Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter Light

We arrived in Provincetown this afternoon around 3:30, and it was already turning dark by 4:45 as we wandered through town. It's a lot quieter than either D. or I expected for New Year's Eve (though we didn't expect excitement or crowds). You get a sense of what it would be like to live here year-round. You'd need to find your comfort and light largely from within your own hearth -- and the beauty around you. I joked to D., "Maybe we can get ourselves on the dinner-party circuit while we're here." (We leave day after tomorrow.)

We're back in the hotel room right now waiting for our 9:00 dinner reservations. And after? Who knows -- maybe that piano bar we walked by every night the last two summers, the rousing strains of "Memory" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" never quite succeeding in tempting us inside.

As last summer's vacation wound to a close, I was overcome with a feeling of deep safety in the remoteness of Provincetown, the paradox of security embedded in what is truly a sense of being on the edge of the world, the outermost reach, the very tip of the crook of a beckoning finger.

Happy New Year.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What You Get When You Google "Ice Breaker Questions"

  1. If you could have an endless supply of any food, what would you get? Pasta. Wait, I do have an endless supply of pasta.
  2. If you were an animal, what would you be and why? I've always thought (generically) a bird, but maybe I'd be a dog so I could keep my dog Patsy company during the day now that her pal Charlie has passed away. But then who would walk us?
  3. What is one goal you’d like to accomplish during your lifetime? Loving well.
  4. When you were little, who was your favorite super hero and why? Tintin. Clever and adventurous, with an interesting life.
  5. Who is your hero? (a parent, a celebrity, an influential person in one’s life) I posted this without realizing I hadn't answered this one. Very hard question, as I don't generally think in those terms. I think parents should be honored with gratitude for raising their children to be loving and responsible people (and I do), not be burdened with a legacy of heroism. I can think of celebrities I admire, but I can't think of one I'd call a hero. I've had people in my life I consider professional and creative mentors, but that's different, too. I'll say D. is a hero -- for loving well (see number 3); for accepting me as I am; for being a good, lifesaving brother to his sister; for achieving the life he dreamed of as a boy; for wanting to be part of my family; and for being fun pretty much every day.
  6. What’s your favorite thing to do in the summer? Going to Provincetown with D. (we're going in two days for New Year's, so it may turn out to be a favorite thing in winter as well) and going to Wolf Trap.
  7. If they made a movie of your life, what would it be about and which actor would you want to play you? It would be a quiet indie film, very internal -- one of those movies about which people say, "Nothing really happens in it, but I wasn't bored for a second." I don't know -- John Krasinski? If the movie were made anytime soon, it would have to be someone who could play me both young and older; he comes to mind as someone who could do that.
  8. If you were an ice cream flavor, which one would you be and why? Orange creamsicle. You have to ask why?
  9. What’s your favorite cartoon character, and why? Tintin, if a comic counts as a "cartoon." I dread what Steven Spielberg will do to him.
  10. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why? To Munich, where I was born. I've been back once, in 1981, and would like to go again. Anytime I revisit my past, I'm moved and piqued in some way.
  11. What’s the ideal dream job for you? One that would allow me to edit (so I could fix redundancies like "ideal dream job") and force me to write. Not too far from what I do now, with the difference that I'm not often forced to write. Now, fantasy job is different -- that would be photojournalist (I seem to remember saying this in a long-ago post). Yet another version of the question: What would I want to do if I had to do something in a different field (I see this as a more realistic question than the fantasy job). I would work in the theater in some capacity; that's always struck me as a profession in which one can be part of a tight community.
  12. Are you a morning or night person? Neither, really, if you mean getting anything accomplished, but I love nothing better than evenings at home puttering. So I guess night.
  13. What are your favorite hobbies? Baking, running, reading.
  14. What are your pet peeves or interesting things about you that you dislike? What a strange question. You mean pet peeves about myself? That doesn't make sense. I have peeves, but they're not "pet." Pet peeves in general? Too long a list. Interesting things about me that I dislike? What in the world could that mean? If they're interesting, I'm all for them! I dislike it when I stumble over my words, which happens often, and I suppose someone else might find that interesting. Next question.
  15. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? The whole idea that some people see some food as "weird" makes me impatient. Since I don't eat meat, though, I'll say meat. I actually do think that's a little weird.
  16. Name one of your favorite things about someone in your family. One thing about my father that I love: He wrote a condolence note to Jacqueline Kennedy when JFK died. I'd give anything to know what he said -- I find it incredibly touching, and somewhat out of character, that he would do that. All we have is her (form) reply on cream-colored Crane's stationery.
  17. Tell us about a unique or quirky habit of yours. I like to examine my fingernails and cuticles close up.
  18. If you had to describe yourself using three words, it would be… Nice, shy, modest.
  19. If someone made a movie of your life would it be a drama, a comedy, a romantic-comedy, action film, or science fiction? It would be "other." You know, the section with all those "weird" films with subtitles and talky scenes and gay stuff.
  20. If I could be anybody besides myself, I would be… Myself with biceps.

