Let It Be

Sometimes, the thing to do, is not to do.

And not to hold on.

Because, you see. Finally. You haven’t seen.

And, still, the places you’ve been, and the people you’ve known, you see, you’ve seen, as well as you could, and they you, as well as they could, and, truth: You’ve always been lucky.

Now, aren’t you tired of all this trying? Enough. Do some living, you’ve done enough dying. Get on with it.

Gotta go. I’m tired of feeling, tired of being broken, and my life is calling me.

 

 

Beautiful

“Take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Since I began writing, ages and ages ago, I don’t think I have ever completed a project that hewed to its original outline. When I was teaching theatre and wrote four or five plays a year for my students, I would begin by imagining an overall theme, then create characters to match the strengths and needs of the student-cast, and I would plan and plot,  scene by scene, the action, where the song breaks would be following formulas for placement of exposition/getting to know you numbers, the character numbers, the I WANT and I AM numbers, the comic relief numbers, the eleven o’clock numbers (and, as you might imagine, wordy as I am, and having LOADS of students needing their own moments, sometimes — despite the ages of my charges — they really were eleven o’clock numbers) and then, after all of that charting and index carding and careful calculation I would start to write.

And by the time the characters took over, none of the original plan remained.

So, it should come as no surprise to me that the project I’m now working on, a story meant to be about two lonely men who end up running a boarding house type of home for the wayward, who both have secret lives they share with no one, who find solace from their pasts in their friendship, new ways of connecting in a social media, virtual world, and a new definition of family, home, and love, should SOMEHOW have taken me back into the 1930s and 1940s backstories of the mother and aunt of one of them and the house in which they live. I keep telling whatever is forcing me back there; “I DON’T DO HISTORY DAMMIT. I’M NOT THAT KIND OF WRITER.” But, the characters won’t listen. The muse demands.

So, I’m moving VERY SLOWLY, because I know next to nothing about this area in the 1930s and 40s, and while the muse whispering the plot and action (well, SCREAMING) at me is forceful, I’m not sure of the veracity of the voice. So, RESEARCH. Ugh.

But, it’s beautiful, because, dear ones, it’s been a while since I heard the voices in the way I used to when I wrote for the kids. I loved those voices. I felt as if they came from the needs of my students, as in, the voices were the energies of stories my charges wanted to tell, wanted to make sing in the universe, from that glorious life-force those kids embodied and wanted to birth into the real world; I felt like the work we did together gave them the strength and spine and courage and skill they needed to go out and tell their life-stories to a universe badly in need of love and truth and song.

So, yes. I welcome the voice, even though it is challenging me.

Meanwhile, the universe blesses me with a banquet of salves and gifts to encourage me during this challenge. Like, uhm, oh let me see — my glorious New York trip. And if that wasn’t enough to keep me smiling until I reach my nineties, yesterday I found out that Idra Novey,  the brilliant author of the novel Ways to Disappear, had quoted me on her website. Look here WAYS TO DISAPPEAR/IDRA NOVEY’S WEBSITEthere I am alongside Amy Bloom, Karen Russell, Leslie Jamison, Booklist, Kirkus, The New York Freaking Times! Such an honor to be included with such luminaries and, even more, to have someone of Idra Novey’s gifts and insight and talent think I belong there. Great day, right? Yes. (In case you missed it, click HERE for the blog in which I wrote about Ways To Disappear — which, if you haven’t read, you MUST.)

And other blessings, like I’m reading a wonderful new novel by Molly Prentiss called Tuesday Nights in 1980 about which I’ll be writing soon. I mentioned it on Twitter and a dear one DM-ed me with a warming message and is sending me another book she thinks I will love. Still more joy, and then a dear one gave me Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, which I also love and will be shouting out soon. And another dear Twitter-pal posted a pic of Julia Murney, who I have long loved, and I commented about my adoration (semi-stalking) of her and she thanked me. (Small world note: the child who started my writing of shows, the one for whom I first KNEW I had to make theatre specific to her talents; Beth C., as a grown-up appeared in a show with Julia Murney!) The world is a lovely place, and the Twitter world is even lovelier. And I have made plans to meet a dear Twitter friend in real life later this month! And I am having dinner with my dear Diane tonight. And this Sunday is Mother’s Day, and two days later is the birthday of my dear sister, Debbie, and so this weekend I am making a feast for family, fifteen so far, for which I’ll be concocting and composing and cooking chickens and hams and macaronis and cheeses and red velvet cupcakes and yellow cakes with peanut butter icings and chocolate lava cakes and . . . it will be a fest of family love and celebration.

Beautiful, right?

I have a lot of love. And I have a lot of research to do. And the character, Hughes, just this morning whispered to me another secret about his aunt, and now I’ve got to find a way to access old newspapers around here for supporting facts for the fiction he’s given me and so . . . darlings, I leave you with Julia Murney singing about a Beautiful Boy (the lyrics of which supplied the opening quote of this blog entry) because I am a beautiful boy (wow, that is SO HARD to type, but, I did it for the Duchess and Sissie and all the others whose love has taught me how much I am loved, how beautiful I am, and I must honor them by believing it and living it every day, not surrendering to sorrow and self-deprecation) and while this life is NOT what I planned, while all of my original outline has bitten the dust (and swallowed it, and digested it, and shat it out, and … you get it) well, the energy and life-force of it– the yet to be told stories — wants to be expressed, and if I don’t, then who will?

Happy Day, my dears.

In Just No Time At All . . .

elkins, anne

Anne Elkins, my Berthe from “Pippin” – one of the good ones, one of the dear ones

One of the dear ones has died.

Last night I was a roiling, boiling, bursting mess of fury and sorrow over the hate against LGBQT people being legislated and signed into law in North Carolina. I disconnected from social media, dove into a fantasy-romance sort of novel, and turned off my heart and head as much as I could. Sometimes, one must. Or, sometimes, I must.

So, this morning I decided to focus on joy. I needed healing. I headed out-of-doors and took notice of all the blooming spring happening in my own backyard. I posted on Twitter using the hashtag “HugaHomo” which I’d said last night on Twitter when departing it, suggesting people hug the homo nearest them because I, alone in my bat-cave, reading the North Carolina hate news, was in need of embrace.

spring 2016 1 spring 2016 2 spring 2016 3 spring 2016 5 spring 2016 6 spring 2016 7

I take comfort in the blooms of spring. The return of color. The promise. My dear Sissie, she loved spring too and was fond of saying in a Katharine Hepburn-esque way, “The forsythia are in bloom.” Sissie, about who you’ve much heard if you read/follow/know me. When I was a boy-child of twelve, she, the first in a treasured line of  older-women who would enrich my life with friendship, wisdom, humor, and unconditional love, took me to New York City and my first Broadway musical, Irene, because she was afraid what the family would say if she took me to the other big show playing at the time, Pippin.

Fast forward. Age eighteen. I became involved with the inception of the new theatre in my small town, The Octorian Theatre Company, a group of young upstarts intent on shaking up the long-standing community theatre and its reliance on old-warhorses of shows by doing only new, risky, sexy shows. Like Pippin. In which I did a turn as The Leading Player. Octorian’s founder, director, producer, Steve, was wise enough to recruit for the role of Berthe one of the doyennes and reigning prima donnas of that long-running community theatre. Mrs. Anne Elkins.

