READING: In brief and year-end rush (continued)

Seven days ago I posted what turns out to have been only part one of my In Brief & Year-End Rush [click here], a recounting of the frenzied fit of reading I do as December elides into January. Since then, I have moved from one house/pet-sitting location to another and completed five more of the stack of library books through which I’m working, determined to discipline myself into a single-digit pile when it comes to Library TBR stack, because, honestly, the pressure of having twenty-plus books with return dates signed out is too much for me.

Please note, again, I am not a reviewer, I am an appreciative reader. I love books. I worship really great books. I fall hard for books by which I am moved. I also read a lot of book blogs, a lot of book reviews (I worry about that, worry that I am a pretender, as Rose in Gypsy accuses her daughter, Louise, “…reads book reviews like they were books,” but I digress) and I follow a lot of literary types on Twitter. Thus, I often read things because of the enthusiasms of others. I am often, in those cases, left saying to myself, “WHAT THE HELL? I DO NOT LIKE THIS BOOK!” In order to avoid any of YOU having that feeling, in my considerations of books, I try to include a bit about WHY I do or do not like it — meaning, a bit about me, so that if you decide to read or not read on my recommendation, you’ve some background from whence that recommend (or dismiss) came. Okay then, here we are, going:

Goodnight, Mr. WodehouseGoodnight, Mr. Wodehouse: A Novel, Faith Sullivan, Hardcover, 456 pages, October, 2015, Milkweed Editions  I wish I knew how this novel came to my attention, but, alas, it is nowhere entered on my To Be Read/Heard About Where? list  on which I track such things. Ms. Sullivan  authored four previous novels, none of which I have read, and been described as specializing in Minnesota-small-town characters. In this novel, heroine, Nell Stillman, develops a near medicinal-dependency relationship with the works of P.G.Wodehouse, to which she turns and on which she relies to comfort her through the vicissitudes and vigors of a long life. It is not spoiler to reveal she loses to many different kinds of death many loved (and not so loved) ones along the way, nor is it spoiler to say I had expected more about Wodehouse’s work, and more a Wodehouse tone, but, instead, this is a mostly (for me) melancholy work; it begins with Nell’s obituary, after which, how can it hope to be other than elegiac? The writing is skilled, flows gracefully, and the characters are easily known, rather like those who peopled television shows in which Andy Griffith starred – and I have been known to binge on Matlock re-runs, so, that is not a complaint, but, they are not Wodehouse-ian, so be sure you know what you’re getting into if you decide to pick this up.

Reunion of GhostsA REUNION OF GHOSTS, Judith Claire Mitchell, Hardcover, 400 pages, March 2015, HarperCollins   I read about this a number of places (none of which I recall, and, alas, again, not on my TBR list) and it seemed it would be just the sort of thing I’d enjoy, and, too, Kirkus had included it as Top Fiction 2015, so, there you have it. Allow me to offer the publisher’s precis:

In the waning days of 1999, the last of the Alters—three damaged but wisecracking sisters who share an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—decide it’s time to close the circle of the family curse by taking their own lives. But first, Lady, Vee, and Delph must explain the origins of that curse and how it has manifested throughout the preceding generations. Unspooling threads of history, personal memory, and family lore, they weave a mesmerizing account that stretches back a century to their great-grandfather, a brilliant scientist whose professional triumph became the terrible legacy that defines them. A suicide note crafted by three bright, funny women, A Reunion of Ghosts is the final chapter of a saga lifetimes in the making—one that is inexorably intertwined with the story of the twentieth century itself.

From the ancestral suicide chart hanging in the three sisters’ apartment to their sick (in the very best way) witted love of punning to their unsentimental embrace of suicide, this is a quite lovely book — which, I know, seems an odd way to describe its rather dark-sounding goings on, but, the prose is delicious, there is story — so much compelling and interesting story — and it hasn’t any of that self-conscious “I’ve a literary MFA” tone that infuses so many novels nowadays; it’s a well-written read, and nowadays, there is hardly higher praise than that. And the pathological attachments of the trio to family, to family history, and to a superstition of primogenital tragedy reminds me of my own dysfunctional, nutcase collection of a family.

Wild Swan Yuko Shimizu

Yuko Shimizu illustration for A Wild Swan

Wild SwanA WILD SWAN: AND OTHER TALES, by Michael Cunningham, Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, Hardcover, 144 pages, November 2015, Farrar,Straus and Giroux I love Michael Cunningham in the way I love Stephen Sondheim; both are icons of my youth, idols and artists I consider my people, who have created the sort of work and wonders I always imagined I would, those treasures from the collective consciousness of the generation of creators and gay men to which I belong. It seems only fair to tell you that. That said, this slim volume is not unlike Act Two of Mr. Sondheim’s Into The Woods, in which is asked the question; “What happens after Happily Ever After?” Despite its smallishness of pagery, A Wild Swan boasts hugeness of heart and imagination. (It also boasts gloriously evocative illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, worth the price of the book all by themselves.) Like Sondheim, Mr. Cunningham de- and re-constructs the mythology within (and without) the fairy tales, re-examining the pretty-patinas we’ve layered over the grotesqueries and horrors of the original tellings, and finding a truthiness more suited to the current Zeitgeist, all in short-story lengths. A particular favorite of mine, his re-shaping of Hansel and Gretel in which they are — well, I won’t tell you, except to say, years ago I was contracted to write a children’s play version of this tale and I submitted what I thought a brilliant take in which the tables were turned and H&G were modern tween-horrors who terrified the lady who built her house of candy. Needless to say, my version was never performed — but, there we have what I referred to in my opening sentence, that collective consciousness I like to (delude myself into thinking) believe I share with the Misters Cunningham and Sondheim. Listen, I’m entitled to my fairy tales, too.

