Reading: A GREAT RECKONING by Louise Penny

Penny, Louise A Great Reckoning 2A Great Reckoning, Louise Penny, Cloth, 400 pages, Minotaur, August 30, 2016

“It’s a little humbling to realize the pedestal isn’t quite so high after all.” This confession by beloved Armand Gamache, near the climax of the alchemy of prose and humanity called A Great Reckoning, illuminates the genius of genre-busting author Louise Penny.

First things first; a precis of plot. Gamache is continuing his effort to clean up the corruption in the law enforcement organization to which he has devoted and for which he has risked his life, now taking over as commander of Surete Academy, when irascible, middle-finger-flashing poet, Ruth, presents him with a map which had long been hidden in the walls of Gabri & Olivier’s Three Pines bistro, a copy of which ends up in the bedside table of a professor found dead at the Academy, a murder for which Armand, his lifelong best friend and mortal enemy, Brebeuf, and four young cadets for whom Armand feels guiltily responsible, having given them copies of the map to investigate as an exercise, become suspects. The connections between the murder, the provenance of the map, a stained glass window in the Three Pines chapel, the four cadets and their relationship to the murdered professor and Armand, and the secrets, shames, and suspicions in the histories of everyone involved make for a riveting twelfth installment in Ms. Penny’s Gamache series.

Such is Ms. Penny’s authorial acumen, as with every entry in this series, you need not have read the preceding Gamache novels to understand, enjoy, or appreciate this one. That said, for those of us who have done, each return to Three Pines, each visit with its community of compelling characters who manage to be both clamorous and concordant is like a reunion with treasured friends during which one is reminded of all they’ve been and been through, while marvelling and catching up with where they are now and who they’ve become. The real magic of the spells woven by Ms. Penny though, is the ways in which the characters’ journeys — no matter how heightened and outside the realm of most of our daily lives — limn those all too human moments we all experience.

A Great Reckoning manages to move along at cracking-good mystery/whodunnit pace, at the same time layering a literary fiction’s worth of emotional exploration, insight and depth, all in clear, precise, evocative language, full of sentences of lyrical beauty and penetrating observation, too there is often a gentle but incisive wit, and in all of this the reader recognizes their own humanity and experience; because while Ms. Penny’s books may be genre-labeled as mysteries, the real mystery always at their center is how does one manage to remain a decent human being in a world full of pain, evil, danger, and those who have failed at or eschewed decency. Armand Gamache does not run from his flaws or duck his challenges, he stands, he faces, he does his considered and considerable best to be the best he can be, to do the least harm, to navigate with honor, dignity, and grace in a world where such things are not always valued, are not always the path to success, are sometimes used against him.

Armand Gamache is who we would all like to be, who we would all like to emulate, who we would all like to know, and when he falls short, when he faces failure, when he recognizes that although he has striven hard to be upright, honest, and an example, still even those he loves and trusts the most can suspect him of having slipped, failed, erred — well, that’s the human experience, the occasion of “a little humbling to recognize the pedestal isn’t quite so high after all.” That’s gorgeous writing.

My only cavil with this novel is a petty, personal note: I don’t have it in me to be Armand Gamache, nowhere near. I am more unto bad-tempered, tetchy, foul-mouthed, fractious poet, Ruth Zardo, and I should very much like it if she entirely took over an installment or two. I can never get enough of her. And her duck.

This is one of my favorites of the Gamache series, and I say that having loved every one. If you are a fan of good writing, literary fiction, mysteries, beautiful sentences, fascinating characters, surprising plotting, books you cancel plans for and can’t put down, and yet you haven’t started reading Louise Penny, you must. Start here with A Great Reckoning, or, go back to the beginning of the series. I promise you, you will not be disappointed and I bet, like me, you will have many moments of, “Aha! I have felt that very thing and she has put it into words!” For, like Gamache, Ms. Penny is uncannily attuned to the human condition, an astute observer of the experience of being, and her writing is both a delight and a revelation of self. READ HER.

And while you’re at it, don’t neglect the Acknowledgments at the end of the book (which I always read first) where Ms. Penny gives evidence of just how close is her heart and soul to that of beloved Gamache. I don’t know her at all, but she seems to be every bit the wonderful person he is, and, she thanks her “astonishing editor”, Hope Dellon, for being a great friend and checking in to see how Ms. Penny was doing on a personal level. I do know Hope Dellon, who I met through Twitter because of my admiration for Ms. Penny’s work, and in the years since, she has been a good friend to me, offering encouragement and affirmation, checking in and urging forward, onward, and rising from her own sick-bed to meet me for lunch when I was visiting New York; they are both lucky to know one another and it gives this reader comfort to know the world is populated by people like Louise Penny and Hope Dellon, people of honor, grace, dignity, and decency. For me, they both stand on pedestals quite high, indeed.

