Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Video

Overhead the albatross
Hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
An echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine.

And no one called us to the land
And no one knows the where's or why's.
Something stirs and something tries
Starts to climb toward the light.

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me.
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand
The best I can.

And no one called us to the land
And no one crosses there alive.
No one speaks and no one tries
No one flies around the sun

Almost everyday you fall
Upon my waking eyes,
Inviting and inciting me
To rise.
And through the window in the wall
Come streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning.

And no one sings me lullabys
And no one makes me close my eyes
So I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky

Thursday, March 29, 2012


The path you tread is narrow
And the drop is sheer and very high
The ravens all are watching
From a vantage point nearby
Apprehension creeping
Like a tube-train up your spine
Will the tightrope reach the end?
Will the final couplet rhyme?

And it's high time
It's high time
Please wake me

A butterfly with broken wings
Is falling by your side
The ravens all are closing in
And there's nowhere you can hide
Your manager and agent
Are both busy on the phone
Selling coloured photographs
To magazines back home

And it's high time
It's high time
Please wake me

The lines converging where you stand
They must have moved the picture plane
The leaves are heavy around your feet
You hear the thunder of the train
And suddenly it strikes you
That they're moving into range
Doctor Strange is always changing size

And it's high time
It's high time
Please wake me

And it's high time
It's high time
Please wake me

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Movie review: Darling

Darling bridges the gap between the Angry Young Man cinema of the early Sixties and the playful charm of the second half of the decade. It was one of the first British New Wave films to move beyond the antics of frustrated, rat-in-a-cage working class toilers of the north of Britain. Instead, this 1965 film focuses squarely on the amateur theatrics of the idle rich. Its subject may have been a return to old ways, but the approach could not be more different.

The following year, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni mined similar territory with Blow-up, his first and only British film. A deliberately meandering portrayal of a burned out photographer desperate to solve a crime, its protagonist was played capably by British actor David Hemmings.

In this film, fellow Briton Julie Christie rightfully won an Oscar for Best Actress in a motion pictures that is often too clever by half. For all of its inventiveness, director John Schlesinger’s occasionally brilliant cinematography comes off at times like parlor tricks. If Darling could overcome a script that renders each character more or less one-dimensional, it might have appeared robust and substantial. Instead, it plays like broad melodrama, a device that casts aside realism in a time period where authenticity was sacrosanct.

Scandalous at the time of release, the film includes frank depictions of abortion, homosexuality, and sexual promiscuity. However, it also resorts one of the oldest film tropes in existence, that of the amoral, sexually dangerous temptress. There is plenty of blame to go around, certainly, but most of it belongs to her. Diana Scott's (Julie Christie) mendacity serves as the central focus of the picture, itself an effective depiction of the colossal boredom and ennui of a blonde, beautiful fashion model.

The Diana Scott character lacks sufficient depth, coming across instead as a deceptive, selfish, fickle social climber. Unafraid to use her looks to get her way, she is a home wrecker with a particular skill for duplicitous behavior. It is a testament to Christie’s talents as an actress that she makes a combination of often overblown witty repartee and histrionics seem actually plausible. Though ably graced by an talented supporting cast, a lesser actress could not have carried the picture by herself, as Julie Christie does here.

A few scattered moments are visually stunning or creative. A cinematic sequence of photographer and model mimics exactly the look and energy of a photo shoot. While sunbathing in Italy, Diana is surrounded on both sides by fit young men. When a specially set egg timer goes off, each of the men flip over on their stomachs, intent on tanning themselves evenly as possible. This leaves Scott alone on her back, by her self. The symbolism in this sequence works on multiple levels. Schlesinger clearly spent much time painstakingly preparing each of these creative setups; one wishes he’d have devoted the same care to the rest of the film.

A satire meant to take aim at prominent movers and shakers in the entertainment industry, Darling shows the growth and prominence of permissive societal attitudes, which continued to build over the next several years. Diana is invited without her knowledge to a bizarre orgy while on a trip to Paris. At first, she is uncomfortable with her surroundings, but eventually she takes a fancy to the eccentric setting.

This chameleon-like attitude will serve her well in the future. Intent on sleeping her way to the top, she manages to fake charm and kindness. This front obscures her coldly calculating ability to stray from one partner to the other without reservations, provided she has something to gain from it.

Though it shares a kind of jaundiced cynicism with its kitchen sink predecessors, Darling holds few sympathies for its privileged characters, instead showing their lives as unstable and vacuous. Earlier films had some regard for the working class rebels they showcased, believing the behavior to be a sort of noble means of sticking it to the man. Here, only one character has a moral core, that of television news reporter Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde).

And even he engages in an affair with Diana, early in the picture, leaving behind a wife and two children in the process. Feeling vindictive, by the end of the movie Gold tricks Diana into one final sexual encounter, intending it as a form of vindictiveness to even the score.

Perfidy and infidelity is the common denominator inherent with every major character. Ethics and loyalty are nowhere to be found. It is this point that the filmmaker hopes that we will retain after the curtain rises and the lights come on again. In fairness, it would be difficult to miss this rather blatant intended lesson, unless one was utterly oblivious. Darling is an uneven work, a surprise popular success that was mostly intended to be a cheap little art film.

Had the movie tanked, Julie Christie would have been forgiven for choosing the part. This was director Schlesinger’s third film, made at a time when he was still largely an unknown quantity. He would eventually produce the critical and commercial successes of Midnight Cowboy and Sunday Bloody Sunday. With its flaws, Darling still entertains, even as it occasionally underperforms.

Monday, March 26, 2012

True Love Ways

While I have the energy, I might as well accomplish what I can.

Just you know why
Why you and I
Will by and by
Know true love ways.

Sometimes we'll sigh
Sometimes we'll cry
And we'll know why
Just you and I
Know true love ways.

Throughout the days
Our true love ways
Will bring us joy to share
With those who really care.

Sometimes we'll sigh
Sometimes we'll cry
And we'll know why
Just you and I
Know true love ways.

Throughout the days
Our true love ways
Will bring us joy to share
With those who really care.

Sometimes we'll sigh
Sometimes we'll cry
And we'll know why
Just you and I
Know true love ways.

Health Update

Living with multiple chronic illnesses promises that there will be regular problems. I've been tapering down slowly off of an antidepressant for the past two months. Without it in my system, depression has built and built. I woke up two hours later than normal this morning, cognizant for the first time that a serious problem is growing. There is nothing exact about psychiatric illness or its treatment.

This won't last very long. I'll start a new medication on Friday. I just have to make it until then. Motivation is usually the first thing to go.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quote of the Week

"She isn't my wife, really. We just have some kids. No, no kids, not even kids. Sometimes, though, it feels as if we had kids. She isn't beautiful, she's...easy to live with. No, she isn't. That's why I don't live with her."- Blow-up, 1966

Friday, March 23, 2012

Saturday Video

Grandma's hands
Clapped in church on Sunday morning
Grandma's hands
Played a tambourine so well
Grandma's hands

Used to issue out a warning
She'd say, "Billy don't you run so fast
Might fall on a piece of glass
"Might be snakes there in that grass"
Grandma's hands
Grandma's hands
Soothed a local unwed mother
Grandma's hands
Used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma's hands

Used to lift her face and tell her,
"Baby, Grandma understands
That you really love that man
Put yourself in Jesus' hands"
Grandma's hands

Grandma's hands
Used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma's hands
Picked me up each time I fell

Grandma's hands
Boy, they really came in handy
She'd say, "Matty don' you whip that boy
What you want to spank him for?
He didn' drop no apple core"

But I don't have Grandma anymore
If I get to Heaven I'll look for
Grandma's hands

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bouncy, Part Two

Once, I spent half the night coaxing and convincing a man older than myself. One could observe the conflict within him just by observing his face.

