Thursday, December 24, 2009

and the city did love him...

I didn't know the man who sold peelers at Union Square had died. He always made me smile when I saw him. I've got one of his peelers in my kitchen drawer.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Until you can walk again...

Perhaps I am arriving late to this internet discovery, but at a friend's birthday party this weekend I was pointed towards the blog Missed Connections. Or more specifically towards this post: Phoenix With Crutches.

The illustrations are gorgeous and whimsical and punny. All of them make me smile and laugh a little, but this one in particular melts my heart just a little bit. "I would love to carry you around piggyback until you can walk again..." Such a brilliant scream out into the air; I hope the message found its way to the intended recipient.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A few thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s Payback

There is something cringingly jolting when you find yourself embarrassed by someone you revere. I can't shake that feeling right now having just finished Payback by Margaret Atwood. This isn't to say that the book isn't brilliant and that I'm not going to recommend it to friends; it is and I am.


The book overall is full of that casual genius that so much of her work teams with. There is that sharp insight, crisply illuminating details hidden right in front of our faces, and her amazing ability with language, using it so crisply and also plussing out double meanings. Travelling with her through an inquiry is a pleasure. This book is the bound form of a lecture series she presented, and you can sort of feel that as you read. It is communicated to an audience, not just a reader. This sounds like a silly distinction, but something delivered to a group versus individuals has a different feel to it even after it has been rendered for individual perusal. This is not a complaint; this is the same form that Negotiating With the Dead was born out of.


If I have no complaints about the scholarship or the handling of the subject or the form, why start off with a complaint? Because it is how the book ends which left me wincing; it is what I am left to walk away with.


Mrs. Atwood warns all the things this book is not about in the beginning, explaining that "Instead, it's about debt as a human construct –thus an imaginative construct- and how this construct mirrors and magnifies both voracious human desire and ferocious human fear." Or, "…that peculiar nexus where money, narrative or story, and religious belief intersect…" For the majority of the book, this is exactly what she satisfyingly delivers. Personal memories of childhood interactions with money and banking are shared, scientific studies are examined (providing what I found to be perhaps the most indelible anecdote in the book: monkeys in a study going apeshit over an unfair exchange rate for their pebbles when one gets a grape instead of the lame cucumber slices the rest of them had been given), and literature and popular culture are plumbed for relevant nuggets. It all flows smoothly and build progressively and works well together. Until the end.


Scrooge (Ebenezer and McDuck) is a reoccurring character throughout, at once recognizable and both beloved and reviled, an archetypical persona who would have been hard to avoid in any case while discussing debt in a modern Western literary context, and she uses him deftly and to good effect… for most of the discussion. But he is more than just a universal type, he is also a temptation. You can't have a cautionary tale to tell and invoke him and not end up tangled up in a late night trip with the ghosts of [subject of cautionary tale] past, present, and future.


It is a good story and a brilliant device, but I'm still a little surprised that she stepped in it. Still, it isn't necessarily that she went there, but that this departure lacked the style of the rest of the book. Also, it feels like a mugging. Her Dickens moment takes us through a night ride with a modern Scrooge who is painted to be everything obnoxious in a modern mogul –more on this in a moment- forced to look at his and, indeed, all of our effect on the earth and what the wages of that will be. It becomes an ecological tale. I've got absolutely nothing against a good ecological warning; we could use more of them. My complaint is that this comes flying out of nowhere and seemed so forced. The book was about debt as a human construct, how it is born out of our sense as social animals of value and fairness, and how this understanding plays out in the real world and how it informs the stories that we tell. The ecological angle isn't an unfair one, but it is a break with the narrative that had been built up. I can't argue with any of the information she drops on us, and I can't complain that it is being said. It just pulls away so much from the rest of the book and seems artificially inserted that I can't help feeling annoyed by it.


The ecological Scrooge presented also struck me as hitting the wrong note. I'll stand by my complaint that the book hadn't done anything to build up to the ecological warning, but if the Christmas Carol ploy had been explored differently I might have been less hostile to it. The Scrooge was too much a caricature and not enough of a Scrooge. Part of Scrooge's appeal as redeemable villain was that as we were shown how he failed and what turned him into who he was, it also made us care about him and understand how someone might end up there. You might want to grab him and scream that work and money aren't the most important things or that he should care and that other people care about him, but you find yourself wishing for a better future for him; you want him to get a second chance. Our new eco-Scrooge? Not so much. He is painted as this horrible smarmy nightmare and even if you find yourself terrified by this future we are getting warned of, you can't sympathize with the character being dragged through the night this time. Instead of finding him emblematic of ways any of us could get off track and find ourselves needing to reexamine our lives and beg for a second chance, he ends up playing more as a scapegoat for us to look at and revile and blame for where we are going. This is exactly opposite what the message needs to be: it isn't that some rich guys are going to kill us off with their greed, but rather that all of us are racking up this ecological debt and are going to have to make good on this withdrawal one day. She makes this point but her eco-Scrooge works against her efforts and discolors an otherwise spectacular book.



red claw

I bought Red Claw by Philip Palmer at the airport, wanting something fun to read. It looked like it would fit the bill and I liked how the cover felt. I’ll spare any detailed analysis about why this relationship didn’t work out, but I just can’t see it through. 67 pages in is as far as I go. It is embarrassing and distracting in that same way a Clive Cussler novel is: you can feel the author trying as you read the story. The difference is that though you can feel Mr. Cussler’s heavy hand forcing the story, his narrative drags you along for an adventure. Mr. Palmer’s does not.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Folding on Folding Star

The Folding Star was already sitting on our shelf at home and had caught my eye earlier in the week, so when John recommended it, it secured a spot in my duffel bag library. This would not be my first tangle with Alan Hollinghurst. Back when The Line of Beauty won the Booker Prize, I kept hearing it's praises being sung and seeing gushing reviews, so when I saw that my boss had it one day at work, I had asked her if it lived up to the hype. She seemed a little skeptical, not really loving it and seemingly feeling guilty about this. She enthusiastically suggested that I could borrow it when she was done, which hadn't really been my intention when I asked about it, but when she brought it to me at my desk one day and said she'd like to hear what I thought of it, I thought, why not?

It was wondered if perhaps something would click with me that didn't with her because, like me, the protagonist was gay or if maybe it would resonate more with someone from a younger generation. These seem like reasonable assumptions, and I thought going into it perhaps that would bear out. It did not. Well, at least not until the end or until I found myself discussing it with her later.

From the beginning, I hated the protagonist. Ok, hated is too strong a word. I never actually wished him harm; he just struck me as a sort of irritating narcissist. Part of this is the practical person inside of me hating the shallow stupidity that gleamed through anytime he spoke of love and lust and all that. He lusted after the obviously inaccessible straight friend in whose house he had found himself staying. The family had invited him in as a family member and he treated this proximity simply as an opportunity to incubate this glowering desire. Now at this point it should be noted that I am not trying to suggest that I've never had any inappropriate desire or lusted after someone who was for some reason or another never going to happen. The attraction and desire I can understand, it was his relationship to this desire and how it colored his relationship to his friend and other people that grossed me out. Throughout the book, he shits on potential friendships and wastes the affection of others, until he finds himself at the end with both everything sort of taken care of and also falling to pieces around him.

In his downfall, I find him more likable and less heinous, but I also felt like he had been carefully laying the foundation of his ruin along the way. At this point, he also shines in contrast to how horribly those around him are painted (when margaret thatcher comes across as one of the more agreeable characters in a gay novel, you may be sure there is a problem), though if I remember correctly, the object of his affection was the most likable of the bunch, visibly wounded by being left out of his confidence about being gay and dating their close friend in secret. I found myself moved by the rejection the protagonist felt, but also feeling resentful at being forced into solidarity with him. Nagging in all this was that the book was written beautifully. The construction of the story, the way it was told, the visualizations, the language – all amazing. I simply found myself inside the head of a character whose head I didn't want inside of.

