Monday, June 28, 2004

Bad Fag!

Bad Fag!

I kind of feel bad for skipping the whole Pride thing yesterday, as if I had shirked a solemn duty, as if I'd let down my side. But it was so hot out, and after church I was just wiped... besides, I didn't want to go over there by myself, something in the way I felt told me that I wouldn't enjoy it alone.

Sometimes the greatest challenge in a given day is to assess one's own emotional and physical state, what one is capable of managing, when any particular activity will make one happy and when that selfsame activity will make one wish to slit one's wrists. I usually have fun at Pride, there are so many people to look at; but sometimes I feel horribly horribly lonely when I go to crowded places by myself; yesterday felt like one of the lonely days.

Of course, an intelligent person would have called up a friend and made plans to meet... but as you may have noticed from my last post or two, I have not qualified as an "intelligent person" for some time. But if I had made plans with Caroline and/or Angelique to meet up after the Parade (they were marching with the Royal Grand Ducal Council contingent, naturally), then I could have gone with Angelique to Mr. Leona's with the various Court contingents, or I could have hung out with Caroline and the Falcon Studios contingent.

Falcon Studios? you ask... yes, well: see, Caroline went to a New Year's Eve party at some club called Mezzanine, and at that party she met a handful of Falcon actors who were doing promotional work that night. Caroline is not a shy girl, by any means, and the porn-stars were giving out various items of rather high-end swag (tennis-visors, postcard-books, keychains, boxer shorts, little sex-toys, and even full-sized DVDs)... you've got good-looking guys and free stuff intersecting at one party, so Caroline was on them like white on rice (here are some pix from that night).

And so when Caroline came across the Falcon float and contingent on her way to meeting the RGDC contingent (she got there over an hour early, having given herself extra time for traffic that mircaculously never materialized, and so had time to kill), she recalled herself to the acquaintance of a man with whom she had spent a lot of time talking at the New Year's party (stagenamed Gus Mattox... he's not Caroline's usual type, being an actual grown-up man instead of a smooth little prettyboy, but he's apparently very nice and friendly... he's also quite a writer, if you visit his website be sure to read the Soapbox section, it's had me in stitches all afternoon); she also spent a good deal of time with porn star Jason Adonis and photographer John Skalicky.

She also spent some time with the Gold's Gym contingent before the parade started, who apparently did some sort of Hawaiian theme and Caroline taught some of them how to hula in exchange for a free grass-skirt (little-known fact: Caroline was born on Maui and grew up on Kauai).

After the parade, she settled in at the Falcon booth with her new friends, and snagged some more swag while she was at it (foam rubber swords, for example, promoting, Falcon's new movie channel). She also got to see Margaret Cho on stage, as well as Chi-Chi LaRue's aborted production number (somebody screwed up the CD, and apparently Miss LaRue was not amused, though she gamely went through some of her number a capella).

And as soon as Caroline got home, she called me up to tell me all about her fabulous Gay Day; I was in the middle of watching Six Degrees of Separation on VHS after my three-hour nap, and was not really in the mood: envy is such an ugly emotion, and I just wasn't up to it.

Now, I wasn't exactly jealous that Caroline got to spend time with porn-stars; I imagine that, with the exception of the witty Gus Mattox, conversations with porn-stars are more entertaining in concept than in practice. Besides, I'm not sure I'd feel terribly comfortable chatting with people whom I have watched screwing while I masturbated (though I've never masturbated to any of these particular guys, being more of a Bel Ami boy than a Falcon fan)... there's simply no chapter in Amy Vanderbilt for such occasions. And let's not get into the physical-inferiority complex that I experience when I am surrounded by people who are monumentally better-looking than I.

But I am envious of Caroline's ability to go right up to people who interest her and get involved in whatever they're doing. She has more fun than I do when she goes places alone, and I get jealous of that skill sometimes. She's simply a better fag than I am. I have this to learn from her.

Anyway, instead of being in the Parade as I'd have liked or going to a sober party as I intended or even schmoozing with porn-stars and personal trainers with Caroline, I lay all afternoon and evening in bed watching videos (I was too befuddled with heat and allergies to even read a book). Aside from the amazing but kind of sad Six Degrees of Separation (I absolutely love Stockard Channing, I want to be her when I grow up), I also took in The Haunted Mansion (which was funnier than I expected and visually quite stunning), La Cage Aux Folles III (which was silly, and dubbing foreign-language films should be outlawed), and the "piece of resistance," The Meat Rack.

This last one was quite interesting, I picked it up at Borders on Sunday when I was waiting for Grandmother and Daddy to finish their Sunday school class; aside from the great beauty of the star (and his big ol' basket), it was shot in San Francisco in the early 70s, and it was neat to see how different things were then, and how much the same; the movie was a wonderful snapshot of that strange crossover period between complete suppression of the 50s and the sort-of-generalized liberation that I came out to in the 80s.

There were also some very interesting extras on the DVD; aside from a second movie that I haven't watched yet, there was footage of the third annual West Hollywood Pride Parade and the third annual Gay-In... it was really interesting to compare those to the televised Parade I watched intermittently on KRON, with hostesses Donna Sachet and Jan Wahl. It was kind of a trip.

Also on the DVD, among some odd little nudie-reels of boys playing ukeleles on the beach and playing billiards and wrestling blindfolded in the nude, was one of the legendary John Holmes' first porn reels... it was softcore and grainy and strange, but oy! This rather pretty slim boy walking around with this stupefying schlong bouncing around in front of him, and this other slim and pretty boy with what would have been a pretty big piece if it hadn't been dwarfed by his costar's... well, it was quite mind-boggling. I still see it when I close my eyes.

Well, anyway, that's what my life is like today. I'm hoping it gets better, that I have something of my own to say sometime soon instead of just reporting on other people's fun. But then, allergies, heat, depression, these do not make for fun stories, do they? I mean, I can squeeze a few laughs out of them, but I need something a little more entertaining to dominate my life if I'm going to be able to enjoy it. So here's hoping.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

I Just Can't Think

I Just Can't Think

I simply can't make up my mind about anything, I cannot concentrate, and there are all these ideas and priorities swirling around in my head making the most dreadful racket: I don't want to do drag today... but you said you'd do drag today... and you already bought a brand-new dress just for today... and what about Pink Saturday? you want to go to that... but I felt better yesterday when I made those plans and today I feel yucky... and then what about Pride tomorrow, will you feel like going to that, you sorry excuse for a queen? You make me sick... I want to have clean laundry, but I don't want to actually do the work required to get the laundry clean... I want to work on my novel but I can't focus on the scene I need to create or the information I need to make up... Oh, just shut up already, all of you! Fuck!

The weird thing is that I can't figure out if I'm sick or not, if it's just the heat and allergies making me feel this way or if I have a low-grade flu. Allergies don't usually make me feel queasy, but the heat sometimes does; and the heat doesn't make my muscles ache, but then with allergies I have a bit of high-impact coughing and sneezing, and sometimes I get all clenched up if I can't breathe properly in my sleep, and that will make me sore. So the heat and allergies can create flu-like symptoms... but then, the flu creates flu-like symptoms, too.

On Thursday I got so woozy that I had to leave work early, and the symptoms I described exactly matched the symptoms my coworker had when she came down with a flu last week... which made her completley miserable for a whole week; but although I have been having slight waves of nausea and a sort of swimmy feeling that isn't quite dizziness but is a sort of third-cousin to dizziness, I haven't felt as bad as that since I went to sleep Thursday evening. I chalked up that woozy afternoon to the Robitussin Allergy that I swallowed, which has been sitting in my glove-compartment since last year and may have gone bad; but I felt crappy before I took the syrup, or else I wouldn't have taken it in the first place, now would I?

I think I'd better skip the drag today (oh, fuck, I just sneezed three times at once, so hard that I not only strained all of my already-sore muscles, but I blew snot all over my monitor. GROSS), but I'll go to the drag-show nevertheless (I'm driving people, so I'd better); make up my mind about the Pink Saturday dance after the drag show is over, seeing how I feel then; and tomorrow I will go to Pride after church and at least catch some of the concert and see and be seen.

As to the laundry and the novel... well, it will just have to wait, won't it. I feel better now. Thanks for listening!

But I just remembered why it isn't considered nice to discuss illnesses in polite company: it's fucking boring. Just shut up you whiney little bitch! No you shut up! You just shut up! Perhaps I'd better go back to bed now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Squeezing It Out

Squeezing It Out

Well, Chapter 1, Part 2 of Worst Luck is up and ready to read. It's pretty short. I've been working on it the last few days, though considering my busy weekend and the time it took me to complain about my busy weekend, I didn't have all that much time to spend on it. Still, I feel like I've been sitting on the toilet for hours and hours with the Reader's Digest, straining and pushing, and only producing the merest wee little turd.

