Monday, November 7, 2011

Back to Work.

We’re about 2 hours from the city now, on the old grey dog again, and I’m starting to feel a physical longing to be with C. Except for I guess about a week last Xmas when he went to see his family – and we’d only known each other for a couple weeks then – this is the only time we’ve been apart for more than a couple days. Rough.

But there was honestly nothing else I missed at all. I know, I know, I would have eventually begun to miss it all, the people, the noise, the anonymity, but not after 2 weeks. In terms of pure output, pulling stuff out of the air and putting it on paper, I wrote more in the last two weeks than I’ve written in the last 2 years.

For two weeks I was an artist. I sat in a room and pondered and considered, wrote, paced, dreamed, imagined. The stories and images seemed to coalesce behind my eyes and fly around the room and land on the page. Page after page, and at times it moved me to tears, knowing that these ideas and words and sentences would not have emerged in an environment other than this miraculous place where the needs of the body and soul are taken care of so we can work.

And after a day of that, I ate dinner in a room full of people all talking about their work, sharing ideas, and books, and suggestions, never questioning the good of the enterprise, the worthiness of the labor. Those conversations and the force generated by a room full of artists vibrating with the electricity of their work, stimulated me to go back to my studio and often spend another 3 hours at my desk.

I don’t want to say that I’m entitled to that life – are we entitled to be our best selves? “the pursuit of happiness” makes it pretty clear that the guaranteed right is purely aspirational – but it weighs heavy on my heart this afternoon to know that it could all shut down this week, today, now. Because there’s so much other shit that has to get done before art-making.

Maybe, though, this burst of output will have its own momentum. I started writing what I’m calling a solo autobiographical musical theater piece. It's called Unprotected. The narrative structure is that the story starts with the end of a relationship and ends with the beginning of one, so basically from 2002 to now. That thread of the story will be told in present tense, but people and locations and themes from that thread will recall and resonate with other stories from times past, so there are stories nested within stories nested within stories. It has mostly to do with men, and mostly to do with sex. In a way it’s a reckoning with my sexual biography. Much of it will be spoken, by me, but there will be songs too, and video projections. Some of the video will be directly illustrative, like I'll mention a person and show a photo of that person. Other times the video will be more ambient or will comment obliquely on the subject matter.

It’s very far from finished, but I polished up as best I could an excerpt of what I had written and read it to the other residents on Saturday (it’s a MacDowell tradition for artists to present their work informally after dinner). I was nervous beforehand because, one, it's still in a pretty raw state and I rarely share work, even to close friends and collaborators, until it’s close to finished, and, two, the piece I read contained very frank sexual content, which is not something I’m shy about as subject matter, but this was, well, in the first person. It was very well received, with a hardy ovation, lots of compliments, suggestions, comparisons to favorite writers.

I have a strong feeling it’s good work, and I’m going to try like hell to finish it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Greyhound.

The bus still smells nostalgically of pee, but it has wi-fi.

I got up at 3 this morning to get to Port Authority by 4:30 because the only bus to New Hampshire leaves at 5:30 and the receipt said I had to pick up my ticket at least an hour ahead. Port Authority at 5 am met every expectation one might have of Port Authority at 5 am.

The attendant very gently loaded my guitar and backpack in the hold under the bus and the bus left on time. I am on my way to Keene, New Hampshire where I'll take a taxi to the MacDowell Colony where I'll spend the next two weeks alone in a room writing a new solo musical theater piece called Unprotected.

The title came to me a few days ago. It's good because, well, because it means more than one thing. And it gives me a template, something to measure against, to help me narrow down. I have so many stories. The subject is loosely the last 10 years of my life, mostly as regards men, but anything I write about the last 10 years seems to require a diversion into the previous 10 or 20 or 40, so it quickly becomes about everything.

My proposal to MacDowell for this residency was to write the text, because I already have a batch of songs, In fact the impetus for a solo theater work was that I have all these songs I've written since J and I separated which I have no opportunities to perform. But I might write a new song or two. I brought my guitar.

We're in New Haven. The sun is coming up.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Losing.

I've pondered here before the subject of exercise and my effort to understand my motives or more specifically my need to tease apart the dreaded surrender to an "ideal" physical appearance (or vanity) from, I guess, some kind of real or authentic (virtuous?) health consciousness, both of which concepts are highly suspect but that's not exactly what this blog post is about.

C and I have both gained new-boyfriend weight, which I guess is a thing: the last time I gained 20 pounds was in the first year J and I were together. Here's how it works: 1) you snagged a man, you can relax now; staying in shape was all about attracting men, 2) snuggling on the couch is way more compelling than going to the gym, and besides, one of the things that motivated you to go to the gym was that there'd be hot guys working out and getting naked in the locker room, a kind of stimulation you're less interested in now, and 3) maybe this factor is less universal but a man who loves my cooking is license to go crazy with the butter and cream, cheese, casseroles, desserts, biscuits and bacon on Saturday morning.

Last time -- I'm embarrassed to admit -- I did Slim-Fast. I would mix up one of those things in a Thermos and take it to work with me for lunch (I was working as a word processor at a law firm), and every night J and I would have a half chicken breast each with a vegetable. I was rigorous about it. I lost the weight.

So, as we know, C and I bought an elliptical machine so we can work out conveniently at home now. The machine tells you how many calories you're burning, and so far I am spending about 25 minutes 4 days a week burning 250 calories a pop. And we're eating mostly protein and vegetables. Meat and salad, usually. For lunch, I have some fruit and maybe a small piece of cheese. I let myself indulge a bit on weekends. We don't have a scale, but my pants are not quite as tight as they were a few weeks ago. I'm making some progress, but I have a ways to go.

My mother told me once that in order not to gain weight she had to get used to feeling a little hungry all the time. What a great argument against intelligent design that what we want to eat does not correspond to what our bodies need in order to function. We all have that infuriating skinny friend who seems to eat and eat and eat and never gain weight. And some of us have to feel hungry all the time.

But what is even more difficult for me to summon than the strength of will to resist my cravings is the ability or desire to put aside my philosophical objection to the whole idea of deprivation. I don't just enjoy dessert, I believe dessert is important. Pleasure is essential. Especially and more and more as I get older, I have no interest in living a life without the things that bring me pleasure, one of which is food. But I do not want to weigh 300 pounds. It's a paradox I can't solve, and it drives me crazy.

What I do know is that the "healthy choices" rhetoric is mostly bullshit. Yesterday afternoon, C and I were sitting by the pool eating guacamole and chips, and one of the guys here for the weekend (we're on Fire Island, the Pines, where we've had a partial share -- this is something C has done every summer for years, but it's my first time here) walked by and said something about how unhealthy our snack was. Avocados, lime juice, cilantro, corn, vegetable oil, and salt. I don't know what could possibly be more wholesome, more healthy. But this guy has a body worked out to within an inch of its life and a pathological fear of fat and carbohydrates, and his attitude toward exercise and food is the one generally accepted as "healthy." There's nothing like the Fire Island Pines to distill this issue to its unadulterated essence and throw it steaming in your face.

I also reject the rhetoric of moderation. Moderation is not the magical answer, it's just one more way to cast puritanical aspersions on someone else's food and exercise habits. I will not lose weight by some vague notion of "moderation." I will lose weight by keeping a careful eye on what I eat and exercising religiously. By consciously, over and over all day, telling myself "no." No, you can't eat that. Potatoes are perfectly wholesome, healthy, but if you eat them, even a moderate amount of them, you will be fat for the rest of your life. Five days a week, I huff and sweat until my knees are wobbly and I can barely catch my breath, and then I eat a salad for dinner. That's not moderate. It's fanatical.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We.

You get to an age at which you’re convinced you’ve discovered after decades of trial and error, a refinement of experience, the right or best way to do certain things, and just because C is 9 years younger than me doesn’t mean he hasn’t reached that age, too.