I pre-ordered my copy of A GREAT RECKONING from The Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE], my independent bookstore here in Frederick, Maryland. At the same time, I reserved a copy at the library and they mistakenly gave it to me a week early, so I have been sitting on this excitement for a week — which nearly did me in! Now, if only someone would likewise slip me an early copy of Ann Patchett’s COMMONWEALTH.

 

Survivors

Garth Greenwell [click here for his site] wrote the brilliant novel, WHAT BELONGS TO YOU, and Garrard Conley [click here for his site] wrote the eviscerating memoir, BOY ERASED, which have in common besides being fantastic writing and moving reads, that they are informed by the gay experience; these are life stories still too rare, still too stigmatized, still too dismissed and denied in too many places, which makes the world dangerous for people like Garth and Garrard and, well, me. So, part of my story, here, where I am, going. 

I am up at 5a.m. cutting up ten pounds of vegetables.

This weekend there’s a family gathering of my only living parent, Mommy, her five remaining offspring accompanied by members of their individual branches, and, too, relatives borne by the deceased offspring. We will celebrate the visit of one niece/cousin/daughter and the return to college of another niece/cousin/daughter, and, if we’re honest about it, this fried chicken dinner is about what every other joining of more than one or two of us has become: a marvel that we have survived.

I try not to invade the privacy of others with my writing. I understand people in the same room having had the same conversation will individually experience it through their own filters of frame of reference, life experience, and personal prejudices, so I hesitate to write about something (anything) someone else has “done”, the doing of which has resulted in me feeling a certain way. This is why, I think, my blogs are often so solipsistic; I believe we are responsible for our own reality, as in, I am responsible for how I react to whatever the world gives me.

As an actor, director, teacher, writer, and now, house/pet sitter, I have spent most of my life examining and contemplating what the world gives and how the gifts make people feel and react. Cause and effect. Things happen because . . . this is what interests me; the WHY of life.

I see now that for many years I couldn’t get to the pith of WHY — my own WHY anyway — because I harbored such anger. Anger born of fear. Fear of rejection. And as is so often the case, that thing I feared was the very thing I sought, set myself up to find.

Now, let me begin by saying, I am not looking to blame anyone for anything. It is not the fault of my family I was born into a heterosexist culture from which come my earliest memories, these family members I cherish disapproving of me. The “stop acting like a girl” and “boys don’t wiggle their rear ends when they walk” and “boys can’t have long hair” and “stop pretending you’re a girl wearing dresses” and “don’t you want to play with your trucks?” and the subtler sort of tsks and turnings away, the times they pretended not to see me with a towel on my head substituting for luxurious, long blonde hair, the times they would tell my sister how cute she looked in a found dress-up dress but pretend not to see me there next to her, these communicated to me from the beginning of my consciousness that I was, somehow, not right.

Not what they wanted.

I want to be absolutely clear: My family loved me unreservedly and any hesitations had to do with what they thought would happen to me out in the world because of who I was and how I behaved. My family — to a person — all struggled with feeling not enough, not right, not belonging, not deserving of love, success, being seen. We all made life decisions we regretted based on the belief we would never, could never really be loved if anyone actually knew who we were, what we were, so we’d best be grateful for every crumb sent our way and hope we were never found out for the losers we really were.

When I formally came out, there was no rejection, only support, at a time when many LGBTQ people (although that term did not exist) were disowned, denied, and destroyed by their families.

None of which changes the chronic stress of being other in a world where it was clearly communicated that other was unacceptable. If I wanted to be happy — hell, if I wanted to SURVIVE — it depended on me pretending to be someone and something other than who I was. It was a natural trajectory that I’d gravitate to the arts, where pretending to be something and someone else was rewarded and where I was able to find cohort and companions who understood — even if it wasn’t said out loud — my journey.

The sadness of that; as a performer I had a good-enough voice and a no-holds-barred intensity, but I did not have the masculine mien that allowed me to be cast in most available male roles. I was, as they said at the time, “light”. I tried, but not hard enough, I did not have the required fortitude or confidence to bear all the rejection of being sort-of-talented and a type. I ended up directing and teaching, which was a mostly good thing. I worked very hard to embrace other when casting and teaching, to include and expand, to see soul, not gender, color, age, size, when making stories. I succeeded quite a bit. And, yes, I also failed. I misunderstood some people, I missed some opportunities to see and encourage people, I had a prejudice toward beautiful voices and troubled souls and floppy, gangly movers.

But, I made a world. Or, more accurately, I made a safe room in a scary world where others were supposed to be safe to be who they were, the kind of room I wished I’d had as young Charlie.