But I am already seeing the benefit of writing this first draft in a blog... along with the actual audience of specific people I know who will read it, there is the implied audience (whom I imagine clamoring and foaming at the mouth with anticipation for the next installment) that has been imaginarily egging me on to squeeze out this wee little turd of fiction; and so rather than letting the story languish as I ordinarily would when nobody besides myself knows of its existence, I went ahead and squeezed it out.

And aside from the wonderful creative feeling of putting real words (and a few I made up) onto the cyberspace equivalent of paper, this project has really given me something to think about besides my daily run of worries and amusements. For example, I discovered I'd have to get rid of a plot-point that I was going to depend on when I asked my uncle (the cop) if the court would impound property after granting bail to prevent a flight-risk from absconding (it wouldn't... if the flight risk was too great, the court wouldn't have granted bail in the first place); this slight disappointment, though, opened the door for a few interesting legal arguments that I am going to think through to see if I can use them.

I still need to find out more about the criminal legal system, aside from just watching Law & Order and/or any of its many spinoffs. I plan on taking some Fridays off during the summer and attend arraignments and trials in San Francisco to get a better atmospheric feel for the place as well as gaining some familiarity with the criminal process. Plus, I have to figure out how to get either a reliable description or an in-person tour of the inner workings of the police department and city jail.

It's all so very fascinating.

Other than the novel, nothing much has gone on in the last three days except the purchase yesterday at lunch-time of an utterly immense silver ring set with the biggest garnet I've ever seen complemented with turquoise beads and lavender CZs (you can see it here). I've got to do something about my shopping practices... the ring was only thirty bucks, but it will cost more to be sized up (it's much too heavy for my pinkie); besides, these things add up after a while (on top of the seven videos and four books I've bought this pay-period, there are also a bunch of gifts and meals I've bought in the past few days). If I keep shopping at this speed, I'll never get my credit-cards paid down or get any cash saved up for dental work or car emergencies.

There I go again with the daily worries. Back to the world of Danny Vandervere with me.


Monday, June 21, 2004

When Life Intervenes

When Life Intervenes

Goddess, I've been busy the last few days... one damn' thing after another! Which usually happens when I have two or three things I want to do which are time-consuming... like writing, and laundry. Someone famous (though I can't be bothered to find out who) once said that Life is what happens while we're busy making other plans; for me, a person who avoids, abhors, and otherwise eschews the wasteful practice of planning, Life is what happens when I have other things I want to do, like writing, or laundry.


So there I was, trying to figure out how to do about seven overlapping but completely unavoidable activities all at the same time. Friday was my nephew's high-school graduation, you see, and though I knew I was going to said graduation, my usual lack of curiosity prevented me from finding out that the graduation ceremony was to be held on Friday at 3 p.m. (an irrelevant little infonugget that didn't get passed along to me until Thursday evening). One would think, since I would be required to take time off work, that the whole Friday-at-3-p.m. thing would have been mentioned early enough in the proceedings that I could schedule my work-life around it, but no.

Y'see, there was this thing about tickets... each student was allowed a certain number of tickets (four, I think); but some students would not be using all of their allotted tickets, so other students who needed extras could put in requests for them, or trade them amongst their friends. This is fairly standard practice, as far as I can tell.

But you should never get tickets involved in my family: we just get confused. Matthew ended up with seven tickets, for his mother (my sister Suzie), his sister Ariel, Grandmother, Daddy (his Grandpa), our uncle Junior, and me. But then the drama starts: for some reason, Ariel went to her father Tommy's in Clear Lake for the week and wouldn't be coming, leaving us a surplus ticket; and then Grandmother is taking care of my cousin Kellie's two kids (Jessie and Alex) over the summer, and we might have to bring them... leaving us one ticket short; and then there was Matthew's father Bruce (are you keeping this straight? try working it out on a piece of scratch paper), whom Matthew did not want in attendance and who kept calling Grandmother and bugging her about it; and then there was Suzie's friend Renee who wanted to come, and that left us with the right amount of tickets; there were further complications of handicapped seating, whether or not children had to have tickets, and how we would all be arriving at the ceremony, in how many cars, at what time, etc.

So during the last week, Grandmother was talking to four different people, trying to figure out who should have how many tickets, getting all involved in the various psychodramas that attended the disposition of each and every ticket, and she became so wrapped up in the tickets that she quite forgot to mention the time and date to me (though she badgered me with the the chronicles of her conversations with Suzie, Matthew, Kellie, and Bruce, in excruciating detail).

Anyway, come Thursday evening, I'd already had my Friday activities plotted out... along with a regular day's work, I intended to print and mail my General Service newsletter, get the acrylic on my right thumbnail repaired (it was badly chipped and kept catching in fabrics and my hair), and buy some gifts and cards for the various events of the weekend. But suddenly I had to do all of that before two p.m. so I could come home, pick up Grandmother, and get over to Encinal High by 3 o'clock.

I am fairly adaptable... I figured I would get the newsletter printed, but then put the folding and mailing off to the evening; I didn't have a lot of office work to do, certainly nothing that couldn't wait until Monday; getting a thumbnail repaired shouldn't take too long, and I can always expedite the gift-and-card exercise simply by not giving it too much thought.

Alas, it was not to be. First, I woke up groggy, and it took me a long time to pull myself together and get dressed and all; then Grandmother detained me with a rambling dissertation on her conversations with Bruce and Matthew, particularly dwelling on how inexplicably angry Matthew is with his father and how uncomfortable she was having to talk to Bruce without telling him anything about the graduation ceremony... which put me about half an hour further behind on my day.

When I got to the nail salon, and after waiting fifteen minutes with nothing but Woman's Day magazines to read, I held up my one thumbnail that I wanted repaired and then said in a very clear voice "I need this thumbnail repaired"; but I was apparently too vague for the manicurist, who started giving me a full fill treatment before I could stop her; and so my fifteen-minute-max repair job turned into an hour's meticulous manicure (though in all fairness, I have to say she did a pretty good job).

Once done there, I went to the card shop and trolled around for Graduation cards, Father's Day cards, and Housewarming cards... I figured I'd go to the small artsy place (Papyrus) instead of the big Hallmark place two doors down because the fewer choices would make my selection quicker. So silly of me... first of all, Papyrus has all sorts of nifty things that I like to pick up and look at (interesting picture-postcard sets, beautiful picture-frames, and stationery sets that I can fantasize about using, like a box of cream stock from Crane's with gold edges on which I could write gracious thank-you notes in burgundy ink with a beautiful fountain-pen); second, their cards, though fewer in number, are not arranged in such a way as to give you an idea what the inside is like (such as the "Humorous," "From Wife," "From Group" tabs at the Hallmark stores that let you skip over huge sections), so I had to read every card in the Father's Day, Graduation, and Housewarming sections.

And let's not go into how many times I cried while reading the more sentimental cards. Have I mentioned that I was a little depressed at the beginning of the weekend? A trifle overemotional and rather irritable? Every time I think of Matthew graduating from high-school, every time I think that his childhood is officially over, every time I think about him going into the Army this summer while there's a war going on, I get worked up and start weeping. Throw in a few sappy Father's Day cards, the ones that described the fathers I sometimes wish I had, as well as the cards that fairly well described my own tangled feelings about my father, and I was a bit of a wreck.

Then it was on to Juniper Tree to pick out something nice and smelly for the housewarming party I would attend on Sunday; and of course I had to touch and sniff every single object in the store before I was able to settle on a verbena candle in a pretty box and a set of goat's-milk-and-honey bath bars wrapped in fancy Japanese paper. I also bought myself a pair of earrings and a new bottle of Voluspa #4 (the last bottle came open in my car and spilled its contents all over the papers in the door-pocket, affecting an impromptu and rather expensive air-freshener).

By the time I got to the office, I was almost two hours behind... aside from checking the messages and email, I had no time left to do any work; I did do my newsletter thing, but it took longer than I thought it would, with several surprise edits presenting themselves, and the copy-machine moving slower than I'd expected.

I was able to make up much of my lost time, though, and was only thirty-five minutes late getting home; with a few more cut corners and ruthlessly hustling the Grandmother out the door, and then driving like a bat out of hell all the way across town, I managed to be only fifteen minutes late to meet my sister at Encinal.

I'm not sure I should use this forum to bitch about my sister, but she has been driving me nuts lately... she makes plans and then changes them at the last minute without telling everyone involved, she goes through wild contortions trying to avoid certain family members, she talks too loudly about things that don't make sense, and has been just drama-queening all over the place... in any number of ways reminding me far too much of our Mother (so much so that I often find myself wanting to punch her right in the face).

And as emotional as I was about Matthew's graduation, Suzie was just an absolute basket case... alternately crying, giggling, snapping, raging, joking, guilt-tripping, or displaying combinations of three or more. One should never have more than one overemotional person in any given situation, and I tried to understand that she should have first choice of emotions (being the mother, and all), but I still wanted to strangle her.