He has a bedspread, it was a gift from a family member, a patchwork quilt made from small squares of various dark wool tweeds, subtle grey and brown plaids and herringbone patterns like you might have had a suit made from if you were a schoolteacher in Scotland in the 1940s. When I first saw it, I shuddered a bit because it’s the kind of fabric I can’t get anywhere near without feeling like there are spiders crawling under my skin. But it’s backed with cotton so I don’t have to touch the scratchy side, and it is beautiful, looks perfect on the bed, and C is completely in love with it so I love it, too.

Now, I wouldn’t think that there would be any question, since this bedspread is wool and heavy and very warm, that in summer one would change it for something lighter. Or at least take it off the bed at night. Who would want to sleep under a wool tweed blanket in July? C would.

We actually kind of fought about it a little back in June. I got my way. C feels he’s made a significant compromise, and I won’t argue with that. If not sleeping under a heavy wool blanket when it’s 90 degrees outside diminishes his enjoyment of summer, it diminishes his enjoyment of summer. In the equal and opposite way that keeping it on the bed would make me miserable. So there you go.

The blanket we used instead all summer is a ratty cotton throw the color of a tea stain. Neither of us likes the look of it -- C says it looks like we have 9 cats -- but we never replaced it because I think C found the whole idea so infuriating he didn’t want to devote any energy or thought to it, and I am totally out of the habit of buying things to replace things that are old and stained but still function, and, even if I were not, a blanket is the kind of thing I would buy at a thrift store and there are no good thrift stores in New York. If C would even let me put a thrift store blanket on his bed.

The reason this is all on my mind is that we are on Fire Island this weekend, and the little gift store here in the Pines is selling off everything cheap at the end of the season, and they have a couple summer blankets marked down 40%. But they’re beige and boring, so I told C that I would look on line for something more interesting and probably just as inexpensive. This shop is pricey, so 40% off might not be a bargain. I was thinking probably L.L. Bean, and maybe something maroon. C likes red.

We are at that stage of our relationship where disagreements sprout like mushrooms after rain. All this business of living together, the relentless negotiation and small and large compromises that go into creating a “we” without battering the “he” too cruelly because after all it was the “he” we fell in love with and that’s the glue that keeps the thing solid. We are very different people, C and I, with different tastes, different sets of things that bring us joy, different things that irritate us. He likes Survivor, summer on the beach, and Christmas shopping. I like experimental theater, goat cheese, and inclement weather. But we both love spooning, C.K. Louis, and a good steak and an IPA.

L.L. Bean didn’t have anything, but I found several cotton summer blankets on Overstock.com that he might like, all in the $30 range.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall.



The temperature dropped about 25 degrees Thursday night. It was crisp and barely 60 on my way to work Friday. The Greenpoint hipsters, having worn knit caps all summer, had no choice but to pull out their fur-lined hunting hats with earflaps.

C and I are exact opposites in our weather preferences. The feeling he describes of mourning and dread this time of year is just what I feel in May. My enjoyment of a beautiful New York spring is always tinged with sadness and apprehension that winter is over and there’s not much time until I’ll be damp and angry for 2 months.

In fall, I can let my hair grow out a little and open the windows. I can cook something besides salad. I’m going to make chicken soup today and roast some beets that I got yesterday at the Inwood farmer’s market. My mind wakes up after a long, heavy torpor and my body comes alive. I feel lighter and inspired, hopeful and generous.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some Thoughts About 9/11.

Cross-posted on The Bilerico Project.

This is a photo from my first trip to New York in 1979. That's me in the middle. I was a freshman in the theater department at Miami of Ohio. The department, or maybe it was just some of the faculty on their own, coordinated a Thanksgiving trip to New York every year to see Broadway shows. We'd leave in buses on Wednesday night, drive all night, arrive at the Picadilly Hotel in Times Square on Thursday morning. (The Picadilly was demolished in 1982 along with 5 historic theaters - the Helen Hayes, Morosco, Astor, Bijou, and Gaiety - to make room for the Marriott Marquis Hotel.) On that trip, I saw Sweeney Todd, the Elephant Man, They're Playing Our Song, Ain't Misbehavin', the Fantasticks, and fell deeply and irrevocably in love with New York. Two years later I moved here. (In case you didn't recognize the background of the photo, that's one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We're posing on a Masayuki Nagare sculpture, which was also destroyed on September 11.)

I've been avoiding all the 9/11 memorial stuff like the plague, so when I opened the New York Times Magazine yesterday morning to a piece by Bill Keller, called "My Unfinished 9/11 Business," I turned the page quickly. But I changed my mind, went back and read it, because I thought someone like Bill Keller might have something thoughtful and interesting to say. In it, he waxes at length as to whether or not, with the benefit of "hindsight," his enthusiasm for the Iraq invasion was justified in that it was provoked by the trauma of the 9/11 attacks.

Of course, with the anniversary of September 11, we have to endure a glut of if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now, which frankly makes me sick and furious. (It wasn't the only reason, but it was the big one, that I became so adamantly anti-Hillary Clinton.) Let's be clear: hindsight, my ass. We all knew Bush had an agenda in Iraq and that it had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. We were marching screaming it in the streets in cities all over the U.S. during the run-up to that invasion. Spare me the sad-eyed regret. You wanted a war and you got it. And I don't want to hear about how the World Trade Center attacks were a horror of such magnitude, unleashing an evil upon the world like no one had ever seen before, which distorted our perspective, so we should forgive the excessive response. The events of 9/11 were monstrous, but they were just the next atrocity in a relentless timeline of atrocities in a tangle of conflicts if not caused by, then at least goaded on by, the United States and other Western governments' meddling in the Middle East.

A fifth grader can tell you that the answer to a problem caused by stirring up trouble in the Middle East will probably not be solved by stirring up more trouble in the Middle East.

So, yes, Bill Keller and everyone else who, with revenge in your hearts, cheered on Bush's war should be feeling regret and shame. The last decade has been an unholy nightmare -- for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, for our troops, for the people of the United States whose freedom has been limited in ways we can hardly imagine the consequences of. Sometimes I wonder if American democracy will ever recover from the power grab of the executive branch justified by these wars. Satisfied?

In September 2001, I was living in a camper on the road with J, my partner of 10 years and R, whom we had met on the road several months earlier and who had moved in to join our life and relationship. We'd been living for a year completely unmoored from place, possessions, friends, and family. We had taken to the road with only our relationship and artistic collaboration to affix us to the world. And now that was disintegrating. J's and my relationship, and with it our career performing together, was dying a slow, sad death.

On September 11, we were camped in a state park just outside Ithaca, New York. That morning, R had an infected hangnail on his thumb so he drove the van into town to buy antibiotic ointment and band-aids. When he returned, he said he'd been listening to the radio in the van and had come in on the middle of it so he wasn't sure what was going on but that the World Trade Center had been attacked by airplanes. We all got in the van and turned on the radio, I think to an NPR station. The announcer said that one of the towers had fallen. I remember we all looked at each other like "How could it just fall?" I also remember that, though we were shocked and concerned for our friends in the city, I felt like somehow I was floating just outside the world where this horrible thing was happening. Probably because my life was falling apart, because what was happening in the camper and in my heart was so compelling, I barely had room for this other thing.

A week later, we did a show at HERE Arts Center in downtown Manhattan. Driving into the city, we saw the column of smoke still rising from lower Manhattan. We saw our friends. There were no adequate words of comfort or reassurance after such a terrifying event, but we were reassured that our friends were safe and well. The next day we left.

Still on the road, we were cut off from most media during the aftermath. Just the radio in the van. Our dear friend A called us several times in the next weeks, sobbing. She said every time she'd pull herself together, she would see on TV the video of the planes flying into the towers and people jumping and the towers falling and she'd start crying all over again. I didn't know what to say to her except, "Turn the damn TV off! It was terrible but it only happened once. You're reacting to it as if it's happening 50 times a day. Just stop watching it."

