Monday, December 27, 2010

Life, Love, Destiny, and Timing.

The Saturday before Christmas I attended my friend Kristin's tree-trimming party. She has this gathering every year -- the first time I attended was in 1987, I think. She lives with her husband and child in Peter Cooper Village in the apartment she grew up in. Over 20 years ago, her fledgling theater company invited me to write music for two shows in their first season, and that began my career in New York theater. I even lived in her apartment for a few months in 1989 when we had both broken up with boyfriends around the same time. I had left mine and hers moved out, so it worked well.

At the party I saw friends I haven't seen in years and friends I still see frequently. I was struck with that sense of destiny-in-hindsight that reunions conjure up. A great deal of what has been important to me in the last 25 years of my life -- relationships, my work -- I can trace to my friendship with Kristin and the opportunities she gave me to create music for theatre, something I had never done before.

Tim, my friend and collaborator on Lizzie Borden, was also one of the founders and directors of Tiny Mythic Theater Company, which did most of its early shows in the recently-shuttered Ohio Theater on Wooster Street. I spent a good chunk of my late 20s and early 30s in that theater, and now that the physical space is gone, I feel an urgency to protect the friendships that have endured from that time, like the source of a spring. That is only one among many reasons why I cherish my long friendship and collaboration with Tim: it anchors me in a history that I had a hand in creating. It helps me to feel like there's a meaningful arc to my life rather than (what it more often feels like) just a lot of random reactions to whatever circumstances present themselves.

I don't mean destiny in the sense of a deterministic view of the world, according to which everything is the result of chemical reactions that can only go one way so that's the way they go. Maybe it makes some kind of poetic sense when describing the sense of inevitability of a certain biography, but to say that a chain of organic events led to, say, a love affair, gives a lot of weight to the idea of a discrete self, a notion which a deterministic view eventually makes hash of.

At the beginning of December, I moved out of Tim's place to an apartment a few blocks away. I didn't know my roommate well before I moved in, but we have a couple of mutual friends, he's a writer, and his apartment is one of those magical New York apartments you always wonder who lives in when you walk by. His roommate moved out I think in October and he asked me if I wanted to move in. I said no -- I didn't want to stay in Inwood, thought it was too remote at the northernmost tip of Manhattan, and the rent seemed high. But he still needed a roommate in November, asked me again, and by that time I had grown to love Inwood, and, after being back in the city for a while, the rent looked reasonable.

It's a sweet house with 4 apartments nestled among the type of huge pre-war brick apartment buildings that characterize most of Inwood. My roommate knows the other tenants in the building, a fact which I found reassuring, and in fact his best friend of many years lives across the hall.

A few days after I moved in, I got a wild hair and took out an ad on craigslist. I read the MFM ads from time to time, but more for entertainment than with the intention of responding to any of them or meeting anyone. The anonymity of them is what makes them sexy to read but it's also what makes me apprehensive to meet someone. Anonymous sex is one thing with someone you meet in a bar or club, but to invite someone to your house or go to a stranger's house without even meeting beforehand, well, I can be pretty fearless but that scares me.

My ad was basically a sex ad. I was specific about where I was and what I wanted. I got a handful of responses; one seemed promising. He was in the neighborhood, and he was as direct in his response as I was in my ad. We emailed back and forth a couple times. He sent a photo. He looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. I asked where he lived. Same corner as me.

Then I looked at his return email address. It was my roommate's best friend across the hall.

I emailed and told him who I was and that I knew who he was. We were both a little embarrassed, but by that time I think we both had a strong hunch we could have some fun together. He invited me over (I didn't even put shoes on) and we did.

All I wanted that night, frankly, was a blowjob, but he's handsome and he smiles with his eyes, he makes me laugh, and he's the perfect height to fit in the crook of my body. And now I'm falling, falling, falling. Jesus fuck me, why is this shit happening? After that first night, when we had ferociously intense, deeply connected sex and then spent a couple hours in each other's arms talking, we saw each other nearly every day for two weeks until we both left for Christmas. We've curled up on the couch and watched movies, shared with each other music we love, talked freely about our lives, our desires, our disappointments and loves.

I am not ready. It is not my turn. I did not want this. I did not look for this or pursue it in any way. I am not ready.

I've had several conversations with Tim. He's the one who listened to me crying on the phone from Austin when M and I broke up this summer, so he knows how badly timed this is and how afraid I am. He knows what I'm afraid of, a thing which is so recent and vivid and raw. Tim's advice is to enjoy this without fantasizing about what it might mean, what it could be, how it could end. Let go of the storyline, as Pema Chodron says.

It's good advice, but how to follow it? Isn't half the thrill of this moment the anticipation, isn't half of what gives this moment its charge, the recognition of a seed of a possibility of something deeper and more enduring? Isn't it all about the storyline? The sex is great, the physical contact, the ecstasy and comfort of being with someone who knows what I want and wants to give it to me. But there is also tangled up in it something more intimate, domestic, an affinity. How do I enjoy this moment without wanting what it portends? How do I not spin out the fantasy? He sees me. I feel like myself when I'm with him. I feel safe. Am I?

Is falling in love something that I just, for some reason, do? The timing could not be much worse. And I second-guess myself. Am I so susceptible to this new man because I still hurt, because I still feel the lack of M? Has M hollowed out a place where C fits nicely? Even if that is true, is there something wrong with that? It seems like an awfully punitive attitude to take, saying I should not be allowed to feel love because I am unusually open to it right now. Does it really matter where and when? Shouldn't love always be welcome and appropriate?

C is smart and soulful. He has great taste in music. He's funny. He likes my cooking. He's very, very sexy, and he wants to be with me. I just don't think you say no to that. I don't feel as though I deserve it -- how many chances do I get? -- but in what universe do you say no to that? He read my blog. He knows the worst of me. He knows stuff about me that not even I remember. And he still seems to want me.

I keep trying to bring what I may have learned from those months with M and how blind I was into this new beginning. What did I do wrong that I can do right this time? What did I say, how did I behave, what did I miss? But it doesn't work. C is not M. What M may have wanted from me won't be what C wants from me. All I can do is be myself. M didn't want that, and, though it's awfully early to tell, I think C does. The lesson is that there are no lessons. Every time you're flying blind.

Or the lesson might be: you are never ready for anything. Which is to say, you are always ready for everything.

In spite of whatever I might think about the timing, I find myself so willing, still wide open, yet in my head repeating, Don't hurt me, don't hurt me, please just don't hurt me.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Is Still Gay.

There's an interesting essay on my new favorite blog, The Awl, about the gutting of Leonard Cohen's transcendent "Hallelujah," in order to make it vague and Christiany enough for Christmas.



Which follows in the long, noble tradition -- well, there's only one other that I can think of off the top of my head, but there must be others, right? -- of eviscerating songs to make them palatable for bland holiday records by the likes of Kermit the Frog (for real).



My favorite Christmas song, in fact my favorite Christmas thing period, is this song, which isn't really about Christmas as much as it is about despair. But replace, "until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow," with, "hang a shining star upon the highest bow," and it's still a bit sad, but not sad enough to do anything drastic like put you off shopping.



I guess, like most, I get sentimental this time of year. I am not Christian, but I love the story of a gift of hope and redemption in dark times. I like to mark this time of year by acknowledging in my heart the miracle of another year, another orbit, another chance.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Life Is Not A True/False Exam.

This blog post (which Andrew Sullivan linked to this morning) says succinctly what I've been thinking, what I've been trying to put in words, regarding the billboard that some atheist group put up near the Lincoln Tunnel (“You Know It’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason.") and the counter-billboard put up by some Catholics: "You Know it's Real. This Season Celebrate Jesus."

“Myth” is not the same as “falsehood.” Myth is a narrative structure used to convey some of the deepest truths we humans can glean. Myths are not believed in but unpacked and lived.

I am irritated to no end by the asinine "Jesus is the reason for the season" garbage we have to listen to this time of year. But I am just as irritated by a lot of the public atheists' responses, which are every bit as asinine. Though this organized atheist effort to rid the public sphere of Christian propaganda is inspired by writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, I don't like how Dawkins' and Hitchens' more distilled, acerbic statements along the lines of "Christians are stupid" get pulled out to support the exasperated atheists -- because both writers obviously are much subtler thinkers and have a lot more than that to say.

Which is to say that I find it unfortunate that the atheist statements in response to the literalist Christmas stupidity are often just as thick-headed. It's ridiculous to justify your Christian faith by insisting that all those stories relate events that really happened. It's just as thick-headed, in this context, to use the word "myth" to mean "lie."

The heart of my objection to this argument is that it cheapens, it disregards, it erases the value of what, as an artist, I do. Artists are myth-makers. Artists are storytellers. The work of an artist lives in that realm where a standard of literal truth or falsehood makes no sense, does not apply. Where the whole point is to be truthful, to say what is real, yet where stories are constantly told which are not objectively verifiably true. The story of Jesus's birth is no more actual than the story of Dorothea and Casaubon's marriage or the story of Mary Richards' job interview, but they all have the power to transform at the molecular level one's very being in this world.

(Also posted on The Bilerico Project.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Give It To Me, I'll Keep It With Mine.