BeatleboneBEATLEBONE, by Kevin Barry, Hardcover, 299 pages, November 2015, Doubleday Many of my sources went on and on about this one using words like “exhilarating” and “profound” and “literary experiment” and “extraordinary”. Well, okay. I found it annoying. Sorry. Honestly, when I have to read reviews to determine what went on in a book — then the book is too cutesy, artsy, experimental, self-indulgent, purposely convoluted. Again, sorry. I just found it too much of a too muchness early on, and then, somewhere along page 200, the author inserts himself into the introspective, mid-life crisis of a tale. I don’t for one moment have any issue at all with the idea that one’s childhood is forever after the stuff of one’s neuroses, the mountains one must climb again and again – I, too am in the dead-parent-at-a-young-age, surviving-parent-less-than-ideal-meantal-health club — trust me, I get it. We all get it. It’s gotten. Gotten so hard I get it like get every gotten morning while my got gets gotten, going rotten inside me, forgotten about the gets (and the gits who got me before I could get my own) begotten by all the others and — do you get where this is going or where it has gotten? Of course you don’t — because that sort of get got gottening is the sort of rottening monotonous-ing prose “styling” foist upon us and Emporer’s New Clothes-like heralded by reviewers afraid to say, “WHAT THE FUCK?” Work it out with an analyst or in your journal but let’s not publish it and call it a book, okay? I’m being mean, sorry, but, on the other hand, who’s going to make it this far into the paragraph? GET my point? GOTTEN!

OutlineOUTLINE, by Rachel Cusk, Hardcover, 256 pages, January 2015, Farrar, Straus and Giroux This was on the New York Times 10 Best list and touted by the genius I follow on Twitter (he does not, needless to say, follow me), Daniel Mendelsohn. Beautiful writing. Nothing happens. I am exhausted by books in which nothing happens except masturbatory display of metaphor and technique. TELL ME A STORY, DAMMIT. However, the New York Times called it “lethally intelligent” while Cusk, herself, has said she finds fiction “fake and embarrassing” and plotting and character creation “utterly ridiculous.” I suppose this is the answer. Maybe, stop writing novels? Then you’d need not be embarrassed, faking it, as it were, and bothered by the utterly ridiculous requirements of your art, turning out this sort of soporific, self-indulgent twaddle that — once again — fools the literati into drooling, “Oh, how marvelous and new!” Well, wait, there wouldn’t be that exclamation point, would there, because the literati are all too jaded and faux-sophisticated for that sort of excitement. Jeesh, give me a break.

Hmmm … my curmudgeon is coming out. Apologies. Tamir Rice, my heart is breaking for him and his family and this world in which life is so cheap and genocide is an accepted-law-enforcement practice. I’ve read twelve books in December and made 112 dozen cookies and been to the chiropractor three times and gained ten pounds and cleaned up many piles of dog-doo-doo and slept in multiple beds not my own (and none of that for fun) and realized that I am in the bottom 20% of median-income and had to deal with the bodycast of family expectations and prejudices and need to come up with $600 for Mom-reasons real fast and my car is falling apart — literally, the bottom seems to be falling out — and has been keyed — the driver’s side is like a grid of scratchmarks — and I’m having very strange dreams about a fellow and woman, both long out of my life, but who seem determined to torture me in my dreams.

So, grouchy. So, here I am, leaving you alone, going.

Words in shapes unlike me . . .

It started a few weeks ago. I was sitting in a Barnes & Noble, having a coffee and reading The Best American Poetry 2015, and I was gobsmacked by the combination of beauty and brazen, blazing — dangerous, even — innocence of the passing teen boys and, too, my even more dangerous reaction to it. So, I wrote about it. And instead of the usual notebook entry that ends up going nowhere, that scribbling of my emotional tsunami became what I took to be a poem. Since then, other storms of feeling have shaped themselves into poetry. I do not kid myself that I have any gift for this, but, it is what I have to give to you for Christmas 2015. So, here you go.

TALL BOYS IN THE MALL

Tall boys in the mall

boys all noise

& ballsy bluster boys

so easily flustered by the gaze of

love for tall boys from

this cussed old man.

That was the first. A few days later, this . . .

THE ONLY KIND OF LOVE SONG I KNOW IS NAMED “GOODBYE”

Something carefully submerged

in me, the

unfathomable, intangible

stuff of soul

essence you made sing

cannot be for(you)given.

Go. Now.

That was the next, followed, soon, by . . .

OLGA, OUR DINER WAITRESS

Snorting coke in a New Haven gay bar bathroom

thirty-four years ago

yesterday remembered because: reasons.

Olga, our diner waitress, sits w/us & we ask

about her sister who has come here from Greece, now

& Olga says; “Not good.”

Olga remembers

no lemon in my iced tea

and my sister died recently

so Olga is loath to tell us details

when we ask about her sister, Olga says,

“I want to spare you memories. Not good.”

Olga steers me to the calf liver special

(see what I did there) and laughs

at my jokes & calls me honey

& Olga, sitting in our booth,

asks how is my Mom

& then difficult woman at table 3 waves at me

difficult woman at table 3 wants Olga’s attention

& I am forced to interrupt Olga’s explanation

of details of her sister’s “not good”

so difficult woman at table 3 can snivel to Olga

“This burger tastes wrong. The meat is bad.”

she wants a crab cake for the same price

I am furious on Olga’s behalf

I tell Olga it is a scam, she says, “Honey,”

she calls me Honey, “choose your battles.”