I still have not seen that video, and I don't want to. But now I live in an apartment and we have a TV, so it's going to be hard to avoid during this orgy of nationalism and self-pity.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Elliptical Machine.

We bought an elliptical machine and they delivered and set it up today. It’s massive. Seriously it takes up half the living room. (The TV takes up the other half.) But we have both gained a lot of weight since we met – I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I’ve ever been – and neither of us has much motivation to go to a gym. I spend 11 hours of the day 4 days a week either on the train or at work, and I’m very protective of those remaining few hours.

So we bought the damn machine. I’m watching more TV than I have in a long time, so at least now we can exercise while we watch Big Brother.

Yes, Big Brother. Shut up. I know: first it was American Idol and now it’s Big Brother. My snob card is in serious danger of being revoked. Big Brother is actually pretty good. It takes me back to my drug trial stints at PPD in Austin. Last week gentle, sweet Jordan lost her shit. Isolate a bunch of people in a house together for long enough and sooner or later they start to lose their shit, and that makes good TV.

I think I’ve mentioned that I have Wednesdays off. They tend to get booked up pretty far ahead since they’re the only days I can do anything. Lately Wednesdays are all about doctor’s appointments. I have health insurance for the first time in decades so I’m getting everything checked out and taken care of.

My visit to a dermatologist was a revelation. All the annoying, persistent skin problems I’ve had since I was a teenager now have names and some of them have treatments and cures. My favorite is Delayed Pressure Urticaria. It’s a condition related to hives. It causes me to break out in red welts a couple hours after I’ve had any pressure applied to my body. It especially affects my palms when I’ve been carrying shopping bags or doing any kind of manual labor (chopping vegetables, hammering nails). Sometimes it hurts quite a bit. I can prevent it by taking an antihistamine beforehand.

I’m also seeing a round of doctors about my double vision. I may have eye muscle surgery again. I had it in my 20s, and it worked until a few years ago. Lately, if I’m tired, I can’t watch a movie. Even if I’m not tired, I can’t focus on anything close up. Conversations at parties are taxing, since I can barely hear when there’s background noise, and anyone standing or sitting closer than 4 feet is a double image. I run into things, knock things over, all the time because I can’t judge distance well. Poor me.

Anyway, Wednesdays.

Before the guys arrived with the elliptical machine, I had a computer technician over to look at my G5. I thought I had another failed hard drive – a couple weeks ago, I was copying my iTunes music onto a portable hard drive so I could copy it onto my new MacBook Air, but the portable disk was full of old stuff, so I was copying the old stuff onto my G5 to make room for the iTunes music, and the whole thing just shut down and wouldn’t boot up again – and I was ready to give up on my dear, old Mac and only hope that most of the data was salvageable. But this guy had it up and running after about an hour and a half of tinkering. I was a little worried about a stranger coming to fix the computer because, okay I’m going to be really honest now, when the computer crashed I was, as I said, transferring files, but while I was sitting waiting for the files to copy I was reading my email, and looking at blogs, and then, well, xtube. Porn killed my computer. I was sure this guy was going to boot up my computer and there on the monitor would be exactly what was there when it died. (I was saved that embarrassment.)

My parents sent me the boxes that I left in Indiana last summer. Mostly archival stuff: cassettes of my old recordings, demos; some correspondence mostly from my teens and twenties; and manuscripts and journals. C has been reading my old journals. I’ve been a sporadic journaler – periods of years went by without writing – but even so, there’s a lot chronicled. Most of it I haven’t looked at in many years, but his interest in it has set me to thinking that I really need to go through it all, transcribe it. And I need to put the more recent entries, which are mostly digital on one computer or another, into some kind of orderly, safe format. (This afternoon I pulled up files from 10 or so years ago, and they’re in WordPerfect, which my computer won’t read. It’s funny how we all live under the assumption that all our media is permanent now because it’s digital. It’s actually much less permanent because formats change, files get damaged, storage media deteriorates. Paper might grow fragile but it doesn’t just disappear.)

All this attention on my journals has also got me to thinking about the process itself. This blog has replaced my journal. In some ways I think that’s good, as far as art is concerned at least in the short term. But there’s a lot in my private journals that I would not have shared here. That must seem hard to believe since I write about such intimate stuff here. But I’m very concerned not to write in my blog about anything or in a way that might hurt someone’s feelings, whereas in my personal journals I have written without inhibition. And, as much as I write about sex here, I was always more frank when it wasn’t public. Being an artist who exploits my own life for my work, I didn’t think of my journals as exactly completely private. I think I always thought maybe years later it would be safe to share them, but not in real time. Blogging is immediate and it has consequences in the world. The awareness of that has imposed a kind of discipline on the writing that has been good. But I’ve begun to wonder about what gets left out and whether I'll remember it or not.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hot?

My co-worker kept coming into the office from outside today, wide-eyed appalled about how hot it was. (There's a freight elevator from the 2nd floor office to the warehouse downstairs but it's quicker to go outside and around.)

It was 90 degrees in New York today. I remember years ago, when I lived in New York the first time, before I left and came back, how 90 was the benchmark, the point at which it was officially unbearable, but back then nobody had air-conditioning. And I think my 4 years in Austin vaccinated me. It was for sure very warm today but it didn't feel all that bad. Not at all what I would call hot.

"Oh, man it is hot outside! I can't believe how hot it is!" she kept saying.

Hot? I'm not saying I love it, in fact it's downright unpleasant if you have to stand in the blazing sun for more than a few seconds at a time and don't even mention the subway slash sauna because that's a whole nother story. But I would even go so far as to call it mild if you're in the shade and immobile. Hot? Go live in central Texas for a few years and then come back and we'll talk about hot. It's 90 degrees. Last year in Austin when it finally got down to 90 some time in October I got down on my knees and thanked the lord baby Jesus that I could stop hiding the razor blades and shoelaces. You don't know from hot.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday.

I just wasted my afternoon at the DMV. For fear of sounding like a 90s standup comedian (“Did you ever wonder why …?”), I won’t relate the whole tedious episode, but I will just say that I wish there was some way they could tell you as soon as you walk in the door whatever fucked-up thing they’re going to tell you that’s going to ruin your day when you finally reach the counter after waiting in line for 3 hours so you could just turn around and go home. You might still be furious, but you’d have all afternoon to get over it. Because you know they’re going to tell you some fucked-up completely unexpected thing that’s going to make it impossible for them to do what you need done despite the fact that you did all your research, compiled the stack of documents proving that you are who you say you are and have been since the day you were born and that you live where you say you live and that you are not a terrorist.

It turns out that, if you’re trading your Texas license for a New York license, you need an additional sheaf of something or other because Texas, former sovereign state and all, decided to be unique and not put the date of issuance on their driver’s licenses, which information other states require in order to issue a new license. It’s probably not a big issue in Texas because not many Texans leave.

Well, anyway, I did get something accomplished today. I got an HIV test. At my first visit to my new general practitioner, weeks ago, he ordered a bunch of blood tests (syphilis, cholesterol, etc.), but suggested I go to the city clinic for a “rapid” HIV test since I could have the results in minutes instead of the days or weeks it would take to get results back from his lab. It seemed like a great idea at the time because I’ve always found it incredibly nerve-wracking waiting for HIV test results. But today was the first day I was able to get to the clinic (anything that needs to be done during the day has to be done on a Wednesday, my day off, so naturally my Wednesdays get booked up pretty far in advance) so I ended up actually waiting for several weeks for the results of that test that only took 20 minutes to get the results of. I’m still negative.