The story was a familiar one.

“I have two kids and an ex-wife. But I don’t regret either of them. I try to be a good father to them. It's just that...”

His voice trailed away to complete silence. He seemed exceedingly tired and uncertain of himself.

“What is really eating away at you?” I said. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

He avoided the question, but notably did not decline the sensation of my legs rubbing against his. After a while, he left the table where we had both been sitting. He intended to leave and go elsewhere with a friend of his, one more or less his own age. I gathered the age difference had been disquieting somehow, or that perhaps he wasn’t ready for much more than that. It happens.

Two weeks later I saw him again, dancing with a determined look in his eyes. He was in the middle of a large group of men. When I looked over, he ignored me completely. Some people work on their problems, and some go to clubs to forget.

In any case, an old friend happened to be there as well. All was not lost. She enjoyed the voyeuristic aspects of the spectacle, never having much intent to engage in anything. At times we would even dance together. Neither of us was particularly gifted in that area, but with many other people around us on the dance floor, we knew that few were actually paying attention to us. She was the only person who could convince me to push past one of my largest insecurities.

Though it had begun with some promise, I knew that nights like this did not usually end up well. Sarah, as always, had roamed the perimeter of the club with her typical panache. I always used to tell her that she should have been a politician, because she was skilled in knowing how to work a room. Her persistence was legendary as was her knack for sniffing out dealers.
I never recalled the name of the most consistent source of them all. There was no reason to be on a first-name basis with him. He kept what he had in a small metal box with a latch, a bit like a miniature lunchbox. The only reason I even knew that much is because I always had to keep a close eye on Sarah. She was, after all, my only ride home. Cab fare was expensive. I didn’t really trust most of the clubbers to be responsible and reliable, should I need transportation.

I pulled her together once more somewhere around four in the morning. The drag show had concluded by then leaving a large void behind in its absence. The dance floor was once again turned over to those who had the energy to keep at it. Now seated in the car, I was deliberately situated in shotgun, just as I was supposed to be. Being her right-hand man had its perks and its occasionally tiring rituals. This was one of the latter.

“Ah! I ate a bean!”

Even when expressing surprise or enthusiasm, her voice always sounded the same. It took everyone by surprise at first. Certain people have a melodious quality to their speaking voice. For them, the pitch and inflection of their speech changes regularly, depending on the topic and emphasis. She wasn't one of them.

What she meant is by “bean” that she’d taken a tab of Ecstasy. This was typical of her, to take a drug and then express grave reservations later when it reached a peak. Within that statement was also an implied request, though sometimes it came out a little like a command. I was now supposed to rub her head. If her hair was not deliberately spiked and cut short, this would have been more difficult. I always felt a little as though I was petting an animal, but pushed the thought to the back of my mind. Sarah was never demanding, but was particularly insistent on this one point.

My regular place early on Saturday morning was on the couch in the hall. Her grandfather also lived there part of the time. As I was told, he owned the house in which she lived. It wasn't a bad arrangement, since she had a large space to herself, one with multiple rooms and an outside portico. She could always entertain lots of company at once because of these unusually fortuitous circumstances. I came to believe that her perpetual need for companionship was really a fear of being abandoned or of feeling unwanted. These were problems she never really confronted, much like the clubgoers with whom she rubbed shoulders night after night.

Returning to the grandfather, his schedule was irregular and I never knew at any moment whether he was physically present or not.  Sarah was strongly cautioned to never have boys sleep over for any reason. I’m not sure the grandfather ever really understood the whole homosexual aspect, either for her or for me. It was inconceivable to him that she’d be completely and entirely uninterested in men. Life is always full of ironies.

If I’d been more effeminate, I likely could have made a stronger case for myself. Unfortunately, I easily passed for straight, making me instantly suspect in his eyes. His first impressions of anyone were the basis for how he felt about them for eternity. But for tonight, at least, he was nowhere to be found. That was a relief.

My own parents had abruptly stopped asking questions when I came out to them, almost a year prior. They’d demanded three months forced separation, this after dismissing me with several hurtful comments. One whole summer is how long it took them to come to terms with it. After that, they’d accepted my standard Friday and Saturday night alibi that I was always over at a friend’s house. Maybe they felt like everything I did from that point onward was part of some larger gayness they did not wish to contemplate any further.

When I woke up, Sarah was dressed in her work uniform of black, clean, spotless apron and blue jeans. She was a short-order cook at the diner down the parkway. Sometimes she’d cook dinner for us an hour or two before we departed. In any case, this was my sign to prepare myself to vacate the premises. She’d drop me back off at my house before work. Neither of us talked or made eye contact during the whole of the ten minute journey. It was nothing personal.

I was usually too hungover to make conversation. She was likely still coming down. During the drive, I realized how saturated my clothes were with the smell of cigarette smoke. And it wasn’t just my clothing, either. The smell clung to my hair and my skin. No one would have stood for a smoke-free establishment. I didn’t realize how many of us smoked until my first visit.

At these times, I wondered why I kept going out, over and over again. Why was I Sancho Panza to a person whose basic nature was good, but who was always in danger of pushing the envelope a little too much? She idolized the drag queens, particularly one who was famous for being bitingly sarcastic and sometimes vicious in her commentary. Sarah, I think, wanted that for herself. She wanted the spotlight turned on her and wanted to speak her true thoughts without restraint or filter.

In time, her ambitiousness would be rewarded.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bouncy, Part One

This is something I've been working on today. I didn't intend for it to be multi-part, but I apparently have more to say here than one post will allow.

She peered into the bathroom mirror, scowling and scrutinizing. Unhappy with the image that reflected back, she placed her palms face down onto the fake marble countertop, the weight of her body propped up by two thin arms.

“I look like a kid,” she said with a heavy sigh.

Sarah could make insecurity look somehow confident. Regardless of the words spoken, nothing about her tone of voice sounded defeated or depressed. Utterly fearless in life, even body image couldn’t dampen her spirits. She was the leader of a passel of fellow lesbians, with a few gay men like me thrown in for good measure. With time, I had become her closest confidante.

Even with my deference to her talents, I never saw Sarah for anything other than exactly what she was. The other girls were too intimidated to be impartial, too much in awe. Half of them were in love with her. All of them were in lust.

She had a mythical reputation among the out girls in the city.

“You know Sarah?”

I’d indicate by a shake of the head that yes, in fact, I did.

“Really? I’m jealous.”

Then they’d ask me questions about her. Some of them I answered. Some of them I did not. The discourse always felt like I was responding to the rabid fans of a sports team I didn’t follow and never much cared about one way or the other. At best, I was an impartial observer. Long ago, I decided to take Sarah with a grain of salt. You’d be foolish not to do the same.

Her admirers would have really been jealous if they knew the number of times I’d seen her naked. I was ambivalent to female nudity, but had to concede that her body was attractive. Based on what I had observed firsthand many times before, even men attracted to breasts had seen hers. She was a bit of an exhibitionist and not a bit self-conscious. That same confidence extended in every conceivable direction, though I saw her frequently obsess and fret about what to wear to a night out to the club. At times, I made suggestions, and she often agreed with me.

Her car was about as subtle upon arrival as she was. Around nine in the evening we’d all pile into a two door sports car with a manual transmission and a huge hole in the muffler. She refused to have it properly fixed. Some nights we went to the gay bar. We also went on rescue missions. This was a euphemism for retrieving members of the group who intended to sneak out of their parents’ house late at night. These were also girls that Sarah intended to take to bed.

