"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg
"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"
“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings
Monday, January 30, 2006
And I can't help but wonder why she looks constipated. I would have thought she'd wait to have a picture taken until she felt better.
I have a hard time crediting the possibility that anyone is that stupid. Or that they think people are that stupid. Then I think about the last election.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Part of it is natural proclivities, perhaps encouraged by early upbringing: my mother's family was very musical. She, in fact, played piano and guitar and sang in our church choir (when we belonged to a church). I also sang, for a while, both in choir (when we belonged to a church) and as part of a folk duo that never managed to get it together to perform publicly.
I grew up on bluegrass and Elvis. Then my dad brought home a recording of Brahms' terminally great Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor when I was about nine or so. My secret was out: I love music, almost any kind. Jazz throws me a little, because I find it coldly intellectual, but I'm learning. That has, however, forced me to think about why I listen to music. (Well, OK, I just did. It's not like I was holding a gun to my head.)
I have a sneaking suspicion that music may very well antedate our existence as a species. Possibly even a genus. I'm not sure. Where does it stop being signals and start being music? Whales sing. Monkeys howl. Chimps do some sort of rhythmic drumming things with tree branches, and ethologists/anthropologists are still not quite sure what it signifies. (Somehow, "threat display" is just too easy.) (Mmm . . . birds. Can't forget birds. I have thoughts on birdcalls in music, most of which are pretty negative: did I tell you about the recording of Bach's Cantata and Fugue for what sounded like a chorus of panicked sparrows? But, people like Rautavaara and Mars Lasar and Tokeya Inajin have pulled it off.)
I must admit that my normal listening is classical. My radio is permanently set to WFMT, Chicago's one remaining classical station (which, by the way, is available nationally on cable and online.) I mourn the loss of WNIB.
And, as a music reviewer for Epinions, Rambles, and particularly Green Man Review, I've had to learn a lot in the past couple of years. I was on pretty solid ground with the baroque, classical and romantic repertoires, as well as contemporary art music, when I assumed the position of Special Acquisitions (Classical Music) for GMR.
Somehow that wound up including, at least as far as reviews went, Indian classical music as well. I did a lot of research on the raga as a form, so at least there is a glimmer of intelligence in my reviews of that genre (of which, at this point, there are many). I also dipped into gamelan, which I love (except it makes me tense), which brought me to Colin McPhee and then back around to Terry Riley and the whole group of serial minimalists, with whom I had some prior acquaintance. (I used to love seeing Philip Glass in concert, although his early recordings drove me nuts just to listen to.)
Opera took a while, which now strikes me as odd: I love theater, and the performing arts in general, having been an actor and almost a dancer (I did actually perform several times, once with a real professional company). I was a confirmed Wagner freak before I could tolerate Verdi. Puccini formed a nice bridge.
A couple things have happened during all this.
Music has become a context. In that, I'm sure I'm not so different than many of my contemporaries: during the 60s, what we had was our music. That was our defiance and a large part of our identity, and it was a baseline for our lives. (Somewhere along the line, my LPs of Janice Joplin, Eric Clapton, the Stones, Yes, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Wishbone Ash, all disappeared. I bitterly regret that.)
And the boundaries have disappeared. I listen to "traditional" music from the same place that I listen to Bach or Mozart (and I can't begin to tell you how much I love Mozart). So I find wonderful new experiences in the work of people like Oisin Mac Diarmada and Terry Brennan, and wind up writing about them the same way I write about Tosca or Hildegard von Bingen. And then, with my listening history of American Indian music (which really has to be dealt with as performance art if you're going to understand it at all), I jump into a group like Coyote Oldman or Cusco -- I mean, totally new age -- and see what they've done and where they're going with it, and it becomes really exciting. (And the more I think about it, "traditional" can cover a lot of territory. I mean, it's all based on someone's tradition, right?)
And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you care to see what I'm talking about as far as my responses to different kinds of music are concerned, there are links at Hunter's Eye (although be warned -- my music review index for GMR is being updated and some broken links being fixed, which should be done in a couple of days; right now it's a hash).
Damn. Gainful employment is calling, so I have to go. Maybe I'll expand on this later. Maybe you'll leave some comments so I have something to talk about. Maybe.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
(But do check out the most recent posts on cabanaboyscoot. They're good.)
So, you get a picture. How's that?
It's from a series I did a few years ago with a Polaroid for dummies, called "Shatter." Polaroids do interesting things when you don't use them the way you're supposed to. In fact, they're so much more interesting than regular pictures, I wonder why anyone would want to follow the instructions.
But then, that's always been my problem.
In fact, maybe I'll give you two pictures. Yeah, that's it -- two pictures.
From another series made from using a Polaroid wrong, called "Vanished." The models I used were HIV+. It wasn't deliberate -- an after-the-fact sort of thing (about half the models I was using during this period were HIV+). It was just the people I knew.
Maybe I'll start thinking again in a day or two. Or at least get enough sleep to be reasonably outraged again.
By the way, there's a new post on the Writer's Blog at Hunter's Eye. It's about books. How singular.
PS -- leave comments. It's a rule.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Not, not Andrew Sullivan, but via Andew Sullivan, re: NYT:
Underwhelming numbers, I'd say. And their latest exercize in cluelessness is actually to start a blog - yes, a blog - and put it behind a subscriber firewall. Chris Suellentrop is a swell guy. But having a sealed-off blog is an oxymoron.
The rest of the news is so depressing that I don't want to write about it today. Just story after story of people being assholes when there are other, more desirable, options.
There is, however, one story worthy of comment:
From Andrew Sullivan, quoting the president of the United States:
"You believe as I do that every human life has value, that the strong have a duty to protect the weak, and that the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence apply to everyone, not just to those considered healthy or wanted or convenient. These principles call us to defend the sick and the dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, and all who are weak and vulnerable, especially unborn children. By changing laws, we can change our culture."
