickets. By that time, Broadway tickets were over $100 -- they were probably half that in the late eighties -- so it was out of the question.)

J and I talked through dinner and our walk home about our similar reactions to the "chat." Tony Kushner is charming and extremely smart, and he shines in this format. He speaks in paragraphs (long paragraphs), and though he is erudite, he's not pompous. He's funny and humble and clear. So, I enjoyed it. But I (like J) felt on and off through the talk a kind of deep, painful sadness, a feeling of regret, a feeling that my artistic life has slipped by, that I missed the boat, that in my twenties I had a destination but I got lost. I'm combining my description of the feeling with J's. We both admitted to having had this feeling before.

About a quarter of the audience I'm guessing was students, some of whom -- judging by the self-conscious quality of some of the laughter and sighs when Mr. Kushner's comments were particularly witty or profound -- worship Tony Kushner, and it brought me back to similar events when I was in college (the first time). Meredith Monk came to Miami University when I was a freshman. She performed in a small recital hall and then talked with a group of students and faculty, answered questions, and I simultaneously fell in love with her and art and my own potential to be a great artist just like her.

That desire is mixed up with but not exactly the same thing as the desire to be famous. And both J and I were afflicted with both desires. (I didn't experience it so much as a desire to be famous but as a certainty that I was a famous person who just wasn't famous yet.) Maybe the two are the same after all, just different degrees of the same thing. I wanted not just to be known, but to be known after I died, to have made an indelible mark. And that's my antidote to that uncomfortable feeling of having failed which J and I both experienced last night: I believe -- and I've blogged about this before, I think -- that the work J and I did as Y'all had some quantifiable influence on creative activity that followed it, art, music, performance, something. I haven't done the research; I can't defend my thesis yet, but I'm pretty confident that there is support for that argument. The trouble -- as J pointed out -- is that much of the best work we did was, because it was performance, ephemeral. But -- as I pointed out -- a great deal of it was recorded. We have hours and hours of video; we (mostly J) wrote a book; we made records. There's a substantial archive -- I know, because I've been dragging it around the 48 states for the last 5 years.

Y'all, as far as how it played out in our lives, in our relationship, and in our careers, is hard to parse. We knew it was a beast when we were in the belly of it. Y'all started out as something fun to do. We were both pretty busy with other stuff when we met. I was working a lot with Tiny Mythic Theatre Company, and I had a folk-rock band. J was writing plays which were being produced at various little downtown theaters. We met, we couldn't get enough of each other, and you can only have sex so many times in a day, so eventually we got out the ukulele and started making up funny songs. That's really how it happened. And then, the short version of the story is that we played our songs for our little circle of theater people, they said nice things, we got a couple gigs, people laughed, so we went with it. It was what I'd been trying to do all along with all my work, create something that people responded to. We wanted to make good art, but we both wanted fiercely to be famous and this truly seemed like our shot.

But then, at some point early in the career of Y'all, we made a choice to pursue a middle-America audience. We knew we were working in a traditional medium, a populist medium, and -- though we were aware that being so queer and so old-fashioned at the same time made Y'all subversive, we could see that the people who responded deeply to our act were those who had some reverence for those traditions (old-time and country music, the Grand Ole Opry, etc.). We knew that Y'all was post-modern but we didn't want to let our audience know that we knew. The people who were sneering at or laughing at the traditional element of it, eventually lost interest in us, I think. The people who liked us were little old ladies and little kids, art snobs, rednecks, and housewives. Everyone, it seemed. It was intoxicating. That bit about wanting to host our own TV show, we really believed we could make that happen. That wasn't just part of the act.

When I was in art school, and when I was studying theater, and even when I was doing all that experimental work in New York, I always had a slight uneasiness about the eliteness of it, the arcaneness, the artists-making-art-that-only-other-artists-will-understandness-of-it. I loved that Y'all was art for the people. We followed Y'all out to the hinterlands, farther and farther away from our avant garde community and eventually out of New York. That's where our audience was, but we were left pretty isolated out there.

Then there's our relationship, and how it affected and was affected by all this art and fame stuff, but that's just too complicated to get into right now. I made a movie about it, which I think tells pretty accurately at least a small part of that story, but of course there's always more to say, more to ponder.

So, I don't know. I have no c0nclusions here. Both J and I at times have a pretty troubled relationship with our past, our futures, our careers, and even sometimes with each other. But I'm hugely grateful that I have him here, in the next room, and that we can talk about this stuff from time to time, even if it's unpleasant.

Monday, October 15, 2007

An Old Dog.

I just took my second biology exam. It was less harrowing than the first one. The material was not as difficult for me. The first test was all chemistry and genetics, which are abstract and complex compared to viruses and drugs (the topics covered on this test) which are complex but they're somehow more real to me. I also knew better how to study this time. I was thrown last time more by the types of questions than by the subject matter. Anyway, I think I did well.

I also had a quiz in Spanish this morning.

