Friday, December 25, 2009

The Return of the Sun

Santa was more generous to me this year than ever before.  Frankly he went so overboard I wonder if he has a bit of a crush on me.  And the ones I received from Eddie the Cat were too well wrapped and the writing was too clear for someone with no opposable thumbs, so I'm thinking Santa had a hand (har har) in those too.  Makes me a bit uncomfortable, what with Santa watching every move I make and all.  He does seem to know me well, though. 

On a related note, isn't it interesting that our culture has developed a tradition where we deliberately tell stories to kids we want them to believe, knowing there will come a time that we have to tell them it was just a story?  I hear my atheist friends snorting a bit, but this is still different; the Santa story is generally told by people who don't believe it themselves, but want their listeners to.  Dad says his mother didn't think it was fair to the people who actually bought the presents not to get credit for them, so she always said Santa was just the delivery man.  I guess then the magical reindeer become the key element of the story.  Seems like finding out the truth in that situation wouldn't be too traumatic.  Mary and I were trying to recall if we ever believed in Santa; we think we did briefly, in a sort of absent-minded way, enough so that finding out the truth came with no pain.  At least neither of us can recall ever being upset by the facts, and since I'm six years younger than she is, she would have at least remembered if I got upset about it.  Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, have there always been imaginary creatures we wanted kids to believe in, with the understanding that finding out the truth was a right of passage?  Some sort of initiation ceremony?  There have been fairies, gnomes, ghosts, poltergeists and other mythical beasties that both adults and children believed in, but that's not the same dynamic at all. 

Just thinking onscreen.  No real point to my meandering. 

I deliberately sat in James' usual spot during the gift exchange so I wouldn't have to look at it.  Don't know if that made things better or worse for the rest of the family, but we all seemed pretty festive.  Unlike other years, when she seems largely indifferent to it, Fang actually seemed excited about her jingle bell collar this year.  When it was brought out she pranced right over to have it put on.  She does a lot of prancing, actually.  Another thing I love about her.  I'm reaching an age where I'm not embarrassed to prance or skip in public, life being too short and all, and am still physically capable of doing them both more or less.  So I got that going for me.  Seems like a key point in development. 

Fang's present this year was a very sturdy stuffed octopus, with squeakers in the head and each of the eight legs.  Mary loves tormenting Mom and Dad with squeaky toys for the dog, since said dog is fondest of squeaking them during tender, quiet moments on the TV.  Mary was confident this toy would be too tough for Fang to disembowel with her usual alacrity (the dog will play with her toys forever, but she prefers them as pelts), so Mare accepted Mom's wager that Fang would have two of the squeakers removed by the time we sat down to Christmas dinner.  Within fifteen minutes Fang had joyfully ripped the stuffing out of the octopus' head (nobody disembowels with more brio than she) and removed the biggest squeaker.  She's got another thirty minutes to make Mom look good, but Mary already feels like she lost.  Since Quakers frown on gambling, they bet each other some turkey, with the implicit understanding that the winner would share some with the loser.  Okay, so not much of a bet, but there was a handshake. 


As I've said before, grief is deepening gratitude.  James crops up in all sorts of ways, especially in trigger words or situations where he would have trotted out some of his shtick.  James had a lot of shtick, and as is usually the case with such things, loved making us all groan or roll our eyes, so his delight increased with each repetition.  I'm sure he'd be thrilled to know how many of them we find ourselves repeating, inspite of ourselves. 

Mary created an accent light for Dad's office that involves a glass brick, two strings of Christmas lights, and and god's own plenty of corks.  It is inspired.  She also created a rather handsome garland for their outdoor tree with another pile of them (photos when I return to NYC).  That leaves only about 45 million corks left in her 'collection.'  Oh, at the Italian restaurant on Friday, we actually saved one of the two corks.  Mary is maintaining her cork collection now.  I can hear James chortling gleefully over that development.

Feelings about love, about the dynamic power of it, of the way I've felt myself surrounded by it, a channel for it, these thoughts are percolating about in my head right now, but are not forming into articulate thoughts just yet.  Maybe I've said all I can on the subject for the time being.  Certainly there are ways in which old cliches feel new-minted in my life, but that doesn't mean they'll sound new-minted coming from me.  For now, let me just say thanks for the love I have received from you all this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bits of News

So I fly back to Indiana tomorrow, for Christmas with my family.  We're all going out to our favorite Italian restaurant that evening, assuming the weather accommodates my flight plans.  This restaurant has been the go-to place for our family celebrations for as long as I remember.  This occasion will be the first time we've all gone since James' death.  There will be plenty of such firsts this season, of course, and for the next year.  Goody.  But as Mary says, the only way out is through, and we'll toast him, eat some good food, tell some favorite stories, laugh and cry.  When Dad first mentioned this plan to me, he said "We probably won't be the first guys sobbing in the men's room."  I agreed.  It's an Italian restaurant, after all, even if it's in the stoic Midwest.  I doubt we'll bother hiding in the men's room, frankly.  Why start now?

Huh.  That wasn't what I got online to tell you though.  First off, I did a bit of house-cleaning yesterday on this here bloggerino, adding some fun new links, and updating old ones (finally, Greg, I'll be sending people directly to the Midnight Garden).  If any of my links don't work, please do let me know.

One of the new links is called Queer New York.  The illustrious, intriguing, and ever-productive Father Tony started a new blog focusing on life in New York from a queer perspective (did you pick up on that from the name?), and much to my delight he invited me to be one of the contributers.  Initially I was unsure if I should accept for a few reasons: 1) I haven't exactly been burning up the interwebs here at my present blog, why add another blog to ignore, 2) I rarely managed to go anywhere or do anything even remotely New York City-related AND 3) I didn't seem to know more than, oh, let's say three gay men in New York, and maybe six world-wide.  Starting this blog actually doubled the number of gay men I interacted with on a regular basis, and I haven't even met all the local ones face to face.

(Okay, if I didn't link to you in the paragraph above, don't take it personally, it was just taking all day, and I have other things I need to do.  Did I mention I'm flying to Indiana tomorrow?  I will also admit that if you haven't posted anything on your blog for two or more months, I didn't link to you.  Doesn't mean I don't love you, I just figure you didn't need the pressure.)

Fortunately my natural tendency towards gluttony won out though, and I accepted Tony's invitation.  I only have two modest posts up at this point, but I anticipate this being a fun endeavor to be part of.  There's some wonderful stuff there, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else comes down the pike.  Tony has assembled an eclectic mix of men and women (though he still wants to find more queer bloggers of color, so contact him if you fit the bill, or know someone who does), and has, with only a small number of caveats ("this won't be the place to post pictures of your cat") encouraged us to post anything we like.  Reviews of various kinds are making a big showing at present, but no doubt some of the fun with this venue will be seeing how it shapes itself over time. If there is a mission at this point, I'd say it would be to give out of towners the inside scoop on LGBT life in NYC.  PDQ.  RSVP.  BTW.  LOL. (OMG did I just type LOL?  Seriously?)