And then, for reasons too private and in many ways the telling of which — even my part of the story — would elide into the realities of others I do not wish to denigrate, criticize, nor in any way harm or judge, it became impossible for me to stay in that room myself; impossible because it had become clear that in ways I’d never suspected — or, perhaps, willfully ignored — I was again not being seen for who I was by people who meant to love me, but, instead, loved who they wanted or needed me to be, some other version of me, a version it was killing me to try to be. It was past the time where I could keep morphing to make others happy, I needed to try to be me for me, and let that be enough.

So, late-ish in life I struck out, giving up many things, quietly. In the process, I was given up by lots of people, most of whom meant little to me, acquaintances, but some of whom I loved and trusted deeply, family and dear friends whose absence and/or lack of understanding and support cut me deeply, felt like rejection, very nearly killed me.

But one goes on. Or, I did. I knew that I too had hurt people. One doesn’t mean to, one sometimes can’t do anything else, most people act from self-preservation and we don’t consider what others believe to be our heinous acts of betrayal to be heinous in the least. We are all sociopaths when it comes to getting what we think we need to survive.

And so, as I had with acting, producing, and teaching, I concentrated on writing, which has the same sort of audition/rejection foundation as does acting. I repeat, as with acting: I tried, but not hard enough, I did not have the required fortitude or confidence to bear all the rejection of being sort-of-talented and a niche-type. I ended up odd-jobbing, house and pet sitting, living far below the poverty level.

During which process I, well, let Roxie Hart speak for me:

Look, I’m gonna tell you the truth. Not that the truth really matters. But I’m gonna tell you anyway. The thing is, see, I’m older than I ever intended to be. And all my life I wanted to be —- but No, No, No, they always turned me down. It was one big world full of No. . . . Anyway, to make a long story short, I started fooling around. Then I started screwing around — which is fooling around without dinner.

While I might have faced mostly rejection in acting and writing and love, to my surprise, late-ish in life, in ways and to degrees never the case in my youth, I was remarkably successful at tricking. And its rejections didn’t bother me because it wasn’t me. Not Charlie. I didn’t have a name. Or, if I did, it wasn’t my real one. No one gave a crap about names. Or resumes. Or my singing. Or writing. Or my ability to make people feel safe or seen. Or anything but this six feet, one inch, one hundred and something (private, that) pounds, age undetermined (lied about, actually), average-bodied, relatively sane, clean, smells good man onto which these other men projected whatever it was they needed me to be, and we all got what we needed. Right then. Moments. Pretending to be whoever they wanted us to be, pretending they were who we needed them to be, pretending to be.

And I am okay with that. And damn good at it.

And this: I’ve spent the majority of my life with a room of my own. I don’t want to share my bed. I don’t want to get married. It’s too late to have a child. I don’t want to start another career. I want to be content in my space of me.

So, I need to protect that space. I don’t invite people into my rooms — wherever they are — I go to theirs. And that, less and less. I am in retreat. Where once I was on Twitter hours a day, now I check in once or twice. Or, not at all. I love the people — my dear ones — on Twitter, but like my family and dear friends from before — I don’t want to face the thought of losing them, of watching them go, as has happened so much in life. So, in my bed, now, (in my life, now?) I have room only for me, my books, my Moleskines. Where I sleep is my sacred retreat from the possibility of rejection of any kind. Where I sleep is my place of inclusion for me. Just me.

The me who has survived in a world where the minority stress caused by cultural externalized and internalized homophobia coupled with a genetic predisposition toward self-abnegation and early Catholic training in the benefits of being a martyr to others, could easily have done me in.

I survived. I’m not sure why, to what end, or, frankly, some days, that I wouldn’t have been better off not surviving, but here I am. Cutting up vegetables for what remains of my family, even those who broke my heart. Swiffering someone else’s floor. Cuddling someone else’s pets. Holding someone else’s space. Being where and what I am needed to be by others for a while during the day. My choice. And, having reached this place in life, too, my mistakes, I’ve owned them. I am not ashamed of the things I did badly and wrong, of the things I fucked up, nor am I ashamed of being fond of casual sex with virtual pretty strangers. Now, when I get into bed at night, wherever that bed happens to be that week, I am unashamed and contentedly alone with my books, with my me, the me who has against gargantuan odds of predisposition and disease, survived when many of my gay brothers did not. Have not. Could not. I am a survivor.

And we are all of us that, yes? Survivors. The secret aging tells us, the whittling away to essence, the pith of our personhood, what remains when all the bullshit and braying and boasting and believing and betrayal is done with.

Happy weekend, kids. Going.

 

 

 

The Five People You Meet In Hell (One: The Recruiter)

This is a short story/work in progress. This is FICTION.

 

He had made him bleed.

