Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Rivers

This is another video shot with my little Palm Pre phone, hence the vaguely impressionist look.  I'm standing in Riverbank State Park, overlooking the Hudson, New Jersey, Riverside Park, the George Washington Bridge, Harlem and Washington Heights, and finally, the Westside Highway.

Riverbank sits atop a sewage treatment plant, and the smell was quite strong that day.  I think that's why I had both Riverbank and Riverside largely to myself, despite the fact that it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Remembering Stachio

I met Stachio in the fall of '85, when I was his hall convenor.  Wow, right there in that first sentence there's so much to explain.  I'll start with the simple stuff; at my college, the dorms had a system of peer counselors.  Each hall would have a hall convenor or a resident counselor who had received training in active-listening techniques and was charged with being the first point of contact between students (in particular first years) and the Student Development Office.  Our purpose was to be safe people for students to talk to about any problems they might be having: annoying roommates, homesickness, the pressures of school, anything.  We'd listen, help if we could, or direct them to more qualified people if that was warranted.  We also kept an eye out for red flags of any kind.  Student Development stressed we were not RAs like other schools had; we were not expected to be police officers, writing people up for rule infractions. We were encouraged to do all we could to create a sense of community, but mostly we were just supposed to be available to listen if anyone needed to talk. 

So, that was my job, along with my roommate Peter.  Before the first years arrived, we were asked to write them letters, introducing ourselves and explaining our role.  When I got the list of names, I noticed something odd.  One room had only one name, Sharon Kimery.  Singles were a coveted commodity at my school, as they no doubt are at most schools.  Generally only seniors got them.  Juniors might get one if they had a really great number in the housing lottery.  Sophomores never got one.  And a first year student?  An incoming first year?  Absolutely unprecedented. 

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It Gets Better: Why Saying this Matters

The recent spate of suicides by LGBT youth struck a deep chord with me, as it did with so many.  It stirred up memories of my own adolescence when suicide seemed like a reasonable 'solution' to being gay.  The sense of isolation, even for someone with as many privileges and good luck as I had, was easy to tap back into.  Maybe in my case it was mostly in my head (the actual incidents of violence were rare), but that didn't make it any less toxic.  Looking back I'm flabbergasted at how fully I had internalized the message I, like every other kid, was immersed in.  The thoughts in my head were evil; the attractions I felt were disgusting.  The urges had to be killed and if that weren't possible, maybe I needed to be.  Had I been brave enough to talk to my parents, I probably would have gotten help and support sooner (I repeat, I was luckier than most), but the idea of discussing this with them at the time seemed about as reasonable as growing a pair of wings.   

So I was heartened when Dan Savage and his husband Terry started the YouTube channel called It Gets BetterI thought it had some very clever things going for it.  One of the saddest things affecting LGBT youth is the fact that very often the adults in their lives believe that they are protecting their kids if they deny them access to information, resources, and positive adult role models.  They believe being LGBT is a choice, a bad one, and the best way to protect their kids from choosing it is to talk about our lives and us only in terms of disgust, fear and yes, hate.  That's if they talk about it at all.  Any attempt to present our lives to children in a positive manner will almost certainly garner the accusation of 'indoctrination' sooner or later.  Way too many people still believe that 'homosexual' is synonymous with 'pedophile', so naturally we can't be allowed direct contact with children.  Even if parents don't take the misinformation to this degree, many of them feel that challenging their opinions on this matter doesn't just challenge their politics or religion, it commits the worst crime of all: questioning their parenting.  

But this brings up one of the reasons I found Dan and Terry's plan so clever.  They're not contacting any kids.  They didn't get anywhere near any of them.  They simply left a message in a bottle to be found by any kid who might be interested, and encouraged the rest of us to leave our own messages.  They didn't say "your parents are wrong," though they did both mention that their families came around after initial disapproval. And while acknowledging how terrifying or overwhelming life can feel for LGBT kids, they made a point of stressing just how wonderful their adults lives have been. 

Okay, I knew there were would be some objections even from supportive folks and they came right on schedule.  Many of the earliest videos I saw suggested that all one had to do was get through high school, for example.  The implication seemed to be that high school was the only problem, college was in every kid's future, and that would inevitably involve an escape into a place of greater tolerance.  I do think things tend to improve for people once they reach majority; if you're an adult, you simply have more say in your life.  But not every kid is going to college.  Not every kid can escape her parents' grip the minute she turns 18.  Not every kid can afford to run away to the big city, especially when the job market is as bad as it is these days. 

But that revealed another hidden strength of this approach.  Anyone who felt the videos were misleading, or coming from a place of privilege could respond by making his or her own video.  For now anyway the Internet is not a zero-sum game.  If you feel like your story isn't being told, you can tell it yourself.  Sure Dan and Terry reserve the right to recommend certain videos, and that may shape which ones get more attention, but chances are good any reasonably computer-literate kid will be able to find videos that speak closely to her experience. 

Okay, there are still some privileges involved.  We're assuming (or hoping) that the intended audience will have unsupervised access to the Internet, or supportive adults who will allow or encourage access.  This is likely to exclude the group of LGBT kids most at risk.  Many studies find that self-identified LGBT kids account for 40% of all homeless kids.  Most studies of the general population figure LGBT folks make up somewhere between 5 and 10%.  Even if this seems low, or impossible to measure (the closet is an obvious challenge to accurate reporting), it still indicates a significant disproportion.  If you want to see some statistics regarding the experiences of LGBT kids, homeless or no, you can go here.  Yes, it's been compiled by PFLAG (of Phoenix), which most certainly has a viewpoint and an agenda (as do I), but their statistics are scrupulously footnoted, and include documents from such radical Queer organizations as the US Department of Health and Human Services.  This page also does a good job of explaining how many kids face things far worse than just 'teasing and name-calling,' as so many opponents want to claim. 

