The beginning and the end of a novel are the most difficult to write. Obviously, the beginning must do at least two things: draw in the reader and introduce the theme. In my newest novel, which is definitely still in the working stages, I have gone through at least five or six beginnings before settling on exactly the right one. Below, I share it. It is meant to have shock effect, as the novel itself is really a massive shock effect … and the reader doesn’t know that the groom (Balfour) is at this moment in the disused side chapel preparing to kill himself and his dying Aunt Laura, mocked by Balfour’s mother is about to save him. Hopefully, you’re drawn in to this slightly ghoulish beginning and (whether one knows it or not) the theme is parading around this scene like a dancing fairy … hmm. Well, let’s say wood sprite. Enjoy:
"Who in the Hell invited them,” Victoria Wentworth demanded of her husband.
“I most certainly – ”
“It’s your sister Laura.”
Victoria, who, out of vanity, was not wearing her glasses, squinted and stared at the thin woman in a bright red ensemble. “Never.”
Her husband’s usual sigh, then, “You know full well that the cancer’s come back and the chemotherapy is ruthless. If you ever went to visit, you’d know.”
“Look. I know you made a vow not to speak to one another ‘ever again,’ which I thought at the time was idiotic … but Balfour has always loved her, the two of them have had a very special relationship.”
“Camping up in Maine. We Hedgpeth girls were not raised to go camping in Maine, I can tell you that. I always said she had lesbian tendencies, didn’t I?”
Another familiar sigh. “I think she’s made a great effort to come here today.”
“You don’t go out when you have … those sorts of things. You stay home. She’s just doing it to annoy Mama.”
“Or because she wants to see Balfour get married.”
Victoria laughed. “I give this marriage … for which, thank God in Heaven, we’re not paying … two weeks, tops.”
“Yes, yes, don’t repeat the whole damn thing.”
“I shall repeat as I feel repeating is required. In the event you haven’t noticed, our son Balfour is gay … as in looking for, well whatever his type is looking for.”
“In the event I hadn’t noticed, you’ve conveniently told me numerous times.”
“Don’t take a tone with me, I fought to the bitter end to get that new money Amanda and her family to sign a pre-nup … but, oh no, everyone’s just so modern. Ha. We’re going to lose a bundle by the time this fiasco is over.” A pause. “Whatever is she trying to do?”
“I believe she’s greeting people.”
Victoria, fortuitously the groom’s mother, managed to flag down a groom’s man. She said under her breath to her husband, “This hunk o’ man … who is he? Do we know? He’d suit Balfour a Hell of a lot better than … oh, dear,” She said to the handsome young man leaning over to her, “Could you do me a tiny favor? Yes? Oh, thanks, dear. And what’s your name?”
“Aha! You were at school with Balfour, I knew we recognized you. George, if you would be so kind, could you ask that woman in red over there to sit down and stay put.”
The young man glanced over at poor Laura, blanched with pain.
“And take care, George … she has an odor.”
This time the young man looked as if he’d been slapped. “Excuse me, Mrs. Wentworth?”
“It’s all the drugs she takes, they give off the smell of an oil refinery.”
“Oh, for the love of God,” Frederic said, loudly enough for the people behind them to hear. He stood, pushed the handsome water-polo playing groom’s man aside, and went over to Laura. He pulled her into a hug, and the two of them talked for several minutes … until, in fact, Frederic showed her the door to the side chapel, which no one ever used inasmuch as it was rumored to have toxic mold.
Returning to his seat he said, “She smells most deliciously of Clive Christian perfume.
A third sigh. A long pause. Then, “Who chose these hymns? Good God, they’re from the dark ages.”
“I did, and don’t tell me how to be an Episcopalian, Mr. Frederick Wentworth.”
“I hadn’t planned on it. I’ve tended to think of you as a more modern and forward-thinking woman than would be implied by “All Glory Laud and Honor to Thee Redeemer King.”
“Oh,” she said in surprise. “You do have your moments, Freddie.”
