Tuesday, December 10, 2013


We put up our Christmas tree on Saturday. We bought it the same place as last year and the year before, from the people who set up in front of the C-Town on Broadway and 207th Street. I don’t think it’s the same man every year but it’s always a sort of woodsy-looking young guy with a beard. This time there was also a very sturdy woman and a teenager who was cutting and wrapping the trees. I always imagine them having a little farm somewhere in the mountains where they live in a cabin heated by a woodstove and churn their own butter.

My job the last 2 years has been to talk C down from getting the biggest tree on the lot -- yes, it’s a beautiful tree but our ceilings are only 9 feet tall -- but I don’t love being the Scrooge in the family and this year I just wanted him to have the tree that made him happy, even if it takes up half the living room.

We both fell in love with the first tree we saw, some kind of fancy fragrant breed, very full foliage, blueish. The bearded man warned us that it was heavy because the trunk was thick, but we were unfazed. It was heavy (our shoulders are still sore) but we got it home. What we didn’t consider though was the width of the stand. It didn’t fit.

We went to Target to look for a bigger stand. On one hand, a trip to Target is not such an ordeal for us -- it’s a 10 minute walk across the bridge to the Bronx. On the other hand, it’s December and what is the last place on earth you would want to be on a weekend afternoon in December? Okay, Walmart. But second to last?

They didn’t have a bigger stand at Target. So we bought a saw. I won’t re-litigate the saw choice here because we’ve moved on, but the only saw they had was a hacksaw, which is not the saw I would choose for sawing through a tree trunk. It took a while, but we cut the tree down to size, and now it’s up and decorated and beautiful, and that’s what counts.

But I was actually grateful for the unexpected trip to Target, feeling myself become more and more tightly wound as we walked through the store -- a perfect distillation of everything I hate about this season: piles of useless crap, parents growling at their kids, bright lights, terrible music, and everyone bleating “Merry Christmas!” -- grateful because I could see the whole pile of shit apart from what I love about this season.

I came across an article the other day about Fox News’s “war on Christmas” nonsense and how they miss the point (at least they’re consistent) because the weeks leading up to Christmas are not, for traditional Christians, about celebrating or even really about Christmas at all, but about Advent, which is a season of waiting and reflecting, a season of gathering darkness, fear, dread, and, ultimately, hope. There’s nothing merry about it. And then Christmas starts on December 25th with the celebration of the birth of Christ -- the embodiment of all our hopes, for a better world, for love, for peace, for light, for a new chance -- and continues for 12 days. That's when we celebrate, lords a-leaping, etc.

We should spend December taking stock (you know when you've been good or bad, you don't need a pathologically cheerful fat man to tell you), setting intentions, imagining a better world. Not yelling at people in parking lots and maxing out our credit cards. That’s what I think, anyway.

That said, the real work for me is in separating the ritual of gift-giving -- one of my favorite things about Christmas: the shopping, wrapping, giving, waiting, opening -- from the mindless consumer frenzy. They are so tightly woven together. We live in a world where it’s impossible to engage with the culture and not perpetuate its ugliest aspects. So, that’s a project…

Putting aside the Fox News idiocy (which, you know, what else really can you do with it?) and the fact that we know all this already, the article jogged my brain and gave me a path back to how I used to enjoy the season as a time of uncertainty, anticipation, and hope.

Not to mention that I’d much rather listen to this

than Rudolph and Frosty and Jingle Bells and all that shrieking silliness any day.

It does seem a little odd to me sometimes that I love this music so much, the more solemn, the more religious, the better. I am of course not Christian, but isn’t the beautiful story of the miraculous birth of Christ come to save us from ourselves (at least partly) just another iteration of the same old story of birth from death, light out of darkness? It’s only unique in its details. This story works for me because it’s embedded somewhere in me deeper than belief. My parents didn’t believe it either, but marking the end of darkness and the beginning of light doesn’t require belief. It happens every year no matter what you believe.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dinner and a Movie.

I had one of the best meals I’ve ever had in New York last night. Almost didn’t.

Maybe I’ve mentioned before what a hard time C and I have choosing movies. We both love movies and it’s not as if our tastes are completely exclusive of each other’s but the films at the top of my list are usually artsy and small and C’s are more … popular. I’m also leery of the multiplex experience where 9 times of of 10 some asshole is talking through the movie and phones are bleeping and people are chewing loud. C is not so bothered by it.

(This might suggest that I’m a snob and C is a philistine. I’ll cop to being a snob, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like big Hollywood movies. I did see Les Miz and not hate it. I just don’t like the ones where the men all whisper intensely, kill lots of people, and call it acting. C is most definitely not a philistine, but he has a low threshold for artsy and obscure.)

Farther down, our lists converge. We both wanted to see Dallas Buyer’s Club, and so did C’s friend E (my friend, too, but he’s been C’s closest friend for many more years than I’ve known either of them), and our plan for Saturday evening was for dinner and a movie with E.

It’s showing near Lincoln Center (close to home) and in Murray Hill in the East 30s. I pushed really hard for Murray Hill because I’ve been wanting to try an Indian/Pakistani restaurant there called Haandi for weeks, ever since I read an article about the Indian restaurants in that neighborhood in NYEater. C was up for it, but E wanted to go to Lincoln Center because he had plans tonight to meet friends for Asian food in the East Village. (I don’t know, either.) I like the Upper West Side, but I had my heart set on this restaurant and for some reason it’s always hard to find a good restaurant near Lincoln Center that isn’t expensive. I was pushy. E relented.

Now suddenly there was all this pressure on a restaurant I’d never been to in a neighborhood that’s not easy to get to, and when we got there and C saw that it was a neon-lit hole in the wall with a cafeteria-style steam table, an inscrutable menu, and not much English being spoken, he got cold feet. “I like atmosphere,” he said. I said, “This is atmosphere. It’s just not the atmosphere you were expecting.”

