Monday, June 30, 2008
Annie was "Party A." Since she's never been married before, we thought she deserved first slot.
Behind us in line stood a man and a woman holding their baby. They looked and sounded like they were Indian (from India) and wore traditional clothing; the woman's red dress was stunning. Annie and I went ga-ga over their gorgeous 10-month-old son who had shining black eyes and long black curls. I loved that another unconventional couple was part of the energy in the room.
After doing our historical civic duty, we drove over to Santa Cruz and ordered a massive carrot cake that will probably feed us for days after the wedding, not that I'm complaining. After taking our order, the young woman behind the counter said, "Congratulations!"
It feels good to plan and to be a party!
Sunday, June 29, 2008
A number of people I know who live in the mountains and canyon areas have been evacuated or are on evacuation alert. It's been an eerie start to the summer.
I finished reading Dan White's The Cactus Eaters this morning and wrote a review on Amazon. It's not hyperbole when I say I haven't laughed this much while reading in a long time.
My friend Sally Ashton is guest blogger this week at The Best American Poetry blog. Her first entry today makes the point very well that Emily Dickinson was, well, a lot sexier than critics typically give her credit for.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I wonder if this--as reported here--is indeed true?
Certainly if he's currently making the film he'll have ample exciting footage to shoot here in California as of late.
Hey, Michael Moore! You can come film my wedding!
"Michael Moore has tackled Downsizing, School Shootings, the culture of fear, The Iraq War, President Bush, and most recently - the American healthcare system. What’s next for the controversial documentary filmmaker? Homophobia. That’s right, Moore has revealed that homophobia and the anti-gay Christian right movement might be the topic of his next documentary.
“I think it’s a very ripe subject for someone like me to make a movie about. Simply because we are not there yet and it remains one of the last open wounds on our soul that we are not willing to fix yet,” Moore told The Advocate. “There is nowhere in the four Gospels where Jesus uses the word homosexual.’ The right wing has appropriated this guy … and they have used him to attack gays and lesbians, when he never said a single word against people who are homosexual. Anyone who professes to be a Christian and does that is certainly not following the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Gay marriage has certainly become one of the hot button issues in this country. I can imagine the movie now: Moore will probably bring a Gay couple to a Catholic church to get married. But when the parish turns him away, and Moore will pull out some clever funny idea that will get America to think “why not?”"
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The very first Indigo Girls song I heard was "Hammer and a Nail" on my car radio. I turned it up and thought, "Who IS this?" When the announcer said that was a new song by the "Indigo Girls" I ran out bought their two tapes.
Yes, tapes. Tells you how long ago that was.
When I went to live in Japan, the Indigo Girls came with me. Their music meant a lot to me as I moved into my 30s. Amy and Emily sang the promise of making positive change in the world, of making meaningful art, and of being yourself, fully and completely.
Being the naive soul that I was, it didn't dawn on me that they were lesbians until I fell in love with a woman for the first time. I was amazed at how I'd been drawn to them before I'd consciously realized that being with a woman was a possibility for me.
Here they are on Charlie Rose talking about the genesis of their band, as well as about being political women and lesbians. They are so refreshingly real and honest:
Here they are, rockin'; they sang this song last night.
And here's "Hammer and a Nail," the first song I heard:
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
That was his reason. To boost his GPA.
Not because he loves writing.
Not because he's devoted to being creative and wants to give it another go because as a frosh he didn't know what he cared about.
He included not one reason that would make me excited about adding him into the class.
I've seen worse, but the letter had a few grammar and spelling errors. On the plus side, unlike many students who email me, he used capital letters and punctuation--and a salutation of "Good Day Professor Evans."
I could have hit delete. Or flat-out said "no." (Or "yes," I suppose.) Instead, I wrote the following intended to give him a free lesson: Write to your audience. (It remains to be seen if he goes for it.)
Are you saying you want to take a creative writing class solely to raise your GPA? Why should I add you when there are many students who haven't had a chance yet to take creative writing? Why did you not pass the class in the first place? Why would this time be different?
Try again. Send me an email that proves to me you're a good writer and a creative person. Make it excellent, creative and convincing--and edit it to perfection. Think of it like an audition to get added into the class. If it's good writing, I will consider your request.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
All of these things are huge: writing a novel, working on an 80-year-old house, and planning a wedding. I'm trying to be zen about about it all by not writing out too many lists (I can be manic that way) and by enjoying the process.
I used to avoid taking on big projects because I thought of them as a series of steps to take. Trying to keep track of those steps became an irritant. Truly, it was an issue of control. I thought of the steps in a big project as a way to attempt to control the future. This brought anxiety into my life, not joy.
I enjoy life more, though, when I think of writing a scene, or printing out invitations, or planting flowers, as an opportunity to engage with the moment. That individual moment resonates with--and in a way reflects--the whole (ala Chaos Theory). Writing a scene is writing the whole novel, in essence. Remembering this helps me to engage with life in a way that's not about getting to the end but enjoying the journey. Anyway, why rush to the finish line, especially since the ultimate finish line is death. I'm in no rush.
Monday, June 23, 2008
The first day my sister and I walked 9 miles on the beach and didn't get to an end. It has a impressive vastness to it. When we were finished we were so hot we jumped into the water. There's something about salt water that's so soothing. Perhaps because being in the ocean is like being in the earth's womb. Or maybe it's like being inside a big margarita.
