Wednesday, December 30, 2009
After spending every Christmas my whole life with my family until about 2002, I hadn't been to Indiana on Christmas for several years , opting for New Year's Eve instead. Long story why I stopped going, but it mainly had to do with my uncertainty about what constitutes "family." When, for the last two years of my relationship with J (who was always welcomed and loved and cherished by my biological family), we had a third partner, my parents told me I could only bring one partner home for Christmas. Until then, it had never occurred to me that there would be any separation between my acquired and biological families. It was quite a blow. I know my parents didn't mean to hurt me, and the episode was painful for them too. I didn't go home for Christmas that year or any year since then until this one. (J and R and I all spent that Christmas together at a fancy lodge in Aspen, where we had a very high-paying house concert gig for a dinner party of the family of a benefactor.) I hope it doesn't seem as if I hold a grudge against my mom and dad. I know they missed me, but it was a painful time and I didn't want to be reminded every year.
Besides all that drama, my anti-consumerism stance has become more hard-core -- I don't want to poop on anyone's ritual, but I don't want to take part in it either, so I thought it would be best to just not be there for the gift-exchange.
However, the older, more universal aspects of the winter holidays are still important to me to recognize, to observe. The whole longest night rebirth of the sun thing. In some fantasy of my ideal life, I see myself celebrating the solstice with my dearest friends, my acquired, chosen family. But it never quite happened. Friends either avoid the holidays or they have their own traditions, their own family stuff to attend to. So more and more over the last few years I've started to just feel adrift and lonely at Christmastime, which is why this year I decided to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, my mom and dad, and my brother.
On the way there, I was feeling very sad and anxious. I realized that the reason I was going to Indiana was that I didn't have anything keeping me here. My life this year is more unmoored than ever before. I'm living in someone else's house. My financial outlook is more insecure than ever in my life. My career is in a state of flux that feels like stasis.
J avoids Christmas altogether. He was battered by his fundamentalist upbringing. He says he's not anti-Christmas; he just doesn't give it any more weight than President's Day and who can blame him. All the war on Christmas reason for the season idiots? That's what he escaped from.
And J and I have both been dating recently, so, even though J is my family here and will always be my family wherever we might be, our relationship is changing in subtle ways. Our lives are still very intertwined, but we're starting to depend on each other a little less. It's good, but maybe a little scary, a little sad. In the way that, well, life -- if you're honest about it -- is scary and sad. I have some wonderful new friends here, but they're new friends. My oldest dearest friends are scattered all over the country.
So it was nice to see my family. Also hard. My sister and her husband and their 3 boys, though they live about 40 minutes from my mom and dad, do their own stuff, and my brother's girlfriend's cat was dying, so he came to visit without her just for an afternoon. I was with my folks on Christmas Eve -- which used to be our family's big celebration day -- and it was very sweet, but it was just the three of us. I flee the insecurity of my life here only to find the old family rituals dissolving too. I guess you can't go home again for Christmas. And if that wasn't anxiety-provoking enough, just being with my mom and dad turns up my neurotic internal monologue to 11 -- in the sort of ordinary way that I think that happens to everyone.
But something about spending a week with those family anxieties, familiar and old, was strangely orienting, and I returned to Austin tired but not nearly as strung out as I was when I left.
I took this picture of the Indiana countryside from the highway on the way to the airport and posted it to facebook yesterday. This landscape, the sky, the stand of bluish-brown trees, the cornfield that revolves as you drive by, evoke all the longing of my high school years, the loneliness of waiting to become my true self, the yearning for something to happen, never sure that it, whatever it is, would ever happen. That's sort of how I feel now.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
But before we concede the entire moral penthouse to "committed vegetarians" or "strong ethical vegans," we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot.
Defensive carnivores always trot out the "what about the plants?" argument when they want to catch vegetarians in an inconsistency. Don't plants have a right to live out their lives and die peacefully of old age instead of being dismembered and thrown into boiling water or roasted alive? The argument often works because so many vegetarians base their choice of diet on the idea that non-human animals have just as much right to live their lives unmolested as humans do. Such a justification for not eating animals leaves you open to a barrage of attacks: "What about all the insects that die when you harvest crops that were their homes and food source? or the microorgamisms that die when you wash your lettuce? What about all the grubs and small mammals that are killed when you till the soil?," etc. etc. etc.
The problem with asking whether plants (or cows, or monkeys, or bacteria, etc.) aspire to live is that it takes too short a view. Of course they aspire to live. Everything living aspires to live; that's sort of the point. I'm not particularly looking forward to being food for worms, but that's what my carcass will end up being. I aspire to live and in order to live I need to eat other living or formerly living things. And worms need to eat too.
It's just a fact that organisms will die so that other organisms can eat. But the world is larger than me, larger than a feedlot of cows, larger than the spinach plant whose leaves I amputate to make a salad. When I decide what to eat, I can't be controlled by any individual organism's aspirations. If I'm thinking about aspirations at all, I try to keep in mind what the world (of which I am a tiny part) wants, what the world needs, in order to survive and stay healthy.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The "children need magic and wonder in their lives" argument is bullshit. Children find the whole world magical. Seems to me that playing an elaborate practical joke on them at such a young age might actually corrode their sense of real wonder and real mystery.
"You better be good or Santa won't come." Don't you think a great percentage of December behavior problems are actually caused by the manic anticipation of Santa Claus and piles of toys? The ability to blackmail your kids into good behavior for a few weeks (and, really, does it work?) is not a benefit, it's just a desperate effort to break even.