Recent brutal attacks on gay men in New York have reminded us locally that no community is truly safe, that bigotry and hatred don't disappear when one becomes an adult.  I know some people have been tempted to say this gives the lie to the It Gets Better project.  But the channel has a very specific agenda: ending the suicides of kids.  We need to address bigotry, hate and violence in all its forms.  We need to protect all potential victims.  But there's something so obscene about kids beating the bigots to the punch and doing the job themselves.  When we talk to kids, we always try to instill hope about their futures.  Women are still raped and killed, people of color and other minorities are still murdered as well.  They are still marginalized, brutalized, and in sundry ways relegated to second-class citizenship.  We don't want to sugarcoat or deny those facts, but when we talk to girls and children of color, we don't just warn them about the dangers of the world, we also encourage them.  Doing so isn't lying to them, it's part of the process of making their lives better, creating the world we want them to have.  Telling LGBT kids that it will get better is the same process.  It's valid. 

I still may make a video.  To be honest, I felt for a while like the middle-class, college-educated gay white guy contingent was pretty well represented, but then I remember that part of the point of things like this is numbers.  The more people challenging the hatred and isolation, the better.  Again, posting a video of my experience doesn't prevent anyone else with a different experience from doing it too.  And in a weird way, the privileges I had that made coming out easier for me may come with an obligation to speak up when others feel they can't.  It was out folks who paved the way for me, after all.   

In the meantime I'm making a donation to the Trevor Project, the suicide hotline most often mentioned in the videos.  Friend Kate mentions too that studies have revealed that arts programs in schools have a variety of beneficial effects including a lessening of bullying and violence.  I don't know the specifics of that, am still going to research it, but as an arts-loving homo I am thrilled to hear it.  It certainly fits with my experience.  Art class, orchestra class, creative writing and drama club all were huge havens for me in high school, places where I felt accepted, even celebrated. Kate encourages us all to write our congress members asking them to bring back or protect arts programs in schools.*  So that's another great step. 

*Kate posted this info on Facebook, so you won't necessarily find mention of it on the blog.  But you should follow the link anyway; she's a good read. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Top Bound Notebook and a Good Pen

My inner Luddite has been making an appearance lately.  Oh, he's usually pretty close to the surface, I would say.  I love email, certainly, and large portions of the interwebz, and while I wouldn't say I love my cell phone particularly, I find it useful more often than not.  But the Luddite (what shall we call him?  Don't you think he needs a name?  Something Quakerly and/or Biblical, I think.  Maybe Jeremiah?  That's a bit grand though, and more foaming-at-the-mouth than I typically am when in Luddite mode, so how about Jerry?  Yeah, let's go with that), excuse me, but Jerry has been piping up more often of late.  Some of this is tied up with another message/voice I've been hearing (I don't think it's Jerry, exactly), which has been telling me to SLOW DOWN.  At first I found that message perplexing.  I've been gallivanting around the country and globe in the past year, it's true, but I wouldn't say I've been excessively busy, really.  Yes there was work to be done in Twisp, and we did it, but there was also plenty of time for hiking, inter-tubing on the river, and having good long talks with friends over meals and wine.  And Ireland?  Maine?  Morro Bay?  The three visits I made to Indiana throughout the year?  Those were vacations, clear and simple, no ifs ands or buts.  So, um, I haven't been feeling overworked, exactly.  So naturally I asked for clarification on the 'slow down' message, at which point the voice sighed, rolled its eyes (shut up and just go with it) and said very slowly, like I was some kind of moron or something, 'if it has an off switch, turn it off.'   

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's the Audience, Stupid

Yes, the audience.  That was one of the most satisfying aspects of Tuesdays with Morrie, we kept clearly in mind who we were doing this play for. That probably sounds silly, doesn't it.  Who else does one do a play for?  Let me explain. 
Sunset during a forest fire, as seen from the patio.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Priming the Pump: My Director's Notes

Friend Marta was here for a few days of writing, and it was the first chance we'd had in several months to catch up face-to-face.  Both of us had fairly eventful summers, so we had a lot to talk about.  I got closer to articulating some of the satisfactions of the job in Twisp, but much of it is still clogged in my brain.  My talking is only slightly better than my writing these days.  There are a number of reasons for this, I know, but at this point simple atrophy from disuse is probably the biggest culprit. 

(The Merc Playhouse on Glover St, Twisp, WA.)

Monday, September 06, 2010

Burren: The Close View

Here, as promised, are some of the closer details I caught during our walks on the Burren.  I learned the names of the unfamiliar flowers while I was there, but in the intervening two months I've forgotten most of them.  Help, as always, is much appreciated. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

(Re)gaining Perspective: Burren, the Long View

What an overwhelming four months I've had.  I've been some amazingly beautiful places, met some wonderful people, got to do some satisfying work. 

And I've walked.  And looked.  Lots of looking.  There's been so much to see.  There have been some wonderful, important conversations as well, often combined with the walking and looking, but I'm having a hard enough time synthesizing stuff as it is, so for now I'm going to stick just with the walking and looking. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Falls Creek With Dana

I'm back in New York, getting reacquainted with my life here, after a fantastic month in the Methow Valley, direcing a production of Tuesdays with Morrie at the Merc Playhouse in Twisp, WA.  Not even a cracked tooth could mar the joy of the experience, the beauty of the surroundings, or the loveliness of the friends old and new I encountered.

So far the weather here isn't too bad, but it promises to get nasty again in the next day or two.  So here's a  mini-heat break, at least for your imagination.  My new friend Dana showed me this waterfall as part of a lovely day we had two Sundays ago.  I wish you could feel the air (negative ions bouncing everywhere) and smell the cedar trees.  Why does the scent of cedar immediately cool me off?  Sigh.