I’d first met Mrs. Elkins, as I called her then, when I, twelve years old and just back from the Irene – New York trip, auditioned and was cast by that hoary community group to play Floyd Allen, boy-child, in Dark of the Moon. A few years later, a hardly formed but very tall fourteen year old, I was again (mis)cast as the young husband in one or another Neil Simon comedy playing opposite a very (and justifiably) unhappy twenty-seven year old wife. Mrs. Elkins played the mother (in-law?).

As Pippin took shape, I was a very different person than I had been during the previous two shows with Mrs. Elkins during which I’d been awestruck by her talent — she was a formidable actress and singer, and regaled me with her tales of working as a big band vocalist. At eighteen, I was a horrifying mess of a human being, a terrified, nasty, vicious, desperately lonely boy in  a man’s body, trying to find a place in a world that often did not want me. And there was Mrs. Elkins, surrounded by dope-smoking, foul-mouthed, determined to be sexy and shocking young people by whom she was amused and most certainly not abashed, and she insisted that I call her Anne.

I did. But it felt wrong. Always. It was another honor and privilege I wanted to deserve but was naggingly, quietly certain I did not. I was tortured by such doubts then (and, well, now) and those doubts, along with the fear, the certainty I was not enough made me — I am sorry to say — very cruel, very often. I see now that I was arming myself, my cruelties and drug use and anger like the prickly quills on a porcupine meant to protect me from the predators I saw everywhere in the world.

Mrs. Elkins – Anne was not fooled. One day after having watched me throw myself into performing Simple Joys with a vigor of “I WANT I WANT LOVE ME LOVE ME” so desperately intense it horrifically distorted what little technique and charm I might have had, Anne took a quiet moment with me and said, “You know, I know you don’t want anyone to see that pretty heart you have beating in there somewhere under all that bluster, and I’m no expert at anyone’s life or business, but I think if you just calm down and quiet down a bit and let it shine, you’ll accomplish what you’re trying to with all the yelling and running you’re doing. And you might even have a little energy left over to be happy.”

Good advice. About which — again, I am sorry to say — in that moment I was furious, although — I am happy to say — my breeding and fondness for older women did not allow me to express. I said thank you. I thought about it. And I did Simple Joys the next time with very little movement, a snap here and there, a turn or two, and, wouldn’t you know it, my best number in the show.

This week, my dears, I’ve been doing a lot of screaming and yelling. Of late, this life, I have been attacking my reality with such vigor, living in such desperately intense fear, and feeling so horribly lonely and solitary, unseen and unheard, reaching out in all the wrong ways, to suspect people, longing to be hugged, held, heard and, at the same time, panicked I am wearing out and exhausting the few who do see me. I want. I want. Love me. Love me. All that.

Last night: North Carolina. Last night: googling someone I thought I knew a bit and finding out they were a felon. This morning: the spring. This morning: message from someone to whom I’d sort of reached out, who’d sort of reached out to me, saying, “You’re really not enough.” This morning: a message from a loved one, “Wanted you to hear it from me, Anne Elkins died on Monday.” This morning: I am going, now, to pick up my dear 88-year-old mom, who I still have, and have hair day, lunch day, look for Vienna Sausages and no-sugar-added peaches at the grocery store day.

This morning, maybe, listen to Mrs. Elkins — sorry, Anne, that’s who you are to me — and calm down and quiet down and let my pretty little heart show? Maybe a snap here or a turn there, but, holy mother of all things, maybe, please, have a little energy left to enjoy the blooms and be happy?

Yes, and bring me my fucking trapeze!

Thank you, Mrs. Elkins, and, I wish I could hear you, one more time, singing your song; No Time At All.

No Time At All lyrics

 [BERTHE]
When you are as old as I, my dear
And I hope that you never are
You will woefully wonder why, my dear
Through your cataracts and catarrh
You could squander away or sequester
A drop of a precious year
For when your best days are yester
The rest’er twice as dear….What good is a field on a fine summer night
When you sit all alone with the weeds?
Or a succulent pear if with each juicy bite
You spit out your teeth with the seeds?
Before it’s too late stop trying to wait
For fortune and fame you’re secure of
For there’s one thing to be sure of, mate:
There’s nothing to be sure of!Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

I’ve never wondered if I was afraid
When there was a challenge to take
I never thought about how much I weighed
When there was still one piece of cake
Maybe it’s meant the hours I’ve spent
Feeling broken and bent and unwell
But there’s still no cure more heaven-sent
As the chance to raise some hell

Everybody….

[ALL]
Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

Now when the drearies do attack
And a siege of the sads begins
I just throw these noble shoulders back
And lift these noble chins
Give me a man who is handsome and strong
Someone who’s stalwart and steady
Give me a night that’s romantic and long
And give me a month to get ready
Now I could waylay some aging roue
And persuade him to play in some cranny
But it’s hard to believe I’m being led astray
By a man who calls me granny

[ALL]
Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

Sages tweet that age is sweet
Good deeds and good work earns you laurels
But what could make you feel more obsolete
Than being noted for your morals?

Here is a secret I never have told
Maybe you’ll understand why
I believe if I refuse to grow old
I can stay young till I die
Now, I’ve known the fears of sixty-six years
I’ve had troubles and tears by the score
But the only thing I’d trade them for
Is sixty-seven more….

Oh, it’s time to keep livin’
Time to keep takin’ from this world we’re given
You are my time, so I’ll throw off my shawl
And watching your flings be flung all over
Makes me feel young all over

[BETHE AND BOYS]
In just no time at all…

 

 

Tonight at Eight . . .Random Charlie

It’s eight o’clock on a Friday night … I’ve changed my sheets! WEEKEND!

Okay, well, I’m not just changing sheets; I’m also listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I am listening to it because there is no possible way I will get to see it when I am in New York City for my birthday in LESS THAN A MONTH! Hamilton is sold out until — well, a long, long time.

WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, WHO TELLS YOUR STORY?

It’s okay I won’t see Hamilton. I’ll be there in New York from the 13th to 19th. On the 14th I am seeing Frank Langella in The Father. On my actual birthday, the 15th, I am seeing American Psycho and getting a backstage tour. On the 16th I am seeing Miss Barbara Cook and may even get to meet her — so, yes, the 16th will very likely be the day of my death. Thus, I think when I get off the train on the 13th, after checking in at the hotel, I will head to TKTS and try for seat to She Loves Me because I love the music and I think Laura Benanti is grand and I have never seen Jane Krakowski live, so, yes —

I had forgotten how much I loved the entire score from SHE LOVES ME, especially Tonight at Eight, and so, yes, I should try to see it on the 13th because, though I’ve nothing booked for 17th-19th, like I said, I’ll probably die on the 16th meeting Miss Cook.

My sister, a smartass (imagine that, in my family?) suggested I record myself and what I want to say to Miss Cook since in all likelihood I will be weeping with such vigor should I manage to make it into her presence that I will be unable to speak, thus, I could just hold my phone up to her and press play. Hmph.