Since reading Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays while recovering from his first suicide attempt made on the occasion of his twelfth birthday in 1973,Parker had been asking: What makes Iago evil? Which springs to mind because last night to a man he knew as Recruiter, who knew him as Sebastian, Parker had Grindr-messaged the Didion quote, Just so. I am what I am, in response to Recruiter’s unsolicited input on Parker’s — well, Sebastian’s — sexual performance, which review he’d prefaced with, Don’t take this the wrong way but…

The-Preaching-of-the-Antichrist-detail-of-Christ-and-the-Devil-from-the-Chapel-of-the-Madonna-di-San-Brizio-1499-1504-xx-Luca-SignorelliWhen the too-old-for-this-shit Parker overpowered the submissive Sebastian-alter and sneered (which is not that easy to achieve in a Grindr-message, but Sebastian had gifts) What is the right way to fucking take it?, having never met the Parker hiding inside Sebastian nor seen The Three Faces of Eve, Recruiter mistook it as an invitation to offer anatomically specific advice on inserter and insertee behavior, including a suggestion that Sebastian’s over dramatic response was a boner-killer.

At which point Parker — again mid-weeping, unable to stop obsessively re-reading the first sentence of the first story in Patrick Ryan’s collection, The Dream Life of Astronauts, a first sentence that got immediately to the point and the pith, telling the reader at least eight important things in only thirty-four words, a first sentence in a book published by a division of Random House with a hardback cover boasting a blurb by one of Parker’s idols, Ann Patchett (he’d hugged her once and photo-opped at a book-signing, could Patrick Ryan — younger than Parker, godammit — say that? Well, probably. And probably in Iowa. At the workshop. They all fucking went to the workshop where Parker had only managed to spend one summer and only because he’d been near-bullied into it by a dear friend over the passive-aggressive objections of — never mind, he didn’t want to revisit that relationship.), whereas Parker, trying to write now since he’d been six, was unable in thirty-four pages to describe even the simple deleting of a Grindr account without it devolving into what one kind and loving and supportive and ultimately uninterested agent had called beautiful Balzacian excess which no one will read or buy — had dropped the Just so. I am what I am.

To Parker, this made sense. If he would never write a thirty-four word sentence communicating an entire backstory in a Random House hardback blurbed by Ann Patchett, then he would drop Joan Didion quotes on people who had no idea that Patrick Ryan, Ann Patchett, Joan Didion, or Parker existed.

Let alone Balzac. (Ha, he wondered, can I comfort myself imagining I am a “let alone Balzac”?)

And like all the ultimately uninterested agents, Recruiter would join the ranks of the ultimately uninterested Grindr-tricks.

At first, Parker/Sebastian had blocked Recruiter. Lie. At first, Parker/Sebastian experienced chest-pain and abashment at Recruiter’s comeback; Don’t get all shitty bitch just trying to help you get more cock. At second, Sebastian wanted to apologize. At second, Parker, tired of the situations into which Sebastian was getting him, thought it best he erase Sebastian.

Of course, Parker being Parker and not Sebastian, spent days picking at and worrying his latest psychic-wound inflicted by yet another thirty years younger trick, chastening himself for allowing the admonitions of someone with whom he didn’t trust his actual identity or age to affect him so badly. Then again, Recruiter did make his living rounding-up tops to train-fuck his favored bottom for X-Tube paywall videos, so, he was something of an expert.

As had been the ultimately uninterested but much gentler agent. Maybe if Recruiter had been kinder. Maybe if Recruiter had not called him a boner-killer. Maybe if Recruiter had said his reactions during sex displayed a Balzacian excess in which no one was interested, that no one would buy.

Parker was feeling old.

Parker was feeling sorry for himself.

Parker couldn’t quite believe the thirty-four word first sentence of the first story of the collection published by Random House blurbed by Ann Patchett written by Patrick Ryan was both so damned concise and suffused with evocative detail. Parker couldn’t quite wrap his Balzacian distorted Three Faces of Eve fucked-up thinking head around  the reality that he had spent a life being rejected by the Catholic church, his peers, schools, theater directors, literary agents, men, his family, and now, well, Sebastian.

Who no longer wanted to play. Which was why he had to be edited out. Sebastian — like all good subs — was ultimately in control of what was acceptable, of his limits, of what could be done to him before he called out his safe word and brought the action to a halt. And Parker — like many bad doms — had let things go too far with Sebastian, allowed Recruiter — and others — to use too much, too rough, too without regard for the wear and the tear on Sebastian.

