Friday, December 9, 2016

Thoughts On Hairspray.

We gave up our cable TV a couple weeks ago. So far, it's going well. I miss NY1, but not too much -- I get most of my local news lately from neighborhood blogs I read every day.

I did feel pretty left out Thursday morning, though, reading everyone's responses on Facebook to the NBC live broadcast of Hairspray. It's just an ego thing, but I hate being late to these of-the-moment conversations, especially about art. It was available last night to stream online, so C and I watched it, and now I'll add my two cents to the day-old conversation, because you know I have to have an opinion on everything.

As everyone is saying, this is the best one yet. There was no where to go but up after that Sound of Music, but C and I both loved Christopher Walken's performance in Peter Pan, was that two years ago? The Wiz? I don't know, that show doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but I will admit to a chip on my shoulder about adaptations of The Wizard of Oz in general.

So, Hairspray. I know you're not supposed to lead with the negative criticism, but there were a couple technical things that I'm sure colored my feelings about the production. One, I know they have to have commercials, but all those interstitial bits with Darren Criss were total mood-killers. Still, if that's what it takes to get live musical theater on TV, then I'll go along with it.

But the sound? I hesitate to make this criticism because I know I'm old and losing my hearing, and to be honest I have this problem almost always when I see musical theater that has electric bass and drums, I just can't hear the vocals very well and miss most of the lyrics in big loud songs. But C was having the same problem, so I wonder if it was a sound mix issue. The vocals seemed often completely buried, until Jennifer Hudson sang. But, on the other hand, not a single review I read the next day mentioned it, so maybe I'm crazy.

But Jennifer Hudson. C and I were sitting there grousing a bit during one of those interminable breaks (you can't fast-forward when you stream from NBC), and then she started singing I Know Where I've Been and our attention locked onto the screen. Good god almighty, that's how you deliver an 11 o'clock number. I forgot every negative thought I had had up to that point and to the end of the show I was completely hooked, completely sold. By the time they got to You Can't Stop the Beat, I was nearly in tears from the exuberance, that choreography, the absolute simple rightness of the message.

Things I loved:

1) The dancing. The show is about dancing, and this production delivered. One of my greatest pleasures in life is watching Broadway chorus kids do their thing. I'm in awe every time.

2) Kristin Chenoweth: she is insane, right? I don't mean insanely talented (which of course she is) but like just insane.

3) I loved the set, too, with all the tributes to John Waters' Baltimore.

4) And Harvey Fierstein is an absolute hero of our time. We should wake up every day and say, "Thank you, Harvey Fierstein."

The show kind of works no matter where you come to it from, but to a John Waters fan it's remarkable how very different the musical is from the original film yet retains in such pure form what's great about it. If Waters reveled in all that trash ("The rats on the street all dance round my feet") to be provocative, it was to provoke people into realizing that there's beauty there, and love, and innocence, and strength, and humor, and that the real trash is in the hearts of mean, narrow-minded, prejudiced people.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Better World Is Still Possible.

So many people I love are grief-stricken, not sleeping, disoriented, afraid, crying a lot. It feels almost unbearable.

I've been trying to recall how long it was before the 2001 terrorist attacks came to be known as "9/11." Because I haven't know what to call what happened on Tuesday. For now, I'll just call it "Tuesday." Tuesday shares with 9/11 a sudden sense of immediate danger, uncertainty, a reminder that we are targets, that we are not safe. Within the space of a few minutes, the world changed irrevocably and we are traumatized.

It occurs to me that maybe Tuesday was such a blow because we had grown to have unreasonable expectations. Things were going so well. After electing Obama 8 years ago and having in the White House someone who resembled us, someone who imagined a better world like the better world we imagined, who, though he couldn't make everything better in 8 years, at least understood the questions, expressed easy sympathy with our struggles, we thought the world was changing faster than it actually was. Working for a more just world turned into expecting a more just world in our lifetimes. How selfish we were.

I wonder if the only way out of this awful sadness it to recommit to the work of making a better world, not because it's possible to make things better for us, but because a better world is possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Who Are We Fighting?

I'm trying to avoid war metaphors this morning. And failing.

How is this not the same battle I've been fighting ever since kindergarten when someone called me a girl? Or 5th grade when a bunch of boys called me a queer because I liked art class? I barely remember a time before it was me against some bully, some asshole, some idiot, until I got older and learned that it was actually me and a bunch of similarly marginalized and infinitely more interesting and usually kinder people against a whole raft of assholes and their institutions built to keep us out.

I didn't ask to be left out, but, if I had been, it's the tribe I would have chosen. Life was always more creative, more loving, more loaded with possibility, at the margins. I was not uncomfortable as a dissident.

But, in the last several years, big changes began to roll through, practically unannounced. Queer lives became more visible, less threatened, more normal. I got married, and my conservative Southern in-laws cried and danced at my wedding. Hope was palpable. I was not without hope before, but it was always distant and abstract. So though I know that all these struggles are not identical or even always aligned, the easing of persecution of queer people ran, to my eyes, parallel to the easing of persecution of other minorities, and it began, not even really consciously, to seem possible to be fully who I am and also welcome and safe in much of the larger world.

It began to seem possible.

All the solemn testimony this morning that it's time to come together, "reach across the aisle," recognize our common humanity, strikes me as willfully obtuse. This election was about a large segment (a little less than half) of the American population telling us explicitly that they do not want to come together. Some of them I'm sure would bristle at that characterization and insist that everyone is welcome in their new world order, and that may be true, but only in their bullshit "love the sinner" sense. They have set the terms under which we are welcome, and those terms are unacceptable.

This morning I feel paralyzed. This rage against a bigoted, ignorant majority feels like putting on my favorite sweater, but what's different from before is that I don't know exactly who the enemy is. It's not just the 5th grade boys anymore, if it ever was. When I look at poll data that shows significant percentages of every demographic group (men, women, people at all education levels, minorities of all kinds, all age groups) supporting a racist woman-hating demagogue for president, I realize the enemy could be almost anyone. Maybe that's the first task, to find out who they are.

In the meantime, all 3 branches of the federal government will very soon be controlled by the party that created and either sincerely or cynically (does it matter which?) campaigned for this authoritarian bigot who wants to burn the house down. So I won't be reaching across the aisle. I'll be doing what I can to offer love and comfort to my tribe. And I'll be watching my back.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Mom raised me to know that we were the kind of people who read the newspaper every day. Or, I should say, we were not the kind of people who did not read the newspaper every day.

I was going to say that lately I've been thinking of Mom every day -- meaning, because of the election, etc. -- but I was already thinking of her every day, so... What is new is that I've been craving her take on what Barbara Kingsolver called "this misogynistic horror show."

I miss her company, our constant, wide-ranging, and now unfinished, conversation.

