Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quote of the Week

"If something happened along the route and you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, I think you would probably leave them with Bob Dole". Spoken during the 1996 Presidential Campaign.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Video

They tell us that we lost our tails
Evolving up from little snails
I say it's all just wind in sails

Are we not men?
We are Devo!
Are we not men?

We're pinheads now
We are not whole
We're pinheads all!
Jocko Homo

Are we not pins?
We are Devo!

Monkey men all in business suits
Teachers and critics all dance the poot

Are we not men?
We are Devo!
Are we not men?

Are we not men?
We are Devo!
Are we not men?

Are we not pins?
We are Devo!
Are we not men?

We must repeat!

We must repeat!

We must repeat!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Trippers and Askers (From Leaves of Grass)

Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and city I live in, or the nation,
The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and new,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Experiment in E Sharp

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Experiment in E Sharp

In high school, I always arrived early, well before the eight o’clock start. Students who arrived prior to the first bell were herded into the cafeteria. Myself and a few friends had made a habit of meeting there to socialize. Behind us, an absolutely godawful breakfast was available for the few kids who hadn’t yet had an opportunity to consume the most important meal of the day. Usually, these were the poorer students whose parents had to report to work early in the morning.

Ten years later, MTV expressed interest in filming a reality TV show, in part, on campus. Its purpose would be to follow around the football team and its sizable entourage. In the South, football is king, players are royalty, and cheerleading is the pinnacle of popularity. I watched the first two or three episodes of the show with a kind of morbid curiosity, expecting a trainwreck. Though it had its cringe-inducing moments, I think the producers did a good job of showing the concerns and lives of the same kids I’d once hated.

Not only that, I found it surrealistic seeing students seated at the exact same lunch table I inhabited earlier in life. Much had changed and much had not. The fashions were a little different, but the basic social hierarchy remained intact. They were all so young, not much more than children really, and that kept me from being as harshly critical as I could have been if they were my contemporaries.

Along the west side of the cafeteria was E Hall. E Hall mostly comprised fine arts classrooms. It was, for example, where I headed to take photography during my truncated senior year. Prior to the beginning of classes, however, it was a ghost town. Most students arrived just early enough to not be marked tardy. I rose at a relatively early hour and was dropped off at the back of the massive building, long before most everyone else showed up.

One early morning, my junior year, I chose to sit cross-legged against the wall. Bored out of my mind, I’m not sure why I was even there, as it wasn’t part of my usual routine. A girl I had never laid eyes on before sat directly next to me, plopping down with great purpose. We talked, flirtatiously, for a few moments. I intended to make sense of this unexpected opportunity and to plan for where it would proceed next.

What I had before me was highly unusual and presented an interesting challenge. Knowing that few students had much incentive or intention to arrive on time, I knew that privacy in this part of the building was not difficult to attain. I knew, in addition, that the men’s bathroom was entirely unoccupied at this time of the morning. She was amenable to sneaking into it to make out. As should come as a surprise to no one, I was hoping for as much as I could get.

I picked the handicapped stall because it was larger. Wanting to make the most of this, whatever this was, I escorted her into the bathroom as fast as I could, then latched the door behind us. We exchanged kisses, then began to get more adventurous. My primary concern was that, at minimum, the floor of the stall had been mopped and sanitized the night before. Men hold different standards of cleanliness than women, which is quite the understatement.

This situation in which I found myself reminds me a little of what routinely happens at Earlham College. Earlham is one of the most well-known Quaker colleges, one that has not watered down its Friendly values and theological stances considerably over time. Starting from the 1600’s, Quaker men and women were treated as equals, and college policy reflects this historical precedent. One might even call it feminist, though few think to use that terminology. In my mind, it's an entirely accurate pronouncement.

Should undergraduates who have moved into dorms opt for it, bathrooms on each floor are designated as co-ed. This deliberate experiment in gender equality takes some getting used to for everyone. The policy is technically illegal according to Indiana law, but enforcement is skirted because it is not included as part of official college policy.

Men find it a little disconcerting at first that women speak to each other when they use the facilities. Male code insists that bodily functions are a private matter; conversation is kept to a strict minimum. One is present only long enough for one's intended purpose, then leaves. Carrying on vocal discussion in the middle of the call of nature would be seen as strange and anti-masculine to most men.

Men are often already uncomfortable enough with what is most often a homosocial activity. Everyone is fearful of being judged in this setting, though no one ever gives voice to these insecurities. That’s yet another corollary of male code, felt, but never expressed around anyone.

With enough time, however, men begin to adopt the same behaviors as women. Men talk at the urinal or inside the stalls to each other. The freedom provided by co-ed bathrooms does, however, have some unintended drawbacks. Bathrooms are sometimes used by straight couples as places to have sex. Because both men and women are allowed to use the same facilities, no one assumes anything much is out of order when a man and a woman enter at the same time.

Back to high school, my own experiences were not nearly as expansive. I recall undressing, blushing, and leaving the stall feeling as though it almost hadn’t been worth the effort. She smelled like baby powder and a kind of cheap, thick lotion, a powerful olfactory association I will remember for the rest of my life.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only man to resort to the restroom for an intimate pursuit. While in undergrad, I attended a party or two where the sole available bathroom was commandeered for someone's throes of passion. This meant that, for the rest of us, the backyard had to serve as a makeshift toilet. One late night at a bar, a particularly adventurous couple managed to break the sink while involved in a similar act. Though I’m one to be talking, this conduct strikes me as sleazy, not daring or subversive.

While involved in a new relationship, I admit I can be a little sexually irresponsible. Regardless of how careful I sought to be, I could have gotten caught multiple times and it is thanks to luck alone that I have not. I’ve fooled around in movie theaters, public restrooms, open-air concerts, and once at the top of an abandoned parking garage. My partners at the time never registered a complaint, as we were riding high on the dopamine excitement everyone experiences alongside the new and thrilling.

Perhaps my partners found it equally exciting. Being desired and feeling desired have led almost everyone I’ve known towards situational decisions regretted later. I could never contain my libido for very long. Before I was treated effectively with the mood stabilizer Lithium, I may well have existed for months in a low-grade manic state. In the early days, mania was fun, and it was mild enough that most people wouldn’t have known how to separate a hyperactive personality from an illness.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kicked Out

Apologies for the late posting. I am sick and woke up later than normal.

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Kicked Out

I am the oldest of three. Though we since have put aside our differences, one of my sisters and I had a strained, turbulent relationship for a long time. Shortly after I graduated from college, she temporarily moved back into my parent’s house. I’d been back myself for a few months, after my latest week long stint in the hospital. It had been a long time since we’d both lived in the same house.

We fought constantly. My sister had become a militant vegan. Should I dare to cook bacon, I received a lecture about the disgusting smell of bacon wafting through the house. Though it took a while, she eventually reversed course and resumed eating meat. But that took years and a relocation to Portland, Oregon.

My recent admission of bisexuality had not been received well, either. I will always remember the look on my father’s face as he descended the stairs down to the basement apartment.

One of you is going to have to go. It will be either you or her.

Tensions had grown severe enough that I decided to make the decision to leave. My father implied heavily through our brief conversation that I was the one who probably needed to take off for somewhere else. I might have been more upset, but I’d experienced one crisis situation after another. The brain can only absorb trauma to a degree, then, in my case, it goes numb as a means of coping. Given a week and only a week to leave the house, I began to make plans to move elsewhere.

In therapy, close to ten years afterwards, my psychologist tried to impress upon me the folly and intolerance of my parents’ decision. I see her point, but I can’t hold any further anger in my heart for them. Trying to stay understanding, even if it isn’t deserved, I recognized that while I’d had years to adjust to my sexual orientation, they’d only had a few days. I wasn’t sure how long this separation was going to last, but I hoped the maelstrom would eventually blow over.

My father chose friends who were much older than he. These friends doubled as mentors. Dad was forever seeking wisdom and companionship, in that order. One of these men attended a conservative Christian church. One of his sons was openly gay. After the son came out, the two were no longer on speaking terms. With gritted teeth, I imagine, father and son struck a deal. The son was not allowed to live anywhere near his father if he insisted upon having a partner and living a gay lifestyle.

Dad had assisted his friend through the upheaval. His sympathies lay with the father, his friend, of course. My own father brought up this story when we discussed his feelings, shortly before my departure. Dad used the word “queer” as a pejorative, a term of high insult. It is for this reason that I’ve always found it a little difficult to use the phrase as a catch-all for everything that is not heterosexual.

