Sunday, April 29, 2007

Living the Questions

Vuboq asks: ". . . why do we (and by 'we' I mean 'I') get crushes on unattainable men?" (I'm still working on his bee question.)

Thanks, Anonymous (I know who you are), for answering this one for me -- couldn't have said it better myself:

"not that it is my blog
but crushes on unattainable men
make life safe"

In appreciation, I will answer one of Anonymous's questions next (though I'm not sure it is the same Anonymous; note the difference in capitalization and punctuation . . . hmmm):

"What are 3 must read books that have impacted your life?"

1. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
I first read this during a very vulnerable time of transition and confusion, after I had come out of the closet in my late twenties and was struggling, following the initial relief and euphoria, to understand who I was, who I would become, and how to navigate the new types of relationships and, in particular, loss that I was experiencing. It was almost incidental to my turmoil that I was a writer at the time and that the book is addressed to a young writer. What spoke to me most was the permission, indeed empowerment, to experience fully what is difficult and mysterious and often frustrating in life:

. . . I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

2. Maps to Anywhere by Bernard Cooper
I discovered Bernard Cooper around the same time, which also happened to be when I was facing up to the fact that, almost immediately upon receiving an MFA in fiction, I had virtually no interest in writing another word of fiction (although to this day I don't regret a minute of the years I spent writing fiction). Cooper's exquisitely written phantasmagoria of uncategorizable "essays" cracked my mind open to the creative possibilities in nonfiction -- that it could be just as imaginative a genre as fiction, and just as challenging to both writer and reader:

The funny thing about being a man who is childless and intends to stay that way is that you almost never think of yourself as possessing spermatazoa. Semen, yes; but not those discrete entities, tadpoles who frolic in the microcosm of your aging anatomy, future celebrities who enter down a spiral staircase of deoxyribonucleic acid, infinitesimal relay runners who lug your traits, coloration, and surname from points remote and primitive. Certainly you don't believe that the substance you spill when you huff and heave in a warm tantrum of onanism could ever, given a million years and a Petri dish and an infrared lamp, could ever come to resemble you. It would be like applauding wildly at a Broadway play and then worrying that you hurt the mites who inhabit the epidermis of your hands. Death is all around us, and we sometimes assist.
-- from "Childless"

3. The Family of Man, compiled by Edward Steichen
I received my first 35-millimeter camera when I graduated from high school, and I almost majored in fine art, with a photography concentration, in college -- until I decided that I didn't have the discipline to be an artist . . . and then ended up a handful of years later (isn't it ironic, dontcha think?) becoming a writer, albeit one who has always had a problem with artistic discipline. This book of photographs -- based on a Museum of Modern Art exhibit in the 1950s -- is sometimes sentimental, but its deep silvery-black-and-white images offered me endless inspiration, and still do, about the many ways to frame what I see around me. As I mentioned in a long-ago post, I've taken hardly any photographs to speak of in the three and a half years since my last relationship ended; my photo collection pretty much ends in 2003. I honestly don't know if I'll ever get back to it. I'm not sure why the desire has left me -- one of the many questions I'm living! And I'm just talking about snapshots, really -- nothing fancy, just visual documentation of my life. But I like to think I still have the heart of a photographer.

A camera testament, a drama of the grand canyon of humanity, an epic woven of fun, mystery and holiness . . .
-- from Carl Sandburg's prologue to The Family of Man

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The View of the "Mantelpiece," or More Fun With Studs

This time I used my new electronic stud finder.

Sorry I've been MIA. I've been mulling over your head-banger questions. I hope to return to regular blogging soon. Between teaching and drilling . . . well, you know.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Ask me something, and I'll try to answer.

(Just don't ask about American Idol or other reality TV, because I don't watch it.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Surprise, Surprise (and Surprise)

I'm going through my notebooks tonight as I prepare a writing workshop that starts Wednesday. (The other one I'm teaching this spring began on Saturday; I'm teaching a lot these days! I live in The Condo That Teaching Built!) I came across an exercise I devised exactly ten years ago: Write down three surprises from the last two days, then write about one of them for two pages.

On a separate page is a list of my surprises, which I must have written down to see if I could come up with three of my own -- to see if it was in fact doable -- before giving the assignment to my students (though I'm pretty sure I didn't write the two pages; I was too busy for that even then!).

Here are my three surprises from that day in spring 1997:

1. How windy it was last night walking to S's.*
2. How long it had been since I'd spun around and gotten dizzy.**
3. How Andy Garcia still takes my breath away after having a picture of him on my wall all this time.***

*Funny I should come across this today, one of the windiest days in memory.

**I have no recollection of what I had done in the two days prior to writing this that entailed spinning around and getting dizzy; I do know that, ten years later, I have gotten extremely dizzy being spun around madly by a sadistic two-step leader.

***Andy Garcia still takes my breath away, though I no longer have that magazine photo of him with a dog that for a couple of years -- in my thirties, like an infatuated tween -- I kept taped to my kitchen wall.
(I can't believe I just found the actual photo online, albeit a crappy version of it.)

Three surprises from April 14-16 2007:

1. I still have that forgotten blue V-neck sweater from the Gap that I never wear because it's not the right shade of blue for me. (I wore it today anyway.)

2. A friend told me last night that a guy I'd met at a party the previous weekend let it be known that he "liked" me. (Echoes of tweeniness again!) The surprise wasn't so much that he "liked" me per se; it was that what I'd wondered in the back of my mind as I talked to him turned out to be correct. (But he's partnered, and I'm not looking anyway.)