Who, despite not even actually (even and actually? this is what no one buys) existing, had started to bleed. Who was bleeding. Who, when Parker looked down, there, was surprised to see his hands were not red, but a sort of purplish-brown, sticky and slippery at once, dripping, cold like winter already here at the end of another summer, one hand — the right, Balzacian detail: as with clipping nails, it had been surprisingly easy for right-handed Parker to wield the razor with his left hand, of course, he’d played Sweeney as left-handed but that story would never be told now, would it?  — still holding the hollow ground 6/8 inch round tip straight razor, etched with his name, given him by his director when he’d played Sweeney Todd.

These sentences were too long. There needed to be less. There needed to be a safe word for Parker to have called. To have stopped it some time ago. Much earlier. But, one word? Parker. Not likely. Maybe, two?

Ann Patchett.

The Letters

I have moved a lot in the last few years and for the first time in a long time I have the time and the courage to open boxes that have long been sealed, forgotten, in storage.

I found a box of letters and poems (oh my god, I was horrible) and writing from 35 years ago.  And picture.

Charlie Debbie

That’s me. And Debbie. Decades ago. Brother and sister. Now, we live together, decades later. Brother and sister.

The letters were carefully sorted into banded bundles by author. I had completely forgotten some of these people, and, too, forgotten how obsessive a letter writer I was before email happened and long distance calling disappeared.

Do you remember carbon copies? I made carbons of many of the letters I wrote. Or, COPIED THEM BY HAND!

There are bundles from three men with whom I was obsessed, and one man who was obsessed with me and I am as HORRIFIED by those letters as I am by the poems.

I may never Tweet or write again. Who wants more horrifying shit like that left as record? Of my life.

Also, the letters are FILLED with people’s secrets. I had forgotten how may people confessed to me. Confided in me.

I had also forgotten how certain I was of all I would be.

And, oh dear, never was.

So, I am going to continue being quiet a while. I killed a few social media accounts. I am feeling at loose ends. My chest is tight. I am, well, I am fine. But, I don’t want to talk anymore. I don’t want any more “never was” or “never will be”or bundles of letters or memories of people where the feelings didn’t match and I didn’t know enough to let go. Or, get out.

I. Have. Never. Learned.

 

In Most Need Of Thy Mercy

In a switch from my usual Sondheim-ing, Joni Mitchell-ing, and Phoebe Snow-ing, tonight I am listening to a rosary on YouTube.

our-lady-of-the-rosary1This Roman Catholic chanting was the music of my life before those others. Tonight, a Saturday night, resurrected was my aching loneliness. It is a tessellation of despairings, an accumulation of missings and might have beens, this mosaic; longing for lovers never met and too, those met; for a friend now gone; for those specific people, specific memories of them; that last time she called me honey; that last time he sat on my lap; that last time I delayed getting up and going to do what needed to be done because he was playing with the light blonde hairs on my arm; and too, the wondering memories; when was the last time she made one of her daily calls to me; when was the last time he kissed me; when was the last time he said goodnight; when was the last time he told me the truth/lied to me.

I thought: Each memory, each ache, is like a bead in some sick, too often revisited rosary, chanted again and again, and I never, never achieve absolution.

And I thought of my aunt, Sissie, who’d spent nearly all of her Saturday nights alone, her bed never shared except with nieces and nephews there, spending weekends, as she gave parents a break from the endless having of them.

I hate the church but I love the sound of the rosary, and the angelic hymns sung in the background.

I send up my sighs, from this, my current exile in this valley of tears, and wish I might imitate Sissie’s grace.

 

Used To Be Mine

This . . . pretty perfect follow-up to my most recent post [here].

Used To Be Mine

It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron
That place and it’s patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used to be
Although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center
I still remember that girl

She’s imperfect but she tries
She is good but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up
And baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone but she used to be mine

It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person
And makes you believe it’s all true
And now I’ve got you
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

Who’ll be reckless just enough
Who’ll get hurt but
Who learns how to toughen up when she’s bruised
And gets used by a man who can’t love
And then she’ll get stuck and be scared
Of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day
‘Til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little
To bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone but it used to be mine

Used to be mine
She is messy but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone but she used to be mine

Written by Sara Bareilles • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Brief from a dark day . . .

TRIGGER WARNING: If you are one of the dear ones who find my dysthymic downs alarming, you should skip this entry.

I’ve been berating myself A LOT lately about how I have failed in life. I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Why was I always afraid to really try to go for the things I wanted? Why did I spend decades listening to someone who always thought I fell short, was not enough, was doing me a favor tolerating me and putting up with my flaws? Why was I always drawn to people who I was convinced were better than me, would be rid of me as soon as they realized what a loser I really was, how stupid I was, how less than, less than, less than.