Santa Claus is like circumcision. "Everybody else does it, and we don't want our kid to feel out of place." It's just another thing that we inflict on children because nobody wants to be the first one not to.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Every few months, there'd be an Andy Hardy movie or maybe Judgment at Nuremberg on at midnight or some other odd time. These showings were like precious rare gifts from whatever god looked over homosexual boys, and I would stay up till 4 in the morning if I had to. This was my thing. I have no idea how the Judy Garland obsession started, but it was something I did alone, and it was intense for many years. I would cry, literally cry, if there was a movie listed and I had to, for whatever reason, miss it. They rarely came around again.
In the age of Netflix, I've seen them all. Most of them a few times. To have access to all these clips on youtube now is almost more than I can bear.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
We've all read Omnivore's Dilemma by now, we know that the way animals are raised for meat these days is a nightmare. But this is just as monstrous. In fact, I would say it's worse because it's not the behavior of some impenetrable corporate bureaucracy whose power over our lives we don't understand and feel powerless to affect. This is just folks. It's one thing to turn a blind eye to the provenance of that McDonalds burger you eat every day for lunch, quite another thing to seek out a breeder, buy a puppy, then drop it off at a shelter (or in the highway median) when it's not cute anymore. That is a degree of baldfaced evil that I can hardly imagine being capable of, yet people do it every day.
I think I'm a pretty reasonable person. I'm not some howling PETA activist or radical vegan. I'm not even a vegetarian. I understand that things die so other things can eat. In fact, if these people ate the chihuahuas instead of abandoning them for someone else to kill and dispose of, I would find that some degree of evil less.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
A couple thoughts:
1) Something that long and complex would never make it to Broadway today unless it were some arty Tom Stoppard thing.
2) Popular family entertainment used to be much more adult than it is now. Oklahoma! is steeped in sex and politics and history. Not to mention the fact that it is art of a very high caliber, the highest. Now we have Shrek.
3)Whoever that woman is who played Laurie took my breath away. More than once.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Every year at Christmas she took the Greyhound to Indiana for a long visit, first from Waukegan and later from St. Paul. The trip from St. Paul was quite long, but she wouldn't fly. Some years, especially after she moved to St. Paul, Christmas was the only time we saw her. I adored her, and her visits were the highlight of the year and the best thing about Christmastime.
A few years later, by the time of my first memories of her, she favored animal prints and she died her hair black with silver streaks. (That's my sister with her in the kitchen of our house in Indianapolis.)
From Grandma Lenore I got my love of city life, my deep-set eyes, and my bohemian temperament.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Towleroad and JoeMyGod are way too gay for me, but the contributors on Bilerico are all over the map, men and women and trans people of various identities and ideologies (but leaning heavily toward scholars and activists). Nancy Polikoff, my anti-marriage hero, is a regular contributor. I don't agree with every writer, but, because I find myself so often at odds with the "gay agenda," I like that Bilerico gives space to dissidents.
Recently, though, there was a profoundly stupid post, by a brand new contributor, which more or less berated people who identify themselves as trans, dismissed the very idea of transgender. (I would link to the post, but it's been removed.) Just why the post ended up there is -- despite reading three days of apologizing, explaining, defending, condemning, and then firing the guy -- somewhat of a mystery to me. It was just so ignorant and insulting, and on a blog that seems to take some pride in the fact that it includes trans voices and, for that reason, I would guess, has a substantial trans readership.
But it sparked a conversation, and that's good. Apparently, most of the Gs, Ls, and Bs still have a lot to learn about the Ts.
I especially appreciated this post -- a sort of "Trans 101" -- for its directness and simplicity, for giving us an armature to hang the conversation on, a place to start. My comment and the response I got from the person who wrote the post are below:
So I think I might start calling myself trans. It is more accurate than gay. I have had a life-long internal dialogue about my gender. I didn't know how to be a boy, couldn't walk like them, couldn't tip my chin to say hello. At home I would put on my mother's makeup and wrap towels around myself and tuck my penis between my legs. Even so, I never had the kinds of feelings many transexuals describe of knowing they were girls (or boys, for FTMs). It was acting, just as much as putting on jeans and carrying my books at my side was acting. I wouldn't have used these words at the time, but when I remember how I felt about myself when I was a kid, and even into early adulthood, I felt genderless. I never exactly felt like a girl, but I certainly didn't feel like a boy. My boyness was a tenuous and fragile puppet show.
This is great. I love the work you've done to begin creating a taxonomy.
But I wonder where old-fashioned homos fit in this. You have the category "gender variants" ("not heterosexual: this is you"), which would seem to include all homos, but you shy away from explicitly including them under that label. Am I misreading?
I would like to push your argument further and say that we are all trans. Even the homosexuals whose presentation conforms to their biological gender in every way except their erotic orientation.
It's queer orthodoxy to say that gender identity and erotic orientation are two discrete phenomena. I'm always trying to make the argument that that is not true. As I see it, homosexual orientation, in and of itself, is in some meaningful way the same thing as transexuality. They both transgress expectations of gender appropriate behavior. I.e., if you are male and attracted to other males, you are behaving in a way that is only appropriate to women.
I've struggled a lot in the last several years with what to call myself, because "gay" has come to signal a lifestyle I don't want to be a part of. "Queer" is simultaneously too raw and too academic. Even though the way I look is pretty straightforward gender-appropriate male, can I be trans? Is there anything problematic about me calling myself trans?
The real difference as I've gotten older is that I've realized, maybe, that it's always a puppet show, even for the straight boys, and I have come to feel more comfortable being male, to enjoy pulling the strings. There are things about me that are stereotypically male and there are also things that are as girly as it gets.