And I stopped at Whole Foods in Chelsea for my Weleda sage deodorant, which in this weather is only marginally effective but it’s the only thing my skin can tolerate. While I was there (I’m not much of an impulse shopper but sometimes I am totally seduced by natural body care stores) I picked up some Tom’s toothpaste, a jar of fancy Neti pot salt, and a pair of biodegradable flip-flops. Stop smiling, they’re cute. And I need them so I don’t burn my feet walking to and from the beach on Fire Island, which is apparently a thing I do now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thinskinned.

Now that I have health insurance, I’m making appointments right and left with doctors, trying to catch up on all the stuff I’ve ignored for 25 years. I left my appointment with my general practitioner two weeks ago armed with a sheaf of referrals: an ophthalmologist for my double vision, an ear nose and throat doctor for my tinnitus, but the one I’m most looking forward to is a dermatologist so maybe I can finally discover just what the fuck is up with my bizarre skin problems.

Whenever I do anything that puts pressure on my palms (like carry a suitcase or put together book shelves from Ikea), later in the day I have dark red, tender spots on my palms. It doesn’t look like skin irritation but more like red bruises that itch like hell way beneath the surface. They last about a day, depending on how severe they are which depends on how long I carried that suitcase or how hard those screws were to screw in. To this day I don’t know if I’ve always avoided physical work because my hands are so sensitive or the other way around. I do remember, as a teenager, after mowing the lawn my hands would be swollen and painful but I didn’t connect that with my extreme resistance to mowing the lawn. I assumed I was lazy, like my father said.

In my early twenties I got a fiery and very persistent rash on my shins, intensely itchy so that it was impossible not to scratch it but scratching it made it worse until I’d scratch the skin right off and it would bleed and scab. It was the main reason why I was sure I was HIV positive and avoided getting tested until 1989. Fifteen years later, a doctor at a low-income clinic in Nashville gave me two rounds of steroids to get it under control. That and rubbing tea tree lotion on my legs every night for about 5 years finally stopped the rash. It tries to come back every once in a while but it’s not as bad and the lotion takes care of it.

When I was living on the road, spending a lot of time in the Southwest, my skin started to react violently to sun exposure. Even 20 minutes or so of sun can cause welts, blisters, and swelling. Sometimes I’ll lose the pigment in an area after the skins heals. I’ve become vampiric in my vigilant avoidance of the sun. In San Francisco last week, we were out walking around the city all day on a very cloudy day (not overcast – I know enough to beware of overcast days). The sun came out for about half an hour, it felt good because it had been chilly, and we stopped to rest at a cafĂ©. We sat outside and drank iced tea.

That night my face and shoulders were pink and warm. By the next morning, my forehead was swollen and covered with blisters. Later in the day, the swelling had settled like a balloon along my brow. Over the course of the next week, whatever it was that had swelled up my forehead drained down through my sinuses into my throat and chest. It was like a bad cold but somehow different. I’m still coughing a little today but it’s almost gone.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Auto-Tune.

I've been lately interrogating my anti-Auto-Tune stance because, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, I've watched a couple episodes of Glee and actually kind of enjoyed them or I should say found more in them to enjoy than I thought possible. I still find it too conservative for my taste, but it can be sneakily subversive. I'm finding it more interesting, and funnier, than I used to, and I don't know if it has changed or I have. Both, most likely. Anyway, because I was feeling a little warmer toward the show, I began to wonder if Auto-Tune as a tool to create a certain kind of shiny pop performance was possibly not so evil.

And then I remembered this.

And this:



These vocal performances are processed to be sure, but with analog technology that can add to but can't fundamentally alter the voice in the way that Auto-Tune does. These are perfect pop vocal performances, flawless, shiny as glass. Yet they retain the essential emotional quality of human beings singing, a quality that is erased by the overuse of Auto-Tune. Barry and Frida actually sang like that into a microphone and they brought yearning and heartbreak to every perfect note.

Call me an old curmudgeon, but something important is lost when you create that perfect pop vocal in a computer instead of in the human heart and throat. Something you can actually hear and measure. Something good. It's like when people look at you with a forced, sad smile and tell you that Stouffer's frozen lasagna is "actually very tasty." Well, okay. Keep telling yourself that.

Jane Austen't.

I think I just don't get Jane Austen. Whenever I encounter passages from her books quoted in other books or articles, or when writers I love write about her, I think, "Wow, that's so good I need to read some Jane Austen." But then I do and I always end up feeling somehow unsatisfied.

I read Pride and Prejudice, and I think Sense and Sensibility though I'm not sure, and I'm struggling through Persuasion right now. It's not a long book and I only have about 30 pages left but I am finding it such a chore, I don't even think I'll finish it. Seriously it's so boring I can hardly make myself sit down and finish it. The story is dull. None of the characters are sympathetic. They're either silly and vain (and we're supposed to not like them) or they're tedious and judgmental and just annoying.

All the things people say Jane Austin is so amazing at: the social observation, the critique of manners, etc., George Eliot does with as much bite and humor as Austin -- and, I would argue, more subtlety -- and her books have passion and warmth, sorrow and beauty. What is it I'm not getting?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Back.



On Sunday I performed for the first time in several years. I could be forgetting something -- I do that -- but I'm pretty sure the last time I sang and played in front of an audience was in 2004 when I was living in San Francisco finishing Life in a Box and a friend invited me to perform in a popular cabaret-type variety show hosted by a drag queen comic. I sang 2 songs, as I remember.

So. Sunday, I took part in a songwriters circle that my old friend Monica Passin hosts at Banjo Jim's in the East Village. It came about because J was going to be here visiting and we were going to sing together in sort of a reunion -- J and I did lots of shows with Monica when we were Y'all and we were all part of the New York alt-country scene in the 90s that was centered around Rodeo Bar. In fact, Monica was instrumental in the development of Y'all in those early years. I happened to take a guitar class at The New School around the time J and I met and started writing songs. Monica taught the class; she was my first teacher -- before that I was self-taught. After the class ended, I took private lessons with her. She was already performing a lot and had a following as Li'L Mo and the Monicats. Through her we discovered that scene and they us.

Anyway, J was coming to New York for a couple weeks and we were going to sing together in this show. Monica asked J and J asked me if I was into it. I've been trying to find ways to get in front of an audience again -- I'm started to write a solo theater piece, with my new songs and stories about my love and sex life since J and I separated -- so this was a perfect, low-pressure situation where I could get my feet wet. As the date got closer, I think J got a little scared. Monica emailed asking for a bio and photo which I think -- it did for me, for sure -- brought back a flood of anxious memories about our old performing career, and J told me he almost wanted to back out but he would be okay just singing harmony with me, not billing ourselves as a duo.

Two days before he was supposed to fly here, J passed out while he was peeing, tore open the back of his head, and spent 3 days in the hospital. He has a congenital heart defect which was causing his blood pressure to fluctuate wildly. He had to cancel his trip. So I was on my own.

I have a batch of what I call my new songs though some of them were written several years ago and the newest of them is 4 or 5 years old. I haven't performed them much if at all, so they feel fresh to me. They are not shaped, the performance of them is not shaped, by interaction with an audience. Not yet.

I'd never been so nervous about performing as I was on Sunday. To be honest, I was feeling a little out of control. I can count on one hand the number of times I've sung and played completely by myself. In the end, I like it best. I love the freedom, the control over everything, the simplicity of the relationship with the audience. But I was nervous as holy fuck all day. I broke out in a sweat before the show, kept telling myself to keep breathing. The venue is a little dive bar on 9th and C, and there were only a couple dozen people there at most. It was most definitely not a big deal.

After the first song I was calmer. The audience was quiet, attentive, and my voice felt strong. They liked the song, the applause was reassuring. The second song I did has a fast finger-picking part that sometimes trips me up, and I stumbled a few times but never fell apart. (It's the song in the video clip which is an excerpt from Life in a Box.) After that I was cool and confident.