Friday, December 25, 2009

O Tannenbaum

Other than my junior year abroad 28 years ago -- when I spent Christmas with friends in a storybook village in the Black Forest of Germany -- last night was the first time in my life, whether I was single or in a relationship, that I didn't spend at least part of the evening of December 24 with my parents.

Last year, their first in assisted living, it was an early evening, but it was an evening. This year, they both need to be reminded that it's Christmas. We didn't do any formal gift exchange, last night or today, and that was a very good thing -- no confusion, simpler, more peaceful.

Christmas Eve meant an afternoon visit from me and one of my sisters and her husband, with cookies and hot cider (both a little too complicated for Mom and Dad -- all that powdered sugar on their fingers and lips, the strangeness of . . . hot juice?). No visible recognition of the German carols I played on CD, the ones we've listened to all my life: "Es Ist ein Ros Entsprungen" ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"), "Ihr Kinderlein Kommet" (Come Ye Little Children"). We try to preserve what needles still cling to the tree.

So last night I was home by 6:30. I made dinner for D. at my place. Another first: Christmas Eve dinner cooked for someone other than blood kin. Baked Thai-style tofu (this person likes the same recipe) with brown rice, a salad, wine, and hot fudge pudding cake.

The candlelight, the company, the music (a CD of German carols D. made for me), and the meal made for a lovely and warm evening. To tell you the truth, it was wonderful.

In a way, it felt like my first truly grownup Christmas Eve. And for better and worse, it won't be the last.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Five

I imagine many of my friends -- particularly my writer friends -- would be surprised to see much of what I've been reading. (It used to be all novels, essays, and literary memoirs. Life is funny.) Herewith, the most enjoyable books I read this year. Actually, I found it hard to find time to read this year, so my list of books read this year isn't a whole lot longer than my list of most enjoyable books read this year.

1. My Life So Far by Jane Fonda. Really? Yes, really. A beautifully written and impressively honest memoir by an intelligent, powerful, vulnerable, brave, insecure, deeply thoughtful woman. It was also a pleasure to see her return to Broadway last winter in 33 Variations, after an absence of more than 40 years. Her A-plus performance in a B play was what inspired me to read her book.

2. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris. A start-to-finish "biography" of the five Best Picture nominations of 1967 (The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and Dr. Doolittle). Educational, hugely entertaining, and a trip into my own past, surprisingly enough: I loved Dr. Doolittle at age six, but apparently it's considered one of the biggest turkeys ever nominated for an Oscar. Finding out why was fascinating.

3. Positively Fourth Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina by David Hajdu. This one is cheating because I read it at the very end of last year, but since that was during my blogging hiatus and I was still thinking about it well into 2009, I'm giving myself a pass. It's truly a "lives and times" biography, making me wish I'd been around Greenwich Village in the early 1960s -- and making me feel I was.

4. When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. Brilliant -- and I use the word in both the American and British senses, as it's set in England and Scotland. It's the third mystery novel starring Jackson Brodie. He's really an equal member of an ensemble cast -- and the first fictional character I've ever met whose iPod playlist I'd enjoy as much as my own. Atkinson's Brodie books are about how random tragedy, sorrow, and life-altering mistakes lie around every corner, sparing no one. Cheerful, huh? I can't wait to read the next one.

5. Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler. This is coming out in January -- I read an advance copy. It's not quite as good as Tyler's last novel, Digging to America, which is her best. In fact, I think it will end up one of her minor works. But that doesn't mean I didn't like it. As I've noted before, I've never encountered a contemporary novelist whose voice is so consistent in all of her books, starting with her first one more than 40 years ago.

Some other things I read:

Most bloated: The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. There's a good 400-page novel about the Columbine massacre and the aftereffects of trauma in these 700 pages by an author whose previous two novels I loved (especially She's Come Undone). There's also a boring 300-page novel about a 19th-century female prison reformer. Really? Really.

Best book with a truly awful title (or most page-turning clunkily written book by a professional journalist who nevertheless did her homework): Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. All three of them have made great music and the most amazingly bad choices in relationships. I ate it up.