Nature, nurture, blah, blah, who knows -- why do we feel the need to scienceify everything in order to believe it's true? -- I very much like being both male and female, being something in between.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
There's not one single thing in this clip that I'm not absolutely in love with right now.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Until I saw this film, I had completely forgotten about my first encounter with him and his music. A friend's band opened for him in New York in 1991, or maybe early 1992. I remember my friend telling everyone that if we didn't come to any other show of hers, we had to come to this one because it was a chance to see Townes Van Zandt close up in a small room. I'd never heard of him.
The show was at the Speakeasy, one of the old folk clubs in the West Village, and it was very small, as I remember. We crammed into a tiny room, my friend's band, Pie Alamo, played a short set, and then Townes Van Zandt came out, sat on a stool with his guitar and played a few songs but mostly talked. Long rambling stories; I don't remember what any of them were about. In my memory, it went on for hours. Too long, really. He died a few years after that, and I wish I remembered it more clearly. I wish I could say that such-and-such song blew me away and I remember every word. I don't. I remember the absolute silence in the room more than anything in particular about the songs. I do remember that he was funny and charming but at times incoherent, and that maybe the silence wasn't only reverence for a great artist but fear that he might never find the thread of that story. Or that he might fall off the stool. I'm gonna guess he was pretty drunk, and everyone in the room was completely in love with him.
I'm ashamed to admit that one possible reason I don't remember the evening in much detail is that I was preoccupied with a man. I was there with a date. A guy I had met at a sex club -- the very early incarnation of Michael Wakefield's "He's Gotta Have It" parties, when he was doing them in his East Village loft. This guy was dark and gorgeous and we had had some of the best sex I've ever had in my life, twice, which I guess I thought might translate into a more lasting relationship. (Go ahead and laugh; it was a long time ago.) We went out twice, not counting the 2 encounters at the club. The Townes Van Zandt show was our last date. He left before the show was over. I scoffed.
Not long after that night, I met J, and not long after that, we auditioned for our first gig as Y'all. It was a cabaret event which a small theater company was producing at Flamingo East, a restaurant on Second Ave. J approached them, and they asked us to come sing a couple songs for the directors of the company. We'd been making up songs at home for fun and playing them for friends, but this was the first time we'd presented them to strangers and we were nervous. We walked into the big empty ballroom upstairs (it was mid afternoon) and there were 3 or 4 people sitting at a single table in the corner. We sat opposite them and sang our little set. I played ukulele. I didn't notice until halfway into the first song that one of the people at the table was the sex club guy. He was friendly, I was friendly, but we didn't acknowledge our previous acquaintance. We got the gig, the rest is history.
Oh, and Michael Wakefield, who I didn't know personally at the time, ended up taking the first publicity photos of Y'all. He was a wonderful photographer in addition to successful sex club mogul. Later Michael became a sort of mentor to J and me. One of our early money-making ventures to finance Y'all was to produce our own bi-weekly sex party. I think we had 3 of them. We made pots of money at the first one, but attendance dropped off quickly, and we moved on to other harebrained schemes.
Be Here to Love Me is a beautiful, very sad film about a great American artist. I recommend it. The clip below is not from the film, I just ran across it and it struck me as being very much like I remember him.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Then -- I guess it came in yesterday's mail, but I just saw it -- I got a notice that the interest on my credit card is going up to 27.24% because my October payment was late. I have an alarm set on my computer to remind me to make this payment every month, but I was in New York for my show, and I missed it. This is the $15,000 in credit card debt that I racked up finishing my film, Life in a Box, in 2005. Optimism is my enemy. That and, I supposed, spending so much time on art that I don't get paid for.
The first part of the day was quite nice. I had lunch with J and a dear friend from Nashville who was here on business and whom I hadn't seen in a long, long time. And I had a nice visit with a new Austin friend. He helped me figure out a problem with my video editing software, and we talked about men and sex and we bitched about how fucking hard it is to make a living and be happy.
I love my friends.
Update: The payment wasn't late. The default rate kicked in because the minimum payment was $302 and I paid $300 last month. For years I've paid $300/month on that card because $300 was about twice the minimum payment and I wanted the balance to go down, even if slowly. But last month the minimum payment doubled, I didn't notice it, and I paid $2 less than the minimum. Two dollars. I'm not going to blame anyone for my financial woes. Obviously I've brought them on myself with the choices I've made. But two dollars?!
Friday, December 4, 2009
I didn't see any white stuff, but a friend of J's west of the city said it snowed for about two minutes, "but it didn't land." And I heard that in Round Rock it snowed for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile here in Austin it was a gorgeous crisp sunny day in the upper 40s. Another friend of J's described our big winter storm as "really just sweater weather to the rest of the world."
Bunch of freaks.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
As far as healing, I'm pretty much okay. But there are a few lingering effects, even six months later. There is still a slight swelling and dark cast around my right eye, and the bones of my eye socket and jaw and teeth creak and crackle when I touch or move them. There is a tiny scar under my eyebrow. I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night because my neck and shoulders are so sore I have trouble moving them. But that's less and less frequent. Most of the time I'm not conscious of these physical effects.
I wonder sometimes, more often lately, about the psychological effect. I threw myself right back into everything three days after the accident. Summer school, my show in New York in September and October, job hunting, substitute teaching, dating, were all pressing. Not to mention the seemingly huge question of what creative project to undertake next.
Certainly the accident didn't create the chaos. Didn't cause the instability in nearly every area of my life right now. Would I be struggling so if I hadn't a few months ago collided with a car so hard that I have no memory of it still? I guess there's no way to ever answer that question.