Just out of high school, Mom was working as a secretary when she and my dad got married. She stayed home for the dozen or so years when her kids were small (I guess you could say she chose to "not work," if by not working you mean running the whole damn show) and got a job again as soon as my sister started school. There were many brilliant, talented, dynamic women in my life as a kid, but my mother was an up-close every day example of why women should be in charge. She was and is my touchstone for almost every question I've faced. We didn't always agree, but I always knew she was wiser than I was.

Her spirit is especially present these days as we negotiate this minefield of woman-hating. Some moments I feel deeply depressed that we still have to live with this bullshit. Other moments I feel motivated that it has been so starkly revealed what work there is still to do. You have to drive the cockroaches out of the wall so you can kill them. But always I thank the Fates for the lessons my mother taught me about women.

I don't want to say that it feels unfair, because what does fairness have to do with these things?, but it's very hard for me to accept the fact that Mom died just short of being able to vote in this election. My mother, who married at 18 and never went to college but taught me nearly everything important that I know, who taught me how sexism works and why it's bad, what feminism is and why it's essential, and who instilled in me a reverence for the act of voting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


This place sounds great, and I can't wait to try it.

When we were in Denmark 2 years ago for the opening of LIZZIE at Fredericia Teater, we (the writers and director) were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime meal at Ti Trin Ned. Chef Mette Gassner personally served us dinner. It was unexpected and unforgettable.

We also had a couple of more traditional Scandanavian meals, one I particularly enjoyed was at a lunch place on the harbor, nice but not fancy) where we ate the traditional lunch of dark bread with various cured or smoked or otherwise preserved meats and fish, and pickled vegetables. Delicious. I love that kind of meal. It reminds me of dinners at Grandma Lenore's apartment where, if she prepared a meal at all, she might open a can of smoked oysters or sardines, a jar of cheese spread, some dense rye bread or crackers, pickles.

But my inner Andy Rooney perked up when I read this:
Dinner menu will have just 15 dishes, each of which will cost no more than $16. They won’t be full entree-sized, but they won’t be super small either. People should expect to order between three and five of them, depending on how hungry they are.
I'm not such a fan of the "small plates" thing. One, you have no idea what small means. And two, it's great if everyone you're dining with is as adventurous as you, wants to have a communal experience, and likes ordering a bunch of stuff, especially the weird thing on the menu "just to try it." But if you're not with that group, it means you either have to figure out how to share some things with some people, or not, or default to the choices of the pickiest eater in the group.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


With all these licensed productions of LIZZIE all over the place lately, we're reading a flurry of reviews. Mostly really good, but as always at times like this I end up in a (somewhat tedious to me, at this point) conversation with myself about the function or utility of reviews, the relationship of critics to artists, etc., blah blah blah.

In the middle of this stew of intellectual inquiry and artist's insecurity plops this piece in this week's New Yorker.

I was excited when I saw the subhead, to read something by a gay man about A Life, a moving and thought-provoking new play running right now at Playwrights Horizons, which C and I saw last weekend and enjoyed quite a bit, and I like Als's thoughtful take on it. I haven't seen Duat, or the Front Page.

That last paragraph though. Yikes. I can understand having a strong negative reaction to a piece of art. I have them all the time. Just last week, in fact. I get how it can feel personally offensive to sit through something you think is awful. You feel taken. But still.

Artists complaining about critics is complicated if not just tiresome, but I will say this: if you're going to so fiercely attack someone's work, I think you should support your argument with an example or two.

Friday, October 28, 2016


I was in a funk for several days this past week, and because I've lived with this idea of myself as "sensitive" and "moody" ever since I can remember -- does anyone not have a half dozen go-to adjectives their parents assigned them practically at birth and that have stuck for all time? -- I didn't for most of my life think of these dark spells as anything I had much control over or particularly wish to know more about or even look at closely until I discovered Buddhist meditation in my early forties and realized that with a great deal of self-discipline (to be honest, more self-discipline that I can usually muster for very long at a time) one actually can get on more familiar terms with these states of mind. Inhale, exhale.

I was in a funk for several days this past week. I'm shaking it off now, but not completely. It was triggered by a dismissive review of a production of one of my shows, and around the same time a fundraising campaign for a new project got off to a very slow start, and then I caught a cold which has held on for almost 3 weeks now. I'm not sleeping well, and that makes it all worse. Or seem worse, which is maybe the same thing.

Even though periods of being stressed out, angry, sad, irritable, are not unusual for me, the last year or so has been tough. I've been increasingly anxious since my mom died. Aside from the grief, I can't stop thinking about how time is limited. Mom was less than 20 years older than I am now. The show of mine which only now is seeing some wide success, making a mark outside my tiny artistic neighborhood, bringing in a small amount of revenue (small), is work that I began 26 years ago.

There are so many stories I want to tell, so many shows I want to write. No longer can I just sort of casually believe that I will get to them all. Clearly, I won't. It's not new for me to fret over what to do now, what to do next, how to best spend my time, which project has the best chance of coming to fruition, but now, when I decide, "I'm going to work on this project now," I'm not just postponing the others. I am coming to terms (or not) with the fact that I may not have time for them.

Stacks of books in my apartment represent the stories I have some serious interest in turning into theater. Big creative projects, for me, always start with a lot of reading.

There's the Scarlet Letter musical that we've already written, and now we're trying to get it on a stage.

The other thing I'm actively working at now I usually call my Horatio Alger project. It's a mashup of Horatio Alger's biography, an adaptation of his most famous novel, Ragged Dick, and my own high school diary. I've written one and a half songs and some rough pages of monologue.

Other projects in the cooker (my brain) are a musical adaption of the life of Grant Wood. I call it "Wood."

"Syphilis, the Musical."

Something about the Gold Rush.

And a musical based on some aspect of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tom Hayden, R.I.P.

Years before I discovered queer politics or even knew that I was gay, I was a tween peacenik, and Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda were my heroes.

I'm not sure how that happened. My parents were not particularly anti-war, despite my mom's involvement in race issues in the neighborhood. Mom had two cousins, Lonn and Neil, who were a few years younger than she, and I remember anxious conversations about their draft status (I think it was A1, the most likely to be called up) but I don't remember now if either of them was drafted before the war ended.

I suspect it had something to do with our babysitter, Pam Fryer. She lived next door and she was a few years older than my brother and me and a total style icon for my baby gay soul, with her maxi-skirts and macrame jewelry. I remember reading the cautionary novel Go Ask Alice and thinking Alice was EVERYTHING. Not that our teen babysitter was a peace activist, but in my eyes she was a hippie and it was all part of an ethos I absorbed.

Anyway, I was surprised to see Tom Hayden's obit this morning. I thought: but he's so young! He was my mother's age.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Monster Breakfast.