I'm energized and inspired to get moving on this new solo work. I sort of have all the material already, I just have to wrangle it. I may write a new song or two, but maybe not. And the stories are not written down but they're in my head and in some cases they're here in this blog and only need to be reconfigured. I thought that I would work with an accompanist or co-writer to create piano arrangements of the songs so I wouldn't have to play. But after Sunday I'm sort of thinking maybe I can do it. My guitar playing is rudimentary, remedial, but it might be fine in this context. The simplicity is seductive, not just in terms of the performance but rehearsals, booking, sound, everything is easier if it's just me and my guitar. I'll give it some more thought.

My left arm was sore all last week. I assume it's from my job. A lot of my work is data entry that involves a lot of scrolling with the mouse, and I can feel the stiff soreness in my forearm after a few hours of it. Sunday it was really sore which pissed me off because I needed all the strength I could muster in that hand after not playing guitar for so many years. But I noticed Sunday night after the show that the soreness had completely disappeared, and it hasn't come back all week. I guess it was psychosomatic.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Change of Seasons.

On Thursdays, T and I have dinner together. It’s so easy to fall out of touch with friends here, and I didn’t want that to happen when I moved out of T’s place, so we decided to have a standing weekly date.

Regardless of how much I look forward to seeing T, I was feeling anxious last Thursday. I hadn’t slept much the night before. C and I had gone to a fundraiser called New York Loves Japan, a huge, crowded, hectic, loud sushi and sake event, and then for pizza afterwards with friends, all of which I enjoyed but it wore me the fuck out. I have always had to summon a special kind of energy to deal with crowds, and now that when I am in noisy rooms I only hear about 20 percent of what people are saying, even when they’re only a couple feet away, well, I know I complain about it relentlessly but whatever, it’s exhausting.

After a long cab ride in heavy traffic on FDR Drive, we got home near midnight, wound up, not ready to sleep. We watched American Idol and went to bed at about 1:30. I slept fitfully and got up at 6:30 for work. That afternoon, as I struggled to keep my eyes open, I nearly emailed T to cancel our date. But we had some Lizzie Borden business to discuss.

C decided to get Chinese takeout since he was alone for dinner, and the Chinese place is next to Nueva Espana, the Dominican restaurant where I was meeting T, so we left the house together. On our way out the door, C noticed the big plastic bag full of plastic bags that I had left in the hallway.

When I found that our neighborhood grocery store accepts plastic bags for recycling, I started saving them. I try to use reusable grocery bags, but it’s nearly impossible in New York not to end up with piles of plastic grocery bags. We keep our recyclables in the office which is small to begin with and it bums me out when my writing space looks like a utility room so I moved the bag of bags to the hallway where, because it’s one of those errands that never seem convenient when I’m thinking of it, it sat for 2 or 3 weeks. I should have known that it was trying C’s patience. But I didn’t.

On our way out, C suggested I take the bags to the store because it was only about half a block out of the way. I said, sharply, though I don’t remember this at all and C only mentioned it later when we were back home, “I’m not doing that now.” I was preoccupied, feeling anxious because so little of my evening was left for the ration of idleness I seem to need. T was already waiting for me at the restaurant, and I didn’t want to take the extra 3 minutes to drop the bags off. When we got out to the sidewalk, C stopped and said, “I’m going to get the bags,” and he went back inside while I waited. When he returned with the bags, I asked him if he was mad at me and he said, “I had a flash of anger, but it’s okay.”

In some ways we are such different people. I’m a recycling Nazi and I make fun of the size of his TV. He is less selfish than I and makes more time for his family and friends. He won’t call the landlord to fix a leaky kitchen sink, whereas I wouldn’t hesitate to demand it be repaired. I don’t feel any particular urgency about paying my credit card debts, whereas he considers it an ethical obligation. He looks forward all year to a summer house share on Fire Island, whereas I have trouble imagining why anyone would want to be on a beach in the mid-day sun, let alone with a bunch of fashion-obsessed gay men. I consider the Mary Tyler Moore Show to be the most important cultural touchstone of my life, whereas he says, “I think maybe I’ve seen a couple episodes, but I don’t really remember them.”

On the other hand, in some more essential, fundamental way I think we have known and seen and understood each other from the moment we met. I have trouble articulating exactly what I mean by this. Maybe it’s because it started with the raw, specific solicitation of a Craigslist ad, which made our sexual compatibility undeniable from the get-go. I will not underestimate how powerful a bond it is to be able to know that we turn each other on, and, more than that, to know that we give each other what we most want. The confidence of that is a tonic. It’s a moment -- and good god they are rare, aren’t they? -- of feeling like I have exactly what is needed.

But it must be more than that. I know my heart was flayed and raw from my breakup with M in Austin. I hadn’t had time to recover my defenses, so C could walk right in. And I know that he was looking for someone to commit to. I know he had a specific idea of what kind of commitment he wanted to make (lifelong, monogamous) but hadn’t yet found someone he was willing to make it with.

After dinner, at home, I told him how vulnerable his anger made me feel, how this new experience of anger in our relationship had made me fearful and insecure. I thought it was a natural response, considering that this was the first time anger had surfaced between us. He said it wasn’t the first time.

I haven’t had any flashes of anger yet. No flashes, no flickers nor slow burns. I haven’t been mad. I don’t think I’ve even been slightly irritated. I don’t say this to paint myself as more virtuous in some way, more tolerant, loving, more serene. If anything, I want to say that I’m less. Less self-aware, less emotionally open. But I think I’m just more afraid. C is straightforward. The idea of anger doesn’t, with him, spin out into a wild paranoid fantasy, a terrible apprehension that everything is rotten, corrupt, wrong, false, over. I avoid anger because it terrifies me. He seems to understand that it’s just something people feel from time to time.

He said that if we're going to save plastic bags he wants to keep them in the office, not the hallway. And he told me, “This is not fragile. My love for you is not fragile. You don’t have to worry about it. For this to work, you have to know that.”

The temperature has been in the 60s and 70s the last week and our neighborhood is thick and smelly with flowering trees. It is spring and this is the first change of seasons since C and I met in December. (How could it be true that we have only known each other 5 months?) We joke about the weather. I say it’s hot, he says it’s chilly. I dread the summer, C lives for it. He can’t wait till it’s 95 and sticky. I love winter and particularly enjoyed this past winter, and I feel sadness and regret to see it end, because I spent the last few years in San Francisco and Texas where there is no winter. We both worry a little that our incompatible weather affinities will be difficult to manage, one of us always relieved while the other is irritable. All winter C half-jokingly complained about how miserable and cold he was, and I fell in rapturous love with each new ridiculous snowfall. As the tables turn, I wonder if I will play the role of the miserable one with such charm and humor.

Friday at work, C texted me, “I love you. And I don’t get mad and stay mad. Stupid bags are stupid. You are beautiful.”

I texted back, “I love you, too. I love our life together. And stop making me cry at work.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Control Freaks.

C, having been, before we met, a bachelor with a good income, has a guy come in once a week and clean the apartment, change the sheets, do a little laundry. Nothing serious -- for instance, I think he mops the bathroom floor, but he doesn't really get into the corners. Whatever. He cleans way more often than, if not as thoroughly as, I would, and I am deeply appreciative.

If we remember to run the dishwasher before he comes (and I won't even get into how little I understand the usefulness of the dishwasher, which, as far as I can tell is just a place to put dirty dishes to get them out of the way until you need something in there and have to pull it out and wash it and god forbid you put anything in there that hasn't been pretty much washed already -- it won't get clean) ANYway, if we remember to run the dishwasher, he'll empty it out and put stuff away. I wish he wouldn't. Over the course of the last couple months since I moved in, I've rearranged the kitchen to make it serviceable. C didn't cook much, so I have had free reign to make it over, to make it work for me. And I have accomplished that: I love cooking in my new kitchen. But our cleaning guy hasn't adjusted well to the changes. He puts stuff away where it used to go. Why would you put plastic bags in the towel drawer when it's obviously full of towels now and not plastic bags? And I want my good tongs hanging with the pots, not buried somewhere in the utensil drawer. Obviously I have some control issues.