Huh.  Don't know why I thought that was necessary.  I do feel like progressive politics tends to involve a LOT of acronyms, not that there's anything wrong with that.  And don't you love the caps button?  I sometimes wish I had one in my daily life, though the fact is city living would probably benefit from fewer caps buttons running around the joint.  Just in general.  Did I mention I'm going to Indiana tomorrow?  Have I mentioned before that I usually spend the first two days of my visits to Indiana sleeping, or wanting to sleep?  Sixteen hours at a stretch is not unheard of.  I call it the Richmond Coma, and I think the sheer dearth of NOISE (caps intended) has a physical effect on me.  My nervous system, which in cities is probably more nervous than is healthy, simply collapses. I usually come out of the coma ready for long walks and some serious dog-romping, though, and conveniently, there is a dog who loves to romp.  I might actually get some video footage of that, if Fang is amenable.  Amenable is her normal state, if not organizing principle, so I'm optimistic.  Whether or not I actually turn that video into something worth seeing, that's the real question here.  I'm less optimistic on that front, but not completely without hope.

Wow.  I DO go on.  I can't believe it's been two weeks since I posted anything here.  I don't know about the rest of you bloggers, but this process has evolved into a fairly useful processing tool for me.  I feel the lack when I don't do it.  Babbling on paper (what Dad calls 'bilge-pumping') is fairly necessary to my mental well-being too, but I think I've been reasonably good about not putting that stuff out on the internet for all and sundry.  Sundry gets really cranky about that kind of thing, and who can blame her?

I'm shutting up now.  But I've missed you, and hope to be writing more regularly, here at at the new house.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Body Surfing

I've always wanted to be amphibious. Flying would be cool too, but if I could only choose one superpower, I'd want to be able to live in water.
I've never done the Polar Bear thing, jumping into the Atlantic on January 1st, but I do like pretty cold water. When I was ten my family spent a week in Cleggan, on the west coast of Ireland, in late May to early June. We found an inlet beach close to the cottage and spent every day there. While my folks were happy just exploring the exquisite tidal pools -they really were exceptionally beautiful- my siblings and I would take breaks from this activity to jump in the frigid water. Dad waded in once up to his ankles, felt them lock up, and never saw it necessary to go back. Mary, James and I happily cavorted long past the point when we turned blue. Every day, for a week.
In Morro Bay, daytime temperatures were in the mid 60's F. I haven't a clue what the water temp was. I only went in a couple of times, to body surf. The soundtrack was usually something like this.

"Oooh, nice, that feels great WHOOPS WOW THAT'S COLD, WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH ME, WHOOPS, WHY AM I STILL WALKING," splash, dunk, "YOWZA, JEEESUS CERIST, DEAR GOD, WHAT AM I, A MORON?" paddle paddle paddle, "okay, getting better, WHOOPS WAH COLD," sputter, paddle paddle, "okay... no...whee... no...Okay... WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! LET'S DO IT AGAIN!"
And I would. I didn't stay in very long the first day, but the second time I didn't get out until I could no longer feel my feet.
I also learned a valuable lesson. When you jump into the Pacific on the spur of the moment, so you don't have a towel, and you get out of the water wanting a hug, you discover who your REAL friends are.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Morro Bay Flora and Fauna

Misreading a pamphlet at the condo led me to believe these birds were called Marbled Godwits. This of course meant any time I saw one, I said, "it's a godwit, God Wot!" Initially the birds were shy about having their photos taken. Reexamining the pamphlet revealed that many of what I thought were godwits were actually curlews. I believe it's curved beak, curlew, straight beak, godwit. Once I got the name correct, they let me approach more closely with my camera. Obviously they thought I'd been talking to some other bird.
Some of these are repeats for those of you on Facebook, but this photo makes me so happy I wanted to post it again. Meet my beloved Julia. On the flight out I'd gotten to see her brief scene as the bridge instructor in the move Julie and Julia, yet another kiss from the universe as I headed off on my adventure. Even though auditions and rehearsals prevented her from staying overnight, Dear Julia willingly made the seven hour round-trip to come up from LA for a visit. Our friendship spans twenty years, three plays, at least two theatre companies, and two cities, not to mention a handful of fun trips to Maine, Eastern Washington and now Central California.
When Homer told me we'd be renting a Mustang convertible during our stay, I figured we simply HAD to work up some Beach Boy numbers to sing in the car. Once I was actually in the car I realized how badly I needed a hat. Melissa's hair was long enough to tie up, but my barely adequate option was to tie the layers most likely to get in my eyes on top of my head. I looked like a Star-bellied Sneetch. This was not the only time I was to think of Dr. Seuss during the trip. I also discovered that singing of any kind in the car would be difficult, because from the back seat I couldn't hear squat. It was still way cool.
See what I mean? Doesn't she look positively glamorous? Like she's supposed to be in a convertible? Not at all Seussian. I did have some killer shades, it's true, but that didn't really mitigate the Sneetchness.
Layover in San Fran for what we agreed was some 'cozy food.'
This image made me think of Greg. It was also one of many plants that made me realize Dr. Seuss had spent his career drawing stuff he saw outside his window. Truffula trees abounded.
This shot makes me think of Jeaux, for some reason. I think it's the quality of light I so often like in his photos.
Homer, Melissa and friend Jeremy are all watching Jeremy's son O play in the waves on our first morning.

O is a year and a half, I believe, and was charming company, as were his parents. Before I get into that, I have to tell you a story about Homer. When he and Melissa first started dating, she mentioned once that they were getting together later that night, but first, "Homer has his ukelele lesson, then he has to go to the Austria Society, to do color commentary on the Foosball* tournament they're having."

I knew right then I was going to like this guy.

So, Homer had brought one of his ukeleles, the travel one (yes he has more than one, wouldn't you?) and as it turns out O had gotten a baby ukelele for his birthday and was quite fond of it. So Homer cracked out the uke and played a few tunes, to O's obvious delight.

O's parents, by the way, have been teaching him sign language, so he has a means of communication while verbal skills are still developing. So when Homer ended one song, O signed "more." Mom Tyra interpreted, and Homer obliged. At the end of another song, O signed "please." Homer played another tune. When Homer began putting the uke away, O signed "thank you."

This sequence was, quite possibly, the cutest thing I have ever seen. Box of puppies cute. Box of puppies playing with some kittens cute. Cute cute cute.
This guy is not cute, but I was pleased my camera was able to capture him, and get such a clear close-up. There were lots of vultures all around the area. I see them, or their close relatives, all the time in Indiana, but the sight of them soaring still give me a thrill. Seeing this ugly mug was pretty thrilling too.
This shot will probably require enlarging to make any sense of it. On our last day, before we left for the airport, I took one more walk on the beach. It was exceptionally windy that day; in the video I shot (also of these birds) you can't even hear the waves, the wind was so loud. I think these birds are sandpipers, but will bow to better informed readers. Here you see them sheltering from the wind in piles of seaweed, but they were also able to do so in human footprints. I didn't notice them at first, hidden as they were in the shadows of the footprints, but when I got to close suddenly the shadows began drifting away from me. It still doesn't really look like anything on the video though, so you'll just have to settle for my recounting.