I think I stole the plot of my dream last night from a children's book. If not, then someone needs to write it. Even in the dream, at a certain point, I was thinking, "This is a little hackneyed, isn't it?"

I was at a small party at my friend M's apartment in San Francisco. (She moved back to the Midwest years ago, but for many years she lived in the Inner Richmond.) I left to go get something, buy something, I don't remember exactly what, but it should have been a quick errand.

As I was walking, I noticed that nearly the whole neighborhood was under construction. Cranes and huge steel girders, cast iron framework, and trusses everywhere, dwarfing the existing buildings, and a crowd of people here and there on the sidewalks, looking up at the workers.

A burly, shirtless man was climbing up the side of a building -- not a worker just a guy impressing his friends. He was about 3 stories up. A cop shouted, "Hey come down off of there!"

On his way down, he missed a foothold and started falling. Everyone gasped but a small group of people on the sidewalk caught him and lowered him to the sidewalk gently. On his feet, he turned and waved to the crowd and everyone cheered.

But the cheering turned to screaming when we turned to look down the street and saw a huge creature coming toward us, about 20 feet tall, covered with silvery-brown fur, sort of a cross between a gorilla and Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, rampaging, roaring, grabbing people, tearing them apart and eating them.

Of course we ran. The monster was coming from the direction of M's apartment so I couldn't go back there to safety. I ran with the mob for a few blocks, then a few of us turned into an alley that led to a small enclosed space with a lot of debris piled up at a back wall. (I know, don't go in an alley when you're being chased by a monster, but we weren't thinking clearly.)

We heard the monster coming. We were doomed.

But then through a quick process of discussion and consensus, we discovered that some of us had restaurant skills, we rummaged through the pile of junk and pulled out what we needed to improvise a cute little coffee shop, we fried some bacon and eggs, brewed coffee, and, by the time the monster reached us, we were just sitting at a small table having breakfast, pretending not to be frightened out of our minds.

The monster stopped short, smiled. He was famished, and it turned out he much preferred bacon and eggs to people. He sat down with us and had a scrambled egg sandwich on an English muffin.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Make You Feel My Love.

Dylan getting the Nobel Prize is validating, and very moving, to see songwriting recognized as great literature.

Though I've always been more of a Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen guy, I think every songwriter has maybe half a dozen songs that, when they sit down to write they think, maybe not consciously, "I will strive today to write something that good, and this is one of those songs for me. The way I know it's great is that, no matter who sings it, it retains all its power and depth.

Starting with 3 of my favorite singers, and then some guy.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sex, Shame, the South.

Really interesting piece about literature and the South. The Garth Greenwell novel, What Belongs to You, sounds good. I'm fascinated by the obliquitous but mostly invisible sphere of gay culture that sprang from homosexuality being illegal and dangerous for so long (and still in many places in the U.S.): cruising in parks, bathrooms, bus stations, etc.

I'm always drawn to subjects that people just do not want to talk about. If someone is ashamed to talk about something, you can bet it's good stuff.

I don't think there's necessarily anything "wrong" with the fact that we had to emphasize certain aspects of gay life (we fall in love and have lasting relationships) and deemphasize or even stigmatize other aspects (we cruise truck stops for anonymous sex) in order to gain rights. Sadly, privilege comes with fitting in. We got marriage rights by admitting, essentially, that we were awful and dirty and shameful but only because we were oppressed and really we just want to be like you if you'll let us.

Of course, there's no shortage of straight people having sex in public bathrooms. The difference is that they have always had more options. For gay men for a very long time, public bathrooms were an important site of their culture. I mean, seriously, where do you expect people to meet each other when their lives are literally illegal?

I know I'm conflating a lot of issues and speaking vaguely about different historical periods that had different laws, attitudes, pressures, etc.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Last night, I asked C, just sort of out of the blue, "Do you have hope for the future?" I think about this, about a time after I'm gone -- it's not like I'm likely to die tomorrow, but I'm at the age where the end of my life has begun to feel like an actual point on a timeline -- and my thoughts run to not just what the world will be like then but whether or not I care, or whether or not I even have standing to care.

C and I don't have children, but we have 4 nephews and one niece. It would be nice if the world waited to descend into chaos at least until after they've lived their lives.

C answered the question (it seemed to me somewhat tentatively), "Yes." I go back and forth. This election doesn't inspire optimism, but I would say I'm usually pretty hopeful when I'm not thinking too hard about things.

These kids are 11 and 12 years old. That's heartening.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Anxiety & Resentment, Song & Dance.

I woke up with Lida Rose in my head this morning, not sure why, but it sent me down a Music Man rabbit hole on Youtube and I ended up watching the Rock Island song half a dozen times because once is not enough.

One thing that (kind of, sometimes, temporarily) works for me to stop myself from freaking out for a minute or two about this doomsday election season is to pull the focus back and look at history and culture with a wider lens. (Now that I see that sentence typed out, I realize that's what I try to do to stop myself from freaking out about anything pretty much.)

It's fascinating to me how certain phrases become ubiquitous suddenly in certain elections. People used the expressions "economic anxiety" and "cultural resentment" long before this year but now you can hardly read an article about the presidential election without stumbling over them. (I love Google Ngram Viewer -- turns out "economic resentment" had a big spike in the early 1940s then waned, but is now shooting way up. "Cultural resentment" didn't even appear until 1944, spiked in the late 1960s, and is also way up now.)

I have no great insight to offer, but it occurred to me that many (most?) of the canonical American musicals are about economic anxiety and cultural resentment. Here's another from The Music Man (the original rap musical, btw):

And this, from the great Trevor Nunn production of Oklahoma:


And West Side Story, Gypsy, South Pacific, Anything Goes, Guys and Dolls. Seriously, there aren't many that are not about one or the other or both.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Farm.

My brother Michael is doing some work in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin this week and decided to go see the farm in Gurnee, Illinois where Mom grew up. Gurnee used to be a tiny farm town among many tiny farm towns outside of Waukegan, corn and soybeans in flat, square fields separated by straight, narrow country roads. The plain white clapboard house Mom grew up in sat on one of those roads, which used to be called Grange Hall Road and it was gravel when she was a girl, but by the time my siblings and I were kids and we visited, they'd changed the name to Washington Street and paved it with blacktop. Many years ago, decades ago, they built a Six Flags down the road, and now the whole area is suburban retail sprawl indistinguishable from any other suburban retail sprawl. Way back when, going into the “city” meant Waukegan; now Gurnee and Waukegan and the whole region are basically part of greater Chicago.

The farmhouse is now owned and used as office space by the city or county. Mike texted my sister and me a photo of it last night, “completely renovated” he said, but looking at the photo I can’t make out the original house under the additions and new siding. Mom visited it several years before she died and said that the inside was basically the same layout, her old bedroom now an office.