From 365gay.com via towleroad:
The United States joined with four of the world's most repressive regimes to reject an application by two international LGBT groups seeking to join a UN agency that advises the world body on economics and social issues.
The application by the International Lesbian and Gay Association and the Danish Association of Gays and Lesbians was dismissed without a hearing.
The groups had sought inclusion on the United Nations Economic and Social Council, a think tank made up of non governmental agencies from around the world.
The United States voted with Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Cameroon against granting a hearing for the application.
Monday, January 23, 2006
If you look up at the description of this blog, you will see that it says "First causes, life's little ironies," etc.
Commentators like those are certainly not first causes, although they might fit under "life's little ironies" -- at least, if there were any sort of sense of humor involved, which there isn't.
They're symptoms, and apparently someone thinks they are valuable mouthpieces. My own take is that they're vicious and probably fairly stupid, as well as being cynically manipulative. (Those aren't necessarily mutually exclusive -- stupidity can be masked by a kind of peasant shrewdness, which is the closest I figure that group comes to intelligence. It's all about perceived self-interest.) So I don't bother with them, the same way I don't bother with tracking Focus on the Family or any of the other "American family" organizations. (Quite aside from the fact that the latter actually make me physically ill.)
I can't make myself take them seriously enough to devote space to them here. I know a lot of people take them seriously, but a lot of people believe that creationism is science.
If you want trash on them, go to World O'Crap or Tbogg. They're very funny, and very deadly.
From Andew Sullivan:
What idiots like Sullivan don't understand is that institutions like MoveOn and Daily Kos are a reaction to the Right Wing's tactics for the past 20 years. We are a reaction to the politics of personal destruction pioneered by the right's Clinton-hating brigades, the vile and corrosive rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and company, and the politics of demonization which the Right practices against blacks, immigrants, and gays.
To which Steve Gilliard adds:
What bothers the right so much about Move On and Kos? That ordinary citizens participate in politics. It infuriates them that ordinary people can organize and have influence.
They want to be unchallenged. Fuck that noise. We're all free people here and if they don't like our opinions, tough shit.
Thinking back, the politics of division first took center stage, in my memory, with Newt Gingrich. I won't say it didn't happen before, but Gingrich made it a cornerstone of the right's strategy. Bush/Rove, of course, have made it the entire strategy, supported by smear campaigns, manipulating the media, and secrecy -- those are the tools, and they've been very effective. It's actually pretty easy when you have a base that is determined to hate someone anyway -- the far right really does need an enemy to justify its existence, and in a world where their philosophy is marginal at best, it's pretty easy to find plenty of threats.
Part of the approach has now become accusing Democrats, with their history of coalition-building, of being divisive by dividing America up into factions. What utter bullshit. The factions have always been there. The Democratic strategy has been to get them to work together, while the Republican strategy has been to keep them fighting each other.
With the birth of the blogosphere, suddenly the left has a voice again, not subject to the manipulations of the White House or the RNC. Only 2% of Americans read blogs, which sounds like they should be of no influence at all. But it's a matter of which 2% -- it's a percentage that obviously includes the movers and shakers, and even some journalists, not counting the numbers of journalists who blog themselves, such as John Aravosis, Josh Marshall, Atrios, Andrew Sullivan, Kos -- all tremendously influential.
Kos is, of course, completely right: MoveOn, Michael Moore, AmericaBlog, even yours truly, are responses to Republican control of the government and media. (I doubt very strongly that I would ever have thought about blogging if Gore had been elected -- mmm, I mean, if Gore had actually been able to take advantage of being elected.) Bush and the religious right are liars and manipulators anyway -- they certainly don't need us to continue on their chosen path. And the more successful we are in nailing them in their lies and distortions, the more virulent the attacks become. The Democrats' big disadvantage is that they are bound by reality, and they are basically honest. At least until they're in power again, and we can easily see where that precedent came from.
And it's working. Maybe the Ted Kennedys and Howard Deans and Albert Gores are finally taking a cue from the blogosphere and realizing that they have absolutely nothing to lose by telling it like it is. And if people pay attention -- well, what can a party that will spend millions of dollars investigating a blow job, but won't allow investigations of widespread torture, cheating, and embezzlement, expect?
A. L. Rowse, an intelligent and perceptive historian and a masterful prose stylist, said (and I'm paraphrasing): "One lesson from history is that people could learn so much from history, but they seldom do." I find that statement terribly apt, and also a little frightening. The right, with its insistence on divinely inspired truth and its unwillngness to deal with reality in any form, is setting precedents that will come back to bite them in the ass. History, after all, operates as a series of cycles, but the direction of the cycles tends to wander along a midline determined by ever-expanding extremes. It's really a series of lurches from left to right, politically and socially. So the great mass of society gets nudged one way or the other, the strategies and maneuvers become common property, and when those in power lose power, they find themselves on the receiving end of the stick It's sort of a long-term, global "Wash, rinse, repeat."
Fortunately, in this country at least, we still have brakes -- in this case, the very people that Sullivan is denigrating. We do serve a purpose.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
I don't know if you know who Laurel Hester is, but the whole thing should have been a no-brainer for the county government. It took an immense amount of pressure to get them to move on it.
Reversing themselves after months of battering at public meetings and in the press, Ocean County's freeholders are scheduled to vote Wednesday to extend pension benefits to the domestic partner of Lt. Laurel Hester and other members of the Police and Fire Retirement System.
The decision came after a political teleconference among the Republican leaders of the county yesterday afternoon.
The agreement that emerged calls for the freeholders to vote Wednesday, after a closed-door meeting that is a routine part of their caucuses, to extend the pension benefits to Hester and her partner, Stacie Andree.
