Saturday, July 17, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

New York.

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

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

My First Published Essayn't.

Update on my dispute with the magazine editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First Date.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Almost Published, Twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mourning Austin.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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