I have memories of the house, but they’re spotty. I haven’t been there since I was 10 and my grandfather, Mom’s dad, died. Soon after that, Mom had an epic falling out with her mother, my grandmother, and we never went back. From that time -- though my mom kept in touch with her sisters, neither of whom had a warm relationship with their mother who was by all accounts a mean, bitter woman -- my mother never saw her mother again. Her name was Elsie. I think she liked me. I have nice memories of hanging out with her in the kitchen. I remember her being fun, making me laugh, though I couldn’t give you an example. The last communication between Mom and her mother, a long letter Elsie sent my mom after a disagreement about money and my grandfather's estate, excoriating every member of Mom’s new family, my dad, his parents, my brother, she did not single me out for any particular abuse. (I’m sure this letter is still in the lockbox my parents kept in a closet with all their “important papers." We used to get it out and read it from time to time.)

Or that’s how I remember it. If I ever write a memoir, I’m sure I’ll have to go on Oprah and apologize for making it all up.

Mom with her brother Jimmy
Jimmy, Elsie, Mom, and Don
Mom’s brothers both still lived at home and they both made the clean break with their sister along with Elsie. Don, the youngest, was maybe 19, and Jimmy was a few years older. They lived at home with their mom to the end. That’s not completely true: at some point Jimmy, who had Down’s Syndrome, moved into a “home." Mom visited him there many years later, after Elsie died, and she said that at that point (he would have been in his sixties) he didn’t recognize her or engage much with the world at all any more. Even after they sold the Gurnee farm and moved to Missouri where they bought another small farm — Don never married and he ran the farm. Mom went down to Missouri for Elsie's funeral and reunited with Don, but too much time had passed and it wasn't a satisfying reunion.

Mom’s two sisters, one older and one younger, both moved to Southern California and Mom kept in touch with them by letter and phone but they never visited. Their lives, I think, were chaotic and marginal and Mom was fine with them being some distance away.

I think this might be Mom's older sister Carol. That's Carol's son, Donnie, my cousin. I remember meeting him once or twice but never really knew him.

Mom's sister Nicki (nee Susan -- she changed her name as an adult, but I don't think the family ever really accepted the new one.)
Nicki with a cow
Nicki with a pigeon
Before the split, we used to visit the farm once or twice a year. We never spent the night there. Mom said it was always dirty and she didn’t want her children crawling around on the filthy floor. We stayed with Aunt Alice (Elsie’s sister and sort of a surrogate mother to my mom — when Elsie and my grandfather Emil were having one of their screaming and throwing-things fights, Mom would weather the storm with her beloved sweet Aunt Alice) and Uncle Oscar who lived nearby in Libertyville.

But we would visit, and in my memory we spent long days there, following Grandpa around the farm while he did his chores. I loved the cats that were seemingly everywhere. I hated the cow barn, a disgusting dark place that smelled so foul I thought I’d pass out. I’m still haunted by the image of a cow’s anus opening up to let out great masses of shit which would land with a splash on the concrete. It was Don’s job to kill a chicken for dinner. He’d bring it from the coop in a wooden cage out to a stump under a tree, pull it out by its legs, place its neck on the stump and take its head off with one clean swing of the hatchet. It would bounce around for a while but when it stopped, he’d throw it into a big pot of scalding water and then furiously yank all its feathers out. I don’t remember having any other reaction to this event except being dumbstruck. My Uncle Don was tall, masculine, and usually silent. He had severe acne on his face and back. I was mesmerized by him.

No one ever went in or out of the front door of the farm house. The back door opened onto a gravel drive that swung around the house from the road. When you stepped in, you could go down some steps to a cellar that always smelled of rotten eggs. The DeMeyers kept chickens and sold eggs. It was Mom’s job when she was a girl to gather the eggs; she hated it and chickens.

But if you turned left at the landing and went up a few steps you were in a big kitchen with a large table in the middle. I remember a breadbox (Grandpa brought home bread from the bakery wrapped in white waxed paper) and the round metal appliance on the counter that pasteurized the milk they brought in from their cows. I remember Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table eating a yellow onion like it was an apple. The rest of the house is vaguer still. Through a sort of wide hall with a staircase to one side was the living room. There was a couch against the front wall where I remember Jimmy sitting, flanked by his two older sisters crying and trying to explain to him that his dad was not coming home from the hospital. The phrase “no hope” has not once since then — I was ten when Grandpa died — not carried that memory when I hear it, no matter the context.

Grandpa was a large, boxy, gruff man. My mother’s sisters, both rebellious, had stories of abuse that my mom did not find completely credible. Mom was his clear favorite, the apple of his eye. I found him terrifying, but I’m moved when I remember that, when we visited, he always made a special trip to a local beverage distributor to buy a case of returnable bottles of orange and grape and lemon-lime soda for my brother and sister and me to drink while we were there. We were immensely grateful because the well water tasted of sulphur, the milk had a layer of cream on top which we found disgusting, and their orange juice had pulp in it. At home we drank Tang.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to go off on a long reverie about the farm in Gurnee. Getting that text from Mike with the photo of the house on the eve of Mom’s birthday today sent me down a rabbit hole.

Nicki and Don
Mom. These pictures were taken I think shortly after Mom and Dad got married.
Nicki (with a duck, or goose?) and my cousin Don
Uncle Jimmy
Mom. She must have borrowed that coat from Grandma Lenore, Dad's mother.
Mom with her brother Jimmy
Uncle Jimmy and my cousin Don
Nicki, Don, and Jimmy in the house. Mom's wedding picture on the table.
Dad and Mom. Elsie never liked the Chesliks.
Dad and Jimmy. The house in the background. That sidewalk leads to the back door.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


We were in Indiana at my Dad’s house the morning of the Orlando massacre.

We spent the weekend with my Dad, my sister and brother and their families. C’s mom and dad, with his brother and sister-in-law, passed through to pick us up on their way from North Carolina to a family gathering in Wisconsin. Our two families spent Sunday evening together, and then Monday morning we joined C’s family in their RV and continued up to join C’s father’s siblings and their families at C’s aunt and uncle’s cottage on a small lake in farm country a few hours west of Milwaukee.

This morning, a week later, we’re waiting in the Indianapolis airport, on our way home after a week jam-packed with reunions of various branches of both sides of the family. Families within families within families.

I remember the first time I heard the word “family” used to note that someone was gay. My ex-boyfriend, the man I lived with for six years in my twenties, and I, along with a lesbian couple, close friends, were on a weekend getaway in the Poconos at a rustic gay retreat in the mountains. There was a small lodge, a few log cabins, a pool. The place had seen better days, and the other guests were mostly older than us. I think it was called Rainbow Ranch. Even at that time, the late 1980s, this place felt like traveling to a time when gay people had to hide in the woods. I was eavesdropping on a conversation among a group of women sitting by the pool, discussing, I think, a co-worker, and one of them, smiling slyly, said something like, “I think he’s family.”