And then we got into a big argument, me railing about how I miss my old life when I used to eat in places like Haandi all the time: super cheap, great food, neon lights, dirty bathrooms, and now I can afford to eat at more expensive places but I reject the idea that low lights and cloth napkins and a wine list makes a restaurant objectively better.

Neither of us much likes arguing, so we got out of this one by looking up the NYEater article, finding the blogger’s second choice, which was right across the street and more sit-down-and-order-from-a-menu. I said I’d be fine eating there instead, and C, also feeling conciliatory, suggested we give E a choice between the two places when he arrived, which he did shortly, looked at Haandi and said, “Well, we came a long way for this.” But when C proposed the other place, E said, “No, we came all the way down here to eat at this place. Let’s go in.”

Vats of various Indian and Pakistani curries, kebabs stacked up on the counter, and different kinds of fritters, a chicken biryani. I asked a few a questions. C and E both ordered a meat platter that came with a choice of two meat dishes, a vegetable, rice, salad, and raita. I had a big lamb shank that was moist and tender with some kind of very spicy dry rub and a bowl of lentils. Everything was served on styrofoam plates with plastic forks and dispenser-style napkins that you have to use about 30 of when you're eating a big lamb shank with your fingers. Both the lamb and lentils were spectacular, and everything I tasted from C’s and E’s plates was exceptional too. A rich chicken tikka and some other kind of stewed chicken that was even better. Chicken tandoori that was moist and spicy and full of flavor. Best naan I’ve ever had (perfect for dipping into the ghee that pooled on top of the bowl of lentils) and the raita tasted fresh and cool and minty. I’m rarely so happy with a meal. I can’t wait to go back and try the goat stew and kebabs. Their meals were $7.99 and mine was a few dollars more because the lamb shank was a special.

Dallas Buyers Club was okay but I was never drawn in, never emotionally affected. Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto (both of whom I like) lost a lot of weight, and I guess that’s impressive but I find it distracting when actors do that. I find myself thinking about the actors rather than the characters. And it’s always men isn’t it? It strikes me as a sort of macho endurance ritual rather than a sincere effort to enhance the storytelling. It’s not that far removed from a Jackass stunt.

Maybe I had a chip on my shoulder about the film, too, because it’s a story about a time I remember very well, a scary complicated intense time that now is just fodder for an edgy Oscar-bait movie about colorful Texans and oh my god Jared Leto is playing a trannie drug addict and he lost 50 pounds. The Dallas Buyers Club was a real thing, and it wasn’t the only one. Do you know about the buyers clubs from the early days of the AIDS epidemic? If not, you should. Google it. During the movie, I found myself wishing that instead of this semi-fictionalized film, I could have seen a documentary. By turning it into an Erin-Brokovich-style-charismatic-outsider-takes-on-the-powers-that-be-fable, Dallas Buyers Club takes this story out of the larger context of AIDS treatment and activism of that time. I know not every story can tell the whole story, but this one was, I think, misleading. If you're going to tell a true story, it should be ... true.

It’s Sunday night and I’m cranky. I’m cranky on Friday nights because I already know the weekend isn’t going to be long enough and on Sunday nights because I was right.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Few Things.

Things get stuck in my head that I want to blog about, and they stack up because I don’t have time to write as often as I want to.

C and I watched the PBS production of Company with the New York Philharmonic and Neil Patrick Harris, when was it, last week? I alway say that I don’t like much of Sondheim except Sweeney Todd which I love love love but the rest of it, except for a song here and there, no.

I shouldn’t make pronouncements like that, because I had never seen Company or really even heard much of the music, except I guess I saw the clip of Elaine Stritch singing ”The Ladies Who Lunch” from the Pennebaker documentary and, well, Elaine Stritch, so of course it’s great. And in college the song that everyone wanted to sing was “Being Alive” because we were all obsessed with our own sense of how marvelously we suffered. And it’s a great song.

Anyway, Stephen Colbert? He’s really good. Everyone, really. Patti Lupone is a monster. She chews that shit up and spits it out and give me more.

I’ve probably said this before a few times, but I love actors. How do they do that? It’s what I always wanted to do, did it as a kid and in high school I was in every musical, and I studied acting in college, but somewhere back then I got afraid, got beaten up by my insecurity so I took a turn into directing which led me to painting which led me to songwriting which led me back to theater, and I love what I do, I love writing, I love it to the end of me. But there’s something about acting. Jumping off that ledge night after night knowing that some nights the audience and the other people on stage and the band and the lights are going to catch you and some nights you’re going to fall splat on the pavement. It’s heroic.

So, I love Company. Who knew? (Smoking a bowl beforehand helps, too.)

Also, as I was watching, I was thinking about this new thing where Sondheim is revising the show to make the main character gay, an idea I love. And perfect timing, because if you make that character gay, the story becomes quite explicitly a story about the coming of age of gay men in America. It’s a journey from exclusion to inclusion, from false to true, from promiscuity to marriage. It’s going to be the gay marriage show, mark my words. Being Alive? It’s the ultimate anthem for the gay marriage movement. Let me get married because only in marriage will I become truly human. I mean, c’mon:

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who'll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive

The other thing that happened recently is that I got a check from TUTS, the regional theater in Houston that produced LIZZIE last month. It was for the writers’ royalties in excess of the advance we were given. I know that sounds kind of legalistic, but what it means is that, in order to get the rights to do the show, the theater had to give us a lump sum of money, a couple thousand dollars (to be split between the 3 writers after our attorney was paid his percentage), and commit to a small percentage of the gross ticket sales, the lump sum being an advance against that percentage.

This is the first time in my career that ticket sales have brought in enough revenue so that the small percentage of writers’ royalties exceeded the amount of the advance. It wasn’t a windfall, but it was enough that I can replace my computer I destroyed last week by pouring a cup of coffee on the keyboard (yes, I know, thank you, shut up). Maybe it doesn’t sound so impressive, but it’s a milestone for me. I am 52 years old and this is the first time I have been paid royalties in excess of the advance.