Seems "Welcome to the Neighborhood" being aborted is starting to show up on the blogosphere. (See "Cultures in Collision," below.) Check out the comments at AmericaBlog (shrill and slightly paranoid), Cabanaboyscoot (intelligent and subliminally deadly).
Brokeback and "Ex-Gays"
Read this review by Stephen Murray at Epinions. He's brought out a point in the story and the film that the wildmons are using for political fodder, and, as I may have mentioned, it's a phenomenon they have, if not created, certainly made far worse than it needed to be.
Read this entry by Spencer Windes at Left Coast Breakdown. I hope Gore runs. Even if he doesn't run, I hope he gets elected. One of Charles de Lint's recurring themes is that there are second chances. Maybe it's time we got one.
The gay blogosphere seems to feel this cartoon is offensive. I took it as satirical. But then, I take pretty much everything as satirical. It's a way of avoiding clinical depression.
Fabulous article that links Brokeback Mountain and the Alito hearings. This guy thinks like I do. Read it. (Thanks to cabanaboyscoot.)
But it doesn't matter. No matter the heat and bile of the resistance, no matter how brutish or sanctimonious the stranglehold of our leadership, no matter how many complaints about nipples or wailings about intelligent design or accusations of a "gay agenda," no matter how many uptight neocon judges they appoint, progress still manages to find the cracks, slip through the holes and seek the sun. Consciousness expands anyway. The river flows on. The awakening continues. It is always the way.
And the Bushes and the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds, the Gonzalezes and the James Dobsons and the Sam Alitos of the world, they can only stand at the base of that mountain of new awareness and pass their laws and beat their chests and scream their resistance as the mystics and the masters just smile that ageless, knowing smile and walk away.
I can't think of a better place to stop.
Later. . . .
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Strange congruencies this morning.
It all actually started off with a review at Epinions.com by Stephen Murray of Frederic Gleach's Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Stephen pointed out Gleach's portrayal of the stark incomprehension of the Powhatans and the English colonists of the overall situation, each locked in their own world view.
Then I went back to Stephen's review of Brokeback Mountain, where I checked out the comments. Stephen had included a segment on the "ex-gays" and the damage they do by convincing gay men that they can be "cured" by getting married and having sex with women. Brokeback Mountain (the movie that no one can forget) contains a devastating portrayal of the results of that kind of behavior -- which, of course, the wildmons are focusing on as an example of the destructiveness of the "homosexual lifestyle" to the traditional American family, which they invented themselves anyway. Of course, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that they have maintained and exacerbated the circumstances that lead to that destruction. (One of these days I may get around to dissecting the "ex-gay" phenomenon. In the meantime, here's a link to Ex-Gay Watch, which is worth keeping track of.)
My own reaction is that Ennis and Jack just don't realize that there is another option because for them there isn't. They get married because it's what everyone does, and I don't think it ever gets far enough in their minds to be considered a smoke screen or camouflage, particularly for Ennis. Jack, who is more self-aware than Ennis, makes his accommodations, all the while realizing that no one can take Ennis' place in his heart. Ennis lives his life by rote and can't even admit to himself, because of the attitudes so admirably exemplified by the wildmons that have worked their way deep into his psyche, that he loves Jack down to his very core. To Ennis it is, to quote the PR line, a "force of nature," fundamental and beyond explanation or even comprehension.
Then I ran across this story in the NYT, about a TV reality show that was pulled ten days before it was to have been premiered.
Bill Kennedy, a co-executive producer who helped develop the series with his son, Eric, suggested an alternative explanation. He said that the protests might have been most significant as a diversion that allowed the Walt Disney Company, ABC's owner, to pre-empt a show that could have interfered with a much bigger enterprise: the courting of evangelical Christian audiences for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Disney hoped that the film, widely viewed as a parable of the Resurrection, would be the first in a profitable movie franchise.
The network, of course, is denying like crazy that they're afraid of the rabids, but they can't seem to come up with a coherent reason as to why the show was cancelled. Meanwhile, reaction from the wildmons seems to support the idea that there's a real dollars-and-sense kind of paranoia going on here:
In a recent interview, Richard Land, an official with the Southern Baptist Convention involved in the negotiations with Disney last year to end the group's boycott of the company, said he did not recall any mention of "Neighborhood." He added, however, that had the show been broadcast - particularly with an ending that showed Christians literally embracing their gay neighbors - it could have scuttled the Southern Baptists' support for "Narnia."
In other words, if the network had aired a show that actually portrayed Christians acting like Christians, the "Christians" would have boycotted the film.
"I would have considered it a retrograde step," Mr. Land said of the network's plans to broadcast the reality series. "Aside from any moral considerations, it would have been a pretty stupid marketing move."
Hmm -- OK. The gloves are off.
Paul McCusker, a vice president of Focus on the Family, which had supported the Southern Baptist boycott and reaches millions of evangelical listeners through the daily radio broadcasts of Dr. James Dobson, expressed similar views.
"It would have been a huge misstep for Disney to aggressively do things that would disenfranchise the very people they wanted to go see 'Narnia,' " he said.
"Disenfranchise?" Excuse me? Because you don't get everything on your wish list, no questions asked, you're disenfranchised? It's the same thinking that leads to the shopworn mantra that Christians are discriminated against because they are sometimes restricted from harassing others with their message. Oh, well. (Quite honestly, most of the Christians I know don't feel discriminated against at all -- in fact, in one of the rare instances within memory where one had claimed to be, it was, indeed, simply because he was required to observe the same guidelines regarding soliciting that everyone else has to observe.)
Of course, given that these organizations are noted for claiming credit where none is due, I can't put that much weight behind their statements, but given the recent examples of Ford and Microsoft, it's not beyond the realm of possibility.