So the New York Senate really doesn't want you to get gay married in New York. 38 - 24. Good to know.
I watched the debate live yesterday, which was fascinating for many reasons: one, because it still feels amazing to me to watch our system of government function in real time. I know we've had C-SPAN like forever, but it still gives me a thrill. History happening. And I was very moved watching Senator Tom Duane speak. I remember when we elected him to city council in 1991, what a thrill that victory was.
It was mostly only those in favor of the bill who speechified. Some of the speeches were quite moving, but still they're making the same arguments that don't convince anyone as far as I can tell. If you think it's wrong for two men to love each other, why would you be swayed by someone telling how much and how truly they love each other?
(It's interesting that those against the bill didn't speak. Maybe because they have no argument that isn't based on religious doctrine. Ruben Diaz, the one senator who spoke against the bill, didn't have any qualms about bringing his Bible into the debate.)
Over and over, when politicians and activists make emotional appeals for gay marriage, they insist that they are not asking to change marriage, they are only asking to be treated equally. I don't buy it. I know many same-sex couples who are absolutely devoted to each other, but not sexually exclusive and (rightly) don't see monogamy as a necessary component of a stable, committed, familial relationship. I'm sure many of these couples would, if they could, marry. I have no doubt there are many monogamous same-sex couples (whatever works), but I strongly suspect this is not the rule.
I believe, in general, that our families are different and that it is disingenuous to claim that by allowing gay couples to marry we will not "change the definition of marriage," to use the religious bigots' phrase. If gays can get married, a heterosexual couple might learn from the homosexual couple next door that it's not the end of the world if you relax the rules a bit, and pretty soon it's just a big orgy in the suburbs. (Hm. Maybe I should be for gay marriage after all.)
I'm curious. Are there still laws against adultery in some states? There must be.
I am seriously spinning my wheels lately. I need to be slapped around or something. I was chatting on facebook with a new friend of mine (I spend a lot of time on facebook lately), and he said it sounded like I need a life coach, to which I said yes but coaching is expensive and my biggest problem is that I'm broke, and he said that he'd sit down with me and help me sort things out, and I almost started crying, I was so touched that someone would do that. I guess what I learned from that emotional response (which felt out of proportion) is that I could use some help. I hadn't really occurred to me that I need help with this.
It's probably good that he hasn't known me for very long. He won't have a narrative already in his head about me; he can start a new one.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We bought a little Meyer lemon tree a couple years ago and planted it in our yard on 15th Street. Last year it produced 2 or 3 fruit, as I remember. When we moved here, we dug it up and brought it with us. It's still in a big pot, because we've been waiting until our container house is finished to decide where to plant it. This year only one lemon survived, but it's huge and almost ripe.
It's been cold the last few days -- Texas cold, which is only down into the 40s at night, 60s in the afternoon -- so I'm getting concerned about it. Should I be covering the tree? or is it really only dangerous if it freezes? Last week, it was so warm the tree thought it was spring and started to blossom. I don't feel so dumb; even the trees don't know what season it is in Texas.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Hello,And the reply:
My name is Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, sub ID# xxxx. I just got my first check in the mail, but at the orientation/training I signed up for direct deposit. Please let me know if there was some problem with that, and if there are additional steps I need to take to start direct deposit.
Remember at the orientation when Ms. [So-and-so] went over the direct deposit information? Your direct deposit does not start until the second pay period you have worked.Now, why would I have emailed asking why my first check wasn't direct deposited if I had remembered that Ms. So-and-so told us at the orientation that direct deposit doesn't start until the second pay period? So who is more stupid? That's what I want to write back, "Dear Ms. I'm-condescending-because-I-hate-my-job: Who is more stupid? Me or you?" Or better yet: "Who hates their job more? Me or you?" I can tell you right now, you will not win that contest.
Monday, November 30, 2009
At least we made it as far as adolescence. Sometimes I think heterosexual men never make it past kindergarten. Fatherhood only seems to exacerbate it. Finally, they have someone around who is developmentally the same age to play with. Have straight men always acted like little boys or is this something new in our culture? If it is not a new phenomenon, I think it is new for men to be so unapologetic about it. Look at how they dress. There's virtually no difference in the wardrobe of 5-year-olds boys and 40-year-old men.
Come to think of it, the dominant gay male "look" right now is a total appropriation of the straight cargo shorts and baseball cap thing. But it's not because we want to be little boys. It's because we want to be straight men, or have straight boyfriends, or something like that.
Culture sure is complicated.
Friday, November 27, 2009
J and I just saw Precious. Here's my take:
It's a very conventional film full of stock characters who never surprise. Some really fine acting (especially Mariah Carey, whose character and scenes are the most interesting). The girl who plays Precious is natural and appealing on film but not remarkable in any way, which might just be because there's not much very interesting or complex about the character.
There's this conceit where, when things get really rough for Precious, she mentally exits into a fantasy world where she is a model or a pop star or a singer in a gospel choir with her fantasy boyfriend, but it's kind of cheesy and doesn't ever come together to inform or interact with the real world of the film.
J was exasperated by some sloppy filmmaking, microphones visible at the edges of some shots. I never notice that stuff, but he does and it drives him crazy. It would annoy me, too, but I just don't see it.