I hear it used mostly by LGBTs in self-referential parlance. Heterosexual allies and the outside world may still hear it as an epithet, or at least an odd choice of words. I use it where I know I will be understood and do not use it when it can be taken wrongly.

My only real option was to turn to my church family. Following the Sunday service, I made very uncomfortable inquiries. Person to person, I asked the congregation if someone would be willing to take me in for a little while. A long time member, looking quite reluctant about the whole situation, informed me I could stay with her for a little while. This was in June. I intended to enroll and start grad school the following August.

Following that, I intended to live in a dorm on campus. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was cheaper than getting an apartment. Utilities were included and I'd always be surrounded by others, not left alone to brood by myself. Maybe I’d find a roommate eventually. I honestly wasn't making long-range plans at this state. Instead, I was trying to get through the day.

For now, I had a two month gap of utter nothingness facing me. Most of my friends departed for other parts of the country after undergrad, meaning I would pass the time mostly in isolation. Being alone was the last thing I needed, but it was the only thing I had. In place of interpersonal contact, I substituted whatever distractions I could manage.

The elderly woman with whom I now lived and I clashed and fought daily. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. She had gotten used to living alone and having her own space. Her husband had passed away a long time beforehand. She fancied herself something of an energetic activist and the newspaper columns written up about her selfless gestures showed her to be a saint. She was nice when it benefited her personally, but her patience for me did not fall under that category.

I left dishes to soak overnight and received an admonishment for not cleaning them immediately. Her words were condescending and superior, as though she knew absolutely everything. Our conflict was mostly a series of smaller incidents conjoined together over time. I never cut the lawn in accordance with her exacting standards, nor did I weed her substantial vegetable garden out front to her wishes. I was treated like the hired help, and although I more or less was, she had didn't much care to get to know me or see my perspective.

I knew, thankfully, that she would soon be leaving on yet another world trip. Once she’d departed, the house would be mine for a month solid. Not knowing what to do, and grieving substantially the loss, I recognized I'd have no connection to the outside world. I took daily trips to the library to check e-mail, but that was the extent of it. Nor did I have a cell phone. I was almost completely cut off from others, choosing to live a monastic existence for as long as I could stand it. Quite unlike a monk, I passed the time in a constant, chemically altered state.

In the basement, I discovered a case of champagne and a couple bottles of wine. It was impossible to determine age and quality. As I tried to remove the stopper, the cork of each bottle disintegrated into gritty fragments. I had to strain out all the bits to be able to drink even a single sip. In some ways, it was a metaphor for the house itself and everything I found within it.

The backyard was a wild, untamed wilderness. It was little more than a ravine. I’d descend into it two or three times to smoke pot. The likelihood of being discovered there was not especially high. Though marijuana always made me feel paranoid, my fears were assuaged by the spot I’d chosen. After finishing up, feeling sufficiently fuzzy-headed and confused, I made my way through the art studio on the lowest level.

I learned the hard way not to walk downstairs without shoes. An artist, she’d been working on a mosaic project that involved small bits of colored glass. They were scattered over the linoleum floor and cut the side of one heel. The disorganized nature of the room was a contrast to the rest of the house, which she kept meticulously neat. Or, should I say, I kept it meticulously neat as a condition for my residence.

She’d built a cult of personality around herself. It mainly included middle aged women who liked to take discount art classes. Because I was almost consistently present, I listened to their pleas and let them into the studio. Even in the absence of their teacher, they wanted to work on their private masterpieces. I doubt the woman was charging them much for the experience and the tutelage.

For a time, they brought me meals, aware of the reason why I was now living there. I appreciated the gesture, but I would have appreciated even more the warm presence of a friend. Those around me, usually present for only a few minutes at a time, couldn’t even begin to understand the breadth of my suffering. Perhaps they didn’t know what to do, but during that time I have never felt more alone than in the whole of my life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sexy Sadie

Sexy Sadie, what have you done?
You made a fool of everyone.
You made a fool of everyone.

Sexy Sadie, oh what have you done?
Sexy Sadie, you broke the rules.
You laid it down for all to see.
You laid it down for all to see.
Sexy Sadie, oh you broke the rules.

One sunny day the world was waiting for a lover.
She came along to turn on everyone.
Sexy Sadie is the greatest of them all.

Sexy Sadie, how did you know.
The world was waiting just for you.
The world was waiting just for you.
Sexy Sadie, oh how did you know.
Sexy Sadie you'll get yours’ yet.

However big you think you are.
However big you think you are.
Sexy Sadie, oh you'll get yours’ yet.

We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table
Just a smile would lighten everything

Sexy Sadie, she's the latest and the greatest of them all.
She made a fool of everyone
Sexy Sadie
However big you think you are

Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Exit

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Big Exit

During the six month gap between high school and college, I’d first taken to sneaking men into my bedroom. It took longer than usual to enroll and start classes because I was recovering from the most intensive hospitalization of my life. Even in my delicate state, I sought to learn more about myself. The sexual partners I found, usually online, were often remarkably similar to me. Several were bisexual like myself, even already in relationships with women, but desiring something more.

Queer life is often criticized as being orgiastic and overly sexual. I wouldn’t know how to describe it without also bringing up sexuality. At an earlier time, gay men enjoyed a kind of sexual freedom divorced from conventional heterosexual morality. It was this same attitude, tragically, that fueled the AIDS epidemic. My generation was much more cautious, though some remained reckless, disinclined to use protection.

My first experiences were not especially rewarding. One random encounter changed his mind in the middle of what we were doing. Disappointed, I escorted him silently out of the house back to his car. Another had never had penetrative sex and, although curious, was afraid to try. A third smelled faintly like a combination of bodily funk and ranch salad dressing. I managed to undress down to my boxer shorts, but could not go any further with him.

Truly gratifying sex didn’t happen much until I was around 21. I met a man who was the optimum balance of patient and instructive. Typically, I went months between same-sex encounters. Much of this was because I didn’t always have my own space. I’d live on my own in a dorm or an apartment, but never for very long. Before I knew it, I was back at my parents’ house. I didn’t have much choice, because my illness demanded the kind of intensive care and stable environment that only they could provide.

Unsuccessful attempt after attempt to live by myself produced profound and constant feelings of shame. Only losers still lived with their parents. Before I knew it, another episode would once again take hold of me. Upon the conclusion of another hospitalization, the social worker assigned to my case would take care to make sure I had somewhere to go following discharge.

So you’ll be staying with your parents for a little while? This was always conveyed with the greatest sympathy. One could see it in their hopeful, forcefully cheerful looking faces. Social workers always looked the same and talked the same. They were forever smiling, hopelessly upbeat, young, and driven to succeed. I imagine it’s the required attitude for anyone who has to work at such a high stress, draining job.

I love my parents, but I don’t always love the things for which they stand. I knew that they were not even remotely approving of who I was. Nor did they approve of the process of self-discovery now well underway. While coming out to myself, I was a live wire, hypersensitive, and always somewhat paranoid. I used strict discretion when necessary but was generally open with my sexual orientation.

As I suppose everyone who identifies as queer eventually does, I realized I needed to do some investigative research. I’d discovered Alabama Adult Books in the phone book, which was located on the north side of downtown Birmingham. The business name was something of a euphemism. The printed word, even in the form of erotica, was nowhere to be found. The bookstore was, instead, a sex shop that dated back decades.

I circled around and around a particular sort of shiny magazine before getting up the courage to buy it. It showed a shirtless man with impossibly defined pectoral muscles and a fully tumescent penis, straining underneath the material of his revealing underwear. A part of me looked away in self-reproach, but I couldn’t help staring in spite of myself.

I was mostly fearful of receiving hurtful homophobic comments. How would the person behind the counter respond? My hand shook as I grabbed two magazines from the stack. They were encased in plastic wrap. As it turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of, not even in the slightest. I placed my intended purchase on the worn counter. Impassively, perfunctorily, the worker scanned the barcode at the base of each publication, took my money, and addressed the next customer in line.

He’d seen just about everything over time. Workers in a store that peddles sex probably shouldn’t have sexual hangups or hold anti-gay views. I would return periodically, when I grew bored with my latest purchase. I can’t say I was ever comfortable there. No one talked to anyone else in the store, so I imagine everyone is equally inhibited. Patrons avoid eye contact whenever possible. I suppose it’s a little like being Southern Baptist and going to the liquor store.

With time, a collection grew, all stashed underneath my bed. In hindsight, this might not have been the best place for safe storage, but I was growing less and less desirous to hide who I was.