It just occurred to me that I am living in an apartment that is very similar to M’s apartment in Austin: open living and dining room/kitchen and half bath downstairs, two bedrooms and full bath upstairs. My house is much older (his is new, very East Austin contemporary green building, mine I’m guessing was probably built in the 20s) but they both have simple clean design, lots of light, white walls and black granite kitchen islands.

Today on facebook, M posted a photo of himself with a man. The man is leaning to rest his forehead against M's, and they're both smiling sweetly. No caption. Several of M's friends have "liked" the photo. I'm not a rocket scientist, just an ex-boyfriend, but it's pretty clear. The guy is handsome. They look happy.

My house sits at the top of a long stairway up to my neighborhood from Broadway. There are two wide sets of concrete steps with a little green space in between, 10 flights. Anytime I want to go anywhere I go down these stairs and up again on the way home. (I could take a longer way around, through the neighborhood, but the stairs are more direct and I like that my legs get a little workout since I don’t have time or money for a gym right now.)

My bedroom window looks out over the top of these stairs, so, if I want to (and I do) I can watch people go up and down all day.

East Village R.I.P.

More fodder for the relentless conversation about how New York has changed. I liked this article because it assured me that my moaning about the transformation of the East Village from a neighborhood of immigrants, artists, poor people, old leftists, Polish coffee shops (and, yes, bars) into a frat party is not just the nostalgia of an old man. Cities change, New York especially, but what has happened to the East Village and Lower East Side (and, then, Williamsburg, for that matter) is unique and very ugly.

A big part of my feeling good about being back in New York has been an almost-conscious decision to let go of my love for the East Village, which was my home for many years and which has been nearly completely obliterated by the sale of large sections of it to NYU for dorms and by its status, starting in the 80s, as one of the hippest neighborhoods in the world. The global East Village.

I knew -- we all knew and had a pretty clear idea of the importance of that declaration ("I live in the East Village") in marking who we were -- that I lived at the epicenter of cool. But it's sort of like, now, no neighborhood can ever have that status again because as soon as you say a place is the hippest it no longer is. I don't think this is true just because I'm older now -- I think it's because news travels too fast and faster and faster all the time. You used to have to wait for the New York Times article saying something was hip before you knew it wasn't any more. Now twitter can have the same de-hipping effect in a day or two. It's not hip if everybody knows about it, and everybody knows about everything immediately now.

I don't have anything against nightlife. Nightlife is one of the things that makes New York great. But the East Village is completely insane. If you know what 6th Street in Austin is like at night -- it's like that. Except that it's a neighborhood where people live. People live there. Y'know?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Home, Again.

It's a gorgeous cold and clear day, and I spent the afternoon exploring my new neighborhood. Within a few blocks, I found a nice small grocery store (good produce, coffee, organic stuff, soy milk), a deli with decent beer, cigar store, divorce lawyer, a handful of pizza places, a pastry shop, little Dominican restaurants, a barber shop (I got a great haircut), florist, drug store, and a liquor store with a huge wine selection.

And a 24-hour donut shop. I’m in big trouble. (There's 10 flights of stairs up from Broadway to my house, so I might get fat but my legs will be in great shape.)

Not a Starbucks in sight, thank you Jesus. Inwood is an old New York neighborhood, that -- probably, hopefully -- won’t be gentrified, at least not in the horrifying way that the East Village and Williamsburg were gentrified, because it’s already sort of nice, middle-class. Ethnically, it’s mostly Dominican now. I’m not sure what it was before that. There seems to be a slow trickle of white folks moving in. Up the street is some kind of small stadium or baseball field or something where the Columbia teams play. And of course, there are huge wooded parks and the Hudson River within a few blocks.

Here I go, falling in love with New York again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fainting.

(An edited version of this was posted on Bilerico.com.)

I was on the train coming home from work one day last week and noticed two boys standing across from me, typical kids with their iPods and goofy smiles. They could have been anywhere from 14 to 20, it's hard to tell, teenagers develop at such different rates. (When I say typical, I mean that their pants were more than halfway down their asses, and while I'm on the subject I've been wondering: does the average kid on the street or the train or wherever, a suburban grocery store, does he know that homosexual men are flipping out inside at the sight of a young guy in, essentially, his skivvies in public? Does he know? It's a real puzzle to me. I don't know how to interpret the trend except as some kind of sexual display, but it's their asses they're displaying. What? It's rebellious, so I like it. It makes regular folks blow a gasket, so I'm all for it. But aside from the discussion of what it means for young men to be offering up their backsides to public view, what I find even more interesting is the sheer quantity of attention men are giving to their pants, constantly adjusting, tugging, touching them. Have pants ever before in their history been so interactive?)

Anyway.

I was reading, so not really paying attention to these kids until one of them hit the floor like a sack of rocks in front of me. He had fainted, but he smacked his head on the floor hard enough to wake himself up. Several people jumped to help him up, tried to get him to sit down but he didn't want to. (This was a well-dressed, cute white kid. I couldn't help but think that if he had been, say, a homeless man, everyone would have scattered instead of rushing in to help.) He finally sat down, kept insisting he was fine. He was hating all the attention. I looked more closely at his friend and it dawned on me that they might have been a little high. I hate to assume, but his eyes were awfully red and he couldn't stop smiling.

At the next stop, the conductor came over and asked the kid if he needed a medic; the kid was mortified and said, over and over, "No! I'm fine. Really." A woman sitting near him insisted that he get off the train and get to a hospital. One of the men who had helped him up hovered over him and his friend, expressing concern, trying to convince his friend to get him to a doctor. Both kids -- the kid who had fainted really did look okay, the blood was returning to his face -- refused to leave the train. They just wanted to be left alone and go home.

The man kept getting closer and closer, more and more insistent, and the situation began to seem less like a person in distress being helped by a stranger and more like someone being harassed by a crazy person in the subway. Most everyone, now that the crisis was past, had returned to their anonymous shielded subway world, except the man and the boy, who was extremely uncomfortable with getting so much attention. He gave the man a look like "Oh my god will you please just get the fuck out of my face, old man?" Then the man raised his voice and said, "I care about you!" He said, "I have a son, and a daughter. I care about you."

Just a few days before this I was at the Eagle. I had a beer and had smoked a little pot before I left the house but it had been a couple hours. I was talking to a man sitting next to me. It was crowded and warm and suddenly I felt my blood pressure drop like I was going to pass out. I put my head between my knees for what seemed like a very long time. (Anyone who sang in choirs in grade school knows what it feels like when you're going to pass out, and what to do to prevent it.) The man I'd been talking to looked after me, sat with me until I felt better, and then -- we found we both lived in Inwood -- rode with me back uptown.

He turned out to be a fairly well-known actor and theater director and we had lots to talk about during our 2-hour A train odyssey to the North Pole, er, Inwood. (Will they ever finish that track work? It's been going on for at least 10 years now.)

(Incidentally, that has happened to me in bars a handful of times over the years -- one or two beers, a little pot, and suddenly I'm listing. Maybe I should find out what that's all about.)

So here's to the kindness of strangers. And not just strangers. I'm moving in a little over a week. I've been staying with my friend T since I came back to New York in September. Back in June when I was falling apart in Austin, crying on the phone with T, he said, "Come back to New York. We'll do theater together. We'll form a new company and make new work. Just come. We'll figure it out." And I did, and T has shown me unbelievable kindness and generosity, as he always has in the 20 plus years of our friendship and artistic collaboration.

Not only has it been a long time since I had a regular job, it has been a long time since I paid rent and a long time since I moved somewhere where I wasn't living with friends. I don't have sheets, blankets, towels. I'm going to be 50 in March, and I'm still starting over, and over and over.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rent.

It comes up from time to time, it came up just last weekend when we were at Baldwin-Wallace College where the musical theater students were singing several songs from Lizzie Borden in a concert of songs from new shows and they had us on stage for a Q&A after the concert, this question about Rent and why I don’t like it -- the students are rehearsing now for productions of Rent and La Boheme (the opera on which Rent is loosely based) to be performed in repertory -- and my pat answer is that it claims to depict a time and place and milieu, one which I have a strong attachment to, it having been my time and place and milieu, yet the characters, the songs, the story, don’t look or sound or feel anything like the time and place and milieu that I remember. In fact, it seems to me that it trivializes and sentimentalizes, reduces to clichés, the things that made the East Village in the 80s so wild and urgent, so heady, so riveting: performance art, drag, AIDS.

But I accept the possibility that I’m guilty of extrapolating my own experience too widely, assuming that my own experience of that time was the experience. I’m sure there are many people for whom Rent feels authentic. I may be too harshly critical. Lots of people love Rent. They can have it. In the end, I guess I just don’t care much for the songs.

T suggested wisely that Rent may be a younger generation's Fame, a movie which -- though I have known many people in the meantime who attended the High School of Music and Art, on which Fame was based, who say that it is a terribly unrealistic depiction of their experience -- inspired both T and I and many of our friends, showed us a New York where we might go to find aspiring artists like ourselves, a place where the streets were crawling with music and love and sadness and inspiration. I'll buy that. (The comparison breaks down when you compare the movies, though. Fame is a good movie. It holds up. The movie version of Rent is a piece of crap.)