You have two most unusual photos here of me smiling … I’m a shy boy, and getting me to smile can be a challenge. It’s for you to decide if you like the going sailing out to Block Island with friends photo or the Maine State Fair photo better. I started this blog as a way of expressing, "We’re gay, we’re here, and we’re happy to share the world with you." From my perspective (and in my opinion), the most important moment in a gay man’s life comes when he publicly acknowledges the beauty of men. Call it what you wish … homoeroticism, the call of the wild, hormonal surges … just say it true. As Shakespeare so wisely put it, "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say." After a couple of years of research on the origins and existence of a gay aesthetic, this blog reflects my belief in it as well as he way that I define it. Treat my blog as you would treat any friendship: love it, like it, or leave it. It is a blog for many, but admittedly not for all. I intend to blog about literature, film, television, culture generally, all from the perspective of a gay man who lives in New York and Paris. I have my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, work as a translator and I’m an award-winning author. Like many of you, I am an objectified thing … Gay … whose basic rights were stolen out from under him in his crib and then given back to him one at a time by people who had no right to steal them in the first place. No, I’ve risen above nothing. The photo on the left of is me as a wee tyke, with my pet chicken Yellow Bird. I loved her dearly … and she loved me too and never cared a whit about my future sexuality, I can assure you. I always suspected she was a happy chicken lesbian anyway. On a personal note, I’m a Pisces, a loving boy from the day I was born, and I do really love people, sometimes even those who hurt me. I have a tremendous well of empathy. I dreamt dreams of a masculine man with brains and yet simplicity rather than ivory-towerism, who would sweep me off my feet. It’s happened once. Age is irrelevant to me, perhaps because one of my favorite novels is Joseph and the Old Man and ageism is just another way to judge and hate. I adore reading and always have. I wrote my first book in sixth grade and my first screenplay in seventh. I always identified more with the girls in my school than the boys, to the confusion of my male friends … with whom I did still play baseball, soccer, tennis and swimming. Academics were my nourishment; learning gave context to my life. Unfortunately for some of my teachers, I learned (and learn) best on my own … I need to ponder, think and reflect. I rarely make any important decision quickly (this can drive friends and boyfriends … not that I’d know … crazy). Though born into privilege, I crave ordinariness, just plain life, snuggled with my man under a comfortable duvet in a drafty cottage in the country. For some reason, and this is the place to say it, I’ve always wanted several things: a goat, an Irish Wolfhound, and a garden of my own. I like cleaning up and being tidy, so the best man for me is slightly messy. I crave domesticity: cooking, cleaning, Ironing, swiffering, et al. I make the bed every morning, promptly … and only then do I throw open the drapes ! Basically, from the positive perspective, I’m innocent to the point of naïve and yet surprisingly worldly; languages come easily to me; more important than anything else in life (and applicants for Wolfhound feeder and draft sharer) I need to be loved, deeply and truly. I came of age in the post-9/11 world of confusion, retrenchment and war-mongering. To return to my opening, whatever your orientation sexually, your political leanings, your … well, your affinity group of whatever sort … it is important to the nourishment of your soul to take pride in it … to celebrate it, and not to let the low-brow Neanderthal thugs out there make you feel wrong, bad or sinful. You aren’t … I’m not. And let me say it loud and say it proud … I absolutely relish the beauty of men. I do, I do, I do.
I leave you with the image here of one of my awards, as well as one of my fave lines from good old Digby Mackworth Dolben, the beloved poet boyfriend of Gerard Manley Hopkins: Ho for the Knight that rides in the splendour of opening manhood, Calm as Michael, when, out from the Beatifical Vision, Bearing the might of the Lord, he passed to conquer the Dragon.
(An obvious … I hope … English translation)
Before your light quite fail,
Already paling star,
Sings in the thyme afar!)
Turn on the poet’s eyes
That love makes overrun-
The lark to meet the sun!)
Your glance, that presently
Must drown in the blue morn;
Amid the rustling corn!)
Then flash my message true
Down yonder,-far away!-
Lies sparkling on the hay.)
Across what visions seek
The Dear One slumbering still.
The sun has reached the hill!)
One of my favorite books is Huysman’s 1884 novel À Rebours , which is often called the Bible of Decadence. This masterpiece of The Decadent Movement in literature has reverberated through the literary world since its publication. It is usually translated as Against the Grain … which isn’t quite correct, but never mind. Huysman was, in some ways, similar to Oscar Wilde in that he was central to the Aesthetic and Decadent movements in literature, and championed his gay sexuality at a pivotal moment in the emergence of a gay identity. In that sense, he was as important as anyone else in establishing those enduring notions that gays are good with flowers, interior design, and other aesthetic professions and hobbies. True or not, we are forever branded as florists … thank you very much, Messieurs Huysman and Wilde! Huysman wrote what he (and others) termed the poetic novel, which emphasized sensation and had an elegant style and rich vocabulary … both of which our Joris-Karl possessed in abundance! In À Rebours, the quite sexy Duke Jean Floresas des Esseintes, embodies gay aestheticism. A wealthy gay aesthete living a life of pleasure in his country house, Des Esseintes is characterized by his addiction to exquisitely handsome men, sensations of all sorts, flowers, wildly fanciful decoration, perfumed rooms, pillows, parts of men, and art. Even in English, the book astounds and resonates: "“Immersed in solitude, he would dream or read far into the night. By protracted contemplation of the same thoughts, his mind grew sharp, his vague, undeveloped ideas took on form," and "Worshiping the Devil is no more insane than worshiping God," and finally, "He cried, in his outraged pity: ‘If a God has made this world, I should not wish to be that God. The world’s wretchedness would rend my heart.” . À Rebours ranks with Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray as the best example of the decadent movement. I will confess that as a Post-Grad student I found it (a) profoundly beautiful (in French), (b) elegant, scintillating sensual and sexy, and (c) tough going, and my advice to anyone setting out to read it is to just sort of skim through it … some chapters are brilliantly rendered into English, others … well, not so much !
This seems more like an article that Steven over at Blog, Blogger, Bloggest should write. If I learned anything at all yesterday, it’s that the suffering of people without enough to eat, living in squalid housing and without much hope of any sort is simply staggering … and that’s in metro New York. Like most people of my ilk, I tend to see New York as Manhattan. It’s not. It’s also the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island … and those are the places where one finds the greatest need. Despite the hype about trendy Brooklyn (and it is trendy), it’s a large borough and much of it contains old, post-war public housing in which people struggle with obtaining basic necessities … about several kilometers from the gentrifying brownstones and apartments of Park Slope. I’ve written the following notion into a novel, but never felt its impact until yesterday: only the Upper Middle and Upper Class can see Pyschologists and Psychiatrists … they are a thing of privilege. Ouch.