Olga says her sister, who is not good

has chosen not to take pain meds –

they are all I want

because I did not

choose my battles

I fought everything

everyone

everywhere

every day

snorted coke in a New Haven gay bar bathroom

thirty-four years ago

that night I was fired from waiting tables

for that battle where I threw a pizza

at a table of Yale football players

who had called me “faggot”

rude men rude boys who chased me down the street

but I had a head start and ducked into the gay bar

in New Haven where I snorted coke

thirty-four years ago and yesterday remembered

when Olga, our diner waitress, sat with us. She remembers

I hate lemons in my iced tea

& my sister died

& Olga’s sister is not good

& we must, honey, choose our battles

Long, formless, yes. But, Olga. And the diner. The relationships we make with people outside the boundaries of how “relationships” are often defined. It struck me. I wrote it. About a week later, I was feeling really like crap and wishing I had an in real life literary group to call my own and so spit this out, fast and barely punctuated . . .

SUICIDEATION UN-NUMBERED (in the millions, those)

I’ve no literate Leonard nor literal lighthouse nor beguiling band of Bloomsburyans nor vervain of a Vita so why these stones in my pockets?

I think it qualifies as a poem. Ha. After which I took a long break, or, rather, since I never intend to write poetry, there didn’t come until today any urge to speak focused truths, memories, in specific shape. But, today, for some unknown, unknowable reason, I was moved to write a sonnet. And, here it is:

The Semiotics of Sorrow, This Year When I Turned Fifty-Four

This year; Mommy having deftly dodged death
Said, “Remember B— C—? Your age? He died.”
I cried. Mommy, eighty-six, apologized,
“I didn’t know.” My age. Breathed his last breath.

This year; when I’d turned fifty-four, B— C—,
Dead. From the back seat, her, “I didn’t know”
So enraged and deflated me. “Well, no
You didn’t. I know.” He fucked then hid me

That year we were thirteen. Comparing cocks
Led to fumbling spurtings, we couldn’t last,
Blasting boy lusts and I said “love” too fast.
He didn’t. I know, now, there were no clocks

That year telling a time in which he’d not
Dread my love. I cried when he died this year.

 

That’s it. Merry Christmas, dear ones. Love and Light and all good things and joy for you and yours during your holidays.

 

 

 

Reading: In Brief and Year-End Rush

Christmas 2015 2I’ve a partially finished entry about my family Christmas gathering and my gift of heirloom (such as it is, as in, my distorted gene pool’s rendering of both “family” and “heirloom”) butcher knives adorned with baby aspirins (don’t ask, yet) wrapped in Justin Bieber paper (yes, that Justin Bieber) near ready to post. But, only near, and it may never get any closer than that as it’s turning out to be difficult giving it the rhythm of truth without revealing details too personal and not mine to reveal. Therefore, having last written about books December 5, when I talked about the remarkable Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, by Bonnie Jo Campbell [CLICK HERE] and, since this is sort of a book-blog, it only makes sense I ought, sort-of, to write about what I’ve been reading.

The full-disclosure thing: Mothers, Tell Your Daughters was one of those very different, very wonderful refreshments and revelations of a read, making it difficult for anything read in their wake. This is why reading lists must be carefully curated and managed, why to-be-read stacks (or shelves, or rooms, or storage units) need have many choices from widely varied genre. Thus, since Mothers, I’ve gone non-fiction bio-ish to crime procedural to dystopian fiction to Young Adult issue oriented to MFA-soaked literary fiction. None have been awful but, alas, none have come anywhere near the joys and appreciations given bloom when reading Ms. Campbell’s work. That said, here:

becoming nicoleBECOMING NICOLE: THE TRANSFORMATION OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY, Amy Ellis Nutt, October 2015, Random House, Hardcover, 302 pages    Reportage rather than biography, this covers the becoming of a transgender girl, and the awakenings of her identical twin brother, parents, and community. The bigotry and ignorance she encounters is predictably horrifying, the end result reasonably heartwarming, but, I wished for more of her voice, her feelings about the experience. That really wasn’t what this book was; instead, it had the feel of an extended, padded newspaper personality/social issues piece – a bit rushed and surface.

killing kindTHE KILLING KIND, Chris Holm, September 2015, Mulholland Books, Hardcover, 320 pages    A hit man who kills only other hit men. A hit man who was made a hit man by his government training as a killer. A government made killer who has left behind a woman too good for him who will never get over him who he manages to put in danger even though she thinks he is dead. A hit man, killer, who’s left behind a woman too good for him, whose only friend is another man destroyed by the same government forces that destroyed our hit man; guess who dies? Damaged people in a damaged world and no one is really to blame but everyone is responsible, everyone is guilty to one or another degree. Too bleak for me right now. Too cold. Too violent. Too absent impossibly unrealistic happy outcomes – which is what I think I need at the moment in fiction, since they seem so unlikely in real life.

gold fame citrus2GOLD FAME CITRUS, Claire Vaye Watkins, September 2015, Riverhead Books, Hardcover, 339 pages    This was another of those books about which many, many, many people raved. This was another of those books in which a dystopian-barely-the-future is foist upon us, the wages of our sins, this purgatorial punishment one of an encroaching, ever-expanding desert of annihilation, aridity, and absence of truth. This was another of those books from which I get that the MFA-crowd admires experiments with languaging, voices, structure, and the asides and digressions of story, but in this case,  I found it off-putting – rather like there wasn’t enough there there, so it was sent back for filler and the author used research and character sketches to fill the required three-hundred pages. In addition to which, nearly every character was unlikable.

what we sawWHAT WE SAW, Aaron Hartzler, September 2015, Harper Teen, Hardcover, 336 pages    My Young Adult read for the past few weeks about a Steubenville-type gang rape in a small town that takes place at a teen party, is filmed, the victim shamed and made pariah, the horrific crime by school sport-team jock-types covered up, all of this by lots of people who ought to be better, know better, live better. We’re distanced from the real horror of rape culture by experiencing the events from a long-ago friend of the victim who wasn’t at the party when it happened but investigates events, pushes buttons, forces issues; Kate. The Kate-voice is powerful and, I think, very well done and tonally-Zeitgeistian on-pitch, but it felt — for me — a little like an Afterschool Special tone. Thing is, the people who really need this simple a primer won’t read it or get it, and the actual audience likely already knows all of this and could use something more reflective and intense.

undermahordomo minorUNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR, Patrick deWitt, September 2015, Ecco, Hardcover, 317 pages   Now this was very different. I always meant to but never did read deWitt’s previous novel, The Sisters Brothers, (he has a gift for titles, yes?) – It begins (sort of) and ends (ish) with a harbinger (kind of) of a man wrapped in burlap (at least, symbolically?) and Lucy Minor (the major character, maybe) escaping death (sort of) and leaving his home (such as it is). It’s seriously playful – or playfully serious, and darkly illuminating or illuminatingly dark. It was very Wodehouse on acid while depressed and horny and homesick. I liked it. I think.