This was during my strident Queer Nation days, when a quaint code word for gay felt like a slightly embarrassing relic. Around this time, gay and lesbian organizations were starting to put the words “gay” and “lesbian” in their names, rather than the more coded “lavender” or “rainbow” or “lambda.” But we, in our 20s, full of indignation and full of ourselves, were OUT. We didn’t need code. We were not only out of the closet, we had blown up that closet and we were blowing up other people’s closets while we were at it. Looking back, I think our chant, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” was directed not just at the straight world but at that older, more timid generation of queer people. Our elders. Family.

I am sad and deeply ashamed to think now of how I sneered.

I don’t know if younger queers use the expression “acquired family” still like we did. Since we are born into families that, to some extent, reject us, we make our pilgrimages to cities, to gayborhoods, to gay bars, clubs, bowling leagues, where we make friends with people who share our experience, and those friends have, historically, been more reliable in times of crisis, times of celebration, sickness, fear. They are the ones we truly share our lives with when our biological families hold us at a distance. It's not everyone's story, but it's the story.

Gay marriage, the argument goes, allows us to be integrated into our biological families in a way that lessens the need to go off somewhere and create a new family. By emulating heterosexual family arrangements, we become recognizable as normal members of traditional families. And I’m married, so I know that that is to some extent true. To experience that has been a deeply moving surprise. Yet, despite the completely unforced outpouring of love and support I have felt from C’s family, I still take a deep breath every time he introduces me to a new member of that family. “This is my husband, Steven.” The word husband feels like driving fast up a big hill not knowing what’s on the other side.

When I read Sunday morning that 20 people had been shot to death by a man with an assault rifle in a gay dance club in Florida, I felt like I couldn’t breath. And then it was 50. (I still can’t figure out if the media is saying 49 now instead of 50 because they decided the gunman doesn’t count as a victim.) And then I was having breakfast, and then C’s family was there and we all ate pizza and played croquet and in a house of very mixed political leanings you don’t talk about current events, especially not one that simultaneously brings up the topics of terrorism, gun control, and homophobia, and then we were in a big RV headed to Wisconsin to spend a week on a lake with a house full of Catholic Republicans.

The only place -- besides the odd stolen private moment with my husband --where I felt like I could relax and be honest about what I was feeling was on Facebook, and even that forum became fraught with danger when a family member started posting snarky NRA memes mocking calls for stricter gun control laws, which drew me into an argument about gun violence statistics, which is not how I want to mourn.

I hope I don't sound ungrateful for the generosity, the company, the love of my in-laws. C's aunt and uncle's Midwestern hospitality is a wonder. His aunt, who is in her 70s, rarely stops moving, cooking, serving, fetching something you need, something you might need, something she thinks you should have. And they all have the accent of my mother's people who are also from that part of Wisconsin and Illinois. Deep inside somewhere I feel at home there, with family. And the lakeside practically begged you to sit in a lawn chair with a book, and I was moved by the Sherman Alexie stories I was reading, so I cried a little. And then you know how it is: once you start, your brain looks for other things to cry about.

Queer people of my generation and older talk about the death of gay culture, a casualty of online hookups, increased visibility and acceptance, civil rights victories, integration into our biological families, gentrification, new ways of seeing ourselves that make things like drag and park cruising “problematic” for some younger queers. As we become folded into mainstream culture, we lose urgency to make our own. Gay bars and bookstores and bathhouses keep closing and closing.

Ironically, sadly, I take heart knowing that, though it might transform, gay culture will not die. I’m bad at math, but I feel pretty confident, even with more and more queers raising children, most of us will continue to be born into families who don’t understand us, don’t recognize us, don’t want us, we will always have the need to grope our way to those who do, people who share our experience of being different, misunderstood, dismissed, unsafe.

Our biological families may, over the great expanse of time, come to be less freaked out, love us more, but right now, even families like mine and C’s, who love us without condition and welcome our marriage don’t understand what it feels like to listen to our right to live in safety and dignity debated in the media every day, what it feels like to grow up knowing that we are still considered by the people and the laws of vast swaths of the U.S. to be unworthy of equal rights, knowing that there are a good number of people in nearly every crowd who find us disgusting, knowing that there are places here and all over the world we can’t visit for fear of being shouted at, beaten, shot, or thrown off the top of buildings. Most of Africa, the Middle East, and Mississippi are not safe for us to visit.

In the late 80s and early 90s, my friends and I would survey the crowd at Pride events, the old lesbians in rainbow tie-dye and mullets, the aging disco queens drinking Bud Lite, and say, “This is the gay community? What do I have in common with these people?” But all week and right now, I am depleted of the energy it takes to act like I feel safe because I don’t want my whole life to revolve around the drama of my persecution. I’m tired of listening to people who don’t understand. What I wouldn’t give for a couple of old lesbians in rainbow tie-dye and mullets to cry with. I want to be with my family.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about this, but these 3 items about my neighborhood appearing simultaneously this morning was striking:

Katz's sells its air rights for a lot of money. The rest of the block is doomed.

And this about religious freedom and elevators.

And this from our Co-op Facebook group:
This is how East River's Orthodox community celebrates Earth Day in our park. These people are religious fundamentalists who only care about their own community. Nothing else matters to them. They lied to us telling us that they would empty & return the trash cans to their original locations. They certainly cannot complain about the loss of their religious freedoms. Their arrogance is repugnant. Tomorrow is Friends of Corlear's Hook Park's first clean up day of the season. Now we have no trash cans for our event.

Friday, April 15, 2016

What Am I Afraid Of?

I've been insisting that this primary vote, for me, is not just a matter of deciding whose values align with mine (that would be Sanders) but rather a process of contemplating different possible consequences of a Clinton or Sanders presidency. A good friend asked me what I'm afraid of with a Sanders presidency, which is a good question and here's my answer:

This is what I’m afraid of:

He’s unable to pass any of his legislative priorities in Congress because of GOP opposition, which will be fierce. I guess it’s possible he learns how to compromise and he gets some laws passed, but that would infuriate his diehard supporters to whom he promised no compromise.

So either because of anger over a diluted agenda, or disillusionment because nothing gets done, he loses his core of support which, to my eyes, is based on the idea that we elect him and he’ll ride into Washington on a white horse and make everything good again.

Having lost faith in the very idea that voting can change anything, his former supporters don’t vote in 2018, and the GOP lockhold on Congress is further entrenched. And they stay home in 2020 because they no longer believe that electing a “progressive” president can break up the banks, ban fracking and Monsanto, overturn Citizens United, make peace in the Middle East, send Wall Street into a giant sinkhole, and deport the Koch Brothers, McDonalds, and Walmart. The left in general loses support, loses steam.