She had her detractors as well.

“Oh, you know she’s bouncy.”

They’d say this derisively, dismissing her as promiscuous, unwilling to form a real relationship with anyone. A certain amount of sour grapes was present in that statement. Who knows how many women had thrown themselves at her over the course of several years? She never bragged about anything, but then again, you don't have to brag if you're good at what you do.

Concerning Sarah’s past history, I knew better. Shortly after I was made an official part of the gang, Sarah  fought a protracted and frankly quite pointless war with a recently departed ex-girlfriend. The insults began over the phone and then carried over onto endless, hour long internet chat sessions. For whatever the reason, the two of them were too attracted to each other to cease contact altogether, but far too bitter to even begin to establish anything like a healthy dialogue.

I asked her once why she went to the clubs so often.

“I feel better being around other gay people, even if they’re lame.”

It was good to be among those who understood me, I will concede you that much. But I could find emotional instability in anyone, gay, straight, or somewhere in between. Before the night was up, I'd end up being propositioned once again by the club’s unofficial drug dealer. He didn’t really want me, of course, he just intended to sweet talk and to flatter. Anything to make a sale. Sarah could always be counted on to be a good and reliable customer, but I’d had bad experiences with club drugs and was now much too careful.

The gay bars were never especially interesting to me after a time. The same people turned out, or maybe the same typecasting showed up from weekend to weekend. On multiple occasions, completely out of boredom, I’d decide I’d see if I could seduce someone. It was my own passive-aggressive protest. My efforts were effective from time to time, but you’d be surprised how many men I found who resisted. I tried every trick I could think of to drag them home with me, but they’d beg off after a time, claiming they had to meet up with other friends.

A Few Pertinent Images

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Early Kurt Vonnegut: An Excerpt

For the past month, I've been putting together a much lengthier work on the early life of Kurt Vonnegut. Specifically, I've addressed the famed writer's first written works, which are usually overlooked. Vonnegut's development and maturity as a published author is rarely observed, since most readers usually start with Slaughterhouse-Five and work their way forwards. I've enclosed a segment here to showcase the eventual finished product.

Iconoclast writer Kurt Vonnegut is well known for a series of popular books and short stories. His darkly satirical, idiosyncratic style incorporated elements of fantasy and science fiction. What is rarely mentioned is that the author achieved widespread fame quite late in life. Before the publication of the classic, semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, Vonnegut was a respected writer, but relatively unknown to the general public. The seminal work made him a household name at the age of 47.

This overwhelming success almost didn’t happen. In the beginning, writing was not Vonnegut’s dream, nor was it his ambition. Instead, it was a way to continue, if not better his mother’s legacy. Edith Lieber Vonnegut had several pieces published during her son’s younger years. Each was modest in scope, and submitted to small publications. His mother’s suicide, which occurred when her son was overseas serving in World War II, made a strong impression, motivating the young Vonnegut to embrace his fate and eventual good fortune.

Accordingly, Kurt Vonnegut’s first efforts were sent to women’s publications, and, as appropriate, to science fiction periodicals. During his first ten years as a published writer, the eventual blockbuster author racked up small successes here and there, but remained an unknown. By the late 1950’s, Vonnegut was feeling thoroughly burned out and disenchanted with writing. He’d tried working as a columnist and a newspaper reporter and found both to be underwhelming. Vonnegut had pursued his own writing part-time at first, while working as a technical writer for General Electric. The day job was partially a result of feeling pressured to support an increasingly large family.

He’d had three biological children with first wife and childhood sweetheart Jane Cox. Following a horrendously swift course of events, Vonnegut agreed to support and raise his sister’s three children as his own. In a terrible tragedy, the children lost both their mother and father within days. Alice Vonnegut Adams lost a battle with cancer in September 1958. Two days prior, her husband died in the Newark Bay rail accident. A commuter rail train which he was riding to work for the morning commute derailed and plunged into Newark Bay, New Jersey. 48 people died, including Vonnegut’s brother–in-law, James Carmalt Adams.

The author’s publication successes and setbacks are in evidence by examining personal papers. While many items once belonging to Vonnegut exist and are on display, a January 2000 fire at his residence destroyed many private papers. Fortunately, not all of them were lost. It is possible to glean much from his failures in addition to his successes. Rejection letters from various publications show a writer with much to learn, but one also learning how to best adapt his style to an audience.

These letters, meticulously typed and to the point, date back to the late 1940’s and continue into the mid-1950’s. Most pre-date the publication of Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. During that time, Vonnegut was a respected, but still struggling author. Following a stint in Chicago for grad school, he moved to Schenectady, New York. Most of his works in this period show a strong indebtedness to science fiction, a conceit he never fully abandoned. The playfulness often present in his works of fiction shines through.

Much later in life, and in typically wry fashion, Vonnegut later wrote about the craft of writing.

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.”

-A Man without a Country

Vonnegut experienced the same daily frustrations as beset many writers, especially today. Years from major success, he pitched a series of written pieces to various publications. Most of these responses are deferential, some are warm and affectionate, and others cut right to the quick. A long-established NYC literary agency, one still in business today, informs Vonnegut he’ll have to pay a reading fee for his submissions to even be considered. It seems that he’s not enough of a name yet for McIntosh & Otis, Inc. to take a chance otherwise.

Though also a playwright, Vonnegut wrote relatively few plays in the course of his career. During this phase of his artistic development, writing for the stage was a strong priority. A proposed play, Penelope, was heavily criticized by an editor of Collier’s as a “one joke” work. A short story, “Robot Cop”, is dismissed as not very deep or especially comprehensible. “…I think readers would come away wondering what it was you are trying to prove,” the letter concludes. “Eden by the River”, though appreciated by its reviewer, is said to be too cerebral for the average reader.

By the 1960’s, Kurt Vonnegut would shift sharply away from short stories, as the public’s taste for them had receded. Instead, he wrote novels exclusively. Vonnegut’s early successes were with college students. Prior to the massive success of Slaughterhouse-Five, he was a cult author, beloved by a solid core of readers.

In this embryonic stage, one can observe a talented writer in the active process of trying to find his voice. Even before honing his craft at the University of Iowa’s Writing Workshop, the young Vonnegut had the basics down. As he built confidence and augmented science fiction with other narrative techniques, he developed an original voice that won him millions of readers. Yet, it is still fascinating to see the potential in Vonnegut's first attempts. His persistence is as admirable as his finished product.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Quote of the Week

“You can remember the second and the third and the fourth time, but there's no time like the first. It's always there.”-  Shelagh Delaney

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Odelay, Odelay

Posting this coming week may also be more scarce than usual. The project to which I have been have alluding from time to time still continues. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it has been delayed numerous times. Sometimes a transfer of information and documentation is more difficult than actually pulling together a written column. At least I have control over what I contribute.

I'd tell you the subject, but it makes much more sense if I keep it under wraps for the time being. Thank you for your continued patience.

Saturday Video

Punctured bicycle
on a hillside desolate 
will Nature make a man of me yet? 

When in this charming car 
this charming man 

Why pamper life's complexities
when the leather runs smooth
on the passenger seat?

I would go out tonight
but I haven't got a stitch to wear

This man said, "it's gruesome
that someone so handsome should care."

A jumped-up pantry boy
who never knew his place

He said, "return the ring"
He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things

I would go out tonight
but I haven't got a stitch to wear

This man said, "it's gruesome
that someone so handsome should care."

This charming man
This charming man

A jumped-up pantry boy
who never knew his place

He said, "return the ring"

He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things

Thursday, March 15, 2012


One day Roger came home from work very upset.

"I can't go on," he cried. "I can't go on, I can't go on!"