*Apparently Foosball is huge in northern Europe. They take it very seriously. Who knew?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Visitation

I saw a fantastic show a few weeks ago at the Whitney of Georgia O'Keefe's abstract paintings. If you're in New York any time between now and the end of January, I'd recommend it. I was thinking of her Taos Mountain paintings when I took this photo. I'm so arty.
The trip to Morro Bay had some magical qualities for me right off the bat. Having friend Homer include me in the invitation was no small part of it. He had won the six day trip at a silent auction two years ago, long before he and I knew each other. Life just hadn't allowed him to make use of it yet. Once again I've been showered with the generosity of friends.
Even the trip to the airport ended up having a quality of blessing in it for me.
In order to have as much of the day on the beach as possible, Homer, Melissa and I elected to take an early flight out of Newark. So at the ungodly hour of 3:30am I climbed into the car service we'd booked. I am not at my best at that hour. In my experience taxi and car service drivers are a surly, taciturn bunch, and I would expect their moods not to be improved by that hour any more than mine is. So I knew something was different when the driver hopped out of the car to open the trunk for me. He was a tall guy, lanky, short dirty-blond hair, with blue eyes that twinkled more than I was ready for at that hour. Due to some missed turns and general confusion on the drive from their place to mine, Homer and Melissa had reason to question our driver's geographical sense - that is to say in his actual ability to GET us to the airport- so they were a bit wary, but this wasn't the only impression he had made on them. As I climbed into the backseat, Melissa said "our driver is a bit of a caretaker."

I quickly got a sense of what Melissa meant. This guy wanted to help. He liked to help. He wanted us to know he was ready to help. He checked twice to make sure the slightly open window was to our liking, clearly ready to use his power window button on our behalf if we, for any reason, were unable to use our own button. He had offered me the front passenger seat twice, but seemed to understand that Melissa and I wanted to cuddle a bit.

He was also real chatty. That's a risky choice at that hour, perhaps, but he was willing to take it. Since we were in Jersey, naturally the first topic was about roads, exits, and traffic. He learned that Melissa was from Freehold, which led to talk about Springstein and that led us to learn our driver was a former drummer with a foot in both the punk and classic rock worlds. He named us his favorite bands. He told us about all the great concerts he saw at the Garden, paying $10 to see the Stones, and $5 to see Bowie. He told us who his favorite, and second favorite drummers were. Sorry I can't remember their names at this point, maybe Homer or Melissa do? I do remember the band Deep Purple was part of that discussion. We learned he got a few tattoos in the 90s, which is when all the punk rockers got theirs. "They didn't have them in the 80's, that came later." I thought about showing him mine, but decided against it, for fear he'd want to show us his.

I was intrigued by his accent. He used expressions like 'fuggedaboudit' fluently and sincerely, but there was a sharpness to many of his consonants that kept catching my ear. I finally asked where he'd grown up, and learned he had lived in Queens since the 70s, after moving there from what is now the Republic of Georgia, but was still the USSR back then.

When we arrived at the airport, before we settled the fare, the driver showed us his acrylic drum sticks. They were beautiful. He keeps them in his trunk. He told us he'd stopped drumming when he got married, but Melissa and I pictured him banging out riffs on his steering wheel on breaks.

I wish I could remember more details of our conversation, but it would have been a bit odd for me to start taking notes. To be honest there was also a lot of filler, things about the toll booths, road construction and such that would only have interested other drivers, if anyone. We learned way more than we needed to know about the computer difficulties that would prevent us from paying with a credit card (We assured him we were paying with cash.) Even the boring stuff made me happy, though. There were so many ways this guy struck a chord with me; the open, cheerful manner, the innocent (over-) sharing about his interests, the clumsiness in reading his audience, the earnest desire to help, the job he was doing, even just his appearance, all of it felt familiar. When I called my sister that night to tell her about this guy, I had barely started the story before she recognized him too. While Homer and Melissa also liked him, I think they were understandably a bit perplexed by my enthusiastic reaction to him. So as we headed into the airport I explained.

"He reminded me of my brother. A LOT." Really the only thing missing had been the send-off kiss and hug.

Okay, there were plenty of differences in the particulars -James was not a drummer, had never lived in the Soviet Union, and never, in my hearing, said "fuggadaboudit"- but in certain essentials they were cut from the same cloth. At the very least, I bet they would have been instant friends.

The upcoming trip had triggered thoughts of James already. For one thing he had bought my plane ticket. Yeah, THAT didn't stir things up at all. I had begun to feel like my grieving for him in NYC hadn't progressed so much as stalled; I wasn't thinking, or crying about him every day any longer, but it felt more like I was simply being distracted by the demands of life here, rather than actually moved on to a new phase. Maybe that is how grief works, maybe we simply do have to get on with things, knowing that at any moment we may experience another emotional ambush. Whatever the case, I feel this chipper drumming driver was my first surprise visit from James that wasn't painful or sad. He showed me I could spend some time with James during this trip. So I did. I took several walks with him, collecting rocks he would have liked, photographing things he might have noticed, even remembering some goddawful jokes/stories he would have insisted on retelling, in order to drive us all ape-shit.

Maybe the slower pace, the ocean waves, the good food and good friends, the serene, spacious beauty of the place would have opened me up in any case. But I'm grateful to that big galoot nonetheless.
More photos and stories to come.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Camera

Here's a few images from my recent trip to Morro Bay, CA, taken with my spankin' new camera.
Both Tornwordo and the Midnight Gardener suggested that the minute I brought a new camera into the apartment, Camille would reappear. Greg pictured her jumping out from behind a door brandishing a knife. So far that hasn't proven true, and the new camera has been here for a while. I'd love to see her again, but I fear Camille is truly gone. C'est La Vie.
I haven't discovered the new camera's name, though I and everyone who has met him thus far believes him to be male. Unlike Camille, he came with a manual, two actually -- one 'hard copy' for the basics, and a CD for the more elaborate features, of which he has a plethora.
Some of you may recall Camille revealed her name by sending me excessively punctuated, overly dramatic notes, as well as through quirky behavior that seemed to indicate opinions and preferences. (Yes, yes, they probably indicated waning abilities and my lack of a user's manual: shush.)
Camille's ways were a mystery to me quite often, and our relationship involved much learning and negotiation. So far the new guy has proven to be nothing if not accommodating, fulfilling my every request efficiently, and suggesting others that would never have occurred to me ('face recognition'? Seriously? 'SMILE recognition'? 'Blinking eye recognition'?) I've done some reading through the 107pg Adobe read-only manual to learn about his many talents and abilities, but so far I've mostly been content to use his 'smart button' which means he makes all the necessary decisions about lighting, exposure, focus and such. In other words the button is obviously ironic, but some clever boots in marketing recognized that calling it the 'dumb-ass button' would not have endeared the camera to its users.

At some point I assume a name will present itself, though I suppose it's possible my relationship with this fancy-pants machine will be like the one I have with my cell phone. That has never earned name, largely due, I believe, to the fact that it's never given me any trouble. I don't ask a lot of my phones, you understand; I like it if they let me talk to other people, and it's really swell if they take messages for me when I'm unavailable, but anything beyond that is gravy. Little camera, that's nice, a clock, great, voice-dialing, way cool, though I've used it exactly once, just to see if it would work. Not really a time saver, once you set it all up, but cool nonetheless.

I can likewise see myself at least trying all the features of this guy at least once, just to say I did. I've done a certain amount of what my dad calls 'guy' exploration, which is to say I've punched a bunch of buttons at random just to see what happens, even if getting myself back out of trouble is all I can manage. The nice thing about this camera, as opposed, say, to a computer, I can always just shut it off and start fresh, with the worst thing happening being I may have lost an image or two. There will always be more images.