What annoyed me is that in such a preachy film, the protagonist's choice to raise her two children on her own instead of giving them up for adoption was presented as the brave moral choice. An uneducated, emotionally and psychologically damaged 16-year-old HIV+ homeless girl with no family and no resources chooses to keep her retarded toddler and newborn child and we're supposed to applaud her? I'm not passing judgment on any actual teenager's choices; I'm questioning the filmmaker's decision to present this as a virtuous act. Precious says "nobody loves me," and the teacher-with-a-heart-of-gold tells her, "Your baby loves you." So she decides to keep her baby because it is the only being who loves her? Good luck with that, kid.
I left the theater wondering what all the fuss is about. My theory (on the fly -- I have to give this some more thought) is that middle-class white people (audiences, critics) are blown away by this film merely because of the facts of the story. Teenage girl suffers lifelong abuse by her mother, rape by her father and two children by him, chaotic and violent schools and neighborhood. For people who don't live in these neighborhoods, the film is exotic and revelatory at the same time. I make no claims to any special insight into the lives of poor urban black people. I live among them, but for the most part I am not invited into their lives. But I have to say it's no surprise or shock, unfortunately, to hear and see this story. Pretty much since I was 20 I've lived in poor, squalid, urban ghettos. I know the lives of many, many poor black people in this country are bad, are worse than most middle-class white people imagine.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Because I follow politics more closely than popular music, I did catch the Adam Lambert/Out Magazine brouhaha -- which was nearly as mind-numbingly boring as Lady Gaga's burning piano -- but I felt a certain obligation.
I was surprised and I have to say somewhat relieved to learn this morning that we can blame Adam Lambert for the failure of the gay civil rights movement. Just when we were successfully sneaking into the mainstream with weddings and babies, etc., here comes an ignorant, selfish pop star to remind everyone that we're actually, um, gay. (Ignore that man getting a fake blowjob, America! He's not one of us. Marriage is what we want, not sex. We promise we'll be less gay if you let us get married. No more blowjobs and buttfucking -- everyone knows married people don't have sex.)
Anyway, eventually the conversation between J and me got around to where it always seems to get around to lately: men. My major insight was that if you're going to date a younger man, it's better to date a man 20 years younger than say 10 years younger, because the 20-somethings are all obsessed with the 80s right now. The pop culture of that decade is, in some twisted way, formative for you both, so you're more likely to have cultural touchstones in common. I can talk about Keith Haring, ACT UP, early Madonna, and they eat it up, whereas guys who came of age in the 90s ... I don't have much to say about 'N Sync and TLC. I just have to be careful about saying things like (in a whiny, pedantic monotone): "Lady Gaga is not doing anything Madonna didn't do better in 1985." I'm pretty sure that's unattractive.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
No emotion left untouched.
There's something I really like about the woman introducing them, her directness and compassion. She speaks so clearly, and I love how her face lights up at the end of her spiel. I feel like I know her.
I can't help but wonder how easy it would have been to videotape a bunch of people in line at an Obama booksigning and then edit together all the people talking out their asses having no idea what Obama actually wrote about, or stands for, or believes, or did in office. People have a hard time with the details. I think there are two things at play. One is that it's just hard to remember stuff and even harder to keep a grasp on how issues connect. Most people just don't know much about government and, whichever side they're on, can't call forth much beyond the talking points. I consider myself pretty well-informed, engaged with the issues, but if you asked me right now what cap and trade means, I'd struggle for a bit to give you a definition and to express a clear point of view about it. Especially if you were pointing a video camera at me.
The other phenomenon of course is that people are always looking for a savior and are inclined to believe what they wish were true, ignoring the evidence. Just look at how surprised and disappointed many progressives are by Obama's moderately conservative style as president.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
It's like in marriages, if one partner is (or just seems to be, or we think he is or, etc.) very effective in some area, the other partner lets him or her take care of it. You know about cars, so you keep track of when to change the oil. You're better at math, you pay the bills. You cook, I'll wash the dishes. If one partner is hyper-functional in an area, the other partner gets less and less effective in that area. It just makes sense; division of labor makes a house hum.
Is this any more complex than our brains just looking for a break where they can find one? I often get frustrated with myself because if someone else is driving, I don't pay attention to where I am. So if I have to get there by myself next time, even if I've been there dozens of times I have no idea where it is or how to get there. This even happens when I'm walking with someone. If I think my companion knows the way, I stop paying attention. Trouble is, often that person and I are both thinking the same thing and we get totally lost. And it feels involuntary, it's as if I can't even make myself pay attention if I try.
I kind of see this study as evidence of something very nice about how we work together as organisms. We don't all need to be taking care of everything, do we? The discouraging aspect is, like so many things, the biological mechanism doesn't seem to take into account our infinite ability and desire to deceive each other.
Friday, November 20, 2009
(If for some reason you don't want to look at pictures of naked people, don't click the link. Eye-roll.)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
News like this makes me feel so angry and so, so sad. It seems to just get worse and worse and they have no boundaries. And the worst thing is that nobody but Rachel Maddow and a handful of bloggers are reporting this stuff.
These lunatics ... y'know it's easy to call them crazy and dismiss them, but these are people we move among every day, they are the relatives of friends, they are family and co-workers, they are teaching your children, they are local businesspeople, elected representatives, public servants. Maybe I feel it more here in Texas because they're a little more vocal here, but there are certainly lots of Republicans in the Midwest, Northeast, California. They may be a shrinking minority, but they are still a significant percentage of the population of every state in the union.