C and I sometimes watch The Fabulous Beekman Boys, a documentary series on Planet Green about a gay couple who move from New York City to a farm somewhere upstate to raise goats and chickens and sell soap, etc. One of them is, at least as portrayed on the show, a total control freak micro-manager who drives his boyfriend and everyone else crazy, and as we were watching it the other night, C asked me (because our relationship was somewhat analogous in that we were domestic partners who also created and ran a business together) if J and I had a similar dynamic when we were together. I guess were were similar in some ways, but I think J and I were both control freaks, just in very different ways. He wore his freak on the outside, and I was the passive-aggressive one.

If you've seen Life in a Box, remember the argument in the trailer during a rehearsal? I was so glad to find that footage because it showed something essential about J and me and Y'all and that time in our lives, and because it showed how obstinate and controlling I could be, which is an aspect of my personality I don't think most people saw because I was the shy one, the yielding one, in the face of J's outsize personality, in the act and in our life together. If making that documentary was, among other things, an exercise in self-mortification, that scene is the one I find most difficult to watch -- because it shows an ugly side of me. The storyteller (and the narcissist) in me knows that that is what makes it good for the film.

No.



The reason I'm so exercised about Raja winning this season of RuPaul's Drag Race (besides the fact that she came off like a shallow bitch with the totally repulsive Heathers vs. Boogers thing because, let's be clear, drag queens make catty comments about each other, it's part of the job, and it's not hard in the editing room to exaggerate or even create little backstage rivalries and to make anyone look evil or sweet depending on what's required to put drama on the screen) what makes me really sad and disappointed, not just about the show or about RuPaul but about the state of drag and by extension gay culture (and doubly, triply, disappointed because Drag Race was my bulwark, my beacon, my raft in the storm of conservatism that threatens lately to obliterate all that is campy and sick and delightfully wrong about being queer and loving a little entertainment and comfort at 2 a.m.) what has me, again, again, despairing that much of what I came of age loving and feeling welcomed and nurtured and inspired by, is that Raja is, in the end, just dull. Dull. This is what RuPaul thinks represents the future of this venerable art form? I watch Raja and yes her clothes are creative sometimes even brilliant and she can walk with her hips like nobody's business -- but there's no love, no generosity, no light, no sex appeal, no fun. And she has the comic timing of a turtle.

Alexis Mateo shoulda won this thing. Please.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Teddy Thompson Morning.



I downloaded the new Teddy Thompson record this morning (it's really, really good) and I'm listening and feeling a little rapturous about love and art and music. I couldn't find a good youtube clip from the new record, so I offer this great live clip of two of my favorite T.T. songs. In this pared-down version you really get the heartbreak of "I Wish It Was Over." The shiny production on the CD version buries the irony, making it a more complex, disorienting experience. Which I love. But seeing him sing it with the sadness right on the surface is nice, too. Anyway, I just think he's luminous.

Terrible sound on this concert clip with Dad, but I still love it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nesting, Not Blogging.

If anyone has wondered where I disappeared to -- I’m nesting. I moved in with C two weeks ago. We did a little painting, I bought a bunch of stuff for the kitchen (he didn’t, doesn’t, really cook, and I really do). We hung some art, made a little room in his dressers and closets for my clothes, cleaned out his office to make room for me to work.

I’ve neglected my blogs. I can’t blame it on my new love. That’s part of it, but the real culprit is my job. I hadn’t had a real job in years, and now I’m working on average 4 days a week at the prop house in Brooklyn. It’s a good job, pays well, nice people, flexible, and a guy has to make a living, etc. But it’s a lot of hours to be out of commission. I get up at 6 a.m. to punch in by 9, and when I get home at 6:30, I just want to cuddle on the couch with my honey, smoke some pot, and watch mindless TV. Is that really so bad?

I’ve never been one of those people who can work a full time job and come home and write a novel all night. I’m just not. I am a diligent, disciplined, and prolific artist, but it only happens when I don’t have to work for someone else to pay the rent.

So I’ve neglected my blogs. Here’s a list of things that have passed through my thoughts in the last few weeks, or that I’ve written down on post-its and stuck in my pockets, that I thought I might blog about, that I thought I might have something interesting to say about:

Jacob Lusk, one of the finalists on American Idol. One part sweet, gregarious teenager, one part big black drag queen. He sings like Aretha Franklin crossed with Teddy Pendergrass. I have no idea if he identifies himself as gay, but he is so queer. He amazes and moves me to tears every week.

CMA Awards. Maybe not the worst TV ever, but close. A not-awful performance by Brad Paisley, then a numbingly stupid fag joke by Reba’s unmemorable (except for the fag joke) co-host followed by a sickening (in the good way) Steven Tyler/Carrie Underwood duet on “Walk This Way.” The homophobic joke was maddening. I keep hearing how homosexuality is not a big deal any more, so why is it that a fag joke, no matter how idiotic, is still the easiest way to get a big laugh on national TV?

But speaking of Steven Tyler and American Idol: A 60ish man leering at teenage girls has never been so fucking sexy. My high school Aerosmith crush is back with a vengeance.

All of the above are about TV. Hm. I haven’t had a TV for over 10 years until I moved in with C. Now I live with a TV that’s half as big as the living room and I watch American Idol. And look forward to it.

I should say, to be clear, it’s not as if I haven’t watched any TV in the last 10 years. J and I rented plenty of DVDs and watched movies and TV series on Netflix streaming on our computers. And last year in Austin, a group of us gathered every week at a friend’s house to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Drag Race is now my favorite thing on TV, by a long shot. This season is even better than the last. Full of surprises, fucks with your assumptions about gender and sex, gay culture, homophobia. It’s deep, seriously. It manages to be totally sweet and disarming and at the same time subversive and very, very dirty. Love it. Bam!

And I've been mulling over an essay about exes, how those relationships change and, especially, what they mean. I have a couple (exes, that is) and they are all very very different in the way that they figure in my life. This subject deserves a long essay. I have had so many thoughts, been so sure of my opinions, on the subject of ex-lovers, ex-partners. This is really mostly an effort to understand my relationship with J, who is so important to me, so dear to me, but it's been confusing and sometimes painful in the last few years to negotiate this phase of our alliance. So, look for that in the future...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Said, You Say.

Somebody seriously needs to do this mashup. I wish I had the skills.





They're even in the same key, for god's sake.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Are Our Politics Born of Immutable Principles, Or Are They Subject to the Caprices of Our Own Biographies?

Since we plan to move in together, C, being more traditional than I am about these things, took me home to meet his family. Besides his mom and dad, his brother, his sister and her husband and baby were there. And his aunt and her two adult children with their spouses and, between them, four teenagers. For a Super Bowl party. C’s father is a retired Air Force pilot, taciturn but obviously thrilled that his whole family had come to watch his beloved Green Bay Packers win.

To recap, I went to North Carolina for the weekend for a Super Bowl party with a military family who are for all practical purposes now my in-laws. Can we count the words in that last sentence that blow my mind?

I don’t know how it came up, but Saturday night someone mentioned C’s dad’s “Kringle,” which is a pastry he’s famous for, made, I believe, from his mother’s recipe. I took an interest, so he decided to make it for Sunday breakfast. It’s basically a rustic tart filled with canned pie filling. That night, he mixed up dough for two crusts and put it in the fridge to rest overnight. When I got up the next morning, he had rolled out one crust but was waiting for me to get out of bed so he could roll out the second one and fill them while I watched. He reminded me of my own father, the way he warms up when he has something to show you.