The show itself, "Welcome to the Neighborhood," looks as though it might have been one of the few reality shows worth watching.
Meanwhile, the neighbor who was the Wrights' earliest on-camera antagonist - Jim Stewart, 53, who is heard in an early episode saying, "I would not tolerate a homosexual couple moving into this neighborhood" - has confided to the producers that the series changed him far more than even they were aware.
No one involved in the show, Mr. Stewart said, knew he had a 25-year-old gay son. Only after participating in the series, Mr. Stewart said, was he able to broach his son's sexuality with him for the first time.
"I'd say to ABC, 'Start showing this right now,' " Mr. Stewart said in an interview at his oak kitchen table. "It has a message that needs to be heard by everyone."
The wildmons don't want that message to be heard. They only want their own message to be heard because they are, in all important respects, opposed to America's traditions and ideals, which include tolerance and the free exchange of ideas. (Actually, even in minor and unimportant respects, they're pretty much un-American.) What seems to be happening in the reality-based world, however, is that message, our message, is the one that is beginning to resonate with more and more Americans from all sectors, as witness the post I read recently from an evangelical Christian at IMDb -- he saw BBM and came away with the awareness of what he and those who subscribe to his beliefs have done to the people they have spent their lives denigrating. (Regrettably, I've lost the link, but I'll keep looking --it's a heartfelt and moving comment.) Or, check out Musings On, always a good antidote to the wildmons.
The relationship between these items is that there are elements in our society -- very vocal and seemingly very powerful elements -- who want to take away options from the rest of us. I don't know if it's that they can't comprehend the idea of a different point of view, or that anything that doesn't fit their world view, warped as it is, is a threat to their personal identity, or if they are just a group of cynical power-mongers who see a chance to strike it rich. I suspect that for all of us, we're locked into mutually incomprehensible realities and a "dialogue" in which, regrettably, good faith has become the first victim. (On one side, at least. I can't credit the good faith of those who misquote, ignore evidence, and lie about whatever they can. I'm not just calling names here -- I have lots of links and other sources.)
When it comes down to it, I don't really care. The only thing I have to say to them is "Butt out."
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Because I haven't been thinking very much about Gore's speech.
OK -- now I've started thinking about Gore's speech, and I'm just glad someone in the Democratic Party besides Nancy Pelosi is showing some balls, especially after the travesty of the Scalito hearings. I've got two links to transcripts, first from The Drudge Report, the second from RawStory. Take your pick, but read it, dammit. It's important.
I know he ran a lousy campaign, and basically gave away the election (but I find it very instructive to remember that as lousy as his campaign was, Bush still lost the popular vote and had to get the presidency from the Supreme Court).
There's not really a lot to say about Gore's speech, maybe because I agree with it from the git-go. In spite of his "just folks" public persona, Bush doesn't have an honest bone in his body and never did. Add in that the record of this administration has been power, power, power, by whatever means necessary, and I think Gore is right on target.
The White House, of course, has called in the attack poodles with the usual mixture of spins, distortions, and outright lies (no, the Clinton White House did not order illegal surveillance, for starters).
David Neiwert ran an extensive series on Fascism last year (? -- or maybe 2004 -- how time flies) at Orcinus. Scroll down the left side to get the links, because it's really complex but totally fascinating.
It's probably very comforting to say "It can't happen here," but you have to realize that we have a significant group of people who want it to happen here, to wit:
- George Bush, who is starting to look more and more as though he is channelling Louis XIV.
- Dick Cheney, who believes that democracy starts -- and ends -- in the corporate boardroom.
- Alberto Gonzales, who will engage in the most tortured reasoning you've ever seen, leavened by a healthy dose of false assumptions, to justify unlimited executive power.
- Bill Frist, Tom DeLay (fortunately about to be out of the picture, from the looks of things) and a Congress dominated by fellow-travelers, who are willing to destroy 200 years of tradition to stifle debate.
- The wildmons and their hangers on, who want the feds to mind everyone else's business.
- The neocon chicken hawks in the Defense Department: war is good.
- The MSM, who will parrot whatever they're told lest they lose access to those in the know.
So, tell me again it can't happen here.
I'm going to start looking for a job in Canada.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming that states have the authority to regulate medical treatment of the terminally ill may help turn an Oregon law into a national model, after more than a decade of legal battles over assisted suicide.
Of course, the opposition is mobilizing, but the measure in Oregon, which passed narrowly the first time, passed by a larger margin when it was reconsidered in 1997. What happened to "the will of the people"?
This is a narrowly decided case, focusing on Ashcroft's abuse of power. The opinion is at FindLaw.
This is interesting from much more than the assisted suicide vantage. The question before the Court was really the invocation by the Attorney General of broad powers that had not been specificaly granted by Congress. It's a states' rights issue, and this Court has been largely on the side of states' rights. The irony, of course, is that the Republican Congress and White House, traditionally (there's that word again) the party of limited federal government and states' rights, is in major power-grab mode and is repeatedly being shot down by the Court.
Makes my day.
A choice item, courtesy cabanaboyscoot: A Virginian in defense of liberty -- that used to be normal:
So if this amendment doesn't help protect my marriage, and doesn't help protect my family, and if it doesn't even change the status of same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnership contracts, then what exactly does this amendment do? I submit to my fair-minded colleagues that this amendment sends a message. And that message is, if you are gay, or lesbian, or even a man and a woman living together and committed to each other who are not married, you are not welcome in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Just as a reminder of what the wildmons want to perpetuate, read this from towleroad. It sort of ties a lot of things together.