The only thing that keeps me from utter despair at the state of the world that I am leaving to my nephews, the children of my friends, the kids I want to teach -- the only thing that gives me any small bit of hope is the wish, please, that this homicidal insanity is the dying breath of these God-people, these Jesus freaks, these ugly ugly hate-filled stupid stupid people. Sarah Palin? Will you and your clan ever finally melt into a black puddle and leave us alone? Will it be in my lifetime?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I've been a fan of Rufus's mother and aunt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, for much longer than Rufus, since college I guess, and I was remembering Songs of the Civil War, an album somehow loosely associated with the Ken Burns Civil War series. I bought it on cassette because my turntable had stopped working and I didn't want to buy a new one because CDs were clearly on the ascendant, but I hadn't bought a CD player yet because I could play cassette tapes at home or on my Walkman. That would be like 1990, I guess?
Anyway, I wore that tape out, literally. As I remember, that and the Bristol Sessions reissue came out around the same time and were responsible for my big nosedive into country music in the early 90s.
And I didn't know it at the time, of course, but Rufus was singing on a couple of those songs with his family. I don't know what it is about these songs, this style of singing, these harmonies, that transport me more than any other music. I feel it deep in my bones.
(And, big surprise, there's Emmylou Harris. Back then, you could hardly buy a record that didn't have Emmylou on it, bless her heart.)
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I stopped reading Americablog a while back because it was too shrill and marriagey and anti-Obama, so I missed the beginning of this boycott, but I have to say I support the sentiment. So many liberal or progressive-minded people assume the Democratic party represents their views, and it just ain't so.
And I stopped reading what used to be my favorite gay blog, JoeMyGod, because of an ongoing series of posts called This Week in Holy Crimes, in which he publicly shames any and every small-town clergyperson who is arrested for a sex crime, convicted or not. And just the general tone of the blog got so anti-everything, I couldn't stomach it any more.
But I need my fix of queer politics, so recently I started reading and enjoying this blog. As far as I can tell, its positions on issues are close to Americablog, but it's not quite as whiney:
For the record, the President’s position in same-sex marriage is this: "I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman."
While that is a position, it is not an argument. Rather, it is indistinguishable from the positions (not arguments) adopted by the Vatican and NOM – which is to say, it is unchallengeable in any civic forum. And it is intended to be unchallengeable in any civic forum. References to tradition and particularly sanctification have little purpose other than to short circuit any opposition – certainly any secular opposition, which is what the President was being asked about.
Though I'm not a supporter of same-sex marriage, I feel this frustration, too. It's the same frustration I felt back when J and I brought R into our relationship and my mother so fiercely refused to acknowledge or discuss it. Being anti-religion, she wouldn't ascribe her opposition to the Bible or religious tradition, but somehow that made it even more infuriating to me. "This is a committed, supportive relationship. What is bad about that?" "That's just not how people are made," she said. In the end, her argument and Obama's is "I believe it because it's what I believe." It shuts down the conversation, and there's nothing more maddening than that.
It's not so much that I'm angry that Obama opposes gay marriage, it's that I thought he was smarter than this. One of the top reasons I supported Obama and was so thrilled to see him elected is that he is so intelligent. But his stance on this issue, like my mother's on my three-way relationship, is intellectually incoherent. In both cases, it is deeply disappointing.
When he talks about race, I'm dazzled and moved and edified. Racial politics in America is such an overwhelmingly complex issue to tackle -- history, urban policy, biology, sexuality, education, and on and on -- but he connects the dots in ways that let us begin to make sense of it and entertain some hope that things may get better if we try to listen and understand each other. I have never thought of any president as a teacher before Obama, and he makes it clear over and over how powerful that is. I still think we are incredibly privileged to have a president who can do that. I think the American population, if nothing else, will be smarter at the end of Obama's tenure.
So ... equally complex is the issue of the place or function or role of homosexuality in our society. What a trove of ideas to chew on. And all he has to say is, "I'm a Christian."
I posted the Platters version first, not just because I love it but because I know some people have a lower Judy Garland threshold than I -- I should say just about everyone has a lower Judy Garland threshold than I, because I don't have one at all. I could watch Presenting Lily Mars all day long and still want more. It's a sickness, I know.
Well, I looked all over youtube and can't find the Judy Garland version. I know it's there somewhere because I posted it here a while back. But I found this! How could you not love this? (Shut up, it's a rhetorical question.)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
This week we got a bunch of small white Japanese salad turnips (I think they call them). They're best eaten raw -- they have a sort of radishy but sweeter and milder taste. I sliced them and threw them in a salad of mizuma, arugula, and various cut lettuces, with my standard vinaigrette (lemon, red wine vinegar, a little garlic, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard, and olive oil). I also threw in some shredded cabbage that was still crispy and fresh from last week's box, and a big handful of grated parmesan.
A few days ago I stewed some okra with tomatoes (we have a second tomato season in November, which, because I grew up in Indiana where waiting for the August tomatoes was practically a religion in my family, always seems like some kind of miracle to me), garlic, a chopped serrano pepper and a couple bigger sweet red chilies. We get tons of chilies of all kinds. Really almost too many -- they're supplemented by more jalapeños and serranos from M's garden in the yard, which is still producing on plants that went in last spring. I roast some of them, and peel and freeze them. Others I just throw right in the freezer raw.
We've also been getting a lot of okra, and the okra in M's garden also did very well this year, so I've learned how to make okra pickles (they're easy). We haven't had fried okra in a while, but that's a nice summer treat, too.
Tonight I stir-fried the greens from the turnips (they're very tender, so they really only need to be cooked till they wilt and turn bright green -- they're delicious, with a mild peppery flavor), a few kohlrabi bulbs peeled and sliced, a handful of raw peanuts toasted in the cooking oil, garlic and ginger, and we ate it over brown rice with tamari.
We've also been getting a handful of green beans the last few weeks, which I blanch and shock and freeze to use in various ways later: thawed and sliced in salads, or I might throw some in a minestrone I'm planning for later this week.