Not the entirety of the character, but parts of him and how he thought reminded me of perennial arguments between me and close friends. Particularly my friend John, who has now recommended a second Hollinghurst novel. Our relationship is famous amongst those who've known us since college for being lovingly antagonistic. On so many things we agree heartily and connect and understand each other, but on others, we are like oil and water. It was almost as if we were each other's punishment. Neither of us would let the other get away with any glib conceit. He thundered political and identity certainty, openly challenging and proclaiming things that were wrong in the world, which terrified me at the time, but I howled back about dealing with things the way they are and being realistic instead of idealistic, making peace and making do. I don't think it is too much to say that either of us would be unrecognizable today without this push and pull from the other. Even today, no longer in daily conference with him, I run things past an idealized version of him in my head, anticipating his objections or critique or praise.

This, of course, would be a person I'd enthusiastically read a novel about, but it wasn't a full image of John that this character evoked for me. Rather, it more recalled things that had irritated me about him, things that we never saw eye to eye on and only those things. I wonder if there is some ugly literary other out there, some worst scenario version of what I'm like given a glimpse inside my head.

It was the glimpses inside the character's head that made him insufferable, not most of his exterior action in the story, so I wasn't surprised when Ben told me he really like the mini-series based on the novel. I'll watch it one day, and perhaps forgive and make up with this character and quit my silent judgment of his vacuous self-importance.

Getting back to my own current vacuous self-importance, I've started trying to read The Folding Star. And I've stopped trying to read it. Again, beautifully written. The language and description is brilliant, but this character has even less to redeem him. He is basically the same character, only he seems to hold less potential for redemption this time around.

If I knew someone else was reading this right now and could compare notes with them, I might trudge on through, but in absence of that, finding that I have less time for reading than I had originally anticipated, I can't devote more to this bland fool. I would have kept going but for a single scene which abruptly launched me out of the book (literally throwing the book to the other end of my bunk), no longer able to care about anyone in it. I'll not describe it fully, but for those of you who have read it, it is the moment in the bar with Cherif when the main character makes his declaration of love. This was my deal-breaker.

When I gave Ellen back her copy of The Line of Beauty, I had to agree with her that it was beautifully written and left a bad taste in my mouth, though as we discussed the particulars I found myself defending the protagonist and even the story itself. The language and the story I could defend, just not the narration. I may yet come back to The Folding Star, but for now it is only the language that I can defend and with other books begging my attention, that is not enough.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thoughts on rereading Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation”

Mrs. Turpin is Hoyt's mother from True Blood. I couldn't help but picture the character in the story the same as the character in the show, but the funny thing is that I don't think this is something new from having watched the show. I think Hoyt's mother is the way I've always imagined this character. I think I've watched the show and wondered where I'd seen that actress before and now I think I might have never seen her, but rather found her familiar because she is the precise embodiment of that particular archetypical woman that Mrs. Turpin is the perfect literary description of.

Oddly enough, even though she isn't fat or ugly, Sooki is always making the expression ("…snapped her teeth together. Her lower lip turned downwards and inside out, revealing the pale pink inside of her mouth.") that the fat ugly girl keeps making at Ms. Turpin in the doctor's office before attacking her.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Priorities, people!

(written a few weeks ago; I've been slow to publish these days, but I've been thinking and arguing along similar lines in the run up to the big gay march in D.C. so maybe I should put this stuff out there finally.)

I just when to to see what kind of political coverage we are getting from them. I've been doing this a lot lately. My eye was caught by the headline "Clinton Blames the Gays for DADT?" Read the article for the whole story, but the statement by Clinton which inspired this headline was this:

"You wanna talk about 'don't ask, don't tell,' I'll tell you exactly what happened," Clinton said. "You couldn't deliver me any support in the Congress and they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military and the media supported them. They raised all kinds of devilment. And all most of you did was to attack me instead of getting some support in the Congress. Now, that's the truth," he said to significant applause.

"And all most of you did was attack me instead of getting some support in the Congress." I'm afraid that we are setting ourselves up to hear that rebuke from another ex-president down the road. People in the gay community are screaming bloody murder about how Obama hasn't repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell yet or about how enough isn't being done about gay marriage. Really? Is this really at the top of our list right now? I'm not asking anyone to roll over and play dead and forget about issues which are of particular importance to our community, but we've got a new president who inherited a shit pile from the last schmuck and years of a republican congress. Right now, he needs to get a firm hold in Washington and honestly, if people are losing their homes and losing their jobs and instead of focusing on the economy he was focusing on issues of specific interest to gay people, he wouldn't be doing us any favors.

So we want the right to get married or to serve in the military openly? Then we should be out there screaming bloody murder about the need for healthcare reform and give him some political cover. This is his big fight. If it passes in any recognizable form, he is going to have political capital to spend. If it fails, he is going to be in a hole. The republicans recognize this and are trying to sink this as a way to neuter him. He won the election talking about this issue, keeping out front and selling it. And we voted for him and through him, for healthcare reform. If we want him to stick his neck out for us, we've got to get in there and push in this fight. If we can't help deliver support for healthcare in Congress, then we aren't going to be able to deliver the support he is going to need to overturn DADT or DOMA. And he isn't this lone figure that should just do all the fun stuff he talked about during the campaign because we voted for him; we've still got to get in there and do groundwork and push and shove.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I have moved into a new apartment.

My name is on a legal document with a significant other (who is not Mason).

I turn thirty two this weekend. I keep thinking I'm turning thirty three.

A hurricane named after me is set to hit (ok, at least brush) New York for my birthday.

My bowl is broken; I did not go crazy. Maybe just a little crazy, but not much.

My cat has learned how to spoon.

Orchid blooming in the bathroom. The moonvine didn't die, but did refuse to grow this year.

I really want to shave my head but I like my haircut so I feel like I can't shave it all off right now.

The keys for my new apartment are ugly so I can't wear them on a chain around my neck. I hate keys in my pockets.

after the fall

(this was written weeks ago. I am safe and secure in a new abode. I apologize in advance for my melodramatic musing.)

I have not bought a one-way ticket to Mexico and I am not hitchhiking vaguely towards the western openness and the liberating/dangerous adventures offered by unplanned time in arid and alpine expanses. Equally surprisingly, I have not crawled head first under the covers of a tightly made bed and slowed my breathing, nor have I piled the couch cushions on top of myself and lain flat pretending both that this is completely normal and that I am somewhat invisible, secretly wishing that oblivious people would come in and sit on the cushions to add that delicious numb weight that the cushions themselves can't deliver. I can claim small victory in having not fled in any meaningful geographical sense; this I did choose. I looked at tickets and didn't buys them. I randomly chose meaningless destinations, but forced myself to think of the practicalities required for the trip and to acknowledge what I would be leaving, what it would cost me. This sounds like simple practicality, an unenviable affliction I am occasionally struck with, but it is not. Thinking practically breaks the magic. A man in free fall or the drowning woman doesn't consider their options; there are only two: acceptance or panic. Not consideration, and that is what I have been doing, so whatever descent I might have found myself is not the final trip after slipping over that edge.

Staying out from under cushions and not crawling into bed the wrong way isn't an actual accomplishment though. I really want to (and would), but our current couch isn't long enough and it is too hot to be under a sheet, much less enough quilts to offer the gentle smothering required for a moment of pretend relaxation and pantomime calm that is the point of such an exercise. Of course it is a good thing that I haven't quite cracked or gone over that edge; I'll concede this. That I can't quite manage my sillier coping mechanisms I'm going to lament for the moment, but at least being unable to act out in such a way makes me appear something that approximates stable. This is not an illusion. I'm stable, deadly stable at the moment. The problem with that is that this isn't any balanced stability. It is, perhaps, more geologic, like a rock or lump of clay. I can sit unmoved and weather most anything, but I can't say that I've got much dynamism or oomph.