(He sent us home with 4 quarts of home-canned tomatoes from his back yard garden. Today, the apartment smells like fennel and sweet tomatoes. I have a cold so I stayed home from work, but I walked down to the Italian butcher, bought sausage, came home and made a big pot of tomato sauce. Feed a cold.)

The week before our trip, C texted me at work to say that the trip was off, he’d just had a fight with his mom over sleeping arrangements. The married siblings and cousins would be sharing beds in various rooms, but C and I, along with C’s single brother, would be sleeping on air mattresses on the basement floor.

He asked his mom why his sister and her husband would be sharing a bed and not us. She said, “They’re married.” Yes, she understood that her argument was weak because we don’t have the option of being married, but “you’ve only known each other for two months. You’re just dating.” “So when can we share a bed?” “A year?”

I told C I didn’t think we should make a big deal of it. I didn’t want my first encounter with his family to be a showdown. (And C had taken one of my CDs with him for a Christmas visit and his mom told him that I sounded like James Taylor “but better,” so I was inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.) Maybe this was not homophobia. It looked to me more like the old “not under my roof” argument that must have appeared at least once a month in Dear Abby in the late sixties/early seventies when “shacking up” was the frontline of the culture war.

The weekend was chaotic, wonderful, exhausting. I think I made a good impression. I think they trust me with C’s heart. I hope they believe that I will try my best to make him happy. We arrived at 3 a.m. on Friday, got to sleep at 4:30 and were awoken at 9 when the second batch of cousins arrived. I am not a morning person. Meeting new people, any new people, is for me stressful and draining, but all those parents and siblings and cousins and kids and everyone sizing me up because they adore C and he’s never brought anyone home before, at times it felt like an initiation ordeal, a rite of passage.

Shortly before the game started, a friend of C’s mother arrived with her husband and C’s mother was introducing her to the crowd packed into the basement den (where C’s brother had hooked up two very big TVs over a table crowded with snacks and a big pot of chili): “…and you remember C, and this is his boyfriend Steven.” “So nice to meet you, Steven…”

At that moment, I suddenly realized how unequipped I was to understand this world. Like most military families, C’s parents are Republicans. “This is C’s boyfriend, Steven.” No special emphasis, no slight lowering of volume like when my grandmother used to say “colored.” Just boyfriend, like it’s just what you’d expect. Whereas I practically choked. I must carry such a deep, rarely-conscious shame about my sexuality, such a wincing fear that a world where C and I would be folded naturally into this family doesn’t compute.

I have railed here and elsewhere about the danger of assimilation. And, yes, I believe that saying “we are all the same, we are only asking to be treated equally” ignores, thwarts, distorts what is essentially different about our queer lives and creates just another kind of closet, with all the pain and danger of the old closet. Yet, there I was watching the Super Bowl in North Carolina with Republicans and on the verge of tears just to be welcome.

I am proudly and adamantly queer, radical, and, most importantly, critical of a status quo that creates so much unfairness and injustice, a status quo that privileges certain people and leaves certain people out. And my unwillingness to conform, to compromise, is based on core principles. Like freedom (no one should have the right or the power to dictate how I express my sexuality) and fairness (access to housing and employment and healthcare should not depend on one’s wealth, class, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity), etc. But can we acknowledge that, to some extent, the passion with which we fight assimilation is also about our own pain? That we are wounded creatures lashing out? That we want no part of the status quo because it has abused and rejected us? And, knowing that, knowing that not just our emotional lives but our political convictions have been shaped in response to that abuse and rejection, what do we do now, when the world that has hurt us begins slowly, fitfully, to extend a remorseful hand?

I wonder if we, as a community, are capable of such profound forgiveness. I wonder if I’m capable of it myself, personally.

C and I this morning took the A train down to City Hall and registered our domestic partnership. This status will give us access to a few benefits from New York City as well as some benefits offered by the firm he works for. After we had shown our IDs to the guard and been given a number, we walked by a newsstand on the way to the clerk’s window and C bought me a bouquet of 6 yellow roses.

Almost every time I criticize the gay marriage campaign, someone responds with, “If you don’t want to get married, don’t get married, but some of us want to, so leave us alone.” The most frustrating thing, the saddest thing, about that response is that it sets me up as someone who is against love, against the possibility of a deep, permanent commitment based on love.

I have had deep, lasting relationships with men as lovers, partners, friends. Two, in particular, lasted several years each -- both were men I thought I’d grow old with -- but eventually ended when, in different ways and for different reasons, the partnership was no longer fulfilling. Neither relationship carried a promise of sexual exclusivity.

I wonder if all the qualifying language -- “we’re emotionally monogamous, but not sexually monogamous,” etc. -- is just an attempt to preclude disappointment. If fidelity is not what he promised, then maybe I won’t be devastated when he’s unfaithful. But is it the looseness of the commitment which lets it unravel?

Until this relationship, I did not think that self-actualization could be possible in a monogamous relationship. Monogamy was all about limitations, about narrowing possibilities, about shutting down desire. But now I see that not only is it possible but that an exclusive relationship might even be the cause of becoming my best, fullest self. Rather than expressing over and over with many men a tiny part, a small aspect, a glimpse of who I am, I feel myself unfolding with this man. Letting him completely in. Letting him see more and more of me every day and, in so doing, discovering those aspects of myself.

C and I have talked about marriage. He appreciates my oppositional view, but he’s more conservative than I am. He supports the campaign for same-sex marriage, seeing it as a crucial move toward the legitimizing of same-sex relationships and the equality of gay people. But he’s not sure he wants to get married until, and unless, same-sex marriage is widely accepted and equal to opposite-sex marriage. He doesn’t want his wedding to be a political performance.

I’ve always had a distaste for weddings which now I’m compelled to try to make sense of. As a feminist, I’m suspicious of marriage because it has, historically, not been great for women. But that objection doesn’t hold up to the many ways in which marriage has been reformed in the last 40 years to make it more equitable. As an environmentalist, I’m put off by the extravagance of weddings, the orgy of consumption, the money spent on clothes and jewelry and flowers, but certainly one doesn’t have to have that kind of wedding, any more than one has to have a certain kind of house or car. And the cynic in me distrusts the whole naive fairy tale which, let’s face it, usually ends badly.

So. Maybe I’ll get married. Maybe I won’t. I know if I do I’ll take some flack for it -- “Yeah, you’re all counter-culture anti-marriage until you fall in love, then everything changes…” -- but my own marital status will have no effect on my criticism of the role of marriage in our society and the priority of the marriage campaign in the gay rights movement, except possibly to strengthen my critique.

Eight months ago, I was living in Austin, Texas. I had been looking for work for months but couldn’t find a job. A brief, intense relationship had ended and I was heartbroken. An old friend invited me to come back to New York and stay with him until I got on my feet. Two months later, I met a man in the neighborhood who happened to need a roommate. A week after I moved in, I placed an ad for sex on craigslist, something I’ve only done maybe 5 or 6 times. My roommate’s friend who lives in the same building happened to answer the ad. I was hesitant, not wanting to create drama in my new home, but horniness prevailed and I went across the hall to meet C. We immediately found a sexual compatibility, then a musical affinity, and a similar sense of humor. As we’ve gotten to know each other over the last 3 months, we’ve discovered similarities in our ethics, our taste, and our attitude toward life and friends and family. He lets me cry about silly things and then reassures but does not coddle me. He laughs at my neuroses in a way that doesn’t hurt but lets me laugh about them too. He loves my cooking. He is unwaveringly considerate, direct, honest, clear. He perfects me. I have not had a moment of uncertainty of him.

The breathtaking unlikeliness of this ever having happened renews my conviction that essential benefits like access to affordable health care should not be dependent on something as miraculous and rare as finding someone you want to, and are able to, spend the rest of your life with in an intimate and domestic relationship and that, because it is something available to such a small percentage of us, we should put our energy and money into reforms that affect more of the community, like ending employment and housing discrimination.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Won't Grow Up.