I always think, afterwards when it’s too late, that I wish I would have added to my answer about how I feel about Rent that, though it doesn’t feel at all to me like the New York in the 80s that I remember, Angels in America does, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for an artist and a work of art.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

She Thinks I Still Care.

From here:

[They won't let me embed it, so click here. C'mon do it, it's George Jones.]

to here:



to here:




to here:



All beautiful, I think. The song is transcendent; you just have to sing it. If I have to choose, I have to say I'm leaning toward the Beck version.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Here We Go.

Look at how weird my life is getting now. Meetings with lawyers, agents, producers. It’s crazy. I have to keep reminding myself to keep breathing and enjoy the ride because, frankly, it’s about fucking time.

I went for a 3-mile run on Monday and that made me feel sane and stable. I run on the hike and bike trail between the West Side Highway and the Hudson River down to the George Washington Bridge and back. I want to increase the distance so that I can get past the bridge to where the trail goes down closer to the river, but I don’t run regularly enough yet. I’m pretty lenient with myself about that stuff; it’s hard to do those things – run, work out, meditate – every day when every day is different from the one before and every week is different from the one before and every year is … Anyway, the run is beautiful and invigorating, lots of traffic and the gorgeous Hudson and that bridge is awesome when you’re right next to it. It’s so high up.

The temperature dropped yesterday from the 70s to the 50s and 40s overnight. I made a big pot of white bean soup with pork and chipotle. The apartment got all steamy and smoky and the soup was over-the-top delicious. Add cooking to my list above. One of the things that kept me happy and sane (and not fat) the last few years was cooking and eating regularly at home. But it’s a different life here. In the end, I’d rather be a successful theatre artist than a successful homebody.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Where I Am Now.

Now, several months after the end of my relationship with M, it’s easy to see all the things that may not have been perfect about us being together, to see how maybe we weren’t as absolutely compatible as I was convinced we were, as perfect for each other as I begged him to acknowledge, and to say, “Look at all these wonderful things that are happening in my life now that I’ve moved on,” to adopt an it’s all for the best attitude, because of course now I’m doing this, whatever it is I’m doing without him, and if we were still together I wouldn’t be doing this and what a shame so obviously it’s meant to be, or not to be. Whatever. I still go to bed at night and sometimes just ache because I want so badly to throw my arm over him, my palm against his chest. To kiss his neck. To fall asleep and wake up not alone.

Saturday night I made out in a bar with a young man for what seemed like hours and maybe was. Long enough for my lips to be chapped the next morning. He was shorter than me, and several times he stopped kissing me to rest his head against my shoulder, and with one hand I cradled his skull. Near closing time, he took my hand to lead me to an area of the bar where it was dark, where guys go if they want to do more than kiss. As we passed the stairway to the exit, I let go of his hand. He was swallowed by the crowd. I ducked down the stairs and out the door quickly and went home alone. We never said a word to each other.

The last week or more it’s been generally in the 50s at night and the 60s and 70s during the day. The heat has been turned on in T’s building and apparently, like the heat in all these old New York apartment buildings, can’t be regulated much. There’s no thermostat; it’s either on or off. Even with the radiators turned off, the steam pipes that run through the apartment to the upper floors are still blazing hot. So, we have the windows open, because of course you don’t need heat when it’s 65 degrees outside.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Computer Love.

I’m sure everybody knows by now because I haven’t stopped complaining about it that UPS lost my computer monitor on its way to New York from Columbus, Ohio. I visited my brother there on my way here, and I left my car with him because he has room for it in his airplane hangar. Since that was the end of the road for my car, I shipped my boxes from Columbus.

I insured my computer but forgot to insure the monitor, so of course that’s the box that went missing. It was a big, fancy monitor, 27” screen, I edited my film Life in a Box on it. It and my computer were paid for by the film’s budget; I never could have afforded such nice stuff. I was sad to lose it. Since I got here, I’ve been using a 10-year-old Mac G4 notebook computer, which is functional but pretty jenky. It doesn’t play video, for instance.

But, UPS automatically insures every package for $100, and I found a similar monitor on ebay for $60. (Nobody wants a 7-year-old computer monitor except someone with a 7-year-old computer whose monitor was lost.) And the shipping was $40, so I just broke even. It arrived today, by Fedex, which is a New York miracle because this is the only day I could have been home to receive a package since I’m in rehearsals every day now.

I love happy endings.

Speaking of happy, we’ve had a couple rehearsals now with the cast. Three of the women are back from last fall’s production and one is new, the woman who plays Emma, Lizzie’s sister. The new girl is great. The old girls are still great. Our director is wonderful, very smart. She loves and understands the show. And our music director is some kind of perfect.

There was a moment in yesterday’s rehearsal, during the scene in which Lizzie begs Alice Russell to lie for her to the police, and Alice, though she loves Lizzie, cannot do it, when I started crying, and I looked to my left and Tim was crying and then to my right and Alan was crying. All three writers were crying. Hate to brag, but this show is heartbreaking. I’m awed by what this cast brings to our words and music, to these characters and this story. It’s a wonder. And it’s a privilege to work with such talented artists.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There's A Place For Us.

The song "Somewhere" from West Side Story is constantly in my head because the A train, which I take every day to wherever it is I might be going, as it approaches the station sings the first three notes. At first I thought it was an effect of the wheels on the tracks, but it is too regular and it happens at every station.

"There's a place..." That song always fills me with nostalgia. West Side Story was the first musical I worked on in a community theater production in Greencastle, Indiana. I was 13, on the stage crew, and Mike Van Rensselaer, who was lanky and handsome in a mid-70s way, played Tony. Every night as I stood backstage waiting for my cue to roll out one of the brick walls for the rumble scene, it was like Mike was singing to me. "There's a place for us...."

Anyway.

The other thing that's new about the subway since I lived here last is a woman's recorded voice on nearly every platform announcing the arrival of each train. She's super-cheerful and sounds like she's from Kentucky by way of Minnesota. It cracks me up every time, those hard nasal "a" sounds, an accent and tone so out of place here where daily one hears dozens of different accents but seldom that one. And she is announcing the arrival of trains, which is useless information. It's obvious when the train is arriving. It's big and loud. Information that might be helpful -- schedule changes, tracks changes, etc. -- is still bleated over a p.a., almost always garbled and incomprehensible. Just like the New York I remember.

I've been working part-time in a prop rental shop in Greenpoint. An old friend got me the job very soon after I arrived, and I'm grateful to have some income and to be working in a congenial place with varied enough tasks that I'm not dying of boredom.

The commute from Inwood to Greenpoint is almost an hour and a half door to door. So far, it's not bothering me a bit, though. After living in places where I had to drive everywhere -- if you know me, you know I hate driving -- I'm falling in love all over again with public transportation. I'm getting lots of reading done. I'm reading In Search of Lost Time again, the new Lydia Davis translation. (Which is great, by the way. If you've always wanted to read it but you're intimidated by its "great modernist masterpiece" reputation, don't be. It's a huge pleasure to read. I read the whole thing a few years ago when I was living and working in a very quiet, remote village in southern Utah for 8 months, but it's so long and rich and dense and entertaining that the first thing I thought when I finished it was that I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again. Lots of time for reading may be the only thing the New York subway has in common with southern Utah.)

I work Monday next week and then I have two weeks off. I'll be working, but not for the man. As I’ve said, the two main reasons I moved back to New York were, one, because my heart was broken and I needed a change of scenery and, two, because big things are happening in my career. (I guess the real main reason I moved back is that I couldn’t make a living in Austin, but the heartbreak and Lizzie Borden are what spurred me to move now.)

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre festival of new musicals presentation is happening in a couple weeks. (If you're in New York, you can come to this event free. The performances are on Oct. 21 and 22, during the day.) I know I’ve said this before, but this is a huge fucking deal for the show and for me as an artist. Theater producers from all over the U.S. come to this conference to check out the most promising new musicals, and only eight are chosen each year to be presented. Eight. We start rehearsals on Tuesday!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bags!

So far the hardest thing about being back here, after having been away and cultivated a different way of living, and I knew this would challenge me, is shopping and eating the way I want to. I just stopped at the neighborhood supermarket on the way home from running some errands. I didn’t have bags with me. I was buying some fruit, lettuce, a quart of half and half. As the cashier was ringing up my items, I said to the guy bagging groceries, “You can put it all in one bag,” and he nodded as he pushed one plastic bag into another. While I was paying, he put the lettuce in the double bag and then grabbed another bag and started putting lemons into it. I said, “One bag is enough.” I don’t think he understood me – stressful moments like this are exactly when I need to use my Spanish, but they are the moments when I am least able to -- because by the time I had paid the cashier, he had my 8 or 10 items waiting for me in 4 double bags.

Feeling like a total asshole, I started pulling everything out and putting it in one bag. He said, “It’s too much!” I said, “It’s not too much. I live less than a block away. I don’t need 8 bags to carry home my groceries.”

Eight bags! It’s so absurd. I can’t even get my mind around what motivates that kind of behavior. On the other hand, I was able to buy local apples.