Hm. I actually hadn't meant to spend all this time rabbiting on about the camera. There's more to say about Morro bay (say that out loud; it has a nice lilt, and it rhymes), including a story about the trip to the airport. I guess that will be another post or two. Oh, and I can now take video with this new guy. Audio and visual. I'm very excited. I've taken two short videos so far, both in Morro Bay, both of the ocean. I feel they are strongly reminiscent of early French Cinema, which is to say they're like watching paint dry. The longer one is only two minutes and you still feel like you wasted some precious life force in watching it. So maybe I'll hold off on showing you any videos after I've read some more of the manual. You're welcome.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Football & Dominoes

So it's raining out tonight. And the World Series is over. Between those two events I and my roommate are hoping we'll actually get some sleep tonight. It's been weeks, really.

Yeah, last night was a special occasion, I get that. The Yankees winning their 27th World Series made a lot of people in this neighborhood very happy. Drunken screaming, tooting-air-horns-like-saxophones, fire-crackers-until-5am happy. It was a grand old time. At some point all the trees in the neighborhood were TPed as well, but I didn't happen to hear that, what with the fire crackers and air horns and all.

If last night had been just one event I'd still be cranky about not getting to sleep before 5am then having the garbage trucks (why is it they always seem to come in fleets) start at about 6am. Yes, yes, Java, earplugs, I know, but even the heavy-duty industrial strength ones I have are not equal to the fire crackers and air horns. They do make my ears itch like crazy though, resulting in my scratching them out of my ears the instant I actually lose consciousness. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, if last night was a one time thing, I'd still grump about it, believe me, but I'd move on. Problem is, last night was FAR from anomalous. Oh so very far. SS Enterprise, Warp 9 far.

The weather has been really warm, ya know? Quite balmy. Global warming and all that. Yup, it's been nice out. That's meant that the drunken football games have had a much later season than in past years. Part of me thinks, hey, it's great they're getting some exercise. These guys don't seem to be dealing drugs, and that's definitely a change for the better. Nope, they may be USING them, I really couldn't tell ya, though my suspicion is the high spirits and volume (oh so very high volume) is probably due to nothing harder than booze. It all appears to be legal, healthy even, in a way. It's just really really loud, well into the wee hours. Every night.

Nor have the football games been the only recurring sporting event. For whatever reason the game of dominoes has hit this neighborhood in the past four months. I was used to seeing it quite often when I lived in Alphabet City, but I never noticed it up here in Harlem until this Summer. Boy howdy though, it has hit now, and hit BIG. Thing is I never knew it could be such an athletic event. Or quite so percussive. Every tile is slapped smartly on the card table, so smartly I think the players must get extra points for sticking the dismount. It's the only explanation I can come up with. And when a game is over and it's time to mix the tiles up, holy sweet mother of god, I never knew those things could make such a racket. It's like boulders in a cement mixer, I swear.

I might see my way clear to calling in a noise complaint for the football game; they're clearly chemically enhanced, screaming at the top of their lungs, and chasing each other around a city street in the middle of the night. It's a residential area, at three in the morning. A case could be made. But a dominoes game? Am I really going to call the city up to complain about a noisy dominoes game? Sure, sometimes those players may be chemically enhanced as well, but most of the time I can't hear them, I only hear the tiles, but I hear those loud and clear, every goddamn one, and I know unequivocally when the game is over because that's when they bring out the cement mixer.

Nope, I can't do it, I can't complain about a dominoes game, even one clearly being played like it's the freakin' Olympic event. This is why my roommate and I, having ruled out fire arms (the sleep deprivation hasn't completely destroyed our powers of reason. yet), are hoping for rain. Or the onslaught of Winter. Or, hey, why not both? Freezing rain, a blizzard or two, some nighttime hail storms come Spring, I want it all. We've been getting plenty of rain in the last few weeks, but it has always cleared up by the middle of the night, allowing these hardy athletes to resume their respective contact sports. I wake up at the sound of the first touchdown or tile slap, shove my ear plugs in, seethe a bit, maybe doze off long enough to claw the damn things out of my ears, just in time for another big score.

It's quiet right now though. It's no longer raining, but the temperature might have dropped enough to keep people indoors. That, or they're all still recovering from last night's celebration. I doubt we're done for the season just yet, and tomorrow night is a Friday. I better sleep while I can.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Digital Camera
Answers to Camille.
Last seen taking photos of a mask I'm working on.
Probably buried somewhere in the apartment, but hell if I know where.
I mean, come on, the place just isn't that big, where could she have gone? I wonder if I put her someplace 'sensible' for 'safe keeping' and can't remember where.
I've been doing that sort of thing of late.
That, or the cat stole her. The cat thinks I already spend way too much time not petting the cat, and she has thumbs on all four paws, so I'm not ruling her out as a suspect.
But that's neither here nor there.
No reward offered at this time. Camille was great and all, but we had a good run.
I think I'm just going to buy a new one. Anyone got recommendations? Really fancy would probably be wasted on me, but all advice is welcome.

Monday, October 19, 2009

National Equality March: Some Impressions

It's been almost two weeks since I attended the National Equality March (NEM) in DC. The last time I went to a march in DC it was the 1987 event that was the inspiration for National Coming Out day. So, twenty-two years to the day, I was marching (occasionally trudging, often sauntering and from time to time even sashaying) at a big political event for LGBT rights. For the last two weeks I've been thinking about what has and hasn't changed in those twenty-two years. Not sure why it's taken me so long to be able to articulate anything interesting about it. Let's see if I can now. Over all I've been feeling positive about things. Politically and personally I'd say things have changed for the better. It's often a case of two steps forward, one step back, but that's better than the other way around.

In 1987 I was 21, a senior in college and attending with a group from school. I don't remember how many of us there were, but we took two college vans, and at the time the group felt huge. The LGBT group on campus had exploded that autumn, in part because the first year class had what was, at the time, an unusually high number of students who were already out. We 'old-timers' were impressed, even a bit intimidated, and we wondered what these confident people were going to do during their sophomore years, what with coming out already taken care of. I'm sure they came up with something.

So, from our small college (enrollment 1100) quite a handful of us chose to head off to the march. Several alumni joined us at the march itself, which reminds me of a funny moment. A woman I barely had known when she was one of the prominent lesbians at Earlham came up to me at the march and congratulated me on "finally coming out."

Feeling my hackles rise ever so slightly, I said, "um, I've been out for nearly three years." (That is to say, for at least one of the years she and I were in school together.)

"Yeah, well, but now you're OUT out. M__ tells me you've come out to your folks and everything."

"Yeah, I told my whole family and all my friends... three years ago."

This was when I learned that because it's news to YOU doesn't mean it's news. I've been careful ever since not to congratulate anyone on "finally coming out."

But back to the marches, here are are some comparisons and contrasts, in no particular order.

In 1987, the initial estimation from the Parks department on the crowd size was 500,000. Then the DC police department issued their estimate as 20,000. Yes, I typed the right number of zeroes in both cases. Five HUNDRED thousand vs. twenty thousand. Immediately after the Police number was announced the Parks department lowered their number to 20,000 as well. It's obviously still an impressive number, but, um, did the Parks department really get it THAT wrong at first? History seems to have accepted the half-mil figure as more accurate. I've been in other politically controversial actions where the numbers of participants varied widely, depending on who you consulted. Make of that what you will.