In those days, the slow pace of data transmission made internet pornography more trouble than it was worth. As had been the case for generations before me, I slowly accumulated magazine and video tape smut. In the late Nineties, the store still rented VHS tapes. Professional gay pornography on DVDs was an expensive proposition. I rarely had $40 or more to spend on the releases from the major companies who benefitted from high production values.

Bel Ami and Falcon were thought to be the best of the best, but now I see them as incredibly fake. I imagine many of their actors are gay for pay. The scenarios presented were ridiculous and overwrought. This was a good place to start, but I found I was more turned on by real people and real situations, not colossally over-the-top acting and steroids. I was aroused by the sort of person I might conceivably meet and take to bed, and no one in any of these films fit that profile.

They were, however, my introduction to homosexuality and homosexual expression. Exaggerated and unrealistic they may have been, but I was able to look beyond my disbelief and pick up a few things here and there. Still too timid to step outside the closet completely and to learn entirely from personal experience, it was here that I was schooled about basic terminology and technique.

I am more particular today in my choices. Any commercial release, regardless of intended audience, displays a kind of grotesque, excessive unreality. These films focused on testosterone drenched exaggeration, a world packed full of as many impossibly beautiful men as possible. Most men I knew did not have sexual experiences with hulking, muscular men who, during the performance, frequently let out out satisfied, super-masculine grunts of pleasure.

These sorts of snuff cinema operated on the premise that all queer men were attracted primarily to straight men, or at least very masculine men who could easily pass for heterosexual. The fantasy was entirely unreal and overdone. And, I have to say, I resented the underlying implication. The men I found appealing were very feminine, usually somewhat theatrical, and quite evidently queer. I’ve never found anything especially appealing about excessive masculinity in men.

The authentic, entirely gay men I knew at college could not be more different. Seeking commonality and friends, I’d been directed to the GSSA. A Gay/Straight Student Alliance group met on campus once a week. It tended, much to my frustration, to attract the sort of cookie-cutter queer men who actively conformed to the stereotype. They dressed, acted, and talked the precise way gay men were somehow “supposed” to do.

When I arrived for the first time and took my seat, I felt like a piece of meat. Although flattering to be thought of as sexually attractive, I knew this attitude well. I got the same looks from men at the gay bar, but I expected them there. I thought the group was designed for support and to build tolerance within the university. Instead, I recognized instantly that I’d be eventually passed around from man to man, if that was what I wanted. The more consistent regulars, as I later learned, had all been with each other.

A much older man began showing up at our meetings, week in and week out. His purpose in our company was not fellowship, but cruising. I don’t even think he was a student, which should have disqualified him from being there. He made no effort to disguise his motives and intentions, and one of them was to get me into bed. The group should have policed itself better. I will say that much. Its function was social more than educational, but it lacked the leadership to be much more.

As I noted above, the seven regular attenders who more or less kept the group going had slept with each other at least once. Slightly before my arrival, a bad breakup between two attenders, both male, created needless drama. The group fairly begged for structure, any structure. In a different time in my life, I’d have offered my services as a leader, but I was too self-doubting and not confident enough yet.

At the time, I was not in a good head space on multiple levels. I’d had numerous opportunities to tell the older man to not go an inch further, but my childhood experiences with men and sexuality got in the way of good sense. In place of logic, other forces spoke loudest. I thought perhaps I needed an experience like this, one of total domination, to feel authentic, to receive confirmation as who I was. As I said, I brought ample baggage with me into these sexual experiences.

Men have disregarded boundaries more than once. A few months before, I’d met a man in a club, then agreed to go home with him. He told me to undress and lie upon on my back. I knew what was to follow, but I told myself I’d put up with anything. I assumed anal sex was supposed to be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but that I’d quickly adjust. He proceeded to enter me forcefully and a little violently.

I felt pain, not pleasure. Part of me wanted to tell him to stop immediately, but I let him continue. I kept silent, but one could have told through my facial expression alone that I was not enjoying the experience. Fortunately for me, my agony was a turn on for him, and he didn’t last very long. Paradoxically, even then, there was something pleasing to me about feeling completely out of control and petrified.

These two contradictory experiences and impulses stayed with me for months. Almost immediately after we finished, I was told to leave his apartment. He added, as many men would in the future, that he’d gladly have me again. All I had to do was call. I put my clothes back on and walked to the car, then drove home immediately.

I found I had returned once again to the same situation. The older man trolling the group for sex got what he wanted. He asked me for a ride home, not exactly subtle with his intentions. He’d sat next to me at the table the whole meeting, forcefully bumping his leg against mine. Though his comments were bizarre, his intentions were transparent.

I know others in the group had picked up on them, but only brushed him off if he came near them. I’ll always feel upset that no one spoke out, nor looked out for my safety and well-being. I could be an object of desire to them, even of interest, but not someone worth protecting. To them, socializing and flirtation was of paramount importance.

I’ll give the guy that much, he was a smooth character. He suggested we pull over alongside a park. We sat on top of a rock wall that circled the perimeter. He moved slowly, deliberately, from one part of my body to another. First he had rested a hand on my lower back, pushing the tip of a finger inside my underwear. He could always claim ignorance later, but I’m not stupid. I knew what he was doing.

His hands and fingers slowly but surely reached their intended goal. Abruptly, he suggested we return to the car. He told me to put the seat back as far as it would go. The description ends here. I’m not going to dignify what happened by giving a play-by-play. He never threatened me physical harm, but he was insistent about what he wanted. Once again, I let a man have his way with me, in spite of my judgment to the contrary.

He left his baseball cap inside the car. I arrived at home around 9 in the evening and went immediately to bed. The next day, I opened the car door and found the cap resting on the back seat. Seeking to purge the memory of what had happened, I poured lighter fluid on the cap and burned it in the driveway. Observing the flames from the driveway, my mother asked what I was doing. For some reason I told her the truth.

Serves you right, she said. Why would you do a damn stupid thing like that in the first place?

This wasn’t exactly sympathy. My father felt similarly to my mother.

The next day, when I was away at class, Mom scoured my room and threw everything away. She told this to me with a kind of triumphant satisfaction, the sort one feels immediately after thoroughly cleaning a filthy room. All of my glossy magazines were gone. My two well-watched DVDs were destroyed. She also threw away the women’s clothing I’d begun to wear in secret.

Even I thought I’d somehow done something to deserve it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Quote of the Week

"If you know how rich you are, you are not rich. But me, I am not aware of the extent of my wealth. That's how rich we are."- Imelda Marcos

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Video

Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin

And constant
Has always

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls to what's true
Or maybe it is life itself
That feeds wisdom to its youth

Constant Craving
Has always

Ah, constant craving
Has always been
Has always been

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From The Green Door, by O. Henry

I referenced this story earlier in the week in a novel excerpt. To follow are its opening paragraphs, which I first read at the age of ten. They still speak to me.


Suppose you should be walking down Broadway after dinner, with ten minutes allotted to the consummation of your cigar while you are choosing between a diverting tragedy and something serious in the way of vaudeville. Suddenly a hand is laid upon your arm. You turn to look into the thrilling eyes of a beautiful woman, wonderful in diamonds and Russian sables. She thrusts hurriedly into your hand an extremely hot buttered roll, flashes out a tiny pair of scissors, snips off the second button of your overcoat, meaningly ejaculates the one word, "parallelogram!" and swiftly flies down a cross street, looking back fearfully over her shoulder.

That would be pure adventure. Would you accept it? Not you. You would flush with embarrassment; you would sheepishly drop the roll and continue down Broadway, fumbling feebly for the missing button. This you would do unless you are one of the blessed few in whom the pure spirit of adventure is not dead.

True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented methods. They have been out after the things they wanted--golden fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son--when he started back home.

Half-adventurers--brave and splendid figures--have been numerous. From the Crusades to the Palisades they have enriched the arts of history and fiction and the trade of historical fiction. But each of them had a prize to win, a goal to kick, an axe to grind, a race to run, a new thrust in tierce to deliver, a name to carve, a crow to pick--so they were not followers of true adventure.

Friday Posting Change

I'm going to be busy on Friday mornings starting eight days from today. Friday posting will probably be sporadic for the rest of the year. If I have time beforehand, I'll post, but I can't promise anything.

Due to the fact that medication has been ineffective, I will now be undergoing weekly sessions of Percutaneous Tibial Nerve Stimulation, or PTNS. Having an overactive bladder is likely one of the more embarrassing ailments a person can have. It's also one of the most annoying, due to the fact that I pee about ten times more than I need to during the course of a day. It's begun to take over my life, which is the reason for the involved procedure to begin next week.