So, there we have it. The five reads since Ms. Campbell — and I apologize to these authors, required as they were to try to get me past my adoration for Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. Thus is life. We can’t — any of us — control the ways in which things happen or the people we come across — I mean, see above picture of me with butcher knives and Bieber wrapping; we all have our crosses to bear.

Ad now, I have five (or ten) more books I’d like to finish before it becomes 2016. So, off to read, here where I am, going. Love and Light, friends. Love and Light.

 

Some Sunday Thinkings and Sucks

TIME-SUCK: HOLIDAY RUSH

I’ll try to be brief.

I know you’re busy. I know this because my blog hits continue to decline. So, you must be busy, right? It couldn’t possibly be that I have become even less interesting or more irrelevant. No, that’s downright silly. You’re busy.

Take care of things and get back to me. Quickly. We’re all busy, darlings. I, myself, have made over one-hundred dozen cookies in the past two weeks. And that was accomplished with a bad back and multiple trips to the chiropractor and not one opiate. Even now, as I type this, I am house/pet watching in bucolic Aftermath (more later, see PANIC-SUCK below) and preparing a ten pound ham to take with me later today to the family holiday gathering (more later, I fear, see BODYCAST-SUCK, below) even though my bad back continues to nag and still — alas — not one opiate to assuage my ache, no, rather, I — gritted of teeth — ignore the agony while I try to save the lives and lift the spirits of others who suffer depression during this season of forced frivolity and frolic which is so difficult for so many (more later, see SPIRIT-SUCK, below), all the while reading an all-too-tempting (and all-too-often disappointing) stack of library books due back by the 28th in an effort to surpass 125 books read in 2015 on GoodReads (more later on that, too, see READING DOESN’T SUCK, below).

So, you think you’re busy? Too busy to read my blog, like it, and comment? All I have to say about that is: PRI-FUCKING-ORITIZE PEOPLE! (See ALL THE SUCKS, below.)

PANIC-SUCK: JUDAH MAKES A BREAK FOR IT

Aftermath Dec 2015

Judah. One fraction of my Aftermath TBR pile. Coffee. Iced tea.

I arrived here at Aftermath, Friday. If you are a follower, you know that this bucolic setting is one of my favorite gigs, where I have spent the last few Christmas holidays, and Judah is my very favorite pal. Like me, Judah is getting on in years. Like me, Judah has lost a few very dear friends and companions along the way and transitioned to a more solitary life. Like me, Judah loves and adores Andrea. And, like me, Judah has very few fucks left to give, and wants to do what Judah wants to do when Judah wants to do it.

Yesterday morning we followed our traditional routine. He woke me too damn early, he had his pills, I had my coffee, and we began our dance: I sit, get comfy with coffee and laptop or reading material. Judah wants me to open the door for him so he may check the property. Out he goes. I sit, get comfy with my coffee and laptop or reading material, Judah wants me to open the door for him so he can see what I am up to, inside. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I quietly plead and moan that I am not a morning person. Judah blithely ignores me. It’s our thing. While doing our thing yesterday, one of those rotations, I opened the door, out he went, and I sat down with my laptop, writing to a friend, and soon realized Judah had been gone ten minutes without knocking on the door for re-entry. Not that unusual, some mornings in the past he has spent long sessions back pasturing, but, this visit, he has some new medical issues, none of us are getting any younger, and so I pulled myself from sitting to standing — may sound easy to you, but right now, with my back, any transition from one to another position involves not a small amount of grunting and freezing in panic-pain, like I said, none of us are getting any younger — and I moved from one to another window to check on my companion in encroaching senility.

Aftermath Dec 2015 later

Judah. Post break-out. Exhausted. That’s my foot, propped up because – MY BACK IS KILLING ME from the long-search-walk.

Nowhere. Long short, unbeknownst to me, the collar Judah has long worn which encourages him not to roam beyond the few acres of Aftermath into the redneck wonderland beyond, has stopped working. I panicked. Over top of the holey sweatpants and shirtless Daniel Radcliffe in horse mode, souvenir Equus sweatshirt, I threw a down vest, two scarves, and donned a knit-cap and l began my hike — limping, because, my back — caterwauling his name. In this neighborhood, a neighborhood where every home has multiple-car garages and, too, an extra detached garage for the additional vehicles, most of which are trucks, most of which have very large wheels and confederate flags and gun racks and exhaust systems which cost more than I make in a year and are driven by tea-party-republican-esque people who would gleefully shoot a crooked-gaited, magenta-sweat-panted, looks like he was denied entry to the homeless-shelter fellow wandering the area, shouting the name of his — whatever they thought Judah was to me.

Luckily, Andrea is well-loved around here. And a minister. And these people have seen me before. And are afraid of going to hell. So, while no one offered to help me, no one shot me with their automatic weapons. Judah came trotting at me about a quarter-mile down the road, off the porch of one of the Trump-voters, looking all proud of himself that he’d nearly terrified me to death for the holiday.