I would also like to take a moment out to bitch about Grandmother: if you ever get a chance to live with an old woman who refuses to admit she's going deaf, I would recommend instead that you stow away on the first tramp steamer headed for southeast Asia that you can find, and never look back. I was already irritable from the depression, the delays, the wind, and the Three Faces of Suzie... throw in having to repeat everything I say twice, as well as repeating much of what other people are saying (and having to listen to further recounts of the confusion over the goddamned motherfucking tickets), and you've got a recipe for multiple aneurism and spontaneous combustion.

So anyway, the graduation ceremony eventually got started. We were right on the water, in full sun and wind (which makes me grouchy and tired); the ceremony was fairly snappy, but rather too light-hearted, planned by and for the graduates themselves rather than by adults for the audience; I had Suzie doing her Sybil routine on my left and Grandmother sneering judgementally at everything on my right, and the friends and families of popular graduates screaming with inhuman volume and air-horns behind me; then afterwards, wending our way through the crowds trying to find Matthew and the restrooms and each-other: it was a bit of a trial.

We went out to eat afterward, and then home, where I got into bed with a book and didn't show my nose out the door until I was calmed down (which I expect occurred during my sleep... though, rereading the above, I'm not sure I ever did really calm down, I just moved on to other things). No writing done, no laundry done.


Instead of my usual sleep-in, I woke up fairly early (but had no time for laundry or writing, though I did manage to get through all of my blogs) and got my newsletter folded and labeled and ready to go, then drove down to the post-office to get stamps and mail the newsletters, then stopped at Ladyfinger's bakery to pick up some cookies and a tart to take to parties over the weekend.

Once back home, I had to get the Grandmother and Ariel into the car, and then out to pick up Daddy in Concord, and then to Tracy for (you may need another piece of scratch-paper to work this one out) my cousin Jamie's husband Steve's parents' annual Jazz & Art Fest (though I wouldn't call the music jazz, nor would I call the various tchotchkes on display art, but the barbecue was good).

And now, another side-kvetch: what the hell was with all the traffic this weekend? Everywhere I went all weekend long, the traffic was crowded and backed up all over the place. Where in the name of God were all of those people going? And why did they all have to get in my way? All I can say is I'm glad I have air-conditioning.

Once we were done in Tracy, I drove Daddy back to Concord and various children back home to Oakland, I picked up my tart (blackberry, delicious) and headed off to the Verbal Salon, a monthly get-together where we read from favorite bits of literature, share our own work, and read out interesting little plays. It's always a lot of fun, but it is usually scheduled on evenings where I already have some kind of a commitment, so I can't go as often as I'd like.

I finally arrived home at eleven, and though I was filled with the Muse to such an extent that I felt like I could sit down and bang out the rest of my chapter... but the creative energy didn't translate into physical energy, and I was too tired to even read, much less write, so I just went to sleep instead.


Okay, I admit it, I've been in a bad mood all this week; I mean, people can't be nearly as irritating as they've seemed all weekend. I don't know how many times I wanted to clock Grandmother, and there must be more to it than that she's a fucking irritating old bag... I must be bringing a good portion of irritability to the party on my own.

So when we got the children and the Grandmother into the car (though I forgot my Father's Day card and gift in the rush) and off to church, picking up Daddy on the way, we found ourselves in the midst of an impossibly vast crowd... not only were a lot of people visiting their fathers from out of town, but the staff of Opportunity Camp, most of whom were from Texas, were visiting before going home, so the church was packed to the rafters.

After church, my sister was supposed to meet us for lunch, but Daddy told me that she'd changed her mind about coming at the last minute (giving me only a small and evanescent headache). After being turned off from our first and second choices of restaurant by the crowds, we ended up eating lunch at The Buttercup; it was nice, and Daddy was pleased with the extensive omelet menu, but they were understaffed and over-busy so the service was a bit brusque.

Once finished there (my God, this story is getting long and boring), I flew back home to drop of the children and the Grandmother and pick up the housewarming gift and Caroline, then flew (very, very slowly) across the Bridge to John & Nick's housewarming party.

I love John and Nick, they are so calm and nice and centered... one gets a cozy protected feeling just being around them. And their new home is gorgeous, one of those typical 20s/30s townhouses that proliferate in San Francisco, with the big living room in the front and two bedrooms at the back, with long kitchens and bathroom arranged along light-wells in between; they have all the rooms decorated with great warmth, beautiful colors (from the Martha Stewart Collection) and and homey mix of modern and antique furniture.

We ran into Shiloh, whom I haven't seen in months, as well as other old friends and acquaintances... and we ate like pigs (though Caroline ate more than I since she hadn't just come from a Father's Day brunch and therefore had more room inside to stash food), and had a really good time.

After we left there, we stopped at Marlena's to see Cookie and Lorraine Dubonnet (and others) performing at the Drag Marathon to raise funds for the Castro Lions Club. I walked in right behind Cookie and Lorraine, but didn't get to talk to them, as they were intent on getting to the dressing room and unloading their stuff; I did get to chat with Vince, and Tom, and three or four other people I didn't know but enjoyed meeting anyway.

I was only able to take an hour of that, though I enjoyed that hour like you wouldn't believe (Trauma Flintstone's "Titty-Fuck Me" was a scream, and then there was Kielbasa, the Queen of Poland... a drag queen with an accordion is always worth seeing), and I was back on the (jam-packed) freeway by eight-thirty, and back in my tacky, messy little room before ten.

Too tired to write, of course, and too tired to do any laundry, I just watched a couple of videos I found earlier in the day while waiting for our table at Buttercup: The Adventures of Sebastian Cole starring the delicious Adrian Grenier (it was quirky and sweet, but not amazing), and My Boss's Daughter starring the also-delicious Ashton Kutcher (it was just stupid, a waste of four dollars and ninety minutes of my life that I'll never get back, but then I hadn't expected much more of it than to watch Ashton Kutcher's mouth moving... in which I am never disappointed).

And so to bed, and here we all are, completely caught up with the ennervating minutiae of my inconsequential little life.

Perhaps, like the viewers of The Jerry Springer Show, you will feel better about your life, having suffered through a little bit of mine. Like I always say, if you can't be an inspiration, you can at least serve as a warning to others.

Mille bacci!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

So, I Did It...

So, I Did It...

Burning with the fire of bad literature, I went ahead and started my own novel. And, as I threatened in the previous post, I've started it in a blog. I've titled the novel Worst Luck, and I am so excited about it I could pee!

Of course, I am already bogged down in backstory, and I only have about eight pages. But the idea of a blog-novel is that once I am finished with a portion of text, I will stop futzing about with it and move on to the next bit... and futzing endlessly with what I've already written, instead of writing to further the plot, was a serious problem I experienced the last few times I tried writing fiction. Once I get to the end of the first draft, then I can start revisions.

I am forcing myself to end "Chapter 1, Part 1" today and start on the next part tomorrow or the next day because I need some time to think about where the narrative should go, whether the reader needs a break from the so-far-continuous observation of the main character, or whether to continue along with the same exacting focus. Also, a new regular reader has already found the blog-novel and commented... once it's been read and commented on, it's time to stop and move on.

But fret not, my dears: I will not abandon Mannersism in favor of Worst Luck; I will still need somewhere to talk about myself instead of the charmingly narcissistic Danny Vandervere. But the two projects will be concurrent, and I will let you know when a new portion had been posted.

In other news, Caroline and I saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban last night. Aside from a blatant misuse of narrative time (leaving all sorts of gaps and loose ends to plague the ten viewers who haven't yet read the book) in favor of gorgeous but completley irrelevant cinematographic vignettes, it was a terrific film. The new director, Alfonso Cuarón (best known for the erotic naked-boy epic Y Tu Mama También), took the aesthetics of the series in a whole new direction from the childish slapstick that Chris Columbus gave the first two films, rendering a much richer and darker magical realism, and the art-direction was just unutterably delicious. The very quality of the light and angles made the film a must-see.

I suppose one day God will strike me dead for harboring lustful thoughts about adolescent boys, but Daniel Radcliffe (who will be fifteen next month, a trifle closer to legal than the thirteen-year-old he's portraying) is fucking hot. I couldn't take my eyes off of him, his brilliant eyes and elegant features and porcelain English skin, he's simply entrancing. I look forward to seeing what new degrees of beauty this child might reach in upcoming episodes of the series. Of course, he might become grotesque... you never can tell with kids. Leo diCaprio was similarly entrancing at that age, but he went through a few phases in his career where he simply looked wrong, like an ill-tempered guppy.