I'm getting tangential; back to not snapping as a good thing. I've got to dwell on this because falling is the dream of heights. Vertigo is not only the fear of falling, but also the desire to fall. The dream of the control freak is loss of control. When not confronted with some true menace directly threatening actual survival, so many of our fears are also perverted desires. The idea of flying off the rails terrifies (like rattles my bones terrifying) but also titillates me. Note that I only deal in extremes, so when I'm talking about losing it and acts of rebellion, I don't mean half measures. Acting out for a moment just sounds like so much clean up work. This is why I don't tend to lose my temper and why I gave up on things like grudges or revenge: if you aren't going to go all the way, why waste the effort? But oh how I dream of letting it all fray at the edges, just let go of the narrative and take off. Losing it doesn't have to be violent, but it should at least have flair.

I'm dreaming of the fall because my cabinets fell. As best I can read from the pattern of wreckage that greeted me when I returned to find a terrified kitty (thankfully so, the fear drawing a line she would not cross, keeping soft feline paws away from a landscape of broken glass) glaring at a blitzed kitchen, the screws near the top pulled loose first letting the cabinets lurch forward allowing a few pieces in the front to fall out of the doors onto the floor. My bowl was in this number. A single screw seemed to resist the momentum, dragging through the drywall at the bottom edge and leaving a deep gouge. This appears to be the only one which presented any real resistance, but this perhaps is what caused the beast to lurch forward and hit on its front edge midway across the sink, mercifully(barely) sparing our kitchen faucet before flipping across its face, slamming back in much of its contents and flipping completely onto its back to lay confusingly prone on the floor. It spared my orchid and avocado trees a foot away in the window and didn't hurl anything more fatal than bacon grease (previously collected in an empty tin can) at the tv, but it did manage to send broken glass flying into the tub through the open door to the bathroom. Where it had resided on the wall is a mosaic of mold, which I'd find strangely beautiful in an abandoned building. In my kitchen, not so much. Adding to the texture and pattern of this sporific landscape were clues to the why behind this great leap. Among the fungal blotches, walls and mounds of dirt and crud. Not dirt that had fallen behind, but lovingly and painstakingly applied, a careful construction. Here and there on the floor amid the shards we began to find strays of these foul architects: termites. When broken glass isn't enough, add an undermining infestation to the mix.

Living on the fourth floor of a structure which apparently is infested enough with termites that they have made it to the top floor and compromised at least some of the studs in the wall to the point that screws can't hold in the wood should be why my mind is numb this week. And I suppose to a certain extent it is; I'm very good at worrying... full-on, hyper-realistic, this-is-how-the-world-will-end worrying. So don't doubt that I am doing plenty of that, but that kind of worrying has real world parameters to reel you back in at a certain point. The real catalyst for mental disarray was one bowl, neatly split down the middle and chipped on the edges.

This shouldn't have ever been my talisman. My sister brought it back to me after she spent a year in France. I remember thinking, "Oh, thanks... a bowl." Eventually though, this bowl (and a cup, of thick plastic, able to survive the fall) took on a special meaning. In a crowded house and an emotional adolescence, this was one border I could guard. This was the line I drew that no one crossed. It wasn't until years later when people unknowingly attempted to choose this bowl (or cup) that I discovered that this wasn't just a vague boundary; this was inviolate. This was my singular sacred ground. All other trespasses forgiven even if not always tolerated or allowed. Nothing else could shake me.

This sounds crazy and in a way it certainly is, but it is my crazy and, I don't mind saying, a comforting neurosis. If you are going to compartmentalize all fears and weakness and vulnerability, stash it somewhere mundane. Blandness is its its own certain protection and if someone really is fired up and crazy enough to want to strike at what they know you hold as sacred, they will want a sexier target. Smashing a mirror or keying a car is so much more cathartic than taking a hammer to what your enemy eats their cereal out of and attacking a bowl would feel kind of silly even if you know it is the only chink in the armor and you would feel rather stupid having to physically fight off a crazed attacker because you assaulted kitchenware. Occasionally people wanted to steal into the sacred and simply use said these vessels; I understand this instinct and perhaps am willing to do something that approximates forgiveness, but forgetting is asking too much. But unmalicious attacks I do let go of. Even this event of unspeakable destruction -the worst thing I can imagine happening to myself (I can imagine worse things happening to loved ones; in speaking of comparisions with the bowl I go only as far as my own skin)-, it wasn't intentional. It wasn't done to me; it simply happened to me.
Perhaps this is some of the frustration; there is no enemy to fight back against. It is just my bowl, lying broken on the floor. Spare me suggestions of taking rage out on the termites or my landlord, I'll get away from both.

All of this isn't so much a lament as a frustration. This happened and this is what it means. Nothing more. Dramatic explosion would only make it all seem silly. It is frustrating to me for the same reason it would be an unsatisfying target to a potential enemy: at the end of the day, it is just a bowl. The sacredness, its life as a talisman was always all in my head, nothing inherent in and of itself. Screaming and wailing wouldn't be about the bowl, it would be about everything it represented, every assault that didn't matter or stick to me because this boundary stood between me and those dangers. And it did to its job, it did stand between me and all that, everything. These threats and assaults weren't stored in the bowl; it wasn't a terrible artifact imprisioning demons and monsters. It sent them away.

This distress is vertiginous, not any kind of fear of the dark. The bowl was never my only totem. The cup and the cactus remain. The cup is thick plastic. It survived this fall and I imagine it could survive far worse (note to the cosmos: this is not a challenge). The cactus could be happier and will die one day anyway, but for now it seems happy enough and it has its own formidable defense system. And it never protected me; it was never supposed to. It has always just been a friend; one that makes no demands except the necessary and which makes me feel comfortable in loving and refusing to shed my spines and dangerous edges. It would look silly without its spines; it would be something all-together different. The same is true of me, and when other people try to convince me to let them prune me, the cactus quietly reaffirms my decision to refuse these makeovers. So I am hardly left defenseless after this fall.

These are the talismans that I admit to; these are the famous ones that I'll bore anyone about who is willing to listen. They aren't my only magic. I also have a feather. It is from a blue heron, it was floating on the surface of our lake in the middle of the night. This is where I admit that I was that ridiculous type who would go paddle around a silent lake during full moons partly because it seemed that a moody, misty atmosphere like that shouldn't be wasted and partly because I was a chronic insomniac perpetually looking for an alternative to staring at the ceiling until I started hallucinating flashes of color in the darkness. I saw it as perfect in the moonlight, floating on its back on the rippleless water. I'd never seen something so perfect. This is really how I felt. I stepped outside of everything else around me for a moment and was only with this delicate message of peace. Its edges were perfect, it had no blemishes or frayed bits. When I picked it up and examined it in the moonlight I couldn't believe how amazing this thing was, and, still being my uptight self, I couldn't help feel silly as my never resting inner realist whispered persistently that it was just a stupid fucking feather. That voice was of course correct. It was(is) just a stupid fucking feather. It said this again when I looked at in in harsh artificial light back in my room: it did have frayed edges and was not by any stretch of the imagination some pure undamaged beauty. This did not seem to me any reason to let go of it or how I felt when I saw it. It seemed rather useless as a perfect object; the tatters gave it more heft and made it something I could live with instead of something to be in awe of. I have retained this preference over the years.

The fall isn't something I only feared; the excitement and disruption also seemed like something exciting. When I sat in miserable jobs or felt like going crazy, the existence of these sacred objects held me fast. I'd dream dramatic escapes of taking off and going AWOL, just disappearing. My zephyrous path might look flighty and not so thought out from the outside, but the truth is I am plodding and careful. The path might not be direct but I am careful where I put my foot down. The idea of one of my objects being destroyed was so horrible, but because this seemed so momentous to me, it also seemed freeing. Having these stabilizing anchors also meant not having permission to go off the rails. If I go off the rails while they are secure, it means they weren't what I believed they were and this wasn't an option I was willing to consider. But if one broke...

This is vertigo.

One did break... now what? It feels in a way like I have been cheated by the mundaneness of how the tragedy played out. Or rather by not going nuts: this is my one big chance. If I want to just lose my mind make some dramatic shift/complete change of direction, this was the one chance. If I had still been sitting in a quiet office feeling directionless and frustrated, this would be my moment to quit my job and take off for some exotic locale. Or just walk out and slowly head down the road. I could do something crazy and rash, just go and quit thinking about practical responsible ways of changing my situation. This kind of catharsis seems so dreamy and amazing to me. Act and just pick up the pieces later.