Everything I've seen suggests the 2009 crowd was about 250,000. One might be tempted to think the smaller numbers at this march is cause for concern, but I'm not sure I do. Maybe there is more complacency now, but if so, even that can be a weird sign of progress; more people are out, and have more rights than they did in '87. This march was planned in much less time than the '87 one as well, less than six months, by what is being famously described as a grass-roots movement. Marches always spark a certain amount of internecine fighting, but this one came with more of it than usual. Along with the usual arguments against marches as a whole (they don't accomplish anything, people just jump on the bandwagon, people would be better off taking REAL action, rather than just chanting slogans with their friends, etc.) this one brought up a lot of in-fighting between leading organizations and individuals. The Human Rights Campaign initially said it wasn't a good idea, but eventually sign on as a sponsor. Barney Frank, the week before the march, said it was a waste of time, the President didn't need the pressure, and people would do better to stay home and lobby their congress members. Given all that, I'd say 250,000 still sends a pretty strong, albeit vague, message.

I'm not going to devote a lot of time to question of the efficacy of public assembly. I don't doubt that many people come to these things woefully ignorant of the facts, issues and nuances. I'm sure plenty of people go home with a nice warm glow and never do another thing. But I obviously still think these marches are worth organizing and attending. Maybe it's just the theatre-lover in me, but gathering a lot of like-minded folks in as big a group as possible often gives me a morale boost in ways nothing else quite can. It's more than just being surrounded by lots of other LGBT folks. Here in NYC, of course, I could go to a different bar every night if I wanted to. While that may have its own charms, it's not the same as being outdoors, in the sun, feeling like we've taken over an entire city. Even when anger is the dominating influence, I still gain a sense of optimism. I feel reconnected to a larger community, or network of communities.

This trip I went down with a group called Broadway Impact, founded by members of the Broadway Theatre community. BI managed to find sponsors who paid for 32 buses to take New Yorkers to the march for free. Over 1400 of us took advantage of the offer. I was on the Sutton Foster bus, fyi. I still owe Ms. Foster a thank you note, I'm embarrassed to admit. That's next on my agenda. BI came about after three people attended the New York rally protesting the the prop 8 vote in California, by the way. There's an example of a rally galvanizing further action.

Since this group was founded by fairly young folks, most of my fellow passengers were pretty young as well. More than a few of them were clearly attending their first big march. It was fun to realize I was surrounded by people who were in the same boat I was back in '87. Occasionally I felt like a bit of a grandpa, or at least a jolly uncle, but that's an experience I'm having more and more these days anyway. I'm okay with that.

When I look at the changes that has happened since '87, I'm mostly heartened by them. Sure, there are plenty of statistics to feel bad about; it's still legal in 28 states to be fired just for being gay. 35 states still permit LGBT folks to be denied housing, or kicked out of their homes. I can't find the number for the states that have laws on the books denying same-sex marriage, I want to say it's 11, but it might now be 14. This is in addition to DOMA, which denies same-sex marriage on the federal level. I believe Florida has two such laws on the books, so you're doubly not allowed to get married there. They really really REALLY don't want the homos getting hitched in Florida. AIDS may be a manageable disease for many now, compared to '87, but the stats for infection keep rising, especially (at least in this country) among MSM (men who have sex with men), in particular MSM of color. As complicated as my issues are with the military, there's no doubt in my mind that DADT has been a fiasco of a policy, leading to the loss of thousands of valuable troops, and the needless destruction of careers. Violence against LGBT people continues; a particularly vicious case here in NYC occurred recently, to remind us that no place is safe.

But, then there's the glass half-full view. Five states have legalized same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions exist in some form or another in other states or cities. Even just the press coverage seems better. In '87 the march was largely ignored by the mainstream press, and you have to remember, back then there wasn't a whole lot more besides the mainstream press. This year I was aware of big coverage before the march happened, even if most of it was squawking from the Rightwing wackadoos (O'Reilly had a lot to say), or articles (there was one in the Times) that focused on the in-fighting. I still see that as progress. As I recall, in 1987 I was unable to find any reporting on the march at all, in any newspaper or on any TV channel. I won't go so far as to claim there WAS none, I can't really know that. But our college library had a good collection of the national papers, and none of them mentioned it. None of them.

Maybe the biggest change between then and now all boils down the the internet. The story coming out now is that new media played a central roll in organizing the event, decentralizing the movement, putting control in more hands, and galvanizing younger activists. There's no doubt in my mind cell phones played a central role in the age old question of how people find one another in the midst of huge crowds, though they probably didn't help as much as people expected. More than once I heard someone screaming into his/her phone,"WHERE are you? -'By the rainbow flag' doesn't help. --EVERYBODY is chanting! -- WHICH Starbucks?'


Obviously the internet also meant there was a much wider variety of news sources to cover the march. Mainstream media may have still relegated it to a back page, or a side note, but I couldn't tell you if it did. I get most of my gay news online these days, where I have many more resources for finding information. Back in '87 my only gay news source was The Advocate. This is not without its risks of course; the interwebs are big, messy, and unregulated, so I need to do a lot of independent verification of claims. Then again, that was probably always the case (see above re: discrepancies in crowd estimates), and frankly, is just the way news, and democracy works. That reminds me of a fun moment.

At one point the crowd nearest me was chanting the fine old chestnut, "Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" A guy near me laughed and said," yeah, this IS what democracy looks like." I knew he was thinking the same thing as me. Yeah, it's loud, messy, sprawling, inefficient, frustrating, unfocused, often misguided or ignorant, and probably the worst form of government there is, after you rule out all the other ones. This sprawling quality was evident in the speeches at the rally as well. There were roughly five million of them. A few were stinkers (don't sing a song if you don't know the lyrics, and don't hold the lyrics if you're never going to look at them, 'kay? Just sayin'), most were adequate and a small handful really stood out. Part of the problem is they all circled virtually the same issues. We want equality. We deserve equality. We're a community made up of people of all colors, genders, orientations, socioeconomic classes, ages, education levels, national origins and political beliefs. You earn extra points for every category you name, which meant a lot of speeches boiled down to long lists. Discrimination in all its forms (and again, list as many of them as possible) is bad and must be stamped out. Hate must be replaced by Love. I'm sounding flippant here, and I don't mean to. These points are all true, all valid. I'm just not sure I need to hear them five million times, from five million different people, including Lady GaGa (who, it has to be admitted, got the biggest crowd response), so by the time the keynote speaker JULIAN BOND comes on to give an INCREDIBLE speech, people are worn out and starting to wander off. Nothing against Lady GaGa either, I don't doubt her sincerity or commitment (she is reported to have done the entire march in five inch heels, by the way), and I am glad an attempt was made to have as wide a spectrum of viewpoints on the stage, but come ON. JULIAN BOND, for chrissakes!

Okay, to be honest, I don't really see a way around this. When one of the biggest tools of bigotry is silencing people, a good response is to give as many people as possible a chance to talk. Nor am I intending to belittle the contributions of performers and pop stars. Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, and Ossie Davis, just to name a few, had a huge influence on the Civil Rights movement, as artists and activists. When it comes to LGBT issues, visibility is a central issue. The more stories we tell, the more out people we have in every profession, the better things get. Maybe I have to remember that progress, like democracy, is rarely efficient. If I want efficient, I'd better try fascism. The trains run on time, by god.