As I type this, this morning, he is accusing me with despair and longing in his eyes, not quite getting why I won’t let him out-of-doors on his own today. “Why,” he seems to be asking, “have things changed?”

I often ask that myself, Judah. I wish I had a better explanation, but, alas. I do not. Now, I need more coffee, a lot of coffee because I need to be fully awake today as it is Family Holiday Gathering Day.

BODYCAST-SUCK: THE ANNUAL FAMILY GATHERING

Speaking of why have things changed, and why haven’t they? Well, today, what is left of my family gathers at 4pm for our annual holiday gathering. That is where my 100 dozen cookies and the ham I am now baking will be brought as my offering. While I may fail to fit in culturally here in Aftermath, cuisine and nutrition-wise, I am all redneck, all the time because, as far as I am concerned, cookies and pork products are the two main food groups.

I love my family. I do. But it wasn’t that long ago I wasn’t included in holiday gatherings, and while the why and story differ depending on who is writing it, my heart was broken in ways that don’t mend. And I miss Sissie, who made Christmas special from my early childhood. And, the patterns which did not serve me well in life, those rigid bodycasts in which we sometimes get stuck, they are never more confining, never harder to resist, than when we are with family. And family during holidays, with all the expectations and the memories and the …  well, dear ones, this is why  I especially like to house/pet sit through this time of year, because the peace I have made with the sadnesses I have been given works best when I am in solitude. As my dear, the Duchess Goldblatt said to me recently, “When we count our losses, we turn the balance sheet over to see what’s been gained, you and I.” Which leads me to:

SPIRIT-SUCK: TURNING OVER THE BALANCE SHEET

That turning over of the balance sheet to which Her Grace, The Duchess, referred, so much of that is about accepting that we are, in many ways, alone. Being alone is not a judgment. Being alone is not a bad thing. Being alone — even if it’s not exactly, 100% one’s choice — is not the horrifyingly bad option our culture and arts and religions and such would have us believe. I live without a life-partner, without a god, without a real job, without a place of my own, without much of the accoutrement and trappings and attachments and obligations that much of the world considers in the ought and must and should and have to categories.

I’m not going to lie; this is not an easy life, not an easy choice.

But I am here, where I am going, for a reason. I may never fully understand the reason, but I work very hard to examine this life and accept my truth. More difficult, accepting my truth, my alone, without allowing myself to feel failed by the standards and beliefs of the societies in which I live. My family thinks I’m a failure. Many people I have known consider me failed or wrong. I don’t fit in with the gay sub-culture, either. And many of the people with whom I interact on Twitter, if they knew the actual conditions of my life, would have nothing to do with me in the real world.

But, you see, I can’t allow those assumptions by which those people live to affect me, my center, my Love and Light. My acceptance of who and where I am requires actually being alone, embracing alone, understanding alone, and being grateful for the unconventional gains (as the Duchess refers to them) I have — such as my Twitter-loves and these wide, wonderful swaths of solitude in which I’ve found the freedom to read, to reflect, to blog (though you are all too fucking busy to read it anymore), and to care for those who need caring for, including runaway scamp-doggies and some Twtter-friends who are in pain.

I have always heard people’s pain. Whatever spiritual frequency it is on which people broadcast when feeling less than loved, trapped in darknesses or sorrow, somehow, I am attuned to hear and feel that, and I reach out, if I can, how I can.

Sometimes, yes, it is exhausting, a spirit-suck. But usually, it is the opposite. Usually, embracing someone who needs an embrace returns to me many times the energy, love, and light the embrace costs. I recommend it, darlings. If you open yourselves to feeling the need of others, understand that you can’t fix it or save anyone, but CAN offer a simple and perfect, “I hear you and I am here in all the ways I can be”, your life will be infinitely richer, warmer, brighter, more full of love and light — even if you are alone and failed by any conventional, cultural measure.

Give. Give what you have.

READING DOESN’T SUCK: END OF YEAR BURSTINGS

And so, that’s my suck-list for today. I know, right? You were expecting me to go all ribald and scatological about sucking, weren’t you? Honestly, I was too when I started this entry. Truth: I was about to write something slightly filthy about my obsession with the Warwick Rowers here, but, I’ll let this speak for itself –

warwick3 cream

They’re so excited I’ve finished this entry, they are exploding cream all over one another. That’s as bawdy as I’ve got this morning, kids.

Anyway, darlings, so sorry, I meant to be quick but this is nearly two-thousand words. I’m off to finish the ham and indulge in the book pile I’ve brought with me — all 22 — and take a jaunt with Judah, out-of-doors, try to find a new normal for the two of us when it comes to trust — I don’t want him to run and wander, he doesn’t want me to hover and control. We are both used to our own ways and wary of disappointing one another — that’s love, right there. Right here, where I am, going.

Love and Light, kids. Love and Light.

 

Sissie. Happy Birthday. (And more “Libertytown”)

Update: 5:30am.I originally posted this at 2a.m. – just a few — too very few — short hours ago. Then, NOW — me and tenses and tension and — anyway — the fire alarm started chirping, its battery requiring a change, at 5a.m. which might have made Charlie a few years ago furious and victim-y, “WHY ME” weepy but, pshaw!!! I scoff. You see, this Charlie got RIGHT AWAY; it was — is? tenses again — Sissie waking me up because I should spend as much of her birthday awake (albeit, not completely lucid) as possible. So, three hours of sleep will have to do. And replacing that damn 9Volt, this particular alarm placed at the top of a stairwell, me contorted precariously on a chair contending with my bad back and worse attitude, well, Sissie had a bad back, too. And she never complained. So, I WON’T. Dammit. Love and light, kids. Love and freaking light.