At night, I get up to go about eight or nine times. This is excessive. I first noticed the problem around six or seven years ago and it has steadily worsened since then. Though older adults are usually diagnosed with an overactive bladder, the condition can sometimes affect those in their twenties or thirties. I am in heavy pursuit of results, though I'm told it takes six full sessions for a change to be felt.  

When Modern Medicine Doesn't Work

The field of alternative medicine is a controversial one. Modern medicine directly contradicts everything about it: its concepts, terminology, and basic teachings. To skeptics, alternative medicine is, at best, a placebo, at worst, pseudoscience. Doctors and specialists warn patients about the ineffectiveness of these sorts of practices, believing them to be potentially dangerous. What cannot be proven by sound science is often dismissed as mere hokum, cheap hope for people seeking definitive answers.

Its practitioners and proponents, however, beg to differ. When conventional treatments fail or prove ineffective, people have turned to a different avenue. Alternative medicine includes energy healing, elements of mysticism, astrology, and psychic insight. Often, the disciplines are used in tandem.

What makes alternative medicine difficult to describe is its reliance upon subjective experience. Energy healing, for example, cannot be easily defined in scientific terms. The exacting precision of modern medicine is simply not present. Relying on mystical forces for healing has its own logic, but they will never fill out the pages of a medical case study. Every situation, every person, and indeed every illness is different and must be judged purely on intuition alone.  

Suey Irvine has recently published a book, Healer Evolving, published by Balboa Press. In it, she discusses the long struggle for health of her son, Chad. Upon birth, Chad was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Suey, his mother, tried conventional medical procedures at first, but found they were largely ineffective. As retold in her account, doctors and medical workers overlooked crucial dietary restrictions and acted callously when treating his condition. Out of frustration, she went elsewhere.

Irvine took a very hand’s on role in her son’s care, learning healing techniques along the way. Treating his case effectively required a Herculean effort because of its complexity. Many times, she was uncertain whether anything would truly be effective. Even years later, she remembers and recounts every tiny detail. Along the way she experiences the trauma of losing a second child in infancy and a divorce to the father of her child.

Divorce is extremely commonplace, statistically speaking, for married couples of children with special needs. The constant strain and upheaval often are too powerful, eroding the very foundations upon which marriage was based. Irvine’s husband leaves in the midst of the worst times. They do not speak again for two decades.

Disregarding the conventional prose format of memoir, Healer Evolving is written entirely in free verse. The first two thirds of the book describe Suey Irvine’s relationship with her son. The final third focuses more or less entirely upon finding her own identity later in life. Present also is a droll sense of humor and a quirky delivery that provides needed levity to what is often an intense account.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Fool's Errand

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

A Fool’s Errand

The early 20th Century short story writer O. Henry has long been one of my favorites. One work, entitled “The Green Door”, relays a descriptive account of a hopeless romantic salesman with a desire for adventure. He finds himself in an unusual situation based upon his own exaggerated sense of drama, his own purposeful striving for the different and the novel. That ethos influenced my own decision-making. Had I been afraid of taking risks, I would have never ended up where I did, how I did.

Another relationship had run its course. In its place, I was looking for something else. Quite familiar with the feeling of absence and loss, along with the emotions that followed, the vacuum left behind begged to be replaced by something substantive. This time, I was feeling depressed, desperate to escape myself and my current condition, however I could manage it. In times past, random hookups with strangers had provided the excitement and change of pace needed to distract me from my misery.

The Craigslist ad I viewed, while on my search for distraction, was worded rather vaguely. The term “Quickie” was used. I assumed this meant that she wanted, to be blunt, a quick lay, then wished to depart immediately afterward. After calling the phone number posted on the ad, she and I briefly spoke, making arrangements. I agreed to pick her up at a place downtown in thirty minutes. She would be waiting outside a busy restaurant in the tourist trap, older area of the city. Because of traffic, it took me a long time to get there and even longer to find her.

Parking in this part of town wasn’t cheap. A person could easily choose the wrong lot and come back with a boot attached to his or her ride home. This is why I never came down here very much. She looked impatient and annoyed while I successfully confirmed her identity. Entering my car, she began to talk animatedly. It turns out that my initial interpretation had been very wrong. “Quickie” had a very different connotation to it than I was expecting.

You can have me for 80 dollars, she said. That’s what “Quickie” means.

My first thought, and probably the wisest one, was to leave immediately and cut my losses. But instead I agreed to pay the price upon which she’d insisted. I’d arrived anticipating sex and didn’t want to go home disappointed and empty handed. She went with me to the ATM as I took out the money, even though something about this felt very wrong and very sketchy.

When we arrived back at my place, she stated that intercourse would cost extra. That was like adding injury to insult. Frustrated, I performed and received what my 80 dollars would cover. None of it was especially satisfying. Everything was over and done much too soon, making me wonder if I’d really gotten much of anything out of this deal. I then assumed that our business arrangement had concluded. We would now part ways.

She asked me if I would drop her off at the place she was staying temporarily. According to her, she was in the process of relocating elsewhere. She’d previously been living with her brother and his partner. In her words, she was unhappy because gay men were fussy about little things that didn’t matter. She never felt comfortable in their presence because they were needlessly meticulous about being neat and tidy. She wanted a new living arrangement.

As I turned onto the boulevard, then crossed the train tracks, she pointed out the location of each and every crack house in the area. There were several. Though I knew I’d moved into a recently gentrified area, I would have rather not known how close I was to a high crime part of town. It now made sense as to why each of the units of the complex where I lived had been built so close together. There is strength in numbers.

She told me to stop, to park along the curve next to a series of dilapidated houses. I was told to turn my lights out and wait in silence. I tried not to think about the number of laws we were breaking. This excursion kept getting stranger and stranger. After around ten minutes, she emerged.

Don’t worry, she said. I keep the rock in my pussy. They never look for it there.

I was desperate to get rid of her. She said she wanted to be dropped off at the place where she was currently living. I was only too happy to oblige. But when we arrived, she asked me to accompany her inside for protection’s sake. She had a knapsack inside the house along with her W2, and needed the money from the tax return. She was fearful it would be stolen.

Once more, I defied common sense and put myself in a dangerous position. Upon arrival, I was instantly ushered into a room with two small televisions showing pornographic movies. They rested upon a wooden dresser in what seemed to be a bedroom. Two women and a man were present. He was suspiciously nice, in a way that was too forced to be genuine. I knew now, without even needing to see a weapon for proof, that I was in a potentially violent and out-of-control situation.

He told me I could select either of the women. I wasn’t sure what he was angling for, truthfully. I was afraid to say no, so I chose one at random. For a little while, events offscreen mimicked those happening onscreen. I performed cunnilingus on one of the women. It felt colossally awkward performing a sex act on someone with an audience in the background. These sorts of experiences had always been private matters before that instant. But the fear I felt motivated me to do what I was told.

I did a good job, apparently. The woman was quite pleased and the man was impressed with my technique. This hadn’t been for free, of course. I was told that I now needed to fork out $100 as payment for what I'd just done. What I was dealing with was extortion, though coercion and manipulation had been prominent throughout the whole of this crazy day. He wasn’t done. I was told to drive to an ATM and told to take out another $50 to pay for a watch that he wanted to purchase.

The woman I’d first contacted, now hours ago, managed to distract him long enough for us to get away. He'd been attempting to force me to buy a large automatic drill for which I had no use. Her knapsack had been successful removed from the residence. She now rested it on the floorboard of the front passenger side of my car. She begged to go to my place. It was fortunate that my roommate had already gone to bed.

She smoked crack outside on the balcony, but not before offering me some. I declined. Instead, I chain smoked cigarettes, fearful that the cops were going to show up at any moment. After she was finished, I stressed to her that this was an experience never to be repeated, at any time, for any reason. Despite her protests, I informed her that I was dropping her off at the place we’d been earlier that night. And as she slammed the door, I saw her scurry off into the night, looking disappointed and a little desperate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nothin' In The World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl

Met a girl, fell in love, glad as I can be
Met a girl, fell in love, mad as I can be
But I think all the time, is she true to me?
'Cause there's nothing in this world
can stop me worryin' 'bout that girl

I found out I was wrong, she was just two timing
I found out I was wrong, she just kept on lying
Now she tries to tell the truth, and I just can't believe
'Cause there's nothing in this world
can stop me worryin' 'bout that girl

Tell me who can I turn to, just who can I believe?
Tried to put her out of my mind,
she'll only cause me grief

I love that girl, whatever she's done,
you know it hurts me deeply
'Cause there's nothing in this world
can stop me worryin' 'bout that girl

I know she's been with other fellas,
why does she keep on lying?
It hurts me so when she says nothing,
I really feel like dying

I ache inside each time I think, I know it's just my pride
'Cause there's nothing in this world
can stop me worryin' 'bout that girl
'Cause there's nothing in this world
can stop me worryin' 'bout that girl

Monday, September 17, 2012

Drunken Karaoke

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Drunken Karaoke and Other Epic Mistakes

These days, I try to be gentle with myself and my past bad decisions. Readers may, if they wish, choose to look at what I've done through their own perspectives. How much can be dropped at the feet of an out-of-control illness without the temptation to use it as a crutch? All the same, mania makes one’s judgment very poor, as this narrative has noted repeatedly. Next to follow is an unfortunate study in questionable decision making.