A cautionary tale for all you youngsters out there embarking on a theater career. You will not make a living. You will be over the moon about the smallest sums of money.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Thoughts, Less Organized.

Our friends and families reacted to last Sunday's post with sadness and relief echoing our own. I keep examining my own feelings, from this angle and that, defensively, because I have expressed such strong and mostly negative opinions about the shift in gay culture toward normativity mostly in the form of marriage and children and here I found myself in the thick of both. I keep coming back to the position, unassailable to my mind, that choices people make about relationships and family, at a personal level, reside in a place protected from the kind of criticism one might bring to these phenomena when speaking more broadly about politics and culture. Still somehow I want to be certain, as if anything ever is, that my decision to adopt was not selfish and exhibitionistic, nor was my decision not to.

Life is always more subtle and complex than politics want to allow.

I do feel sadness and regret, but those are not unfamiliar feelings. There are so many versions of me that I grieve for, not just the one in which I am a father. Every choice to me feels like a thousand things I didn’t choose. I daily, hourly, regret that I don’t paint, that I don’t play the cello, that I don’t teach high school, that I don’t live barefoot in the desert studying Vedanta. And on and on.

As it began to require more and more effort, more and more money, more and more attention (at the expense of other things, naturally), the project of adoption started to feel especially out of sequence, not quite right. My career is gaining some traction, my mother is fighting cancer, our friends’ kids are starting high school.

And yes life is strange and unpredictable. Things don’t happen in the order you think they should. But adoption is not something that just happens, like when my mother had two babies in the first two years of her marriage because she learned birth control from a Catholic priest. It takes stamina, fortitude, superhuman strength. So of course the big fat question is, "Why?"

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Future.

I realized last weekend that we’d made an important decision and then kind of kept it to ourselves. We were in North Carolina with C’s family and one by one – first C’s sister, then his mother, then his aunt – asked us how the search for a baby was going and each time we were like, “Uh…”

Weeks ago –I don’t remember where we were or what had just happened but we were in a car in a parking lot for this conversation so it must have been out of town because we don’t have a car unless we’ve rented one to go somewhere – we decided, or I guess really I decided (we'd gotten a call or email from the adoption attorney with what seemed like a very unlikely prospect of a potential birth mother and she wondered if we wanted to follow up on it and C pressed me to say whether or not I wanted to and I struggled to say no even though I knew in my heart I didn't want to but I didn't want to disappoint C or our families and friends who wanted this so badly to work out for us), I decided to give up, to stop looking for a baby.

We had spent, by that time, about $25,000 between the agency fees for the home study, the cost of the profile we had designed and printed, the fee for the consultant who took out classified ads in newspapers in several states, the cost of the ads themselves, and the lawyer’s retainer. What we got in return was 1 phone call in response to our ad (a hoax or miscarriage, we’ll never know), 3 phone calls that were not in response to our ad but the consultant passed them along to us when the couples who received the calls rejected them because the birth mother was either black or a drug addict, and one baby we took home for about 20 hours until her mother changed her mind.

When C and I met we had both long since come to terms with the fact that we would not be parents. We both wanted it when we were younger, but our lives didn’t take a shape that would accommodate children. Then when we met our life together did take that shape. At first it felt too late. I was nearly 50. But we talked. And talked. And finally decided, “Okay, maybe it’s not too late but only if we do it now.”

We gave ourselves a year. We said, “We’ll put everything into this, and, at the end of the year if we don’t have a baby, then it’ll be too late.” And we’ll be fine either way. We’re fine without a baby now, we’ll be fine in a year without a baby if that’s how it turns out.

But, you know, in the meantime … Why is it so hard not to see it all spinning out into the future, how excited we’d be and our families when we called with the news, why is it so hard not to rehearse all those moments, imagine those long days at home with the baby, all those conversations with Alice (if she was a girl, after my great aunt) or Oscar (if he was a boy, after my great uncle), and how my heart would crack wide open when C would come home from work and hold the baby till she stopped crying and fell asleep on his shoulder. I still, every time I open the freezer, imagine the tiny containers of baby food that I was going to make, pureed spinach and carrots and bananas, all lined up and labeled with a Sharpie. I would have been a wonderful mother.

So in that parking lot in a rental car, wherever it was that we were that afternoon, I told C that I was done. I wanted to move on. Our year was not quite up, but, to continue the search, we would have had to pay several thousand more dollars for another round of ads in hopes of a better response. After such disappointing results the first time, we were both fairly certain we didn’t want to do that. We knew going in that adopting would be expensive, but neither of us had any idea what a money pit it could easily become. The ease of that decision – to stop spending money on it – made it clear that our desire for a child had limits, that this was not an obsession, that our life together would be complete without a child, that – despite the fact that we would have been amazing parents – we don’t need a baby.

So, the children in our lives will be our siblings’ kids, and without children of our own we’ll have more time and money to indulge them. And now we can get back to saving for a downpayment on a bigger apartment with a guest bed so our nieces and nephews can come visit and we'll take them to Broadway shows. (Still spinning out the future...) Kids need gay uncles. Surely, if homosexuality is a result of natural selection, its adaptive advantage must have something to do with gay uncles.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Back to Life.

It’s noon and I still have a nasty headache but my fever is creeping down and I don’t feel nauseous any more. Yesterday when I woke up I was very sluggish but not unusually so after only 5 hours of sleep. At work I started to feel more and more queasy and threw up in the bathroom twice. On the way home, I broke out in a cold sweat, head pounding, stomach churning. I found a seat where I could put my head between my legs and got home without passing out or vomiting on the train.