The next day was Thursday. Roger woke up, put his pants on, and went to work. -Tony Crunk

A Taste of Honey (Multitrack Recording)

A taste of honey
tasting much sweeter than wine.

I dream of your first kiss, and then,
I feel upon my lips again,

A taste of honey
tasting much sweeter than wine.

I will return, yes I will return,
I'll come back for the honey and you.

Yours was the kiss that awoke my heart,
There lingers still, 'though we're far apart,
That taste of honey
tasting much sweeter than wine.

I will return, yes, I will return,
I'll come back (he'll come back) 
for the honey (for the honey) and you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Movie review: A taste of honey

A Taste of Honey is set in the industrialized, grimy Northwest of England, in a borough slightly outside the city of Manchester. There, we are introduced to a working class, seventeen-year-old schoolgirl named Jo. Though naïve in the ways of romance, as we will soon see, she’s nevertheless developed a hard shell due to a difficult childhood. Jo has often had to serve as a surrogate parent to her alcoholic, impulsive, irresponsible mother, who rarely admits her numerous failings.

By chance, Jo meets a black sailor named Jimmy one fateful day. The two begin a romance, which ends abruptly when Jimmy’s ship sails, with him aboard. After her mother remarries a much younger, but wealthy man, Jo strikes out on her own. While on the job, where she sells shoes to manage to live on her own, she makes a sale and earns an eventual roommate. His name is Geoffery, a textile design student and a talented artist. The two grow close, eventually becoming best friends in a relatively short period of time.

As they continue to build a friendship, Geoffery reluctantly admits that he is gay and that he has been recently kicked out of his previous flat. Though he can’t quite bring himself to vocalize precisely what happened, he implies that his landlady discovered him in bed with another man. With no reservations or hesitations, Jo offers Geoffery the opportunity to live with her. It makes good sense. The two feign a romantic relationship that often serves as cover for both. All is well and good until Jo returns from the doctor one day, having realized that she is pregnant with the sailor’s child.

Heavily conflicted, her feelings regarding the pregnancy vary considerably from day to day. She doesn’t want to have the child, but is unwilling to agree to an abortion. Geoffery cares for Jo as would a husband. He even goes as far as to express a willingness to raise the child as his own. Geoffery believes that the two ought to get married, at least for a time, until she can find new love and get back on her feet. Jo declines, but appreciates the sincerity and generosity of the offer.

This was risky, very adult stuff for its time. Britain in 1961 was a very different place than it is today, one where homosexuality was still illegal. A Taste of Honey, the film, was based upon the play of the same name. It had first seen release for a public audience three years earlier. The playwright Shelagh Delaney penned her first dramatic work at the tender age of 18, when she was not much older than her main character. A success as a play, it was agreed that a A Taste of Honey should next be adapted for the cinema. For the film version, Delaney jointly collaborated on the screenplay with the film’s director, Tony Richardson.  

Having come to prominence in 1958’s Look Back in Anger, this, Richardson’s next major work, would prove to be a critical success in the UK. However, the film passed almost unnoticed in the United States and the rest of the world. Richardson would not have to wait much longer before his directorial projects developed significant popularity. In the beginning, Richardson was just another creative voice, one part of an larger artistic and intellectual movement then very trendy. It was called kitchen-sink realism. The movement’s goal was, in large part, to provide a truthful portrayal of working class life.

British films prior to kitchen-sink had usually focused on the aristocracy, while showing the so-called lower classes to be loutish and stereotypically crude. From the late 1950’s into the mid-1960’s, kitchen-sink realism became much in vogue among critics, bringing to prominence an emergent group of first-time directors and writers. Along with Richardson, the list contained Lindsay Anderson, John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz, John Boorman, and Richard Lester. Each of them would achieve some degree of commercial success before the 1960’s were up. Richardson, Schelsinger, and Lester would be the most commercially successful of them all.

The films of what soon became known as the British New Wave focus on the lives of the city-dwelling salt of the earth. Notable contributors to the New Wave, in defiance of the rigid British class system, placed their settings well away from London and the South of England. Like A Taste of Honey, these films were usually set in far less glamorous locales. Most of the genre were inexpensively made, shot in black and white, and filmed on location. Social realism was the intent, seeking to get away from the days of Technicolor extravaganzas with massive ensemble casts, shot mostly on sound stages.

Ironically, Richardson would himself prove to be the undoing of kitchen-sink, this only two years after A Taste of Honey was released. Casting Albert Finney in the lead role of the rousing comedy hit Tom Jones, this effort was at long last a well-deserved massive success on both sides of the Atlantic. Eventually rewarded the Academy Award for Best Picture. Tom Jones’ playfulness and cheeky humor put an end to the uber-serious grittiness of what had come before it.

Next to follow was the cultural upheaval present as the 1960’s progressed, which encouraged radical cinematic experimentation. The fussiness of kitchen-sink was nowhere to be found, yet in some ways, its insistence upon accuracy over spectacle persisted. Kitchen-sink survives to the present day, still influencing filmmakers because of its daring.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Baby Blue

This is a solid effort, though there are some rough spots with the vocal. I decided to keep it as is. The chorus shifts into a higher key, one that is out of my range. I could have switched to falsetto, but the volume would have diminished.  One can have an imperfect vocal with sufficient loudness, or a smoother one which is so soft that the guitar drowns it out.

That's the thing with live recordings. Otherwise, this song reminds me of a former lover.

Guess I got what I deserved
Kept you waiting there too long, my love
All that time without a word
Didn't know you'd think that I'd forget
or I'd regret

The special love I had for you, my baby blue

All the days became so long
Did you really think, I'd do you wrong?
Dixie, when I let you go
Thought you'd realize that I would know
I would show the special love I have for you, my baby blue

What can I do, what can I say
Except I want you by my side
How can I show you, show me the way
Don't you know the times I've tried?

Guess that's all I have to say
Except the feeling just grows stronger every day
Just one thing before I go

Take good care, baby, let me know, let it grow
The special love you have for me, my Dixie, dear.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Miscarriage of justice: the Jesse Shotts story

Twenty years after the fact, I return to a series of events that shaped my perception of not just American justice, but American society. What follows is part personal anecdote and part legal history. It challenges how we see our law enforcement system, in all its multitudinous ways, often more incompetent than malicious. Conspiracies require flawless, exactingly detailed work by everyone involved, with no accidental leaks to the media. Often, I see in its place a childish tit-for-tat retaliation with decisions motivated mostly by spite. 

Jesse Woodrow Shotts was a well-respected criminal defense lawyer from Birmingham, Alabama. He billed himself, informally, as the champion of the underprivileged. This belief was likely due to a substantial chip on the shoulder. Shotts had grown up working class in a city where the blast furnaces of the steel mills still pumped a thick, consistent cloud of acrid smoke over the entire metropolitan area. He’d had the intelligence and the ambition to be able to look beyond the back-breaking, laborious jobs that seemingly employed the entire city.

In high school, he'd been a scrappy, determined shortstop on the baseball team. His pugnacious, hard working attitude carried over into his adulthood. By the early 1990’s, Jesse Shotts, though his own hard work and diligence, had made a reputation for himself. He felt genuine compassion for the people he represented, who were often ex-cons or those with sketchy pasts. When most people would have kept their distance, Shotts put them under his employ and kept their heads above water.

Times had changed considerably in a city once considered the most segregated in America. Civil Rights drove whites en masse out of the city limits, over Red Mountain. The immediate downtown area was left impoverished and overwhelmingly black, including North Birmingham. When wave after wave of whites and white-owned businesses had flown the coop, he’d deliberately kept his law office and primary means of business there. 