One last little complaint I had about the film, though: aside from the gaps in the narrative that forced me to explain to Caroline the inexplicable behavior of a number of the characters and tie up a lot of the loose ends (what happened to Peter Pettigrew? what did Professor Trelawney's prophecy mean? why did Snape claim revenge when he captured Sirius Black?), I found the footsteps moving about on the Marauder's Map that made up the closing credits so distracting that I couldn't read the credits themselves.

I know most people consider the closing credits nothing more than their cue to get up and leave the theater, but I always sit through the credits and read all the names and wonder over all of the odd job-titles. It's one of my favorite parts of a movie. And when I realized that I had been watching the footprints moving around and trying to read the Latin words that made up the walls in the map, instead of reading the names that I so love, I felt utterly betrayed.

But then, I'm weird. However, it's interesting to note that all of my friends with whom I ever go to the movies also like reading the closing credits; I can use that practice as a measure of compatibility.

Well, anyway, I'm off to bed for a little light reading and an early-ish night. I'm absolutely exhausted from creative thinking, but it's a good kind of tired. While I'm off doing that, why don't you go have a read of "Chapter 1, Part 1" (though I should warn you, it is frankly erotic, and gay-erotic at that)... and don't forget to tell me what you think!

By the way, I notice from my Blogger Dashboard that this is my 400th post to Mannersism. That calls for a celebration!


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Our Thinking Caps

Now that I'm getting used to the heat, I suppose it will get cold. Just as when I got used to having allergies assail my sinuses, and knew what to do about it, they start assailing my lungs so I always feel like I'm short of breath. Just as I got used to my depression coming in August and March, and started getting good at handling it, now it comes whenever it fucking well feels like it. No sooner do I get used to one set of conditions than they change to something else. But they never change for the better. Or maybe they do, and I am so averse to change that I can't see any change as good.

Be that as it may... to return to my previous kvetch on the dreadfully bad mystery novel Going Down for the Count, I managed to finish it on Saturday evening without having an aneurysm. The lapses in verisimilitude fell to a dull roar after a while, but the sentences never got any longer and the characters never became believable, or even likeable. I figured out the solution of the mystery in the chapter immediately succeeding the murder itself, the clues were unbelievably obvious, and most of the action that took place between the murder and the unmasking of the killer was gratuitous and not very funny.

I could pull a better story out of my ASS! was my response as I finished the book, slammed its bright-yellow covers together for the last time, and threw the offending volume on the pile beside the bed. Well, why don't you, then? came the inevitable follow-up question (the voices in my head are always interrogating each-other's statements, and answering questions with questions). And as usually happens in these circumstances, I feel all fired up to write some good fiction.

Perhaps that is the purpose of bad literature: to goad the rest of us into production.

Of course, I didn't just sit down and start writing a novel of my own. Instead I started reading my other new Amazon purchase, The Concrete Sky, which was much much much better. It was so good, in fact, so enthralling and interesting, that I read it all in one day (it wasn't exactly a mystery, not quite a thriller, not entirely a romance, not just a psychological study... it was all of the above, and then some). And just as I put down that very satisfying read, another book came in the mail from A Different Light: Death Comes Easy; the Gay Times Book of Murder Stories, in which I am now engrossed.

However, I have started to think about my novel again, trying to compile a list of problems I need to solve and research I need to do. The first problem is, First Person or Third Person? I am inclined toward third-person simply because I have never written in that form, but it relieves me of having to get so far into the head of only one character. When I asked my coworker JB about it, she suggested alternating between first and third, a format she's encountered in a number of novels she's read lately (which she is going to lend me, so I can study the technique).

Another problem I want to work on is how do I give backstory for my characters without taking too much time about it? I don't want to simplify the characters into cartoons, and complex characters need a lot of explication; so how do you do that without getting all involved in backstory to the detriment of the story you're trying to tell?

Then there's research to do, information I'm not sure how to go about compiling. Most importantly, I need to find out what the process is when someone is arrested for murder in San Francisco: what do the interrogation rooms look like, what do the jail cells look like, what do the rooms where attorneys meet with their clients look like? I can attend public arraignments and trials at the courthouse in order to collect details on how such things are really conducted; but short of getting arrested myself, how am I going to find out what the inner workings of the building are like?

When I read a book, I want very clear portraits painted of the people and the settings, and so when I write one I will have to have that information. And you can't just make it up, the way you can with a place or a person that doesn't really exist, because of the likelihood of the book being read by someone who has actually been through the San Francisco City Jail system, who will spot all my errors and hate the rest of the book because of them (in the same way I hated Stukas for the whole von Schmidt thing).

And then of course there is the final and stickiest problem: where to find the time? I mean, I have written enough in this blog over the last two and a half years to fill three or four good-sized novels (453,792 words, according to my Blogger profile); but, aside from a few thought-provoked essays, these blog entries come off the top of my head and don't have to be edited more than ten or fifteen times, and certainly never need revising. I can take the time that I usually spend reading and spend it writing instead; I can take a lot of the time I spend watching television and videos; and then there's the time I spend clicking obsessively on blogs and surfing for beefcake on the computer, which could easily be channeled into the project.

But writing a novel is infinitely time-consuming. I have found, in the past, that it takes me so long to reenter the world of the novel that I have to have at least six uninterrupted hours in which to get anything done. And I simply haven't got time in that large of chunks. Perhaps the solution to that is to learn to write in shorter segments. I can but try.

Hey, maybe I can do it in a blog... though the revision process would be sticky in that format. It's something to think about, though. In the meantime, think about this:

Sunday, June 13, 2004


It's hot outside. Hot and dry. There is pollen in the dry heat. I cannot breathe. My face hurts. I am writing short sentences. I am miserable.

When I got home from Church et Cie this afternoon, I took a nap and had a dream in which a purple, yellow, and orange car was out to get me; it changed from one kind of car to another, for a while it was a Camaro, then it was a Dodge Dart, and at one point it was a Pontiac Monte Carlo, but it was always a mid-seventies American model and it was always bright yellow with one purple side and one orange side. Eventually it chased me down and caught me against a security gate in the guise of a Grand Am.

My dear friend Cookie Dough then appeared, wearing a t-shirt in the same three colors as the car, and soothed and petted the car (which curled up and wagged its tail like a puppy), explaining to me that the car wanted to tell me something... something that was suddenly written in three columns of gold lettering on its hood. Apparently this car was the soul of my Miss Jane, and she had been trying to tell me these things for months. Among several instructions I don't remember, she wanted me to change her air filter more often, to not hit the brakes so much, and to be more careful about cutting people off on the left who were trying to hear the music on her stereo.

There was more to the dream, this was just one thread of it, but it was the most memorable, and the part that was so patently absurd that it woke me up.

I don't know why I tell you these things.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Aquiline Jaw?

I read a lot of "gay fiction"... the sorts of things that come up at Amazon and Powell's when you click on the "Gay & Lesbian" links, or which occupy the "Gay & Lesbian Interest" aisles at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Much of the time I get a beautiful read, characters I can relate to, gorgeous prose, wonderful storylines, or even just a hot bit of erotica; but other times I get crap. And I'm starting to notice that, when the book turns out to be crap, it has already been described as "light-hearted."

Who publishes these crap books, though? That's what really bothers me. I mean, it seems there is somebody in a publisher's office somewhere who thinks that if a story is supposed to be funny or light-hearted, they don't need to actually edit it. Why is that?

I'm currently reading Going Down for the Count by David Stukas... it has a colorful cover and purports to be a "mad romp," "high camp," and "layers of froth [piled] onto the sturdy frame of a clever, intricate whodunit." It is, furthermore, similar in concept to the books I am trying (half-heartedly) to write, i.e., a high-life mystery with a trio of unlikely and generally inept sleuths. It got good reviews, at least from others who bought the book from Amazon, so I figured I'd give it a try.

I am only sixty pages in (and I got there in just one hour, it's printed in twelve-point font, with three-quarter-inch margins), and am already discouraged — I have found so many lapses in verisimilitude that I am half-tempted to put this silly tome down and go back to Eats, Shoots & Leaves, or skip ahead to my other recent Amazon purchase, The Concrete Sky (which looks a little more serious).

For example, there is a main character called Count Seigfreid von Schmidt who is often referred to as "royalty"; now, I know the value of a funny-sounding German name (having once giggled myself sick upon the invention of a character named Olga von Hohenstohl), and I know that there are very few people likely to read this book who know German or who have actually leafed through the Almanach de Gotha and understand the styles of Germanic titles and names (as I do, to some extent)... but really, von Schmidt? That translates into "of Smith."

There is no place-name in Germany called Schmidt, and all noble German family-names are place-names (as are all French noble names). And if, by some bizarre miscarriage of reality, a person named Schmidt was ennobled with the honorific "von" (a familiar practice of the Kaisers was to honor artists and industrialists in this manner), he could not have become a count and certainly would not have any royal lineage.