I AM SEEING BARBARA COOK THE DAY AFTER MY BIRTHDAY! So ridiculously happy about this. I have been listening to all of her recordings again, over and over, too.

Listen to her voicings of the words “close” at 1:13-1:15 and “wrong” at 1:21-1:22, and “want” at 3:01-3:02, every single time she sings “losing” (god, so so so much pain into two syllables, again and again, how can you not weep?), because each of those words has so much story in them — she gives you hours of subtext; you can SEE the life the singer of the song has lived IN THOSE WORDS. And, holy mother,  the “sleepless nights” at 4:16-4:18 actually has a sob in it without distorting the notes, the visible and audible defeat in “mind” from 4:36-4:42 when the note ends but she CONTINUES the emotion in her AMAZING silence until she comes back in at 4:50 with “I want you so” in such a way it seems she is fighting speaking, the way one fights the confession to someone you know no longer wants you but you simply cannot help yourself, so obsessed are you, so in need of them, and she builds and builds the breakdown (totally in control vocally, though) until the “kind” from 5:42-5:46 which morphs into the closed eyes/turning away from the horror of the final self-admission, the facing, the oh god please kill me I’m losing my mind of realizing, “You don’t love me” and WORSE, “I cannot stop loving you – I am losing my mind.” That end, that final note, that reaching vocally and physically for that love she will never have. NEVER has this song EVER been better sung and it never will be. She is without peer. She makes every single song a journey like this, an emotional tale of truth, beautifully delivered with such intelligence and honesty, nothing false. She is a genius. Brilliant.

Confession: When I sang, it was Miss Cook I strove to please. I wanted never to breathe in idiotic places or sing songs to which I could not bring my soul, always trying to deliver the goods in a way that would meet with her approval.

SUCH A BIG DEAL. Miss Cook and listening to music.

Why is it a big deal that I am listening to music? After a long life of listening to music daily, singing along, knowing the lyrics to nearly every musical written, keeping up with new ones, when I had to leave my last world in which music and theatre played such a huge role, one of the many things that slipped away from me was music. So, playing music in my room as I change sheets, write this, it has a huge-ness. Weird. Feels so weird. Listening again. Will I ever sing again?

I doubt it. But, some days, I miss it. (Confession: I sing alone in the car all the time.)

Weird — this need tonight to confess — confession.

Fitting. This has been a week of weirdness, darlings. I let my feelings be hurt a few times — a couple of times on Twitter. A couple of times by my family. A couple of times by men who think I am English or 40-ish or both.

Then, today, I got my car insurance renewal thank you letter. First of all, I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to renew. Secondly, bright side, since I’ve been with them for more than fifteen years with no tickets or claims I now qualify for no future surcharges no matter how many accidents I have. What? Okay. So, discount for good driving. Hoorah. THEN, I am informed I qualify for the “Over 55 Discount” — WHAAAAT?!?! This was my first “senior” discount and I burst into tears.

Smartass sister again: “You are so eager to die, you’re going to have to get older to do it.” Well, not if the notice of a senior discount or meeting Miss Cook gives me a coronary event. So, HA!

And, might I add (of course I might, I write too much, I’ve been told. And talk too much. So many too much-es about which I’ve been told in my life. I cry too much. I tell too much. I act too much like a girl. I have sex too much. I say no too much. I say yes too much. I want too much. I don’t take care of myself enough (somehow there’s a too much in there) and — well, anyway, TOO MUCH.) that even WITH all the good driver and old man discounts, my insurance still went up. Albeit, only a dollar – BUT STILL!

Oh darlings, I’m tired. It’s been a long week. Gluten-free, sugar-free, corn-free, diabetic friendly, chemical-free(mostly), healthy, clean cooking is so complicated. Everything requires multiple kinds of flour, experimenting with ingredients and temperature and such. I’ve been cooking a couple of hours a day. Which I love to do for my dear ones. I do. Still, my Mom is wonderful, but being with her, watching out for her balance, trying to make sure she is happy, earning enough through random copy editing and ghost blogging and dog/house sitting to pay for her lunches and groceries and such so she doesn’t have to panic about running out of her “monthly funds” — sometimes it is exhausting.

And someone told me this week my blog here would benefit from vigorous cutting. Yes, I know this. But friends, this is a diary, not a short-story. Let’s face it, I’m not a writer, never will be. This is me venting and letting loose and getting out (sort of) the things I need to say — even if it’s just sent into the ether.

So, I have changed my sheets, I have said no to the twenty-year old, I have been listening to Hamilton, I have stomach issues again, I am tired, I say yes too much, I did not say no enough (those are two VERY DIFFERENT things), and Carol is now available on-demand, so maybe I will watch that or read one of my twelve library books (I’ve done it again) or say yes to one of the people who think I’m English and 40-ish — and some said I couldn’t act!  HA! I will have you know, when I played Sweeney, my accent was SO ENGLISH they asked me to pull back by half because no one outside of London would understand me. I don’t know why I’m throwing that in there. I will add that the Baltimore papers reviewed me and said I was terrifying and brilliant and had “crystalline” diction. So, there too.

Uhm … maybe I am losing MY mind.

Love you dears.

Goodnight.

Bowie

David-Bowie-david-bowie-21566594-871-1280David Bowie was, for me and I suspect many others like me, a beacon of what freak could achieve. He not only didn’t apologize for being other, he cultivated its colors, reveled in its complications and possibilities, making it clear that somewhere there existed a world in which we outcasts were not only cool, but, desired. We could rule.

He played a role in my Bildungsroman, unpublished novel, Libertytown, and I include part of that here, this morning, because, well, here it is, going.

 

 

 

LIBERTYTOWN, the novel (an excerpt from Chapter 9, August 2004, u no what i mean)

It was that summer, my thirteenth, when I discovered my talent – not for theatre, but for appearing to know myself, an ability to hide the terror I felt inside behind an assumed sophistication gleaned from movies, books, and those Sunday New York Times clippings I’d hung on my walls, I perfected my imitation of who I thought I might be; a scathing wit possessed of an extravagant vocabulary and cultural frame of reference.

At Theatre Camp, I actively cultivated the persona of sophisticated libertine and I played the character with aplomb. It was my signal achievement of the summer, becoming someone I had never been, seemingly at ease and intimidating to both the other students and the staff. Unaccustomed as I was to being thought cool, interesting, urbane, or – most of all – dangerous, I embraced it with vigor and encouraged the myth.

The camp was at a college on the fringe of Baltimore an hour from Libertytown, and of the one hundred or so students attending ranging in age from thirteen to forty-something, only six of us were “dormers“, residing on campus, the others were all local. This resulted in we male theatre dormers, of which there were exactly two, being housed amongst summer students from other programs, most of whom were football players struggling to maintain eligibility. The night we resident campers arrived we were herded to the theatre building for a meeting where we were told the rules which consisted of no underage drinking and no drug use. It was a simpler time, much less fearful, and the notion now of a group of thirteen to sixteen year olds being given such unsupervised freedom would be actionable in most states. After the brief lecture, we were handed our meal tickets and given a tour of the areas of campus we’d need to know, ending back at the theatre building where we were seated and told to wait for our leader.