I don't know why the sound cuts out before the end.  The quality is not great, unless you take into account that I shot this on my Palm Pre phone.  Then I think it's pretty damn impressive.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

London Video

This is out of sequence, coming as it does towards the end of the trip, but it's the only decent video I shot, and I felt like posting it now.  Mary and I were crossing the Thames when Big Ben began striking noon.  Three bells had rung before I got the camera running, but trust me, it was noon.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the mic on my little camera picked up the sound.

Review Link

Bill, our friend Jeff S. and I  got to see a sneak preview of The Kids are All Right on Tuesday.  I have a review of it up at my other 'blog home, Queer New York.  Go check it out, and if you get a chance, check out the movie.  It's worth it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Burren: The Walk Before the Hike

Visiting the Burren, Co. Clare was perhaps the most ambitious part of our trip.  Ireland has a decent public transportation system (beats the doors off this country's, not that it would take much) but now we were leaving the settled areas and heading someplace that is known for its barren, rocky solitude.  It's a national park with hikes threading throughout its 300km, so we wanted a town that would get us closest to the greatest number of options.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Still planning to get back to the travelogue, but if you're just dying to see some of my photos, head over to Queer New York for a visual diary of one of my Riverside Park walks.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New York Pride This Sunday

Hey Fellow New Yorkers, or anyone who will be in town this coming weekend:  Father Tony, the man who never seems to sleep (I don't know how else to explain his dauntingly high level of activity) is once again organizing a group to march in the Pride Parade.  Bill and I will be there, and we'd love to see you.  See below for the notice Tony sent out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day Four: The Burren

Blogger is being EXTRA annoying today.  Recalcitrant, arbitrary, moody and just plain bitchy.  There, I said it.  You're being bitchy, Blogger.  What is your dang deal, anyway?  Put the photos where I tell you to put them.  It doesn't matter to ME if you want to load them top to bottom or bottom to top, all I ask is that you be consistent.  I don't think that's a lot to ask of a computer program, or online software, or whatever the hell it is you call yourself, Blogger.  It seems to me consistency is the least I should expect.  

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Romance of Travel: Collecting Viruses

I'll be getting back to the travelogue very soon, but first, a brief sketch of my first week back.

With the exception of one very hot day, hot even for here let alone there, Ireland and London were blissfully cool.  It felt like mid-Spring most of the time, mostly because it was.  I only needed my sweater once, but most days I had to wear my over-shirt, and long pants were always in order.  In other words it was my ideal weather, sunny and warm but not too warm during the days, at night cool enough to warrant a blanket or duvet on the bed.  Bliss.

Friday, June 04, 2010

James: One Year Later

(Photo courtesy of Jennie Isbell.) 

Today would have been James Lacey's 42nd birthday.  Sunday will be the first anniversary of his death.  People who know more about this sort of thing than I do assure me that once the Year of Firsts is over, things  will change.  The grief won't disappear, nor would I want it to, but it will change.  We'll see.  There have been many emotional ambushes lately, probably because of the impending anniversaries, but also, as I mentioned earlier, because of the trip.  Before I left there was also a very weird week where about five plays or TV shows I saw had dead sons/brothers as surprise plot points.  Man did that get old. Finally, after one too many times sniffling and snorking excessively until intermission, I learned to have tissues handy at all times.  So, there's that.  

My friend Ellen, who is also grieving the loss of a younger brother, did something a few months back that I really liked.  On her brother Mark's birthday, she asked her friends to have an Entemann's double chocolate donut -his favorite - in his memory.  Our mutual friend Marta happened to be visiting at the time, so I bought a dozen (or was it two?) donuts for she, Bill, and I to share.  DAMN they are some good donuts, but I don't recommend having more than one at a sitting, or even in a single twenty-four hour period.  I think my heart palpitations only stopped a couple of days ago.  

So, I want to suggest something like that in memory of James.  There's nothing quite as clear-cut in the way of favorites with him, at least I'd be hard pressed to pick a single food he really loved.  Actually, he'd probably have loved those same donuts, but the one food I can remember him getting really excited about was, well, salad.  The man loved his salad.  He always complained after devouring one in a restaurant that "it was too small."  And I use the word 'devour' advisedly.  Mary always said, seeing James eat a salad wasn't pretty.  It was a bit like watching a lion take down a gazelle. And I'm not talking the quiet aftermath when the lion munches contentedly on the slightly-quivering-but-mostly-still corpse, I'm talking the heart-pounding terrifying scene of the lion literally taking down the gazelle.  Lotta gusto.  He got in the habit of having salads as his afternoon snack.  Mom and Mary nearly strangled him when they learned that.  It's just unnatural, is what it is.  Snacks aren't supposed to be good for you.  He was as much of a foodie as the rest of us, and always enjoyed big feasts, but seemed to be constitutionally unable to over-do in most cases.  He never had more than a single glass of wine, for example.  A second one always gave him a headache.  Maybe the Quaker genes were just a bit stronger in him than they are in the rest of us.  Little weirdo.  

So, like, if you want to have a James Lacey commemorative salad, well, that's swell, I guess (ya little weirdo).  But here are a few other suggestions for things you might do over the next three days, if you've a mind, whether you knew him or not.    

Snoogle a big dog.  Extra credit if you take it for a long walk.  

Take a housebound (or merely carless) friend grocery shopping.    

Call, visit, or invite over for tea anyone you suspect is hiding from the world, due to a divorce, job loss, or any other psychic wound.  Risk being a bit relentless about it, a pain in the ass, even. 

Go bowling with friends. 

The man loved Tweety-bird.  I have no idea what to do with that, but if that inspires you, more power to ya.  

Invite friends over for board or role-playing games.  Snacks, if they are provided (and why the hell wouldn't they be?), should be served in bowls.  And don't worry, he always served good snacks (no salads).  

Get friends (and snacks) together for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 Marathon.  Star Trek, any of them (well, maybe not Deep Space Nine) works too. 