I may be pre-judging, there might somewhere along the line be an explanation of this idiotic name (such as that the count isn't really a count but an impostor), but I somehow doubt it. And I'm sure the name of the count is not relevant to the story, but a name like that bespeaks a laziness which I find hard to stomach.

I mean, one story I'm working on features a character I initially named Princess Madeleine von Hohenstaufen-und-Anhalt; but I had to scratch that when I discovered that there are extant Princes of Anhalt walking around loose. There's no such thing as a Hohenstaufen, as far as I can tell, though... I just took the old Bavarian royal family name of Hohenzollern and the German city of Staufen, and blended them a bit. That's how you come up with authentic-sounding Germanic names. (I just now discovered, though, that Hohenstaufen is a real name, a royal German name from the city of Staufen, but it went extinct in the thirteenth century so I am pretty safe with it).

To return to the topic, though, there is further cause for chagrin: on page 32, Stukas describes a male supermodel as having an "aquiline jaw." A what? Aquiline means "like an eagle"... do eagles even have jaws? In all the pictures I can find, eagles don't even have necks. What in the world can an aquiline jaw look like?

Now, I can kind of understand how he got to this... people misuse the phrase "an aquiline nose" to describe noses that are better described as Roman or even Italianate... meaning somewhat large and with a pronounced arch to the bridge; but an aquiline nose should properly be shaped like the beak of an eagle. Following the misused style, I can understand that a jaw which is large and has pronounced corners might be mislabeled as "aquiline." But doesn't this guy have a dictionary? And doesn't his publisher employ editors who have access to dictionaries?

When you write a story, there are places you're going to stub your toe in creating scenes, characters, and actions, no matter how knowledgeable and careful you are... sometimes one's imagination outstrips one's own knowledge in either speed or content. I have caught myself (or been caught out by others) describing impossible things: morning sunlight streaming through the front windows of a Fifth Avenue apartment (which would face west across Central Park), men watching a football game on Father's Day (though the NFL does not play in June), or giving the character Valerien de Séguemont the title of Baron de Ballêtre (though I later learned that French styles of nobility, unlike their English equivalents, always have the family name in the title, and so he would properly be Baron Valerien de Séguemont). These things happen, and even the best authors will make mistakes, so one should go easy on second-timers like Stukas (and the entirely unpublished, like me).

But allowing such errors to survive uncorrected all the way into a hard-bound printed book with a $23 price-tag that will be bought for $16.10 plus shipping at Amazon by people like me who notice things like that... well, it's just bad authorship and bad editorship. Didn't they even do a galley-proof revision? I am so irritated by this David Stukas person that I feel like writing him a letter of complaint.

I won't, of course. Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and I have never managed to even finish a story, much less get it to an editor who may or may not spot my mistakes in fact and authenticity. To criticize Stukas (to his face, anyway... doing it in an obscure blog doesn't count) would be to invite, via karma, criticism to myself. If I ever did get published, although I am pretty conversant on my styles of nobility, I am still kind of shaky on the whole "that or which" problem, which far stickier sticklers than I would jump onto with carnivorous glee.

In the meantime, I am going to finish reading Going Down for the Count in the hopes that it will redeem itself in plotting where it has fallen down on the details. And if it doesn't, I am just going to have to avoid novels that hype themselves as "light-hearted"... and hope like hell that nothing I write in the future will ever inflame someone like me into writing a contemptuous blog-entry about my persisitent use of "which" when I really mean "that."

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Pussycat, Pussycat...

Where have you been? Well, after churning out the previous in-depth essay (which would have taken up eighteen printed pages, double-spaced, half again as long as the longest term paper I ever wrote), I kind of needed a break. Besides, I wanted to give you plenty of time to read it, because it would suck to write all that without everybody reading it.

So, though I have kept abreast of my Daily Reads and three or four other blogs I'm auditioning for Daily Reads, as well as other readings and explorations, I haven't written so much as an email (except at work) for the last five days.

But I haven't been completely idle... I've been thinking, and reading, and watching films, and going places, and stuff like that there. Want to hear about it? If not, move on now, because I'm going to tell you, anyway (at my usual disgusting length):

Going Places

Thursday, aside from work, I didn't do anything but go to the gym and then go home, where I watched television and re-read my post more times than I care to admit in public. Friday I went to work, the gym, and home, where Caroline and I watched a couple of movies after a KFC dinner.

Saturday I spent the whole day in San Francisco with Caroline, first at a rehearsal (Angelique has conned a bunch of us into an elaborate production-number for Ducal Ball), then at a movie, then at a play. In between the movie and the play, we ate dinner at this place called The Public; it serves great food, though a trifle expensive, and was just a little, well, precious (just short of pretentious, but definitely on the right path), situated in an old brick industrial building with mismatched light-fixtures and lots of exposed iron beams; I had the duck papardalle, which was utterly divine, and entertaining conversation with the sous chef (we sat at the counter because we didn't have reservations, and so could observe all the salads being made, the soups being assembled, and desserts being displayed).

And on Sunday I of course went to church with the Grandmother and the Daddy, where we endured a rather tiring sermon on complacency (delivered by one of the elders, who apparently didn't know the first rule of public speaking: never use words that look great in print but which don't fit into your own mouth... words like "enmity" and "nevertheless"); then we went to Fry's so Daddy could buy a movie he'd seen advertised on sale (Once Upon a Time in Mexico... I can't imagine why, aside from being on sale), and then to Long's so that Grandmother could buy some tomato plants and some FiberCon (completely unrelated).

Which brings us to Monday, with work, gym, and writing this post (which I have been taking altogether too long to write, and doing all out of order, because I idiotically started writing out the Thinking portion first). All in all, a not terribly eventful five days, I've gone out more often in the past. But it was enough for me and I'm utterly exhausted.

Seeing Things

L.E.A.R. (Love, Egos, & Alternative Rock): this was (is, actually, but only through next weekend) a play featuring my friend Chris; come to think of it, I have in my life only seen two plays in which nobody I knew was acting, and I have probably seen a good twenty plays (but not twenty good plays... one sits through some stultifyingly bad drama in the community theatres to which one's friends have access). This is the second play in which I've seen Chris, and he was an absolute wonder (the first was Edward II).

The play was sort of like one of those VH1 Behind the Music rockumentaries, with little staged interviews of people involved in the rise and fall of some nearly-forgotten band, interspersed with behind-the-scenes vignettes of the band members themselves; this particular show chronicled the creation and eventual dissolution of an indie girl-band called The Cunning Stunts. Chris played a beautifully sleazy music producer, a role that suited his special talents right down to the ground. It was a wonderful production, funny as hell, well-acted and well-written, with gorgeous costumes on gorgeous actors and some really good music in the background.

I felt awfully bridge-and-tunnel, though, sitting there in a SOMA "art space" in my complete GAP ensemble (well, my shoes were Converse and my boxer-briefs Hanes, and then I had on my sixty-carat CZ pear-shaped solitaire and an Art Deco bracelet, but everything else...) among a lot of Diesel-wearing young avant-garidistes, watching some really talented people put on a brilliant little play that will most likely fold up and completely disappear after its twelve performances.

Still, it was kind of exciting seeing such an ephemeral piece of art put on with such passion and joy. It was wonderful to be part of it, even if only from the audience.

Troy: I went to see this summer blockbuster for the sole purpose of ogling Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in long hair and short skirts — and in this I was not disappointed. I was somewhat disappointed in the hetero-heavy reconfiguring of The Iliad, with Achilles having hot sex with the virginal Briseis but never laying a hand on his toothsome "cousin" Patroclus... but this is Hollywood, so what can one expect? The visual effects were amazing, the art-direction exquisite, and the acting (much to my surprise) subtle and effective.

Orlando brought a kind of low-key effeminacy to the role of Paris which gave the character a depth that I hadn't expected; he also got to bring his archery skills into play again... I never saw a man make a bow and arrow look so sexy. Brad (despite his unplaceable "period" accent, much like the off-center diction he used for the immortal Louis in Interview with the Vampire) gave Achilles a sympathy and pathos that I've never guessed at in reading the legends, showing us a murderous and arrogant mercenary obsessed with fame who nevertheless feels love and pain very deeply. Eric Bana as Hector was wonderful, a solid, thoughtful, and respectable guy (with stupefying pecs) caught in the middle of the rash actions of his brother and the poor decisions of his father (the invariably excellent Peter O'Toole), who tries so hard to do the right thing simply because he doesn't know how not to.

In fact, the performances and the writing gave all of the characters a set of very understandable motivations and fully transparent emotions. This film was a lot better than I expected it to be, a visual feast with not too much blood, though of course it could have been better, especially in terms of back-story — I would have liked to hear more about how Achilles got to be the way he is, where the Greeks got plague victims to scatter around the horse, why Paris was such a big ol' girl when his brother was such a stand-up man, and so on).