Lavinia Kazakh swept into the room, bellowing a bravura “Welcome fellow explorers and adventurers in the performing arts. “ She was a prematurely gray thirty-something fast riser in the department who’d begrudgingly taken on the summer program. Soon enough she would label many of us in that room “dilettantes and hobbyists,” but that night, Lavinia hid her frustration that we were children, or, worse, untalented children, by lighting lavender candles and patchouli incense and forcing us all into a cross-legged floor sit, hand holding circle in the center of which she stood – or, rather, twirled and posed and gesticulated as she bestowed upon we humble disciples forty-five minutes of imperious oration on the importance of the bohemian artist in the world, and the pride we should take in being considered “malcontents of unconventional stripe.” It soon enough became clear she did not mean this incited swagger to extend to questioning her superciliousness nor the benefit of spending hours pretending to be a piece of frying bacon, or chatting with trees. However, at the introductory session, she had not yet been disabused of her vision of how grateful we would all be to worship at her mime instructor feet.

When Lavinia finished her reception shtick she encouraged us, well – encourage is perhaps not quite strong enough a word – she demanded we proud malcontents begin to familiarize ourselves with the souls of our fellow adventurers, at which point I was approached by Carrie and Stash, both clad in safety-pinned adorned, torn garments of black and purple, the kind of painfully hip deviant poseurs who might appreciate my Earth shoes and erudition in ways my hometown peers could not, the faux-punk-Beat generation-cum-Bloomsbury/Algonquin-Studio 54 cohort I had always dreamed of befriending. Carrie, who looked like David Bowie with Joni Mitchell-long blonde hair, wore cooly her heroin addict thin frame, and impenetrable sneer of disappointment, was the speaker.

“We can tell you saw through that too. She’s so full of shit. We love fags. You are a fag, whether you know it or not. I’m infallible about these things.”

“She is,” Stash agreed, more personable but less well-kempt, she disdained personal hygiene in a misinterpretation that Patti Smith’s rats-nest hair implied a distaste for bathing, deodorant, and other modern ablutions. “She’s Carrie and I’m Stash, which is, alas, not about drugs, but short for Anastasia. My parents. Dicks. Russian. Stupid name. Anyway, you are a total fag, right?”

It was the first time in my life where the secret I’d never spoken seemed it might be a plus. I leapt.

“Yeah, I’m a total fag.”

The liberation of that utterance is still difficult to describe; the lifting of the weight as they came from me sounding, as they did, so guilelessly true, unpracticed, natural, was as if I had never before actually taken a deep breath. The feelings, urges, and shameful lusts I had tried completely without success to hide but which clearly shone brightly enough to invite the name calling and locker tossings to which I had been regularly subjected throughout my life were now an asset; there was such a throwing off of chains and fear when at last I was able, out loud, to not just own, but celebrate them. I immediately became a new person.

“Goddammit I wish I had a dick so I could be a fag.” Stash, with her kohled eyes, ravishing cheekbones, and bountiful breasts was the least androgynous of we three, who had become in those moments, what Lavinia would later call “the unholy trinity.” I continued my development of the new Parker character, taking my improvisatory cues from Stash.

“Not with those tits. You don’t look like a dyke either.”

“No. Fuck all. I’ve done some diving but I’m totally into dick.”

“Yeah. A day without dick is like a day without …”

“Dope.” Carrie was back into what I would later realize was likely no less a fabricated confession of personal revelation than were my own that summer. “You got any on you?”

“Shit, no. I didn’t bring any. You?”

“Fuck all. Nazi parents checked our bags. They sent us here to the gulag to get us away from all that. Like goddam theatre camp isn’t gonna be all about drugs.”

“And dick. I hope.” And I did. Though I had not yet touched a dick other than my own, though I had spent my life attempting to subsume my desire to do so, within five minutes of meeting Stash and Carrie, I had debuted fully formed the Parker appropriated from the ether of movies, books, media, and my imaginings. He had – clearly – been around the block, perhaps even, worked it. Without hesitation I’d shed who I’d been, the naïve Catholic boy, the unpopular, petrified pussy and become a proud, out bohemian Sissy.

We made our way back to the dorms, where we inaugurated what became our nightly posing as nodded-out junkies, nearly incapable of lifting our heads or coherent speech, a ritual of worshipping at the altar of Carrie’s collection of Bowie albums played on her fold-up stereo at volumes and in enforced isolation meant to alienate us from the three remaining residents; Betsy, a curly red headed white girl from California with “connections in the biz”, Lisa, an ingénue already on the wane and my first exposure to bulimic-anorexics, and the other male, Abe, “a Manhattan Jew,” as he liked to say, whose parents had – for reasons that were soon all too clear – sent him far from his home in the actual center of the theatrical world to study at a second tier Maryland college for the summer. He was my roommate.

I had arrived earlier in the day and claimed the top bunk, but when we reached our room, Abe, who had said almost nothing through Lavinia’s communist indoctrination session, tried to speak.

“I n-n-n-n-need to be … n-n-n-need to be … on top.” I thought he said, but he whispered, barely audible, his back to me as I was unpacking. I turned, not sure he’d really been speaking to me.

“What?”

Abe turned to me, never raising his eyes from the industrial carpet.

“I n-n-n-need the top … the top … top … bunk.” This time it was a little louder, but equally slow, as if each word required gargantuan effort of breath and mind, as if, somehow, speech was unnatural to him, as if every time he spoke it was like a child learning to ride a bike; he couldn’t just do it, he had to concentrate on every aspect of it and so it was this painfully uncertain, wobbly exercise.

“You need it?”

He slowly raised his eyes to mine, and revealed something frightening, something angry, something pleading. He clearly thought I was taunting him by having required clarification of someone for whom communication was such torture. He would make sure I did not ask again by answering in what began as a whisper, but grew in volume as he hobbled closer and closer to me, getting louder and louder with every word, until I felt like Nell, tied helpless to train tracks, a locomotive hurtling toward me, looming huger and more thundering until I was pulverized.

“I can’t … I can’t … I can’t … I CAN’T SLEEP … UNDER SOMEONE!”

“Uhm … okay.” I grabbed my stuff off the top bunk and moved it to the bottom, wondering how I would make it through the next weeks with this psychopath. While I was, at the time, unusually thin, Abe was nearly invisible; where I was blonde and sharp and quick of tongue, Abe was dark and slow and stuttering, the simplest of spontaneous conversations a challenge for him. But God, or, Whomever, works in mysterious and unfair ways.

Abe was an acting genius.

Supplied with a script, Abe morphed instantly with no visible effort into someone else. It wasn’t so much acting as psychic channeling. That such a tiny little frame and agonized little psyche could contain all the people he became that summer fascinated me. And infuriated me. We would not be friends. I could not forgive his divinely ordained talent nor could he control his envy of my social dexterity, both of us resenting the other’s gift as undeserved fluke of nature, resentment aggravated by the incompatibility of my verbosity and his aphasic disorder.