Even if this kind of dramatic rashness has its charm, how can I do it when I am happy? If I don't want to be somewhere else, why would I take off from here? Actually let me correct that: there are many other places I want to go; I have not lost my adventurer's heart. If I want to be where I am, why would I leave?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

we the sheeple

I've been letting some of my political rage simmer. It is summertime and I've got a beautiful community of people around to love enjoy the (occasional) sunshine with. But I'm still just as pissed off at all the stupid.

Among the more odious things happening at the moment are these asshole teabaggers trying to shout down townhalls meant to be opportunities to discuss healthcare reform. Over at Talking Points Memo they are doing a great job reporting on this. Shamefully, not so many other news outfits can have the same said of them. They are looking at how this push is being framed in the media, today suggesting that this is likethe Brooks Brothers protests used to disrupt the 2000 recount. I take their point; this is the same monster and some of the same players, but I think we have a more iconic comparison to made. Is it possible to learn of this activity and not think of Animal Farm? Even if you where in this bleating blob, surely you must know that in our game of George Orwell edition if-we-were-who-would-we-be? that these players are the sheep. The stupid, stupid sheep.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

it still matters...

I'd rather be writing about Michael Jackson at the moment. Instead, I'm greet by this first thing on this beautiful Monday morning. The day after the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I've got to wake up to the news of police targeting a gay bar on this anniversary and assaulting patrons? WTF?


I've of two minds on this:

1) This isn't surprising or shocking. The idea that gay people matter less under the law is a message that is pushed aggressively from a thousand different directions in our culture. This is the specific point of all the defense of marriage act crap and every other stupid law about gay marriage. It has jack and shit to do with actual marriage. The point of the whole thing is to say, "Those people are... different." None of this protecting the children or sanctity of marriage or whatever other stupid idiotic crap people feed to themselves to feel a little less uncomfortable with their bigotry. Gay marriage shouldn't be the issue we all have to talk about. I couldn't care less about it in and of itself and would argue that we should be discouraging people from this institution rather than putting it on a pedestal and treating it all holy, but because it is used as a cudgel to beat us over the head and as an angle to codify our status as second class, less important citizens, I've got to fight for it. I at least have to fight against the anti gay marriage stuff, because it isn't anti gay marriage, it is (specifically and intentionally) anti gay people.

The reason police would expect that they can target this club and crack the skull of a patron is because they've gotten the message that gay people don't matter as much. That the law treats us differently, doesn't protect us the same as everyone else. And make no mistake, they aren't the only people getting the message. The economy is bad and people are unemployed and scared. Violence and crime will rise, and when a frustrated person is looking for an outlet for their anger, they often turn on the group they are told are worthless, are ruining this country, are threatening their marriage and their children. Gays aren't any of those things, but that is the message that has been pushed. That was a central message from republicans in at least the last three elections. bush won twice banking heavily on that crap.

A week ago, waiting on the dentist at Callen-Lorde, a community health center that focuses on the LGBT community but offers services to anyone, a lady stopped in the waiting room and began chastising us for being on our cellphones. I ignored her and kept reading my Lovecraft on my iphone, but one guy engaged her in conversation trying to be polite. She was rude and I was inclined to interject but know myself well enough to know that I couldn't enter this conversation without escalating things, and she seemed a little crazy and everybody knows you don't argue with crazy; you get away from them. After making a litany of disparaging remarks about gay people ("You all dress alike and look alike." -note, there were three of us in the waiting room, none of us looked remotely similar in dress or otherwise), she said her fake polite goodbyes and as she got in the elevator called us "faggots". This was in what is a safe space, a gay-oriented clinic. It kind of blew my mind and pissed me off, but she was just a crazy lady, happy to use our facility but just as happy to look down on those people helping her.

Later the same day, I went to midtown to meet my boyfriend for lunch. Walking back from eating, we had our arms around each other, sharing an umbrella in the rain. As we crossed the street in front of his building, someone stopped and rolled down their window to scream at us, "You should be shot!"

That evening as we got off the subway, we ran into a couple of our friends who live around the corner from us. They have a big back yard and I had some moonvine seedlings for them which had spent too long living in a cup on my kitchen table as our schedules had refused to coincide, so I invited them to come up and get the seedlings and check out my fire escape garden. As we crossed the street, from a passing car comes this greeting: "FAGGOT!" I live in New York City, don't look particularly outlandish and I've still got to put up with this shit, so no, it is not surprising that police in Texas are targeting gay people for violence during a raid.

2) On the other hand, I feel like we can fight back these days. Plenty of people comment that gay pride doesn't matter anymore, that the parades are silly or too commercial, that being gay is no big deal; but they are wrong. It might not be a big deal that Christopher Street fills up with gay people to the people who live in places where they can be out and open in their daily life without significant worry of harm, but it matters to people living out there in rural places or smaller cities or even here but in the outer boroughs. That people can walk down the street and say that they are gay is exactly why the people targeted in this raid can fight back. The police can't expect them to beg that their names not be mentioned or sign confessions and pay to get released as quietly as possible because we already march down the street and say that we are here and that they aren't alone and that being gay isn't a crime and isn't shameful. This shame was a powerful weapon once upon a time, and in truth, it still is in many places (it certainly was when I was growing up in Alabama), but its power becomes less and less each year.

The police in Fort Worth are about to find out how organized and not scared the gay community is. It isn't surprising that this crime happened, but thankfully today it is equally unsurprising that there has been a swift and aggressive push back. It wasn't drag queens with rocks and bottles this time, but public protest, elected officials calling for investigations, local news coverage, blog postings, and I'm sure the lawsuits will follow. People can still try to spread the message that we matter less under the law and they can try to codify it (e.g. DOMA) but when we don't believe it, we feel empowered to tell our family/friends we are gay or to march down the street shouting it and we feel like we can fight back. So we will.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson reported to be dead...


There is a longer, more thoughtful post somewhere in me that will come out later, but for now let me simply express disbelief. And sorrow. He might have been crazy and something of a monster, but he was our monster. I'll elaborate on this idea later (note that I don't mean it as a criticism, or perhaps as more of a criticism of us than of him), but for now, I need a shower and another beer. I also need sleep but I think I'll just let that wait.

So long, MJ. Thanks for all the entertainment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Way beyond the norm...

I'm not the biggest fan of the HRC. At least here in New York. The national organization is mostly just concerned with the issues of wealthy gays who already have a lot and want more. It is a bit too corporate and plastic, sort of a collective attempt at best-little-boy-in-the-world ("If I'm smart/pretty/talented/happy/rich enough, then they will like me!"). On a local level, I feel like they are more relevant. Their ubiquity is reassuring and that there is any kind of gay political organization comforts me when I'm back in Alabama.

So mostly I just ignore them. Then I readTowleroad this morning and see this quote from a NYT article on the upcoming "Bruno" film:

We strongly feel that Sacha Baron Cohen and Universal Pictures have a responsibility to remind the viewing public right there in the theater that this is intended to expose homophobia,” said Brad Luna, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign.

Whatever. Telling an artist to explain his intentions and tell the audience how to feel is gross. Either it does what he intends or it doesn't. I'll give the HRC a little slack (even thought that statement is beyond the pale stupid) because it appears to just be a statement given for the article, but reading the comments following Towleroad's post got me a little riled up. One commenter started off with, "...he's also perpetuating a stereotype that goes far beyond the norm." This gets right at the heart of what irritates me about the HRC and so much of the marriage focused activism: the idea that we are supposed to be normal. I'm all for the message that gay people are people, too; that we are fully human and have dreams and aspirations and complex emotional lives. We aren't just cartoons or sex monsters. But at the same time, I'm not normal and don't want to be. I think the desperate attempt to telegraph that we are normal too is corrosive, both to us and to the society in general. Being on the outer fringes is a gift that we shouldn't be so quick to give up. Society doesn't need us being just one more group of functional automatons. Instead, we serve society better in shaking up the precious order and making people feel a little less like they are the only strange or absurd characters out there. Our great gift isn't that we can be just like everyone else but rather that we remind of the complexity and complication of the human condition. We can't be just like everyone else. And we shouldn't have to be. This isn't just a song that we should be singing to ourselves: you (all of you) can't be just like everyone else and you shouldn't have to be. That we are all different and that there is such a mix is beautiful, not a weakness. Perpetuating a stereotype that goes far beyond the norm is exactly what more of us should be doing. Fuck the norm. It isn't the straight-acting gays running around Washington trying to be what they think the bigots would rather we be who are advancing the rights of gay people; the drag queens with their heels and the nelly kids coming out in middle school are a thousand times braver and more progressive.

