Words in shapes unlike me . . .

I wrote this last December, and it seems, even more, to apply now.

here we are going

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

boys all noise

& ballsy bluster boys

so easily flustered by the gaze…

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READING: 2016: The Comfort of Words

I was one of those book-loving children, oft told, “Why don’t you go outside and play?” Well, perhaps because outside in the real world I felt, at best, tolerated, while,  inside books, I celebrated with friends who saw life like I did and, more important, their stories promised the possibility of belonging and thriving with people of my own kind, a comfort I hadn’t yet found in my day-to-day life where my earliest memories have to do with hiding who I was and how I felt.

While much is different, right now, it seems too little has changed. And 2016 has left me once more burrowing into the comfort of books, resisting the world outside my little bubble wherein I can keep believing the world is made of Love and Light, and all people are, at the core and essence, good.

I read 125 books in 2016 and whether or not it was this cursed year itself distracting me, or perhaps my advancing age and weakening faculties, only a few made lasting impressions. As I go through the list there are many about which I recall very little, except disappointment. In 2017 I intend to be more careful about taking recommendations because often the books about which others are abuzz do so little for me as to infuriate me into believing I’ve been misled by shills or ad placements masquerading as journalism. But, I’m not going to talk about those books, this is about the books I loved — or, if I didn’t exactly love them, I was moved, influenced, impressed.

What Belongs To YouBOOK OF THE YEAR: WHAT BELONGS TO YOU, by Garth Greenwell  There is nothing more to say. I started talking about it while reading the first pages in January and I haven’t stopped since. And many esteemed critics, publications, and remarkably literate people of exquisite taste have also loved it and included it on awards and year-end lists. Click here for my original post about it from February 1, 2016.

AND OTHER LOVES . . .  I’m not going to do a top ten or anything like that. This is a casual chat between friends about the books I remember most and most fondly from the past twelve months.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, by Elizabeth Strout was a study in emotional precision. In a not very long book, Ms. Strout told many stories about the ways in which love can fail. And survive. With not one wasted word or space.

WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, by Idra Novey was one of my very favorite novels of this year and NPR agreed, including it in the Best of 2016. It’s quite a bit more than that. Shaped of incongruously and impossibly beautiful sentences begging to be read out loud, this novel is layer upon layer of truth and effect and reality and fantasy and a literary banquet of pathos and ecstasy quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I read it twice in a row, which I rarely do, because there is so much there there.

Click here for my original write-ups about My Name Is Lucy Barton and Ways To Disappear.

There was a longish dry-spell for me from February to May during which the books I read were not — for the most part — awful, but they didn’t get me really excited. Then came May and:

Tuesday Nights in 1980TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980, by Molly Prentiss which was engaging and intriguing and filled with well-drawn and fascinating characters, and a compelling existential conundrum: What makes us who we are? If we lose the gifts and quirks we think define us, what’s left of us? And it was hella fun too, set in the art world of the 80s with kick-ass detail and capture of the era. This, too, like What Belongs To You, and Ways To Disappear, is a debut novel, and, like those, it is written with an assurance and command promising even more greatness in the future. I can’t wait for the second releases from these three. Click here for my original write-up about Tuesday Nights In 1980.

Next, during the summer, I fell in love with:

THEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO, by Cathleen Schine which was the first of her writing I had read and I loved that it had an octogenarian main character and explored the guilts of parenting, childhood, and family so well and with such tenderness, truth, and humor. And, too, the summer brought me:

THE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS, by Jane Hamilton which was another grand and touching exploration of family dynamics.

Click here for my brief write-ups about They May Not Mean To, But They Do and The Excellent Lombards.

And, finally, my summer was made fantastic by the release of:

A GREAT RECKONING, by Louise Penny which is the twelfth in the Inspector Gamache series. Armand Gamache and his creator, Louise Penny, are both people I would like to be. This series is so much more than a chain of mysteries; it is the embodiment of a world, a community, a magical place difficult to find because it is largely unmapped and out of reach of wi-fi — a dream world full of marvelous people who are quirky and brilliant and angry and flawed and human and friends. I feel they are my friends, my people. Click here for my original blog about A Great Reckoning.

September brought me a wonderful new (to me) writer recommended by Ann Patchett, who happened to have her own September release. But first:

dream-lifeTHE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS: STORIES, by Patrick Ryan which was a glorious collection, unconnected but connected. I went on and on about this book in my original blog — Click here for my write-up about Mr. Ryan’s The Dream Life Of Astronauts — but do you really need me to tell you read this when Ann Patchett has already told you to? Get busy. Then, if somehow you haven’t, it’s time for:

COMMONWEALTH, by Ann Patchett herself. This is another exploration of complicated family dynamics and angers and loves and losses, like so many of the books by which I was moved this year, and it is unsurprisingly brilliant. Ms. Patchett’s deceptively simple style is incredibly complicated and complex, with an eye for detail and the telling moment un-equalled today. Click here for my original blog about Commonwealth.