A very interesting article on BBM from the San Francisco Chronicle, courtesy of my good Ozzie friend Nigel:
And this from "Mike, AZ," posted on the "testimonials" page of "Brokeback's" Web site. Haunted by either a screening or maybe simply the online photos and promotional trailer, he writes, "I just want him back; more than anything, just come back to me and tell me you love me."
Monday, January 16, 2006
Speaking of Brokeback (you knew this was coming, didn't you?):
This is really my first experience with the Internet mediating the experience of important cultural phenomena. I'm not talking about the wildmons, who as far as I'm concerned are an aberration, but things like wildly popular and controversial movies. Some of the commentaries I've run across in teh blogosphere are really substantial and thought-provoking -- as much or more than the "legitimate" media.
That said, here are some of the more recent:
A big update on Brokeback from Andy Towle at Towleroad. Towle and Dave Cullen are really Brokeback Central. (Cullen's really cute, too.)
A quiz, yet. It had to happen: Which Brokeback Mountain Character are you? Take the quiz -- leave your results in the Comments.
A heartfelt and very interesting response from a correspondent on Brokeback Mountain, and some later thoughts.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
One of the things that people ask when they meet you (or shortly thereafter), if they're at all interested in who you are is "What are your favorite books?" (In fact, see the headings in my Blogspot profile.) There's a certain validity in the question: knowing what books a person reads and enjoys gives you some insight as to what kind of person he is. One thing I tend to do when visiting someone new is to check out his bookshelves (assuming he has bookshelves) and music collection. Eventually. (No, you don't need to know the circumstances of these visits. Honestly.)
It's also one of those simple questions that gets terrifically complicated, at least to me. Do you mean "What are the books that I reread periodically?" Or "What are the books that impressed me terrifically when I read them and left strong memories?" Or "What books influenced me greatly as a child (or adult)?" Or. . . . You get my drift.
There's a whole group of books that have impressed me tremendously that I won't reread soon, if ever. (I am, in point of fact, an inveterate rereader. It's a kind of relaxation, to just pick up a well-loved story and get lost in the familiarity of it for a while. I read so many new things professionally that sometimes I just want to read something I don't have to analyze. But that's the next list.) They are, I tend to think at the time, important, exceptionally well-executed, sometimes dark, always thought-provoking, more often than not what people would characterize as "heavy." You know, real literature. (Although I have to admit that sometimes what I think of as "real literature" strikes others as idiosyncratic, at least. I don't care -- I can support my arguments.) Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two Boys is one of those. Tremendously impressive book, but not something I'm going to reread regularly, although I do have to go through it again -- I've reviewed it once,, but I promised someone a new review of it months ago. It's OK -- it's an open-ended sort of deal. Ernest Hemingway's Under Kilimanjaro, which has just come out in a full-text scholarly edition. The editors, fortunately, had the good sense to leave their comments and emendations to the index and let the text stand on its own.
Jane Lindskold's Child of a Rainless Year is a new book that I found impressive. It's marketed as fantasy, because that's Lindskold's niche; it's much closer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez than J. R. R. Tolkien, or maybe a female Dhalgren (Samuel R. Delaney's an author I want to take another look at soon, but I don't happen to have any of his books in my library right now -- an egregious error), but much less explosive.
Then there are the perennial favorites, the ones I read when I just want to relax and not think particularly about what I'm reading. They tend to be fantasy or science fiction, simply because that's the field I know best and have the most reading experience in. Nor are they all perfect -- in fact, some are far from it -- but they have some catch that makes me come back to them. C. J. Cherryh is always good, particularly the "Fortress" series. Tristen is one of the most lovable protagonists ever. The atevi novels are a good one, too. I love her look at cultural/linguistic interaction in those. And of course, I reread LOTR at least once a year.
I also love good male/male romantic stories. Fiona Patton's The Stone Prince, in spite of its flaws, is on that list, along with Jim Grimsley's Kirith Kirin, an exceptionally good novel. Mary Renault's The Charioteer and The Last of the Wine are both firmly on that list, but I have to be in a particular mood for them -- somewhat melancholy, maybe, since both, and especially the latter, have an elegiac tone. Right now, I'm rereading Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, which I consider a brilliant little gem. The depth of the relationship between Richard and Alec is all subtext, and it's incredibly well-done.
There are actually a suprising number of authors whose books I reread with greater or lesser frequency: Glen Cook, Steven Brust, Charles de Lint, Sean Russell, Storm Constantine. They're all challenging enough to keep my interest, even with repetition.
Childhood books? The only ones I really remember are Fredrick R. Brooks' "Freddy the Pig" books, which I was crazy about in fourth grade My first boyfriend was scandalized to discover that I had never read Winnie the Pooh, so I got a complete boxed set for my twenty-first birthday -- along with a huge teddy bear. That's also one of my favorite rereads.
I wonder why some people think I've never really grown up.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
There are days when I just don't want to do anything. I've got files with all these projects sitting here, an idea for a new story, some revisions to old stuff, reviews to write (always reviews to write!), and I just feel like being a lump.
Call it a little bit of burn-out, I guess. I had a heavy writing week last week and maybe I just need a day or two to recharge. There's no subtlety to my thinking right now. Even politicians have gotten so predictable and boring that I don't even want to take the time to carp at them. Even Ben is bored.
Maybe I'll go play with the other site, which is staring to look at little shopworn. It's cheaper than a new wardrobe.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
From USA Today:
The movie has earned positive reviews from nearly 90% of reviewers, according to rottentomatoes.com. And Brokeback has won more than a dozen pre-Oscar awards.
Those raves "helped open the door for box office, and the movie has really taken advantage of it," says Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo. "It's gone from being 'the gay cowboy movie' to being the must-see film of the awards season."