Stonewall: A wonderful little film from 1996 filled with lovely unknowns (except for the ubiquitous bit-player Luis Guzmán, who shows his ugly mug in every fifth movie one sees) that portrays the life of a young radical queer and his drag-queen lover in the days leading up to the Stonewall Riots; side-plots include the impossible but passionate affair between a terrified closeted gangster and the unmistakeably male queen bee of the Stonewall Inn bar, as well as the tense struggle of the Mattachine and Homophile Societies for gay civil rights.

I've seen this film before, but Caroline hadn't... nor had she been aware of the historical climate in which the action takes place. As soon as the film was over, we had to have an impromptu history class, where I explained to an amazed Caroline what life had been like for gay people before Stonewall... selective enforcement of "blue" laws (which I also had to explain), police corruption and harrassment, sodomy laws on the books of every state in the nation... and how the recent Supreme Court decision overturning all sodomy laws was just one achievement in a long and hard-fought series of civil rights victories over the last thirty-five years.

I guess you can't blame people for being ignorant of this part of our nation's history. It's not like they teach it in school (or they didn't when I was there... but I guess it was more Current Events than History then), I've had to do a lot of reading and research on my own to find out what I know. But how can people expect to understand and survive the world they live in if they don't know the history that led up to it?

The Wolves of Kromer: another odd little gay film, one I had seen before but Caroline hadn't. I don't really have a lot to say about it, except that it's fun and the boys are beautiful (especially the entrancing and faunish James Layton) and I always cry a little at the end.


Eats, Shoots & Leaves: I received this book as a gift from my coworker and co-stickler JB, and since I have nothing else to read at the moment I have been able to get through a good deal of it despite its nonfictional nature; I have always had difficulty reading any nonfiction that's longer than a magazine article — the lack of storyline just doesn't draw me in. But this little book is loads of fun, aside from being useful (there are all sorts of tricks for remembering where the punctuation is supposed to go); the author indulges in all the bad-grammar wailing and moaning in which I myself indulge so often, but with that dry British wit that I love so.

Other than that, I'm just reading online, and reading magazines (I never realized before just how right-wing Reader's Digest is), and not reading at all. But I just got an email from Amazon saying my three new books are in the mail... hopefully I'll finish Eats, Shoots & Leaves before then, or I never ever will.


So after going through all that last week about beliefs, I of course continued thinking about my own beliefs and the beliefs of others. If you don't want to read any more of my musings on Christianity and spiritual beliefs, please skip ahead to the beefcake below and have a nice day.

I was considering my belief that the Apostle Paul (or Saint Paul the Apostle, whichever you prefer) did what he did in order to create a religion, that his primary concern was for the foundation and longevity of the Church; but then I found myself wondering why he did such a thing. If I accept the historical reality of Paul, but doubt that Paul was directed by God to found the Church (that whole "On the Road to Damascus" scene strikes me as ridiculous), then what do I think was directing him?

I guess that I have been so embittered by much of what I've read in the Epistles that I have fallen into the habit of thinking of Paul as a villain, a charlatan. But I see nothing in the Epistles, as I read them now, that shows Paul to have had venal aspirations in the creation of the Church... and if he did, he was singularly unsuccessful: as far as I know, Paul never achieved wealth or fame as I understand them; he was in fact persecuted by the government and died in relative obscurity, revered by a few hundred followers scattered around the Mediterranean.

So I can only surmise that Paul's intentions were good, and that he believed very strongly in what he was doing. But I still cannot believe that God talked directly to him, nor that the angels went about so interferingly among the apostles and believers as is written in the Acts and Epistles. So what does that leave?

It leaves an inspired man who was nevertheless a man, and limited by his own perceptions as all men are limited. It leaves a carelully considered structure created by a Jew living in the time of the Pax Romana, a structure that was meant to survive beyond the lives of the handful of disciples who actually knew Jesus, to provide a mechanism by which the teachings of the Christ could be broadcast to the known world... at which he was very successful.

It also leaves three hundred and some-odd years unaccounted for, between the life of Paul and the first compilations of the Canons, wherein all sorts of things could have happened to the texts of Paul's letters and the Gospels, none of the originals of which survived even to that date... God only knows how many no-doubt-well-intentioned additions and deletions were made to render the scriptures more "believable" to the ancient mind. It also leaves a world that has changed and grown, and a human intellect that has changed and grown, over the fifteen-hundred-odd years since the Canons of Scripture were chosen.

The believer in the veracity of the Bible will rest assured that God was shepherding those books through the ravages of time to present a true account of His Will, lo these many centuries later; but I can't believe it. I can't believe that God would create us with free will, and then leave us a badly-written instruction manual and send us to Hell for not following the directions correctly.

I further find it difficult to believe that God couldn't have come up with a more efficient manner of saving the the entire world from its own sinfulness in the first place. Why start with one little tribe of nomads, breed them for five thousand years to produce Jesus, and have Jesus preach in this tiny little backwater for a very short time (his ministry lasted only three years); and then leave all the actual church-building work to people who hadn't even met Jesus, bolstering them along with visions and angelic visitations, and then ceasing all visitations after a relatively short period of time (the Age of Miracles passed hundreds of years ago); and then letting the Word trickle out slowly across the globe, a century at a time, until two thousand years later there exists a global communications system that could concievably carry the Word to the entire world?

It seems so baroque, for lack of a better word. And while this interpretation of events isn't the only interpretation but rather the interpretation I was brought up with (there are those who believe that the billions of people who never had access to the Word were not damned, they merely cease to exist at death), I just can't believe it... or anything like it.

So of course I find myself wondering why people do believe it, believe that the Bible is God's Word and believe in particular interpretations of that Word. I mean, I've given a great deal of thought to why I don't believe it, so I feel impelled to balance my rationale with reasons why people do believe.

Unfortunately, there are very few people I can ask about this and get any kind of intelligent answer. My Grandmother believes in the veracity of the Bible, but she can't even explain why she believes you can't use a dish-towel to dry your hands after washing the dishes, much less why she believes that Adam and Eve were the sole progenitors of the human race and lived for hundreds of years. I will certainly be asking Daddy about this when we talk about Christianity some time in the near future, but Daddy is not a scholar or an intellectual; though he has the mental capacity for both, he hasn't the training.

The people in my life from whom I can expect intelligent and intellectual answers don't seem to believe in the complete veracity and singular interpretation of the Bible. I had a long discussion about this yesterday with my coworker BB, who is a Catholic but who does not believe in the infallibility of the pope, the virginity of Mary, the intervention of the saints, or any of the other claptrap that one supposes Catholics believe; she is a Catholic because she was raised as a Catholic, and the vocabulary and masses and prayers and calendars and confession provide her with tools by which she can know and communicate with God.

There are others I can ask, and I shall indeed ask (I can see myself becoming a burden on all of my friends in the next week or so). I'm going to keep searching for answers to these questions, because meditations on the nature of God and the practices of my fellow human beings in seeking God are always worthwhile. And if I gain a little understanding of my fellow humans, and from understanding gain a little tolerance for those who believe differently, then it will not have been a waste of time.

If you have any insights into this problem, please leave a comment or send me an email. I would love to hear from you!

I now return you to your regular Mannersism programming:

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

I Believe...

This is a long one, kids... I've been working on it since yesterday morning. Get yourself a fresh cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable. You might even want to link back to this post and read it later when you have more time. And so, warnings given, here we go...

I like to think. I like to solve puzzles, figure out riddles, play logic and trivia games, learn new words and ideas, ponder possibilities, and discuss philosophical problems. Sometimes, though, I get into a train of thought that, while enormously satisfying as a problem, involves far too many other parts of me. A challenging idea will come along that challenges more than my intellect: it also challenges my beliefs.

In the last few days, two different things have come up that challenge, or threaten to challenge, my spiritual and personal beliefs... what I believe about God and what I believe about myself. This is a good thing, because it is by constantly challenging our beliefs that we come to truly understand what we do believe and why we believe it; and so I have grown in the exercise as I research questions and ponder premises.

But it is also a tiring thing because beliefs involve our emotions as well as our intellects: our beliefs call on us to defend them; our beliefs are ingrained in our personalities, and we are liable to cling to them out of stubbornness despite intellectual evidence; and our beliefs (at least my beliefs) are hard-won and cost a great deal of effort and pain to arrive at, and so resent the challenges that are offered.

It is wearying to challenge one's own beliefs, but it is required when we find ourselves challenged by the beliefs of others, and one grows from these challenges. Like a muscle, belief grows from resistance. Sad but true, nothing worthwhile was ever easy.

So to the challenges: on Sunday, at our usual after-church brunch, my father and Grandmother were talking about my sister and her rabid hatred of religion; she has a lot of resentment about Christianity (a resentment I once shared), and that resentment is creating a stumbling-block in her spiritual development and therefore her recovery from addiction.