Now, the thing. My next much-moved-by books were read in November and since the election I have been unable to focus enough to blog about books. I have been reading like a mad-man. Which, in many ways on many levels with many different meanings, I am. I am near crazy from the results. Flabbergasted and disbelieving, still in denial. I am angry unto furious as in enraged that the election was stolen and, far worse, that sixty-two million people in this country are bigoted, misogynist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, racist, mocking the differently-abled, okay with sexual predators, cretins. I don’t want to hear any excuses about how not everyone who voted for him is all those things — for me, that is bullshit. He clearly exemplified all of those horrifying traits, and/or appealed to those who did and if they voted for him, they are at some level guilty of those things. It is horrifying to me. HORRIFYING.

So, as I finish this up, there are no book-blog-entries to which to refer you. I am reading to numb myself, like I did as a child, and to convince myself that a world and a people exist where I am welcome and honored. So, here we go:

underground-railroadTHE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, by Colson Whitehead which was almost as brilliant as everyone said it was HOWEVER, I remained bitter and didn’t read it for quite a while because I thought Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You should have made the short list and won, hands down. I still do, but Mr. Whitehead’s work was definitely salient and topical and relevant and well-done.

mothersTHE MOTHERS, by Brit Bennett made me laugh and cry and rage and lust and all the things a grand novel ought to do. I read it in that rarer and rarer “what’s going to happen next” mode, I had to keep going. I found its construction fascinating and the characters compelling and I liked it much more than I had expected to — because it had been so hyped, I feared it was another pet of the insiders club. Maybe it was, but this one deserved it. And, then, from Twitter-folk I found –

phantom-limbsPHANTOM LIMBS, by Paula Garner which was another very promising debut novel by a writer I heard about from Twitter (although we do not follow each other) and I am glad I believed and took a chance on this one. Again, a plot in which one of the main characters has lost a close family member — little surprise that this interests and touches me — but there is nothing maudlin or cloying or manipulative in this, and Ms. Garner captures the voices of teens quite brilliantly.

And so ends my 2016 wrap-up. I know there are a few days left, but I am not going to finish another new-to-me book. I am busy re-reading Helene Hanff and Garth Greenwell.

I re-read Ms. Hanff every year because she takes me back to my past, when my dear aunt and I shared books, passed them back and forth, talked about them, and marveled. My aunt believed I would move to New York and be a Broadway star or a writer or someone who somehow managed to live at the Algonquin. She’d wanted to be Edna St. Vincent Millay and I wanted to be Dorothy Parker-slash-Mary Martin. What was most amazing about the two of us, the love we shared, was that for each other — to each other — we already lived at the Algonquin and were our own versions of Millay-Parker-Martin.

I would very much like to have such a love again. I never have come close. I doubt I will.

So, there’s another part of me which makes soul-connections, usually brief, intense, naked and raw and passionate in an entirely different way, and that part of me seemed to be known and understood and written about from the center of truth by Garth Greenwell in What Belongs To You. It spoke to my soul. And it was a fantastic piece of literature with transparent and glorious technique.

So, I’m hanging on by a thread by blanketing myself in Hanff and Greenwell, memories of what was (and wasn’t) and trying to believe believe believe that maybe, some day, I can feel connected again and welcome in the world — despite the sixty-two million assholes who wish me gone, consider me unequal, and voted to abrogate my rights.

I’m being told by a few the equivalent of “Go outside and play” but I am not so inclined. Not right now. So, here I am, NOT going. And, although I want to say Happy New Year, I dasn’t tempt fate.




2016 strikes again

I really am beginning to feel that if I don’t die before December 31, 2016, I have once again been declared not cool and wonderful enough, because it sure as hell seems as if the sensitive, attuned, empathetic, wise-in-many-different-and-unappreciated-ways people are getting the fuck out of here. I like to consider myself all of those things, so, surely, the end is nigh?

I Don’t Know

I don’t know what to do with how I’m feeling since the election.

I don’t know how 62+ million people voted for a horrifyingly narcissistic man who openly mocked a differently-abled person; a man who sexually assaulted multiple women and bragged about it; a man who is overtly racist; a man who called Mexicans rapists; a man who refused to release his financial or health information; a man who lies as easily as he breathes; a man who chose as running mate a man who has open contempt for the LGBTQ community and has worked to outlaw them and legalize extremely harmful psychological attempts to decimate them; these two men who have no regard for the reproductive and health rights of women; these two men who wish to gut the healthcare and social safety net system; these are two horrifyingly inhuman men fronting a horrifyingly white-heterosexist-male party of increasingly fascist intent.

I don’t know what to do with how this has made me feel.

I don’t know what to do with what I’m trying to write when mostly rage pours out.

I don’t know what to do with myself when I am bursting into tears so often.

I don’t understand this. I want to keen and wail and riot at the unfairness of this. I wanted a peaceful end of my days. I wanted quiet. I wanted not to have to hear the young men I know tell me how they were verbally assaulted and cornered and called faggot and told that tr*mp and p*nce were going to “gas your kind faggot.”