Today was a Mom-day. My second this week. Long-short, I’ve not been feeling physically well for quite a while, struggling with a digestive disorder which comes and goes, without warning, at varying intensities, and seems — after two-plus years — to defy diagnosis. Tuesday morning I had my third follow-up appointment for the latest episodes, an appointment where it was finally suggested (probably because I was quite literally sobbing in the office when told I should go back to the GI doctor who’d done nothing on the last visit and who usually can’t schedule an appointment for six months) that due to my lousy insurance, I was probably going to keep being shuffled around, untreated, and ought wait until I got really sick again and head to the emergency room where I might actually get the tests that would lead to a diagnosis for the mystery disease.

I wasn’t feeling so hot after that. So, when I got a message from my Mom that she had somehow hurt her back and the staff where she lived wanted her to see the in-house doctor the next morning, thus, she had rescheduled her hair appointment for THAT VERY AFTERNOON and where was I? Why wasn’t I answering? I needed to come get her! I did. We went, despite the fact she could barely walk and getting her to and from car, not to mention her walker, was four times the usual chore, and then, to make it even better, on the way back from her beautician located up a damn highway in a town best known for its KKK rallies, we were caught in horrifying thunderstorms which brought traffic to a full-stop, after which, she didn’t want to get out of the car unless I could find an umbrella to protect her hairdo.

I did all that, Tuesday, with cramps. And diarrhea. I know. TMI. I know. Lots of people deal with much worse pain all the time. I should not whine.

I went to pick Mommy up for today’s adventure which was just going to be lunch and she needed “a few things” from a grocer. I rested most of Wednesday — with minimal cramps, and I was ready today to smile and be perky and be the son she deserved, happy and ready to do anything.

First of all, she didn’t come outside when I got there. I waited. I get there about 15 minutes early (or more) so she never has to wait. She comes out early, knowing I’ll be early. Not today. At the appointed time, she still was not out. I guess this is the place to mention that my illness also seems to have insomnia and interrupted sleep as symptom, with feverish night terror/dreams, and all last night I’d been having them about Mom, thinking something was wrong. So bad, I almost called the place where she lives at 2a.m. So, when she didn’t come out, I panicked.

No need. For the second time in the past few weeks, she had fallen asleep in her chair. She is getting more tired. She is getting crankier. She is getting — understandably at 89 — older.

The thing, though, everything I did today was wrong. She didn’t want to decide where to go for lunch. I made a suggestion and she said fine. I started driving there and she said she didn’t really want to go there, wouldn’t it be better if. I re-directed. I drove in the wrong lane. I didn’t park in the better spot. I was eating too slowly. The store didn’t have what she wanted. I offered to go to another store, but no, she wouldn’t. She’d just get what she didn’t want and then mention it three times on the way home.

Listen, I love my Mom and she does NOT mean to do any of this. She loves me. A lot. And I was a horrifyingly awful teen/twenties (well, some would say teen-to-now) son. But having everything I did be not enough pushed all my buttons, every button, because I was already having one of those rejection days (not worth going into) and as she criticized me I couldn’t help but think, “Is this why when they wanted to skip me two grades you wouldn’t let them? Is this why when they wanted to send me away to private school you wouldn’t let them? Is this why when I wanted to be an actor and a writer and someone who didn’t live in Frederick, someone really special you said, ‘Charlie, people like us don’t do things like that.'”

No. It isn’t. She didn’t want me to be hurt by the world. Like she had been. She wanted to protect me and that was how she knew to do so. She loved me. Loves me. And I am responsible for my choices and my life and its being a fucking mess is my doing, no one else to blame.

But today, after having gotten her back there, and helping the staff carry in a week’s worth of groceries because, you know, they were doing it when I got there, and feeling my cramps again, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe I had heard a different tape when I was young, if just maybe, instead of looking at beautiful photos of New York City on Twitter, and reading other people’s books, I might be in New York, writing my own books, having done what I wanted, less afraid, rather than spending the majority of my life trying to please a long line of sociopathic, self-centered people who only wanted me to fill a role they’d already written, who never gave one damn whether or not I got what I needed or wanted, who told me when I finally stood up for myself that I’d never really added anything to our lives anyway, that I wasn’t that much in the first place, that I was crazy, a liar, worthless  —

— maybe if I had heard something other than “not for people like us Charlie” —

— then maybe I wouldn’t feel like doing just what my father did and driving into the nearest fucking telephone pole.

I’ve turned everything off again. I’ll get over this — and back to being grateful for what is beautiful in my life, but today, damn, today. Fuck today. Fuck those nasty YOU ARE NOTHING tapes I keep hearing.

 

 

The Lost (Found) Weekend Begins

It’s been eleven hours since I began my hiatus from the world, which means, for me, I have detached from social media by abandoning Twitter, uninstalling Grindr, and I’ve not turned on a television or radio nor used my phone other than to answer texts (and I have started no text exchanges, I am in reply mode only, and, even then, ignoring some people) and I am turning my laptop on only to write and post blogs, not surfing the inter-webs.