Our second day of camp, we were divided into cutely named “discipline collectives” of fifteen to twenty students who rotated teachers throughout the day. During the four week session we would be instructed in mime, dance, improvisation, musical theatre singing, acting, classical acting, and for the few remarkably gifted among us, directing, and beginning the second week we would be cast in various shows to be performed the final day. I was relegated with thirteen other students I immediately perceived as the least talented into the Chekov Group. I’d never read Chekov, nor had anyone else in the group, but I at least knew – if vaguely – who he was, while others thought we’d been named after a STAR TREK character. It was clear we were outcasts of whom little was expected, neither as pretty nor as effusive as the other pods with their far better names; the Bernhardts who would concentrate on classical acting, the Barrymores who would focus on modern texts, the Isadoras who would focus on dance-based theatre, the Marceau’s who would concentrate on mime (for whom, of course, Lavinia was the mentor), and the Martins who would concentrate on musical theatre. We Chekovs drew as mentor a tired, wasted looking professor with shoulders so stooped as to appear deformed and prematurely gray hair, Dr. Peter Boynton, who substituted effusiveness for skill and was one of those adults who try to curry favor by sharing secrets and information with their students in tones denigrating the authority they themselves represent.

“The others would never tell you this, my little Chekov’s, but there’s a competition between the mentors to see who has the most talented kids. Sorry Charlotte and Pat, I know you’re not kids. We’re lucky to have you two – grown-ups – I’ll be expecting you to jump in and correct me when I’m wrong.”

Pat and Charlotte were not kids, true enough, but two of the five adults who were taking the course. I learned little of Pat’s biographical details but that she was gray, overweight, old, and a high school chorus teacher who‘d been assigned to take over the drama program despite the fact that her theatrical experience consisted wholly of directing her church Christmas pageant: The Enemy.

Charlotte, on the other hand, was glamorous. Pale almost to the point of translucence, with hair dyed the blonde and arranged in what I thought was the style of Debbie Harry but which she’d meant to call to mind Marianne Faithful, she floated amongst us in a cloud of floral scent and unfiltered Gauloises, and despite the summer heat, wore always a vampirish black cape and long purple scarf that matched its lining. She was all the shades of a bad bruise, this blotch of inky onyx and violaceous shadow, evanescing into sallow, jaundiced flesh, edged with the shocking yellow coif.

While Pat was prone to saying things that made us view her with contempt when we acknowledged her at all, such as, “I know the world has changed and you’re not my students, but, as a favor to me, could you please – it just bothers me so much to see those sweet faces of yours saying – using the – that F word.” On the other hand, Charlotte’s favorite word was “cunt” and she affected a slightly British accent – which she’d somehow acquired growing up in Michigan – and gossiped of backstage goings on at Bowie concerts and how he and Mick Jagger fucked. She attached herself to Stash, Carrie, and me in a way that would now be frowned upon – a woman in her late twenties glomming onto a trio of misfit teens – but in 1974 – joined in our love for Ziggy Stardust and his ambiguous sexuality, Lou Reed and his drug addled diatribes, Mick Jagger and his lips, Patti Smith and her militant iconoclastic retro-romanticism, and Jim Carroll (who Charlotte, and thus Carrie and Stash, insisted I was exactly like) and his hustler death vibe. We idolized outcasts and pretended we too were anarchists. The Age of Aquarius hadn’t quite ended, and the sexual revolution was in full swing, and the scourge of AIDS was yet to infect us, the news was neither instantaneous nor filled with parents murdering their children, priests raping altar boys nor teachers molesting and marrying their teenaged students. I’m sure it was all going on, but it wasn’t polite to discuss it. We hadn’t yet become inured, un-shockable, and terrified like we would once Phil and Oprah had their way with us. So while Pat became someone else to distrust and defy, Charlotte became, along with Carrie and Stash, someone else to impress, another someone willing to recognize the me I longed to believe I was and feared I would never become.

I had not yet learned to recognize this fear in others. I was, at thirteen, incapable of conceiving that grown-ups could be as terrified – or, perhaps, more so – than we young people were. At the same time, I had never thought of myself as a child. My earliest memories have to do with wondering why I was trapped in the body and life I had. I had always wanted to believe that I was unique with a momentous destiny ordained by God to change the world. It was simply a matter of waiting for others to recognize my gifts. God had a special purpose for me, that’s what Sister Michael Immaculata had leaned into me and whispered when the test results for Maryland had been returned.

“Oscar Francis Parker, you have achieved the highest scores of any second grader in the entire state. Your I.Q. is in the high genius range. That means God has a very special plan for you. He has chosen you and you must always listen very carefully for His call, and not waste your gifts or disappoint the Lord.”

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties, when my therapist told me she wished she could throttle the now deceased Sister Michael Immaculata for having put such a burden on a child, that it ever occurred to me the nun could have been mistaken in telling me that. I firmly believed the Pope’s infallibility conveyed directly through his minions. Thus, I have just naturally assumed my entire life that I have somehow failed to live up to the gifts and expectations of the Gods – whichever of them by whatever name I happened to believe at the time – and if I could just try a little harder or be a little better (or a lot harder and better) then everything would happen, the inevitable miracle working I was meant to do would occur.

At thirteen, somehow finding myself a member of the cool and popular group at theatre camp, I believed that miracle to have begun. What difference did it make that I had completely invented myself, that the experiences I claimed in sex and drugs were almost entirely borrowed from books I’d read and things I’d imagined? From this perspective, here in my forties, having grown into someone more Pat than Charlotte, I know that Carrie, Stash, and Charlotte were likely no less invented than was I, but at thirteen, I had no idea, and so when Bernard approached and came on to me in his overt and challenging way, I was panicked about appearing the sophisticate I’d claimed to be.

Saturday Night Sondheim

Honest to MaryMartin, sometimes, the only thing standing between me and suicide, is the fact that Stephen Sondheim songs sung by brilliant divas exist. I am feeling really really really not so great, and so, turn to Sondheim songs – maybe not the best choice, but, you see, at least I am sobbing FOR A REASON.

Continue reading

Diagnosis: Bitterary Disease

I have removed myself for the time being from the Twittersphere because I’ve been feeling unwell, not myself.

Although, “not myself” might not be such an awful thing to be. Or, not be. But first, Adele dropped her new video. Why do they say “dropped”? Whatever. I love this. LOVE THIS.

Okay, that was to prove I’m not completely involved in my own lugubrious dwelling on my illness. Yes, illness.

Oct 2015

Me – looking like my ridiculous, exhausted self – and Momma – impatiently waiting to be broken out of hospital last Friday. She is my hero. My rock. My role model. Rock & role-model; Mommy.

The illness I thought had been diagnosed, drugged, and done away with, returned. I spent much of last week attending to my dear Momma during and after her surgery and contending with all the family dynamics such events roil; it went remarkably well on every level, about which I would write were I feeling better, more certain I could tell the story without offending any family members or other characters who showed up during the course of those days. In my current condition of physical exhaustion and the emotional upheaval the fatigue brings, I think it better not to tell those stories right now. Rather, say this: Many different kinds of healing took place before,during, and after my Mom’s surgery, and it was not just her carotid artery scraped clean of debris; Mommy managed to bring us together again, as always, by example rather than lecture or harangue. She is effortless in her Love, plugging along, accepting, doing what was best and right, without rancor or accusation or judgment.