Many of his clients were low-income people of color. As if to prove his loyalty, Shotts also owned and maintained a series of rental properties in the same part of town. Underneath a casual nonchalance, Shotts was really a liberal underneath it all. Not that he would ever embrace the label.

Shotts made mistakes. His biggest mistake was being good at what he did. A skillful criminal defense lawyer, he made his reputation by consistently beating the Feds at their own game. This won him friends but also the enmity of his enemies. Shotts could sometimes be cocky, which further enraged some fairly formidable foes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation being one of them. Even with that knowledge, I’m not sure he ever could have foreseen the direction his life was to take.  

Jack Montgomery was a Criminal Court Judge in Jefferson County, which contains all of Birmingham proper. Montgomery’s infamy and eccentricities were legendary. By turns racist, vulgar, and haranguing in the courtroom, the judge was the very definition of loose cannon. Having run unopposed for every term of office, in part by putting the fear of God into potential opponents, Montgomery’s behavior grew more and more outlandish and erratic with age. In 1992, the judge was caught red-handed accepting bribes and charged with racketeering, extortion, and bribary. This already sordid story soon took an unexpected and surprising twist. 

There is, of course, one more crucial distinction that needs to be made first. Jack Montgomery and Jesse Shotts were close friends.    

FBI agents executed a search warrant at Judge Montgomery’s house, which turned up $31,000. Montgomery resigned immediately.   

When taken to trial, Judge Montgomery tried a variety of stalling tactics which delayed the process for months. He consistently claimed to be physically and psychologically unable to stand trial. In time, his courtroom shenanigans exhausted, he was taken before the court and found guilty. While awaiting sentencing, the judge’s eccentricities reached new heights, as he broke a hip while running naked down his driveway. Following that, he cut himself with a chainsaw, for reasons unknown.

Two days before sentencing, Montgomery was found dead of a gunshot wound in his basement. Curiously, no suicide note, or murder weapon was found. This led to speculation that his fifth wife pulled the trigger, or that a vindictive FBI arranged the killing. Most people suspected suicide. In any case, Montgomery was nevertheless now unable to be formally pronounced guilty and sent to prison.

Taking down Jack Montgomery had been something of a holy grail for federal prosecutors. Having cheated justice with his demise, the FBI was deprived of the satisfaction of having attained a plum conviction. Accordingly, the Bureau began to formulate strategies to go after secondary targets. One of them was Jesse Woodrow Shotts.

If guilt by association is admissible evidence, Jesse Shotts would have found himself sentenced and jailed without the need for a formal trial. FBI wiretaps were said to have revealed a conversation between the late judge and Shotts discussing the legality of bail bonds. Bail bonds are a system by which a person pays a percentage of a court-specified bail amount to a professional bonds agent. The agent, in turn, puts up cash as a guarantee that the person will appear in court.

The prosecution insisted that Montgomery and Shotts had colluded when Montgomery signed a bond in a county over which the judge had no judicial authority. Shotts, in accordance with state law, as an attorney, was banned outright from owning a bail bonds company. The prosecution based much of its case upon the assertion that Jesse Shotts had been the proprietor of the bail bonds business. The defense vigorously disagreed and disputed this fact strongly.

During the first trial and the appeal to follow, the FBI relied heavily on the testimony of one witness. Her name was Kandy Kennedy. Kennedy was Shotts’ secretary, a woman with a checkered past of her own, who had spent time in prison. According to the defense, Kennedy had been threatened with additional jail time and turned state’s witness as a result. She stood accused of aiding in the destruction of other bail bonds that had been signed by Jack Montgomery. Any firmly established chain of events or timeline involved in said accusation was never proven in trial, one way or the other.

Shotts would be ultimately convicted on a 26 count indictment in 1995, three years after Montgomery’s death. An appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998 would reverse all but 2 of the charges. But by then, Shotts had been sent off to prison. The manual labor demanded of inmates created severe back problems. He retained his freedom on appeal, but left jail a broken man.

Fighting the case had depleted his savings and his health. Shotts even managed to employ legal heavyweight Alan Dershowitz to represent him for a time. For years afterwards, Shotts still continued to contest his case, even appealing to the Supreme Court. By 2003, the appeal eventually reached the highest court in the land. However, what had been a decade-long process reached its end when the justices passed on it. Fighting to reinstate his legal license, Shotts wanted most of all to reverse his conviction. He never regained the right to practice law. Shotts died a few years later of a heart attack.

Looking back now, twenty years after the fact, my understanding of the criminal justice system has expanded greatly. Our allegiances seem to fall somewhere in between a populist rancor at an authoritarian government and an incredible frustration at incompetence. Sometimes the systems that regulate our personal dealings are impotent, and sometimes they are overreaching. That being said, I have my own sympathies. I still believe that Jesse Shotts got a raw deal, in a frame-up by a group of men who wanted blood justice at any cost.

I would vindicate his name if I could, but I know that the real facts of the case may never be revealed. Many likely died with him. Like many lawyers, Shotts played it very close to the line and with a degree of relish. I’m thankful for the people who find trench warfare appealing, but I’m more conservative. Shotts’ case reveals to me that the lines between good and evil, legal and illegal, are much more blurry than we’d like to admit to ourselves.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Quote of the Week

"If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism."-Oscar Wilde

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Last Person I'd Ever Expect

From my perspective, I don't think that truthful, accurate stories about bisexuality and bisexuals are very plentiful. They're often painted with a lurid, sensationalist brush. So, I suppose I'll just write my own. Might as well.

The Last Place I’d Ever Expect

“I never thought I’d see you here”.

Ex-girlfriend encounters could be safely expected at any number of places downtown. I knew to brace myself at the concrete and armpits dive bar, a biohazard, where everyone always wanted to go. While making my way from the parking lot across the same few familiar avenues and streets, the unexpected was always a possibility. I’d let my guard down for a few hours, expecting to focus on something very different. Of all the gay bars in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into mine.

A moment. Let us lay our scene first. We now enter a universe where repression gives way to hedonism. This setting, a perpetually dark, smoky place where bad dance music plays around the clock is what passes for atmosphere. When you enter the establishment for the first time, the polite bartender asks you if you’re comfortable. He’s just making sure.

A large purple sign affixed to the main entrance screams out a warning in all caps. All those who would enter should leave immediately should they find the contents objectionable in any way. 

“You do know what this is, don’t you?” Few people have any pretenses otherwise, but he asks anyway.

His accent betrays his country roots. An effeminate inflection presented alongside a strong southern drawl sounds amusing at first. You have to make sure not to laugh, that is, unless his stated intent in speaking is to be campy and a little over the top. Sometimes even I can’t really tell the difference between the two, so I instead stay stoic and stone faced.

When you order a screwdriver, it is provided with possibly the weakest concentration of vodka conceivable. One is never sure whether the bartender expects you to have a low alcohol threshold or wants to make the hard liquor stretch a bit longer. In any case, I never found myself reaching anything remotely close to intoxication. It kept me on my toes, though I was much too inhibited to dance.  

Danielle was never one to beat around the bush. Her directness was one of the reasons I found her appealing in the first place. Auspiciously enough, we met in a human sexuality class while the both of us were in college. Asked to work together as part of a group assignment, we soon knew more about each other’s baser desires in three weeks than most couples learn in a year.

Labeling the parts of the female and male anatomy can be stimulating in strange ways. It wasn’t difficult for the more clinical aspects of sexuality to give way to the earthier variety. This may have been an unorthodox way to start out, but we went for it.

“So, I take it you’ve given up on women?”