As I learn the ropes and master the challenge of asking those who can help … well, hmm … to help. I shall have so much now in the back of my mind. Such reminders of the people who need more than our government is prepared to offer; people who can hardly get ahead in life without proper nutrition, showers that work and the money to buy clothes for an interview! Really … where have I been that I have missed all of this? Shame on me … as the prayer of contrition states, "Forgive me for all that I have done, and for all that I have left undone." It’s the latter I need to work on, mes amis.
Having said before that I do not consider myself a poet (chiefly because I am not!), I nonetheless persist in writing poetry … especially in the spring and summer, when the windows in my local bar / café are open, and I feel the breeze and smell the city (it’s not all bad in Paris) … flowers and trees, in addition to the requisite urban aroma. I have a particular favorite, which I may or may not have shared with you … and which may or may not be any good at all. Nonetheless, I love it … and when I recite it to my faithful feline friend Chouchou, she purrs. So … you tell me if this dog can hunt:
Grinning phantom friend
Where have familiar
Half trutheries gone?
Foolish dreams. Lies
Truth, whose purposeless
Face is mirror of my quick
Sweet lies. But either
My lies have grown cold
And sad or I have.
Because truth asserts
Strong vision today.
Escape’s half truths seem
Than standing true in
My own blithe shadows.
- The Deflationary Theory of Truth (jonathanhockey.wordpress.com)
In my interpretation of the gay aesthetic, all gay men have songs that rings their bells … and other things. Perhaps this is true of straight men … I don’t know (and I wouldn’t, would I?) In fact, you can trace this song and music addiction straight back to both Joris-Karl Huysman and Oscar Wilde. Of course, these songs are always changing … that’s part of their charm, that ephemerality. In any event, my bell-ringer at the moment is the lusciously beautiful and yet hot-to-trot go-get-’em song by Lana Del Rey, "Blue Jeans":
During the First World War, Conscientious Objectors were treated with profound disregard. The laws concerning conscientious objection ere vague and confusing, leaving provincial boards with the freedom to impose all sorts of punitive jobs, assignments and flat-out rejections of CO status. The COs who endured the worst experience were absolutists, who rejected any form of military service. Most of the absolutists ended up being sentenced to military prisons. Prison guards often chained incarcerated COs to the bars or grates in their cells for eight hours a day. One of the cruelest instances of mistreatment occurred when an objector was transferred to a military hospital, was refused treatment and later died. He had refused to wear a military uniform and was given no other clothing option. In the damp and chilly cell, he contracted pneumonia, received no medical care at the hospital to which he was ultimately, and died. For his refusal to compromise his beliefs, the Army sent his body home in a military uniform. On the right there is an American identity card for a Mennonite Conscientious Objector, incarcerated in notorious Leavenworth prison, were he was killed by other inmates. John Boyles’ novel The Absolutist, is a novel about World War I and the immediate aftermath. What a profound and beautiful, and desperately (desperately) sad novel. I don’t want to say too much, since the book hinges on crucial decisions on the part of the characters, but basically the novel focuses on two men (lovers) one of whom is simply a Conscientious Objector and one of whom is an Absolutist. As the novel makes clear from the beginning the difference between the two is … well, profound. As I say above, the Conscientious Objector purposefully or inadvertently supported the war effort, inasmuch as he did anything but pick up a gun. He was, to a certain extent, tolerated. The Absolutist did not support the war effort and was an extreme pacifist, so would do nothing but collect bodies (dangerous work, to say the least) and sometimes not even that. Most Absolutists did not survive the war. I’ve read the book twice, and still find myself thinking about it … still find myself recommending it … and still ponder the fate of one of the characters, forced to act in a fashion that … well, I’ll leave it for you to discover. Truthfully, it’s a corker of a novel. Read it … and weap for the millions of young men lost on all of those various Fronts.
I have no doubt in my mind that New York police are the smartest, sexiest, easy-going with gays and totally charming police on earth. Sorry … I’m biased. Unlike Paris, New Yorkers often stand and talk with their neighborhood cops. We have neighborhood precincts which are relatively open and welcoming(just as the French have fortresses of steel in every quartier, a legacy of the revolution of 1968 that tossed out De Gaulle). But the cute NYPD cops strolling together, watching the neighborhood, checking in with doormen, zooming in on any suspicious van or car, are ever so friendly. It’s true that unlike French gendarmes they don’t salute you, which is the loveliest of French traditions … the Frenchie gendarmes serve the people, so they salute the people (then hit the brown muslim ones with truncheons … but they salute first!!).
Anyway, I had the best … hmm … let’s say chat yesterday evening with one of our local cops, with whom I’ve already established a kind of ‘howdy’ relationship. He sees me and says, "How ya doin’?" And I say, "Fine, thanks." Yes … two worlds collide. But then we really chat … about our shared fears about whether our new mayor is really up to the challenge of running New York. This is a city that demands cunning, knife-sharp decision making, and a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. Both my cop and I are leery, since New Yorkers live in a state of perpetual worry … they need to know that their mayor isn’t trying to social engineer as much as he’s trying to keep us safe and alive (though I applaud his attempts to make society more equal). Voting for New York mayor is one of the few times that I do not vote Democratic. All of our good, strong, mayors have been Republicans. Mind you, my cop friend patrols an area heaving with gay people … which doesn’t seem to bother him or his partner one iota. In fact, I asked him about it the other day and he said an interesting thing, he shrugged his big shoulders (well, they are) and said, "I never have had to break up a fight in a gay bar, which you can’t say about anyplace else in the city." We generally are peaceful, with the occasional tossed beverage, tears and/or cat fight.