Amendment 6/5/10:  PIE!  I can't believe I forgot about pie!  James loved it, especially blueberry, but he'd pretty much take his pie any way he could get it.  Maybe I had blocked it out, since 'pie' was one of his stock responses to virtually any question, whether food was involved or not. Basically he just felt any situation could be improved by pie, I guess.  It's an argument worth examining, I suppose.  Thanks to friend AJB (see comments) who learned this fact from visiting Mom yesterday, while she was baking a blueberry one in James' memory.  So, that's another fine food you can have in celebration.   

Hug and kiss everyone you love, in greeting and parting.  No need to go overboard with this one; I don't think James did it with many people outside the family circle (which of course includes the dog and cat), his bowling or gaming buddies for example.  But don't miss any opportunity to say good bye to anyone.  

We miss thee, James. 

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Days One and Two: Galway

Mary and I took a bus from Shannon airport to Galway, arriving in the station just next to Eyre Square.  The nice lady at the tourist board office in the airport had said she was perfectly willing to book rooms for us if we liked, but it would cost us a commission plus VAT (value added tax), so she recommended that we just look around for rooms once we got there.  It wasn't high season yet, she said, and she was certain we'd have no trouble finding something easily and cheaply.  This was only the first of many times people went out of their way to make sure we didn't over-pay for things.  In Galway  we perused the couple of guide books Mary had brought along.  We chose a hostel that wasn't too far away, and after booking in there, we went looking for food.   

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Irish Postcards: West Coast

Here are just a few shots I took, to get the ball rolling on documenting the trip.  The top two are from Yeats Country, specifically Rosse's Point.  The third is Galway Bay; I believe that row of houses is the Claddagh of ring fame. You may be seeing a lot of that.  I loved the look and the colors, and since it was our first part of the trip, I may have gone a wee bit ape-shit with the photographs.  Later I didn't feel it quite so necessary to take 492 shots of every place (varying for angle and light) that appealed.  (Observant readers may notice that the Rosse's Point photos are both of the same location, however.)  This was aided too by the discovery that the extra memory card I thought I had packed with the camera was in fact just an empty case (no, I don't know what I was thinking, shut up), so my plans to switch cards when the first one became full (somewhere around day ten) had to be amended to erasing redundancies while we went.  That became a useful process though.  Meditative, almost.  

It's fairly easy to get shots that look like something the Tourist Board would have put out.  I acknowledge that without shame.  We never saw any rainbows, however.  I think October is really the best time of year for them.  When I was there in the Fall of '86, I saw at least two rainbows a day while travelling in the west.  Seriously.  We just had to make due with sunny days broken occasionally by unimposing cloud cover.  Fortunately we're both survivors, Mary and me.

There will be stories and musings too, don't worry, but today I need to get reacquainted with my New York life in various ways.  

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 14? London

I came to realize that I had to treat London like a brand-new-to-me city; my memories of the place were so few and tended to center around places we weren't likely to get back to (the homes we lived in, the school I went to, the part of the Heath I walked every day).  This is probably for the best, since I didn't really enjoy London as a kid or teenager.  My fondest memories from back then tend to be of the trips we took OUT of the city, to greener, more open spaces: Scotland, Ireland, the Lake District.  We probably won't get to see any theatre here this trip, sadly.  Shows are largely sold out, since it's a bank holiday weekend.  Wandering about Trafalgar, in St. James Park, and along the Thames was quite fun yesterday.  We finished up at a Greek restaurant that was the scene of a wonderful last night in town back in '81.  We missed Mom and James, of course, and we didn't recreate the drunken stroll through a dark Heath afterwards, but that was probably a good thing too. 

Dad's lecture is Saturday night, at Friends House, just around the corner from our hotel.  I may find my memory triggered there by some of the rooms.  But all in all, the claustrophobia I feel in cities, I first discovered in this one.  Fifteen years in New York, seven in Seattle, and about six months in Dublin in '86 have all taught me skills for managing it (and those daily walks on Hampstead Heath back in '81 were undertaken for therapeutic purposes at the time), and I think I'd have quite a good time here, if our stay was longer.  Cities are great to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in one.  Oh. Huh. 

London and New York feel similar in size and energy.  There are different visual effects of course, but the first thing I noticed was distinctly different smells.  Dublin's is different as well, and I can more readily attribute that to the greater influence the Irish Sea has on the place.  It's simply not as big, there are fewer buildings over five stories, and the air just smells saltier. 

More thoughts, and OH so many pictures, when I get home and have a moment to synthesize the experience.  

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 12 Dublin

Our last full day in Dublin, and in Ireland.  Tomorrow Mary and I go much against the grain to get up an some ungodly hour so we can be on a ferry to Wales, then a train to London.  Dad will be flying, content to substitute quickness for scenery.  Today we had breakfast with a good friend of Mary's from grad school; Eileen and her family live in England now, as she's teaching at the University of Warwick.  Her perspective as an American citizen making a life in England was pretty interesting; she has a stake in the local politics and economics but still views things as an outsider at times. 

I'd forgotten how often the Irish will ask if you've family connections here; the reasonable assumption is most Americans who choose to come here do so at least in part because of ancestral connections.  Mary and I have discussed more than once the funny way she, James and I all identify with being Irish in particular ways, even though we know nothing of the specifics other than our last name and the fact that everywhere we turn here we see relatives.  By contrast we have a fairly extensive genealogical map of Mom's side of the family, some lines traced back to tenth century Wales.  The vast majority of the names are Welsh, Cornish, Scots and probably Irish, so I like to pretend sometimes that we're basically Celts, but the fact is we're probably mixed-biscuits like most Americans, a mish-mash of western Europe, with one legendary great-grandfather who was American Indian.  (Lots of Americans believe they have such an ancestor, however, and it rarely turns out to be true.)  We know we romanticize Ireland big-time; maybe no one does it more than Irish-Americans.  Americans can be fond of tracing 'their roots'.  We crave a sense of cultural tradition and belonging that other cultures take for granted.  We feel like our country is too young to have much of an identity yet, and the more honest of us recognize that it was always a big messy gumbo anyway.   