All in all, I’ve been extremely lucky, I have to say. On two or three separate instances, I nearly screwed up badly enough to cause myself significant harm. In this case, I made the mistake of stepping directly into the middle of a volatile situation. If there is any silver lining here to speak of, it is that I eventually learned from my mistakes. Observing the psychology and pathology of a woman in an abusive relationship taught me several powerful life lessons.

Leaving well enough alone should have been my preferred tactic. For my own sake, I’ll say that that I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was lonely. As had been the case in instances before, I defied good judgment. I deliberately entered into a relationship with an alcoholic in active addiction.

What were my reasons? I did it because I could. For many men, that is motivation enough. She wanted me. History is no doubt packed full of men who got involved with women because the way opened for them--the opportunity presented itself. It was my belief that I could eventually win her over to my side, away from the grip of a sociopath ex-boyfriend.

For a little while, my persuasiveness paid dividends. But when we were finally a couple, there was much for which I hadn’t wagered. I wasn’t expecting her to be quite so dependent on me. She could not be left alone, at any time, for any reason. Even if I only intended to be gone for a minute or two, she would insist to come along. Her neediness took many forms.

To an extent, I’ve always wanted to be needed. In healthy proportions, there’s nothing wrong with consistently relying on a partner. With her, I wasn’t sure how to separate her own neuroses and personality quirks from the lasting effects of the verbal abuse of her previous partner. Where did personality begin and pathology end? What behaviors should I reinforce and which should I discourage? Though she never spoke about much of what she’d experienced, I knew that it had changed her dramatically.

She’d grown up with an equally irresponsible mother and hard-partying father who were friends more than parents. For years, upon trips home, her first errand was always the same. She religiously paid her mother’s tab at the exact same drinking establishment the woman frequented almost every night. It was how she showed love for her mother, though it was certainly an unusual, unorthodox way to display affection. 

I discovered that her mother, in addition to drinking, was a regular user of crystal meth. She offered it to her oldest daughter, but not to me, because she knew I disapproved. Wired, my girlfriend stayed up all night, motor-mouthed and charged with energy. She cleaned the entire house by the time the sun rose the next morning.

After she woke, the next day, I lectured her about the dangers of the drug. Like always, I wasn’t entirely sure if she’d even heard me. Everything I said seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I often took a parental role with her, quite inadvertently. Structure and stability was what she needed and had never before received. If I hold anyone at fault for the way she turned out, it's her parents.

Though I can no longer drink alcohol because of the bipolar meds, there was a time where I drank regularly. Her favorite thing to do was to head to a karaoke bar, imbibe heavily the whole night, and sing off-key when it was her turn to go on stage. I drank to keep up with her, then stupidly covered her hefty bar tab along with my own. We would stumble out, shortly before closing, far too intoxicated to drive home. Even knowing the risks we were about to take, one of us always got behind the wheel and pulled away from the parking lot.

Once, she made the mistake of turning the wrong way down a one-way street. We were pulled over almost immediately by a vigilant cop. Though very drunk, she managed to fake him out by claiming she was from out of town and unfamiliar with the city. When it was to her advantage, she flawlessly played the part of a clueless, airheaded woman.

How tall were the drinks you drank? He speculated the size of container with thumb and forefinger.

She lied.

Oh, not that tall. I didn’t have that much to drink, I promise, sir.

Male officers bought her act, hook, line, and sinker. I have always wondered whether or not a female police officer would have been that easily duped. Being the stereotypical stupid woman when needed was a strategy that had always worked for her.

In all fairness, in each of these situations, her blood alcohol content was well over the legal limit. She should have been given a Breathalyzer test, then arrested immediately for Driving While Intoxicated. We really had no business being on the road, though when I drove, I was at least usually coherent enough to keep the car between the yellow lines.

The last time I drove with her, as she sat next to me in the front passenger seat, I had to rely on pure instinct to guide me home. My conscious mind, along with most of my reasoning ability, was too overpowered by the alcohol.

I was barely focused enough to not steer off the road completely. We took back roads late at night, believing that they called less attention to our impaired state. The decision at least minimized the number of cars we might have crashed into by accident. It was the same road I’d often taken when driving under the influence of marijuana.

After school, back when I was seventeen, I’d gotten high for the first time. Every day afterwards, I drove immediately to the same girl's house, departing the instant the bell rang to bring a formal close to classes. Pot is officially classified as a hypnotic drug. Its qualities were never more prominent than they were that day. Time itself seemed to be broken down into four different, alternating dimensions. Each had its own tempo and sense of thematic pacing. I was mostly afraid I wouldn't be able to get back to my parent's house.

Returning to the present day, a few months before, she’d attracted a male admirer at the bar. He was a total creep, but she was too polite to tell him to get lost. I know he saw the two of us holding hands and exchanging kisses. Most men would have backed off immediately. He wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with her, but he did want to push me out of the way to get what he wanted.

Most men would have gotten the subtle hints she dropped in profusion and kept their distance. The evening over, both of us stinking drunk, it was now time to retire to a warm, comfortable bed. He asked for a ride home and I was simply too wasted to register my complaints. We dropped him off, at his request, along a dark side street. With his departure, she exited the driver’s side door, which was her signal that she wanted me to drive. All the while, he had been occupying the back seat directly behind me.

Little did we know that he was waiting for his chance. Stepping out of the door into the night, he suddenly ran up to to her, arms extended outward. He groped her breasts as she screamed in protest, pushing his body away from her forcibly and immediately with a desperate shove. Before the shock had time to wear off, he’d taken off, immediately fleeing down the road. The rest of the ride home we did not speak to each other, still processing what had just happened.

I knew I should have said something much earlier. I didn’t give voice to my strong reservations and my intuition. Even with my periodic misconceptions, I have always been able to rely on my gut instinct. She rarely set appropriate boundaries around herself, particularly with men. Aware of that, I didn’t want to be hurtful with my remarks. Her life was her life. The other side of it, however, was that I knew she didn’t always make especially wise decisions on an important issue--her basic safety.

She’d been raped at age sixteen under similar circumstances. An older man she’d trusted convinced her to come home alone with him. She’d believed that his intentions were harmless. Though she was hardly at fault, she nevertheless blamed herself for not being more cautious. Vocal about being a rape survivor, I still observed unhealthy patterns of behavior and decision making, along with the possibility for significant re-victimization. Her previous ex-boyfriend was evidence enough.

I’ve never been much for Valentine’s Day, but it held an importance for her. She wrote me an affectionate letter one morning and left it on my bedside table. I read it the next day while sipping coffee. We’d had plans to go out that evening, but I curiously did not receive any further correspondence from her.

I became concerned and called. She was at a big box office supply store, but the strained and nervous tone of her voice clued me in that something was very wrong.

She’d gone back to him. Months of calmly explaining why he was no good for her had fallen by the wayside. Had I been wasting time? Was it worth trying to win her back, now that she had compromised my trust? Aware of what she’d told me about him, I knew that I was dealing with a power play. He used emotional blackmail to get her to return to his side.

His jealousy showed no bounds. Earlier, while they were still seeing each other, he’d evidently convinced her to take some potentially incriminating pictures. These were of a pornographic nature. From what little I knew of how the two had interacted when together, I doubt that this photo shoot had been her idea. I suspect the impromptu session was something he probably forced her to do. At minimum, it was a demand that she'd gone along with very reluctantly.

He was emotionally manipulative and coercive, frequently screaming at her and reducing her to tears to get what he wanted. She always jumped to his tune, even when life with him meant that she lived in a state of perpetual agitation and fear. As is true with many co-dependent relationships, she seemed to derive a kind of strange masochistic pleasure in being controlled, under his thumb. I hadn’t wagered for the peculiar appeal of a sadist.