Anyway, one of the things I like about my New York are our cops … they’re the best in my book.
Forgive what seem’d my sin in me;
What seem’d my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.
I watched thee when the foe was at our side,
Ready to strike at him–or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless–rather than divide
Aught with one loved, save love and liberty.
I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock
Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
My arm would be thy bark, my breast thy bier.
Your letter of the 4th Dec. arrived yesterday. It brings me another instance of your singular affection for me, which suffers all suspicions to be removed by one short note. And now about my own affairs. If the King [of Poland]‘s inauguration is to take place so soon, it is impossible I should be there; . . . But however it may turn out now, in the spring I shall make the tour of all that country with the noble count of Hannau, who tells me that he too intends to leave Italy and go into Poland, Bohemia, and your own Saxony. And then, my very dear Languet, I shall see you, which will give me more delight, than all the magnificet magnificences of all these magnificos. . . .
– Wholly yours,
I’ve always been particularly susceptible to music, just as he has. It literally fills my life. As I’ve mentioned, I often wear my nifty Bose headphones and listen to some of my fave mood-setting songs as I write. For a day or two a song will fill me with inspiration and I’ll listen away to it … let’s just say an embarrassing number times. Toward that end, I wanted to share with you … so that hopefully you’ll be inspired enough to wander around humming it and or singing it (watch out thought on the second story of those British buses … they can be a tad, well, iffy). So … please watch the video and tell me that you loved it as well as M. Moire. I’ve been told (well, I read) that this version conforms to US Copyright Law. Fingers cross:
As you know, I’m bashful about my own poetry … even though much of it has been published in journals. However, inspired by the many of you who choose to share I thought … what the heck. I’ve been sitting here working on the manuscript for my new novel, sipping a good Cava and awaiting the approaching blizzard, and I thought … I think it’s poem time. These were written at very different times in my life, so I should explain. I wrote the first one during one of those strange winters in Paris, when it is alternately icy and bleak and sunny and pleasant, and the all-too-common metaphor of life as a dance came into my head. Inasmuch as I had been to the Tango Club the night before (a legend in Paris), I chose to take the motif of a line dance … et voila.
The second poem is painful for me … troubling and painful. One of the best friends I’ve ever had, went through a terrifically bad patch after being made redundant from his quite posh and respectable job. However, naïve as I can be, I thought he had enough money from severance and family to live well. He moved to a beautiful central European capital and produced lush (and I do mean wonderful and lovely) blog newsletters about his adventures, misadventures and … in-between adventures. Well, suddenly he was back in his home town and everything went wonky … and I mean everything. At the end, he was seriously … and mean seriously … upset, troubled, disturbed and, worst of all, threatening suicide. Now, for someone who … at the time … had seriously considered it several times, this resonated with me. SO, one afternoon, he sent me the bleakest email I have ever received in my entire life. He said, this is it … I have nothing to live for … I’m topping myself.
I truly (TRULY) believed he was about to kill himself … as luck would have it I was in New York, and so I phoned Europe and spoke to the police who were ever so nice. I mean that sincerely. They listened to me carefully, took notes, asked for his phone numbers and asked me if I would send the email … of course I did, I wanted my friend alive! In any event, before too long a beautifully-voiced policewoman phoned to tell me that they had located him and that he seemed all right, but that he was not happy with them or me. Hmm? I went out for dinner, feeling somewhat relieved, came back to find the worst possible message on my machine. I won’t attempt to describe or discuss it, but needless to say it contained a large amount of profanity and the claim that … and that … and that … somehow all of his friends, from boyfriend to the rest of us had transmogrified into villains. Inasmuch as all of this was, as I learned, the result of his decision to stop taking his anti-depressant pills, I decided to memorialize it in a poem … after I had received a corker of an email or two … . Thus, the tremendous difference between the two. Enjoy? If not … keep it a secret? Thank you … or as my friend would have said, "Bless you."
Learning the steps though not by heart.
Watching others with a frisson;
They touch you. Life, long line dance
Without music – but sometimes heard
That chorus or two – no mastery,
If now and again its feels so.
The many copy the many.
Stomp and slide, grapevine, all the moves.
With soundless gasp, unlearned, it ends.
The illness grips and the emails run dark
And hard with the mean-spirited bile of
Instability. Without a center,
The brain spins its flight or flight. Instinct floods
Like serum through the porous surface of
My life’s broken limestone. Big tears of a
Sort unshed and yet not unfelt in those
Tumults of reaction and the whine of
Lost connections and disease.
For every one of my book sales, I will … for this entire year … donate 20% of my royalty to the Matthew Sheppard Foundation. I trust his Foundation, I believe in their work … stop hate, stop homophobia, work for an inclusive, embracing world. Let us all be free to be free. Exactly that. Not just free to go to the Post Office (do they still exist?) but Free to be Free. Liberation is more than having one’s shackles removed. Liberation is about empowerment; liberation says you were too beautiful and original ever to be held in captivity. So, enough already: no ageism, no sexism, no homophobia, no religious attacks on others. If men and woman of different generations fall in love … celebrate it, already ! So what … you don’t think a 25 year old and a 55 year old can be happy together? Then, let me be the first to tell you … you’re wrong, wrong, wrong. You don’t think I could transition to a woman and be a rock star beauty queen. Ha! and Ha again ! Sexual transition is freedom (I’m not planning any gender readjustment just at the moment, so don’t panic) but we need to celebrate those who have been brave enough to embrace their real selves … may they revel in sex, mayhem, mischief, and either Plus belle la vie or Coronation Street, their choice. My point should be clear. Let’s leave one another alone. As I mentioned in another post, one of the sexiest men I’ve ever met had been terribly burned in a fire … but he exuded masculinity, his chest was big and powerful, he made me feel scarred and made him seem like Adonis. SO … this is not a shtick to get you to buy books of mine, because I barely make enough off the royalties to feed poor starving Chou Chou ! It is a way for all of us to make a difference, through an organization that truly cares!