And we end up with Cruz or someone similarly grotesque as president in 2020, all 3 branches of the federal government are controlled by theocrats and every small gain liberals have made in the last century or two are rolled back one by one, and on and on till the day I die.

That’s pretty much what I’m afraid of.

Of course all the above puts aside the question of who has a better chance of defeating a Republican. People have strong opinions on both sides. I happen to think Clinton has a much better chance, but it's really all guesswork at this point.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


When Mom died, I felt like I was the only one saying the words "died" or "dead." The words felt harsh coming out of my mouth because everyone was avoiding them. It's sort of how I felt when I moved to Tennessee from New York and had to stop saying "fuck" because people would react like I'd shot them in the face with a squirt gun.

I've gotten used to people saying "passed away," but I don't really like it. It reminds me of how people supposedly often fart upon dying, which Mom did not do -- her lower bowel was not connected so no gas had passed through it for 2 years. The woman died. Can we just say she died? Euphemisms rob the event of its seriousness, its profundity, its finality.

When Mom was sick, I hated all the military metaphors people slip into when someone has cancer. As I saw it, she wasn't battling cancer, she was treating a disease so she could live longer and better. The point was to live longer in order to enjoy her life, not to be locked in battle with a deadly foe. But after she died, the metaphor made perfect sense to me. She had fought like a dog for her life, no doubt about it. She had an ugly, painful disease and she beat it back valiantly for years. Years in which her appreciation for her life deepened and in which our appreciation for her and each other deepened. It was a battle well fought. And I feel like she won it.

This article is not as interesting as it could be, because it only considers obituary language, which is determined by factors like whether or not people pay for their obits so they can submit something written by the family, or whether only a "death announcement" is allowed. Also, newspapers have style guides that I would think maybe limit the expressions allowed. It's not everyday language. I mean, "entered eternal rest"?

It makes me smile to remember Mom so often, sitting at the kitchen table in the morning, reading the obituaries in their local Muncie paper and snickering at things like So-and-so was called home to Jesus, or So-and-so was carried on the wings of angels up to her Lord and Savior."

I inherited my mom's love of laughing at the hicks and though I don't necessarily love it in myself I embrace it as a sometimes necessary survival tactic, especially in rural Indiana, the land of compulsory Jesus-is-my-best-friend Christianity.

Monday, April 4, 2016

North Carolina Wants Less Gay? We'll Give It Less Gay.

I haven't been able to find information about whether or not other writers are joining Stephen Schwartz's boycott of North Carolina. I hope they will. Some of us might be boycott weary -- I know I felt like we jumped the shark with Target -- but this one is, I think, perfectly targeted and worthwhile. (I don't have any prospective productions in North Carolina, so I haven't been faced with this decision.)

This is serious stuff. It doesn't just mean the Broadway tour of Wicked -- which alone is huge, since those tours bring tons of jobs and revenue to cities. It means no high school productions of Godspell. No community theater stagings of Pippin. Stephen Schwartz's shows get produced a lot.

I feel for the commenter on this blog, a North Carolina theater producer, who says the boycott unfairly targets theater people, who are "compassionate of and fight for the equal rights of everyone." I'm sure it sucks for them to be the target of so much vitriol right now, and to be worried about the financial effect of a boycott on their institutions. But then he says later, "There are more compassionate, educated people in North Carolina than there are morons who want to set the state back fifty years." If that's true, then a boycott is asking you to prove it.

Seeing a boycott through the lens of who is being punished misses the point. Boycotts are not punishment, they're a call to action. They're meant to put pressure on people to change things. All you "compassionate, educated people in North Carolina": write letters, make phone calls, protest. And vote the morons out of office. We can't do that from here.

The comparisons to South African apartheid and Jim Crow are dramatic. Some may find them over-dramatic. But I doubt it seems that way to transgender people in North Carolina who are by law now prohibited from using public bathrooms.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Don't Know About You, but I'm In The Mood To Keep Talking About Susan Sarandon.

People are tired of hearing about the Susan Sarandon interview, I know. My feelings won't be hurt if you roll your eyes and skip this post. Well, my feelings would probably be hurt if I saw you do it, but I won't even know.

I'm sick of it, in a way, too. But what irks me is how far already the commentary has gotten from what actually happened in that interview. Because, to me, it was a moment when the lights came on suddenly and briefly. It was jarring, upsetting, and very disheartening.

But let me first take apart this essay, which is pretty typical of the quick spin the Sanders campaign has put on this interview, the damage control, the effort to discredit anyone who is critical of Sarandon as a liar.

It starts with an example of Hillary Clinton lying. The narrative of Hillary as a liar is important, so the idea that she may have just been mistaken is off the table. See, she’s a liar? Here she is lying. Now I have proved she is a liar.

Then a charge of “inaccurate reporting” on the Chris Hayes interview. This is the most frustrating aspect of the post-brouhaha Sanders campaign spin. A few outlets ran false clickbait headlines misquoting Sarandon as saying "Vote for Trump!" (which is easily refuted by listening to the short video clip), so they dismiss all negative reaction as “a lot of inaccurate reporting.”

No, Sarandon did not say “Vote for Trump!”

She said a couple of times that “a lot of people” can’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton, which is true. And then Hayes asks her if she herself will vote for Hillary if she is the nominee:

SARANDON: I don`t know. I`m going to see what happens. 
HAYES: Really? 
SARANDON: Really. 
HAYES: I cannot believe as you`re watching the, if Donald Trump… 
SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know explode. 
HAYES: You`re saying the Leninist model of… 
SARANDON: Some people feel that. 
HAYES: Don`t you think that`s dangerous? 
SARANDON: I think what`s going on now. If you think it`s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you`re not in touch with the status quo. The statue quo is not working, and I think it`s dangerous to think that we can continue the way we are …. 

Then she restates the usual objections to Hillary's record (militarized police, privatized prisons, death penalty, low minimum wage,  income disparity, and so on) ending with “I don`t like the fact she talks about Henry Kissinger as being her go to guy for the stuff that`s happened in Libya and other things I don`t think is good.”

When I watched this clip (maybe an hour or so after the broadcast, a friend posted it, before I saw all the spin and social media amplification) I reacted with disgust, not because she said “I’m voting for Trump and you should, too.” Obviously she didn’t say that. What she said is that she didn’t know if Trump would be better or worse than Clinton, that in fact “some people” (and these “some people” being clearly, in this context, Bernie supporters) think he might be better. And when asked if she thought that was a dangerous notion, she answered with a statement of how  dangerous she feels Clinton would be. 