On this trip though I became more aware of the way eastern Irish (mostly urban Dubliners) can romanticize the west themselves.  (Well, what they do is romanticise, but it's much the same process.)  Many people there and elsewhere still see it as the repository of Irishness at its most authentic.  The language is most vigorous out there (both B&Bs Mary and I stayed at were run by bilingual households), the rural ties are still strongly evident, and of course there are ruins and abandoned villages all over the place to stand as stark reminders of the various invasions and devastations the country has experienced.  The stage Irishman that came into being during the Irish Renaissance was intended in part to counter the previous version, that of a drunken, lazy, slovenly braggart always ready for a fight.  Reams of pages have been written about the fact that the Irish Renaissance and the Independence Movement in general was dominated by members of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Aristocracy.  On more than one occasion we were told that we couldn't truly claim Irish heritage since our name was not Irish, but Norman.  No one went so far this time, but more than one person did make sure to mention the fact.  So even our sole tenuous claim --Dad knows nothing of his family history beyond the names of his parents, and it took the Freedom of Information act for him to learn the date of his father's birth-- is seen by some as dubious at best.  We nod solemnly, accept our pretender status, then smile as we hear laughs and see faces that could easily belong to close relatives, I mean, like siblings.  Culture is more than genetics and bloodlines, of course, but whenever we've spent time in Ireland, we can't help but wonder if genetics plays a part in more aspects of our personalities than is presently understood.  Our family sense of humor, for example, seems to fit into the collective understanding in Galway or County Clare in ways it doesn't always in Indiana.  

I said we romanticize the place, didn't I?  Shush.  

We saw a new play, still in previews, at the Abbey Theatre (The national) last night.  By Bernard Farrell, it's titled Bookworms, and all four of us (Dad, Mary, her friend Eileen and I) loved it.  A nice mix of farce and political commentary, I'll be curious to see if it plays outside the country.  I've a collection of other plays of his that was given to me years ago, but haven't read it.  That will be added to the list when I get home.  Tonight we hope to see Stoppard's Arcadia at the Gate theatre.  Oh, the show last night cost us 18 Euros, Dad got a senior discount at 13.   Sure it was a preview still, but did I mention it was at the NATIONAL THEATRE, written by a well-established and -loved playwright?  Picture seeing a new work by Tony Kushner for about $25, and buying the ticket an hour before the show.  Maybe the tickets tonight will be unavailable, but they won't be substantially more expensive. Yes, this is largely due to the size of the country; Dublin is about 1million strong, and post-Celtic Tiger the country as a whole is around 5 million.  That is less than half the size of New York City, I believe.  But there's also just a different attitude towards theatre there, as there is in England.  People go.  They think it's fun.  They can afford to go, especially if they're students and can avail themselves of some fantastic deals.  In this country, if you're spending nearly (or in some cases more than) one hundred dollars on a ticket, you understandably expect it to be SPEC-FUCKIN-TACULAR. Oh, the things I have to say about theatre in this country.  Sigh.  

Today we went to the national art museum, in particular to see the Jack B. Yeats collection, but we took in some of the new collection as well.  Then Mary and Dad headed back to the hotel for 'restorative naps' and I decided to take a stroll along Grafton street, to see if memory was triggered more fully than it has been thus far.  It was loads of fun, I do love walking streets, and things are looking very spruced up since the last time I was here in 1993.  That was pre-Celtic Tiger, so even though the country is in a recession now, there are still plenty of signs of improved infrastructure and such.  Most notably there are new-to-me trams running through the city and they seem very popular. I do love public transportation when it's done well.  I have lots to say on that topic too.  

Feeling a bit bashful, I nonetheless stepped into a woolens store to see about sweaters, hats and scarves.  I always figure those things are mostly for tourists, and maybe they are, but on this occasion I was heartened to see Gabriel Byrne in the store looking at jackets and vests.  He was wearing clothes that may very well have come from the same place.

I've come to realize I have almost no recollections of London; the last time I was there was in 1981.  A favorite restaurant, some spots on the Heath, and big tourist spots like Trafalgar are the only memories I'm conjuring at this point.  But Mary and Dad have tons of fond memories and favorite spots between them (each has been back several times since then, usually for several months while they led foreign study groups), so I'm looking forward to seeing the place with them, and starting to collect new memories of my own. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 11-12, Dublin

So much for my plan for regular updates, even just ten minutes ones.  Mary and I have been having a fabulous time.  We probably could have sought out more internet cafes than we did, but there always seemed to be something else to do.  We spent two days in Galway, soaking up the sun (yes, sun) on the sli na slainte, which I think translates as walk of health, a walking path that takes one along the bay.  Many photos will be shared at a later date with anyone foolish enough to click on this blog, or sit still in my presence for any length of time.  Mary and I travel well together; we want to go to the same places, usually because we share the fond memories, and we're pretty much in tune about how much to plan and how much to play by ear.  Having seen how much I love my new camera, Tony decided Mary needed one for her trip, so we've been madly snapping away, both of us, flowers, mountains, donkeys, cows, pigs, more flowers, greenery EVERYWHERE, scenery galore, cottages we intend to own (still haven't narrowed down WHERE we want to be exactly).  After Galway we spent three nights in Co. Clare, hiking about the Burren.  A woman at one of our favorite bookstores (back in Galway) gave me an article about a guy who theorizes J.R.R Tolkien based his vision of Mordor on the Burren.  It seems plausible; once you see my photos, you'll see why I think it bears examining. 