So last weekend was intense, with studying for the exam and re-writing an English paper. I say re-writing, but for all intents and purposes I was starting over. In the first draft of the paper, I had taken issue with a point in a scolding little essay by Nabokov, called "Good Readers and Good Writers." The essay is one of two texts that the professor has based the course on (the other is "Education by Poetry," by Robert Frost), so I knew I was walking into a minefield by disagreeing with something in it, but my argument was specific and well-argued, I thought. I got it back with no marks on it, and a note on the front that said, "While your paper is well-written, what you have written is not the kind of argument that the assignment requested... You need to go back and choose a topic that you can support with clear, undisputed proof," etc.

We have lecture twice a week, and we meet with a grad student teaching assistant in small "discussion sections" once a week. Our papers are graded by the T.A. In lecture the day after we got our papers back, the professor said "the worst thing that can happen is that you get your paper back with no marks on it, but that only happened to a few people who are still trying to argue that Nabokov is wrong. If you're still doing that, just stop it, it's childish."

I stewed for a while, remembering what it was that drove me to drop out of school 3 times previously: the attitude in academia that the person who has read the most books is the smartest. But then I started thinking, you know I've read a shitload of books, and not only that, I've had a pretty wide range of experiences, not to mention the fact that I've been an artist and writer for over 25 years. My mind might not be exactly on a par with Nabokov, but I at least have enough authority to have a dialog with some of his ideas. And, I certainly have more authority than a 23-year-old grad student. Harumph.

So I went to see the professor in his office, and I said, "I need some guidance here. I need more than just 'wrong, try again.'" (Have I said that I love this guy? I've never seen a more energetic, committed teacher. I love his class.) We had a great conversation. He understood how I feel awkward sometimes, being an older student when the style of his class is geared toward people just starting out with these ideas. He looked at my paper and the T.A.'s comments and said, "I remember this one -- this isn't what I told her to say to you." He helped me see the Nabokov essay more clearly, pointed out things that I hadn't noticed, and I left with a deeper understanding of it. I went home and re-wrote the paper.

The moral of the story is, make use of your professor's office hours.

When I was younger, school consisted of figuring out what the teacher wants, giving it to him or her, getting an A. I don't want to do it that way this time, I know that. What I want to do is figure out what the teacher wants because if I do the thing in the very specific way that the teacher asks, I will learn something valuable. And get an A.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

¡SÍ SE PUEDE!

U.T. unveiled the new statue of Cesar Chavez on the main mall yesterday. I guess because it's pride week here at U.T., they decided to pose him like a flag dancer at a gay pride dance. Work!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Discrimination.

It's like a hobby, my interest in love relationships. The topic, I mean. I ponder and pontificate about it more than most people, I would guess, and -- after the experience of making Life in a Box, spending 3 years examining, making some sense of, and figuring out how to present narratively my own most significant love relationship -- I think I may have some small wisdom to share on the subject. (But, of course, it's a case of the more you know, the more you find you don't know.)

Last night, I was at the bar I go to, having a conversation with a guy I talk to. He was telling me something about something, and he said, "my buddy, my other half," referring to the man he's been involved with and lived with for many years. I was struck by the word "buddy," and how probably 10 years ago I would have regarded his use of it as a bit pathetic, a vestige of the closet. Or, I would have thought, maybe it's how he refers to his partner when he's in straight male settings where he doesn't feel safe being out. (We say we've come out of the closet, but honestly we're in and out of it all day long.) It would have struck me as a sad word, in the same category as calling a boyfriend "my friend" or the substitution of gender-neutral pronouns -- "they" instead of "he" -- when talking to a co-worker about a date.

But last night it sounded, simply, like the right word. This guy is his buddy, not his lover, not his husband. Guys use the word buddy for a friend they have a deep bond with, a history, maybe someone with whom they're emotionally more open than usual. A guy who knows them better than their other friends. Drinking buddy. Fishing buddy.

Homosexual relationships aren't the same as heterosexual relationships. The reason they aren't the same -- and this is so obvious that I think it gets overlooked -- is that we are of the same sex. And sure there are ways in which we can mimic heterosexual relationships, for altruistic reasons (for instance, to adopt children) or for selfish reasons (to gain acceptance), but by pretending that they are, in fact, the same denigrates homosexual and heterosexual relationships. The people who are fighting for "marriage equity" are saying that there is no difference between them and that the marriage laws are discriminatory. I see good reason to discriminate. I think it's untruthful not to.

I've never felt like the particulars of my life were covered by or included among the outlines we get. I never wanted a job, I never wanted to own a home, never wanted to get married. (That's not strictly true; I have momentarily wanted each of these things, only because I thought they might bring some comfort or security, not because I thought I would flourish in them.) Even if I were heterosexual I would rail against the institutions I rail against now: marriage, the military, academia, private property, the market economy, etc. I used to think homosexual orientation was the cause of being so at odds with the world, but apparently that's not the case since there are so many homos now fighting to be included in that foundational institution of institutions.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

I Hate That In the End It Always Comes Down to How Much I Have Invested in People Liking Me.