Bruno is going to be ridiculous. It is supposed to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


on subway advertisement; 1st Ave. stop on the L.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heaven isn't real.

(written earlier in the year while still at sea...)

I can't stop listening to "Oh, Heaven Isn't Real" by David Karsten Davies. I'm listening to it mindlessly, drawn to it because it is so happy and cheerful. Something about it is just absolutely joyous.

I'd be lying if I said there wasn't something in the sentiment which also draws me to it.

Sometime last week I listened to a podcast of Fresh Air that was about a modern heretic. I'll have to look the guy's name up later, but the long and short of it is he was an evangelical leader who after some soul searching found himself facing down a belief that everyone will be welcomed into God's presence in Heaven, that it isn't a matter of being saved or not, but rather that Jesus was a sacrifice for all, not just a gate to let the right people in and keep those others out. I've got to say, he's one of a very few Christian leaders I've heard in a long time who made anything that resembled sense when he spoke. The episode was more about how everyone else flipped out when he shared this shift in understanding. Without Hell, lots of people just weren't interested anymore.

How 'bout if you take out Heaven, too?

My childhood was extremely religious. Thankfully, my parents and the other people around me in my family translated this fervor into reaching out to other people. All other people, no matter what. This ecumenical openness and kindness towards all humanity is the part of Christianity that I continue to hold onto and appreciate. Please excuse me if I recount a short history of personal religiousity.

Among my earliest memories is a memory of coming home from church filled with the music. I mean that somewhat literally. I'm guessing that I couldn't read, but I remember looking at the sheet music and images of angels with trumpets coming out of the page and really feeling like singing was making a joyful noise. It all made sense for a brief moment. Why we sang, why people went to church, why there was any church at all and why anyone should worship God. Because of how that song felt, the angels with their trumpets that came in the music and touched this small child, this is why we do all this. The word 'holy' made sense. This, unfortunately, was a brief memory. It isn't repeated, though it was seared into my consciousness. It is this feeling against which I still measure all religious experience. If it leans towards that beautiful connection with the unknown, then I'm all for it. It is doesn't, well, most doesn't. If it seems against that, then I'm bound to be venomous (as I am with most politically religious ass-hats).

Most of my early religious life was spent feeling ripped away from this and having people try to convince me that all kinds of other criteria was important for the salvation of my eternal soul. I prayed and read and tortured myself with trying to reconcile everything to be found in the Bible. Reconciling the text in the Bible with the text in the Bible is a foolish task. Anyone who says they can, particularly with any remotely literal reading of it either hasn't read very much of it, has a very selective and sieve-like memory, or a particularly gifted imagination. It doesn't reconcile literally. If it did, we probably wouldn't spend much time with it. Trying to reconcile it with daily experience can perhaps be more instructive.

Our daily experiences don't make much literal sense either most of the time. So finding something in that expansive text to relate to or bolster what you want to believe isn't the most difficult task. The difficulty comes in being consistent. Actually, consistency isn't the biggest concern for me these days, but once upon a time, it was a dire concern. Anyway, point being I traveled along my own little spiritual journey. I tried to make this text and my life and the world as I experienced it all make sense. How does it all work?

Of course, I rolled around with all the fun little philosophical questions. If God is great, why does he let people die and all that stuff. What do I have to do to get into Heaven? How can he let people go to Hell who never had a chance to get saved? Why couldn't I have enjoyed some of the more fun sins for years without knowing any better before I got saved? If I make it to heaven, but know that other people are burning and tormented forever, then could it ever be heaven? If I am someone who could enjoy this while others burn, why would I belong there?

I'll spare some of the details, but edging up against a mental breakdown that was heavily influenced by a crisis in faith, instead of going over the edge, I stepped back. I'll go ahead and allow it religious terminology, so, if you will, we can call it being born again. This is a fair way to describe the transformation. And it was a transformation.

More than anything, it was letting go and releasing some of the weight that I had carried around. Particularly the moral weight and all this religious crud that I'd spent years piling on. It was partially both reaffirming and completely renouncing my identity as a Christian. It was certainly renouncing all the crap which other people spent years loading into that identity. I was never comfortable with it being an identity based on either I'm-going-to-heaven or you're-going-to-hell, and let's be honest, that's what most evangelical religious identity is based on. Which is stupid and is kind of an asshole-ish way to approach life. So all that was happily out the window.

All along, really the only thing that kept me tied at all to any type of religious identification was that early touchstone, the feeling from that early memory. I had felt sort of shut out from that for years, and I knew this transformation was real when I could touch that place again. I recognized it and knew it when I found it. This is the peace that passes understanding. Most people want nothing to do with it. They want the peace that is everything in its proper place. This is why people do dumb things like vote republican.

The closest I can come to describing the change is that I came to a point, a sort of realization, that I should just shut up with all my praying so fervently to understand everything and for everything to be in perfect order and to make sense. We'll call it being put in my place, and I suddenly felt both emboldened and humbled and to a certain sense like, "What business do I have even praying at all?" Telling the Almighty what you think should happen or what you'd like to happen or even just asking what he/she/it/them thinks is kind of presumptuous if you think about it. I reconciled the desire to still reach out communicatively by reducing my prayers to "wow." and "thank you." (demure punctuation and lack of capitalization intentional; an exclamation point still seemed a bit big for my britches)

I can't begin to describe how much more beautiful the world became, how much more I liked other people and myself once I got to this place. I like to think that it is apparent in my life, this joy and happiness, but I'm sure it isn't always. I was so dour and uptight before though (but I hid it well). This is slowly making its way back towards something resembling a point.

There was a time when I would have been scandalized and horrified at the existence of this song. I would have probably deleted the file, destroyed the cd if I could get my hands on it, prayed for the singers and everyone who had heard the song, and pleaded on their behalf for God to help them and change their ways. Honestly. This would have seriously rattled me.

Which misses the whole point. The song is happy. It is joyous even. So what if it is blasphemous? My old self would shriek at such heresy, but it is the old self that was further from joy and peace than the current self. I was so ready to be derailed and find darkness. Now I don't have time for it. I started writing all this when I realized how much I liked this song and how it would have bothered me in the past. Trying to put a finger on what is so different, I asked myself if I believed if this song was true or not: do I believe that heaven isn't real?

This is so literal and limiting; I can't even consider it a reasonable question. What does it matter or not? Of course it is and of course it isn't, too. I'm always looking for the beautiful and a more full experience and chances to let myself be a vessel for making a joyful noise, but am I expecting some big fat reward at the end of life for being such a just right the way God wanted person? No. That doesn't sound appealing, but I don't have much time for the question either way. I'm going to do my best to embrace and love and try to treat everyone better than they deserve and smile and spread joy where I can and mischief too. I'm going to embrace the sad and tough stuff too and I'm going to say my prayers, "wow." and "thank you." This doesn't have the least to do with trying to get to heaven. If there is a way to get there, I can't imagine it looking different from this, but the point is that this is just the way I want to move through the world. Why would I do it differently?

Back to the preacher who let go of Hell. It scandalized and fractured his megachurch (is there a grosser word in the english language?) for him to relinquish hold of belief in a literal place of eternal punishment. How toxic do people's minds have to be that this is a thing they want to cling to? Would giving up a literal belief in Heaven also rock people so terribly? How much of most Christian faith is wrapped up in wanting to "be in that number"? Do so many people live their lives based so heavily on some final end goal?