But it’s not just the bag issue. It’s the fact that natural food stores are in neighborhoods I can’t afford to live in, and it’s not easy to find local produce, especially not in the cold months. And because life is very busy and hectic here, I won’t be doing as much processing and preserving and cooking all my meals from scratch at home.

I’m not going to fret too much about it, not so soon. I’ll allow myself time to discover ways to get as close as I can manage to the kind of conscientious life I want to live given the circumstances of living in New York. One thing that will help a lot is having a bigger kitchen.

*

One thing I’ve noticed, living in so many very different places in the last 10 or 15 years, is that the dust in different places has very different qualities. Different texture and color, different rates of accumulation. I think it was Jersey City where the dust was blue. Like blue blue. Here it’s more black, but it has a bluish cast and it’s very fibrous, almost wooly. In Austin our yard was mostly dirt and there was often some kind of construction going on, so the dust was more like dry earth, powdery and brown, and it built up fast. I’d wipe things off on my desk and within a couple hours there was a visible layer of dust again.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Love Where I Live.

I just remembered that I got hit in the head with a chair last night! The first thing I thought after it happened was, “Now that’s why I moved back to New York!”

I had a date last night. A man I met and chatted and exchanged numbers with at the Eagle, a handsome man, a painter, asked me over for “dinner and drinks.” I left my job at the prop shop in Greenpoint at 5, came back to T's to shower and change. It would have been easier not to come all the way up to Inwood and then back downtown but I needed a few moments to relax and get my second wind. The new job, getting up at 6 a.m., walking everywhere again ... I was dog-tired.

He lives in a little apartment in Chelsea filled with his paintings. He made cocktails with ginger vodka and lemon juice. They were potent and I had two of them before dinner, which was beautiful and delicious: a chicken breast broiled with New Mexico chili, a baked sweet potato, spinach with lemon and capers, Israeli cous-cous. We smoked some pot.

I hadn’t noticed the night I met him the deep creases at the sides of his mouth which could have been age but more likely were the result of HIV drugs because he also, and I hadn’t noticed this before either, had the tell-tale distended stomach and lack of ass. I won’t say I didn’t have a slight reaction of, if not fear, apprehension, which of course is completely irrational because, even if you were going to have risky sex (and you always have the choice not to) you’re much less likely to contract HIV from someone who is on long-term anti-viral drugs than from someone who is not. But who ever said we were rational creatures?

At any rate, he was charming and eccentric, gracious, sweet, and the vodka and marijuana… After dinner, we had amazing sex -- if the quality of sex is measured by the intensity of physical sensation and I question more and more whether that is the best metric; my experience with M showed me that the whole sex and love thing may not be just propaganda -- the sex of experts, a kind of sex completely without mystery that only people who’ve been around the block so many times there’s nothing to discover can have. It was hot because we knew exactly how to make it hot.

But then it was over.

He said, “I hope you can stay,” and I said I wanted to wake up at home which meant I didn’t want to sleep with him.

It was only 11 when I left, and I was in the neighborhood, still a little drunk and high and craving a beer, so I stopped at the Eagle. Usually the Eagle is sort of all about horniness but I was a little spent so I went up to the roof and sat looking I imagined aloof and handsome. Maybe not too aloof because within a few minutes a very cute bearded man, young I thought, sat next to me saying, “There wasn’t anyone sitting here, was there?” I said, “Not that I know of.”

I tried to steal glances at him, sitting there right beside me, but I wasn’t at all sure if he’d sat there because he wanted to sit next to me or sat there just because it was a place to sit. Is he shy? Should I say something? Or should I pretend I don’t even notice him and thereby avoid humiliation? (Despite my feeling that I might look attractive, I always believe that anyone who I think is handsome is almost by definition handsomer than me. I’m not even sure what that means, but it’s true.) He lit a cigarette. He said something about the porn playing on a TV over the bar. I think he said it was mesmerizing. I said, “They usually play really good porn here, but tonight it’s kind of bad.” Which it was. But it was a TV screen and impossible not to look at. Then I said, “But I guess everyone has their own particular taste when it comes to porn.” And he said, “You just said a true thing,” or something like that. He had a strong Australian accent and used a lot of idiomatic expressions I couldn’t make out. I think he called the bathroom the dunney.

We sat and talked and got drunker and drunker till almost closing time (which in New York I’d like to mention is way too late). He’s a solicitor taking some time off to grow a beard and travel. He’s more or less backpacking with a buddy. They’re staying somewhere on the Upper West Side sharing a single bed to save money. We talked about traveling, the places we’d been. He was small with a bright disarming smile, black hair and eyes, and I told him I thought he was very handsome and he said, “Likewise,” which could have meant that he too thought he was handsome, but I don’t think that’s what he meant.

Several times he said things that, because I was drunk I can't recall today, made me think he was very insightful and sensitive and emotionally self-aware.

I was glad that I’d just had sex because, though I wanted to touch him and I did put my hand on his leg a couple times, I didn’t feel that intense urgency to go somewhere and fuck that usually backgrounds these types of encounters. I told him I’d like to see him again and he took my number. He texted me so I would have his, but it’s an Australian number and it came through as a regular phone call, not text. When I heard last call I said I had to go. I asked him if I could kiss him. I don’t remember if he said yes or nodded or if I just kissed him without waiting for an answer.

On the street outside, I texted him saying I’d enjoyed hanging out and looked forward to seeing him again. I’m doubtful I’ll hear from him, but who knows.

Around the corner on 10th Avenue, I stopped for a slice. There was something happening on the sidewalk in front of the pizza place, a big group of people shouting and looking agitated but I didn’t think much of it since at 4 in the morning on 10th Avenue there’s nothing unusual about that sort of behavior. I made my way through the crowd and was headed for the counter as a couple guys and a woman came running from the back of the restaurant toward the front door. On the way, one of them picked up a chair, one of those sturdy but light aluminum chairs, and lifted it over his head. As he ran past me, it banged the side of my head hard enough to hurt but I was drunk enough to be more amused and intrigued than scared or angry. I sat down at a table and watched the chaotic running around and shouting, someone saying over and over, “Chill! There are cops outside!” until finally they did chill, and I got up and ordered my slice and walked to the train at 34th Street. Miraculously, the A train came within minutes -- sometimes late at night you have to wait forfuckingever -- and I was home in bed by 5.

I have a slight headache today and a bit of a knot on the side of my head and I can’t stop smiling.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Almost Two Weeks.

I've been here less than two weeks and already I have 4 jobs! I haven't started any of them yet. I interviewed last week for a job at a prop furniture rental shop in Greenpoint. They called yesterday and said they'd like me to do some work for them on an "as-needed basis, and we have a need now." I think they just want to check me out before they say anything too committal. In the interview, she (I think you'd call her a manager, though it was a small operation and it seemed like everyone did everything) said it would probably be 2 or 3 days a week.

I'm also going to babysit a friend's son (he's 9) about once a week in the East Village. And I'm going to help a friend of a friend organize her files, and then some time later in the fall I'm going to do some house painting for a friend.

***

It's been chilly at night and in the mornings, but I find myself superstitiously avoiding putting on a sweater or even a long-sleeve shirt. I don't trust the cool weather, I've been so traumatized by the Texas heat. It's been gorgeous out, the kind of bright, cool fall that New Yorkers live for. It's still hot in the subway. I've forgotten how long it takes for that hot air to be displaced in the fall.

***

I cleaned and rearranged T's kitchen yesterday, spent most of the day on it. T and I have been friends for 20 years. I love him with all my soul. He has many talents but keeping the house clean is not among them. The kitchen was a mess, dirty and cluttered with no place to work and no place to sit. I moved stuff around and created some counter space for cooking and a little eating nook by the window. It's very tenement civilized. Huge difference. And it made T happy to come home from work and see the kitchen transformed. That in itself made the effort worthwhile.

When people ask me for advice about cohabitation, whether it's as friends or lovers (and oddly enough, people ask me), I always tell them my one rule is, "If you think something needs to be clean, clean it." Seriously, stop trying to figure out how to get the other person to do it and just do it yourself. Then it'll be clean and you'll be happy. It doesn't matter who left the dishes in the sink. If you wash them, they'll be gone. Problem solved. What's so horrible about doing something nice for someone like washing their dishes?

People have different styles of housekeeping, different priorities, different levels of dirtiness that they notice or tolerate, and it's probably impossible to change them much. All the trying and the resentment it creates on both sides just corrodes the relationship. My threshold of cleanliness is somewhere halfway between clean freak and slob -- I've been on both sides of the dispute in my various households over the years.

***

It's hard to believe I've been here for almost two weeks now. I'm happy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fat People.

The subject has been well pondered before -- it’s just so obvious -- but I’m still intrigued by the complicated connection between the rise of “bear culture” and the recent so-called obesity epidemic. I’m skeptical about the “epidemic” thing. Though anyone who’s been around for a while can see that the average American body size is increasing, I think most of the hysteria about food and fat people is just moral panic and scapegoating. Fat people are lazy and greedy.