Having talked at great length about the show that taught me slang and dirty words and what to say to pick up a Frenchman (well, it did) I thought I should share a bit more about the show. It’s not quite a soap opera … it has the most loyal following of any program in France, and it’s the story of a quartier of Marseille and those who live there. It had the first gay marriage on French television. As the Frenchies brag, "Si Plus belle la vie rencontre un tel succès, c’est en grande partie pour sa fidélité à la réalité. Alors que la loi pour le mariage pour tous vient d’être adoptée, voilà que le Mistral célèbre déjà l’union de deux de ses habitants." In my translation, that says, "If Plus belle la vie is so successful, then it is largely due to its faithfulness to reality. As soon as the new law on marriage was adopted, the quartier had already celebrated the union of two of its inhabitants." It’s a truly cool show … in France, where I’ve been for most of the last ten years, I watch it every day as I eat my lunch … I wouldn’t miss it. Here’s one of my favorite clips !
The openly gay symbolist poet, prose writer, and playwright Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin, wrote the first celebrations of gay themes in Russian literature, and the first Russian coming-out novel, Wings (1907), in which a young man, in the process of accepting his sexuality feels as if he has grown wings. This is my favorite Kuzmin gay poem:
Where will I find words to describe our stroll,
The Chablis on ice, the toasted bread
And the sweet agate of ripe cherries?
Sunset is far off, and the sea resounds with
The splash of bodies, hot and glad for cool dampness.
Your tender look is playful and alluring, -
Like comedy’s pretty, pealing nonsense
Or the capricious pen of Marivaux.
Your Pierrot nose and intoxicating lips
Set my mind awhirl like "The Marriage of Figaro."
The spirit of trifles, charming and airy,
Love of nights luxuriant or stifling,
The happy ease of the carefree life!
Ah, a stranger to obedient miracles, I am true
To your flowers, happy land!
That world would be television … and truly, it’s vastly more unreal here than in France. Sure, there are exceptions, and perhaps they prove the rule. The unreal world about which I’m speaking is staging. American stage sets, even shows like … oh, heck, the one about the scientific geeks in Pasadena? Anyway, they’re all big (the apartments!) and have nice kitchens and all sorts of things that are, quite honestly, unreal. Some of that is true in French television, but mostly French television shows (like my favorite French soap opera, Plus Belle la Vie, which I watch here on TV 5) tell it like it is. My poor Frenchies are always have to arrange their romantic trysts in cramped basements, stairwells … and their apartments are French-sized, i.e. small. Not only that, my gay French characters (Lordy, there are about six of them at last count) are always being watched through those ubiquitous windows everywhere in France. It’s true. Even in Paris, I have to make my bed every morning and clean up my bedroom, because the woman across the street is always watching me (fortuitously, I have extremely thick velvet curtains, which I pull closed at night!) … and I don’t want her telling the neighbors I’m messy! Anyway, my point is that on American television, the gay-character-angst episode I watched recently on some American program (why can I never remember their names? Hmm) offered the characters all of this surreal space, around which they could pace and wave their arms (wave your arms in a French apartment and you’ll knock a hole in the wall) and … well, it just seemed like watching another performance of Mamma Mia … which I don’t think I’ll do, I’ve kind of transferred my love to Kinky Boots … sorry, Mamma! Anyway, I don’t care what television stagers do … because I watch very, very little television. In France, it offers me good French sayings, including what French guys say in the throes of passion. I mean, I may need that some day … maybe … hmm … probably not! What a peculiar post this is. I feel like a character from Alice in Wonderland … though as I recall my last reference to Lewis Carroll provoked some sort of hissy fit from a reader. I can’t remember why, but best to avoid hissy fits … it’s my new life theory.
But ye in singing and sleeping
Shall pass in measure and mirth!
I lift my wand and wave you
Through hill to hill of delight :
My rosy rivers lave you
In innermost lustral light..
I lead you, lord of the maze,
In the darkness free of the sun;
In spite of the spite that is day’s
We are wed, we are wild, we are one.
Like most New Yorkers, I sleep with ear plugs … I have for as long as I can remember. But once I take them out, the world fills with the semi-magical sounds of New York. As I write this, fire trucks have been racing by, my radiator is making its distinctive strangely loud banging-click language, a truck is attempting to perform some difficult maneuver down below on the street, accompanied by beeps and slams of metal. I love it. In fact, when I am away from New York I miss two things most of all (a) the crush of people and (b) the city noise. When I was staying for a few months in Portland, Oregon, in the Pearl District, an older woman said, "Oh, dear. Well, you’ll have a lot of people and noise." Say what? It felt like the day after the apocalypse. The streets were often empty, I heard nothing … I mean nothing. Every now and then, far, far away, I could hear the tinkling of the trolley bell. It was strange. I wanted to transport her to New York and say, "Girlfriend, THIS is urban noise." But it’s the rolling rocking music to my days … just as in Paris. Do not imagine for a moment that Paris is ever quiet. It’s not. Loud arguments in the street, recycle trucks collecting bottles at 2:30 in the morning … For me, urban noise is the backdrop to my life, it enhances my art and enriches my life. Mind you, I do enjoy quiet … as when I visit friends at their country place in the Vendee and take hikes, pick melons (well, I shouldn’t admit that, actually) and just sit on the side of a river and think. New York noise is the noise of my life … and I love it.