Trying to sum up over a week's worth of travel while still sticking to my ten minute rule is a wee bit tricky.  Add in the fact that we just had some really great Italian food and a fair amount of wine, and you'll have to forgive me if I'm not painting the detailed picture I want to.  There have been characters along the way, as all good travel will entail.  I'd forgotten, for example, the men frequently like to chat up my sister, and smooch her if given half a chance.  Okay, so far there have been only two, but they were both pretty smitten, and we're not out of Ireland yet.  City people are more reserved no matter where you go though. 

We've been doing a lot of hiking, sometimes more than we had actually planned.  A hike up Knocknarea, for example, ended up being a hike from Strandhill to the mountain, up the mountain, down the mountain, then back into Sligo.  We still haven't figured out exactly how long that was (either in miles or kilometers, which sound so much more impressive), but anyone who knows the area has been very impressed with us.  We're pretty pleased with ourselves as well.  On top the mountain we had another little moment to say goodbye to James (he loved the place too).  Naturally we're constantly reminded of things he would have loved doing, seeing, eating or enjoying with us, but that's mostly been nice. 

I haven't said a word yet about how wonderful Clifden in Connemara was, but the internet cafe closes in five minutes.  Maybe now that we'll be in cities for the rest of the trip (here, then London) I'll get to write more... but there is so much to see...

Day One: Galway

I've got about ten minutes to write a quick post before the time runs out; that's perfect though, since I told myself if I posted at all during this trip, it would be no more than ten minutes at a time.  When I get going, I can lose hours, but I don't want to spend more time reporting on the trip than I do enjoying it. 

Our flight out of Kennedy was delayed by a plane switch, then the trip was lengthened by two hours so we could fly north of the Iceland volcano ash; seven hours on a plane, in the middle seat, is a looooong time.  It was mitigated by having my sister on one side of me, and the actor/writer/activist Malachy McCourt sitting on the other.  We had seen him and one of his brothers in the waiting area, and were pretty sure we knew who he was, but didn't have it confirmed until we realized we'd be spending the next seven hours together.  He's every bit as charming and funny as one would expect after seeing him in interviews.  He, like us, was coming over in part to honor a brother who had died in the last year.  His brother Frank is being honored today by a school in Limerick with a bust and an endowed chair. 

Shannon is one of the quietest international airports in the world.  We caught a bus into Galway, hitting several towns along the way that brought back fond memories of family trips.  After checking into a hostel, we wandered the gorgeous walking streets, and an equally gorgeous river walk.  The thing one has to keep remembering is, the things here aren't trying to look charming.  That building just looks like that.  Those horses and swans aren't trying to be picturesque, they're just doing their thing, being swans and horses.  (Between you and me though, I think some of the animals are paid by the Tourist Board.  More than once I've had one of them seem to pose, finding just the right position to make a shot work best.)

Several Days Later:  So it turns out this didn't get published when I thought it did, the computer cut out on me sooner than I realized.  Now I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Dublin, on the 23rd.  Mary, Dad and I all met up yesterday in the city and have spent today bopping about the place.  I'll post this one, then try to jot down some notes about the last week.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mr Blue Sky: Ambushed by ELO

I was a teary kid, a crybaby, until age twelve when I resolved never to cry again.  It wasn't that I thought it was unmanly; Dad has always been easily moved to tears for causes both sad and joyful.  I think I've seen him cry more than Mom.  In my case it just seemed silly to hand other kids such easy ammunition, especially when I had so many other things to live down.    

My resolve worked surprisingly well.  I was in college before I shed any more tears, and even then I rarely did it in front of other people.  I never had the experience of catharsis others claim to have.  Giving way to tears, like giving way to rage, doesn't leave me feeling purged or relieved.  I don't strive to bottle either one any longer; when they come, they come.  But giving them expression doesn't seem to help much.  

James' death was the first occasion in a long time I can remember feeling like I had no say in whether or not I cried.  Have I told you the story about when I learned of his death?  I had been at a friend's surprise birthday party, in a cheese cave (seriously) so the phone call went to voicemail.  Above ground again, I listened to Dad's message on a street in Midtown.

"Patrick, make sure to sit down before thee listens to this.  James was killed today in a car accident."  

Then he dissolved into sobs, and had to hang up the phone.  

I suppose it was shock that made me unsure I had heard the message correctly, so naturally I had to replay it.  But remember, I was in the concrete canyon of Midtown.  

"Patrick, make sure to sit down before thee mumble mumble...mumble cell phone cut out, mumble mumble mumble."  


I moved to a new location, got more bars on my phone and hit replay again.  But I'm still in Midtown, remember? Suddenly a parade of Falun Gong followers marched past me on the Avenue.  There were gongs, drums, cymbals, some species of caterwauling horn.  It was like Chinese freakin' New Year.  

What. the. fucking. HELL. (In other circumstances I would have found this hilarious.)

Fourth time was a charm, though by this point the shock had worn off enough that probably my brain was simply catching what my ear had heard perfectly the first time.  Not knowing what to do with myself, I went on autopilot and headed off to my appointment.  It wasn't until I met with my acupuncturist that I realized that trying to talk meant unleashing the torrent I had been holding back, just out of habit.  It took at least three tries before I could explain why I was sobbing.  She wisely sent me home.  Next on the agenda was calling Brian, to explain that I wouldn't be much use to him at the rehearsal that day for the staged reading we were working on.  Having said it out loud once already, thus removing any chance I had of magically rendering it not so, I was able to choke out my message after just two tries.  

The month of June had many crying jags, and I realized that not only was I rarely in control of it, I was also not embarrassed by it.  Certainly that must have been partly due to the fact that I was surrounded by lots of other watery messes, none of whom saw anything to be embarrassed by in their grief.  It was comforting in its own weird way.  (By the way, I have never been embarrassed by other people's tears, just my own.)  