And hot. Is there a subculture of heterosexual people fetishizing excess body fat, or is it just gay men? As soon as I ask that question, I realize it’s not hard to find times and places where fat women have been and are seen as more desirable (look at an art history book, or a shelf of porn), but men? The Judd Apatow movies, Seth Rogan, etc., must be somehow analogous, but how so? Those films seem to be less about the attitude of heterosexual women toward fat men than they are about fat men’s fantasies of their own desirability.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stinky.

The same friend who gave me movie deal advice also turned me on to Weleda sage deodorant about a year ago which -- I am not exaggerating -- changed my life. For the last 10 years or so I haven't been able to use deodorant without breaking out in a painful rash that takes months to heal. I tried dozens of them; the "natural" ones were the worst. And don't even mention that evil rock.

Luckily during my time in Austin, I was usually either at home or hanging around men who liked the smell of b.o. (I like it too, but I get extremely self-conscious when I'm in a close public space and I know I smell strong and I'm sure my nervousness only makes it worse. People can be so judgmental about body smells.) The one big exception in Austin was when I was in school, but the UT buildings were almost always freezing so I didn't have to worry too much about sweating.

So, finding a deodorant that actually worked and I wasn't allergic to was huge. But in the last few weeks it has stopped working! In fact, it seems to make me smell even worse than if I weren't using anything. I smell ripe! It could be the fact that I've been in a much more humid climate recently. But that's not good news because New York is just as humid as the Midwest, which is much more humid than central Texas. And I'll be in all sorts of situations where I don't want to stink: meetings regarding the show, job-hunting, various workplaces, etc.

Aaaarrrgh.

$.

A friend in Austin who I assume knows a lot about money because he has a lot of it told me that if we’re looking for a movie deal for Lizzie Borden we should hold out for $10 million because 40% will come off the top for various agents and lawyers and accountants leaving $6 million to split among 3 writers or about $2 million each which safely invested would produce about $65,000 a year in dividends which would be enough to live on for the rest of my life. None of these numbers really mean anything to me except the $65,000, which would be a modest and completely reasonable income for an artist in New York. So ... $10 million, folks.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Less One Car and Halfway to New York.

This big decision to move to New York, and all the packing and traveling and plans, the anticipation, all of it has pushed thoughts of M into the background. Mostly. From time to time the sensation of being near him will wash over me and, as soon as my brain identifies the feeling, sadness comes just as quickly as the initial feeling of warmth and comfort. With a clearer head and some perspective now, it’s not hard for me to see how imperfect we were for each other, how it was not as good for either of us as I thought it was, but I still ache when I think about him touching me.

I’m in Columbus now with my brother and his partner. I love visiting them. They’re sane and kind and they have a very sweet, simple life. They’ve been together for like 15 years and they still sit on the couch holding hands while they read the paper. How does that even happen?

This afternoon we took my car to my brother’s airplane hangar to store it for now. I don’t want a car, of course, in New York, but I don’t want to get rid of it just yet since I seem never to know where I’ll end up from one year to the next and it’s a great car. If things go well in New York and I get on my feet, I’ll probably sell the car in a year or two. It’s a 94 Honda and everyone tells me I could get a lot of money for it. On the way back from the airport (which is way out in the country, very pretty drive in rural Ohio), we stopped at a roadside vegetable stand and bought some sweet corn and tomatoes for dinner. I think they’re going to grill the corn along with some chicken and we’ll eat the tomatoes sliced and salted. August in the Midwest.

I have acres of free time, but I’m finding it very hard to blog much. Except my tumblr blog, which I’m enjoying hugely but it’s not writing. It’s turned into mostly porn because that seems to be about all I’m interested in looking at lately. But all the pictures I post I have chosen because there’s some interesting story behind the image. Some of them are hot, some are funny, some are mysterious. The best ones are all those things. I choose pictures that make me wonder, that send my imagination. Check it out, unless there’s some reason you don’t want to look at pictures of naked men.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dad's Briefs.

My mother calls male genitalia "outdoor plumbing." I had to stop running for a few days because it's been so humid I got a case of jock itch, the news of which I had little choice but to share with my mother. I can't make a move here without being questioned as to what I'm doing -- she notices everything and comments on it -- and I had to drive to the store to get something to treat it. And I have had to stop running until the rash clears up because sweating exacerbates it, but I wanted Mom to know there was a good reason I wasn't using the expensive shoes she bought me. Later, she brought in a pair of my dad's underwear, made of some high-tech fabric that keeps you from sweating or something and asked me if I wanted some. She would order me a couple pair if I wanted. They were sort of silky and metallic gray and not completely unsexy. My dad apparently has also gone from boxers back to briefs, just like I did a couple years ago. I do want to try the space-age briefs, but something, many things, about the idea of wearing the same underwear as my dad makes me very uncomfortable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Weight.

I haven't gone out running the last few nights because it's so ungodly humid out. I'll get back to it. I have continued my daily workout with weights, and I feel stronger already. I'm eating about half the quantity of food I'd been eating the last year or so, and I'm not drinking beer every night anymore.

I gained 20 pounds while I was with M. The last time I was this heavy was a few months after J and I started seeing each other. Our nightly ritual was to walk to Ray's on Ave A after sex for chocolate milkshakes.

Apparently, being in love is fattening. Or I just tend to fall in love with sugar addicts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Running Again.

I went with Mom to a big sports stores in Muncie to get some new running shoes yesterday, and while I was at the store I decided to get 2 15-pound dumbbell weights so I can work on my upper body while I'm here, too. With a very familiar mix of gratitude, relief, and shame, I let her pay for everything. Not that it was a surprise, her insisting.

On the way home, we measured a route for me to run. There's a path along a road near the house, and if I run out to the end of a path and back home it's a 3-mile run. Seemed like a reasonable length to start out. Well, just running out to the end of the path nearly killed me, and I walked back. In my defense, it's very warm and the humidity is heavy and thick, even at 10 p.m. But, there's no denying I'm in poor shape. My legs were fine, but I was flushed and soaked with sweat from head to toe. I haven't exercised a lick since I was hit by that car last summer. I stopped riding my bike, stopped lifting weights at the gym. I evens stopped walking much because I got a car. Apparently you just can't do that when you're almost 50 years old.

I got a little lost in the neighborhood. My parents live in an older sort of rural/suburban development. Big yards. Lots of huge trees. It's pretty. And very dark at night. In the car, the route seemed very straightforward, but it's not and I missed a couple turns. I thought I was more lost than I turned out to be. Or, I should say, I was lucky that I guessed right a couple of times and ended up finding my way back to familiar streets. So, I might actually have run more like 2 miles than 1 1/2.

This little spate of hot, humid days is supposed to end soon, so maybe the running will get easier. Maybe? My legs don't feel a bit sore today.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Equal Rights. Not.

From the New York Times today, in their story about the California federal court ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional:

Being gay is about forming an adult family relationship with a person of a same sex, so denying us equality within the family system is to deny respect for the essence of who we are as gay people,” said Jennifer Pizer, the marriage project director for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles, who filed two briefs in favor of the plaintiffs. [emphasis mine]

I don't think I've ever heard this stated quite so simply, and it's exactly why I don't consider myself to be gay anymore: because that is what being gay is about now.

So now, if I were married, I'd have rights equal to other married people in California. But I'm not, so I don't.

Monday, August 2, 2010

It's Monday.



I dealt with most of the loose ends I’d been worrying about. My brother is going to keep my car in Columbus. He has plenty of room in his airplane hangar. M’s bicycle was stolen recently, so I gave him mine. I’m going to leave the boxes of unsold CDs here with J. I’ll store some stuff with my parents in Indiana.

This is it. It’s Monday -- in fact, it’s noon and I haven’t started, so I’m already behind. On my list today: 1) buy a big suitcase at Texas Thrift, to pack my clothes in, 2) go to the comic book store for more boxes, 3) buy packing tape. And I guess 4) would be … pack.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hippie Clown Jesus, Etc.



I have 70s New York on my mind today. I'd forgotten that Godspell was set in the city, too. It's odd, and I'm not really sure I like it, how art that depicts the World Trade Center now has an immediate potency and poignancy.

This opening sequence from Hair is my favorite opening sequence from any movie, ever. What I love about film is that there is seemingly no limit to the quantity and variety of genius that can be contained in it. The horses are dancing, y'all!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bravery.

People -- friends, fans, family -- tell me they think I’m brave, most recently referring to my move back to New York, but people said it about my first move to New York when I was 20, about my life of poverty and art in the 80s, about J’s and my decision to live on the road, etc.

Brave? I don’t know. I never felt particularly brave, just scared. I think sometimes I certainly did what excited me regardless of risk, did what I wanted to do while brushing aside any notion of danger, but many many times, those apparently courageous choices were actually just me doing what I thought was the least terrifying option available.

Absolutely the thing I am most scared of, because I am literally afraid I would commit suicide, is giving up art and getting a regular job. I’m not sure why that is so awful to contemplate because sometimes it sure seems like it would be a hell of a lot more pleasant than all this uncertainty, rejection, disappointment, poverty, frustration, but I can’t even contemplate it without starting to feel panicky.

Art-making has brought me countless moments of pure joy, thrills beyond anything I imagined, and deep satisfaction, but I also associate it with a constant background of anxiety. I don’t mean the economic anxiety that has resulted from choosing this life, but a more general “I have to do something but I’m not sure what it is” anxiety that I’ve felt ever since I can remember. It’s always there, and I regard it rightly or wrongly as the source of my creativity.