Some songs have this amazing combination of voice, lyrics and music that is … what is a combination? Sublime? Hmm. Perhaps perfectly assembled? Yes, I like that one best … though thinking in French it comes out in some strange, pseudo-sexual fashion ! (équipé à la perfection). Ah, the vicissitudes of language. Anyway, the song I have been listening to off and on today is the ab-fab "Lover," by Igloos for Ojos. If you don’t know it … gasp … then you must, you shall, you will … it’s required in order to get your new 2014 Cool Card (they come out in April). Anyway, silliness aside, have a listen and tell me if you don’t think this is the coolest thing since either sliced bread, Tom Janus, Jason Collins, Koos Kostwinder, or Howling Fantog?
Last night we had one of those engrossing discussions (that I love), in which we all tossed our favorite (or one of our favorite) movies into the discussion and … well, off we ran. My favorite movie, and I do believe I argued my case well, was the semi-classic film Monsieur Hire. This film has everything, including a very cool trailer below, which has nice English subtitling for you! The film is determinedly noir-ish and creepy, and yet completely real at the same time. Personally, I could watch the film another five times and enjoy it just as much. The title character, M. Hire (Michel Blanc, with whom I used to ride on the subway in Paris, since we were neighbors … true), is an odd and slightly weird man, teased continuously by his neighbors. He seems indifferent to the abuse, and his life is organized with obsessive compulsive ferocity … he tolerates no change in his routine. He lives alone in a neatly ordered apartment, dresses neatly and and goes out each day to work by himself in his small office. Each night he comes home to his modest apartment and his pet mice. He cooks an egg, listens to the same piece of music, and stands in the dark staring across the courtyard into the apartment of a young woman called Alice. M. Hire is a obsessive compulsive voyeur and every aspect of Alice’s life is known to him. Alice is unaware of M. Hire, concealed by the darkness, as watches her every move – eating, sleeping, receiving her fiancé Emile. One morning a young woman is found dead in the neighborhood and Monsieur Hire is a suspect. One evening a flash of lightning during a storm illuminates M Hire behind his window, Alice glimpses him staring at her. But she does not behave as one might expect. She engineers a meeting with M.Hire the next day and they strike up a relationship. M Hire has a police record, which we have learned as he is repeatedly questioned by the police. And we are left at the end of the film wondering … what does Alice want? Perhaps to have him kill her abusive fiancé? What has M. Hire done? What does he want? What’s the real game of the police. I’m telling you honestly, this film will haunt you for days … it’s the neatest thing since sliced bread and Tom Janus …
Yes, I am shamelessly peddling my novel Jagged Blind Hop Zozzle … with its list of characters that includes everyone from Josephine Baker to F. Scott Fitzgerald to James and Nora Joyce. The novel isn’t perfect, no novel is, but in my mind it’s darned good. Rather than talk about it, I thought I’d give you a few passages. That way you’ll rush to click that "My Novels and How to Purchase them" and … voila … you shall then be able to have your very own copy. I think the cover is rather exquisite, by the way. Right then … a few passages:
“See, you look the way a hero should look, honey, and that’s more than enough … to look the way a thing should look. If that weren’t the truth, the good old US of A wouldn’t be ruled by fat old white men who simply look like what power should look like. We enjoy a nice lie, don’t we? Especially from tall and handsome men. Broad shoulders, pistol fingers and la barbe de trois jours,” Josephine said, as she ran a hand along his jaw, where blue-black shadow was visible under his fair skin.
Hudson thought about that, lying so he could discern the beat of Jérôme’s heart in his left ear. Then he said softly, moving so that he could feel the scratch of Jérôme’s chest hair against his own skin; it tingled sensually, like those electric balls you touched at fairgrounds, “And the war destroyed you?”
Vlad tossed aside his cigarette and took Hudson’s face in his hands. “When you play with fire, inevitably you get burned, even the beautiful like you, Hudson … they get burned too.” Vlad kept Hudson’s face locked in his grip, brown eyes peering into blue.
“Then,” Hudson said, “I guess I’ll get burned.”
“Yes,” Vlad agreed, “I guess you will.”