One could probably make that assumption, being that I’d just had my arm around another man’s waist. Even so, assumptions should not be confused as truth. Danielle looked the exact same as she had when we’d last parted ways. Same blonde hair. Same blue eyes.  By now they were boring a hole into my own. I’d been asked a colossally awkward question that knocked me completely off stride. Though I could have dodged it, I decided to be honest instead.  

“No. You don’t ever stop being bisexual, as much as some might believe.”

This was an especially sore point with me. At minimum, two past girlfriends had been tremendously skeptical at the outset of our relationship. I had to use my best skills as a courtroom lawyer before suspicions and anxieties were set aside. Danielle wasn’t unsympathetic, but a part of her always had doubts. This may have explained why she married the very next boyfriend after me. She swung from one extreme to the other. He was about as heterosexual as a man could be, but to his credit, I knew him to be surprisingly tolerant.

“Did you know that Dan and I have a yearly membership here? He and I come to dance all the time.”

This I did not know. By now, she’d stopped acting like I was a character witness on the stand. She always had a way of being able to shift from intense to coolly detached in a half-second. It was a curious transition and even more curious to observe. I admit I had never fully understood. I wondered if her husband could make more sense of it than I. Danielle was a mysterious one. I’d stopped striving for comprehension a couple years before and found myself happier for it.

It was still strange to see her with an engagement ring. I feel the exact same way with every former relationship partner who is now betrothed. Ancient fault lines resurface. The dull ache of remembered rejection returns. Of course, we’d never progressed far enough along to even consider marriage. Our relationship had been conducted as though it had a 90 day trial in place. It concluded with the both of us agreeing to part ways without too much fuss or drama.

It wasn’t long before she moved on again, making her way to the outside patio, which served as a respite from the hyperactive energy going on in front of a set of huge mirrors. Walking a bit off balance, pushing her way through the crowd, she disappeared from sight. I last saw her sipping a drink with some difficulty through a tiny straw. I returned to what I'd been doing before, staring at the latest shirtless, sweaty exhibitionist considered a resident heartthrob.

And as always, I paused to reflect. In a perfect world, would I still feel sawed in half somehow? A part of me always got the shorter straw. Attraction never felt seamless or streamlined where sexual orientation was concerned. It was all women or all men, and this transition in particular was lumpy and difficult. For tonight, I knew where I’d stay and maybe even where I’d end up the next morning.

Thinking beyond the immediate present only caused pain and worry. The future was too daunting, too potentially injurious. And, in fairness, I was like every other man crammed inside, illuminated momentarily by the intermittent strobe lights. 

Saturday Video

Too many people going underground
Too many reaching for a piece of cake
Too many people pulled and pushed around
Too many waiting for that lucky break

That was your first mistake
You took your lucky break
and broke it in two

Now what can be done for you?
You broke it in two

Too many people sharing party lines
Too many people never sleeping late
Too many people paying parking fines
Too many hungry people losing weight

That was your first mistake
You took your lucky break and broke it in two
Now what can be done for you?
You broke it in two

Too many people preaching practices
Don't let them tell you want to want to be
Too many people holding back
This is crazy and, baby, it's not like me

That was your last mistake
I find my love awake and waiting to be
Now what can be done for you?
She's waiting for me

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Work

I've decided to devote today to working on my assignment. Will be back shortly.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

I Fell in Love with a Fantasy

I started performing music live with no pretenses and no surprises. While living in a different city, I’d recognized that long hours and low pay was unavoidable. At least I didn’t fool myself. I’d regularly be the opener for a not very remarkable main act at a nondescript restaurant out in the suburbs. I understand why it’s easy to develop an alcohol problem while being the night’s entertainment, especially if audience alone is not underwhelming enough.

For the whole of the night, enthusiastic people in attendance always bought me drinks.  I never lacked for booze, often wishing it could be exchanged for money. That not being the case, instead I drank. Intoxication can be a humbling experience while on stage. I shall say no more.

I’ll admit that, like many musicians, I used my talents partially as a social icebreaker. When sets were over or when it was time to take a break, I headed directly for those in the audience who had been sufficiently snake charmed. Every man with the courage to play a guitar and open his mouth before an audience knows exactly what I mean. Nothing opens doors quite the same way. For the chronically introverted, like yours truly, the hardest part of talking to complete strangers was thereby established. The first move had already been made for me.

Women who are much older than me hold a mysterious appeal. Much of it is a desire to learn from someone with more experience and more knowledge. The physical attraction is present as well, of course, but I suppose I must have my baser reasons.  On the opposite side of the coin, I know now that I’ve been used a time or two to assuage cravings for youth and attention. Prior girlfriends miss being as desired as they were in their prime, when they were much younger.

For those who never found me too much of a baby or too much like their grown sons, I assume that same need must have also been present. I always sought more than a one-sided pairing and learned to cut ties with women who saw me as a fountain of youth. It took me one particularly bad experience to adapt and change for the wiser.

She was different. She was youthful without trying too hard to be young.  Her height stood out most. Long legs dangled off of the stool just as mine did during a performance. A singer/songwriter, what she wrote was grounded and calm, not full of angst and confusion as mine were. I wanted that for myself. Call it maturity, stability, or peace of mind, I was instantly certain I knew the very thing that I had been lacking. Thoroughly fascinated with her songcraft, I wished to learn more. My eyes now projected the same glassy, impressed stare I had seen in many others.

The tables had turned.  Shyly approaching her as she left the small café, I’m sure I was typically awkward and untypically gushy. The look she gave me was kind, but cautious. The message had been relayed. I was asked whether or not I wanted to see her next performance at another venue later in the week.  Entranced, for the next several weeks I stayed out late many nights during the week when I’d much rather have been at home. I already played until the wee hours on weekends. Though the setlist became increasingly familiar, the person playing remained elusive, confounding, and unattainable. 

I’m glad I wasn’t asked to wait too long. Late one night, the audience long since departed, we finally addressed the subject of a relationship. We couldn’t talk long. Bartenders were already straightening up and restocking for another night. They all knew her personally, which allowed us to linger for longer than normal. I knew eventually we were going to be kicked out, and my impatience reflected it.

Very matter-of-factly she invited me home with her. The delivery was typically businesslike and sober, the statement phrased more like a transaction than anyone’s romantic fantasy. I did not critique, I merely followed.

After that, we tried to make what we had work, even when the both of us kept weird hours. Fellow musicians could have put two and two together by our regular proximity and frequency. Even so, she insisted on at least the façade of strict discretion. She was twenty years older than me and I imagine the relationship was a combination of pride and discomfort for her.  She never went into detail about much.

Once she alluded to a past struggle with cancer, and then never mentioned it again.  She had never married and rarely talked about past partners. Two personalities could not be more different. She was restrained and tight-lipped, whereas I wore my heart on my sleeve and vocalized my feelings. 

We tried to play music together, but found that the convergence in styles didn’t match. She was an extremely fussy musician, insisting upon to-the-note perfection, and not particularly appreciative of my contributions. I recognized eventually that much of that supposed calm was contrived. In reality, she was extremely controlling of her own work and also of me. While on stage, I noticed how she stared down other women in the audience that even dared to look at me during a performance.

Within a few months of dating, I recognized I had fallen in love with a fantasy. I had been seeking stability in someone else, a major no-no. My fascination by what I thought was wisdom and truth was actually an-all-too-trusting belief in subterfuge. I was confusing a front for what lay beyond it. We parted ways soon after, when I could no longer tolerate her lack of trust in me. I avoided even having to see her, making sure not to attend the places where I knew she’d be. Though I live elsewhere now, I’m still afraid I’ll run into her someday by random coincidence.         