Then the memorial happened.  For those of you unfamiliar with the silent Friends tradition, let me explain some key details.  Because there is no predesignated minister, there is no pulpit, and the benches are usually set up in concentric rings, so everyone can see everyone else.  One bench closest to the center is designated the 'Facing Bench'.  Originally this would be where the elders sat, and today it's where the people charged with ending the worship sit.  During special meetings, like for weddings or memorials, the families directly involved will sit here.  The last time I sat there had been for Mary and Tony's wedding in 2006.  That was nice.  

I'm going to go on record here and say I'm not so sure having grieving families sitting on the Facing Bench is such a swell idea.  At least in my case I didn't care for it.  Suddenly I was aware of all these loving, sad, sympathetic people staring at me, wondering how I was doing, how I was going to react.  The old ambivalence about  tears resurfaced with a vengeance.  Oh, they still came, I wasn't able to control them yet, but I felt vulnerable, exposed, above all embarrassed.  I saw how this experience might be mitigated a bit in other Judeo-Christian memorials, where everyone faces in one direction.  The only people who can see you crying are the ones at the lectern or pulpit, and maybe the folks sitting next to you.  

Oh, except in those cases, the grieving family members are often expected to say a few words, right?  So you're still visible to everyone, and you're expected to both stand and talk.  Nope, that would have been worse.  Scratch that paragraph above. 

What brought all this on today?  Well, in the past ten months, tears have come and gone according to some inner logic of their own.  At times, sometimes for days, I'll feel them brewing under the surface, before they're triggered by the damnedest things.  I mean Mercedes singing "You are Beautiful" in an episode of Glee was nice enough I suppose, but definitely one of that show's more treacly moments.   The show hits pretty high on the treacle-meter actually.  I still love it, but usually resist its more overt (read: cheap) plays for emotions.  Was I really going to succumb this time?  Apparently, yes.  Not sure why, clearly it had something to do with James, don't ask me what, other than the general sentiment that yes, he too was beautiful, but for whatever reason that song (maybe because Mercedes was singing to all the fellow misfits at her high school and James had definitely been a misfit? I got nothin') set off the waterworks.  

I had a similar experience this morning, with this song. I don't know how James felt about ELO, though I would suspect he liked them well enough.  He probably even liked this tune, assuming he ever heard it.  Maybe the lyrics make me think of him, especially the refrain:

Mr Blue Sky
Please tell us why
You had to hide away
For so long (so long) 
Where did we go wrong?

Hey there Mr Blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you.  

Yeah, there's some kind of trigger in there.  I've mentioned James' relentless sunniness before, and how it often drove me crazy as a kid (maybe mostly when it took the form of teasing or hounding his older brother).  I think James had some bleak periods, ones he rarely shared with me.  Maybe he expressed them to Mary, or to close friends, but I fear he had the same tendency I did to hide away when things were really bad.  I think it's a family trait, or maybe a cultural one.  As a country we're still Puritan enough to think grief, misery, or simply low self-confidence are things to be ashamed of.  Weaknesses of character.  Sins to atone for, perhaps.  Or maybe we don't know how to talk about them in a way that doesn't sound self-pitying.    

So a peppy, upbeat song with deceptively melancholy lyrics threw me a curve ball today.  Not the first time nor, I suspect, will it be the last.  And more often than not now, I get embarrassed by it.  Writing about it is almost as bad; woo boy, does that trigger the  'wallowing police' siren in my head (neener neener neener!).  There's no denying this is all about me, after all.  I think Mom, Dad, and Mary may be having similar experiences.  In the days following James' death, grief tended to be a force bringing us together; at this stage, I think lately each of us feels the need to experience its greatest depths privately.  I guess that's just part of the process.  Funny how often that word--process--is the only answer I have for most of life's little struggles these days.  It's a popular word among artists too.  Getting to hate that fucking word.  

Which undoubtedly is also part of the process.  



Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Subway Snapshot

Riding on the #1, three handsome young men of South Asian descent catch my ear and eye.  I'm not drawn by what they're saying--they're discussing people I don't know, and a game I've never understood, even after playing it in gym class when we lived in London--but I love the music of it.  One fellow speaks with a lilting South Asian accent (my ear isn't tuned enough to get more specific than that).  Another speaks with a posh London dialect.  The third tawks pure Bronx.  And all three are dressed in white uniforms,  the crisp blinding cloth only slightly rumpled and grass-stained at this point.  They carry cricket bats and shin guards.  They were just playing at Riverbank State Park, in Harlem.  

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Bread & Butter Issue: Comment Moderation

For the last few posts one of my most faithful commenters has been someone posting a link to an Asian porn site.  If that were all it was, I might be inclined to leave things be, and delete those comments as they come.  I'm not convinced, however, that IS all the link does, and being just clueless enough about the ways of the interwebz, I've decided to change my comment policy.  For now, I've switched over to the moderated setting, which means (for the two of you who aren't bloggers yourselves) that before a comment gets posted, I have to sign off on it.  Frankly it's rather nice that I've been able to go this long (almost five years) without having to make this switch.  It's also nice that the cause is a random spammer who seems to have figured out a way around the word verification function, rather than the irresponsible, over-heated ad hominem attacks I know have motivated the switch at other blogs.  Of course the topics here at Loose Ends rarely inspire the kind of debate that usually leads to those ad hominem attacks.  If my chirpy reports and photos of various green spaces enrage anyone, they haven't found me yet, or they haven't had it in them to post a scathing review.  No one is more surprised than I am that my blog has become such a flowers/bunnies/hearts destination.  As a pacifist socialist faggot with some rather heated positions of his own, I fully expected this venue to be a bit more controversial when I started it, but that's not where it's taken me.  I think that's all to the good, frankly.  It's been a good discipline for me to seek out positivity when I write here.  To be honest, that's not my natural tendency.   