Most disappointing edition of a reliable anthology: The Best American Essays 2009, edited by Mary Oliver. A page turner only in the sense that I kept turning pages because nothing held my interest -- except for one essay, which I read twice: "First" by Ryan Van Meter, a very touching gay-boy personal essay about young desire stifled.

Most overrated classic: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. It took me this long to finally read this collection from the '60s, but I've got to say: bright and smart surface, not much there beneath it. I think her spare, unforgiving style was a breath of bracing air back then, but these essays don't hold up well. I was surprised how dated and shallow they felt. A good example of writing that thinks it's deeper than it is. (I'm judging just this one book, not her whole oeuvre. I did like The Year of Magical Thinking very much and have even taught individual essays of hers.)

Oddest celebrity memoir: Daybreak by Joan Baez. A little-remembered chestnut (I got it at the Montgomery County Library used bookstore) written when she was still in her twenties and a megastar on the folk scene. In fact, she probably wouldn't even call it a memoir (there's virtually nothing in it about music). It's very well written and has a particularly refreshing chapter about her love for her mother and sister Mimi (see Positively Fourth Street above). I think there's also a chapter about Bob Dylan, couched in metaphor and coyness, but the fact that you can't quite be sure is part of the problem.

No Jane Fonda: Trust Your Heart by Judy Collins. I revere Judy Collins (just saw her in concert last Wednesday, and she's full of stories). This was interesting but more of a summary of a life than a memoir -- with a little too much about the country house and her comforting cups of home-brewed espresso. But she has written quite a few autobiographical books since then, and I'll probably give another a shot at some point.

On my list for 2010: Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by Frank Bruni, Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back by Reynolds Price, Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period by Michelle Mercer, and The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Power of Two

In October, I saw the Broadway revival of Finian's Rainbow, a silly but exuberant 1940s musical that was also a silly but forgettable 1960s movie with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark (directed by Francis Ford Coppola!) that, despite its forgettability, I remember seeing with the family when I was a kid.

The New York production stars the talented Cheyenne Jackson, an openly gay actor (and not an obscure one either; he got praise for the Broadway hit Xanadu, and he played gay rugby player/9-11 hero Mark Bingham in the movie United 93) who recently released a CD with openly gay cabaret singer/musician Michael Feinstein called The Power of Two.

It's very pleasant and fun to listen to (it helps if you have an affinity for show tunes and old chestnuts like "Me and My Shadow"), but it's truly extraordinary in that it's a record by two successful, mainstream, openly gay male artists singing love songs to and with each other. Think of how rare that is -- and I'm not counting subtexty stuff by people like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

The title song, a duet, is a lovely cover version of an Indigo Girls song. Another good and poignant one, particularly for gay men d'un certain âge, is "Old Friend," a solo by Feinstein. Cheyenne Jackson does "Old Devil Moon" from Finian's Rainbow.

I give a standing ovation to both of these men for making this record not a matter of bravery but a matter of artistry and of joy . . . and of fact.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Does anyone still blog anymore? I have a feeling the answer is no. And yet here I am again, more than a year since my last post. I don't expect I have any readers left. And yet here I am.

My reasons for going away had to do with time, work, emotional distraction, and growing questions about writing into the blogger-void in the first place, Some of my readers knew me well from my real life. Some had never met me at all. I'd had an experience, not long before my posts trailed off, in which I'd become a regular and supportive reader of a blog by a person who turned out to be a plagiarizing fraud. This person's blogger persona had become so real to me (and to hundreds of others) that when I found out he was a fiction, it was rattling to say the least. I started to wonder about the handful of strangers out there (let's face it, it was only a handful) who thought they knew me through my posts. While I'm not a fiction, I've presented only selective sides of myself here. I think they're honest. But people who have never met me who think they know me do not. That dynamic started to feel -- on a level I wasn't even able to articulate to myself fully -- kind of fraudulent in itself.

But that's only part of what happened. My relationship with D. grew, my parents demanded more and more of my time, and my job had changed dramatically (even more so this year, with layoffs roughly doubling my work load).

For more than a year I've barely looked at this blog, which was such an important part of my life for nearly three years -- a time in which I was single and groping for a way to be after the end of a relationship.

So the abandoned blog felt like a friend I'd fallen out of touch with but didn't quite know how to reconnect with. The more time passes, the more awkward it is to call or e-mail and set up that coffee date.

Today is December 19, 2009. I'm 48 years old. The snow outside is falling in feet, like something I haven't seen since childhood. On a day like this, the footsteps you imprinted a mere hour ago are now little more than suggestions that you were once out walking. So you just step into the snow again.