I spent the whole evening in bed. C heated up some chicken broth with rice for me, and grilled himself a steak. (I had thawed 2 steaks for our first dinner at home together in 3 weeks.) I went to sleep before 10, set my alarm, but when it rang I took my temperature and it was still over 100 so I texted work to say I was staying home. I slept on and off all morning.

I don’t know why I got so sick – not because there’s no reason but because there are several. Sunday afternoon when I got home from Houston I ate a ton of really spicy Chinese food and drank a bottle of wine waiting for C to return on a much later flight. So, it could have been a hangover or food poisoning. I was also really wound up from the excitement of the great LIZZIE reviews. Whether it’s good stuff or bad, if I get in a heightened emotional state it goes right to my stomach. And Monday, yesterday, my mom started another round of chemotherapy. Her cancer has returned.

Five years ago, she was treated successfully for ovarian cancer. Surgery and then chemotherapy. At the time, I was unemployed, rudderless, and living off the generosity of friends in Austin. It was easy for me to go to Indiana for the summer, help around the house, cook for my mom and dad during the treatment, which made her tire easily but otherwise was not a big deal. It felt good to help, and it was also just really nice to spend that time with my parents.

In the meantime, she’s been healthy and fit, but now it seems this mysterious abdominal trouble she’s had recently is related to a return of the cancer. Though it’s been a relief for her to finally know what the trouble is and have a plan to treat it, cancer is never the news you want.

My mom is not a worrier. That trait must skip a generation. She’s upbeat and optimistic, ready to get this done and get on with her life. I’m doing my best to take my cues from her, but it’s my mom and I’m furious that she has to go through this, and scared.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Men and Women and LIZZIE.

All the talk about Miley Cyrus didn’t strike me as relevant to me in any way, but this morning, reading Amanda Palmer’s letter to Sinead O’Connor in response to O’Connor’s letter to Miley Cyrus, a bell rang in my head (I admit I’m a little slow, but I’m also really busy and preoccupied!). That’s a conversation that absolutely DOES pertain to me.

Among the many things LIZZIE is, it’s part of the conversation about women in rock, about sexuality on stage, about celebrity, and women celebrities in particular and how we treat them.

So, I have about 20 minutes before I have to leave for the Hobby Center. We move into the theater today! It’s our first "10 out of 12" day, and we’re all very excited. But I wanted to dash off a quick post to say that we are very curious to know what our audience, our fans, think of what we’ve done with the Lizzie Borden story. We’re not unaware that this is a show about women written by 3 men.

For us it as, among other things, an homage, a tribute to the women rockers (writers, singers, players) who have shaped us. The show grew out of our love for these women and what they do. I repeat this list over and over: Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Grace Slick, and on and on. Sinead O’Connor.

Yesterday at rehearsal, Tim and I noticed that there were 4 women on stage and a line of about a dozen men watching them: the writers, director, designers (except the costume designer, who is a woman), the band. Our stage manager is a woman, but otherwise when we rehearse it’s a bunch of men behind a table and a bunch of women being looked at and evaluated. It’s weird. And the show is in many ways ABOUT how men see women and how they deal with women's power.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this when I have more time to write, but I’m also curious. What do you think?

Friday, September 27, 2013


More adventures. This morning at 4, I was awoken by the smoke detector in my room. It wasn’t really “going off” or whatever the expression is; it was chirping. Intermittently. It took me a minute or two to even figure out where the sound was coming from, owing to the fact that it was 4 in the morning and I was alone and not in my bed or anywhere near home. Ever since those years of living on the road, I wake up – not infrequently – disoriented, not having any idea where I am or what time of year it is. It feels almost like amnesia, and sometimes lasts for several minutes.

I got my bearings, but I so did not want to get out of bed and investigate.

I stared at the round plastic thing on the ceiling for a while, figured it was probably just low on battery power since it wasn’t ringing loud or long enough to motivate anyone but enough to keep me awake. I thought about ripping it out of the ceiling, but then I thought, “What if it’s detecting carbon monoxide and if I go back to sleep I never wake up?” Jesus fuck. I have such a hard time getting back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night, which is pretty much every night. And I do not like to be dragged out of bed.

I called the front desk and it rang a dozen or so times. Eventually someone picked up. I told her what was happening. She said, “Can’t you turn it off?” I said, “Well, I suppose I could, but I’m slightly concerned about going back to sleep in a room where the smoke alarm is ringing.” She said, “There’s no one here but me, and I’m in the laundry room.”

Well, I’m sure the laundry is more important than me dying in my sleep. I didn’t say that. By then it wasn’t beeping any more. I told the woman it had stopped, and I went back to bed. Just as I was drifting off, it started again. I called again. The laundry woman said she’d meet me at the desk and let me into another room where I could sleep and someone would check out the alarm in the morning.

So that’s what I did.

I did not sleep well or much. I had a dream in which I was watching a high school friend portray a tragic but funny drunk in a play, and another in which I ran into an old friend whom I haven’t seen in years, and she had gained about 500 pounds. She was so fat I couldn’t reach her face to kiss her.

I’m glad to know I’m staying in a hotel where, if the smoke alarm goes off at 4 a.m., there’s no one here who can do anything about it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Houston is trafficky. It took me an hour and a half to get back to the hotel from the Hobby Center last night. I could have walked faster and enjoyed it more. I’m exaggerating; it’s 8 or 9 miles, so it would’ve taken me twice that long to walk and it’s 90 degrees out so walking would have been very unpleasant, but the drive was excruciating, inching along Westheimer with the sun in my eyes. The one good thing about how long it took is that eventually the sun disappeared behind some buildings so the last 15 minutes of the drive was slightly less painful. My commute to work in Brooklyn is roughly as long, but I can sit (usually) on the train and read. I hate driving. Hate it.

Its still very hot here, but the outside temperature is almost irrelevant. I’m rarely outside, and the rehearsal studio is like a walk-in refrigerator. It can’t be even 60 degrees in there. We step outside for a few minutes on our breaks to thaw out. The music director asked yesterday if we thought it had maybe gotten a little warmer in the room, and I said no I think that’s hypothermia.