This shouldn't baffle me. I was a religious nutcase. Earlier tonight, one of the memories that came uncalled from the vaults was of me writing in the inside of the cover of a Bible that I was giving as a gift to a boy I was smitten with. It wasn't a love letter, to be sure, but maybe it also was. It was jointly an attempt to reach out to him and an attempt to save his mortal soul. It is painfully embarrassing to look back at. Thankfully I can't remember what I wrote, but you can be sure it was dumb and embarrassing. The point is, I should remember what it is like to feel so powerfully that my eternal life hinged on what I did in this temporal plane. And as far as all that goes I can, but also I don't think fear of Hell or of not getting into Heaven was ever a motivation for me. I've always been inclined to think that anyone doing something out of fear or for reward doesn't really have anything which resembles faith anyway.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

HP Lovecraft, a first taste

(written earlier in the year while still at sea...)

I don't normally go in for horror or gothic fiction or movies. It just has never been my thing, but I think I've just gotten my hands on the wrong stuff. I might actually have inside me the makings of a decent enthusiast of the darker, creepier side.

Earlier I wrote about Neko Case tingling my spine and making my hair stand on end and lamented for fiction or film that could do the same. I hadn't prepared for this desire, but in a music exchange last fall a few MP3's of Call of Cthulu came my way. I discovered, much to my horror, that the three sections did not encompass the entire tale, so I listened rapturously then found myself against a wall: no more Lovecraft for me.

: (

I haven't avoided his books, just never picked one up. I'm kind of glad it came to me as it did. The audiobook version of this is perfect. The sounds quality isn't great actually and hisses a little bit, but the voice of the narrator... I'll venture there has never been a better match of voice to tale. I could listen to this speaker for hours reading anything, but it seems particularly suited to this tale. So gentle, I've started to listen to it as I go to sleep, which probably doesn't do good things to my dreams (or maybe amazing things).

It isn't often that I listen to an audio book and then want to go back and read it again, but this one I want both in text and audio. The language is delicious and rich. Had Lovecraft not chosen to benefit humanity using his gift for good as a sci fi author, who knows what horrors he might have done as an evangelist. Which I suppose he is in a way, just not the bad way. He preaches wonder and more than meets the eye and reminds us to be scared of the dark. Perhaps the ugliest stupidity to come out of the twentieth century is the widespread belief that we shouldn't have to be scared of the dark. Sure, it is nice to not always be terrified when the lights go out, but we should remember how to be scared in the dark. We need dark evangelists to remind that not everything is illuminated by reason and not everything makes sense or has motives we understand.

Perhaps I get ahead of myself in assuming I understand our author's message. I plan to dive deeper in and remedy this deficit.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More sad song love: Mountain Angel

(written early in the year while still at sea...)

I've already established that I like sad songs. This is just a short moment to comment on the latest which is breaking my heart into little pieces. It is nothing new that I'm listening to Dolly Parton. Love, love, love her. Anyway, I've lately been giving her another listen to and "Mountain Angel" snuck up on me and punched me in the tear ducts. (incongruously, my shuffle just followed it with "9 to 5" which is not a transition I'm ready to make.)

Such a pretty little song, but just horrible and so damn sad. It would almost be a hokey tale, but Ms. Parton knows how to write if nothing else. She obviously also knows how to sing, and in this song her two talents combine to terrible effect. The melody is so sweet and gentle, and the story starts out the same but it doesn't stop until the title character is a naked crazy lady scaring children and screaming through the night after her death upon on her dead baby's grave. Don't hold back, Dolly.

I'm sure I've listened to this before and just sat around soaking up its sad, because in college Kearney and Willis got this cd and became obsessed with it. I didn't like her cover of "Shine" (because I dislike the song itself, not her rendition) and was already a fan, so I didn't quite replay it quite like they did, but I am sure I was sat down and told to listen to the song and have my heart stomped on for a little while. I don't remember this specifically happening, but I know this happened because I do remember them (aaaakkkk!!! "9 to 5" again! Too happy, too soon... ahhh, "Dagger Through the Heart", much better) sitting me down and forcing me to listened with focus to songs from this album as they had done with other albums and songs, including most notably "The Coward of the County" by Kenny Rodgers. If you don't know the song, go listen to it; if you aren't crying at the end of the song, you need to see the Wizard and ask him for a heart. Maybe I should blame my obsession with sad songs on them (it totally predated them, they might have made me more willing to talk about it and coached me to cry out loud over songs).

I've said before that even if you have to cry listening to it to be human, ultimately "The Coward of the County" has a cathartic resolution at the end which tempers the brutality of the sadness in the song. In a way this makes it all the more potent and it is usually this little glimmer of hope that is the point at which you crack and breakdown listening to it. The tragedy isn't always as bald as in "Coward" ("...the torn dress, the shattered look..."), but these hokey emotional destroyers are the secret ninjas of country music. They sound so friendly and sweet and you don't even realize you've started listening to the words, you didn't mean to leave it on this station and all of a sudden you are stuck at a red light trying to wipe away the tears before the light changes (or the other drivers notice). Why didn't someone warn you that something named "Teddybear's Last Ride" or "Giddyup Go" or "Christmas Carol" could blow up your heart like that? Hell, if you aren't careful and no one is around to keep face in front of, even "Roll On" can do it, but all these songs leave you feeling exhausted but still somehow a little vindicated. It all works out in the end. "Coat of Many Colors" is this kind of song, actually one of the most potent and dangerous of the genre, only made safe by its ubiquity.

"Mountain Angel" does not do this, does not take you down and bring you up. You probably won't actually cry listening to it; it doesn't do tricks to give the heart a big yank other than start off happy and sound so sweet. But if you are sad and you are open to feeling the cracks in humanity's shiny veneer, this one just keeps dropping, down and down. Sunshine turns to clouds, man leaves girl pregnant, baby dies, she has mental breakdown... it is just getting going.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Neko, rediscovered/re-explored

(written earlier in the year while still at sea...)

Neko Case is not a new discovery for me. Granted, everyone else found her before I did. She came to me as so many musical discoveries do: on a mix cd Mason made for me. I can't remember which one, but on it he had put "Deep Red Bells". At first it only sort of caught my attention, but then there is that moment when she asks, "Where does this mean world cast its cold eye? Who's left to suffer long about you? Does your soul cast about like an old paper bag past empty lots and early graves?" And you are swept off your feet...

She stole my heart but I haven't accumulated near enough of her music. Mostly I've listened to her through other people's collections. This is more accidental. I always think I have more of her music than I do. I used to have more, but other than a couple of random songs, the only album of hers I have on my computer (my musical lifeline out here in the lonely ocean) is of her live from Austin. I've listened to this whole album before, but tonight something about it is sending chills up the back of my neck.

This shouldn't be surprising. She has that voice. If ever a voice could sing haunted, she is the one. And you know this when you hear her the first time. It isn't a secret that sneaks up on you slowly, but somehow this realization feels fresh and new listening tonight.

Maybe this is partly because of the intentions with which I began listening to her. I'm working on a mix CD for Ben, which is difficult since we share most of our music already and I haven't really gotten much new music lately. And what music I do have that he doesn't has already gone on a thousand other mixes, so trying to make a new one that doesn't just sound like one of the old ones is a challenge. I suppose I should just wait, but I like making mixes when I am out to sea and feel double compelled this time for some reason that I have to succeed in this mission. Anyway, trying to sort out what music I got from Ben and what came from other sources, I sorted iTunes by 'date added' to help me remember what came from where and anything that I thought came from another source and hadn't been shared on our home computer yet got scoured for potential songs. Enter Neko. Both from this aforementioned cd and also from a song she did for a tribute album for the movie Nashville (we already know how obsessed I've been with that lately). I grabbed "Favorite" and threw it in the possible mix pile. "Favorite" sounds sweet and nice, right?