Do I anticipate huge changes because of the NEM? No, not really. The fact is I rarely expect huge changes. I think we will continue to squawk, kick, sue and agitate, each according to our tendencies, we'll demand sweeping reforms and baby steps will result. The fight for equal rights is always fought on many fronts, and victories are rarely due to one action. Julian Bond's wisdom, experience and generous spirit will move some. Lady Gaga's passion and brash spectacle will move others. Kate Clinton's wit, Urvashi Vaid's articulate brilliance, Rufus Wainwright's wistful music, and Barney Frank's blunt political savvy are all making a difference, even if they also spend some time snarling at each other. Much as we may want to present a unified front (and the Civil Rights and Feminists movements have their own struggles with this issue), our goal(s) will always resist that, thank God. I forget that a lot. Nothing like a good march to remind me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Suit the Action to the Word

I've been grappling with some thoughts on acting recently, and what follows is a first stab at articulating a few of them. It is far from polished. I decided to post it in all its rough, raw, redundant, contradictory and poorly proofread glory because I needed it out. Undoubtedly others have said what I'm trying to say much more clearly and concisely. I don't pretend to be breaking new ground here, mostly I'm just trying to understand some things better myself. Read it at your discretion and/or peril.


Acting teachers, when introducing actors to Shakespeare, frequently will announce "Shakespeare verse has no subtext." Like all such absolute statements, this one is sweeping in its implications, may inspire strong resistance, and yes, probably goes too far. Nonetheless if I ever teach a Shakespeare class, I will start with this statement too. I think it’s a good jumping off point for performers unfamiliar with his work; ultimately what I think it does is show actors that instead of bringing our modern understanding of human psychology to Shakespeare, we might be better off STARTING from his understanding of it. And yes, there are some significant, inspiring differences. At its most basic, this approach teaches actors to trust Shakespeare's language, and realize that richest stuff is in the words, not underneath it.

Right off the bat though, the word subtext is going to cause us some trouble. For one thing it’s a word that has slightly different definitions in the worlds of theatre and literary theory. Since these two groups each feel a strong ownership of Shakespeare, and a certain distrust of each other, we’re already in tricky terrain. English professors generally use subtext to describe a literary work’s underlying themes, the implicit meanings or questions the writer is exploring. It is what gives a work its greater resonance, its timeless quality even. It’s central to why we create or enjoy art in the first place.

Actors, however, use it in a slightly different way. Here, even before I’ve adequately addressed the first big ole can of worms, I have to address one of the big debates within the theatrical world, namely the relative value of Stanislavski. I THINK I’ll be able to duck the whole "which Group Theatre hotshot got Stanislavski right" debate (holy sweet mother of god, please), keep your fingers crossed, we’ve got a lot to get through already.

Stanislavski was an actor, director and acting teacher in Russia who, inspired by the writings of Freud, developed a teachable technique for creating characters on stage that contemporary audiences found startling in their psychological richness, detail, and, above all, truth. His focus was creating art, but he wanted art that rang true to an audience’s understanding of human behavior. Audiences found his results electric and his influence quickly spread. Most American-trained actors have at least been introduced to his approach, and even non-actors are probably more familiar with him than you might realize. Lee Strasberg’s method acting ("The Method") is probably the best known version. Anytime you hear jokes about ‘finding my motivation’ or actors seeking out experiences of the characters to truly portray them on stage, you’re dealing with some elements, right or wrong, of Stanislavski. Like all techniques its reputation has suffered from the abuses of loud people getting it wrong, or using it to justify their bad habits and self-indulgences, but when you strip all that away, I believe you end up with an exceptional box of tools for creating art on stage. It’s a technique, which is to say, it’s a way of creating a structure that improves one’s chances of being visited by inspiration, and on the days when inspiration doesn’t hit, one still can end up creating a decent work of art. (I'm also ducking the whole debate about the relative benefits of the outside-in/English approach versus the inside-out/American/Russian approach. Man, are there a lot of cans of worms out there. Yeesh.)

So, with that slight sketch of theatre history, let’s get back to subtext. When actors use the term, they’re grappling with all the unspoken, implicit communication and experience of a character. She may be saying one thing, but feeling something quite different. She may be saying one thing, thinking she means it, but doing something else that leads an audience to question what she really thinks or feels. It’s even possible she might be suffering no cognitive dissonance at all, what she’s feeling, saying and doing all match up perfectly. Frankly a lot of actors, especially young ones, tend to forget about this last option, because they think it's more impressive to make a character as complex as possible, but even in modern, subtext-heavy plays, it's important to remember that sometimes characters do mean what they say.

Sometimes subtext and motivation get equated, but while they're tightly entwined, they're not the same. Most modern plays (Post-Freud) will have lots of subtext, and actors love this stuff. It's like a treasure hunt; we know what a character says and does, but we may not know WHY she does or says it, and we have to come up with a reason. It's one of the ways personal interpretation enters the picture; if you come up with an answer to the question and it works without contradicting anything else in the play, then you can use it. Audience members may catch it, they may not, and even if they don't, they may still realize something intriguing just happened. When you go out with friends after a play or movie for coffee and find yourselves debating "so what was going on when he gave her that LOOK," you're discussing subtext. The actor definition, that is. (When you're discussing the title image in Brokeback Mountain, say, wondering if it represents the freedom of the natural world, or a prison of isolation, you're dealing with the literary definition of subtext.)

Directors have to handle both definitions of subtext, since they are responsible for shaping the overall experience for the audience. Essentially they help shape the actor’s choices so her character then tells the story that reveals the plays literary themes. For a play to work effectively, the characters' journeys have to support the larger theme. You got all that? You still with me?

Lots of directors believe actors should never concern themselves with things like a play's theme, for fear that this will distract or confuse them, cause them to be outside the character (that is, thinking like a director or audience member) rather than inside her, living her experience. For now I won’t get into why I think that’s a short-sighted approach perpetrated by insecure directors who believe actors must be treated like children, since as I’ve established, I’ve already bitten off QUITE a lot to chew on. Let me just say here that, bottom line, I agree an actor’s first, main responsibility is to her character’s journey, and anything that is too theoretical, or pulls an actor outside the action of the play, is counter-productive. I'll also admit some actors do get distracted by literary stuff, or try too hard to be clever, at the expense of truth. Mature artists though, learn to interprete the whole script, and root their choices accordingly.

Okay, so where were we? Shakespeare, right. Why do I think the statement "Shakespeare’s verse has no subtext" is a useful concept to teach to actors specifically? Obviously according to the literary definition, Shakespeare is crawling with subtext. This is also one of the reasons theatre people love him, of course; we like tackling big human questions as much as anyone, and Shakespeare has us doing it with characters who are psychologically complex, compelling and familiar. Since his characters are obviously driven by passions, urges, desires, and fears, discovering and communicating them to an audience is still necessary, right? Doesn't that seem to require subtext as we've defined it? Won't most of the juicy stuff be unspoken and implicit?

Not necessarily.