Am I brave? Most of the time, I feel like these big life choices are out of my hands, like someone or something else is pushing me along.

Giving up, it seems to me, would take real courage because that’s where the real demons live.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Leaving.

I’m leaving Austin a week from Friday, which is two weeks earlier than I had planned. It turns out Labor Day weekend is a good time to begin work with the woman who is directing Lizzie Borden for the festival showcase, so I’m going to be in New York by Labor Day instead of mid-September, which was a more or less arbitrary arrival date anyway. But I still want to spend a few weeks with my parents, and that’s why I’m leaving here so soon.

There’s really no reason to stay, except to have more time to procrastinate. I don’t have a ton of stuff, but still I don’t enjoy packing. It always surprises me how much stuff “not much stuff” looks like when you have to put it all in boxes. The bulk of what I’ve carried around with me the last 7 years falls into two categories: 1) unsold CDs -- I have 6 or 8 big boxes of Life in a Box soundtrack CDs and 3 or 4 boxes of Y’all CDs (mostly The Hey, Y’all Soundtrack, our Nashville album); and 2) the Y’all archives -- I have 5 or 6 boxes of miscellaneous stuff that I think is historically important and I won’t throw away, such as the masters to our recordings, a box of old posters and programs and scripts and press and letters and other printed stuff, a couple boxes of videotapes and audio recordings in a variety of obsolete formats, and all the Life in a Box stuff: the original tapes as well as hard drives with backups and rough cuts of the film and some printed logs and stuff like that.

Other stuff I have: a few photo albums, my grandmother’s scrapbooks, a box of my journals going back to high school, my high school yearbooks, a box or two of other personal stuff I won’t throw away, such as drawings I made when I was a kid, old report cards, some letters. I admit that I am sentimental about some of this, but seriously it’s pared down to next to nothing. Our living situation on the road didn’t allow for an excess of sentimentality about objects.

And then there’s the stuff I use in my life. Clothes (a very small dresser full, a few shirts in the closet, and a couple jackets and a winter coat. And my computer, which is kind of a big honking old Mac tower but it has served me well and I’m taking it with me. I also have an even older G4 Macbook or whatever they called them back then. And a printer. I have some good kitchen stuff, but I might leave some of it here for now since I don’t know when I’ll have my own kitchen again. There’s not really that much.

This week I am devoting to goodbyes. I have lunch dates every day all week. Next week I’ll pack.

Friday, July 23, 2010

It All Comes Back to Liza.

I was thinking today about the period of time when I was logging and editing Life in a Box and all my living expenses were covered by the film’s budget, a period of about 2 1/2 years that I spent in front of a computer in Jersey City, Nashville, and San Francisco, when not only did I make a feature film that I’m extremely proud of, I wrote several short stories and a screenplay. It was a really fruitful period of art-making for me. I think what made that possible was that I didn’t worry about money during that time. I knew the bills were paid, rent, and I’d have a little left for cheap entertainment and a few beers on the weekend. I literally had no worries. My life was basically perfect.

Now I have all this idle time. I do a little writing every few days, but it’s slow-going and it’s a struggle to stay focused. Worrying about money occupies way too much of my brain. I hate it.

Which reminds me of this bitter, hilarious op-ed in Huffington Post that a facebook friend posted. I sort of in my head substituted “artist” when she wrote “writer,” and it’s all still true. Nothing is supposed to be about money, but everything is about money.

And that, because I'm gay, reminds me, of course, of this. My favorite movie ever.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Words.

I just now successfully resisted the urge to have a second beer. Though I’m temperamentally and philosophically opposed to abstinence of almost any kind, I’m also not at all in support of my beer gut.

I had a wicked cold that started late last week and just today started waning. I always get whatever nasty shit virus that’s going around, without fail. I just had a cold (though that one wasn’t as severe) when was that? when I was getting out of the drug study, a couple months ago I guess. Time is so compressed this summer. I don’t even have a clear sense of how long it’s been since M and I were together.

Speaking of that, I don’t know if it’s obvious how I stumble over language when I refer to that relationship. I have this obsession, ever since the complicated unraveling of my relationships with J and R, with precision, which I think mostly has to do with a desire to be scrupulously honest. For instance, I don’t think it is accurate to say, “When M and I broke up…” We didn’t break up. He rejected, or maybe more accurately, sent me away. By the same token, when I’m talking about the end of my relationship with B, the man I was involved with for 6 years in my twenties, I don’t say, “When B and I broke up…” I say, “When I left B…”

But does the expression “to break up” necessarily mean a reciprocal action? I always thought it did. Breaking up is something 2 people do, not something one person does to another. But then, I guess most separations are to some extent 1-sided. Am I making a meaningful distinction?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Dream Life.

So, as an addendum to the previous post about goals, here’s the life I simultaneously aspire to and struggle to let go of wanting. My dream life has acquired detail along the way, but this is basically the life I’ve wanted since I was about 13, when I first started thinking about New York and a life in theater:

I live in Manhattan, somewhere below 14th Street, in a small apartment. I like small spaces. I make a living from my creative work, writing, performing, etc. I can afford to eat in decent restaurants, and to go see plays and movies and live music, take cabs every once in a while. I prefer to cook and eat most of my meals at home, and sometimes to have friends over for dinner, but when there are shows I want to see I don’t want to have to worry about whether I can spend the money, even if it’s Broadway.

Schedules vary from project to project, but I might spend my mornings writing, and go to rehearsals in the afternoons. Evenings, I might be at the theater if I have a show running, or I might have friends over for dinner, or just spend the evening at home, alone.

I can afford to travel a bit, nothing too extravagant. I prefer travel on a modest budget; modes of transit and choices of lodging are more interesting. Some travel might be built into my theater work, when shows tour, etc., which is even better. I never enjoyed traveling more than when J and I traveled with Y’all, such amazing generosity and hospitality we always received.

If there’s one luxury I would be tempted to indulge in, it’s to hire a personal trainer. I feel old and out of shape. I want to be stronger, to look and feel better.

That’s really about it. It looks very humble now that I write it down. I just want to make a decent living doing what I love, what I’m good at, what I feel compelled to do. I’ve never had a taste for fancy stuff, cars, clothes. I don’t particularly like dressing up, and I don’t like expensive furniture because you have to worry about messing it up or breaking it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Cold.

It's cool outside this evening. I just checked the temperature and it's 79 degrees, which is undeniably wonderful, but a little eerie in July.

Rough day. I have a nasty cold, I feel trapped in my room, and I was hungry all day because nothing in the house looked tasty to me and I didn't feel like going to the store. MP brought me a cheeseburger from P. Terry's for breakfast which cheered me up, and finally about an hour ago, I drove to El Chilito and had two fish tacos and a beer.

We're in the thick of the initial planning and preparation for the Lizzie Borden festival performance: casting, hiring a director and musical director, cutting the show down to a 45-minute presentation. All these crucial decisions at a time when my confidence is so battered, and now I'm sick. I know I'm a big whiny baby, but I just ... that's how I feel. Sad and lonely and overwhelmed.

I did a lot of reading today, anyway.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Goals.

So there are two schools of thought regarding goals, right? There’s the idea that if you want something, you should visualize it, imagine that you already have it. Put yourself there; make everything in your life about realizing the dream. And there’s the school that says don’t get hung up on where you’re headed, live for now. (Sorry if I’m trivializing anyone’s philosophy of life here.)

Whenever Dolly Parton is asked for the secret to her success, she says, “Work hard and dream big.” I used to find that very inspiring. You hear it over and over in different words from different people, and it has the ring of truth. Dolly Parton is one of the most successful entertainers and songwriters in the world, so it must have worked, right? The problem is that you know there are millions of people out there who believed the same thing and it didn’t bring them fame, success, whatever. But they don’t get interviewed.

You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe that you have something important and unique to offer, and that it is inevitable that you will find your audience. It’s only a matter of time. Keep at it. It’s a powerfully motivating frame of mind. But it does not account for failure. Failure is not an option, as they say. Okay, it’s not an option, but it is the most likely outcome, and then what?

“Work hard, dream big, and remember that more likely than not you will never have the kind of success you dream of.” It loses its ring.

I’m more inclined to the second philosophy -- or at least I say I am -- which is to work at letting go of those dreams, learn to relax into the moment, cultivate contentment with whatever happens. It’s the Buddhist view, and it has brought me some peace in the last 10 years. If my happiness depends on a certain outcome, then I might never be happy, right? And I want to be happy.

But I’m realizing now that perhaps the only way I’ve been able to find any contentment with the present moment is by seeing it as a moment on the way to a moment that I’ve been visualizing since I was 7 years old and that I still want so bad I can hardly see straight.

My urge for fame, I think, is one and the same with my urge to create. My urge to create is the only thing that consistently makes me feel like life is worth living. Love, beauty, pleasure -- all the things I’m drawn to -- come and go. The urge to make art never leaves me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

New York.