Burnt houses and warm deer blood soaking through her dress in her dream... maybe not right for a mix cd for your sweetheart. Great song, but why don't I go back and see if I can find a sweet love song by Ms. Case instead? And with such intentions I reentered her songs. Searching for a love song, the voodoo and magic came screaming out at me. Some how, on this listen the creepiness jumped out at me. Good creepiness, I'm totally digging it, but damn. Wow. It isn't enough that it just unearths the emotions she puts into the songs, but it reminds me of seeing her live.

She performed a few years ago at the Bowery Ballroom, which is one of my favorite live venues and it wasn't likely I'd have the chance to see her play anywhere that small again anytime soon. Several friends of mine were going and I got a ticket too. Simple enough, but Ben and I were broken up but both going. I am certain the situation was more complicated than this, as he will later remind me, but this was complicated enough. We hadn't broken up because we were no longer in love, rather we were driving each other crazy and at least from my side I didn't know how to make it better and felt like I was making things worse. So there I am with a group of friends and a boy I'm in love with but broken up from. He's told me since that that night was insanely difficult for him, so I know I wasn't alone in standing there blown away by the music but having no idea what to do with my hands or how close to stand or how to act at all. The situation itself was so intense by itself, but now listening closely again I'm reminded how this voice must have heightened the tension and electricity. I sort of feed off of awkward terrifying energy (a survival trait learned through years of being unimaginably self-conscious; otherwise I would be institutionalized) , so I also remember that night as exhilarating at the same time as I remember it as painful and confusing.

All said, Neko Case making my hair stand on end shouldn't come as any surprise to me and maybe she requires special consideration anyway for putting on a mix cd anyway. Listening and feeling the creepiness almost makes me want to watch creepy movies or read spooky books. I don't really go for gore and think most horror movies really miss the mark in terms of really making that mood without just going in for the kill. Hitchcock, of course, knew how and The Twilight Zone did too, but I can't think of any movie that really does what I want right now.

In the ideal world where I get to decide who sings together, Neko Case and Emmylou Harris get together and make this mind blowing other-worldly gothic southern rock opera. Actually, I've long wanted to put Emmylou together with Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement, and Nanci Griffith for a gothic southern rock opera. They all have that crazy warble in their voice that lets them sounds both sugar sweet and tormented. Neko Case doesn't have the warble, but can you imagine her doing a duet with Emmylou Harris? Let's make this a three disk project. These are the main women on it, but let's have backup harmonies from Dolly Parton, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, and Natalie Maines . For a little balance, let's bring in Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Raul Malo, and Toby Keith. Hell, as long as this is my fantasy, let's also throw in Joel Gibb and the guy from Songs: Ohia. Daniel Lanois as producer. Sort of like a mix between Wrecking Ball and The Red Headed Stranger, but darker. I mean really haunting and cold spooky. Start spare and build, piling harmonies and layers on, going from whispers to screaming and howls. Not every song, but enough. Back and forth between too many voices and instruments and spare, bare-bones sound. It has to be recorded in New Orleans, during a hurricane. Ok, just kidding about the hurricane part. Before, during, and after a thunderstorm.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Redwall by Brian Jaques

I had fled the boat in a hurried rush after being woken from an attempt to catch up on sleep by the stinging difficulty I had trying to breath as our boat was enveloped in a cloud of ammonia released from the cannery. As you can tell, the day started auspiciously. My retreat had been made to the comfort and wifi access of the lobby at the Grand Hotel, where I discovered in my haste I hadn't brought all the paperwork I had planned on dropping off at the office. Fortunately there wasn't much and it wasn't pressing that it get there, so after puttering around on the internet for a while I retired to the bar/restaurant for a final beer with an overdue lunch before heading back to the boat to begin our next trip. By chance, another observer wandered in looking for someone else and as she couldn't find them was heading to the library. This was on my way so we hopped in a cab and I made a last ditch attempt to snag some more reading on the way back. Being unplanned, I flew through the shelves. I wanted something fun and light to read. I haven't exhausted the supplies of books I brought along, but nothing was jumping out at me so I wanted something new.

The only Terry Pratchett book they had, I've already read. No Charles Stross. Scanning the shelves, they had a whole collection of Brian Jaques novels. I've never read him, but I've seen his novels forever in libraries and in bookstores. There didn't seem to be a coherent order to the books, but grabbing one randomly I managed to grab his first, Redwall. A fantasy medieval world populated by woodland creatures in human roles? A fantasy world with numerous books in a not necessarily chronological order? Perfect.

Against my better judgment, I grabbed only the first book. I don't know how many books we are allowed to check out at once and I already had two books about fish (yeah, I'm that kind of nerd). It is the middle book of a trilogy, written first before being followed by a prequel and then the final book. After these many more stories had been added to the universe but that was as much order as I could figure out in my haste.

This whole trip I've had a serious solitaire problem. I can't stop playing compulsively. We've had rough weather and whole days where I couldn't go out on deck, so I've had tons of time that needed filling. Mostly it had been filled with solitaire. My mind was starting to slip. Hence my desperate search for fun reading. Having started Redwall yesterday, here I sit waiting for the next string of pots so I can sample, already ready to review the novel.

I sped through it because I couldn't sleep and it is an easy read. I mean really easy. I don't know that I would call it a page turner, but I enjoyed diving into the story and just floating along. There are no real twists and none of the characters is at all complicated. Good kind mice, bad evil rats; wandering rogues vs. peaceful monastery; prophetic legend foretold and fulfilled. It does take a cute path getting there and I enjoyed the meander, but it also annoyed on several fronts.

It was pleasant if I didn't ask it to be complicated and resigned to just cheering for good guys and booing the bad guys, which was easy enough. I felt like they left big gaping what-if's and why-not's in the story though that irritated and didn't fully flesh out the feel of the world we were moving through. I never got a full feeling for whether or not these creatures were moving through a human sized world or one built on their scale. True, it did clearly state that mice had built Redwall Abbey, but obviously on a scale large enough for badgers and such to wander through but also small enough that said badger might lift a table. So larger than mouse scale, smaller than human scale, but what about the trees and the forest? This was an animal scale construction but the walls were so high that a tall elm only just reached over its walls? The descriptions have the animals moving through the abbey world as if it were built for their size but then incongruously has them dwarfed against everyday objects. Nit picking, I know, but these are the details that make or break the illusion of a fictional world. This was a world which required a great deal of just setting disbelief aside and not asking questions or critiquing. You have to want to read it and enjoy it or it would be really easy to just pull apart. The seams are not tightly sown and not hidden at all.

I gave myself up to the fast and loose of the scale of the environment, which I was willing to do because you get the feeling that this was a story written enjoyably by someone who had loved dipping into this world and creating it. It feels like an exercise in imagination and I like that. So I'm being gentler than I might otherwise be. And I'll probably read further into the series when I get back. But (you knew there was a 'but'), the what-if's and why-not's really did grate at me as I read. Mostly they reconciled themselves with the weak argument, "Otherwise the story would end sooner/differently." Why was there a solitary beaver who got no name? Why only one badger? Both are naturally social animals. Only one snake/hare/family of squirrels in the whole landscape? Fine, the author can limit the characters; lines must be drawn somewhere. Still, not particularly believable. Same with tactics employed in defense of the Abbey. The badger and beaver can make a cross-bow in a matter of hours and deploy it with enough accuracy to impale the head of a rat inside a tent across the field, but they can't come up with one more stick to shoot again when they realize they hit the wrong rat and never use the weapon again? Really?