Why? Bad dreams. About bad waking. This election is frightening me, pushing buttons, bringing up things I thought I’d dealt with. I get so annoyed with myself: there are people in this world with real problems, and I, who live a life of relative privilege — I have a family and friends who love and support me, a place to live, food to eat, safety — and spent ages in therapy dealing with my bullshit worries and fears, re-booting myself so I operated from the energy of Love and Light, rather than living in fear and darkness,  I ought to be over and past and done with those triggers:

Daddy died when I was 17 months old — abandonment fears —

Physically & verbally abused by family member —

Called names/bullied from first grade through being chased out of school and home at 16 —

Agoraphobia/social anxiety —

Body/slut shame insecurities —

The “not good enough” & “they wouldn’t love me if they REALLY knew me” thing —

— all of which, finally, are founded on a belief instilled in me — NO, not instilled, it isn’t the doing of someone else, I am responsible for my own reality — so, maybe, okay, not a belief, but a nagging-copout-suspicion-self-doubt that I don’t belong here, am not good enough for this club of being, that whatever love or appreciation I receive is coming my way because I have either fooled people/world or people/world can’t have their first (second, third, fourth) choices and so I am the back-up plan, what they’re left with.

And a world in which nearly half the country in which I live can vote for an insane man who operates from a narcissistic platform of hate and attack, energizing the same sorts of people who threw me up against lockers in school, called me faggot in my twenties and chased me down the streets of New Haven looking to kill me, is a world in which I do NOT belong, and do NOT wish to live in.

So, I need to recalibrate here, find a way to understand the fear and hate and ignorance driving those people, focus on the OTHERS, and find some peace. At least my night terrors last night were less violent than the few preceding nights, and I was lucid enough to say, “No, Charlie, remember, you are taking a break, love yourself, love yourself, love yourself.”

It did some good, not a lot, and I gave up at 4:30 and got up. Fed the dogs. And prayed these stomach cramps I’m having don’t last all day. Or, all weekend.

It was — I think — four years ago I decided I needed to take a break from Facebook for a few days and never went back.

We shall see if I return to my life.

 

 

Little Fictions, Larger Truths

C said out loud to himself, Monday my blog views peaked.

He loved the word peaked when used to describe the condition of having gone wan and worn, which is what he went after his blog-stat-metrics revealed the popularity spike had to do not with his mordantly witty Balzacian meanderings of incisive social commentary, but, rather, his Jonas Brothers coming out/huge dick posts.

C thought How funny, this late in life, for dick to have, somehow, on so many levels, garnered me more attention than my intellect or insight. Irony, that, as dick was the last organ for which I thought I’d be known, having lived so long focused on the brain and heart, and gotten so little use from my dick.

This convolution of syntax and emotion marked his writing, which, perhaps, explained why his dick-work was more popular. With that, he was straight(so to speak)forward. Spare of word. And thought. And emotion. Those submissions, he said to himself, are accepted.

But his dick was out of play at the moment because he was trying to write while house/dog-sitting in the gorgeous home of dear friends, taking advantage of the peace, the energy of love and affirmation this family generated, a powerful vibration that echoed and sang even when they were away.

In the background, from his laptop, played a four-hour version of Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. His paternal grandmother, Edna Wagner, promulgated what was later revealed to be a blatant untruth that the family were Wagner descendants. The only connection she had to Wagner was her anti-Semitism and racism. However, the family connection myth had been inculcated in C long before he discovered Wagner’s horrific prejudices and hatreds, so, beginning early in his writing non-career, he used lengthy Wagner-works as measurements of enforced writing time, additionally hoping for a magical-familial-spiritual inspiration to flow through the ether and raise his literary compositions to the same genius level. Alas, by the now of now, he feared that all he had in common with Wagner was a writing style “verbose, unclear and turgid” (he’d read this in Wikipedia — about Wagner, not himself. C wasn’t famous enough for Wikipedia. C wasn’t famous at all.) which might have — once or twice — been said about his prose, even by strangers on Twitter. But not, he thought to himself, on Grindr.

He also loved the word turgid. Latin root, meaning swollen. Related to tumid. As in tumesce, a back-formation of tumescent. As in bulging, inflated, bombastic, overblown. (Ha, he thought,  over-blown makes you tumesce. I will always be a dirty-minded ten year old boy. Yes, ten, I was ahead of my time and that was the year I read “Portnoy’s Complaint”.)All about the swell. Swell, which brought to mind for him for some reason (Uhm, I’m gay, fool.) Gene Kelly assuring Judy Garland that she is “just swell, kid!”

I think it was Summer Stock? Where Judy stole Gene from her sister, Gloria DeHaven. Who died Monday.