This morning at 9, they asked us, all the LIZZIE folks, to drop by the TUTS staff meeting so they could check us out meet us and say hello. There were boxes of donuts and kolaches, and it was the first time I’d seen kolaches since I left Texas.

There are many kinds – kolaches are basically filled yeast rolls not unlike donuts. They can be filled with preserves and other sweet things, but the ones that stand out have hot dogs inside. They’re like hot dogs with the bun baked around them. I know they sound weird and maybe sort of awful, but they’re pretty good. They’re soft and warm and hot-doggy in a good way, and they’re for breakfast! I know you don’t believe me, but I managed to not eat one or two or five. I just enjoyed the smell.

I felt pretty proud of myself. Traveling always makes me think I can eat whatever I want and it doesn’t count, but when the gig is 3 weeks long it kind of (not even kind of) does count. And, well, free donuts (or kolaches) is definitely permission to indulge, in fact it’s almost really a command.

I guess I’m well trained in “no, thank you” by my Brooklyn workplace, which, as I’ve said before, is a virtual conveyor belt of candy and donuts and pizza and burgers and cookies all day.

But we’re only 3 days in, so …

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Heart of LIZZIE.

When I was in high school – it must have been my junior or senior year because I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to Indianapolis to a rock concert unchaperoned before that, and besides I know for a fact that my first 2 concerts were Rod Stewart and Black Sabbath, both in 1977, because I kept the t-shirts until I was 30 – I saw Heart at the Indiana State Fair.

I was already a fan. Barracuda was everywhere (at least where I grew up in Disco Sucks territory). I had the Little Queen album, played it to death (literally) while I stared at that picture on the cover of Ann and Nancy and the boys as rock and roll gypsies or whatever. This was the era of me trying desperately to be turned on by girls and if any women were going to turn me on it would be Ann and Nancy Wilson. But I was more turned on by their clothes, and the rest of the band behind them. Turns out I didn’t want to fuck them, I wanted to be them, riding around in that covered wagon full of long-haired rock and roll boys.

It all sounds like a cliché now, but at 16 I didn’t know from gay icons.

I was a Heart fan, but after that concert I was obsessed. Crazy on You started with Nancy in a spotlight for that long gorgeous acoustic intro and when the band kicked in the whole stage lit up and I was lost forever. This youtube clip might be the same tour I saw. It looks like how I remember it.

Not just Heart, but that particular Heart concert at the Indiana State Fair in the late seventies is deep in the DNA of LIZZIE. In my mind, this kind of huge outdoor venue is where LIZZIE lives. It’s funny because we’re here in Houston doing the show in a 500-seat theater now and everyone keeps referring to it as “our small space.” Someone yesterday used the word “tiny.” 500 seats is bigger by a few hundred seats than any space the show has ever been produced in. We're gettin' there.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Access Road.

I’m in Houston, arrived this afternoon and checked into the Extended Stay America, my home for the next three weeks. Theatre Under the Stars is producing LIZZIE, and we begin rehearsals tomorrow. After a gorgeous weekend writing retreat upstate where the leaves are just beginning to change and the air is crisp and chilly, I was bracing myself to hate the weather here in the land of eternal summer, but when I walked out of the baggage claim the warm, damp evening felt sweet and, I don’t know, promising, like a cold beer on a back patio. I love Texas.

I have a rental car. As soon as I’d hung my shirts and texted C, I drove to the HEB about a mile and a half away. HEB is one of the big grocery chains here in Texas and was my favorite when I lived in Austin. Well, Whole Foods, say what you want, was, is, my favorite grocery store, and there is one here but it’s farther away and more expensive, so I drove to the HEB and spent about 100 bucks on breakfast and snacks, wine, stuff to make salads so I don’t have to spend a ton of money on meals out while I’m here. And not just the money, but if I eat at restaurants every night I’ll head home 10 pounds heavier.

Driving in Texas is all about the access roads. I’d forgotten that. The hotel is on an access road. Getting to the HEB was easy. Turn right out of the parking lot, then right again onto Westheimer. Getting back could have been a nightmare – the road the hotel is on, the access road, only goes one way of course, so you have to overshoot, end up on the other side of the freeway, and figure out how to get back around. Fortunately, I know how to negotiate the access roads. Far left lane to make a U-turn. Easy. I know it’s silly to be so proud, but driving does not come naturally to me, and learning how to use the access roads was a real triumph for me during a time in my life when there were few.

So, coffee, milk, fruit, raisin bran, cheese, hummus, crackers, wasabi peas, salad greens, a rotisserie chicken, salted almonds, olives. And little bottles of shampoo and conditioner – I don’t pack that stuff if I’m staying in a hotel, but I guess “extended stay” means bring your own hair products. There is soap.

I love hotels. I wish I had a real wine glass so I didn't have to drink out of this nasty ass plastic cup. I wish my husband was here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I'm Gonna Be Strong.

One of the women who auditioned for our Houston production of LIZZIE yesterday sang this song, which I hadn't thought of in a long time but for a while years ago I was obsessed with: I'm Gonna Be Strong (by Weil/Mann). I knew it from this Buddy Miller version on his great record Cruel Moon (that's the incredible Joy White on the duet vocal). With its Brill Building history I should have known there'd be an earlier hit version but somehow this one satisfied me enough that I didn't investigate.

I think the arrangement she sang in the audition was this one. Check out Cyndi Lauper, so young, and already blowing my mind:

And Jackie DeShannon? How did I not know about this song?

Here's the original by Gene Pitney. Pretty great:

I think I still like the Buddy Miller/Joy White version best.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nothing, Really.