But in the end I'll read more of the series (when I'm on a boat again). You can feel how much the writer enjoyed writing this when he wrote it and perhaps it becomes more tightly crafted as the series continues. My first memory of writing as an enjoyable experience was in second or third grade. We had to write a story. i think it only had to be a few paragraphs long, but once I started, I couldn't stop. I wrote page after page, taking this assignment home and sitting in the principals office the next day trying to finish as adults exasperatedly told me to just finish it so it could be graded. But the story wasn't finished and I didn't know how to end it. It was just getting bigger and bigger (I suppose I've always been longwinded). It is worth noting that I wrote very slowly and and have horrible handwriting and as much as I enjoyed the process of daydreaming the story (isn't that what I already did during every class?), the process of writing was actually fairly torturous. Writing remained so until I learned to type. I bring all this up because reading Redwall reminded me of this story because my story was also populated by woodland creatures and I could feel behind the writing that feeling of daydreamed worlds being made manifest on the page. I don't remember what my story was actually about, but there were lizards and frogs with guns that shot grains of sand, and a salamander scientist/inventor who lived in an observatory which looked like (and could open like) a magnolia blossom which was at the end of a branch over a lake. I wonder whatever happened to that story. I know my mother has a permanent file of any writings/drawings/whatever any of us created but I somehow doubt she got that story. I think I was ashamed of it because it wasn't finished right because they rushed me and I was the kind of child who would hide something like that. I should ask her though...

Friday, May 08, 2009

A few thoughts upon reading the March 5, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone

(written while still at sea earlier this year)

A few thoughts upon reading the March 5, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone:

1) On the cover and in the third picture in the article about her, Taylor Swift looks like Stevie Nicks (in a very good way). In the other pictures shot for the article, particularly the second one, she looks like Chris Crocker. Really.

2) In her Q&A interview, Stevie Nicks looks like she is made out of plastic, though certainly lifelike. I do like the style she is rocking. Hello white top hat. In the actual interview she comes across as likable, but a little crazy. Talking in third person? Really?

3) Can someone pry those stupid-ass glasses off Bono's face already? Who thinks they are a good idea? Does he just really like them or is there a misguided stylist telling him this is cool? There is something to be said for having a signature look or making an accessory your own, but wearing something no one else wears because it is impossible to not look stupid wearing it is not the same thing as wearing something so well that it is impossible for anyone else to wear them like you. Even Michael Jackson took off that sparkly glove and the black shoes and white socks, but he still owns those looks. The damn red or yellow glasses? They own Bono, not the other way around.

4) Miley Cyris is what Suzy from Calvin and Hobbes would grow up to look like.

5) The writing in the magazine is good, but the articles about things other than music are better than the articles about music.


pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) sunning in dry creek bed; Short Mountain, TN.

Wood poppy

by a stream, Short Mountain, TN.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I'm officially certified as a crab observer for ADF&G! They sent me a hat and a lollipop to prove it.

clothes line

the hills: no wonder our enemies hate us

This will sound disingenuous, but I don't normally watch the hills. Everyone says that, because even if you like watching the show it is impossible to not know that it is a horrible thing. Watching it is bad, that it exists is bad, that people produce something like this is bad. I've been unable to justify its existence at all, at least until last night. I may finally be able to make a (feeble) argument in its defense.

SOMEONE made me watch it last night, though I've been told I'm not allowed to tell anyone that he watches it because he is appropriately ashamed of this vile habit, but why would I sit through such torture if I can't make fun of it afterwards? Well, I'm nicer than I look, so I'll let this person remain nameless. Let's call him "Beth". Beth and I had gotten in a squabble and there was that moment where you feel like you've already had all the arguments a couple can manage and that you are doomed to repeat ridiculous gripes forever and ever. In that shortsighted moment, it is easy to blind yourself with all the ways that you and this other person are incompatible and also question whether or not you really are just a jackass. Maybe I'm retarded and don't know how to manage a relationship. Maybe I don't know how to communicate my feelings effectively or listen when someone else is trying to communicate them to me. Maybe we just don't work together...

None of this is true. I know that and even when feeling frustrated facing the picked scab of slow healing old fights, I still know that we've got a real good thing going on. I'm no fatalist and know better than to wallow too deeply or believe that moments of frustration are doomed to be eternal, but it is nice sometimes to have something external to your situation remind you how good you've got it.

When Beth wanted to quit talking and watch the hills, you can (if you have ever met me) imagine the look I shot in his direction. It was somewhere between over-my-dead-body and i-dare-you-to-try. Watching the hills isn't something you should wish on your worst enemy, much less someone you love. Had there been someone else to protect from this blight, I might have stood strong but he made an impassioned plea and I relented.

If you've never seen the hills, don't. It is a bunch of horrible vapid people who do horrible vapid things. Actually, that is being generous: the cast is entirely RealDolls and motorized mannikins. The purported main character, Lauren, almost comes across as human and occasionally says things that make sense. The worst people in the show are heidi and spencer. She is on the show because she is pretty. She looks like she has escaped from the Playboy Mansion and and flounces around with layered blonde extensions and a pouty, perpetually surprised/confused look. And why not? spencer doesn't make any sense. There is no reason he should be on television. She is at least pretty. He is not, and while she isn't particularly likable, her abject idiocy allows for occasional flashes of unintended humor. He isn't even funny. This is the second episode of the show I have ever seen, but just that small snippet leaves an indelible bad taste in the mouth towards this couple and him in particular. In this episode, the two are going through couples counseling. The counselor winces as she listens to their idiocy. heidi is flipping out over a bartender who he flirts with and who is sending him text messages and squares off against this jezebel when she and her brunette gang step to her blonde fembot gang at a club. All of them come across as stupid monkeys dancing in front of a camera, but the brunette wins the round by pointing out that at the end of the day, heidi is still dating a douche bag who hits on other girls and always will.

The other main drama of the show was some awful girl (named "Jayde") with bad collagen injections and a bottle of Jaegermeister acting like an idiot over a dumb boyfriend. But I'm not really here to give a play-by-play recap; I have no desire to recreate this horror. Watching all this absurdity though, suddenly my own relationship seemed incredibly healthy. We get in fights and sometimes silly fights and sometimes the same silly fights over and over, but there is no way either of us is ever going to be that disagreeable. The show's value seems to be in showing what is purported to be a fabulous life (glamor, parties, clothes, etc.) and making it look like the worst hell imaginable. And not even a fun sort of wretched hell. Lost occasionally looks like hell, being stuck on some time-travel island with an atomic bomb and people trying to kill you and your friends, but it is an interesting dynamic hell. The hell that is the hills just looks so painfully boring. They make leisure and money look awful.

And then there is what they do for relationships. If they make hanging out in bars look painful, they make dating look like pure torture (and not the waterboarding kind, but the ripping-off-fingernails-with-pliers kind). Sitting watching these... people(?) after having my own spat suddenly made me appreciate what I've got. We (like every couple) come up with some stupid things to fight about, but contrast against this alternate universe displayed in the hills we suddenly seem remarkably sane and stable. And there was a certain vicious catharsis to answering "Yes," when asked by Beth if he sounded like a particularly awful character as she picked a pointless fight. Having this televised nightmare to remind me how beautiful -even if occasionally frustrating- my reality is made the night a little easier, but I'd still rather it just didn't exist.

I would have still felt sour about the experience of being subjected to the show had we not followed it with the current episode of Family Guy, which spoofs the hills. Family Guy treated it with all the delicacy and tenderness that it treats any subject. If watching the hills made me feel better about my own small social sphere, it made me cringe for humanity in general. If this is a hit show, if people in droves are choosing to watch this eagerly, how can one have faith in our fellow man? Looking around the world today, it is easy to bump up against these terrifying dilemmas ("How can people do such horrible things?"), but then Family Guy dives in to save us. The brutal satire reminded the self-important jerk inside me that perhaps my negative reaction to the hills is the point. The show is done in arch seriousness, but everyone watching is in on the joke: no one watches it thinking these are likable people. Some are more likable than others, but all of them are kind of walking caricatures of our pop-generic obsessions and desires. Family Guy reminds that we all know this beast is absurd, that even Lauren Conrad is in on the joke, voicing herself as a character in the episode even as they present her as dating a (literal) dog (culminating with a scene of her dragging her ass around on a rug after Brian gives her worms) and lampooning the emptiness of the show.

In the end, rather than ruining my night and deepening our divide and prolonging our disagreement, the hills (I am still not going to capitalize it) actually salved the wound and gave us a common horror to be happy we weren't a part of. This isn't to say I plan on watching it again or that I don't think it should be cancelled, but you know me: always looking on the bright side.