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Feminism's nervous embrace: male allies

The stated agenda of many feminist groups is, plainly put, to empower women. Due to unbalanced gender dynamics, wherein most participants are female, attitudes towards men and male allies have been often contradictory and sometimes strained. Never of a sufficient critical mass to band together in solidarity, the presence and participation of self-identified male feminists is often short-lived. Without much of an infrastructure in place to determine role and need, male allies have to blaze their own trail, alone. Some feel comfortable in this role, many others do not.

In great contrast, one observes the wealth of resources and guidance provided women. An entire field of study has taken hold over the past several decades. Books, authors, films, and pedagogy are earmarked and dedicated to what is considered essential outreach. Though not nearly as prominent in areas with less concentrated wealth, bereft of a nearby elite academic institution, these opportunities for education do exist in many locales. Studies of masculinity and men are very rare. Men who would devote themselves to the causes upon which Feminism places much emphasis have to be their own advocates.

Groups and notable feminist thinkers have taken positions along a continuum on this topic, often unable to reach consensus. Some groups, namely radical feminists, a generation prior to ours, barred men from participating altogether. Others have welcomed them, albeit tentatively and nervously. Many aren’t quite sure how to engage male allies in conversation or to incorporate them fully into planning or drafting a discourse. When men are so often shown to be disappointing, untrustworthy, and even needlessly brutal, it’s difficult to shift gears, to examine two very different manifestations of masculinity. Speaking in the abstract about societal ills and sexism, to cite one example, is very different from speaking to someone in person.

This unwitting isolation is, in part, a result of a long-running statement of purpose for the whole movement. It seeks to add women’s voices to the dialogue and pushes women’s equal participation in every conceivable way. However, it has skirted around a basic logical inconsistency. It cannot entertain the conundrum produced by its core philosophy. Do men in positions of power or influence legitimize or delegitimize the movement?

Informing men about their still predominant impact and place in society is a high priority. Alongside it is a desire to directly call out men who transgress publicly, never sufficiently held accountable for their high crimes and misdemeanors. If, however, the movement achieved its intentions and successfully educated men, some might believe that women might well be left out again, but now for a different reason. In a time where women are still passed over and excluded in the workforce, in a variety of occupational settings and career options, where does the movement draw distinctions? What’s the difference between a man who understands and has educated himself about the message and a woman who has learned to conceptualize the same?

These beliefs fall uncomfortably close to reverse sexism. Men are to be informed of their privilege, but might even be distrusted or held at arm's length should they develop sufficient comprehension of gender inequalities. In an ideal world, and Feminism is certainly built upon idealism, how would men and women share power? The notion of zero-sum game and scarcity can be an appealing viewpoint, even if it may not be particularly well-reasoned. Should a more enlightened viewpoint descend on a wholesale basis, would Feminism know of subsequent steps to take?

Or, is its stated intention not really intended to find a solution? In its world of frustration and righteous indignation, an imbalance of power is consistently expected and vocalized. It forms the backbone of identity and is attached to specific causes, theories, and intersections between them. If a man were to take a successful leadership role among women, advancing women’s causes just as deftly, would he be allowed? Let us entertain the possibility that a male leader might accomplish even more, based on his greater agency. In what light should we view this hypothetical situation? Taken this way, a stated meritocracy has severe limitations.

Feminism varies from place to place, college to college, group to group. It cannot be said to be a totally organized movement coalescing around identical core tenants. Yet, each of these factions and clusters of thought has a common denominator. They still are unsure what to do about the men who arrive in their midst. These men offer assistance as genuinely and freely as any current women’s studies student would. They wish to do good, to push our collective understanding further. The movement might consider developing space for male allies to spread their wings, otherwise, they will float in and float out. If enthusiasm and energy dissipates from lack of guidance, an opportunity has been lost.

Moving On

Well, I may be right or I may be wrong
but you're gonna miss me when I'm gone

-Johnny Cash, "Rock Island Line"

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Oh, Pretty Woman

I felt blogging guilt, so I recorded a video first. Screenshots never do me justice and this one is no different. Otherwise, I modified some of the lyrics because I simply can't imitate them.

Pretty woman, walking down the street
Pretty woman, the kind I like to meet
Pretty woman

I don't believe you, you're not the truth
No one could look as good as you

Pretty woman, won't you pardon me
Pretty woman, I couldn't help see
Pretty woman

That you look lovely as can be
Are you lonely just like me

Pretty woman, stop a while
Pretty woman, talk a while
Pretty woman, give your smile to me

Pretty woman, yeah yeah yeah
Pretty woman, look my way
Pretty woman, say you'll stay with me

'Cause I need you, I'll treat you right
Come with me baby, be mine tonight

Pretty woman, don't walk on by
Pretty woman, don't make me cry
Pretty woman, don't walk away, hey...okay

If that's the way it must be, okay
I guess I'll go on home, it's late

There'll be tomorrow night, but wait
What do I see?

Is she walking back to me?
Yeah, she's walking back to me
Oh, oh, pretty woman

Pardon My Preoccupation

I've been focused almost entirely on a large project for the last several days. The work has been fun and rewarding. I would share the subject with you, but I'd rather keep it under wraps until I submit it for publication. It's rare for me to get a big assignment like this, so I might as well take advantage of it while I have the opportunity.

Later this week, I'll make time for blogging.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Quote of the Week

"One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done."-Marie Curie

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Internet Romance in a Different Era

These days, I read every month or so about the latest internet scandal involving teenagers and nefarious conduct. Though I concede I lived in a very different world, my own experiences in cyberspace were most often positive at that age. Back then, almost everyone between the ages of 14 and 20 had an AOL Instant Messenger account. Usually abbreviated as AIM, it was never difficult to find someone with whom to chat. Frequently, my online interactions became romantic interests.   

In the mid-1990's media-driven horror stories were somehow nowhere to be found. There was a kind of innocence present in our own adolescent, slightly existential dialogue and relationships. No one worried about sex offenders posing as someone significantly younger than their actual age. I rarely heard of anyone blackmailing or injuring another person based on their sexual orientation. Almost everyone with whom I spoke was highly tolerant. In fact, I confessed my bisexuality first to my online friends, well before my family.

While I admit I found a handful of bullies, regardless of reason, most of my conversations were convivial and cheerful. The amount of trust we displayed to each other was, in hindsight, quite remarkable. But then again, our circumstances were similar. We were coming of age in a time period of insecurity and face wash, often stuck at home and unable to flee the banality of small town life or suburbia. We had nowhere else to go and, above all, we needed each other.

Would it even happen now? I seriously doubt it. In the beginning, the internet was the domain of lonely, often isolated teenagers. Before business and the rest of humanity saw a compelling need to add its presence, we were the ones online, running up massive dial-up bills for our parents. To some extent, I feel like I was present when the internet changed for the meaner, for the worst. All of the other problems with everyday life appeared and took root.  Along with their introduction, the very things we were seeking to escape became inescapable.

Though I have often downplayed my successes, I have to admit that I became very good at finding internet crushes. Most of these were women, and each was within a few years of my age. The confidence I had always lacked in finding romance, to say nothing of personal dealings, came easily in a computer environment. My triumphs built up what had always been a tenuous self-esteem. I was forced to concede that there really must have been something about me that was appealing and attractive.

These experiences built my confidence and granted me what I had been otherwise severely lacking. Online romances were a stepping stone to the face-to-face relationships I had been craving and would eventually pursue. But in the meantime, memory holds several stories of meeting offline those who I had originally met online. Most of them have been found to be interesting by listeners. I even took extended car trips to visit a few of my love interests, but not before parents were informed of my plans first. My parents nervously assented to my visits, but were insistent I come up with a detailed plan of action first.