Foley says the studio had hoped to have the film in more than 30 major markets by the end of January. But the film has played so well, it is now in more than 80 cities. (emphasis mine)
I love the image of the wildmons standing in front of a steamroller. Makes my day.
Misty Irons, who has my vote as one of the greatest people I've ever met, even though we've only met electronically, has finally come out with her review of Brokeback Mountain, "Brokeback Mountain: Hollywood Finally Gets It Right," at MusingsOn. Read it -- it has nearly the impact of the film itself, and is a great example of what I always thought Christians shoud be about. She picks up on a lot of things I didn't address (some I missed, some I didn't think about deeply enough), and lays them out with great love and compassion.
The inimitable Alex posted an interesting article on a gay cowboy near Phoenix. Aside from the fact that I want to marry him after reading the article, this little subhead struck me: "For Valley man, being gay and a cowboy are natural."
I pointed out to Alex that for all of us, being gay and being whatever else we are is natural, and that people should just leave us alone to create our lives just as anyone does, as best we can. What does it cost anyone? (A similar sentiment, although couched with much less anger, comes from Misty Irons at the end of her BBM review.) Which leads me to two trains of thought:
First, take away the so-called "moral" objections to homosexuality (and there's an area where I have a fundamental difference with the monotheisms and their received truth: morality too easily becomes a set of empty rules that reflect no real moral thinking), and what do you have: you have a bunch of people who are trying to do the best they can to make their lives mean something and for the most part not doing such a bad job of it, in spite of everything. And for those who have given up on meaning in their lives, how much of that is due to hostility from outside? Mmmm? If someone who is different than you are doesn't have to deal with your hostility and contempt, what kinds of possibilities does that open up for them? Like the cowboy in the article, most of us ("us" being gay men) have to go through a lot of soul-searching, a lot of fear, a lot of pain, and a lot of anger (more on that in a minute) just to be able to accept who we are. Just sit down and ask yourself why and what you did to contribute to it. (It's not unique to us -- we just happen to be the hate object du jour.)
Second, anger. Someone (actually, several people) have commented to me that I'm very angry. My response is simply that I'm a gay man -- it goes with the territory. I'm no saint, and if you think I'm bad now, you should have had to deal with me as a teenager, when I began figuring it all out and realized that there were people in the world who didn't know me and hated me anyway because of something over which I had no decision-making capacity. I deal with the anger as best I can, and sometimes I run into people who give me some clues as to what I should be aiming for -- it's ironic that good Christians, like Misty Irons and my pal Bridgette from Epinions Addicts, are doing so much to make me a better Witch. After all, the goals are the same -- "Harm none" and "Do unto others" are not so far apart.
The problem is, though, that I so thoroughly enjoy taking potshots at pretentious buffooons. It's hard to let go of that, particularly when they're being hateful on top of everything else.
Scootmaroo takes on my favorite target. A nice summary of the wingnuttery of the week.
My only comment on Sam Alito: If he said he believed in things he doesn't believe in on a "job application" in 1985, why should we believe what he says on a job application in 2006?
Sidebar: Sometimes it's hard to know if you're reading The Corner or The Onion. It seems that now it's the Democrats' fault that Harriet Miers was shot down. (Courtesy Tbogg)
I will get back to something more substantial soon. Right now I'm taking a break by reading another book that hasn't been published yet. It's very strange -- I'm starting to think of myself more and more as a reviewer. Now maybe if I could figure out a way to get paid for it.
Later. . . .
Sunday, January 08, 2006
One of the most important things I love about Chicago is the people. I live in a lakefront neighborhood that, like most lakefront neighborhoods in this city, is pretty diverse. I'm in Andersonville, on the borders of Uptown. Andersonville is pretty upscale, heavily gay, the old Swedish neighborhood with heavy infusions of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latino. I'm a couple of blocks from Little Saigon, where you can walk down the street and see chicken feet in the butcher shop windows. Just south of that is Uptown, which is wildly insane, not very nice, and extraordinarily vivid.
Just few examples of what I mean:
The man at the Persian grocery a couple blocks away, where I stop in sometimes to buy cigarettes. One of the nicest guys I've ever met, friendly, funny, sweet-natured, who does crossword puzzles in Farsi, which fascinates me completely -- I had no idea the writing system was alphabetic, although if I'd stopped to think about it . . . . And he customarily wishes me "Inshallah" when I leave, although that didn't preclude a cheerful "Merry Christmas" over the holidays.
The language lessons in my local coffee shop, a volunteer teaching two Vietnamese women to speak English. The staff at the coffee shop themselves are great -- genuinely friendly people, with great senses of humor.
The staff at the local Latino grocery, where they have great produce cheap. One of the cashiers is an absolutely gorgeous young woman, that incredible mix of European and Native that transcends ethnicity -- she could be Spanish, she could be Japanese, she could be something I can't quite put my finger on. A little shy, but friendly.
My old neighborhood, Lakeview, was even more diverse. I used to call it "south suburban Boys' Town" -- I lived just south of The Strip, the part of Halsted Street where all the gay bars and businesses were for years (and still are, pretty much, but it's no longer even close to "all"). I was within fifteen minutes' walk of just about any type of restaurant I wanted to visit, including Ethiopian and Jamaican. My favorite was a little hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant with a good buffet where I would periodically treat myself to dinner and then waddle home and fall asleep; I love Indian food. The owner was a very quiet man, and invariably courteous, as opposed to being merely polite. Tthe goth kids hang out around Belmont Avenue and up Clark, the guy at my little corner store was Filipino and very funny, and the energy on the streets was incredible.
I'm sure people in other cities can come up with similar things, but I don't live there. (So maybe you should leave some comments.)
Later. . . .
but the idea that a movie with bareback gay sex in it would have been this successful even five years ago seems unlikely to me. That bareback sex would be a way of revealing deeper love is even more astonishing.