Their train of thought naturally turned to their own "failure" to raise Christian children and grandchildren. For while I suppose my aunt and uncle and cousins and step-sisters all think of themselves as Christians, in fact only two of my cousins and one of my stepsisters are actual practicing Christians who attend church; and those two cousins don't belong to the Church of Christ, they attend other sects. So from an evangelical standpoint, Daddy and Grandmother are both washouts.

Then my Daddy turns and looks at me, the oddball who actually attends Church of Christ with them but is nevertheless on record as a devout non-Christian, and ever the master of subtlety says "You and I should have a talk sometime soon. A father-son talk."

Oh great, I think, he's going to try to convert me. How dreary.

We changed the subject, but I started thinking about what kind of discussion Daddy and I can have about Christianity. In all that fun thinking I like to do, chief among my favorite mental exercises is to prepare for future conversations.

I have written here in my blog on a few occasions about my belief system and its movement away from Christianity, and I have had lengthy conversations with Grandmother in the past about why I don't believe in Christianity (but she is the Queen of Self-Delusion and probably still thinks that if she keeps dragging me into the church-house I will one day suddenly See the Light); but I have never discussed this with my father, working under the assumption that he respects my decisions and would never try to force his own beliefs on me.

Unfortunately, one of the chief features of Christianity is that it calls its believers to evangelism, to liberally spread the Word and the salvation to others. And I think Daddy is starting to consider it remiss of himself to not share his belief system with his children and try to bring us to that belief... it says somewhere in the New Testament (or several somewheres, I'm not sure) that a man should raise his children in the Faith, and somebody must have mentioned that to Daddy sometime recently.

So I have been preparing my arguments and counterarguments, revisiting previous writings on my beliefs and anticipating potential tracks of dialogue that might come up in any discussion of spirituality and belief with my father.

One of the problems I have encountered is that I cannot cut off possibilities of belief. Intellectually, I have to consider it completely possible that Christianity is actually the true religion, that the Will of God is written down in the Bible, and that nonbelievers will go to Hell. I don't believe it's true, but I have to allow the possibility.

I have to allow this possibility because there was a time, not so long ago, that I believed God didn't exist at all; but upon further study and meditation, I have revised that belief. It is therefore scientifically possible that my current structure of belief is a way-station on a path to an entirely different belief-system, that continuous study and meditation might lead me to something that, from where I stand now, seems wildly unlikely.

You see, I once believed that I would never give up alcohol or smoking or coffee; nevertheless I have given up alcohol and smoking... and might someday even give up coffee; and if I gave up alcohol and smoking and coffee, it also follows that it's possible to give up other behaviors that I consider necessary or inherent, such as (for example) masturbation to pornography, if I came to believe that it was destroying me in some way, as I came to believe that alcohol and smoking were destroying me.

Again, I don't believe these things: I believe that there's nothing wrong with masturbation or pornography per se, though (like coffee and alcohol and even religion) these can be abused and through abuse become evil; and this belief system differs from my previous belief system in that I actually worked very hard to come to these beliefs through study and prayer and meditation, testing them by intellect and emotion, with scientific method and faith in God's guidance, rather than as a reaction to something else, some hurt or struggle or misunderstanding.

So what, exactly, do I believe, as far as Christianity is concerned? Well, I believe that the religion of Christianity is a path to God, but that it is not a straight path nor is it immune from corruption and misdirection. All religions that seek God are a path to God, and all religion is liable to corruption and misdirection. No path open to the human heart is without the possibility of corruption and misdirection.

I believe that The Holy Bible was written by human beings for human reasons; as a document of humans striving toward God, it has value, but it is not law and it is not divine. I believe that direct divine dictation (by which method the Bible claims to have been written and compiled) is not real, that God does not communicate with us in so straightforward and human a manner. I do not believe that Jesus Christ was God Incarnate, or divine, or that incarnate divinity is even part of God's universe. I believe that human beings are not the last word in God's design, that there are yet newer heights for Creation to reach.

I believe in the eternity of the soul, that spiritual essence which makes us individual and which experiences and comprehends God; I believe in the goodness of the body, the wisdom to be found in our animal nature; and I believe that the task of humanity is to seek the balanced integration of body and soul... because the needs of the body and the needs of the spirit can be entangled and become mutually exclusive, and we must find a way to harmonize those needs in order to achieve happiness.

I believe that God can be comprehended through studying the nature of the world around us, through Science; and that our souls are part of that nature, and that we study our souls through art and literature. I believe in Scientific Method, and I believe that there is such a thing as an Absolute Truth that we already know and need only subtract the misconceptions and misinformation we pick up as we grow in order to grasp it... but that our animal brains have only a finite ability to understand the infinite Truth that our spiritual souls perceive.

But to return to Christianity, I perceive a sort of spiritual test in the existence of the Bible... there is so much wisdom in there, and yet it has been corrupted. And I think God allows this corruption in His name as a test to us, as the existence of evil is a test to us.

It is the spiritual task of the Christian to discover God's spiritual truths amongst the posthumous memoirs of the Gospels and the legalistic dictates set down by the apostle Paul and his followers in the Acts and Epistles; it is the task of the Christian and the Jew alike to discover the spiritual truths in the Old Testament among all the poetry and history and law.

It is also the task of the Buddhist and the Hindu and the Muslim and the Pagan and the [whatever other religion you can name] to discover the Truth of God along the pathways set down in religious texts and traditions... for in each religion, there is a path of truth set about on all sides by hazards and temptations to distract the soul on its journey.

These hazards and temptations are the animal in us, the seeking toward the protections of law and social construct, the seeking for power and dominion over each other, the physical grappling with the world around us that all animals must undertake; but the true seeker will continue on the spiritual path, perhaps accepting the trappings of the religion, perhaps using them as a tool to get to the Truth, perhaps ignoring them altogether, perhaps remaining within the religion as a beacon to those who have become lost on the way.

Some of us have rejected the religious traditions that came before and found a path that is purely personal, or based in the traditions of philosophy or science, which are also set about on all sides by human constructs — because no human can exist without human constructs. No matter how spiritually pure we become, we will still have to rely on our physical selves — our bodies and our language and our media — to nurture our spirits and to communicate what we have learned to others.

So having come to an understanding of my own beliefs, I have to put those beliefs to the challenge of other people's beliefs. When my father and I discuss this, we will come up against a major chasm in our different understandings: the divinity of Christ and the veracity of the Bible. I cannot believe those things; he cannot believe otherwise. And it becomes very difficult to find places of agreement from which to discuss our disagreement, when our very bases of discussion are mutually exclusive.

Though I have to admit, as an intellectual, the possibility that my father is right and that Christianity as he practices it is the Only Way, I nevertheless do not believe that this is so; and therefore I must believe that he is wrong. I believe his path is a valid path, but he believes that his path is the only path... in this much, at least, for either of us to be right, the other has to be wrong.

And knowing how I feel when someone tells me I am wrong (especially if I am wrong), I hesitate to say such a thing to someone I love and respect the way I do my Daddy. So it's a bit uncomfortable to come up with the arguments and counterarguments that will be required of me when Daddy has his "come to Jesus" talk with me.

While I was engaged in this tortuous train of thought, another challenge popped up: I was futzing about on the computer Sunday evening, after writing the previous post and before being able to commit myself to my laundry, I followed a BlogSnob link that had a strange tag-line and discovered this guy.

Ben is a Christian and is trying to stop being gay. Now, ordinarily I would just shrug him off as another poor deluded soul, another casualty of the Christian Right, another unhappy camper looking for answers in the wrong place. But the seed of his trouble fell on the recently upturned soil of my mind, opened by my thoughts on Christianity and my recent advice to a kid who wrote to "Dear Prudence" about not being gay anymore (see here).

And there was something else that interested me in his journal, a tone of reasonable exploration, a flavor of the spiritual path that differed much from the irrational ex-gay and Christian rantings I have encountered before. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, open-minded and searching for Truth, trying to find a balance between his spiritual beliefs and his physical reality.

I added the blog to my favorites so I could come back and read some more; I probably would have forgotten, though, if Ben hadn't left a comment to one of my posts (he must have some powerful track-back software, I can't imagine how else he would have happened across my blog).

Having been "properly introduced," as it were, I felt more of a connection to this young man and started thinking about his words, his problems, his beliefs, and his worries in a way that might lead to some advice I could give him, trying to find what I could learn from him and what I might be able to teach.

But then I had to ask myself why I wanted to advise him... on the one hand, I could see his struggle and would like to help; but on the other hand, how much of my desire to help him stemmed from my desire to be right? As a gay man, I consider it an indirect insult that someone else would strive to not be gay... and it is more than an implication, it is an actual insult to my belief system to be told that I am wrong.

So I cannot be considered a completely impartial witness. But then, those of his correspondents (and the boy is getting advice from all corners) who speak from the conservative or fundamental Christian standpoint are not impartial, either. In fact, there is no such thing as an impartial witness... we are all trammeled by our own experiences and perceptions.