Okay, stick with me here. Stanislavski was inspired by Freud, remember. Freud has so permeated our culture that our thought is shaped by him whether we know it or not. Pop psychology is usually Freud-lite, frankly. We may sneer at how neurotic he was, we may suggest he was the king of projection his own self ('Sigmund, are you sure that's just a cigar? I think someone's in denial...'), we may wonder if anyone BESIDES him ever actually wanted to have sex with his mother, but he still has changed the way we view human behavior. His theory of the unconscious is so central to our understanding of human behavior now that most of us don’t realize that wasn’t always the case, maybe don't even realize it is, in fact, 'just a theory', not unlike evolution. Stanislavski’s technique, and the plays of Chekhov, Ibsen, Pinter, early Strindberg, O’Neill, basically most of the great playwrights SINCE Freud really require a theory of the unconscious to work fully. What this boils down to in part is, we believe characters can have strong, driving motivations that they aren't actually aware of.

Most people before Freud (and plenty of them afterward, even still) would have found this idea perplexing at best. The idea that we all had some secret part of our brains busily working away, knitting sweaters, interpreting things, having reactions, motivating our behavior without us even knowing it, well, that would have sounded like crazy talk. I know I’m getting into weird territory even bringing this up. I believe Freud himself said that Shakespeare basically first ‘discovered’ psychology (something about how Hamlet beautifully illustrates the Oedipus complex, for starters). I think a reasonable argument could be made that Socrates, Plato, and Euripides -just to name a few- dealt with concepts that act much like Freud’s theory, but that too is an issue for another discussion. Even the Elizabethans, as heirs to the medieval age, believed people could be motivated by forces they had no control over, but they mostly thought of it as madness, or demonic possession.

Because of our cultural thinking, actors have been taught to distrust what a character says, or at least to question it pretty closely. We’re taught that the important, real stuff, the actual drives of the character lie deeper than words. A character's words may provide a clue to her motivations, but probably won’t tell us everything, and might be misleading. Also because of Freud, but perhaps also because of the proliferation of film (which I would argue is a more visual than language-based medium), we as a culture have started to believe the most devastating or resonant experiences of a person probably can’t be put into words. We believe language is inadequate.

"It’s beyond words" is a concept Shakespeare, and all the Elizabethans, would have most likely found ludicrous. (Interesting side-note. We go to see a play. The Elizabethans went to hear a play.) For them, the human experience couldn’t be understood without language. An experience might be difficult to put into words, one might have to work at it, distilling it down to verse might be the only way to get at it, but everything that could be experienced could be articulated by someone. Post-Freud, even if we believe an experience can be put into words, we still may think that the words and the experience are two separate events. For Shakespeare’s characters on stage, there is no separation between thought, word and action. They are all one thing. The language IS the experience.

This assertion might lead many to think I’m suggesting Shakespeare's characters lack complexity and depth. Nothing could be further from the truth. They experience overwhelming emotions (good and bad), inner conflicts and ambivalence. They use irony, metaphor and simile. They lie when it suits their purpose. Nonetheless, they never lack the ability to put all those experiences into words, and the words don’t float on top the experience, they don’t report the experience after it happens, they ARE the experience. Far from rendering his character’s facile, this actually gives them vigor. They say what they mean, and mean what they say. Even when Iago is lying his face off (which is to say virtually anytime he’s not delivering a soliloquy) he knows he’s lying, he knows why he’s lying, he knows what he’s fighting to make happen. Most importantly, he needs those words, his actions can’t exist without them. Shakespeare’s characters all need their words. (Frankly any well-written character does, which is part of why learning to do Shakespeare well is a good foundation for learning to act in any other play.) We’re all familiar with the idea that Shakespeare wrote beautiful language, but often people interprete that to mean his language is 'heightened', ethereal, somehow rarified and pure. Actually his language is fully wrapped up with the human condition. Read Juliet's 'Gallop apace' speech, as she waits for her new husband to come to her, to find out just how earthy Shakespeare's poetry can be (some useful information; the verb 'come' had the sexual connotation for the Elizabethans that it does for us, and orgasms were sometimes called 'the little death'. Aren't you intrigued now?). Sure, the characters will sometimes address big issues, but it's never because they're in the mood to philosophize. No, they're grappling with important things because something about their lives right that instant demands it. The sound and the content support each other, and the character saying the lines can’t put it any other way.

Okay, yes, let me reinterate, I know I’m making sweeping, absolute statements here, and even I can start to think of characters who might be exceptions to the rule, but I still believe going to meet Shakespeare at HIS understanding of human behavior rather than dragging him immediately to our Post-Freud/Stanislavki world is at the very least a useful exercise. Sure Mercutio’s Mab Speech seems to get away from him in a way that suggests he’s not in control, and maybe that suggests unconscious motivations (though I would argue it proves him to be of questionable sanity, and as his names suggests, prone to mercurial mood changes). Sure, Regan says her father, King Lear, ‘hath ever but slenderly known himself,’ and self-ignorance seems to assume an unconcious (but I would argue his real problem is a huge ego, a weakness for flattery, and undertanding others but slenderly.) Beatrice and Benedict may be the most clearly driven by unconscious feelings at some points, but I would also point out that neither one of them ever speaks a line of verse. Not one. They speak prose throughout the entire play. Which, yup, you guessed it, is a topic for another time.

Add to the (now gargantuan list) of things I might write about later is how studying Shakespeare has shaped my own relationship with words. When I was a young, closeted, shut-down teenager, his language first came to force me to rejoin the human race. Learning to embody, not just speak his words, was scary, heady, and ultimately very healing. Even so, I needed to spend some time afterwards relearning to trust my body, and that was best done through the medium of dance, mask-work, and physical theatre. I'd learned early on to lie with words, but my body was always a terrible liar. Only in the last ten years have I come to realize how unconsciously I accepted the prevailing cultural concept that strong emotional experiences defied words, that articulation could only render something small, facile or cliche. I'm returning to language, to words, and finding out just how much power they can have.

So my advice to actors and readers of Shakespeare boils down to this; read the words. Start from there. Assume everything you need to know about the character is there in the text. Once you have the structure of the character's journey, then you may start noticing subtext, but don't assume that all the good stuff is hidden under the surface, waiting to be discovered and interpreted. Maybe this approach won’t get you all the way you need to go. But it’s going to be a damn good start.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Love is the Continuum

My sister wrote me an email recently, that gave me a lot of comfort. Contrary to her fears, I think there is plenty in this dream that will resonate for others, so--with her permission--I am sharing an excerpt here.