Look, I am truly sorry that Sullivan made a mistake and got infected with HIV -- even now, it's not an easy thing to live with and I've lost as many men I loved as anyone else, I guess, but we can't rewrite history because of it. I can only echo cabanaboyscoot: Movie begins in 1963. Movie ends around 1983. Two kids in Wyoming who have no idea that they will be having sex and are not really in a position to saunter over to the local Walgreen's. Get it?
Sophos has also been blogging the film recently. Check this one out, and then scroll down.
The wildmons are in complete denial on Brokeback, still clinging to "it's going to be a box-office flop." Sorry, boys, but it's been playing in some red states, and doing quite well because it's an excellent film with a universal theme.
By the way, Annie Proulx says it's not about cowboys, and I have to agree with her to a certain extent: it's not, as conceived, a "Western" in the classic sense, nor are Ennis and Jack what we normally think of as "cowboys." However, I still stand by my statements in the Green Man Review piece that the cowboy archetype is fundamentally important to the film, both in Ennis' character and in the depth of the film itself. They're not iconic "cowboys," but they are real cowboys, Ennis even more so than Jack. It's the reality of that icon that makes it work.
Keep in mind that the author is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and it's no surprise that he's basically trashing the left for attempting to incorporate belief into politics, the same strategy that the right has been abusing for years.
And, of course, there are holes in his argument big enough to drive a truck through:
"We affirm God's vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah," he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality.
Maybe it's just that those "spending schemes," as he terms them, are social programs founded on that same belief. It wouldn't do to say that though, now, would it? It's radically different than the wildmons' anti-gay crusade, particularly when taken in the light of Jesus' teachings. But then, pick-and-choose Christianity is all the rage these days, in some quarters. He dwells at length on evangelicals' involvement in feeding the poor and ministering to prisoners, but doesn't quite get around to mentioning in any detail their attempts to forestall efforts to guarantee basic human rights for some groups, or the racist and otherwise bigoted references of significant so-called "Christian spokesmen." Nope -- it's all about the Democrats co-opting faith as a political tool.
When Christians - liberal or conservative - invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our democratic discourse. Numerous "policy papers" from liberal churches and activist groups employ the same approach: they're awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council.
Notice that he's attacking liberals here, albeit with a sop to even-handedness. But it's only a sop. Also note that the wildmons don't even bother quoting scripture any more. It's just a matter of "God said."
In light of the highly partisan tenor of his article, the conclusion is priceless.
A completely secular public square is neither possible nor desirable; democracy needs the moral ballast of religion. But a partisan campaign to enlist the sacred is equally wrongheaded. When people of faith join political debates, they must welcome those democratic virtues that promote the common good: prudence, reason, compromise - and a realization that politics can't usher in the kingdom of heaven.
So, what we have is another apologist for the right attacking the left for trying to use the same strategies that the right has been using very successfully, albeit with a complete lack of prudence, reason, and compromise. And for this he gets to use the New York Times. Asshole.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Gene Shalit seems to have put his foot in it. This is from the GLAAD Action Alert:
In the piece, Shalit refers to Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Jack, as a "sexual predator" who "tracks Ennis down and coaxes him into sporadic trysts."
Excuse me? Yes, we can certainly see that, now can't we -- especially in the reunion scene, when Ennis can't keep his hands off Jack.
Shalit has obviously got some problems he doesn't want to deal with.
Andy Towle at Towleroad has a link to the video clip, because I'm too lazy to copy it here.
David Kupelian, at WingNut Daily, is really so far over the edge that it's hard to read his "review" without laughing out loud. No, it's not hard -- it's impossible.
Lost in all of this, however, are towering, life-and-death realities concerning sex and morality and the sanctity of marriage and the preciousness of children and the direction of our civilization itself. So please, you moviemakers, how about easing off that tight camera shot of Ennis's suffering and doing a slow pan over the massive wreckage all around him? What about the years of silent anguish and loneliness Alma stoically endures for the sake of keeping her family together, or the terrible betrayal, suffering and tears of the children, bereft of a father? None of this merits more than a brief acknowledgment in "Brokeback Mountain."
Gee -- the story's really about Alma. How did I miss that? (See below for my comments on people who criticize art for what it's not about.)
These people are so completely out of it that I'm surprised they have an audience. Kupelian's piece is really pathetic. Embarrassingly so.
On the other side, Ross, posting at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, does get it -- almost. His conclusions stopped me cold -- yeah, well, he almost got it. He started to lose me at this point:
To a certain extent, the drama of the movie necessitates this kind of contrast, but it's significant, I think, that the film doesn't offer any model of successful heterosexual masculinity, or of successful heterosexual relationships in general.
Of course, the first response is, the movie is about two men falling in love. Why should it be at pains to present successful heterosexual relationships? That's completely insignificant, and irrelevant. (But then, that seems to be a prevailing characteristic of Sullivan and his guests anyway.) Works of art, unlike civil rights bills, don't have to include everyone. Ross rails against Lee's use of "dark stereotypes" in depicting Ennis' married life. Hey, SFB: the whole point is, this is what Ennis has made of his married life because he's afraid the make the decision to follow his heart. He got married because he was supposed to. If he wanted it, it was only because he thought he was supposed to want it. A word to the blind: the whole friggin' movie is from Ennis' viewpoint -- it's not an objective reality, dumb shit.
As I recall, Sullivan himself was also somewhat lukewarm about the film. But then, Sullivan is generally tepid about most things, except Iraq and torture. It's hard to know if it's genuine reservation or the pose of being an East Coast intellectual. Maybe by this time he's actually internalized the whole thing.