I just watched a documentary called The Heretics, about the women who published the magazine Heresies, a feminist art magazine in the 70s and 80s. It’s making the rounds of the festivals now, and I have a screener. And I’m reading the recent Edmund White memoir City Boy, which is about his life in New York in the 60s and 70s. Both the film and the book are about, well they’re about many things: art, politics, memory, aging, but mostly what I’m getting from them is how great New York was for artists in the 70s.

I have to be careful about romanticizing New York. I’m on my way back there, to a city very different from the one I landed in almost 30 years ago at the age of 20.

My First Published Essayn't.

Update on my dispute with the magazine editor:

After saying on Monday or Tuesday that we should call it a day (this was when he saw how much I had revised his revised draft), he emailed a few hours later and asked for help deciphering the document I’d sent him showing my changes to his draft. (I had used Word’s “compare documents” thing, and he was flustered by all the red and blue.)

We went back and forth a couple more times. He insisted that he’d made only cosmetic changes to improve the flow, but it seemed obvious to me that he didn’t understand or agree with what, to me, was the main idea of the essay -- he had changed or deleted most of the language pertaining to that idea. I don’t know how we could have resolved our differences without sitting down together and looking at his changes more closely, but there was no time for that. He was frantic about his deadline.

What a frustrating experience. I’m trying to be more flexible, more open, because my rigidity about artistic integrity might be one of the main reasons I can’t make a living. So this seemed almost like a test of my new attitude. I was flexible. I think I met him halfway. But he didn’t budge.

He put a lot of time into the piece, and I would have tolerated a lot of his revisions in order to have a first magazine article in print. That meant a lot to me. But, on the other hand, I didn’t want to have my first published piece be something I didn’t even know how to defend because I didn’t know what it was about. Especially when the topic, gay sex cruising, is so controversial and would surely generate questions and argument.

This was quite a struggle for me. My impulse early on had been that he didn’t understand the piece, but I questioned that feeling. It’s not like I enjoy cutting off my nose to spite my face. I fretted and pondered and fretted some more, and, after two more days of back and forth with the editor, I told him that I thought we were at odds regarding the main ideas of the piece and, since we didn’t have time to do a closer rewrite together, we should call it quits.

He wrote back and asked me to show him one example of a change he'd made that altered the meaning. I went through his changes one by one and sent him a list of all the changes I was troubled by.

I guess what I got out of this whole experience is an unpublished essay and a magazine editor who doesn't like me. Sweet.

(Just to be clear, he made a lot of changes, small and large. Besides deleting a couple longer passages, sentences and paragraphs, a lot of his revisions were simple changes in word choice. Sometimes his change of a word changed the meaning of the sentence. Other times he added stuff that was way off base, either in style or content. The essay was heavily revised.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First Date.

I just got home from a first date with a 19-year-old man. Months ago, before I met M, this boy pursued me online. We chatted off and on pretty intensely for a couple months, but I resisted meeting in person. I came very close a couple times and got cold feet at the last minute. Finally, I told him I needed to pull back, that I wasn’t going to see him and didn’t want to lead him on.

I knew that, even though I found him interesting and funny and we had other things to talk about like music and movies, most of my interest in him was sexual, and I had myself worked up into some kind of ethics tizzy about that. You might be thinking, “What the fuck was your problem? A beautiful 19-year-old boy wants to hang out and have sex with you.” That’s pretty much what I think when I look back: What the fuck was my problem?

He texted me out of the blue a couple weeks ago, when I was feeling very low. This time I felt no compunction about making a date.

We met on the pedestrian bridge over Town Lake. Walked up a rusty trestle to some dark train tracks. (He said, “Do you want to go up there?” and I said, “Sure.”) He wanted to walk across the bridge on the tracks. I had to be the adult. We found a dark grassy spot to sit and smoke some pot. Then we drove to another park and kissed in the car. We got out and walked a long way down a path. The moon is a fingernail tonight, so it was very dark, and no one but us was out on this path. We stepped off the trail every once in a while to make out.

How beautiful it is just to be 19. And that’s where you start. Motherfucker wore. me. out. All that unspoiled beauty. I think that’s what gave me pause months ago when I rejected him. I question whether I am a good influence on the innocent. I’m like the uncle who tells his nieces and nephews that Santa Claus is a lie.

We had a sweet time, and I think we’ll see each other again soon.

There’s so much ill feeling in our culture about sexual relationships between older and younger people, yet it’s so common. Most of my gay friends at some time in their teens had relationships with much older men. I did. I liked older men for the same reasons young men now tell me they’re interested in me: older men are more relaxed, smarter, have more interesting things to talk about, and can show them amazing stuff in bed. And there’s something about the quality of attention that older men pay to younger men that can be irresistible and addictive for young men. It must be equivalent for older men and young women.

Heterosexuals denigrate these relationships with expressions like “gold digger” and “dirty old man.” Homosexuals downplay them because we’re always trying to convince straight people that we don’t want to recruit their children.

I think it’s a perfect arrangement. They enjoy our experience and wisdom. We enjoy their beauty and innocence.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Almost Published, Twice.

My last summer at UT, in a class on American Childhood, I wrote an essay about Where the Wild Things Are, reading the book as a coming out fairy tale for homosexual boys. I thought it was original and timely (the Spike Jones movie was about to be released), so I sent it to a couple magazines, and two responded. One wanted me to change it in a way that didn’t feel right to me. The other liked it the way it was and committed to publishing it. It was supposed to appear in the June issue. When I didn’t hear from the publisher by May, I sent him an email. He didn’t respond. I checked the web site, and it hadn’t been updated since the spring. The magazine has vanished, along with the window of timeliness for my essay.

In the meantime, even though I didn’t want to edit my essay for this other magazine, I enjoyed my interaction with the editor/publisher. I sent him another piece, this one about online sex cruising. It would need some work to make it fit this magazine’s profile (it’s a gay and lesbian semi-scholarly journal), but I thought it might be worth it. He was intrigued but had some problems with it that made me think he didn’t “get” it, and I wasn’t sure if that was a problem with the piece or with his reading of it. At any rate, this was around the time of the New York production of Lizzie Borden, other stuff was happening and I let it go.

But a few days ago, he sent me an email. He’d gone back to the essay and found he liked it more than before. He’d done some editing to make the essay flow without the illustrations and he wanted me to take a look. From his email, I understood that he was open to another round of edits. I liked what he’d done, but he had downplayed an idea that was central to the whole point of the essay, so I restored a couple sentences that he’d taken out. Besides that, I made several small changes where he had used words and phrases that I would never use. Basically, I liked the shape of what he had done, but I wanted to return it to my voice. I still think I have something unique to say about the subject, and in the months since I wrote the essay I’ve continued to think about it, to research, and take notes. So I also made some changes to clarify and strengthen my argument.

Well, he wasn’t happy at all. He was dismayed that I’d made so many revisions and that I had restored some of his changes back to my original language. His deadline for having the essay ready for publication is this week, so he suggested we call it a day.

It was an interesting episode for me. These were my first couple of magazine submissions, so I have nothing to compare the experience to. In all our correspondence, he has been generous, appreciative, smart, and interested. But it seems awfully weird to me that an editor would make changes which alter the character of a writer’s work and then be disappointed to get some pushback. We didn’t have time to get into specific changes, why he made them, why I didn’t like them, etc., so it’s hard to assess what happened.

I’m disappointed. This was going to be my first published magazine article.

Mourning Austin.

Okay, sorry if you’re averse to this type of thing, but I’m gonna get all Buddhist on your ass. As you know, I’m a big fan of the writing of Pema Chodron. I want to share this short passage because it’s the gist of everything she teaches. Since I discovered this particular brand of Buddhism about 9 years ago, these are the words I have tried to live by:

Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means “noble or awakened heart.” Just as butter is inherent in milk and oil is inherent in a sesame seed, the soft spot of bodhicitta is inherent in you and me. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. No matter how committed we are to unkindness, selfishness, or greed, the genuine heart of bodhicitta cannot be lost. It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole.

It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhicitta that heals. When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself. Bodhicitta is also equated, in part, with compassion -- our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. Based on a deep fear of being hurt, we erect protective walls made out of strategies, opinions, prejudices, and emotions. Yet just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this noble heart is not affected by all of the ways we try to protect ourselves from it. The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time, and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened.

This tenderness for life, bodhicitta, awakens when we no longer shield ourselves from the vulnerability of our condition, from the basic fragility of existence. It awakens through kinship with the suffering of others. We train in the bodhicitta practices in order to become so open that we can take the pain of the world in, let it touch our hearts, and turn it into compassion.

*

My internet connection was down for a couple days. I got lots of reading done. Imagine! I finished Man in the Holocene, the Max Frisch novella that T is looking at for inspiration for a new theater piece. Not a direct adaptation, but he’d like to collaborate on new work using some ideas in the story. It’s kind of all about memory and aging -- right up my alley lately.

And I started a novel called Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, who is apparently a popular writer of futuristic fantasy-type books, so no surprise that I’ve never heard of it or him. I’m enjoying it so far. Very fast-moving.