Two things that I’ve started to blog about have turned into much longer, in-depth pieces of writing than I’d planned. One of them is, well, C and I have been watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show, starting at the beginning – we’re on season 3 now – and it stirs up all kinds of stuff for me from the various times in my life when I watched the show. So that blog entry is turning into a sort of biographical essay.

The other thing is a meditation on how C and I are different. I mentioned this topic to C and he was afraid I might paint an unflattering picture of him. I just think it’s an interesting topic. I married a banking lawyer. How could I not find that a rich topic to contemplate?

So I find myself with nothing to write about but a residual urge to post something today.

We went to Target today. There’s a Target about a 5 minute walk from us, across the bridge to the Bronx. Very convenient. I love that it’s there when we need toilet paper, or laundry detergent, or kitchen tools, but I don’t enjoy the experience. It’s always mobbed. (Did you really need to bring all five kids and grandpa to the Target? Really?) It’s always hard to find what you need. You always come home with 25 plastic bags for 20 items. (I’m not generally a fan of the Bloomberg nanny state, but I support the plastic bag ban. The plastic bags are out of control. It’s an addiction. It’s pathological the way cashiers are constantly pushing plastic bags at you. We need an intervention.)

Mostly what we went to Target for was cleaning supplies. We just hired a new apartment-cleaning service (see above re how C and I are different) because the woman who was cleaning our apartment was siphoning off and watering down our dish soap and shampoo. This new service uses all natural products, so they asked us to lay in a store of vinegar and baking soda, neither of which I could find at Target in the sizes I wanted.

So I apologize for this blog post which is really about nothing. I’ve spent a lot of time lately being either angry or sad or anxious or some combination of those. I could rifle through the various possible reasons, but to be honest I think it might just be seasonal or hormonal or random. There are stresses in my life, but aren’t there always? I want to recommit to the project of figuring out if our health insurance covers psychotherapy because I would love to start seeing the therapist I saw for years and who was measurably helpful back before I left New York. I read all the various booklets about our insurance plan and the language was too vague for me to be certain. The answer must be somewhere.

Here’s a picture of my mom. The Mary Tyler Moore essay is in part about my mother because the image I have of Mom from the seventies is mixed up with the image I have of Mary Tyler Moore. (My dad is Bob Newhart.)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Broke My Foot.

Things that happened yesterday: T came over for dinner, and I made a Thai green curry with chicken and shrimp. It was delicious, but it had no heat. I added a whole jar of green curry paste and 2 Serranos, no heat. I added one jalapeno pepper and a big squirt of Sri Racha. Still no heat. C made a shoo-fly pie. He didn't like it. = More for me. I broke my foot. On my way down the stairs to let T in, I tripped and broke my foot.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Change Your Attitude, But Remain Natural.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written here about the lojong slogans I’ve been working with for many years now, the system of mind training that was developed by a teacher in Medieval Tibet. I’ve held onto this one aspect of my Buddhist practice – I haven’t meditated regularly in years, but I am still Buddhist in worldview and approach to life – because it’s simple, practical, and works (though slowly and not without some backsliding from time to time). And because there are flash cards.

The system consists of 50-some slogans that are designed to train your mind away from habitual responses that, if they’re not making things worse, are certainly not making things any better.

People work with the slogans in different ways; I’m pretty loose about it. Sometimes I try to keep one of them in mind for a day, a few of them seem to always apply and I’ve had them tattooed onto my body, sometimes I’ll keep going back to one over and over for a period of time if it applies to something that’s happening. Like now.

“Change your attitude, but remain natural.”

It means that when you start getting caught up in how miserable or how ecstatic or how anything YOU are, stop and look around. It means that when you find yourself thinking about yourself so hard you’re gnashing your teeth (whether it’s how awful things are for you at that moment, or how great), stop, direct that concern to others, and just relax. In other words, “Get over yourself and pay attention,” or even, “It’s not all about you.”

And work to make that your first response, to think about others instead of yourself.

I’m in Indiana. My mom’s been through the wringer the last couple weeks. We just brought her home from the hospital today after a little over two weeks there which started with severe abdominal pain, then emergency surgery a few days later for a perforated bowel. Only in the last couple days has she started to look like herself again. Recovery will be long and slow and accompanied by uncertainty about what caused the problem in the first place. Her doctors can’t poke around in there to find out until she has healed from this surgery.

My mom, who will be 74 next month, who has always been independent and fit, who is used to long walks and bike tours, tending a big yard and flower gardens, baking bread, cooking and cleaning and raising hell, today has to conserve her energy for a walk across the room.

I’ve been trying since I got here to figure out how to write about this. I need so badly to write about this – it’s how I make sense of things, it’s how I get my mind in balance, it’s the one thing I can do that I know will make me feel sane. But as I’ve said many times my rule is to avoid telling stories that are not mine without permission – and to be skeptical of permission even so, because people who are not writers don’t usually fully understand what it means to share publicly your personal life – and this is not my story. It’s about my mother’s body, and what could be more subject to permission than the inside of your body.

Despite the fact that this is my blog and sort of by definition about me, there’s something obscene about making THIS about me.

“Change your attitude, but remain natural.”

When I find myself wanting to just relax and cry (it has felt unbearable at times to watch my mother feel such pain), I realize that most of what I want in that moment is sympathy. I want someone to hold me and tell me it’s okay. And if I’m honest the one I want to hold me is my mom.

I had no idea that still, at 52, I come home to visit my mom because I feel taken care of. Not even her bout with ovarian cancer 5 years ago, when I spent the summer here cooking and helping around the house during her chemotherapy had much success rooting out my attitude that my mother is the one who comforts and I am the one who gets comforted.

Times like these I realize that not everyone is the raging narcissistic artist I am. C seems to understand in a simple way that things come up in your life and you deal with them, that when someone in your family is sick you go to them and help. Not that my first thought wasn’t to rush to my mom and do whatever was needed, but I was paralyzed by the urgency, the fear, the not knowing what WOULD be needed.