While the jury was still out on my motivations, I started studying Ben's influences in an attempt to better understand his struggle. First, I read his entire blog from beginning to present; I read a lot of the comments, and followed a lot of the links in order to find out more about where he was coming from. I did a few web searches on my own seeking the textual references by which arguments for and against homosexuality in Christianity were discussed, and I looked up Bible passages that were referenced in such articles (including cross-references, as I was using my Grandmother's Harper Study Bible).

It was all very interesting, but it still boiled down to the problem that I experience with my father: one either believes in the veracity of the Bible, and believes in particular interpretations of it, or one doesn't. Ben believes in a particular interpretation of the Bible that says that homosexuality is wrong; and I can't challenge him on that front because it is belief and for him to decide.

Also of interest is the unhappy lack of scientific knowledge we possess in the realm of sexuality. Psychology is still essentially an infant science, and it seeks to understand something wildly complicated and infinitely diverse, the human mind. While it is the generally-accepted theory that homosexuality is inborn, not everyone accepts that theory, and it is not yet proven one way or another... it is still largely theoretical, and if you choose to interpret the few findings of science in a different way, you certainly can.

Now, I believe that sexual orientation is inborn, and that sexual behavior is the result of environment and experience... Nature and Nurture work together to create sexuality (as well as the other aspects of our characters). I base this belief on years of study and observation, reading scientific studies and literary meditations on the topic as well as observing myself and others; but I can't prove it, I am not aware of any definitive studies that aren't flawed in their samples or set up to reveal preconceived conclusions. So once again we find ourselves swimming about in the murkier waters of Belief.

Since Ben believes that homosexuality is a sin, and I can't disprove such a belief, and he believes that you can alter your sexuality, which I can't definitively disprove, there go two possible bases for discussion. And since I do not want to change his beliefs (because you cannot demand the right to your own beliefs if you don't allow other people theirs) but rather help him in his struggle, I have to find a different way to approach the problems that he has so movingly described in his blog.

When I find myself disagreeing with his ideas or conclusions, I have to ask myself why I disagree. Do I disagree with his idea that homosexual behavior is a willful choice because it undermines my own belief that my homosexuality is inborn and therefore not my responsibility, a belief I require to make myself feel better about myself (as one of his correspondents suggested)? Is my disagreement a reaction to a challenge to my beliefs about myself, an indignant exclamation over a slap to my own hard-won self-respect?

Or is it something more than that, seeing a number of logical steps missing in his decisions? Is it because I see the hand of Man in his system, a complex of denial and will, rather than the hand of God?

Either way, how is it my responsibility to poke holes in his arguments and point out places I feel he might be in error? What do I have in my life that I can point to and say "Wouldn't you rather have this?" I am not in a loving homosexual relationship myself (though I know a lot of people who are), I don't have the secret to my own happiness, much less anybody else's. Still, I think I have something to offer.

I think it's possible to be celibate, in the truest sense of the word, eschewing all sexual behavior; it's a terribly difficult row to hoe, and I don't think it's very healthy, but it can be done. I think that if you believe that gay sex is a sin, then you will participate in gay sex in a sinful manner; I see that kind of behavior in Ben's descriptions of the sex-life he is trying to escape. It is better to be completely celibate than to act in a way you believe sinful... the guilt of the act will rob you of all possible redemption in the act. You cannot love and sin at the same time, so if you are convinced of the sin you can only act unlovingly; it is always better to not act at all than to act unlovingly.

It is also possible for a homosexual to find comfort, and even a kind of happiness, in a heterosexual relationship. People have been doing it for millennia... when your only choices are to be alone or to be with an opposite-sex partner, many will opt for the companionship and social support of marriage. But I don't think that you can be cured of your same-sex attractions, any more than a heterosexual is cured by marriage of extramarital attractions.

I also believe that being homosexual and being gay are different things. You can be an "ex-gay" if you really, really want to, in your deepest heart of hearts, simply by not taking part in the gay lifestyle. You can choose to dress differently, to subdue any fey mannerisms you've picked up, to avoid pornography and sexual fantasy, to abstain from masturbation and casual sex, to remove yourself from the more obvious areas of temptation... you can do it if you believe in it enough. It is argued that we all have in us the potentiality for murder and theft and fraud, but we don't have to indulge in behaviors inspired by those temptations; if you really believe that homosexual behavior is as sinful as murderous and larcenous and fraudulent behavior, you can and perhaps should resist that temptation.

But changing homosexuality? I don't think it can be done, any more than you can change alcoholism (though you can recover from it) and you can't change the color of your hair (though you can temporarily alter it) and you can't change your past (but you can change your future). I would be interested in hearing how someone did it and if he or she is really happy... or is just trying terribly hard to convince him- or herself of some faked happiness.

People who disagree with my beliefs will suggest that the reason I don't believe in Christ and the Bible is because I don't want to believe in Christ and the Bible, because to follow that belief would require me to give up sinful behaviors to which I am very much attached... namely my homosexual and autoerotic behaviors. And the reason I wish to believe that sexual orientation is inborn and natural is so that I won't have to think of myself as defective, and so that I won't have to do the loads of hard work that would be required to be healed.

And I agree that this is possible. My will is very strong, and I have in the past refused to believe things that I knew to be true, or later discovered were true, because I didn't want to give up the behavior that such a belief would require me to give up (like drinking). And so this argument carries a great deal of weight, and it is in preparation for such an argument that I have spent so much time and energy thinking through my belief system, testing the ropes and knots in my net (as it were) one by one.

And this is my response: if I am willfully turning away from God and towards homosexual sin, then I am willing to take the consequences. Because I don't believe, in my heart of hearts, that the laws set down in the Bible and interpreted to mean that homosexuality is indeed a sin are fair. Just as I can't believe that all of the people who lived and died on this planet without ever having the opportunity to find salvation through Jesus Christ, most of the world in fact, are damned.

I have been told that God's justice is not Man's justice... but from where do we receive our concept of justice if not from God? No other animal has a concept of justice, so the very idea of something being fair or unfair is a purely spiritual construct. It creates our need for society, to protect the interests of the weak instead of encouraging the survival-of-the-fittest paradigm of the plant and animal kingdoms; and if you posit that the other thing that makes us different from the animals is our souls, our ability to comprehend God, then it follows that the sense of justice is part of our souls and therefore given by God. So why would God's justice be different from ours? That doesn't make sense. I would expect God's justice to be more far-reaching and comprehensive than anything a human being with interests to protect could ever manage.

Furthermore, the life of Christ and the Apostles, and thereby the creation of the Bible and the Christian religion, defies any form of logic. I can't believe that God would, for a limited time only, and in a select portion of the world, exclusive of the rest of the vast planet, directly intervene in human affairs to the extent that the Bible claims... and then just as suddenly clam up completely for the next two thousand years.

The whole idea just doesn't sit right with me. And again, animals don't have the capacity to reason, to work things out logically and in the abstract. From where does such a power come, then, if not from God? If God wanted us to accept such folly without the benefit of logic, why did He give it to us? That just doesn't make sense.

Finally, in the question of sexuality, I think when a person discovers a truth about him- or herself, that truth rings. We can tell the truth from a lie if we listen to them side-by-side, without prejudice and with an open acceptance of possible outcomes. And I have done that. I have tested what I have read in the Bible and what I have read in a number of spiritual writings (Christian and non-Christian), and I have heard which things are true and which things are false. God gave me (and you, and you, and him, and those guys over there) the ability to know Truth. We only have to listen.

By that method, I know what my sexuality is about. I know that a homosexual orientation was born with me; I know that my experiences with male and female role-models led to the effeminacy of my mannerisms; I know that early experiences of pornography (at the age of five) led me to my subsequent affinity for pornography; I know that a lot of my sexual relationship issues stem from gender-confusion and the early exposure to pornography; and I know that I can overcome those issues if I choose, but that these issues are not unhealthy in and of themselves. I feel no guilt, ergo I have no sin. I further know that if I do overcome those and the many other "issues" that do make me unhappy, it does not mean I will find and experience a happy homosexual relationship, any more than I can be guaranteed any kind of happiness in the world.

Happiness happens when we learn to be happy, not from the things we get in life. This I know. God told me this through the medium of the spirit He gave me that resides in the body I grew up with. At least, I believe He did. I could be wrong. But I challenge you to prove it. I could be right, too, just as easily.

I am going to write Ben an email because I think I have something to offer him... a perspective, if nothing else, on his addiction that might ease his path a little. And I am going to have a talk with my father about our differences of belief, so that perhaps he will understand me better and I will understand him better. Isn't that what we're all here for? To help each other, to understand ourselves, and to seek God in each other and the rest of nature? I think it is, anyway.

Thinking and believing come from the same place.