*

J had a big party here on Sunday, I think the purpose of which was to show everyone the progress on the container house. The floor is all built but not much in the way of walls, so it was a great party space. It hasn't been too crazy hot in the evenings lately, and there's a nice breeze. My time now with friends here feels elegiac. People tell me they're sad that I'm leaving. I can't say that I'm exactly sad to be leaving, but I am sad that I had high hopes that were unfulfilled here. I regret so much.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Body.

Another reason to go back to school is that I would probably have a gym to work out in. When I was at UT, I lifted weights and used the elliptical machine 4 or 5 days a week. Nothing too intense, but I kept my upper body strong and my gut reasonably in check. And I rode my bike, so my legs were strong. After the accident last summer, I stopped riding my bike and going to the gym. By the time I was recovered enough from the injuries to start working out again, I was out of school and didn’t have access to the gym any more. I am not unconscious of how much my body changed in the 7 months I was with M.

Food, Love, etc.

I’ve eaten almost nothing but scrambled eggs for lunch (I haven’t been getting up early enough for breakfast) and big salads with some kind of meat on them for dinner for the last couple of weeks. The meat has mostly been chicken, which I’ve marinated in lemon and garlic and sautéed and sliced about 1/4 of a breast onto the salad. Today, though, I bought a fat sirloin steak on sale at Whole Foods, cut it up into 4 pieces, rubbed one portion with olive oil, salt and pepper, and cooked it in a very hot skillet for about 3 minutes on each side. It was very rare. I let it sit for about 10 minutes and then sliced it and put it on the salad. The salad was simple: romaine, radishes, red onion, roasted red pepper, simple vinaigrette. It was delicious.

Perfect food for my state of mind, my physical health, and the weather.

Later, when J came home, beer and pot and 3 episodes of Strangers with Candy on Netflix streaming. God bless Netflix streaming.

Cooking is still fraught. One, because it still reminds me of M. One of the things we enjoyed together very much was food, and I miss his cooking, and I miss hanging out in the kitchen with him while he cooked. But it was more complicated. When we were together, I would help M prepare meals, sometimes, but he was definitely the cook. That was strange for me, because I’ve been the cook in the family for many years. I love cooking for people, I’ve done it a lot, it brings me joy and satisfaction and comfort. I’m good at it and it’s very tied to who I am, to myself and to others. It gives me a comfortable role in social situations. But I wasn’t the cook, M was. I wanted to insinuate myself into his kitchen, but had a hard time actually doing it. It was another way in which I became passive.

But salads don’t ever remind me of meals with M.

The crying is past, for the most part, though I still have spells of heavy, heavy sadness at odd times throughout the day. I still think we could have been great partners. We could have had a singular relationship. I think that, whatever problem there was, we could have fixed it if he had wanted to. Unless, I guess, the problem was that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. Not sure how to fix that.

I mourn the companionship. I’m lonely. We were together nearly every day for 7 months and now not at all.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rain.

It’s been raining all day in Austin. I drove to Whole Foods this afternoon because I needed a certain brand of body powder they sell, made with corn starch and tea tree oil.

(When it’s hot, sometimes I get a rash in my crotch. It’s like an allergy to summer. For many years I thought it was jock itch, and I was treating it with antifungal lotions and Gold Bond powder, which was making it worse. But a couple years ago, when I was at U.T., I went to the student clinic one time when it got really bad, and I saw a sports doctor who told me it wasn’t jock itch, just irritated skin. He also told me that he had seen several athletes recently who were using Gold Bond lotion for masturbation and the menthol in it had caused severe skin irritation on their penises. I love it when doctors tell me stuff about college athletes’ penises.)

I still have some funds on my food stamps card, so I bought groceries we needed, too. On the way home, the rain was really heavy, so heavy that everyone on Lamar Blvd. (a crowded 4-lane road) slowed to a crawl. I kind of love that, as long as I know I’m not stuck there for a long time.

*

The two big questions related to moving are, one, what do I do with my car? and two, what do I do with all my stuff until I have long-term lodging in New York?

I don’t have that much stuff. I have my computer and camera equipment. My guitar. My clothes will probably fit in a couple suitcases. I have about 8 boxes of Life in a Box soundtrack CDs, which I should just throw away, but can’t bring myself to do it since I spent all that money to make them. (I suppose I will carry that brand of stupid optimism to my grave.) I have a few boxes of archival stuff from Life in a Box, like hard drives, CD backups, paper logs, the raw tapes, etc. A few boxes of Y’all archival material. And I have a couple of boxes of personal stuff, like old journals and photographs. I don’t keep books and CDs to speak of anymore.

It’s not a lot, but still I have to put it somewhere. If I spend a month or 6 weeks with my parents or my friend MS in Indianapolis this summer, I want to be packed and moved out of here by then. New York is closer to Indiana than it is to Texas.

*

It looks like NYU, CUNY, and Columbia are the top MFA film schools in New York, so those are the ones I will apply to. CUNY is smaller and I think less prestigious, but it looks like the program is more experimental and it’s way more affordable than the others. NYU of course is crazy expensive.

*

M is on a train excursion in Mexico this week with his two best friends. I can’t remember exactly where, but I know they crossed the border in West Texas and the train takes a spectacular route through mountains. He showed me pictures a long time ago when they were planning the trip. I sent him a text to say Bon Voyage. I have to consciously resist typing little kissy-face emoticons. It still feels so right to give him that kind of affection. But of course it’s not right.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Still Trying To Figure It Out.

Soon, I will stop scrutinizing my breakup with M and just let it be. After our dinner together Sunday, a lot more of the whole ordeal makes sense to me. I realize that there were incompatibilities I didn’t see, or maybe that I ignored or denied. And I know now that M was frustrated for longer than I knew, and I understand why. I understand better why things went south for him. Now that we are in contact again and will, I hope, have a friendship that endures this episode, I want to think about the future.

But there’s one point I get stuck on. Let me try to articulate it:

I don’t get how his feelings changed so quickly. Or why it seemed to me that they changed quickly. What made him so sure so fast that he wanted out?

I think I understood him to say that the differences in our lifestyles, our philosophies regarding financial security, etc., were possibly negotiable but the fact that he didn’t want to have sex with me made it impossible for him to want to be boyfriends.

We didn’t have sex every day, but when we did he was … good to go. We had great sex. You can tell when a man is turned on, and M was, until a few weeks ago, turned on. It wasn’t like he had to work up the enthusiasm. So, from my point of view, what it looked like is that less than a couple weeks after we were having great sex, he told me that he didn’t feel attracted to me anymore and didn’t want to be together. That’s an awfully short period of decreased interest to base such an irrevocable decision on, isn’t it?

He suggested that his frustrations with my life, my way of getting along in the world, may have contributed to the waning of his interest in sex with me – maybe that’s the key. Maybe that’s why he’s so sure the change in his sexual response to me is more than temporary. He said that when he started to feel like he had to take care of me (because of my stressful, insecure life), his sexual interest waned. This is fascinating and heartbreaking to know, because I’ve recently started to realize that I have always used my insecurity, my vulnerability as a way of attracting men. I’m like the woman who acts all hapless and girly to get the big man to change her tire. And that’s exactly what turned M off. Maybe.

I wonder if I’m trying too hard to connect the sex with the other problems he had with the relationship. Or maybe I’m trying too hard to separate them.

So … I just needed to get these thoughts down.

I will probably never have an answer to this question, and I’m almost ready to drop it. That’s the hardest thing about love for me, the fact that I will never know what’s in his head. We all have things we don’t tell or can’t tell, things we lie about with various degrees of self-consciousness and intentionality. I’m not likely to change that. Life and love certainly don’t depend on my understanding them. Every day is a mystery.

All Roads, Etc.

We’ve known for weeks, but they made an official announcement today, so now I can tell everyone: Lizzie Borden was selected for the NAMT Festival of New Musicals, a prestigious industry showcase. It’s kind of a big deal. Only 8 shows are chosen each year. In the festival, NAMT presents staged readings of the shows to a crowd of theater industry people -- specifically, people from all over the country who are looking for new musicals to present, for example, producers and directors of big regional theaters. Lots of shows, as a result of being seen in this festival, go on to high profile productions.

I found out about this right in the middle of breaking up with M. It was a big secret until the press announcement, but they told us we were allowed to tell “significant others,” so, because M still sort of was that, I told him. The excitement of finding out was dimmed, to say the least, but this morning I feel giddy and short of breath and very optimistic.

This is one of the reasons I decided to move to New York. I have to be there for a week or two in October for the festival, so I figured I should think in terms of being moved there by then.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I went to bed at 2 but didn’t fall asleep until after 5 and then slept fitfully. I had gone to a friend’s house, a bar buddy from Chain Drive, not a good friend but a sweet man who I’ve had a chatting acquaintance with the whole time I’ve been in Austin. He lives with his partner somewhere in the northern suburbs. It was good to get out of my room/prison cell and hang out with people who are very different from the people I usually see.

The pot was veeeery strong. I got home by midnight but my brain was dancing all night long. I have a stack of scrap paper here on my desk, notes I got out of bed to write down. Some of them have great stuff on them, in particular some ideas for a film I’ve been writing for years called Wall of Angels. It’s a kind of surreal Ingmar Bergman/John Waters-style film about a woman who survives a house fire and goes on a road trip.