3. After being annoyed by an e-mail about our dogs from S -- my ex, and the one to whose house I was walking on that surprisingly windy night ten years ago -- I couldn't resist, later in the day, sending him a review of a movie that I knew he'd be interested in, and that we would have loved seeing together had it come out ten years ago. I didn't enclose a message, and he didn't reply. Neither of which was a surprise.

Checking In

After more than a year at it, I still struggle internally with what I want this blog to be. That's part -- but only part -- of the reason I haven't posted much lately.

I've never been satisfied with the lack of a theme or focus here. Sometimes I want the blog to be more personal than it is, sometimes more of an opinionated commentary on what's going on in the world, sometimes just a vehicle for recommending reading or music or movies (which I never seem to watch anymore). Sometimes I wish I wrote longer and more thoughtful posts (I'm aware that I did
so more in the early days); sometimes I think that, when it comes to blogging, conciseness is all. Sometimes I want to share episodes from my life but never get around to it. And sometimes I don't know where to begin.

So the result is I do a little of all of those things. And remain creatively restless -- at the moment, more precisely, distracted. Unsettled over still being unsettled.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On This Date in History: No One Around to Ask

Twenty-five years ago today, I was in Rome -- the first and only time I've ever been in that beautiful city.

It's hard to select a passage from my journal because (1) it's full of cliches -- walking through the museums of St. Peter's was "like being part of a herd of cattle"; in the Sistine Chapel, people were "packed in like sardines" -- and (2) I had just had a traumatic falling-out with an American friend I'd been traveling through Austria with on our way to Italy, so my account of Rome is also the account of our "breakup" in the train station and the subsequent social nightmare of running into her, the very next day, with two other friends we had been planning to meet and continue traveling with as a foursome.

Rome ended up being my first real experience of seeing a foreign city totally on my own, and I loved it despite the pain and awkwardness of
the adolescent drama that had deposited me there. Here, though, is a moment I remember well, even without a diary's prompting:

"I was glad to get out of there," I wrote of the crowded Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums. ". . . . I then set out to find the American Academy, where Mom studied. It was a nice warm day, so I walked along the river and then up the hill -- Gianicolo, I think -- hoping to find a park or a bench along the way to eat my lunch, but I never did, so I finally stopped at a church almost at the top of the hill, where there was a wall overlooking the city. I sat there for a while and ate my bread, salami, cheese, and apple. I enjoyed that a lot. It was so nice and peaceful in that part of town, out of the way of all the traffic and tourists. I found the American Academy and wanted to get a picture of myself in front of it -- I thought Mom would get a kick out of that -- but there was no one around to ask."

That pretty much describes my happiest moments in any city I've visited since then. Sitting, thinking, observing . . . often eating. Two summers ago, I was in New York City for a huge convention, and one of most memorable parts of the trip was having a lunch of Welsh rarebit and tea by myself here. When I was in Montreal with my ex in 1997, while riding the subway -- amazed and delighted at the sound of French all around me for the first time in fifteen years -- I got lost in a fantasy of what it would be like to live there for a time. I remember that was the specific image in my head at that instant: living there temporarily, perhaps six months, with my home to return to.

Today my mother wouldn't be able to remember much, if anything, from her time at the American Academy in Rome in the early 1950s. But on that day in 1982, I saw it, that piece of her past, that piece of what would become mine. That wide, sweeping, solitary view from the hill.

Monday, April 09, 2007


April is National Poetry Month. Here is a favorite poem by Derek Walcott. I was introduced to it a dozen or so years ago, and it heartens, reassures, and emboldens me every time I read it.

After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Happily Ever After

Two nights ago, I resolved the living-room curtain issue that had paralyzed me for the last month. (It's a long story, but suffice it to say that it involved a rod, some studs, and drilling; that's a little something for my infantile homosexual gentlemen readers.) It's transformational having curtains I can close at night and having a livable living room again. Though there's still much to be done, I feel 100 percent more at home.

The next day, Comcast came and did an excellent, surprisingly discreet job of running my cable from the hook-up in the bedroom to the TV in the living room, so now I can enjoy my Sex and the City reruns at 11. Even better, one of the cable guys informed me sotto voce, I'll be getting expanded-basic service for my basic-cable subscription price. "Just don't tell anyone," he said. Never mind that I hardly ever watch any of those channels, which is why I downgraded to basic. A great deal's a great deal.

Sometimes life just shows signs of working out.

’E Was Me Norf, Me Souf, Me East and West . . .

Normally I hate phonetic reproductions of dialect in writing (it's more distraction than help), but this New Yorker article by Henry Alford is so spot-on that it's completely entertaining. And the whole conceit of the piece -- a working-class English cabbie analyzing W.H. Auden's poetry! -- is hilarious and brilliant.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

In This Together

Here's an amazing story from today's New York Times about family, community, and coming out of the closet as a teen. (You might have to register to read it.) Just about all of the main characters in this article give voice to the better angels of their nature. Here's an excerpt:

That night, when his mother got home from work, she stuck her head in his room to say hi. “I said, ‘Ma, I need to talk to you about something, I’m gay.’ She said, ‘O.K., anything else?’ ‘No, but I just told you I’m gay.’ ‘O.K., that’s fine, we still love you.’ I said, ‘That’s it?’ I was preparing for this really dramatic moment.”

Ms. O’Connor recalls, “He said, ‘Mom, aren’t you going to freak out?’ I said: ‘It’s up to you to decide who to love. I have your father, and you have to figure out what’s best for you.’ He said, ‘Don’t tell Dad.’ ”

“Of course I told him,” Ms. O’Connor says.

“With all our faults,” Mr. O’Connor says, “we’re in this together.”