During one of these excursions, I was even allowed to tag along at high school with my crush. I got a chance to observe the daily routine of her high school, one far removed from my own. We would have dated if seven hours' drive hadn’t separated us. That story is sweet and a little melancholy, but mostly happy. A complete rendition may be shared someday, along with the others. In a moment of vanity, I admit I'm saving it for a book or a short story.

I was so eager for love, affection, and acceptance that no distance was too daunting. Did others follow my same path? If they did, I've never heard an account told in my presence. But I'd be surprised if I was the only one.

Shortly before I left for home, I had a picture taken of the two of us. In it, I look remarkably young and much thinner than I am today. We are posed against the bland backdrop of the seating section of a fast food restaurant. In the small Midwest town where I touched down, signs of civilization were difficult to find. I stayed two nights at the one and only motel present. What I remember most about the lodgings was that I found a pair of green panties underneath my bed. I speculated that the room might have been part of some couples’ extramarital affair.

Returning to the photograph, the attraction between the two of us is obvious. I can tell this by the way she smiles at the camera and leans close to me. When I examined it much later, I remembered again how beautiful she was. I couldn’t believe anyone that attractive would have wanted me. It was a confidence boost then and it still is today. The memory has lasted, the relationship has not. Sadly, I no longer have a copy in my possession. Taken in the days before digital cameras, I managed to lose the image, plus the matching negatives, during a move.

I wonder where she is today. Is she married? Does she have kids? Where does she live? If she thinks of me at all, I hope she thinks of me fondly. Internet relationships like ours were sometimes painful by their conclusion. I remember aching with desire and longing, but being unable to achieve the very thing I wanted most. Miles and miles separated us, and in the end, neither of us could hold out against the pressing need for constant contact and daily affection. Still, as learning experiences go, these were some of the best.

Saturday Video

And the sky was made of amethyst
And all the stars look just like little fish
You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say "no,"

Might last a day, yeah
Minus forever
Might last a day, yeah
Well, minus forever

When they get what they want
They never want it again
When they get what they want
They never want it again

Go on, take everything
Take everything
I want you to
Go on, take everything
Take everything
Take everything I want you to

And the sky was all violet
I want it again, but violent, more violence
Well, I'm the one with no soul
One above and one below

Go on, take everything
Take everything
I want you to
Go on, take everything
Take everything
I dare you to

I told you from the start
Just how this would end
When I get what I want
I never want it again

Go on, take everything
Take everything
I want you to
Go on, take everything
Take everything

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Demise of Diplomats and Compromisers

In today's world and for many years prior, politics and government are kept strictly separate from religion. The fears of cultural contamination drive many to extreme ends. Some fundamentalist Christians try to self-isolate as a way to prevent the corruption they assign to a sinful, fallen world. This takes the many forms. One is homeschooling children and seeking to keep them more or less perpetually inside a protective bubble. Decisions like these are radical interpretations of a basic standard observed by many faiths. Namely, they seek to live in this world, and yet not be of it.

Biblical authority provides few laws and commandments that might overrule the hand of government in religious groups or houses of worship. Though he lived in a very politically charged, uneasy time, even regularly interacting with political groups, Jesus is mostly silent on the issue. The closest he comes to making an expressly political statement occurs when he is being asked whether Jews should pay taxes to the Roman Empire. Deftly sidestepping the question, he changes the context, replying that God’s needs are different from those of the Empire.
Jesus responds to Pontius Pilate about the nature of his kingdom: "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But now (or 'as it is') my kingdom is not from the world" (John 18:36); i.e., his religious teachings were separate from earthly political activity. This reflects a traditional division in Christian thought by which state and church have separate spheres of influence.

But, in all fairness, the breadth of the separation between church and state extends well beyond one passage and one anecdote. Ideological identity determines the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable government intervention. Regardless of what system of belief we hold, each of us reveals a hand’s off perspective regarding governance in our daily life. It just depends upon which issue we are discussing.

This is especially true with particularly sensitive topics. We also decry government enforcement of the law when we believe that our basic freedoms are being impugned. This is not to come down hard on one side or the other, but instead to show the similarities of our grievances. The worries and fears are the same, regardless of the context.

The arguments that progressive religious groups make and have made over time argue that a common, universal good overrules discriminatory attitudes. This was true with suffrage for women, Civil Rights for African-Americans, women's rights to become ordained ministers and church leaders, and now marriage equality for LGBTs.

Conservative Catholics and other Christian denominations believe that they are being railroaded, forced to accept secular doctrines and dogmas that they find morally deplorable. They do not see the religious under-girding of fellow believers. Like Rick Santorum said about Barack Obama, liberal Christians aren't "real" believers. Unfortunately, Christians of these stripes have a habit of believing that they are the keepers of the truest, purest version of their faith.

This is a dangerous, if not self-defeating line of logic. Purity contests usually put up walls, preventing compromise and greater understanding. While it is true that left-leaning believers can at times want to reduce faith to a form of least possible potential offense to anyone, purity provides no answers for how to live together with the rest of the world. More often than not, it suggests that circling the wagons and preserving a particularly static theology is of utmost importance.

Should we take on that same conundrum, we will behave like historical re-enactors and cultural preservationists. And who among us would wish to live in a museum?

In truth, the religious left and the religious right are expressly political, even as they push government away from their own affairs. Under a sharp examination of perceived bias, each side’s argument is not nearly as damning, nor as potentially dangerous as thought by its opposition. The real problems arise when communication breaks down and opposing groups fall into a chaotic spiral of paranoia and fears of imminent destruction.

Once that stage has been reached, it feeds upon itself until pent up anger becomes direct aggression and provocation. Wars and other similarly impulsive, rash behaviors are the inevitable byproduct of these feelings.

This is what we must guard against, as future victories and setbacks dot the landscape. People have long been predicting some sort of epic conflagration. I’m not much of a believer in the end times, but I do know that we’re now no longer talking to each other. Instead, we’d rather talk past each other, our voices raised, hearing nothing besides the sound of our own voice.

Stirring up a response for the sake of debate was fine when debate was actually practiced. Now, everyone wants to throw rocks at the hive. We have forgotten that it is entirely feasible to be a diplomat when needed and a compromiser when the situation demands it. Civility is one thing, but anger management is another.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

To Prevent Any and All Confusion

I am not a Mennonite, but close enough. They are, like us, a long standing peace church. You'll need to click directly on the picture to read it.

Click to Embiggen

Hangin' Round

The tale of anyone in their early thirties.

Harry was a rich young man
who would become a priest
He dug up his dear father
who was recently deceased

He did it with tarot cards
and a mystically attuned mind
And shortly there
and after he did find

Jeanie was a spoiled young brat
she thought she knew it all
She smoked mentholated cigarettes
and she had sex in the hall

But she was not my kind
or even of my sign
The kind of animal
that I would be about

Woh-woh-woh, you keep hangin' round me
and I'm not so glad you found me
You're still doing things that I gave up years ago

Oh-woh-woh-woh, you keep hangin' round me
and I'm not so glad you found me
You're still doing things that I gave up years ago

Kathy was a bit surreal
she painted all her toes
And on her face she wore dentures
clamped tightly to her nose

And when she finally spoke
her twang her glasses broke
And no one else could smoke
while she was in the room

Hark the herald angels sang
and reached out for a phone
And plucking it with a knife in hand
dialed long distance home

But it was all too much
sprinkling angel dust
To AT& T
who didn't wish you well

Oh, but you keep hangin' round me
and I'm not so glad you found me
You're still doing things that I gave up years ago

Hangin' round, hangin' round