And kale. The season of winter greens is starting. By January, we'll be getting piles and piles of mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, lettuce, and kale. I usually blanch and freeze all the greens on the day we get them -- then they're ready to use in just about anything later, and we can have greens all year round. Once it gets a little cooler -- if it ever gets a little cooler, it was 83 today -- I'll start making big pots of Southern-style greens cooked until they're very soft with lots of garlic, and instead of the traditional ham hock I use chipotle to get that smokiness which complements greens so well. And hopefully by the time it gets cooler and I'm making those big pots of greens, our oven will be fixed so I can make some cornbread to go with.
We buy very little produce outside of what we get from our CSA. I usually need more onions than they grow, though this year we got a lot more onions than last year. And garlic. And we buy fresh ginger and lemons. That's about it. Oh, we buy some canned tomatoes. We get a lot of tomatoes from the CSA, so many that I seeded and froze a bunch this year to use for sauce. But it takes a shitload of tomatoes to make one quart of tomato sauce, so we end up buying a few cans to supplement, if I make soup or chili or pasta sauce.
One of my favorite things about belonging to the farm is that I don't have to make a lot of decisions about what to buy and cook. We don't have to keep track of what's in season, what's local, what's fresh. We cook and eat what they harvest every week.
The worksheets and workbooks and overhead transparencies and other pre-packaged lessons that I've been asked to teach from during my few days of subbing bring back all the feelings I had about these materials back when I was in school. They are either deadly boring or completely opaque, with very little in between. Oh yeah, and also infuriating because they're riddled with typos, mistakes, and unacknowledged ambiguities. That nagging feeling: does this not make sense because I'm not getting it, or is it because the book is wrong?
Yesterday's lesson plan for 6th grade ESL English included a 9-part phonics lesson on prefixes and diphthongs. I had 6 classes. When I would find a typo or mistake or something that didn't make sense to me, I would skip that part of the lesson with the next class. By the end of the day, I was only teaching 3 of the parts.
The bright kids look at this stuff and think, "I know what you're talking about, but why are you putting it in such abstruse terms?" (Okay, sixth-graders are not thinking "abstruse" but you know what I mean.) And the kids who are struggling with a concept or idea are pushed even further into the weeds.
Then I had to wade through a short reading selection about stress. Apparently, people of all cultures experience stress, and there's good and bad stress. Excuse me, where is the teacher's bathroom? And do you have a razor blade I can borrow for a couple minutes? Assuming 6th graders need to learn about stress -- and I'm sure someone with better credentials than I had good reasons for deciding that they do -- with all the great literature written in English at your disposal, you couldn't find an interesting, well-written passage about stress for a reading comprehension exercise for 6th graders?
Why are kids not learning? Take a look at the pedagogical materials.
(By the way, crappy workbooks aside, I had a great day yesterday with some very smart and fun middle school kids. It was the first time since subbing that I felt like I could see some way into it. I could see myself teaching. The first part of the lesson was vocabulary. We discussed the spelling and definition of 10 words, we put them in sentences, came up with examples of how they're used. It was kind of a heady experience witnessing kids' faces suddenly illuminated by the meaning of a word or the recognition of a concept. After the discussion, I gave them a spelling quiz on the 10 words, and almost all the kids in every class spelled all or most of the words correctly. Seriously, I was close to tears.)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Most people pick something at some time in their life don't they? Sometimes before they even go to college. I always planned to be an artist, from the age of 5 or 6, but I didn't narrow it down.
When I do one thing for a while I always know that there are dozens of things I am not doing. It's as if there's a missing connection in my brain, that part of the brain that picks something to do is deformed or missing. I could never pick. It's my fatal flaw. It drives me crazy.
Monday, November 9, 2009
It's hard to reconcile the feeling of danger that washes over me while watching this clip now. It's so gentle and innocent. But many of the artists I loved then, who were making such sweet, lovely music, were also activists of one kind or another, first anti-war, then environment causes.
I loved John Denver when I was 12 or 13. Of course, he was very uncool for a number of years, but now I love him again, the child-like generosity and effortless love in his songs, and that crystalline voice. And more recently, John Denver makes me think with longing of my friend R who is a big fan and who I haven't seen in years and miss terribly.
And I'm crazy about Cass Elliot, not just because she has rick-rack on her muumuu, but that doesn't hurt.
I've pontificated plenty here on my views regarding marriage, so I'll give that old tune a rest. It's too much for me to boil down into a pithy few words for a status update. I feel like starting a facebook group called "Don't Tell Me To Shut the Fuck Up. You Shut the Fuck Up!"
The take home: Cross your fingers; I'll let you know when there's something to know. Call me pathetic, but somewhere in that big shithole of disappointment and pessimism my big dreams still bob their little heads up.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
2. A series of short video pieces based on some of my new songs. Music videos, essentially.
3. A longer, but still short, film called Wall of Angels, about a woman who burns her house down and goes on a trip during which geography, duration, and chronology are unmoored. I have a script of this partially written. Surreal, dreamy, low-tech special effects.
4. A short film called Men & Boys, centering around an encounter between a teenage boy and a middle-aged man on a beach. One setting, two person cast, natural light. Could be very low budget.
5. Two feature films for which I have completed screenplays: Room for Jerry (about a middle-aged couple who begin an affair with a younger woman and the effect that it has on their relationships with their adult children) and Public Sex (a sexually-explicit, polemical story about sex among a group of urban gay men).