This isn’t suppose to be happening now. But it is. We have in control of the White House and both houses of congress a major political party with contempt for the rights of women, people of color, anyone not a christist, LGBTQ people, and anyone not born in the U.S. We still have huge religions with some of the same sort of hates; just this week the popist-papist speakers signed on to codify LGBTQ discrimination and abrogation of our rights.

And yet, 62+ million people voted for that asshat and his even more contemptible running mate and how many members of the GOP resigned? And how many papists with gay friends and family members, or, WOMEN — who still aren’t equal in the church — resigned from the church?

I don’t understand what to do with this.

I do understand this — I was fagbashed, raped by a “straight white” man, discriminated against in subtle and not so subtle ways for decades, slandered, screwed over, treated like a second or third class nothing for most of my life. If you want to belong to a party or group or church who in any way supports the continuation of that —

— you can’t claim to love me.

And  I can’t be around you.

I don’t understand this. 62 million people chose hate.

It is, to me, unfathomable.




nov-1-16-dryerLaundry. Finished. Ten a.m. of a Monday morning in the cheapest — wait, no — most affordable apartment complex in Frederick, Maryland, where the semi-basement — wait, no — terrace level apartment in which he lived was luxuriously close to the laundry room. One dollar a wash-load and an ancient, honest-to-goodness, I Love Lucy-era industrial laundromat dryer wherein one bought eight-minute increments.

Although, he’d been using the laundry room for six months and putting in a quarter each time the dryer stopped after its eight minutes  before being gently told by a lovely woman, older — wait, no — around his age who was making her weekly visit to do her son’s laundry for him so he wouldn’t have to drive it to her (WTF !!!??) one could put many quarters in, all at once, to buy whatever multiple-chunk of eight-minute time you desired.nov-1-16-dryer-closeup

Story of his life, this incomprehension when it came to practical matters.

The possibility of multiple quarters —wait, no — the improbability that one would have to put in a quarter and wait the eight to put in another — had never occurred to him.

Truth: He’d liked the ritual. He’d take a book and sit in one of the two wooden rockers in the lovely yellow-linoleumed room in front of the behemoth of a dryer, all of which atmosphere made it easy to pretend it was not 2016 and his life was not complicated by what seemed to be a leak in the toilet and a flaw in the freezer temperature, his poverty, his repeated rejection by not-that-hot men on apps where it seemed anyone could get fucked but him, and the fact that since the recent presidential election he had been unable to sleep, daily losing more of what little grip he’d managed to maintain through his unusual and exhausting decades, so he now lived in a constant state of chest-pain, stomach distress, and full-on anxiety, exacerbated by fits of rage and tsunamis of suicidal ideation.

So, he did the laundry. He’d done the laundry. It was dry. Seven quarters and fifty-six minutes later, he was there, folding.

And it hit him, this laundry pile of his. These talismans. His phylactery collection.

Three souvenir T-shirts from his six visits to the Broadway musical Grey Gardens. Two souvenir T-shirts from his one visit, on his birthday one year, to the horrifyingly awful Broadway musical Lestat. One green and white and red plaid scarf that had belonged to his eleven years deceased aunt, which he now wrapped around himself all winter long, missing her still — she who had made him promise her he would not wait to take New York trips with others as she had, no, but would trek each year to the Algonquin, alone, and enjoy the city. And, too, his telling laundry, now dried, seven tagless, V-neck T-shirts in black and gray (although he always wanted to type GREY) and seven pair of boxer-briefs, also in black and gray, underwear of various vintages supplied by Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Hanes, and Fruit-of-the-Loom — the story of his downwardly mobile path told by brand — all of which was about making him look like a hot-daddy, or good-gay; and none of which quite did that trick. Or, got a trick. Or, something about tricks. Speaking of which, one pair of classic Levi’s  501s he’d washed with bleach, that morning, trying to make them look like the ones the really hot married guy at the gym wore, knowing it wasn’t the jeans so much as it was the guy’s ass and waist and all of this reminding him that the story being told about him by the freakish collection of facts disguised as laundry was likely the reason he’d continue to suffer rejections by not-that-hot men.

And the world.

And everyone had a book contract but him.

And he was tired.

And that fuckwad stole the election.

And some days, well, all he could do was vacuum or do laundry. Because he just couldn’t face Twitter, or other people’s sorrow (or, petty-ass Grey Garden-ed wannabe — their joy), and today was one of those goddam beautiful days. Shut-up.

(And he longed to be embraced by one who got all his Grey Gardens homages.)

Because, he suspected — wait, no — feared, that the answer to his dysthymia and serial life-fails had to do with something as simple as depositing multiple quarters all at once, and here he was, not going, because he was putting them in one at a time, his quarters, and reading while waiting, waiting, waiting in front of this throwback, this echo from another era, this object of fantasy (not unlike the hot married guy at the gym in his 501s) in which he was mired, stuck, drowning himself, waiting for the past, the noise and the heat of it, to stop.

And, so, laundry. And an 800 word blog written in an hour because, you know, one quarter at a time.