December 17. My most important holiday. Her favorite things:

sissie

  • The color red;
  • When the forsythia bloomed yellow, her harbinger of spring;
  • Mary Martin, Barbara Cook, Angela Lansbury;
  • Broadway musicals;
  • Apple crisp;
  • Her nightly Lark cigarette & hot toddy (straight bourbon, mostly, with a splash of water and a suggestion of sugar);
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker, in that order, thank you;
  • Books and people who read them and wrote them;
  • The idea of the Algonquin Hotel and its Round Table;
  • These songs:

  • And she loved me;

And oh, how I loved her.

Sissie 3 Happy Birthday, my dearest. Thank you for the music. Thank you for the words. Thank you for the belief. Thank you for all the things you loved. Thank you for Roald Dahl. Thank you for Helene Hanff. Thank you for Jane and Paul Bowles. Thank you for dinner and my first New York cocktail at the restaurant at Rockefeller Center when I was seventeen. Thank you for making me promise I’d stay at the Algonquin. Thank you for loving and believing in my father. Thank you for never saying anything ugly about all the people I begged you to say ugly things about, thus teaching me about grace and faith and kindness and Light and Love. Thank you for never seeing anything but Perfect Charlie, and really meaning it, really living in that vision – and thinking everyone else, including me, was mistaken about me. Thank you for all the things I never thanked you for. Thank you. I wrote Libertytown for you, about you, although made fiction, but still, I called you Sissie. Here, another piece of it:

Libertytown; from Chapter 6 (and always being revised, even as you read, I am NOT unaware how badly I need editing, leave me alone this morning, okay?)

He’d wanted to know where my Alonquin silver had come from and I had tried to tell him but after hours of digressions and Balzacian asides and Proustian-navel-gazing frame-of-referencing, through which he had pretended fascination — a pose I suspected he felt required to strike as condition of his probation or parole or whatever I was — whatever I was, the thing was, he was there, here, he stayed. But then, he sometimes felt something like guilt. Which I didn’t get, of course.

“I don‘t tell stories like you.” Matthew’s confessional mode.

“I like that you don‘t have stories.”

“I didn’t say I don’t have stories. I said Continue reading

This, Nearly Was Mine, Because; Barbara Cook

Barbara Cook has always been part of the soundtrack of my life. Today, I cannot stop thinking about her because here, where I am going, I know someone who knows Miss Cook quite well. Here, where I am, I know that Miss Cook once read a blog entry of mine about a concert of hers. Here, where I am going, today, I have been feeling very blue about not being loved as I’d like, and loving others almost, but never quite, always nearly. And so, this:

Barbara Cook. Who my aunt Sissie loved, and so, I loved her too.

December 17.  Thursday.  Sissie’s birthday. She died eleven years ago. She gave me Broadway and the Algonquin Hotel and its legends and reading. Sissie made me Charlie. The reason I cook for my family, have been baking cookies non-stop, long ago learned to tough it out through back-pain and illnesses, think living a life without a mate is a fine path, insist on seeing Love and Light, make up lyrics, laugh instead of cry, all the reasons, all the Charlie; Sissie. And she died before I got to the Algonquin, before I knew someone who knows Barbara Cook, before I began to follow all of these Twitter-Literati, Twitterati folk who are in publishing; all things that would make Sissie ecstatic, that make me — most days — ecstatic.

Most days. But, those others, when it wasn’t easy being this Sissie-Charlie who was, early on, a sissy-Charlie. Still, I mean, being Sissie-Charlie gave me Continue reading

ZeitBites: Eggs and Andys and Hollys and Dickory Docks

Monday Morning, December 7, 2015

sunset blvd gifI woke up this morning wishing one of you out there in the dark was here in the dark so I could just spit this all out really quickly and be done with it rather than having to blog it — and since MOST of my followers (for some reason) and hits come from European countries, I like to delude myself that my lack of having someone with whom to share my life (and my rantings and ravings) is to do with me having been born in the wrong country (or, in the wrong era, but that’s another blog — which I’m pretty sure I’ve already written somewhere but I’m old and wake up all night and I can’t remember these things, dammit) and so, it is a comfort, thinking of all of you over there who’d love me as I am, honor me and all that and Listen To Me. But until that time I get a passport renewed and money enough to sail (I’d sail, you know, rather than fly. Just seems more 1930s and, like I said, I was born in the wrong era — I did say that, didn’t I?) I’ll just have to blog all these fleeting, random thoughts I have.

(I know, you’re saying, “Have to? Maybe just shut-up, Charlie? Ever thought of that?” Yes. I have. But, I can’t really. You readers — European and non — and even those just clicking in because I have old tags saying DEREK HOUGH NAKED — are the closest I have to lovers, real companion type lovers, so, pretend you like this or remain silent — or, if you want to be truly like my past lovers, abandon me saying you never much enjoyed me in the first place and were just killing time until the kind of blog you wanted really came along.)

— but since you’re not here, here goes. Why did I get up at 5:55 a.m.?

  1. I have been tossing and semi-weird-waking since I lights-outed at 1:00 a.m.-ish with the half-fever worry that I needed to get the eggs out of the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature for today’s continuation of Christmas cookie baking. So—-
  2. — Christmas makes me think of Andy Williams because my Momma loved Andy Williams and it was really Christmas when she got out the Andy Christmas albums. And-My Momma worked in an egg factory which brings me back to the eggs at room temperature worry, plus —
  3. —I have been doing this odd thing where I wake at 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55 – and despite my lack of faith or belief in anything, this frequent waking I do and the feverish-fugue into which it puts me, triggers childhood fears and despite knowing it is completely impossible, I worry that if I go back to sleep, the next time I wake I will see 6:66 on the clock and the Baby Jesus will never be born because I have sinned. Thus —
  4. — I get out of bed to shake it off (and get the eggs out) and I weigh myself and I look awful and I think, “This is all your fault, Andy Williams, because you are Christmas and all that cookie baking and tasting yesterday is to blame for this weight this morning and FUCK YOU, ANDY!” Which —
  5. dallesandro and woodlawn