C just looked at me and said, “Don’t freak out, that isn’t going to help anything. Check flights going out tonight. If it’s too late to fly, we’ll rent a car, drive all night, and be there when she gets out of surgery.” Change your attitude, but remain natural.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ikea, Peach Cobbler, Sad, Sad, Sad.

I had a list of things I wanted to get done this weekend and didn’t do any of them. But I just put a peach cobbler in the oven. And we took a Zip Car to Ikea today and bought bookcases which C is putting together right now so we’ll finally have a place for all those stacks of books that have accumulated on every surface in the apartment.

C was snoring loud last night, so I dragged a pillow and blanket to the living room floor in the middle of the night and slept fitfully there. In the morning we argued.

I’ve been cranky and a little depressed lately, and I blame it mostly on the weather, which I don't even want to think about because it’s much better today, and they tell me it’s going to be more like summer this coming week than the gates of Hell. But it’s not just the heat. The heat doesn't cause, but only exacerbates the petty frustrations of a life.

I blog less than I did, less than I want to, because there’s so much I can’t write about, either because I try to be strict about not telling someone else's story as I try to write my own, and about not hurting anyone’s feelings. The other thing that inhibits my blogging is that much of what is happening in my life lately has to be with the business and legal aspect of my work where every relationship is fragile, every revelation is carefully timed, every deal depends on discretion. It’s a holy pain in the ass if you ask me, but that’s the water I swim in these days. Sorry to be so cryptic, but it’s either cryptic or nada.

Okay, so I want to post more often, so I’m not waiting till I feel able to synthesize my thoughts and present them coherently. Hence, a list:

1. I have so desperately wanted more time to write. Or I should say that I have so desperately wanted to be writing more, and I complain and complain about it, and C says that if I wanted to be writing more I would just write more. So I have committed myself to spend more time in the evenings writing, despite the fact that I get home from work feeling exhausted, and writing is the last thing I want to do. Tough. Just go in there and fucking do it.

2. I come home from work too often feeling irritable and it’s not fair or loving to dump all that ugliness onto my husband. I remember vividly years ago J telling me how awful it made him feel when I would come home from work and he would ask me how I was and I would just say, “Tired.” That was like 15 years ago.

3. This is a feeling that I associate with New York. I saw Fran Leibowitz on a TV show a while back and she said something like, “To be a New Yorker is to walk around in a constant rage,” and it was like a slap in the face, it rang so true and made me terribly sad. I felt like I finally let go of that feeling, being away from the city for 12 years, living on the road, the West, the desert, discovering Buddhism, forgiving myself, but now that I am back here for a few years the rage creeps back. I find myself walking down the sidewalk muttering to myself, “Stupid fucking bitch get out of the way, Jesus Christ!” or feeling like I am a millimeter away from pushing someone down the stairs or, you know, stuff like that, and I am right back there as if I learned nothing.

4. No one but my intimate partners, those few men with whom I have been sexually and domestically involved (total 5, including C … and it’s interesting to me that M, the guy who tore my heart to pieces before I left Austin 3 years ago, is not one of these 5, especially considering that I was probably more anxious and depressed then than ever before or since, but somehow not stressed about it, and that might be simply because we were together in Austin because see #3), not even my family, has seen this side of me that gets so sad, so angry, so dark and moody. Why is it that I reserve such ugliness for the people I love most?

Well, no answers, just a download of what’s on my mind. The buzzer just rang for that peach cobbler. It’s 9 on a Sunday and I haven’t made dinner yet. Better do that. My husband just assembled 6 Ikea bookcases and he’s hungry.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


C and his friend E went whale-watching today and I stayed here alone. I might have enjoyed whale-watching, who knows?, but what I really wanted was a day by myself, no plans, just my book of Alice Munro stories and the quiet breeze. I don’t know what the rest of the guys did today. Tonight we’ll meet for “tea,” which is gay for drinking in the afternoon, and then dinner at the Lobster Pot. At 10, we have tickets for Joey Arias’s show.

We are in Provincetown. We rented a house for a week with a group of seven men (three couples and E, who is looking for love), all but me old friends who used to when they were younger spend lazy, horny weekends together in a big beach house on Fire Island but whose lives’ exigencies have pulled their summers apart, and I think this week in P-town was to some extent meant to recreate those Fire Island days.

C and I argued a bit last night. We’ve both fallen in love with this town. All afternoon we mused about the possibility of buying a place here and opening a bed and breakfast. Then late in the evening, he suggested an alternative prospect: buy a house here, rent it out until it’s paid for, then move here when we’re old. C worries about retirement more than I ever did. He was upset that I was less smitten with the rental property idea than with the bed and breakfast idea. One felt like an adventure, the other like a wise investment.

There’s something perfect about this place. Not only is it a venerable old gay vacation spot, it's where the Mayflower landed and the Puritans are my favorite bit of American history. T and I made a show called A, based on The Scarlet Letter, in 1992, and we’re both still fascinated by the story and the period in which it’s set.

On the way up, C noticed at the last minute that we were passing through Fall River, so we got off the highway and found the Lizzie Borden house, which is now a bed and breakfast. We had just missed the beginning of the tour, so we vowed to stop again on the way home. I felt all tingly the whole time we were there, the pear trees and looking in the side door where Lizzie stood and said to Bridget, “Father is dead. Somebody came in and killed him.”

That house, that yard, have lived for so long in my imagination and then to actually be there right next to it. It awoke something in me that had nearly died in the endless tension-filled days upon days of haggling over contracts that our little Lizzie Borden musical has become lately.

This week hasn't been quite what I imagined. I expected that everyone else would be on the beach all day baking in the sun and I'd be at the house alone reading, writing, and then we'd all meet up for drinks and guacamole, dinner at home or in town. But it's not that kind of town. The beach is a trek. Days are for shopping or bike rides. I have had a few hours here and there alone during the day, but there's been no routine. Still it's been a sweet break from the noise and heat and stink of New York in July. Though it has been nice to see a couple shows – Sandra Bernhardt on Tuesday and Varla Jean Merman last night – and do some shopping and dining out in this very charming and very gay seaside town, just a week of intermittent silence in a big house with the windows open day and night and no TV is the best vacation I can imagine.