4. Series of nude portraits of men in my life. Drawings.
5. Four-man vocal quartet to sing barbershop, a capella arrangements of my songs.
Friday, November 6, 2009
1) In the mid-nineties, he wrote an essay, published in The New York Times Magazine, called "When Plagues End", which was about how the new HIV drugs were radically changing the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Lots of people thought it was irresponsible to be so upbeat.
2) He supported Bush's invasion of Iraq. Big time. When the war turned into a huge disaster, he changed his mind, very publicly.
3) I can't remember exactly when it happened, maybe 5-7 years ago?, but his profile on a gay sex cruising web site, on which he was soliciting unprotected anal sex, was made public. Sullivan is HIV positive.
I read his blog, The Daily Dish, every morning. I don't know of another journalist who blogs daily who is as consistently interesting, wide-ranging, and smart as Sullivan. His blog is a conversation; people who disagree with him get lots of airtime. I disagree with him as often as I agree with him, in fact probably more, but I learn a whole lot more reading him than I ever get by reading Huffington Post (which I stopped reading because, even though the general bias of the blog is maybe closer to my own politics, the writing there is just a lot of knee-jerk shouting by people who usually have a pretty shallow understanding of the issues). Sullivan is a thinker. He can be strident, but he listens and he enjoys the debate. That's why I like him.
I get really exasperated when I read most liberal blogs because they usually assume the correctness of their point of view on issues; they assume that if you call yourself a liberal or progressive, then of course you must believe this, this, and this. (For instance, if you don't support gay marriage, you must be a Nazi.) Sullivan gives me different things to be exasperated about. For instance, I disagree with him about gay marriage, but I agree with him about hate-crimes laws.
Anyway, all that to say that I really enjoyed this little clip this morning. It made me ponder how bizarre the world has become when thoughtful, informed commentary on the issues of our day more often than not is found on comedy shows. Of course, that's not a novel observation.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
If anyone is curious as to my opinions on 1, 2, and 3 above:
1) I think the essay is great and I think it holds up all these years later. I find Sullivan's writing about the experience of being a homosexual man in these times moving and deeply perceptive.
2) Hard to forgive. But I think his support of the war and his embarrassment and shame about it is part of what motivates his vigilance now about Bush and Cheney, war crimes, torture, etc. Also mitigating was his relentless support of Obama's campaign, which I would guess was a factor in convincing lots of conservatives to vote for him.
3) I have a hard time judging anyone's behavior when they're looking for sex.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I'm looking at my facebook updates this morning and not one of my gay friends has said anything about the inclusion of gays under the discrimination law in Kalamazoo or the fact that in the 23rd district of New York, a democrat upset a Palin-sponsored conservative, indicative of the general positive sentiment toward Obama.I completely agree and had a similar response to all the venting about Maine last night and this morning. No surprise, I guess. Anyone who reads this or knows me knows that marriage is not my thing.
All they have written is "Fuck Maine," "Everyone in Maine can go to hell," "devastating news about Maine," etc. etc. etc. They have totally lost touch with the entire gay rights movement. Infuriating.
But I did have one thought that was slightly encouraging and worth pondering. I suspect lots of people are very vocal about gay marriage who would previously -- before the movement was hijacked by conservatives -- been apathetic. The virtue of marriage as a rights issue is that it has been galvanizing. People know what marriage is -- they think they do, anyway. Almost everyone, even the crustiest among us, has a happily-ever-after fantasy just waiting to be shocked like Frankenstein's monster to new life. Marriage is a lot more emotionally potent and easier to get the average mind around than anti-discrimination legislation or local electoral politics.
I suspect the people who care about the more practical advances in equality for sexual minorities are still doing the real work, are still vocal, still care, but their voices are drowned out by all the activist wannabes shrieking that they deserve to marry the one they love, blah blah.
Monday, November 2, 2009
A few minutes later, things calmed down enough that I decided I could make it through the rest of the day. When I say "calmed down," I mean that nobody was trying to kill anyone. At no point in the day were more than a couple or three kids doing the work that was assigned. I might just as well have not been there. I'm not sure what difference it would have made.
I guess since the job pays babysitting wages, I shouldn't be surprised that I'm babysitting. I didn't have any illusions that I would be doing much teaching as a substitute, but I'm not interested in being a prison warden. On average there have been about 3 or 4 kids in every class who actually try to do the assigned work, try to engage with the material. The rest just flat out don't do it. They refuse.
The advice I keep getting from other teachers is, "Don't let it faze you. Don't let them get to you. Don't let them make you angry." It's well-meant advice, but somehow unhelpful. I don't feel in danger of getting angry at the kids. The ones who misbehave are too ridiculous to be angry with. The kids I had today were a bunch of brats who've clearly never had any effective discipline in their lives, but they're 12. It's their parents I'm mad at.
Substitute teaching is like spending the day in a pen full of feral cats. Or dogs. Or both -- feral cats and feral dogs. But sadder, because cats and dogs are not the future.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, whose murderers, as I understand it, got the maximum penalty possible. This hate-crimes (thought-crimes) law would not have made any difference in their sentences. Is this really the right time to be drumming up reasons to put more people in prison? Does anyone really think making prejudice a crime is going to prevent gay-bashing?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
But that was Curb Your Enthusiasm. I had never actually seen Arrested Development, until very recently. A couple friends insisted insistently that J and I watch it because they love it and thought we would love it too. We rented the first season on DVD and watched the first two episodes. I sort of wondered while watching when the yelling was going to start, but I figured it must have been a later episode I'd seen.
So Arrested Development wasn't the unbearable yelling show after all, but it was boring and forced, and we didn't watch more than the first two episodes.