It is not necessary to exaggerate or misquote or in any way distort these comments to find them reprehensible. It doesn't matter that the next day Sarandon tweeted that of course she won't vote for Trump. What matters is that she floated the idea that Trump might be better than Clinton and then dug in her heels and refused to critique it. (An interpretation this essayist calls “stupid." So much for dialog.)

The rest of the essay is a point by point examination of Susan Sarandon's case against Clinton: Monsanto! Rich people! Banks! Wall Street! Fracking! Kissinger! Every time I or anyone is critical of Bernie Sanders or his followers, the response is this list. Question: "What do you think of this thing Bernie Sanders said that I don't think is quite true?" Answer: "Oh my god, how could you say that? Hillary Clinton is a monster!" All these charges against Clinton are interesting, often troubling, many times true, but sometimes they're not what we're talking about.

Just for good measure, he ends with a gendered insult about “what sort of woman” Clinton is compared to “what sort of woman” Sarandon is. And I'm sure he would respond: "Stop talking about sexism.  Criticizing Clinton doesn't make me sexist!" No, saying sexist things makes you sexist.

Anyway, this writer's point  I think, is that it is reasonable for Susan Sarandon, and by extension Bernie’s supporters, to say anything that might defeat Clinton because look at what a horrible president she’d be based on the fact that she’s a crook and a liar and war-monger.

So here are my thoughts, this morning, on the Bernie Sanders campaign:

It is a campaign, a movement, based on the idea that political integrity can be popular, can rally votes, enough to win the presidency. Its base assumption is that our government is corrupt and that we, the honest people, must take back power by calling out corruption wherever we see it, insisting on transparency at every turn.

It’s a powerful idea. The dark side of the coin, though, is that this idea creates a crowd who must believe in their own moral unassailability. They swallow whole anything presented as evidence of corruption. ("Clinton is corrupt because look at this evidence of corruption" "How do you know the evidence is true?" "She's corrupt, so the evidence must be true.") Transparency is hard work and I think often impossible when it comes to evidence of corruption. Most people don’t have the expertise, let alone time and energy, to analyze campaign finance law, or bank regulation, or tax law. Yet, from listening to Sanders's followers, it seems like we have a whole movement of experts on all these subjects, as well as foreign policy, geopolitics, and history. Or maybe it's just that they’re susceptible to demagogues who may or may not be experts, and may have good intentions, but they are politicians with agendas. “Follow the money” is good advice, but it's painstaking work, and there are always many lenses through which to interpret these numbers. It’s more complex than a Facebook meme.

I get the sense that Bernie Sanders is a good man of high ideals. I know no such thing about most of his followers. I don’t trust populists because I don’t trust the populace. Bernie Sanders seems to want to bring honesty and compassion to government. What many of his followers seem to want is power and a humiliated enemy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


I have a birthday coming up in a couple weeks. 55. Which feels harsher than 50 did, those 5's ganging up on me now.

My mom's death last year hit me with, among other things, an inescapable feeling that there's not a lot of time left, and most of the anxiety of that realization clusters around my work, my career. Just when I've only in the last few years begun to have some grasp on my talent or power or ability, the future no longer stretches out beyond seeing.

Big thoughts!

On that subject, I've been looking at songs and songwriters that have been models for me, conscious or unconscious influences, and I was reading the New York Times review of Disaster! this morning in which Charles Isherwood mentions the K-Tel compilation albums that were ubiquitous in the 70s and I remembered one in particular that I was obsessed with as a tween -- called Good Vibrations, it had a sort of acid trip yellow cover -- so I Googled it and it turns out it was Ronco, not K-Tel, but y'know culturally speaking more or less the same thing, relentless TV commercials hawking these albums with scrolling song titles over excerpts from the songs, only available by mail order.

Reading this playlist, suddenly everything about me as a songwriter makes sense. I was 12 when I got this record. It predates Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Heart, it predates Judy Garland and Joan Baez, musicals, it even predates The Partridge Family (all those Wes Farrell songs I always kind of thought of as my earliest musical influence).

Two songs on this record still play in my dreams: If You Don't Know Me By Now, and Melanie's Peace Will Come. And the Association's Darling Be Home Soon. Handbags and Gladrags. All the Young Dudes!

Possibly the momentousness of this is lost except on me, but I feel like Mary Leakey discovering the Lucy bones this morning.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Patricia Renn-Scanlan.

It is International Women's Day, a fact which I learned on Facebook this morning but didn't learn what that actually means, which is I guess typically the relationship between Facebook and facts.

It has set my mind to thinking about women, more than usual. I've become a little obsessed with the Democratic primary, solely because of the gender issues highlighted by Clinton's candidacy. Other aspects of it are much less interesting to me. And this week I've been actively trying to find a story I can make into a musical -- though I have projects in progress with collaborators, I have time and energy enough as well as a strong urge to write something all by myself -- so I've been thinking a lot about how my last two shows have been about women. And not just that the protagonists happen to be women but that the fact that they are women is integral to the stories.

A couple related thoughts: One, I'm not really interested in telling stories anymore that don't have some queer element. I'm just not. I could pick it apart as to why, but I don't see it as pathological, so why would I need to do that? And, two, by way of justifying my permission, as a man, to tell women's stories, I've said it before but it bears repeating: I've always believed that homophobia and misogyny are two faces of the same phenomenon, so to battle one is to battle the other.

When I was in high school I worked after school and summers at the DePauw University library. My mother worked there and got me the job. For part of that time I assisted the head reference librarian. Her name was Patricia Renn-Scanlan. Mom always identified with the women's libbers (as they called them then) but Patricia was a feminist in a whole new league. She introduced me to Andrea Dworkin and Adrienne Rich, blowing a hole in my mind a mile wide. I wasn't out yet to anyone but myself, but Patricia knew damn well what the story was. She frequently mentioned in passing her gay and lesbian friends, and though I didn't come out to her I had never felt so safe in my life. She was an ex-nun married to an ex-priest, so she knew from queer. She was overbearing and loud, fat and wore lots of purple, and most of the women at the library, including Mom, didn't warm to her. I adored her.

And she wasn't much of a speller, as you can see from this letter she wrote recommending me for a college scholarship.

Toward the end of my senior year, she took a job somewhere far away, moved, and we didn't keep in touch. From time to time over the years I've Googled her with no luck. But this International Women's Day thing today spurred me to try again only to find that she died three years ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Those Women.

When women who are now in their 70s and 80s were growing up, they could be housewives or career girls, the latter carrying a whiff of disappointment. The women’s movement of the 1970s was largely made up of women of that generation who wanted more and insisted upon it. They changed the world, and in particular they changed the workplace. Sexism and misogyny did not disappear and there are many battles still to fight, but their determination changed things dramatically for the better for working women. Women of that age group forged their identities in relation to that change, that struggle, that relationship between home and work.

I thought everybody knew this history.