(Christmas 1986, Laceyland)
A couple of days ago, I got up at 5:00 AM, after almost NO SLEEP AT ALL, to see Tony off for an overnight trip. After breakfast, I tried to stay up, figuring that was the way to hope to sleep that night. But I couldn't do it: I gave up around 8:00 and went back to bed, where I remained, with a couple of bathroom trips, until 5:00 PM. I slept most of the day, with Eddie curled up next to me, and Bob and Ray playing quietly on the CD player... Late in the afternoon, I [dreamed] about James, and the dream has made a real difference to me. The story began without warning, just me on the dog couch at Laceyland, crying and crying and leaning into thee, also crying, saying again how much we miss James. Thy arms went around me and we sobbed for a few seconds, but then I opened my eyes to discover that thy flannel pajamas had changed into HIS flannel pajamas. And when I looked up, the hug was with James, and it wasn't grieving for anyone. It was just Christmas morning and we were settling down after breakfast, waiting for the others to come in and open presents. I looked to my left, and thee was on the other couch, grinning. And then in that miraculous way that dreams work, several other things happened--in succession or simultaneously. I saw Brian in the dining room. I heard Mom and Dad in the kitchen. I saw my darling friend Eileen, and she was meeting thee and James for the first time, but as little boys--the ages her boys were when Tony and I first met them--and she swung James up on her hip and said, "Someone needs a diaper change!" And he gurgled and we all giggled. And I could feel myself coming to the surface again, with a clear insight that I was trying to put into words. As I woke up, I knew that the closest I was going to get was, "All times exist at once. Love is the continuum." The dream seemed utterly explicit, for once in a goddamned long time: that love is linked to that love and linked to that love and linked . . . and everything is happening then, now, and forever. I know it wasn't a vision, as such. And I also know that a sad tired me could cook up any number of things in a dream state. But it matters so much to me, to have had that transformation--grief into joy--then into now--with all the anachronisms and impossibilities just part of the whole. I got up, got dressed, and wrote my precious wisdom or sappy self-deception down and stuck it in the zipper compartment of my purse, had something to eat, washed the breakfast dishes, read the mail . . . I am still so sad, and will be, but the comfort is real. Someone else's dream is so rarely any use to others! But I knew thee would get it, and I thought thee might like to know, especially since one of the photos on the blog mentions the flannel PJ's.

(Christmas 2002, Laceyland)

I don't really have much to add beyond "yeah, what she said." That, of course, won't stop me from babbling though, as most of you must realize by now.

This past year, and especially this summer, I've been relearning just what a force of nature love is. It's a word that has been cheapened from overuse, sentimentalized (or is it commodified?) by Hollywood, Hallmark, and Harlequin, but that's the problem with deep, archetypal forces. Because they're fundamental, maybe they're beyond our abilities to put them into words. Or maybe love is like oxygen; we're most likely to notice it in its absence, or its purest, most intoxicating form. In any case, I've had many opportunities to see love at work, in all its messy, clumsy, unrelenting beauty. Recently more of those opportunities have been in the form of a coming together of communities (weddings, births, reunions, anniversaries, memorials) as opposed to the passionate romance often identified as love at its greatest. I'm not belittling that expression of it (it's just a distant memory, boo-hoo, poor me, cue the violins), but I'm grateful for the other ways I've experienced it in the last year.

Yup, not really saying anything new here. Mary said it better already. Love transcends space and time. Whether it's evidence of a sentient higher being, an evolutionary tactic for propagating the species, or a universal force akin to gravity, I've been feeling its presence in palpable ways lately. I wouldn't say it's always been FUN, per se, but I'm grateful nonetheless.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Showing My Age

During a recent walk in Fort Tryon Park, I came across this squirrel hanging from its hind feet, cheerfully eating a nut. What does it say about me that upon seeing this, the first thought through my head was "wow, that would really stir up my acid reflux"?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Couple of Trips to the Highline

My main motivation for this post is to give Greg a little something to look at while he recuperates from his hernia surgery. All went well, he's doing fine, but he's been wanting my report on the new Highline Park for a while, and I figure even if he's not able to sit down for long, or if the painkillers make it hard to focus, he'll still enjoy the pictures. I know what it's like to have the attention-span of a fruit bat.

I first went to the park on July 9th. That day the weather was cool and breezy, the air dry, the light clear and beautiful. This week I went on Tuesday, when it was humid as hell, and there was a smog advisory. As you can imagine, most of the good shots come from the July trip. You should be able to enlarge all of them.

This is not actually a part of the park, but it's a building I liked about a block from the uptown entrance. I know nothing about this place. I just think it looks cool.

Here is the 20th St entrance to the park. This part of town was previously industrial and in recent years has been taken over by art galleries. I learned from my time at Pratt that landing a gallery in Chelsea is a big status symbol for artists.

Oh, perhaps many of you don't know what all the fuss is about. The Highline is a stretch of abandoned elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan. A few years back someone noticed wildflowers were growing up there and decided to turn it into a proper city park. Parts of it are still under construction, but a good portion of it is now available.

A viewing gallery, where one can sit and watch the traffic pass below. I'm not sure why this appeals to people, but it does, me included. Maybe the unusual angle is the draw. Or perhaps we like the sense of floating over something.

Melissa and I went in July; about a week later my friend Sian and I tried to go again, but since it was a Sunday, there were huge lines at the entrances, as if people were waiting to get on a roller coaster. When I went back this past Tuesday afternoon I was again able to walk right on, the crowds were noticeable but not oppressive, so for the foreseeable future I would recommend avoiding it on weekends.
Both times I've gone, the buzz of the crowd seemed more like what one finds in a theatre lobby at intermission, than what is typically in a park. One has to climb stairs or take an elevator to get to the location, then one's movements are limited to walking north or south, sitting, standing, or looking at stuff. The park is really the only reason to be there, and for now at least, it feels like an event as much as it is a location.
I appreciated being able to see some distance, and be up a little higher than normal in this part of town. In every city one pays extra for 'views' but New York, especially Manhattan, takes that to an extreme. In Seattle or San Francisco, for example, one can get some gorgeous scenery just by walking up a hill. Here, being able to see far distances almost always costs money, in the form of an expensive high rise apartment, restaurant, or club. The Highline provides a whole new set of vistas.
I appreciate the fact that many of the rails were left in place, with cement and plantings put in around them.

This is my most successful lying-on-the-ground shot, especially for Greg. Yes, that is the Empire State building. That's how you know it's really New York. A view of this or the Statue of Liberty is necessary to validate any image of Manhattan. I can also vouch that the Highline is truly a New York park, since no one cared that I was lying on the ground, as long as I wasn't blocking traffic. Here it is possible to block traffic, but so far people seem aware of that, and careful to avoid it. The flow remained constant and cordial.

The park provides a new perspective on an area in the later throes of gentrification. There are still plenty of abandoned-looking warehouse spaces (some of which probably are art galleries nonetheless), but one can also find very high end condos and high rises, often on the same block. On the Highline it often takes just a turn of the head to see both extremes.

I quickly learned that it's difficult to get angles that show you just how high in the air the park is. Often an image just suggests a well flowered parking strip, on street level. So finding ways to show the elevation became my goal.

This doesn't accomplish that.

Nor does this one.

This one comes close, doesn't it?

Yes, I believe that IS a Gehry.

I include this shot mostly for Greg's sake, since I am pretty sure that's the bar we went after Sarah and Danny's wedding. It was nice place after a great occasion, but I think it will particularly live in Greg's heart as the place where he was carded on his 44th birthday.

One of the best angles for showing the elevation, I think.

This is another public space, which I'll have to investigate at some point. And I figure anything looking down gives you a sense of being up, right?

This image gives me the willies. I had to share it. Not sure why it freaks me out so, but it does. I figure that was the goal, so, good work, somebody.

I'm always delighted when more greenery is added to an urban environment. Turning previously unusable space--with a minimum of fall-out for locals, I hope-- into a public park is inspired, I think. Next time you're in town, Greg, we'll be sure to go. I hope your recovery is speedy and painless.