Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Foreign Countries

Greetings from Provincetown. The last time I was here, it was New Year's, the population closed in on itself for warmth. It's now the height of summer—tattoos breathing for the first time in months, vacation beards sprouting, people relaxing into each other and themselves. One of the notes in the guest book of our condo, from two men, adds a P.S.: "We held hands walking down the streets of Provincetown." A big duh to anyone who has been here more than once or who is from a big progressive city, but a revelation when you've never done it before anywhere. The same couple: "It's like coming to another country from our beautiful but conservative Maine."

D. and I saw the Swedish movie The Girl Who Played With Fire last night. Excellent, complex, disturbing, but as far from Ikea's cheerful dining rooms and entertainment centers as you could imagine. Though Ikea is, funnily enough, among the credits.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

History, Boys

I recently rented The History Boys and was especially struck by the matter-of-fact way this group of mostly straight boys in an British "public" (private) school accepted and joshed with and even sympathized with the gay kid among them, particularly his crush on the dreamiest straight guy of the bunch (Dominic Cooper). And at least as much by the matter-of-fact way the gay boy himself, even as he struggled with his feelings, openly talked about his attractions and identity.

It was refreshing to see, and I guess I have to assume it's not wildly implausible for the setting (England) and the time (1983), though the movie (and Alan Bennett play on which it's based) takes place only four years after I graduated from high school.

It couldn't be further from my experience in a private boys' school in the United States, in which heterosexism and homophobia ruled to such an extent that the gay boys either kept staunchly silent and softly invisible or let their peculiarities leak out (awkwardly queer mannerisms, penchants for sketching fantasy characters on every available surface) and were subjected to isolation, ridicule, even cruelty. One boy in the latter category (let's call him M.S.) when confronted with the message "M.S. is a fag" in large letters on the blackboard and all the erasers hidden—as well as a roomful of classmates waiting to see his reaction—had no choice but to wipe the words off with his own '70s-plaid polyester suitcoat.

I watched and said nothing. Guess which of the groups of gay boys I was in.

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Where the Driveway Ends

Why has it been so hard for me to get back on track? Somehow my eight-week jury duty (with 22 people who, for the most part, I could not stand, hearing cases that were, for the most part, maddeningly repetitive and tedious, not to mention depressing) and my mother's fall (she's now almost fully recovered physically but much changed mentally) threw me off my blogging stride. The only way I'll ever get any words down is not to claim any continuity or structure for them.

I had one of NPR's much-touted "driveway moments" this evening when a story on Shel Silverstein came on All Things Considered just as I pulled up to D's house. I knew Silverstein wrote songs in addition to children's books (which, by the way, I never read as a child), but the only songs I knew he wrote were "The Queen of the Silver Dollar," on Emmylou Harris's great first album, Pieces of the Sky," and "I'm Checking Out," which Meryl Streep sings to amazing, triumphant effect at the end of Postcards From the Edge.

There's a new Shel Silverstein tribute album out, the subject of the NPR story, and who knew he also wrote those Top 40 songs of my youth "Sylvia's Mother" and "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," not to mention Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" and Marianne Faithfull's "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" (which I love and haven't thought about in years)?

I had to sit in the car and hear the whole interview with the album's producers. And who knows -- maybe I'll buy it. See, there's still hope for me after all.

Illustration by Shel Silverstein from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

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