My parents were working people but not blue collar. Mom had a secretarial job right out of high school but quit when she got pregnant with my brother. She stayed home to raise her kids but, as soon as my little sister was in first grade, she went back to work and held a series of administrative/clerical jobs first with a university and later with Ball Glass. My mother was a staunch liberal and a proud Democrat, her sympathies mostly formed at the local level.

I remember when the Clintons moved into the White House, and Hillary was criticized for continuing her own career, and she said “I supposed I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to build my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” my mother, and millions of women along with her, cheered. Hillary Clinton was and is a hero to those women. Her refusal to define herself in terms of her husband, her unabashed ambition, was a kind of signal that their persistence was paying off. The national drama of a first lady fending off critics of her refusal to settle for the role of hostess and helpmate to her powerful husband echoed their own desire for more and the flak they endured for it. That Hillary was outspoken and often impolitic only added to their admiration.

The dismissal now of these women’s support of Clinton saddens me. The scorn heaped on Gloria Steinem for a glib remark on a comedy show, the relentless suggestions in think piece after think piece that older women are blind, that they are racist, selfish Capitalist pigs for supporting Clinton, who is now transformed in the minds of these scolds into the symbol of everything wrong with the world, is condescending and offensive.

I shouldn't be surprised I guess -- collective memory is short -- that people are surprised to find a cohort of older American women who have a different view of the world, women who were balancing the checkbook and feeding kids and arguing with patronizing bosses at the office instead of crushing on Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein. Women who see themselves in Clinton, and who feel proud.

What I’m not surprised by, not after the last couple months of scolding condescension on my Facebook feed every morning, is that there is a cohort of people whose politics I generally agree with but who have their heads so far up their critique of neoliberalism that they can’t see why some people might make an informed decision based on the circumstances of their own lives, the vicissitudes of their own biographies, the content of their own dreams.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Two or three weeks ago, there was a big commotion in our hallway one morning. Shouting, pounding, lots of concerned-sounding voices murmuring. When C was leaving for work, we both stood at our door for a minute or two and watched 2 or 3 firemen using some kind of heavy instrument to beat down the door of our neighbor, Kitty, a very old woman, the first of our neighbors to introduce herself to us and welcome us to the building. Along with the firemen, in the hallway were a couple of other people, and a gurney. I recognized the others as, I assume, Kitty's caregivers, maybe family, more likely home health workers. Since moving in, I'd only seen Kitty one other time, but I saw these people going in and out of the apartment nearly every day.

C had to leave, but the banging went on and on. When it stopped, I wanted to open the door again but stopped myself because the moment felt private, or at least felt like it deserved privacy. The gurney was just like those I woke up to the sight of twice at my mom and dad's house in the middle of the night, when I heard a lot of noise and opened my bedroom door to see EMS workers maneuvering that huge contraption down the hallway with Mom on it, rushing her to the hospital.

So, I didn't find out what happened to Kitty. I didn't see anyone go in or out. Just that beat to shit door with newspapers piling up on the floor in front of it. I feared she had died, but thought maybe she'd moved to a nursing home.

Yesterday, stepping off the elevator, I saw one of the women I recognized leaving Kitty's apartment. I said hello and kept walking but then turned and asked her, "Has Kitty moved out?" She looked surprised and said, "No." I said, "Did she ... pass away?" (I hate that expression, it always sounds more like something a train would do, not a person, but I know people sometimes find the words "die," "death," "dead" to be rude.) The woman smiled and said, "No! She's in there."

I said that I was sorry for being nosy but that after all the commotion a few weeks ago I was worried about her. She told me Kitty had fallen, but was doing much better, and she was Kitty's "aide."

When I got into my apartment, tears came out of my eyes with no warning. I knew that I'd been concerned about Kitty, but I had no idea how heavily it had been weighing on me. The aide told me that Kitty is a very strong woman and that she's 92. All the old women in our coop make me think of Mom. And there are a lot of old women here.

I've settled into an email correspondence with my dad now. Our emails are not long, but they're more chatty and informative than nearly any conversation we ever had one-on-one before Mom died. It's very nice, feels less fraught and awkward than talking on the phone, and I think lets us be more natural with each other, in the way that email and social media generally allow shy people to communicate more easily. I speak for myself, and wonder if it's the same for him. He's old-fashioned, and I suspect he still likes it when I call him on the phone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I think I've said here before that Tim and I are creating a stage musical adaptation of my 2005 film, Life in a Box.

It's weird having so many big projects running at the same time -- LIZZIE (we just released it for licensing), our new Hester Prynne musical (which is chugging along nicely, we're doing another short workshop with theater students next week and applying for festivals and residencies, looking for development partners), and now Life in a Box -- but creating a musical takes so long you kind of have to have different pieces at different stages or you'd only be able to present something new every 10 years.

Life in a Box is different from the others in that the songs are already written. We might find we need to write a new song or two as we develop the book, but mostly it's an adaptation of existing material. So the job now is to conceptualize the film for the stage and write the book.

The film premiered in 2005 at the San Francisco Int'l Film Festival and screened in lots of other festivals in the years after that, but we never found a distributor for it, so very few people have seen it. Which still irritates me to no end because I spent years on it and think of it as some of my very finest work.

So, as I dive back into that period of my life, I thought I'd share the film with my Facebook friends.

Click on the picture above to watch Life in a Box on Vimeo. It's 90 minutes long. The password is "facebook" but only temporarily, so don't dawdle.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


C and I were at the movies Sunday night, so we taped the live TV Grease and watched it last night. A few thoughts:

1. Even sanitized, it's a much more interesting musical than it usually gets credit for. There's a thin plot, but most of it is kind of oblique commentary. The principals don't sing a lot. I love all the vignettes with supporting characters' stories that don't advance the plot but give depth and complexity to the world of the show. And some of those songs are flat-out great.

2. The production was huge! I loved the big dance scenes in the gym shot with aerial cameras. Alternating between long shots of joyful chaos and then zooming in to more focused sequences of the characters. Ambitious and thrilling.

3. I say this a lot, but I am in awe of the skill and precision Broadway musical performers bring to their work, sailing around that stage nailing every kick, every acting beat, every high note, every time. They amaze me.

4. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but like the others it mostly left me wanting to see the film again. I mean, Stockard Channing?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thoughts About Transparent.

This article gets at something I was trying to articulate recently about Transparent: one of the things I love most about it, besides that it's just great story-telling, is that LGBT politics and history, even queer theory, are presented in a way that's smart and specific but doesn't set them apart from the characters and the story. The push and pull of those ideas drive the story in the same way that they shape the lives of queer people. Theory and politics as they are actually lived.

It's exactly the opposite of how I felt watching Sense8, a very different piece of work (which I mostly enjoyed) that also used queer theory as a narrative element, but in a way that felt didactic and academic in a sort of cringey way.