His anger and perversity had been on display a few weeks prior. He’d actually gone to the trouble of designing an elaborate website, using her first and last name in its website address. There he posted the nude pictures taken earlier and prominently displayed her cell number on the front page. She received numerous offensive text messages, phone calls, and e-mail messages until the website was finally taken down, under threat of legal action. It took a long time to shut it down completely.

Through his own obsessive jealousy, he found his way to what I thought was an obscure journaling site where I daily recorded my private thoughts online. In an entry, I’d expressed exasperation at her foolish behavior, anticipating that only a handful of other people would read it. He used my words as his ace in the hole, intending to cast aspersions upon my character and my devotion to her.

She never returned to me, though by then I had no more energy in reserve. Being with her had been difficult. I’d done it for lots of reasons. I felt sympathy for her. But there was an ultra competitive part of me who desired the ego boost of successfully winning a girlfriend away from another man. For a while, I’d succeeded, but at a great cost to myself.

The last time I talked to her, she swore she’d stopped drinking. Being shown, in dramatic fashion, how she appeared to everyone else, in part by reading my journal entry, had momentarily scared her away from the bottle. Now back home, she told me intended to change her ways. I was immediately suspicious, but wished her well in spite of my mixed feelings. By then, the appeal for me was gone and has never returned. We’ve never spoken since.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Quote of the Week

"The occasion of war, and war itself (wherein envious men, who are lovers of themselves more than lovers of God lust, kill, and desire to have men's lives or estates) ariseth from lust.

All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world."- George Fox

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Video

Where is my camera?
This picture denies all my ties
To this side of the road

And maybe in Florida
I'd hold up myself for the keys
To the cramp in your style

I raise my glass to the cut and dry
To the amplified
I raise my glass to the B-side

I, I live through everything
'Cause I'm overdressed
Yeah overdressed when I'm put to a test

If news
Of every inch of you, were sold by Friday
In my way, I'd spread your wealth
And drink up to your health

I raise my glass to the cut and dry
To the amplified
I raise my glass to the B-side

Friday, September 14, 2012


Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball


I’ve always been very open with most aspects of who I am. I’ve been forthright and direct about several issues that others might not choose to share in so public a forum. What I’m about to present causes even me to feel frequently exposed and utterly naked. Few of it sits especially well with me, but I’ve chosen to write about it anyway.

Honesty is usually my stock in trade, but I know how easily it is to be misunderstood on this particular topic. Even the truth doesn’t adequately convey the way I feel, or how an outside observer might conceive of me. To follow is a description of one of the most difficult, confounding parts of myself. If even I can’t understand it, I imagine it might be close to incomprehensible for the average person.

In fifth grade, my class was shown the film Freaky Friday. Watching a movie was usually an end-of-the week reward for having worked hard. In it, a mother and daughter inexplicably switch bodies. The very thought of such a thing accidentally happening to me created a near-panic attack. I left the room immediately and sat outside the classroom, alone by myself.

Teachers and aides weren’t exactly sure why I’d chosen to leave. They checked on me periodically, concern in their eyes. My eyes focused ahead of me, I sat in silence while strange feelings washed over me. Had I been asked to explain myself, I would not have been able to do it. Part of it could be explained away by profound terror.

My greatest fear was that of being placed in a situation in which I was not in control and could not escape. Anxiety disorders, by their very nature, place one at the mercy of the illness.

That would have been easy enough to vocalize, even with my limited comprehension of what had yet to be formally diagnosed. Something else was present too. Back then, I didn’t yet have words and concepts at the ready to describe it. I already felt distanced and separated from those my own age. Before the invention and dominance of the internet, the library was my solace. It was there that I learned who I was.

I wasn’t used to being unable to dig and discover terminology for how I felt. Provided I was brave enough to seek information, I could usually find it. In this situation, nothing appeared in all of my searching. I didn’t really know where to go about scouring for it. Knowledge put my worries at rest, at least for the short term.

When I was 12 or 13, I felt a strong, compelling desire to dress in opposite-gender clothing. When the coast was clear, I would sneak into the laundry room. Upon arrival, I’d pluck an article or two of one of my sister’s or mother’s clothing from a basket. Women’s clothing often fit much differently than my own.

Whatever I tried on always fit me queerly, because it had never been designed for someone with dimensions like mine. The image that stared back at me from the mirror was arresting and different, for sure. It was equal parts shameful and comforting. I could never separate the two, even with extra mental effort. I’ve never done well with secrets, but here was a big one. I knew I couldn’t tell anyone.

With disgust, I took off the borrowed clothes and put them back where I’d found them. This was my own private game of guilty dress-up. Like a criminal wiping clean the fingerprints from a crime scene, I meticulously folded and returned the garments exactly where I’d found them. Before I indulged myself, I’d memorized precisely how and where each article had been situated. Being discovered would have been awful, which is why I made every attempt to conceal what I’d been doing.

I swore to myself that I’d never do such a thing ever again. But I couldn’t stop the process, regardless of how resolute I was to put it aside forever. The drive to cross-dress was intense and powerful. At first thinking it as some kind of horrible addiction, I believed that it had complete control over me. Deliberate forgetfulness had been a learned response to trauma that my brain had come to rely upon. I began to disassociate my behavior, almost to the point of denial.

In my early twenties, I heard a talk presented by a same-sex male couple who had been raised in a homophobic religious environment. While in their teens, both of them initiated what had first seemed to be a harmless, innocent friendship. Before long, it expanded to include sexual exploration.

A romantic relationship came next, though it was never directly acknowledged, for obvious reasons. The two would fool around, then immediately fall to their knees in submission to God. They’d pray together for forgiveness for having done such an inexcusable thing. Somehow, even with crushing guilt and shame, they never put a lid on their attractions.

I’d at least heard about transvestism, mostly because of its ability to shock. Men who wore women’s clothing were usually nothing more than a proven laugh line. Transgender, however, was a topic of which I was totally uninformed. I knew that envisioning myself as a woman wasn’t a sexual fantasy. It satisfied a part of me that my socialization as a man could not provide.

My sexual orientation, along with my gender identification, have been constant sources of confusion and contradiction. Many times, I observe a woman walking down the street and feel severely jealous that I can’t be female myself. But neither do I romanticize womanhood without conceiving of it in its proper context.

Being female has its own automatic societal limitations. I recognize that I benefit from the privilege that being born male provides, even with reform movements and years of consciousness-raising. I’ve always been reluctant to give it up.

And even if I were to undergo transition, I’m not sure I’d ever really see myself as authentically female. One can undergo surgery, start taking hormones, and even take classes about how to plausibly pass. All of these, of course, are for the sake of everyone else. They take time, money, effort, and action.

I know, based on previous exploration, that learning female mannerisms would be difficult for me. Even though I may have a strained relationship with masculinity, I recognize myself as at least partially male underneath it all. I’m somewhere in the middle, though I do wish I fit more easily into one box or another.

Absolutes are few along the LGBT continuum. Lesbian friends of mine have noted their primary attraction to women, though adding, as a slightly guilty afterthought, that sometimes they find men appealing. In Kinsey’s scale, I am a 3, equally attracted to men and women, though I’m deliberately selective with men. I’m trying to accept the messiness of it all and am farther along than I used to be.

I have listened, finally, to the persistence of gender nonconformity. Daily, I integrate aspects of female dress as I prepare for another day. Most of these I keep secret because I don’t wish to be policed by anyone who can’t and wouldn’t understand. I make concessions because I’d like to avoid stares and looks of disapproval whenever possible.

For example, I’d keep my toenails painted, but I know I’d be treated very differently at the gym. I shower and undress in front of other men several times a week. Sometimes the non-verbal criticism is worse than the occasional rude remark.

For a time, I used to pay extra for regular pedicures and to have polish applied to my toes. Being the one man in the chair leaves no room to hide. The windows to the business directly faced the sprawling corridors of an indoor shopping mall. Shoppers on their way to other place were routinely taken aback by me. I was often viewed by passersby to the store as though there was something wrong with what I was doing.

Most of the time I’m comfortable with myself, but I know that full acceptance will take a while longer. Genderqueer is the preferred term I’d use to define myself, but the day to day application of the the phrase is limited. Only a select few people, usually highly educated and progressively-minded, even know what it means. It’s always unfortunate when nomenclature and terminology don’t make their way down the ladder to the majority of humanity.