I read 4 or 5 blogs every day, and another batch of them I read weekly. A few of them are newsy, but most of them are more like mine, just people writing about the little stuff that goes on in their lives.

Last week, one of my bloggers posted a youtube clip from the Dr. Phil show of Sandy Patti singing Ain't No Mountain High Enough while a girl with Down's Syndrome did ASL interpretation. I didn't notice that the girl was retarded until halfway through the clip (the camera mostly avoided her), but I was having a good laugh at Sandy Patti, the big white lady pouring her heart and soul into the Motown tune. Sandy Patti is like a blonder, less famous Kathie Lee Gifford, and just as ludicrous.

When I finally did notice the girl, it became suddenly exponentially more bizarre and hilarious. I cracked up at the insanity of this woman who had decided that the best way to convey her message would be to sing this song and have a retarded girl do ASL with her, and that it was working because this room full of people was obviously deeply affected by it. What a world.

I sent the clip to J and another friend who I was sure would find it as absurd and funny as I did. Both of them replied saying, basically, "I don't think this is funny." In an instant I changed from the sophisticated artist with a dark sense of humor to the cruel oaf laughing at the retarded girl, and I was mortified. (Neither of my friends reprimanded me. This anxiety was of my own creation.) I know I wasn't laughing at the retarded girl, but, for some very frustrating reason, it was more important to me to know that my friends know that. And of course there's no explaining it. ("I wasn't laughing at her, I was laughing with her." How ridiculous.) And really, even though I wasn't laughing at the retarded girl, I was laughing at the fat white lady, who, after all, was just doing her best to bring joy into the world.

There may be a lesson bigger than the size of my head in this, something like, "A dark sense of humor is fine until you hurt somebody." But mainly what I've learned (for the ten billionth time) is that despite the fact that I try to chip away at it every day, my ego is still as big as Mt. Everest.

Last night over dinner, J told me something that might serve as exculpatory evidence: On the youtube site -- when I forwarded the URL to my friends, it took them to youtube, not to the blog where I found the clip -- it's titled "Sandy Patti Butchers the Hits with a Retard." On the blog where I watched it, there was no title. I never would have laughed if I'd seen that title. You know that, don't you?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Brouhaha de Español.

My Spanish teacher sat the class down for a heart-to-heart this morning.

Apparently there's a big flap in the Spanish department because the average test scores in all 20 classes of first-year Spanish were very low. Also, the range from highest to lowest score was very wide, some 45 points (which for some reason is also a bad sign, though I'm not sure why).

This is the first year they've used this textbook and curriculum, and they're thinking maybe it's not going so well. They've decided that they can't -- again I don't know why -- help a brother out and adjust the test scores on a curve, but what they can do is lower the test's percentage value toward our final grade. Also, our teacher passed out a survey for us to evaluate the course so far and offer suggestions. For some reason I'm not feeling very secure in this little expedition. It's slightly encouraging to find out that it's not just me at sea. But, still, I'm at sea. And I think the boat is leaking.

I don't mind being a guinea pig -- I spent most of last year doing it for a living. But if they want me to test out their new curriculum, they should be paying me, not the other way around.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Boo, Spanish.

I had my first Spanish exam yesterday, and our instructor already had our tests graded to give back to us this morning. I got an 81.5. I wasn't surprised. Most of the exam was based on an audio recording of two people speaking at a normal conversational speed in two different accents (one Mexican, the other Colombian). We heard it twice. I could understand about 15% of it.

I have a hard time listening to poor-quality audio amplified in large rooms, because I have a slight hearing impairment. It's never been diagnosed, but what happens is some frequencies just turn into noise, like analog distortion. I can hear things, but I can't always understand the words. The impairment is subtle enough that it hasn't affected my life much -- though it does affect the lives of my friends, who have to put up with me constantly saying, "What?"

But I can't completely blame it on my hearing. The speakers were talking fast, and they sounded very different from anyone I've ever heard speaking Spanish. The woman totally swallowed her S's. S is kind of an important letter to leave out, I think.

The second part of the exam consisted of a synopsis of a movie in Spanish, mostly in words and syntax we haven't studied yet, and then questions about it. The idea -- this is a technique that's used a lot in our textbook -- is to skim the text for cognates (words that are similar in English) and then try to guess the general sense of the paragraph. This part was a little easier, though most of the class objected to a few of the questions, which were tricky considering we've only been studying this language for 5 weeks.

I'm frustrated. It's not like Biology where the material is just difficult and complex, but I know if I study like a maniac I can get it. A foreign language is difficult and complex, too, but I'm doing well with the written stuff. I know the grammar. But listening comprehension is an intangible skill. I don't know how to study it. We don't do much listening in class. Not even in lab, which I think is supposed to be for that. Lab is a waste of time. We'd be much better going to a Mexican restaurant and ordering in Spanish, or watching a Spanish TV show, or anything where we could be listening to people actually speaking the language.

I'm going to get some tutoring.