    Joe Dallesandro & Holly Woodlawn

    — Reminds me that Andy Warhol Superstar, Holly Woodlawn [click here], died yesterday. And I think, “Holly” – deck the halls with boughs of and all that. Weird. I miss Andy and his Superstars and the thrill of discovering them and all those connections and when I was away at theatre camp and introduced to Lou Reed’s music and — shit, Holly inspired Walk On the Wild Side and Joe Dallesandro — who I follow on Twitter — announced her death there yesterday and posted all those pics of his younger self. I miss my younger self. Joe was my first trade-crush, I think. He was so beautiful naked. dallesandro joe dallesandro warhol Why am I alone? Cause of porny crushes on beautiful naked guys for whom I will never be their type? Like —

  6. colby christmas

    Colby Keller coming down the chimney, down

    — Colby Keller. Oh, he did all those Christmas shots last year. Shit, I need to wake up and get busy on these cookies. Christmas. Andy. Williams. Warhol. Holly. Dallesandro. Colby. Get the eggs out. Jesus I look awful naked — JESUS? Did I actually worry this morning in some haze of old-man-back-pain-too-many-hours-on-my-feet-Christmas-cookie baking-frenzy-brainfade that Baby Jesus wouldn’t be born because my clock might say 6:66 if I committed the sin of going back to sleep. And, see —

  7. —  that whole sin thing, which in my egg-factory, Andy Williams Christmas, hallucinatory youth
    dallesandro rolling-stones-sti_3287029k

    Dallesandro’s dick on Rolling Stones album cover

    thing was conflated with wanting to hickory dickory with Joe Dallesandro who I discovered because the theatre camp bad influences (perfect influences) introduced me to Lou Reed and we talked out loud about wanting to fuck Mick Jagger and it was only years later I learned that the dick on the front of Sticky Fingers belonged to Joe Dallesandro and — art and porn — like Colby Keller Does America [CLICK HERE] is doing now and —

  8. — here I am, blogging.

 

But, those lyrics:

It’s the holiday season
With the whoop-de-do and dickory dock
And don’t forget to hang up your sock
‘Cause just exactly at 12 o’clock
He’ll be coming down the chimney
Coming down the chimney
Coming down the chimney, down!

Tell me this: What the hell does dickory dock mean?! I mean, you are aware of what dick-docking is, correct? Were the Christmas tunes of Andy Williams that my mom played — over and over and over — sending me subliminal messages?

(According to the ever-reliable Yahoo Answers, “hickory, dickory, dock” means eight, nine, ten. From a British nursery rhyme. SEE, EUROPE AGAIN. Come on, Neville, FIND ME! Anyway, who knew? [CLICK HERE FOR YAHOO ANSWERS DICKORY DOCK INFO- NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH DICK-DOCKING INFO- LINKS FOR WHICH I  TRUST YOU CAN FIND ON YOUR OWN SHOULD YOU BE INTERESTED.])

And while I’m Zeit-bite blabbing: Is it just me, or have large eggs gotten smaller?

cookie dayLike I said, I spent yesterday making Christmas cookies. This effort required a $200 trip to the grocery store Saturday night, an $80 trip Sunday morning, and another $50 trip Sunday afternoon. So far. Now, after the baking of three kinds and the concoction and refrigeration of dough for a fourth —

(The New York Times Cookbook best chocolate chip cookie recipe EVER, which people ask me for all the time — not the recipe, the cookies, because most people are too lazy to do the weighing and waiting required — plus, I use a secret combination of six kinds of chocolate for the chips, chunks, pieces — so, there’s that) 

— with eight more varieties to go, I’ve already run out of storage containers and need a few more ingredients, one of which is butter — HOW DID I NOT GET ENOUGH BUTTER?

But, I swear, eggs have gotten smaller. Or, is this a trick of age? When I was a child — from age six to, I think, twelve — my mom worked in an egg factory. It was a simpler, kinder time, and Mommy would sometimes take various of us to work with her, and we would be allowed to do some of the jobs there. I did candling, which was the job my mom and her friend Helen alternated, a job no one wanted as it required hours of  standing in a cold, dark booth watching eggs roll by on an lit-from-below conveyor belt and plucking off those eggs with bloody or fetal yolks, tossing them into a waste-bucket which smelled. I also used what I called “the sucker”, a vacuum type affair egg candlingwhich picked up lots of eggs at once and fed them onto the belt that led to the candling booth. And, too, I packaged, which meant I stood at one of the chutes down which the eggs were rolled after the post-candling machine sorted them into sizes. I usually manned the extra-large or the small chutes. The large chute required a very skilled and speedy packager because the majority of eggs fell into that classification and handling the volume at that station — getting the eggs into cartons, getting the cartons into cases, moving the cases to yet another conveyor belt — turned me into Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory. It occurs to me now that the working conditions in that egg factory would not pass OSHA standards for adults today, let alone children, but I loved being there and feeling needed, important, useful.

And, I swear, those large eggs were bigger than the large eggs now. I tried (not very hard) to find information on-line about when standardized egg sizes changed in this country, if they changed, but all I managed to determine was this: What is considered large in the U.S. would be medium in Europe.

From this — it being Monday morning weigh-in, me being me, and without benefit of gastrointestinal parasite to help me maintain my recent hard-won slimness, and seeing my naked self in the mirror as I stepped on the scale this a.m. — I thought, “Well, I may be large in the U.S., but in Europe, I’m medium!” So, there. BUT THEN, me being me, I thought, “Well shit, I’m no Dallesandro in more ways than one, so if Large in the U.S. is only Medium in Europe, then my Average in Europe is probably small. DAMMMMMIT! I’ll never get a lover there either.”