Which made it all make sense in C’s convoluted way because Gloria DeHaven had died the same day his blog hits went nuclear because someone linked his Jonas-dick story which somehow linked Judy Garland to his dick story which brought him full-gay-circle. He thought.

Sad world, this, where Judy Garland somehow devolves to Nick Jonas dick. If I had a choice — like one of those god-miracle-things — Okay C, you can either see Judy Garland at the Palace or you can have a night fucking Nick Jonas; which one would I pick? Wow, this is way harder than I thought it would be. I almost hate myself right now.

C was having trouble focusing.

Where was I? Hell, where am I? I’m one hour and twenty minutes into Tristan und Isolde, in the home of dear friends, their two dogs sleeping at my feet, and I am trying to write. But, I am distracted. By things. I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Fever dreams — by which I mean I was in and out of sleep, obsessing on things (so many THINGS) by which I’d felt assaulted during waking hours. For example, a writer I very much admire, CN, was passive-aggressively-attacked on Twitter by another writer I do not admire, J, who, in fact, annoys the shit out of me and was Tweeting the praises of a writer I like even less, J2, a misogynist, privileged, overrated mess of a blathering lit-idol. It pissed me off. I said so to J, who shortly thereafter blocked CN for questioning and debating the basis of the passive-aggressive attack. That’s some chickenshit there, to go after someone and then disappear when they respond. Mind you, J is the very same white writer who defended a racist poem published in The New Yorker and had the temerity to tell those it derided and degraded they had no right to feel affronted. So, fuck her.

C was leaving something out of the story he was telling himself. During the course of his CN,J,J2 tale taking place in Twitter world, there happened that thing that happens not infrequently, as in, C, himself just a small, outsider, visiting cog in Twit-lit-world, Tweeted something about the above described episode to which one of the large-insider-Twit-lit cogs, who he very much liked and by whom he was often and kindly acknowledged and engaged, responded, a response thereafter liked by the usual suspects who also qualified as large-insider-Twit-lit inhabitants, who had ignored C’s initial Tweet on which the response was predicated, which, in fact, made the response make sense. So, why was his original, pithy(ish) comment being ignored? Because he was a small cog in the structure that ruled the world and classism and elitism existed even in the literary world.

It bothered C. Which it ought not have. But it did. And so, that he was bothered, bothered C even more, which sort of botheration resulted in his fustian, prolix babble-versations with himself:

It shouldn’t matter to me who does or does not like a Tweet, or mutes me, or reads me. People are busy. Lives lived on Twitter are still — to some degree — connected to IRL lives, and my IRL life intersects with very few of the people with whom I’ve Twitter-lives, and the people who I interact with IRL, well, truth, they care nothing about my brain and mostly about my dick, hell, even my real life friends who do care about my brain and heart, mostly don’t know who Cn and J and J2 are. I’m living in entirely made-up worlds, or, I’m living alone. Mostly. In my head. So, shut up C. SHUT UP. You have spent so much energy trying to make a life where class and money and social-constructs don’t matter. A life with as few isms as possible. Even though body-shaming and ageism are HUGE on Grindr. Shit, wait. Let’s not delve there right now. Let us not think about how there are these constructs everywhere I go even though I have tried to make places for myself to go where there is no — wait — are no; WAIT! NO. This is my pressure. And, too, acknowledge that the pressures of the life-game endured by some of those who qualify as larger-Twit-lit inhabitants must be near-crushing and my life is not crushing. My life is all in my head. That’s where my crushing is. Crushing. I love what that word has turned into. Actually, my life is a lot of crushing, come to think of it, like on Nick Jonas’s dick. Which, apparently I have in common with many, many people and thus my peaking blog views cuz of my crushing in common. Common crushing? Dick crushing? Oh, wait. Stop. Write. I can almost stop, yes, because here is the Act 3 Liebestod. It’s almost over.

And he thought, Do I alone hear this melody? And realized, in all likelihood, yes. If he was quoting Wagner, he was going to be doing so alone, having these conversations with himself.

And there C was. Back where he’d started. Peaking blog views. Nick Jonas’s dick. Or, even further back, there, where he’d started, this C, at Judy Garland. Yes. There he was.

And here I am, going.

And then, as an afterthought, I tagged the post: Nick Jonas Big Dick, so that someone might read it. Which, they won’t. But, here, so it’s not a total waste:

Jonas, Nick cuddling jonas nick scream queens workout jonas tucker gay Jonas Nick nick-jonas-poses-shirtless-in-his-underwear-for-flaunt-magazine-01 Jonas Nick nick-jonas-poses-shirtless-in-his-underwear-for-flaunt-magazine-03 Jonas Nick nick-jonas-poses-shirtless-in-his-underwear-for-flaunt-magazine-04