These parents lost their boy to heinous, disgusting torture back in 1998. Last night, NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in American professional basketball player, met with Matthew Shepard’s parents before the New York Jets game with the Denver Nuggets. I honestly feel … well, hmm … deeply moved, beyond just pleased and happy, but something far more profound. To me, this starts to erase some of the damage done by that historical outrage (and it shall always be an historical outrage) in Arizona. Collins gave Matthew’s parents a number 98 Jersey and, as he termed it, "I got them a bucket," referring to the game. Matthew’s mother said, "It was delightful. We were happy as a family to have the opportunity to meet." She said that getting the Number 98 jersey was, "Cool. It was very sweet, very genuine and very thoughtful." Matthew’s father, fighting back tears, said that he hoped the day would come when someone’s sexuality was a non-issue. Collins has previously said that Shepard’s death had a deep effect on him. And lest we forget, young Matthew Shepard was tortured and left to die tied to a barbed wire fence in the middle of absolutely nowhere. If there is a more hideous was to die, I have a hard time imagining it: all alone, scared, knowing you were dying, and all because you were given a ride from a gay bar. My cap goes off to Jason Collins, and my heart continues to go out to Matthew Shepard’s parents. If only such hate, homophobia and ridiculous religious hoo-haw justifying discrimination would simply … well, go the way of history, with dungeons, torture chambers, stoning and all of those other religious relics. Below is a commercial with Audrey Hepburn that, if I understand his life correctly, Matthew Shepard would have loved:
As a Comparatist, albeit chiefly in literature (My Ph.D. is in Comparative Literature), I nonetheless tend to catch the same winds of cultural similarity in music. In the same fashion that certain ideas, concepts or themes appear in literatures without appearing to be connected, merely as a response to the times and temperament, so too is that true in music. There are no shortage of examples, but an example which pleases me (because I like both songs!) is the nearly simultaneous release in the 60s of "The Eyes of Lucy Jordan" and "La poupée qui fait non." They both address the changing roles of women and the notion that a woman was a pretty ornament who stayed home and kept things in order for her husband and family. I think they both do an excellent job. These are my two favorite versions. If for some reason you haven’t heard either of these songs … well, you are definitely in for a treat !
Last night, a friend suddenly said to me, "You have such beautiful green eyes." Hmm. "They’re grey," I said, have a peep on my New York Driver’s License. "Nope," he said, "Green." And snitching his sister’s little mirror thing he show me. Well … lo and behold, they were … green. Now, how in the purple heck does that happen? I mean, they certainly look grey again to me this morning. Oh well … anyway, one of my favorite groups is the ever-lovely and rather remarkably talented Dum Dum Girls from Los Angeles. They are just that tiny bit ahead of the curve … always. Now, really, you have to like that. So … please, enjoy! Trust me, you won’t regret. It’s my new number one song on my playlist if that means anything at all (which I suspect it doesn’t!)
We’ve all heard it hundreds of times … be true to yourself, to thine own self be true, and other variations. But it’s a classic case of easier said than done. When one of my best friends since childhood announced that he was transitioning to a woman, I instinctively knew that he would go through Hell … and I made a decision to stick with him and then her through the process. I won’t go into all the details, but it’s not an easy process … in fact it’s hard, even devastating at times, as you move from wearing certain clothes and changing your orientation, all BEFORE you go through the surgery. The easiest part was becoming Toni instead of Tony, and having all of her documents from birth certificate to school reports, college degrees, etc., all changed. The hardest part was being true to herself. Now, she’s living with a drop-dead gorgeous guy, who knows her story and couldn’t care less and … from what I hear … they have a rollicking good sex life, including the missionary position (Toni does gossip a tad). But I imagine she still has days when all of it is difficult … she runs into someone at the store, for example.
For me, coming out as gay was easy from a family sense (no one really cared, to be honest), and easy from a school perspective since I went to a small independent school with kids I’d known forever. University was fine … I got hit on a lot, which occasionally made classroom focus a tad difficult (!), and sharing a bathroom with a handsome gay rugby player did pose … hmm … some interesting issues. But inevitably, of course, I did run straight into that brick wall … once letters about me, full of ugly accusations, profanity and insinuation starting being sent out to schools and potential employers (two of my friends have kept those letters, and they are so nasty, so vitriolic, so vile and ugly) and once a website appeared demonizing me (and it didn’t really help much that that website was crazy) … I was an alien, at one point, and controlled by a lesbian leviathan. People were afraid of associating with me … as if in associating with me they too would have letters sent out about them or websites put up. But I have managed, after a long five years, to end up where my friend Toni is: I am true to myself. However, after five years of treatment for C-PTSD, I know who I am, and I’m darned proud of it. I am not defined by wingnuts, homophobes and weird characters. I am proudly me. I doubt you understand the significance of that … especially if you knew me before my five-year battle with craziness. I am true to myself. Yes, sir, and yes, ma’am, I am. So there !
Suddenly he seemed to forget the pain –
Consented – and held out
One finger from the other…
That lay in his with the sun upon it.
And as the knot was tightened
The two men smiled into each other’s eyes.
New York is a state of mind … or so I concluded today, after hours of running errands … hair cut, new glasses, helping tourists, getting some groceries, helping tourists, looking for some winter wear on sale (a boy does like a bargain). I love my city. In fact, I felt a special sense of pride when the helpful (and beautiful) woman of color (whom I kept telling that she had to go to France to work … only in New York do I see woman so beautiful). When she looked me up in the optometrist’s records she said, "Wow, you’ve lived in New York a long time … Upper West Side and Upper East side!" I pointed out that I chiefly omit those from my New York resume and focus on my time living in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Roosevelt Island, and the Theater District (beautiful apartment there … but it glowed with florescent colors all night long and the because of the crowds the fire trucks were extra noisy, and bossy … as when the Fireman said through his bullhorn, at about 2:30 in the morning, in a booming, echoing voice that could be heard in Quebec, "Move, G-damn it, move." Yes, I said … I’ve lived in New York a LONG time … and Paris too, though New Yorkers are not so much interested in other cities.