And we’re back to where I started. All babble. No one to listen. Eggs. Cookies. Christmas. Andy. Warhol. Woodlawn. Dallesandro. Dick. None. I’m fat.

So, I’ll leave you with Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, with images of Holly and Joe and Edie, too.

And if you, like me, prefer something a little less safe for work and more Joe — well, it’s the holiday season — so, hang the holly or Joe is hung or something someone more clever than am I would say. This is Lou Reed again, Make Up — which is really just an excuse for naked Joe Dallesandro.

Later. I have cookies to make and more loneliness to explore. Cuz, you know, this isn’t Europe and I am large and not large and I sleep alone and it is up to me to make sure we all avoid the 666 which will keep the Baby Jesus from being born. I mean, I guess I really do miss feeling useful, needed, important, like I did as a child, carefully handling those eggs, watching them roll by, looking for the flaws, looking for the bloody yolks, watching how few were extra large or extra small, so many larges. Ha, large. What does that even mean? Jesus. I mean — Baby Jesus? Shit. I wish Colby Keller was coming my way. So to speak. I think – maybe – I need a nap.

(Yes, I know, you are saying: CHARLIE, REALLY, SHUT UP!)

Reading: Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Campbell, Bonnie Jo Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

Click photo for more book information

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, Bonnie Jo Campbell, W.W.Norton & Company, 2015, 272pp

I think books and their authors come to you when you need them most, when you are ready for them, like messengers from whatever gods there might be. Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the complacency-shattering, soul-shaking Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, is like Iris; divine messenger with the winged staff and pitcher full of the River Styx, elixir to put to sleep those who do not tell their truths; goddess too of rainbows; and also, she after whom the eye’s iris — that part which determines how much light is allowed in and the color of the eye — is named; and, finally, in this my tortured simile (or metaphor, or analogy, or allegory — it wouldn’t matter to Ms. Campbell’s characters and it doesn’t really matter to me) that Iris from whom the word iridescence was made.

Yes, Ms. Campbell’s writing is iridescent. What starts as Continue reading

It’s too much, some days . . .

I need to go away.

Miss Fisher Hugh & Dot's Wedding

Miss Fisher’s Dot and Hugh get married

I just watched an episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and was a sobbing fool. Dot and Hugh got married. I love Dot and Hugh. Especially Hugh, played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt. He looks like someone — reminds me of someone — I thought I loved. I meant to love. I wish I had loved better. Love. I’m just so tired of that fucking word.

I’ve been crying for — well, forever actually — I’ve always been an easy cry, but since the San Bernardino thing, I’m a ridiculous mess. It didn’t happen to me, I know. There is no reason I should be taking it this hard. But, I am crying as if — I don’t know.

Tonight, I was at the gym, working through my back-twist, trying to readjust my spine, making progress. The gym is quiet on Friday evening, other people have lives and activities. I have the stories in my head and the stacks of books. After working out, I went to Continue reading

Retreat, revisited (of Evelyn Waugh and Sylvia Townsend Warner)

bridesheadI am in retreat again. The world. The world. I am less and less good at or useful to today, the now. I can’t much live here, where we are. And so, I’ve buried myself in I’ll Stand By You: The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & Violet Ackland. Their love, so beautiful. Not the kind I have ever had, nor will likely ever have. No, I am more the Brideshead Revisited sort of fellow. Yes. That.

I'll Stand By YouMore and more in life I feel like Sebastian must have felt after Charles, no longer fascinated, had moved on. Whereas Lord Flyte took to drink, debauchery, and dissolution via Moroccan bacchanal, my intemperate indulgences are less salacious, more dilatory unto death, less choice than chance, a failed lechery resulting in wantonness of a literary nature. Alas, I am a small-scale, tiny-cosmos flaneur, bemoaning that the world is too much with me even as I tunnel deeper and deeper into this solitary cave of my own making from which, some day, perhaps, I will be exhumed. But unlike Tutankhamun with his treasures gold, chariots, thrones, jewels, and ostrich feathers, the disturbance of which forever after cursed those who dared intrude, all that will be left of me is a pile of books and page after page after page of scribble and dribble, proof of my own cursedness; by which I mean I have been cursed and am a cursed old-cuss of a profaning, furious, histrionic renouncer of god and stars and fate and fortunes of the found, lost, and mis- varieties.

brideshead-love-sceneLast night, washing my face, looking in the mirror, I wept. The contours my life has left there, shaped and worn and formed by what feels too-long a time, that slow accumulation of waste, the haggard deterioration evident in the landscape of this body that sleeps so often in other people’s beds; alone. Hired to watch their treasures. Beds of Queen and King size of which I use barely one side, and next to me, there in all the empty, I tuck and pile my clothes, my books, my notepads, my stuff-of-tombs, which is what I have to keep me warm. Or, rather, as warm as that man in last night’s mirror — fifty-four years old and never loved in a King-sized bed way — has managed.

I am so very much like that exhausted Sebastian; Lord Flight, though, rather than Flyte, and not to a Tunisian monastery, but rather, to this, blogging to the few followers, my Twitter-world (which is, indeed, grand) but sadly not even an Aloysius for companionship.

The day calls. My reality; I’ve two books on hold at my local bookshop but I can’t pick them up until the check from the last house-sitting gig arrives, which is now, more than a week past the date I expected it. I’ve four books on hold at the library but want to return at least two before picking up more. Because of house-sitting and holiday and now my back being twisted out while trying to manually up and down a broken garage door, I’ve not been gymming enough and have re-gained some weight I’d lost and lost muscle-tone I’d gained– so, not only will I not be loved, I won’t even be temporarily pretend-loved by fellows in the hit and run business. That in mind, must to the gym and struggle through machines at least, then grocer for anchovies, prunes, and hydrogen peroxide — diet essentials.

Oh Aloysius, where are you?

And so, I go, here where I am, here where we are, going.