So, she was released on Friday and later that night, I got the back of the neck chills feeling that means I have a fever, tossed and turned in fugue-half-awake, can’t stop obsessing on an imaginary event, night-sweat, no sleep sort of night. By Saturday morning I was crampy and afraid my own personal plague was returning, and by Sunday, it had, with full-on, gastrointestinal terrorism. I was (sorry to be blunt and disgusting) unable to do anything but evacuate every fifteen minutes or so, ugh, oh no, losing two pounds a day, sick, sick, down for the count again.

Long/short: Called physician Monday at 8 when they opened. No one answered – including a machine – until 8:45. No one could (or would) see me in until Thursday. I suggested this was a relapse of same illness which had JUST required MANY appointments and testings for them to figure out, that the antibiotic course had not been sufficient to kill the parasite and couldn’t they just prescribe another round? I was informed that ALL OF THE PAs I HAD SEEN DURING THAT ADVENTURE FROM HELL WERE NOW ABSENT FROM THE PRACTICE. Thus, no one was willing to re-prescribe antibiotics AND I had to come in to get a new referral for my specialist appointment on Monday AND no one could do ANY OF THIS UNTIL THURSDAY!

So, friends, staying sane has been – well, that’s not even an option, rather, it has been difficult not to go TRULY nuts. Speaking of nuts . . .

Warwick Rowers 2016 Calendar from Low Fat Media on Vimeo.

Yes. The Rowers, because, well, English and French accents and the countryside and the wardrobe (and lack of) and I want an English-accented-lover and well dammit just LOOK AT THEM . . .

I am emotionally on edge because I am exhausted from being unable to actually digest food and take in nutrients. I learned from last go-round with this disease (parasite?) that horrifying as the cramping and bathrooming every fifteen minutes are (would that I were exaggerating) it is worse to follow one’s instinct and stop eating so as to avoid the bathroom trips; not eating only results in worse weight loss and weakness so intense one can barely walk up and down the stair from the Batcave. Thus, forcing myself to eat and hydrate; I spend much of the day in the bathroom (and then cleaning the bathroom, because that is who I am); and, trying to read.

There is where my patience has worn even thinner. Truth: when it comes to bitter, I am most easily annoyed by things going on in Literary World – I suffer from Bitterary Disease: a malady of the wanna-be-writer who cannot believe the things that get published, get popular, win prizes. Or, don’t.

clegg, did you ever

Click cover for Mr. Clegg’s site and book information

I have not recovered (will likely never recover) from Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have A Family not having won the Man Booker Prize, for not even making it from Long to Short list. I was further annoyed when it didn’t make the cut for the National Book Awards shortlist.

However, I promised myself when I started book blogging that I would always be a cheerleader for literature, not a hater. So, I picked up the winner of the Man Booker, Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (click on title for more information). I started reading its 700 pages. Yes, 700 pages. First of all, when a novel begins with a cast-list of more than 70 characters divided into six sub-divisions, I should know myself well enough to just stop right there. Second, when a novel is written with large sections of dialect and patois, much of it impenetrable and without handy glossary, then I should, well, know myself well enough to stop right there. But, this was a Man Booker winner so, I didn’t stop until page 200 – where I had to stop, because one can’t really read a book one has just thrown across the room.

I am sure this is my shortcoming. I am sure this prize-winning novel, lauded by people with MFAs and jobs in the literary world is an achievement of heft and writerly acumen the likes of which I can only dream about. And I am equally sure that most of the judges didn’t even really read the whole damn thing. AND I AM EVEN SURER that these prize-awarding-committees ought to have NON-INDUSTRY, real readers – like, perhaps, ME – on the panels. This is the second of the Man Booker (and, not so coincidentally, National Book Award) shortlist tomes I have read and had to stop reading in frustration, abashed and flummoxed. Oh well.

Capture Kerry McHugh

Click pic to explore Kerry’s blog – you really should

Here’s the thing, happy for Marlon James success. Happy for anything that inspires more people to read (and write) and, as the very wise bloggist and Shelf Awareness writer, Kerry McHugh (click here for her blog, Entomology of a Bookworm, you really should check it out) said to me recently — and I’m paraphrasing, she said it far more elegantly — “It’s okay not to like a book. I love books other people hate, and I hate books that lots of other people like. That’s what makes literature so great, there’s room for everyone, everything, and it’s okay to disagree and discuss.”

city on fireShe is so right. My cavil is that I think some books are the lit-world equivalent of The Emporer’s New Clothes. Someone in power (or a really good publicist) decides a book is brilliant or buzzy or the next big thing, deigns it so, deems it so, and the rest of the Woolf-pack jumps on and agrees. For example, the latest example of this is that 900 page first novel that earned a $2 million advance and has been twice-reviewed in The New York Times, multiple mentions in The New Yorker, New York, and every other book-y blog, Twitter account, and publication – before it was even RELEASED to real readers.

Am I bitter? Yes. I guess I am. Literary bitter. Bitterary. Like I said, the REAL illness from which I suffer.

And I own that. I am bitter because I’ve not come up with the pitch or cover letter or connection (I don’t actually DO connections, not my thing – I would NEVER ask someone to read my book, to give my book to an agent, to anything – not an asker, never have been, never will be – some of us are just here to answer) to sell myself. I’m not that person. And, in some ways, I am content with the thousand or so people who check in here each day — although, truth, lots of those hits are searching for dick-pics, thus the Warwick Rowers, I know my audience and I like a naked ass and English accent as much as (well, probably way more than) anybody else — and I’m not so bitter that I haven’t reserved that buzzy book at library (I’m next in line, by the way, so, it isn’t all that buzzy here in Frederick). I am just hoping that I can make it past page 200 without throwing it across the room and screaming, “WHAT THE HELL DID THOSE PEOPLE READ WHO LOVED THIS THING?!?!?!”

Okay, going, time for some pro and antibiotics and tons of water and coffee and hoping my guts calm a bit today.

P.S. Not sure who reads this, not an issue, but yesterday in my non-Twitter-ness time, I wrote letters to Cody, Rachel, and TwitLit folks, Hope and Nandini – mailing this morning, watch your mailboxes!

Reading: 3 Months, 25 books – I suck as a book-blogger

Since July, when last I blogged about my reading, I’ve finished 25 books, and gotten my first library card in 30 years, the getting of which has changed my reading habits – again. With library access, I am more likely to try something new, take a chance on a recommendation about which I’ve doubts, choose to try something not 100% my usual-thing. When I am paying for books, I need be cognizant that my declining years are fast approaching and even a cardboard box has upkeep costs. So, I’m trying to buy only those things I know I am going to want to keep for long, slow reading, or re-reading, or to write in, or, too, classics I have long meant to acquire, and, of course, those written by Twitter-pals (or, you know, authors I stalk) who I know could use the sales.

So, I will try not to bore you with needlessly long recaps of all 25 books I’ve finished (you could follow me on GoodReads – click here – if you really want to know; in fact, DO, because I only have 21 friends there) but, I do want to talk about some at least a bit.

Raybourn, Deanna

Click on cover for details about the book.

One of my goals this year was to read across genre, outside my comfort zone. I spend so much time advocating for all sorts of equality, it struck me as hypocritical that I was pooh-poohing whole categories of writing. So, now, I try to “get around” as they used to say in high school – and play with all the groups.