This article about the juvenilizing of American speech has been making the rounds on Facebook, mostly among people around my age, of course.

Why are Americans unable to grow up? We no longer change the way we dress when we become adults. What's weird about that, though, is that American men and boys wear the same styles because men dress like little boys (oversize t-shirts, sideways baseball caps, basketball shorts) but American women and girls wear the same styles because girls dress like mature women (sexy dresses, makeup, fancy shoes).

The same is true of the way people eat. Taste in food doesn't mature. Grown people eat pop-tarts and Cap'n Crunch and prefer everything sugary and insipid.

I know I've made some massive generalizations here, but isn't there something true in it? I also know that I'm dangerously close to making some kind of class judgment (arugula vs. iceberg, etc.). And I don't mean to grumble, too much. I like that I can wear jeans and sneakers pretty much everywhere and don't ever have to put on a coat and tie.

I'm curious if all these trends are related or share a common source.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gap.

Dammit, I broke my first rule of blogging. I said when I started doing this that if there were gaps -- because I was away from my computer for a few days or super busy or things had happened that I didn't quite know how to write about, whatever the reason -- I would not be required to fill them in, that I would just keep going. That was what had always derailed me when I kept a journal. I'd stop writing for a while and then feel like it was impossible to go back and catch up. I wanted to avoid that pitfall, and I did until recently. Not sure why.

So ... I've been busy, I've been away from my computer a lot, and things have happened that I don't quite know how to write about yet, but I am going to plug ahead. Just so that I am not continually referring to things that you don't know anything about, here's a quick time line of the last couple months (some of which I've chronicled here, some of which not) with minimal commentary and analysis, and then we'll just forge ahead:

1. Early December, I moved out of T's place into an apartment farther up in Inwood with a new acquaintance. A few days after I moved in, I met my roommate's good friend who lives next door and fell in love.
2. Gradually over the last 2 1/2 months, I've begun to spend more and more time at his place and less and less time at mine.
3. He's a former actor turned attorney, loves theater as much as I do and makes more money, so he can afford to actually see it. We go to lots of plays.
3. He's got me watching American Idol and loving it. I tried Survivor but couldn't work up any interest. I turned him on to RuPaul's Drag Race, which he loves. Of course.
4. We drove to North Carolina to meet his family on Super Bowl weekend.
4. He took me to a very expensive restaurant for Valentine's Day. I gave him a dozen red tulips, and he gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolates. There was very little irony involved. I think.
5. At the beginning of April, I will move next door completely.
5. Mostly for practical reasons, we decided to register as domestic partners in New York City. I was surprisingly moved. He was, maybe not surprisingly, less moved. (He's a little more conservative than I am. For him, domestic partnership, though it will provide us with a few benefits, just points out the fact that homosexuals are second-class citizens. For me, it reified my commitment to him, which is a more stringent promise than I've ever made to anyone in my life.)

I am still working on that longer post about my new relationship in relation to my political philosophy. I think it's pretty close, but things keep happening -- in the larger world, such as Obama's shift regarding DOMA or Facebook's new relationship status options -- that I want to include.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Life Happens.

No, I haven't given up blogging! I am blogging almost every day lately, just never finishing anything. What started out as a post about Super Bowl weekend with C's family in North Carolina (I know!) is turning into an essay about discovering that political convictions are shaped by circumstances and history just as much as by values and principles, maybe even more so. About how love changes everything. It's tricky, and I want to get it right before I share.

C and I went down to City Hall this morning and registered our domestic partnership. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pigs Fly.

I’ve been reluctant to write much about this new relationship I think partly out of some vague, superstitious fear of jinxing it but, I think, too, because I want to hold it close, keep it to myself, protect it. It feels fragile -- though less so every day -- and sacred. So forgive me for ratcheting back the level of disclosure of my intimate life, those of you who are used to that from me and enjoy it. (Don’t worry, there has been no lessening of the pleasure I find in talking about myself.)

Another reason that occurs to me, for not writing much about C. and me, is that I don’t feel at all up to the task of describing just how good it is: I could never get it right or convey how happy I am or how wonderful this man is. Even going back and reading that last sentence disappoints me, how thin it sounds compared to what these days are like.

I will share this, though. I -- the original love skeptic, the anti-marriage crusader, the free love tutor, Mr. Monogamy-Shmonogamy – have, for the first time in my life, made a vow to be sexually exclusive.

The notion that this would be something I might want, or want to try, didn’t strictly arise out of my feelings for C. I made a lame stab at it with M. in Austin. But that promise was more like, “Let’s be monogamous until we don’t want to anymore and at that point let’s be honest as we renegotiate.” The fact that M. betrayed that promise (not the promise to be exclusive, which of course we hadn’t made in any meaningful sense, but the promise to be honest) is what makes me both scared to try again but also eager to give it another shot because it wasn’t me who fucked up.

So I was ready. But I wasn’t sure how to implement such an arrangement. The problem I have with this type of vow is that it places expectations on another person. It seems to place conditions on affection. This is about me. I want to try this. I want to make this promise. But the promise loses it power if it is not mutual, so how do you start? I decided that I would just keep these thoughts to myself for a while, that I would make this vow for myself but not ask it of C. yet. It seemed like unnecessary pressure so early in the relationship. C. and I had only known each other for a month or so.

But then he said to me one evening, “I rejected someone for you today.” He told me that he had hailed a cab after work, and, as he was getting in, the driver asked where he was going. A man standing at the curb heard C. say, “Inwood,” and said, “I’m going to Inwood, too. Do you want to share the cab?” Since Inwood is an expensive ride, C. said sure, and they rode up together. Some time in the course of the ride, the man asked C. if he could call him and C. gave him his number. The man called as soon as C. got home, but C., I guess having given it more thought in the meantime, said, “This isn’t a good time. I’m seeing someone.”

That night in bed, I said, “I’m glad you rejected that guy for me.” It seemed unnecessary to keep my recent thoughts to myself after C.'s story indicating that he felt similarly, so I told C. that I wanted to be exclusive but was hesitant to make demands of him. He said, “Let’s do it,” and I said, “Okay.”

My argument against monogamy, a big part of it anyway, always had to do with what I felt was an unnecessary loss of freedom. Why put restrictions on a natural, healthy desire? It’s repressive.

But with that sacrifice, which at least so far does not feel at all like a deprivation, I’m experiencing a kind of freedom I never expected, never considered. As soon as we had that conversation, as soon as we made that promise to each other, I felt unburdened. I felt energized and open and free. I wasn’t sure what this feeling was about, but after mulling it over for a few days, this is what I think:

One, I feel free to be myself, to share the aspects of myself that I worry may be unattractive. I don’t feel constant pressure to be impressive, worrying that if I show C. a side of me that repels him he’ll leave me. The promise is not provisional. It can bridge those moments when we don’t connect. I am free to be unattractive because the option to look for someone else to fill those moments is removed. Yeah, yeah, nothing is certain, nothing is permanent, I know, whatever. But it’s certain enough. It’s permanent enough.

And, two -- and this may be more the cause of this feeling of relief, this feeling that I am breathing deeper and easier than I have since I was about 12 years old -- I am free of the relentless, grinding search for sex. I’m not going to have sex with the cute guy in line at the grocery store, or sitting across from me on the subway. It isn’t going to happen, so I don’t have to yearn for that encounter to be any more than it is: just noticing someone attractive. I can’t describe how much lighter I feel having released myself from that. There is someone at home who wants me. Someone who knows me, and wants me. (Even porn is boring. My boyfriend is sexier. My sex life is hotter.) I never imagined that it would feel so good to have fewer options. To know. I never imagined that it would feel so good.