Anyway, moderation, as opposed to Open ID (where you have to have signed on for some kind of online identity) will still allow anonymous users to post, since I have occasionally written about LGBT issues, and that has sometimes triggered anonymous comments from users who are not yet ready to come out.  Then there are all those folks who, like me, get a bit tired of having to sign up for yet another online something-or-other in order to leave a comment, so they just don't bother.  Honestly, how many different photo-sharing websites do we need, and why do no two of my friends seem to belong to the same ones?  

Okay, got a little distracted there.  So, comment moderation is now in place, I wish I didn't have to bother, but we'll see how it goes.  If, at any time, someone wants to contact me directly, remember that you can find an email link under my photo there on the left. 

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Happy Beltáin

It's a bit harder this year to muster enthusiasm for the beauty and abundance of Spring.  But I'm trying.  Soon my sister and I will take a trip that is sure to help the process; Ireland in May is something I haven't experienced since I was 10 years old.  In the meantime, I make myself stop and pay attention to what (and who) is around me, making my life richer and more joyful.  
Happy May Day.   
More photos after the jump.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Heading North: Van Cortlandt Park

Last Sunday I (and a game Bill) finally got up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.  I've been meaning to check this out for years, but somehow it just never happened.  It's not on any of my beaten paths for one thing, as numerous and varied as they are.  Usually I fulfill my craving for green space by going to one of my old favorites.  I don't get to see them enough, they change with every season, so new places don't get added to the rotation easily.  I think I may also have had it in my head that visiting this park would be a major expedition, requiring nothing less than a free day.  Then there's just the way routine carves itself into one's life.  I'd been living in this apartment for about nine months before it occurred to me that, upon leaving my building, maybe this time, instead of turning right (heading towards the subway, the grocery store, all familiar territory) I might just get a little crazy and turn left.  Just, you know, to see what was over there.  Whacky, right?  That's kind of shenanigans I get up to when I've a mind.   

So, a conversation with friends on Saturday reminded me of the Park's existence, then Sunday came with gorgeous weather and an empty schedule.  So off we went.  I already knew my local subway (the #1) would deliver us right to the park.  The final stop is called the Van Cortlandt Park stop, so I was confident a pair of savvy urban types like us wouldn't get lost.  And once I had actually looked at the trip, I realized it just wasn't that far.  The commute maybe took twenty minutes, and what's more, most of the ride was above ground.  I always get excited when the subway leaves its hidey hole, especially since that almost always means it becomes an elevated train.  Suddenly the windows actually look out on something, well, something besides stations, crowds and work lights.  My general resentment of concrete lessens considerably when I can see great distances and plenty of sky. 

As promised, the subway station fed us right into the park.  We didn't have specific destinations in mind, so with Bill's permission I headed us towards the woodsy-looking parts.  One of the first thing we both noticed was how small the crowds were.  A gorgeous Sunday in Central Park means wall-to-wall people.  That can be fun in it's own way, especially since the crowds are usually pretty cheerful (just watch for the kamikazi bike riders), but it was a surprising gift to have so much of the place to ourselves.  On a related note, I can't remember the last time I came across so many considerate teenage bikers. 

The park had evidence of former lives throughout.  I always find it exciting, if a bit scary, to see how vigorously plant life can take over when it's allowed to.  (You might need to click on the image above to make sense of it; there's a fence in there.)

We pretty quickly found a path that took us along side some large ponds, and a golf course.  Bikers and pedestrians were able to share the path cordially, in part, again, because there weren't that many of either group. 

Of course I was on the lookout for violets, and I wasn't disappointed.  Much to my delight, I discovered that my new camera gets pretty damn close to capturing the correct color.  The trick seems to be adequate sunlight.  Violets like shade, so maybe I'd just never put that to the test before this trek.  I hope you'll indulge me as I post several of those photos.  It probably won't surprise any who know me well that this collection is just the tip of the iceberg.  I've also made them all larger than the other photos, no doubt shortening the time before Blogger tells me I'm over my storage limit.  Don't care. 

These purple-throated white ones were also a fun discovery.  I think that's part of the charm of violets for me, I feel like I've found hidden treasure.  I love cherry trees and other extravagant blooms, for example, but they don't trigger quite the same sense of discovery.  I mean, you rarely stumble across them accidentally, know what I mean.  You see them coming for miles.  That's nice too, don't get me wrong, it's just a different experience. 

When I find big fields of violets, I want to lie down and roll around in them.  Having enough sense to realize this wouldn't do them a lot of good, I make due with lying beside them.  Having a camera gives one so much license.  Bill made sure I didn't get run over by bikers.

Another surprise: we officially walked out of New York City. I hadn't realized Westchester was so close.  The minute we left the park, the dirt path became a paved bike trail, and suburban houses (see below) sprouted up on one side.  On the other we heard the constant roar of the Sawmill Parkway.  I've been on that road several times, usually heading someplace fun and gorgeous, and getting to it previously involved an elaborate process of renting a car, maneuvering through Manhattan traffic to dive headfirst into Westside Highway traffic, etc.  To have come across it unexpectedly while out for a Sunday stroll was funny, and oddly freeing. 

Keeping my eyes peeled for violets meant I noticed these little darlings.  I don't know what they are.  Having had such good luck with the forsythia identification in the last post, I'm hoping my savvy readers can help me with this one too.  Does anyone recognize it? 

This might be a bit too Thomas Kincaide for some, but I'm pretending it's an homage to El Greco. 

Shut up.     

How about this flower?  I don't this one either.  Anyone? 

Little reminders of the urban life surrounding my green oases used to bug me, but over the years I've come to like them.  I'm not sure why; maybe it's just nice to be reminded that people created these parks on purpose, that I'm far from alone in needing this outlet. 

We rounded out the day with a nice malbec, some Chinese take-out, and the first bunch of lilacs I'd seen on sale.  They were half the price I'm used to paying, probably because I usually buy them farther south.  That will stand as another good reminder to head north every once in a while.