I continued my exploration of romance writing (because, god knows, real-life romance is completely out of the question), tasting two supernatural-sort-of-other-world-beasty-creature novels; Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson and Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison. They were kicky enough and fun, but, I think, much to my surprise, I’m more of a regency guy. I’m number 2 in library-line for Deanna Raybourn‘s (follow her here on Twitter, she’s a delight) newest, A Curious Beginning, and am eager to get to that.

dangerous fiction

Click on cover for more information.

Speaking of Twitter-folk-I-follow; new pal, Barbara Rogan (follow her here on Twitter, she’s pretty delightful too) wrote a literary-world mystery which I enjoyed immensely and am hoping is the first in a series: A Dangerous Fiction: A Mystery. I loved its insider knowledge of the publishing world and its clever plotting and vivid characters.

I also allowed myself two more in the Agatha Raisin series; #13: Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate; and #14: Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House. If you’ve not yet become addicted to M.C.Beaton’s delightful Agatha, quick, drop everything and get started.

I like my series – as you can tell – they are comfort books — like grilled cheese sandwich and tomato-basil soup between covers — full of friends and characters to whom I can return, authors who will deliver what I expect with well-wrought prose and fast-paced, interesting plotting. So, I read a John Sandford and a Harlan Coben and a Rhys Bowen (from Her Royal Spyness series) and an Alan Bradley (from his Flavia de Luce series) too.

Nature of the Beast

Click cover for more information about book.

And, speaking of series, if I had to choose a favorite (and I can’t, because books and authors are like my children, my dear ones, I love them all in different ways for different reasons) I might choose The Inspector Gamache world gifted to us from the brilliant Louise Penny.  The latest installment is The Nature of the Beast, the eleventh book featuring Inspector Gamache and I am crazy for him and all the others who live in Three Pines. Especially Ruth. I feel as if I, too, live there, or, rather, am privileged to visit each time Ms. Penny blesses us with another episode. You must start from the first because you really do develop relationships with these characters and feel as if you live among them; you cry with them, you grow with them, you ache for them, you love them. This is truly a beautiful and wondrous reality Ms. Penny has crafted, full of imperfect, fantastic, annoying, delightful, cantankerous, giving, sad, glorious, mysterious, needy, funny, human folks – like you, like me, like family.

I also read my first Lawrence Block, about whom many have raved. I liked it. I will be reading another. Has he made regular status yet? Not sure.

And another series first, Tagged For Death: A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery #1 by Sherry Harris. I envy people with the ability to invent these worlds and work the outlines required for these cozies but I guess garage sales just aren’t my things. I’m going to stick to the ones about bookstores – which is no reflection on the author, rather, I don’t like candy with nuts either – doesn’t mean nuts aren’t tasty to lots of people.

Grasshopper Jungle

Click on cover for more info about book.

I also read my second, third, and fourth Andrew Smith novels. I had read Grasshopper Jungle a while ago and quite enjoyed it. Then, I met a dear friend of Duchess Goldblatt, Anne, who works on Mr. Smith’s books. She spoke so highly of him and I adored her so much, I determined to read more of his work. I started with Winger and moved immediately into its sequel, Stand-Off.  Both take place in boarding schools – with which I have been obsessed ever since my mother refused in my youth (fourth grade) to allow the nuns and priest of St. Peter’s to send me away to Jesuit school (can you imagine what I’d be now, had I gone? Thank you, Mom.) – and fall into the YA Genre. I am not YA, but I enjoy YA, and I think Mr. Smith a very gifted fellow. And what a great name. The books move incredibly quickly, loads of plot and interest, and I find the dialogue to be true to the way my nieces and nephews near that age speak. I followed these up with the first in a series of his, The Marbury Lens. So, Mr. Smith wins the prize in this installment for most books by one author. If you’d ask me to recommend one, I’d say my favorite of them was Grasshopper Jungle.

I read a number of buzzy novels about which I’d heard from Twitter-folk. Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, which I liked but from which I expected more being as it had a Sondheim lyric for a title. Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun was fun-ish, and clearly a set-up for a series, but, again, I expected more. H.S. Cross’s Wilberforce was one I almost gave up on, but didn’t because it was about boarding school – and you know, I have that thing — but I found it about a third too long and a quarter too obtuse and what I wanted was far less. I also could have used less of the forced Southern-y, eccentric charm heaped onto Annie Barrows The Truth According to Us – which had a great title, anyway. And, Jules Moulin’s Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes was fast and sort-of sexy and completely rom-com-y and ready for filming and completely unbelievable but I didn’t care, happy ending, hot guy loves me sort of okay, never gonna happen but what the hell this is what I want to believe in sometimes alone in my big old bed in my fifties – if I was Goldilocks, this one was just right.

I’ve had some huge disappointments in the past few months (I’m not JUST talking about my life) and learned what DNF means – Did Not Finish. Three very huge, touted books for which I had waited and wanted and pre-ordered and dove into just flabbergasted me. I could not finish Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Larry Kramer’s The American People, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. NOW PLEASE UNDERSTAND – I am not denigrating the authors, I am sure the failure is mine – but Giant I found just too slow and repetitive to make it past page fifty; American People was in need of massive cutting – or so I thought – I had real difficulty following who was who and what was what when and why any of it was going on; and clearly I am an ignoramus for not liking A Little Life – it keeps winning award after award and many a genius loves it, but, for me, it was so relentlessly dark, hopeless, brutal, as to be unkind – I felt violated, I felt some of it was uncalled for, the unceasing ugliness of it was too much for me – no matter how lovely the prose. Life is hard enough without reading 700 pages of agony and sorrow and abuse. I just couldn’t.

I did and could do the first in the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novel series, My Brilliant Friend. Again, it must be me, but despite Mr. Wood in The New Yorker, and loads of TwitLit people I respect and admire, and NPR, and on and on, LOVING this book, this series, I could just barely stay awake and stick with it. I finished it, but won’t be reading books two through four.

For pure, solid, reliable, take-me-away fun, I picked up a P.G.Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves. Loved. Laughed. Smiled. Was taken away – as I wanted to be.

being mortal

Click on cover for more information.

I did some non-fiction too. A memoir-ish quick read, The Whipping Boy, by Allen Kurzweil, also much about boarding school and the lifelong effect of having been bullied there. (Having typed that, I’m a BIT concerned about just how many of these 25 books had to do with boarding schools. Hmmm.) A hilarious collection of essays by Isaac Oliver called Intimacy Idiot – he is a gay man who has had many of the same experiences as have I and I wish I had written this. Truly funny. Not so funny, but absolutely brilliant, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. No doubt part of my appreciation of this book is that I’m in my fifties, my Mom is in her eighties and we’ve been to the emergency room once after a fall, and for surgery this past week to clear an artery, and regularly visiting offices of all kinds of doctors, and, too, had recently to move her from one assisted living place to another where she is far less autonomous and far less happy and I am guilt ridden and terrified and cannot understand how we, as a nation, do not have better systems in place to care for those near death. Read this book. Now.