I know for a fact that there are gender non-conforming people struggling with their identity at this moment. I also know that several of them live in communities that hold societal expectations which are directly contradictory to who they are as individuals. When we can make sufficient inroads together, we may all be someday free. Gender is a puzzling concept to most of us, transgender or cisgender. I, for one, may never completely wrap my head even 10% of it, but I am always thankful for one less guilt trip.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Piss Christ

In response to the power of art to inflame religious indignation, do you remember this?

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano, 1987

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Women I'm Not Married To

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Women I’m Not Married To

My life could have taken several different directions. I was not interested in getting married at 23, but I could have copied the life of many of my peers. Rather than sticking with my identity as an outsider, I could have thrown up my hands in frustration and opted for assimilation. Instead, I was too invested with my passions and strongly held opinions to succumb to what I saw was a unconditional surrender to impotence and irrelevancy.

When in middle school, a bookish girl who wore glasses regularly spoke of her literary passions before the class. She was always reading something new. I felt comforted that I was not alone, not the only person wrestling with intellectual pursuits in place of surface banalities. At the beginning of high school, I noticed a shocking about-face. She changed herself completely. Makeup and trendy clothing were substituted in place of her previously dowdy and mousy physical appearance.

She began to hang around with the popular crowd. To them, intelligence wasn’t cool, nor were eyeglasses. Now she wore contacts and displayed a slightly vacant, impassive expression during class. I wish I could have had the courage to ask her why. Had this been a makeover, from a fashion standpoint, it would have been one thing. Instead, every semblance of who she had been before had been radically removed, forcibly excised, as with an airbrush.

Where had she gone? The change was dramatic and upsetting. Her days of taking advanced classes and offering her well-reasoned opinions to the class were had departed. She no longer raised her hands to participate in class. Instead, she’d decided that fitting in was more important. One of my private (though unacknowledged) heroes had departed and discarded her previous identity, much as a snake might shed its skin.

Aside from school, my circle of friends and acquaintances now included figures I would have never considered before. Megan, as I’ll call her here, attended the same Southern Baptist church I did. My parents felt overwhelmed as my sole caretakers, making sure I stayed healthy and alive, and opted to join a church family who would assist them with the process.

Neither of them really agreed with the theology, but sold, to some extent, into a conservative Christian perspective as a form of social camouflage. Part of me sees this move as cynical and opportunistic, but I know this to be mostly an act of desperation. They didn’t know what else to do.

While medications and the combined stress of living with severe depression left me gaunt, thin, and pale, I found a few admirers here and there. Megan was the very definition of the girl-next-door. I’ve always had a weakness for freckles and good old fashioned American wholesomeness. The sweet, introverted types go for me in a big way. Here, however, my inward life was too crazed and out of control for anything much to develop.

Megan would have been a stable, solid wife, had I been looking for a wife at age 17. I concede that I was seeking depth when others were still dating for fun. This is what made me feel like a sore thumb most of all. I’ve always been an old soul, and that held me back for a very long time. What is the value now in playing “what if”? I recognize now there are significant details about me that would have never been acceptable to her.

I would have had to hide my attraction to men along with my impossible-to-easily-categorize gender identity. She might have seen me as inherently sinful, provided I made no attempt to rectify what she may have seen as a lifestyle choice. Would she have tolerated these parts of me privately if they never became public knowledge? Any relationship is predicated upon compromise, but I was always a more worldly figure than she was. I’m not sure I would have ever truly won her respect, even if I’d won her hand.

In grad school, I became friends with a recently married woman in a similar predicament. Her husband struggled with bipolar disorder himself, but did not make the same effort that I did to get better. I tried to be friends with the both of them, though with limited success. On a car trip, his wife not in attendance, he offered me pot. I partook of it.

He noted numerous times that he was only supposed to run a quick errand. When we arrived, he was too disoriented to make any sense, or to even carry on a comprehensible conversation. Like many ne’er do wells, he let his shortcomings dictate the direction of his life. It took me a while to realize just how troubled he was and the depths of his illness.

His wife enabled him to make poor choices and catered to his every whim. I recognized instantly, based on our marijuana experience, the depths of his habit. It rivaled mine, in my own heyday. The relationship was hopelessly dysfunctional. He was emotionally demanding and she did not draw sufficient boundaries around herself. I speculated that she might have been the child of an alcoholic or a drug addict, and perceived of this arrangement as more or less normal.

Often, she found herself daily drained from the experience of caring for him. Her religious faith was severely tested by her wayward husband, no doubt calling many larger issues into question. Some people are too sweet and trusting for their own good. Though I hurt for them, I know that they've got to pull themselves out of their own situation.

From time to time, I randomly Facebook search women from my past. The ones who I manage to locate, nine out of ten times, are already married. I know this immediately because their profile names have been resolutely and purposefully revised. They reflect three names now, not the two that I remember. Several display, as their profile picture, babies recently born or small children. Socially acceptable voyeurism aside, I’ve never had the heart to search for everyone.

I saw Megan last at a large open-air music festival in town. I was then a freshman in college. She was obviously drunk, but afraid I’d judge her for partaking in liquid spirits. Her face plainly showed her fears. Alcohol and tobacco were highly discouraged among Southern Baptists. I was not offended in the least.

Abstinence, in many forms, was always strongly reinforced and vocalized in the prevailing culture. The appropriate biblical verse was cited in numerous occasions, proclaiming that everyone’s body was a temple. Our temple was not to be defiled or dirtied. God’s home on earth was to be spotlessly clean. My temple must have been absolutely filthy, in their way of thinking. I smoked cigarettes in high school, already addicted before I could even legally purchase them myself.

Megan was too wholesome for me. She was the consummate good girl, shy, passive and probably inclined to place my concerns before her own. Back then, I was distracted by the pursuit of more rebellious, even dangerous women. I chased bad girls because they were a challenge. I was successful at times, but I often was not. The more sympathetic of the set patted me on the head for my efforts, and then sent me on my way.

Attraction is frequently predicated on what we want but cannot have. The women I pursued were often consumed with the next punk rock demigod. I didn’t fit the profile. I was too nice, not sullen and nihilistic. Each of us has to learn how to recognize what is likely wasted effort. Megan was a little too vanilla for me. And even then, I still sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I sold into that lifestyle. Would I be married now, with two kids and a third on the way?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Meeting Mary Beth Tinker

This was written originally for a Quaker audience. FGC is Friends General Conference, an alliance of usually more liberal Friends. It meets once a year in the summertime for its annual gathering.

One of the good things about attending Worship in Washington, DC, is that I sometimes get to meet well-known Friends. Mary Beth Tinker was in attendance this past First Day. Her late sister is Bonnie Tinker, notable in her own right for being a tireless activist.

I met Bonnie for the first time at Meeting for Worship shortly before the Obama Inauguration. She was in town to attend the ceremony, as were so many others. Some of you may recall that Bonnie died tragically in an roadway accident during FGC's Annual Gathering only a few months later. She is still missed, in the larger Friends community, and especially in her adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Mary Beth, by contrast, was one of the students in Des Moines, Iowa, who wore a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War. She, her older brother, and a mutual friend were promptly suspended from school. The family filed suit along with the ACLU and four years later, in 1969, the case was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Tinkers won, in a 7-2 decision.

The legal ruling famously became known as Tinker v. Des Moines. It is still used to determine the First Amendment rights of students.

Mary Beth was gracious and humble in person. She seemed surprised that I remembered who she was, especially in context. As I told her then, I studied the case in school. I do wish that the Tinker family was more regularly recognized as Quaker. We remember the case and the sacrifice, but often do not link it back to the Religious Society of Friends. This is not unusual.

Part of my responsibilities with committee service include forming strategies for greater outreach. I'm aware of the ways that we don't publicize and vocalize who we are, at our own great loss. The Tinker family has had a hand in shaping American history, as they stayed faithful to their Quaker values. In saying this, I am not resorting to baseless hyperbole.

The Tinkers ought to be acknowledged for what they've accomplished and especially for being one of ours.

Love Her Madly

Don't you love her madly?
Don't you need her badly?
Don't you love her ways?
Tell me what you say

Don't you love her madly?
Wanna be her daddy
Don't you love her face?

Don't you love her as
she's walkin' out the door?

Like she did one thousand times before
Don't you love her ways?
Tell me what you say

Don't you love her as
she's walkin' out the door?

All your love
All your love
All your love

All your love is gone
So sing a lonely song
Of a deep blue dream
Seven horses seem to be on the mark

Yeah, don't you love her?
Don't you love her as
she's walkin' out the door?

All your love
All your love
All your love

Yeah, all your love is gone
So sing a lonely song
Of a deep blue dream
Seven horses seem to be on the mark

Well, don't you love her madly?
Don't you love her madly?
Don't you love her madly?