That's the problem with political commentators weighing in on art -- they don't get it, really, and tend to wander off on tangents, criticizing a work because of what it's not about (see Kupelian's laughable exercise). As I said early on, of course there's a political aspect of this film -- there can't help but be, especially in the current climate. That aspect, I think, is imposed, not intrinsic. The gods know Lee is under no obligation to fit the political agendas of the guys at Andrew Sullivan (or anywhere else). It surprises me (maybe not so much, actually) that anyone with a blog can weigh in on artistic merits, whether or not they have a clue as to what they're talking about. Maybe that's why the arts are in such bad shape in this country.
One could also pose the giant-killer question: just what is a model of successful heterosexual masculinity, and is there even such a thing as "heterosexual masculinity"? It's not that I think the terms are mutually exclusive, which is the flip side of what could be Ross' subtext (Lee presents homosexual masculinity, but we all know that homosexuals are not masculine, so where are the real men?), I just don't think they inhabit the same universe. There is masculinity, however one wants to conceptualize it, and there is sexual orientation, and the two don't really have much to do with each other. (In fact, a psychologist would say they have nothig to do with each other.) Jack and Ennis are prototypically masculine. I've known self-identified gay men like that, masculine in that traditional, cast-in-the-mold sense, because that's the way they were raised. Aside from being sexy as hell, they had some of the same problems Ennis had, the same problems that straight men have: opening up, letting themselves feel, acknowledging what they feel, screwing up their lives because they don't know who they are. Whether it's straight or gay, it's the same syndrome, and outside of a very restricted life, it's just barely functional. Take that as another message of the film.
But, the momentum is building:
Another big release -- 120 new theaters, and getting great reception.
In the meantime, the film has picked up another boatload of award nominations. Four nominations from SAG (Best actor, best supporting actor and actress, best ensemble), and more from the director's and writer's guilds. And these, after all, are the people who should know.
(Have you noticed that the major contenders at the Oscars this year look to be Brokeback, Capote, and Transamerica? Think about that,)
Dave Cullen is another Brokeback groupie. Lots of links, including to blogs, news, etc.
And of course, you can always check out towleroad (he's over in the sidebar, under "Interesting People").
I've been getting a lot of interesting correspondence about all sorts of things, so look for some good stuff coming up.
Later. . . . I have to go write many, many reviews. Check out Green Man Review and Rambles for new stuff. Now if someone would just pay me for it.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I had reason to write recently on the impact of place on character. I also wrote a story that is very much concerned with belonging to a place, which, of course, leads me to think about home.
Chicago is home for me. I've lived here the overwhelming majority of my life, and the only other place I've found that I would actually want to live in, the only city at least, is Paris. Chicago and Paris are both walking cities, and I love to walk -- I can just take off and walk and find interesting things. (New York is also a walking city; London is not; LA most definitely is not -- I was actually shadowed by a squad car one morning walking three blocks from my motel to a coffee shop.) Chicago and Paris have a lot in common, actually, but this is about Chicago.
One thing I love about Chicago, aside from the fact that it's actually livable with a minimum of fuss, is that it's a beautiful city. Everywhere you look is a picture. Quite aside from the skyline and the parks, there are views of the city's backside that can be just stunning. Our industrial underbelly. It's amazing -- maybe it's just an aesthetic stance tempered by being surrounded by all this potential beauty.
It's not always the grand vistas, though -- sometimes it's the small views, the little details -- a morning walk when it's been raining can reveal some wonderful images.
Even looking out the back window can offer up something surprisingly satisfying -- there is a kind of dizzying geometry to the city that shows up in unexpected places.
And strangely enough, Chicago can be mysterious, almost magical.
I think one thing about this place, this muscular brawling city of mine, is that we're on the edge of the central plains -- we're actually sandwiched in between the Prairie and Lake Michigan, one of the world's larger bodies of fresh water, right at the southern edge of the last glaciers, which gave us our rolling northern Illinois countryside. South and west the state goes completely flat -- that happens about half an hour from downtown Chicago. Wyoming talks about its big skies, but we have them -- you can see forever here, even when you're right down in the middle of it all. Three million people and you can still find places that offer an amazing amount of solitude.
This is not to say that this is the only place where I feel I belong -- my mother's family is centered in western North Carolina, in the mountains, and that's been another home as long as I can remember.
But that's another morning.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
I've joined a new Yahoo group which has some very interesting people in it. They post a lot of messages, though. Another Australian connection. (Also under the category of "small world." The man who runs the group was directed to some of my reviews by a correspondent in California and contacted me. I know more people outside of Chicago than I do in town.)
I love Australia. Perhaps I should say that I love the idea of Australia. For an American Midwesterner, it's got to be the most exotic place in the world. (I happen to be extraordinarily fond of wombats, and I have no idea why. I just am.) The upside-down place, where it gets warmer the farther north you go. I love it.
Strange wildlife, and orchids that spend their entire lives underground. They even bloom underground. Camels running around loose (at least, there used to be).
They have cowboys, which until recently never fascinated me all that much. (I wonder how that happened?)
Beaches all over the place. There's something about being next to the ocean that's not like anything else in the world.
At any rate, I think I may spend today working on a romance that I've been batting around for a couple of years. The basic story idea is solid, I think, it's just that the first version was -- well, let's not go there. ("Bad" doesn't even come close.) I've been writing well the last couple of days. Maybe I'm getting some focus back.
Life guards. I don't even like swimming. Maybe I should practice drowning.
I'll go back to politics later. I have some reading to do that looks very interesting -- more thoughts from Alex, an article that I'm not quite sure I agree with, and some thoughts from another member of the group, and that article on the end of gay culture from Andrew Sullivan, which I know has holes in it but I can't quite pin them down right now. Eventually.
Maybe something on the politics of life guards.
And then there are the headlines. Yeah, well. . . .