As fate would have it, I also read Being Mortal because I was pretty sure I was dying. I’d lost 15 pounds in three weeks, no one seemed to be able to tell me what was wrong, all my body could manage was to expel, never contain, and, during that illness of my own, I found out my Mom needed a surgery that had a high probability of causing a stroke – although the probability of stroke without the surgery was 99% – so, yes. Well, Mom survived and should (fingers crossed) be back in her own room tomorrow night and I was cured – until yesterday, when apparently the parasite that had taken up residence in my intestine and was meant to be evicted by a combination of anti-and-probiotics, returned. Ha, along with my boarding school theme, I guess my Guts are home to a bunch of nasty parasite-plebes causing me GREAT DISTRESS.

So, I will try to write about books more often and before I finish another twenty-five. But these GutMonsters are trying to kill me, and they wear me out pretty badly, pretty quickly. I was out today for about an hour and when I got home, bam, down for the count. Got back up, made dinner, did the dishes, finished this. So, not going to surrender but, jeesh, whatever this is – it needs to go away.

Love and Light kids. Happy reading.

Sunday … endings, beginnnings, waitings, continuings

10:00 a.m.

My final day at this house/pet-sitting adventure. I’ve been up since 4:30. Tess and Gwennie are early risers. I Sunday morning pre-gamed last evening at Dunkin Donuts, and the New York Times – the real one – is here delivered, so the early rise and ensuing hours were akin to Christmas morning.

I’ve also changed the sheets, cleaned and tidied, emptied the trash, loaded my car; there is nothing now but to nap and read and wait for 11pm, when the owners of this warm and welcoming home return from the rodeo (I think).

Last night, while I was crawling into the luxe-comfort of the beautifully wrought, iron-framed bed in which I sleep when here, I was uncharacteristically – and quite briefly – lonely. The thing is, I have never long (or short) term, consistently shared my bed with a lover. My lovers have been – by and large – people for whom I was not the primary concern, first choice, actual spouse, someone about whom they wanted others to know. I was a secret, a diversion, a decision never really made. So, I am quite accustomed to and fond of sleeping alone. I am an introvert and a solitary man, near hermit-like in my habits, usually content to have my secrets, silence and my books, a few very dear friends, and – of late – my Twitter-actions.

But, last night, quite briefly; Lonely. A loneliness brought on by my undressing. Not like that. In the many quick-pick-up-and-get-the-hell-out moves I have made in the last decade, along with all the skins and people I have shed, I’ve let go of many belongings, including clothes, paring my wardrobe to a small collection of a few pair of jeans, black T-shirts, gym clothes, and lounge-wear, that last consisting of souvenir shirts from the few shows I’ve seen so important to me I could not let the Ts go. My favorite, and the one I was taking off last night to get into bed, is from the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia’s genius production of the legendarily-failed, cult musical, Sideshow.

I love Sideshow. The original was an obsession. My aunt, Sissie, was still alive when it opened and I visited her at Record Street – the same assisted living home where my Mom has now ended up – when Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner were on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, performing numbers from the show, and, too, I spent Thanksgiving morning there with Sissie, in her room, and watched them perform in the Macy’s Parade. Too, I tried to see the closing weeks of the show but was thwarted by my involvement as director/producer of a production of Annie, and by someone who did a lot of thwarting of things that meant the world to me. Too, I later produced and directed a version of Sideshow, which marked a very dark period with a group of very ungrateful kids for whom I’d sacrificed a great deal over the years and who treated me like shit during that show, and it was – in retrospect – when I ought to have stopped teaching; alas, I went on another ten years. And then, most recently, I attended the revival pre-Broadway tryout at the Kennedy Center with dear ones, and sort of erased – or, at least, eased the pain of – some of those memories and made new ones.

So, yes. Sideshow means a lot for me. Echoes. Reverberations. And I’ve now lost enough weight that the extra-large T-shirt, in addition to stretching, un-ravelling at seams, and wearing thin and smooth in that way material can come to hug and caress one as it ages, is also rather long on me, almost like a nightshirt. I’m standing by the bed, stripped down to just the shirt, and from nowhere I hear the sentence in my head:

“Wouldn’t it be nice for once in my life to have someone to sleep beside who understood what Sideshow meant and means to me? Someone who would stay?”

And I cried a little. Because that isn’t going to be my life, because that has never been my life, and because I will never know what that is like. And, maybe, I missed something.

And my aunt, Sissie, was the same. She slept alone for all of her nine decades. She died at Record Street. Alone. I was not even called the night it was happening. I still feel guilty. After Sideshow, she became less and less lucid, often thought I was my father, and we didn’t talk about musicals anymore. Now, my Mother lives there. Now, in four days, my Mother is having a risky operation. Now, I have these books and these memories and these T-shirts that hold me, and a life not unlike Sissie’s was, and I am near 75% like she was and 25% like my Mom and 100% elated I have had both of them to love me and shape me and see me and embrace me, warm and aged and worn, both of whom loved me, love me, as I am.

So, dear ones, while I am often here lugubrious in my contemplations, I have a contentment that few people have. I love getting into bed, with my books, with my peace and tranquility, with my knowing – now – that I have taken the bulk and hulk of all that was my life and chiseled and whittled and sculpted it down into something small, and private, and beautiful, and true, and me.

Yes, I sleep alone, have always slept alone, but it was that sleeping alone, that choice, that made me these souvenirs, like the Sideshow shirt, well aged, and worn, and smoothed, and shaped, and now wrapped around me like an embrace – the warm embrace of the life I have lived, the peace I have earned.

Love and Light, dear ones – and wishes for souvenir shirt embraces of your own.

A Wastrel’s Wednesday: Saunas, Survivors, Empires, and Horror Stories

Gentle Readers; I am trying to blog daily. After all, I manage to gym almost every day, I maintain a healthy diet, I have sort-of programmed myself out of reflexive snark and judgment, surely I can return to daily writing? Alas, since gymming, dieting, reading, and non-reflexive, carefully considered snarking do not generate income enough that I might acquire the swarthy, toned, sneering twenty-something young man whose job it would be to keep me in line – or, writing lines – I shall have to discipline myself. So, here I am, going. And hoping, with daily entries (let’s be honest, I’ll likely stop tomorrow) I might keep things under 1000 words. (HA!)

Parker, Dorothy

Mrs. Parker

When it comes to culture, well, with apologies to Mrs. Parker; You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think. I spend a lot of my time in ways a lot of you might consider wasting it. (In fact, I considered the syntax of the preceding sentence for ten minutes; the composition, the rhythm of the repeated “a lot of” and the echo of “way” in “wasting”.) My ambition, it turns out, has always been to achieve wastrel status, a goal of those with (credit to Mrs. Parker again) “congenital lowness of brow.”

Goal: met.

And with further apologies to Mrs. Parker, I say;

Observation

If I didn’t care for fun and such / I’d probably amount to much./ But I shall stay the way I am,/ Because I do not give a damn. (First printed in New York World, 16 August 1925)

When it comes to damns, I give quite a few, but not many for things about which those who dismiss me as wastrel think I ought. I weary of closets, the toeing of lines, subterfuge of any variety, and cultural conformity. So, while I have long cultivated the Continue reading