Maybe it’s Alice Munro, maybe it’s the white wine with lunch, but I’m going to say it’s the long, quiet days that open everything: my imagination, the future, hope, love. And it’s Friday and we’re leaving first thing Sunday morning, so I’m already getting a whiff of dread that soon, back in the city, so much less will seem possible. I guess that’s one reason I’ve fallen in love with this place, the way I fell in love with the desert. It doesn’t have to be just a vacation, it’s possible to actually live in a place where it’s quiet enough to listen to your heart. Everyone says, "you'll hate the winters here -- for two months, it's bitter cold and bleak and so lonely you'll lose your mind." But that sounds like heaven to me. Maybe finally I'd get some writing done.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

One Year In.

Minnesota legalizing same-sex marriage is particularly poignant because it’s where my father grew up, and my father’s father was homosexual and, as far as I or my dad or really anyone at this point know because I don’t think anyone in the family ever talked to him about it, he was troubled as you might be troubled if you were homosexual and coming of age in the 1920s in Minnesota.

When I was a teenager, we took a family trip to the area north of Chicago where my mother’s family lived: Waukegan, Libertyville, Gurnee, and then up to Winona, Minnesota, on the Mississippi River, where my dad was born and lived as a child. I have a stack of Instamatic photos I took of houses on that trip. As we drove around town, my dad would point and say, “There,” “There,” “We lived there.” I think I took pictures of about a dozen houses where he lived for a few months, a year, two. There would be an indiscretion, a rumor, a scandal, and the family would move.

Several times my grandfather disappeared, and my grandmother (Grandma Lenore, who I write about so often) would pull my dad and his sister out of school and go find him where he’d usually be living with a man. One time they followed him all the way to Waukegan, Illinois and stayed for a while. That’s where my dad met my mom, who grew up on a farm in Gurnee, which used to be a couple of long roads intersecting a few fields of corn and soybeans, a red barn or two, but now it’s mostly Six Flags Great America.

My only regret about my wedding is that I forgot to raise a toast to my grandfather at the reception. I had planned to say that I wonder how different his life could have been if he’d known that he could -- not if he actually had but just if he had known that it was a possibility for him to -- stand up in front of his family and commit his life to a man he loved, rather than marrying a woman (whom I have no doubt he loved, but that’s not the point) and being compelled to a secret life of pleasure and shame and fear. When I was three years old, he died drunk somewhere in New Mexico, his corpse lying in a public morgue for days or weeks before the news reached anyone who cared. And now same-sex marriage is legal in Minnesota.

The argument for gay marriage – in response to those like me who have argued that, as the focus of the gay rights movement, marriage is too conservative, too limited, that rather than moving us toward sexual liberation it takes us backward, it binds us to a regressive institution, limits the possibilities of relationships, family structures – the argument is that it changes the culture. It lets society see us as normal, ordinary, with the same wish to belong to stable families and communities. It lets us into the fold. And isn’t that what we wanted all along anyway, just to belong? Maybe.

No doubt that framing of the issue (the conservative argument for gay “equality,” which is basically that homosexuals exist and no amount of Christian nonsense is going to change that so why not figure out a way to turn them into productive members of society instead of outcasts and criminals?) is what has turbocharged the movement these last 15-20 years. But if homosexuality is on its way to becoming ordinary, I’m feeling sort of grateful that I was born on the cusp of that change, that I got to be around for a while when it was still extraordinary to be gay.

C and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary two weeks ago on May 5th. We’re saving our money for the adoption (do you have any idea how expensive that is?), so instead of the pricey restaurant we’d usually choose on a special occasion, we had dinner at Joe Allen (I’m not not thinking right now about how different my life is now with C than it was before, that I would think of Joe Allen as a moderately-priced restaurant) because it was where we were when C first told me he loved me. It was an accident, I think. We’d only known each other for a few weeks, though we’d been more or less inseparable. We had just sat down for dinner before a show, and he said, “I love this place. And I love you.” As soon as the words left his mouth, we both froze. Then laughed. I said, “Okay, I love you, too.”

People ask, “How’s married life?” and in many ways it’s true that it’s ordinary. We sleep, watch TV, eat dinner, have a couple Manhattan cocktails when we get home from work (well, maybe that’s not ordinary for everyone, but what use is gay marriage if we can’t pretend we’re Darrin and Samantha Stephens every once in a while?)

But here’s what’s extraordinary. I think maybe I’ve tried to express this before, but I am surprised and amazed to discover that within this structure, this institution, this ironclad commitment, I find an extraordinary freedom to be who I am completely. With C, I don’t have that fear anymore, that fear which was a huge component of every relationship, every encounter I had with men, the fear that there is a point at which I would expose too much, the danger that he would eventually discover something about me, something I did or believe, some angle from which he’ll see my body, that will extinguish his love for me. It's a huge burden lifted.

That’s not to say that no one ever offered me unconditional love, but that I never accepted it before now. I was not ready, not capable, hated myself too much, whatever. C asked me recently if I missed my wild days. It doesn’t feel like the right question. I don’t miss my wild days -- they still exist in my imagination. They’re part of who I am now. So maybe I had to have my wild days, and not just the wild days but the 50 years of love and sex and contemplation and meditation and therapy and the advice and example of friends and my parents and siblings, and books and plays and movies and pop songs, TV shows, and standup comedy, and walking the streets of so many cities and towns watching people live their lives, and learning from those who have loved me how to be loved, maybe I had to live all that life before I was ready for this.

Anyway, whatever, I think too much. However this happened, I'm glad. It’s really good.