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Touch of the Idyllic

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

A Touch of the Idyllic

My childhood had its happy moments, too. In the midst of the moral panic about latchkey children, I let myself into the house after school without incident for years. The ritual was comforting and allowed my imagination to roam freely. Home was probably no more than a mile away, but I took enjoyable detours along the way. I enjoyed jumping fences into strange backyards, varying my route each afternoon.

After crossing the street, safely escorted by an adult crossing guard in a reflective vest, I took a familiar path. I ducked behind a firehouse on a beeline to the Coke machine. Prior to leaving for school in the morning, I’d beg my parents for fifty cents, the price of one soft drink can. In the South, the vernacular makes no distinction between brands and products. Everything carbonated and sugary is referred to as a Coke.

As I exited the rear of the firehouse, I walked past well-worn sandy pits, designed for the game of horseshoes. A few horseshoes lay forlornly where they’d been abandoned at the conclusion of the last game. While sometimes I accompanied my playmates home, I usually made the trips solo. That way, my mind was freed up to conjure a thousand grandiose fantasies.

I can’t remember all of them now. There was a time before all the agitation and fright of adulthood clamped down on my sense of play. Though I don’t expect to get it back, I do often seek to push the clutter and distraction out of my mind. When I think of my childhood, my memories often seem as though they belong to someone else's life.

My mother had returned to work. Otherwise, she’d be at home waiting for me, as had been the case for most of my early years. I remember her purchasing a backpack for me with an inside hook built in, perfect for hanging the key to open the front door. How many kids my age were purchased the same product by nervous parents? Parental guilt, in my opinion, is often overrated and predicated on the flimsiest of evidence. We managed perfectly well.

I didn't focus enough on this period of my life. As is true for many precocious children, I was in too much of a hurry to grow up. But I do remember things as they were. It would be easy to heavily gloss over what I experienced, fooling myself into believing it was really all fun and games. Kids can be cruel to each other, especially if they don’t fit seamlessly into the framework. In my early years, as an athlete, I was largely left alone. But, quite paradoxically, alone was the very thing I needed least.

The renowned children’s author Roald Dahl was a childhood favorite of mine. Once, in an interview, Dahl was quoted as saying that he never wanted to give anyone the impression that life was just a bowl of cherries. I heartily concur.

My passions were solitary more often than not. Even today, I dream about walking through a beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape, far from civilization. Aside from two or three other people, present to keep me company, I am more-or-less alone.

This frees me to contemplate a breathtaking vista or two without someone's constant running commentary and an excessive amount of stimulation. Though I need a throng of people from time to time, I am much more content when in the company of a bare minimum of other people who I can trust.

In my school days, I took winding paths through the backyards of complete strangers. They never saw any reason to complain. In those days, outside was a little more than a large jungle gym. Twenty years later, I can still visualize every nook and cranny of my journey. I remember the house that always gave the best Halloween candy. I remember the man who arose early in the morning, seven days a week, to throw newspapers into adjacent yards.

In particular, I remember the concrete heads of a growling lion that bookended the driveway of the only black family in the neighborhood. I always found them somehow sinister and disturbing, but they added a novel touch to the neighborhood. Proof that times had changed in the South, their son and I regularly played together.

I made a joke once in his company to which he took severe offense. He wrestled me to the ground with an unexpected force that took me by surprise. Then he immediately apologized. I wasn’t aware that I’d said anything wrong. To me, I was just relating an observation. This was the one and only time that race became an issue between us. In the future, I was much more conscious of what I shared and did not share.

The brief contentiousness stemmed from my retelling of an anecdote. The few black people in my majority white suburban hometown displayed a particularly ornate-looking air freshener in the back windows of their cars. The air freshener was shaped liked a crown, one meant for royalty, I mean. This was in the days before the term bling was in common usage.

I was probably much less tactful about my description then I should have been. I found the effect amusing because it seemed so different and mysterious. I imagine my friend must have been constantly aware of being not like everyone else. I’d touched a sore spot with him. It is no wonder that he felt edgy and out of place.

Years later, I worked in a predominantly African-American workplace and felt like a fish out of water every day. Cultural expectations and societal differences, subtle and less-than-subtle, do exist and do keep us separate. I believe that people can live together in harmony, as part of the Kingdom of God, but I am very aware of the difficulty of the challenge.

At home at last, I finally got a start on my homework. My sisters and my mother arrived later. At this age, I had not yet opted for my own private rebellion. Unlike many of my peers, who placed their emphasis upon being social, not studious, I pretty much did whatever my parents asked of me. Later, in the middle of the worst of it, my father would vocally long for the day that I kept no secrets from him.

One probably can’t go home again. A couple of years ago, for nostalgia’s sake, I drove through the old neighborhood. What seemed impressive and memorable once now seems small and unexciting. One can’t replicate the times where everything was new, novel, and electric. It’s the mindset I miss, not the landmarks.    

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Quote of the Week

"I do not understand a mind which sees a gracious beneficence in spending money to slay and maim human beings in almost unimaginable numbers and deprecates the expenditure of a smaller sum to patch up the ills of mankind."- Harry S. Truman

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Saturday Video

If you could see yourself now, baby
It's not my fault
You used to be so in control
You're going to roll right over this one

Just roll me over, let me go
You're laying blame
Take this as no, no, no

You bang, bang, bang, bang and bang,
blame, blame, blame
You bang, bang, bang, bang and bang,
It's not my thing so let it go.

If you could see yourself now baby,
the tables have turned
the whole world hinges on your swings
your secret life of indiscreet discretions

I'd turn the screw and leave the screen,
Don't point your finger,
You know that's not my thing

You came to bang, bang, bang, bang and bang,
blame, blame, blame
You bang, bang, bang, bang and bang,
It's not my thing so let it go.

You've got a little worry,
I know it all too well,
I've got your number,

but so does every kiss-and-tell
who dares to cross your threshold,
or happens on your way,

Stop laying blame.
You know that's not my thing.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Debates Will Select a President

Save the date. October 3, 2012, will decide the Presidential election. At the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will face off in the first of three debates. Most voters only watch the first debate, so the pressure will be on to make a good initial impression. Neither candidate is at ease with the format, but each cannot afford to flub a line or have an off-night.

The election is two months away and yet neither Obama, nor Romney have really defined themselves. The person in the street cannot recite from memory the kind of bland, frequent sloganeering that Presidential campaigns usually produce. Twenty years ago, the oft-heard refrain was "it's the economy, stupid". Sixteen years ago, President Clinton spoke over and over about "building a bridge to the 21st Century".

In what has been a spectacularly boring election cycle, a former President made a more effective case for re-election than the candidate himself. Usually, the public is aware of what most of the time are very basic opening arguments well before early September. Rarely, if ever, does it take the pomp and circumstance, plus the visual saturation of a convention to build a case for the American people. Incongruously, the GOP and the Democratic party have waited as long as humanely possible to take off the gloves.

Candidate Obama, four years ago, was at first an uninspiring debater. Early in the primary season, he tended to drone on monotonously and get lost in his own rhetoric. John Edwards, prior to his disgrace, reached out to the future President during a brief commercial break at one early debate. Edwards implored Obama to focus. Of course, back then, the junior Senator from Illinois was thirty percentage points down and a longshot at best.

A unexpected and grueling primary fight with Hillary Clinton gave Obama several opportunities to improve his form. While he clearly made substantial progress, the eventual President could never be confused as a natural verbal jouster. In thirty day's time, we'll see how Professor Obama matches up against Mitt Romney, whose strong suit is most certainly not extemporaneous public speaking.

Presidential elections prior to now have been decided by face-to-face matchups. President Gerald Ford came all the way back from almost certain defeat in 1976, only to stubbornly insist in a debate that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. The gaffe and his refusal to admit that he goofed may well have done in his bid to win a full term.

Four years later, history often does not report just how close the Carter/Reagan race was until its bitter end. A majority of voters wanted to cast their ballots for the former California governor, but weren't entirely sure about it until right at the end. The debates shored up support for the Republican challenger, leading Americans to desert the unpopular Carter in droves. All they needed was assurance, in their minds, that they were making the right decision.

Now, in 2012, voters are confused about the wisdom of changing horses in midstream. That being said, Carter comparisons are only useful to a degree, for anyone's cause. A race that has been fairly tight for months will likely stay this way until Election Day. The impressions the American people will form of both President Obama and Governor Romney, podium to podium, will stay with them all the way to the ballot box.