But why I said it was a state of mind was because as I was heading home, zipping through my various shortcuts across the city (New Yorkers all have about twenty for each location … just in case) I found your usual befuddled tourists on a windy street corner. The poor wife was holding the map and saying something in a lilting Irish accent to the effect of "We have to go that way in order to go that way." The husband was huffing and puffing. I asked if I could help. So, I pointed out that it was quicker to just keep going straight down the street they were on, until they got to 53rd. The map, I pointed out, was chiefly designed for cars. The woman told me I was kind and said, "Where did your family come from?" Which I interpreted (remember that state of mind motif) as from what country had they immigrated. I said America … on both sides of my family, we’ve been in these colonies since the mid 1700s. They were suitably impressed. What I didn’t tell them was that they all came in one large group from the Protestant village of Temple Patrick, outside Belfast … really, some 200-300 of them. They were handsome folk and quickly started marrying (and … hmm … not marrying, when they should have) from every immigrant community they could find. Oh yes … I love my New York … and it is most definitely a state of mind !
Apparently, the scenic venues around New York City are booked solid all summer … with gay weddings. Clever gay wedding planners have snarfed up all the scenic mansions with vistas of the Hudson River and Poconos, all of the great in-city venues from the Central Park Conservatory to the Frick Museum. Needless to say, I’m not surprised. Set free to express themselves, it’s no surprise that it’s turning out to be one heck of a festive gay summer. And, to be honest, I really DO love a good wedding reception … especially the ones with handsome Serbian cater waiters. Really, those rascals do know how to multi-task ! Some of the stores have reaped a bonanza, chief among them being Nordstrom Department Stores. They were ahead of the pack with gay-wedding commercials, my favorite being this one below. I mean … really … you’d have to be a homophobe with Neanderthal throw-back DNA and a pea-brain not to be charmed by this gay-wedding commercial. It’s beyond delightful:
I make no secret of my love for New York and Paris. However, my love for New York is deeper … why, you ask? Well … because New York has always had a degree of tolerance and acceptance far ahead of the rest of the country. Perhaps that’s an overstatement, but keep in mind that unless you’re also a city of eight million people, don’t try to compare yourself to New York. New Yorkers have tolerance in their collective consciousness. Last night’s standing ovation for Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the National Basketball Association … who wears the number on his jersey of the year in which Matthew Sheppard died … is what prompted this post. Like my neighbors, friends, Darlene Rodriquez (my heroine), and others, I felt such a sense of pride in my city. I am a New Yorker and I am proud of this city. No other city had the equivalent of the Harlem Renaissance, in which people of color created a community amenable to culture, politics and mutual assistance. WE are the city of Stonewall, not San Francisco (and I love San Francisco, but I don’t find it to be nearly as tolerant as New York) … New York is where Jackie Robinson baseballed his way into history. If you’re a homophobe, racist, sexist, backward-thinking kook of any type … New York is not for you. New York is for us … true New Yorkers, those who embrace the values of Paddy Chayevsky, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Aaron Copland, Sammy Davis, Jr., Rosie O’Donnell, Christopher reeve, Julia Ward Howell and hundreds of other reformers, champions of liberty, and activists for change. Yes. New York is my hometown.
Now, oh gathered bloggish friends of mine (and you are my friends, you demonstrated that admirably yesterday :-) ) whenever you post a video, I watch … even when it’s long-ish. I rigorously keep myself to no more than a certain number of blogs that I follow … for the very reason that I read every post, comment when I think it might be good (sometimes my Irish friend in Latvia and the Pink Agendist and others of you already have something like 21,349 comments … so I figure mine would be somewhat gratuitous!). Anyway, I write this long preface in the hope that you will listen to and watch the videos bellow. I believe that music is magical; I believe that music sets you free from yourself and your worries, at least for awhile. I find music to be extremely illustrative of the culture in which it’s written. SO, the first song is an amazing (understatement) gay song by an Israeli singer named Yehonathan. Wow. It wins my award for handsome singer, sexy guys and brilliant music any day. So … listen up, maties (is that how it’s spelled?) … hmm … it looks like something from Gilbert and Sullivan. The second song is one of my top ten favorite songs in English, "Baby Says," by The Kills. I offer it up to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, who is really (or was) a man named Andrew (I believe). When he got himself rigged out as Madame Du Moor, well … back up.
I’m not a fan of comparing cities and places, since the idiosyncrasies of culture often make comparisons invalid … and sometimes even goofy. However, let me break my rule and say that from a pedestrian’s point of view, Manhattan is by far and away the most gay-friendly city I know. As I go through my daily "runs" as I call my errands, and work on my writing either in a coffee house or bar, I’m startled by the ease with which gay, lesbian and transgender individuals live their lives in Manhattan. I see couples holding hands, having a cuddle and kiss on the corner, overhear conversations about how someone’s transition is progressing … all in that American style, which implies that there is nothing going on but a conversation … which, I suppose, is true. My favorite wine guy at my local upscale wine store … who has introduced me to all sorts of Argentinian and Chilean wines, is a Cypriot partnered with an American, originally from Argentina (and YES they are one heck of a striking couple). In a bar the other day, I was listening to this quite beautiful woman discuss the end (finally) of her transition, and how thrilled she felt … how liberated … and yet how scared. Everyone leapt in with helpful advice including one which made me smile, "I have a cousin, handsome guy, owns his own tow truck company … I’ll set you up on a date. Huh?" That could be a fun date … I’m just saying! His own tow truck? A girl could have some fun with a man with a tow truck! Anyway, I rarely see or feel anything like this in Paris, although, of course, I see couples and hear conversations, etc. But face it: there is simply something special about Manhattan from ground level .. so next time you’re here, take your eyes down from the buildings, and watch the pedestrians. You might be very pleased !