Another highlight was visiting the home and art studio of Rodney "Rodrigo" McCoubrey, a friend of my sister's. His art--made of recycled materials --is fanciful and meaningful. He turns garbage into beauty. He's a wonderfully quirky guy with incredible amounts of energy. We bought three of his fish pieces.
Back home I got some great news that I'm invited to be a featured reader at the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival in October. I like having a travel plan on the books. Travel is good for the soul: it expands my world, and it also helps me to appreciate home anew.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Summer, and the livin' is easy
Reading is my oxygen
Today is my second father's day
Patience and kindness
Obama's statement to the LGBT community
The Lurie distinguished professor is . . .
Wedding on the water
And here's what was going down exactly one year ago:
Finally, here are some photos from our last trip down south to Venice Beach. It was a couple of months ago, but we finally got the pictures on the computer...
Thursday, June 19, 2008
My heart was suspect.
Wired to an EKG,
I walked a treadmill
that measured my ebb
and flow, tracked isotopes
that ploughed my veins,
looked for a constancy
I've hardly ever found.
For a month I worried
as I climbed the stairs
to my office. The mortality
I never believed in
was here now. They
say my heart's ok,
just high cholesterol, but
I know my heart's a house
someone has broken into,
a room you come back
to and know some stranger
with bad intent has been there
and touched all that you love. You know
he can come back. It's his call,
his house now.
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Q: At the age of 82, you will be publishing your new collection of essays this week, which seems likely to confirm your reputation as one of America’s last public intellectuals. Why do you think that critics have traditionally praised your essays more than your fiction, which includes “Burr,” “Myra Breckinridge” and 20 other novels? A: That’s because they don’t know how to read. I can’t name three first-rate literary critics in the United States . I’m told there are a few hidden away at universities, but they don’t print them in The New York Times.
Are you saying your novels have been critically neglected? I don’t even read most reviews, unless there is a potential lawsuit on view. I’ve never had much attention paid by critics — nor has anybody else in the United States of America, as Mr. Obama likes to call it.
And what about Mr. McCain? Disaster. Who started this rumor that he was a war hero? Where does that come from, aside from himself? About his suffering in the prison war camp?
Everyone knows he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. That’s what he tells us.
Why would you doubt him? He’s a graduate of Annapolis. I know a lot of the Annapolis breed. Remember, I’m West Point, where I was born. My father went there.
So what does that have to do with the U.S. Naval Academy down in Annapolis? The service universities keep track of each other, that’s all. They have views about each other. And they are very aware of social class and eventually money, since they usually marry it.
How, exactly, is your cousin Al Gore related to you? They keep explaining it to me, and I keep forgetting.
What about your grandfather, Thomas Gore of Oklahoma? He invented the whole state. It was Indian territory. There was no state until Senator Gore.
In 1968, during the Nixon-Humphrey race, you became the voice of liberalism in a series of televised debates with William Buckley. Any plans to be a pundit at the coming presidential conventions? No.
How did you feel when you heard that Buckley died this year? I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.
You live in California , where last month the State Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage. As someone who lived with a male companion for 50-plus years, do you see this as a victory for equality? People would ask, How could you live with someone for so long without any problems of any kind? I said, There was no sex.
Were you chaste during those years? Chased by whom?
Are you a supporter of gay marriage? I know nothing about it. I don’t follow that.
Why doesn’t it interest you? The same reason heterosexual marriage doesn’t seem to interest me.
If we look at the situation apart from you — It’s my interview, so we’ve got to stay with me.
Have you ever considered leaving the United States permanently? No, it’s my subject.
Do you read a lot of contemporary fiction these days? Like everyone else, no, I don’t.
Anyone in the 20th century you might have a kind word about? Yes, I liked Italo Calvino, and I thought he was the greatest writer of my time.
Your new collection includes an essay in which you note, “Calvino does what very few writers can do: he describes imaginary worlds with the most extraordinary precision and beauty.” What about American novelists? Can’t think of one. Norman Mailer? Oh, dear, we’re not going to go into pluses and minuses now. Philip Roth? Ditto.
I admire Roth. He never became complacent. He had no reason to. He’s a good comic writer.
What do you think is your own best novel? I don’t answer questions like that. Ever. And you ought not to ask them.
Well, it was a great pleasure talking to you. I doubt that.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Previously I posted a photo of long-time activists (founders of the Daughters of Bilitis) and partners for 53 years Phyllis Lyon (age 84) and Del Martin (age 87) getting married last night.
Here are a few more of my favorites:
And here's a piece in my local paper.
Annie and I are still in the planning stages of our wedding. When we fell in love 14 years ago, we never could have imagined this day.
This video by the pretty darn funny Marc Acito promotes his new novel Attack of the Theater People.
This makes me a little insecure. I don't have half of his wit and charm--even less so on film, where my nose gets even more Slavic and my words desert my brain. I think I'll just have to continue to be 20th century while I bury myself in my work.
And I'll let my publisher do the video for my book. I recently discovered that's a little perk of my indie press: they create a video, and I don't even have to be in it.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I have the book on my bed stand and will begin it soon. I'm looking forward to it because I'm sure it's hilarious and poignant, as the reviews say--and also because I will be teaching the book in one of my classes in the fall, and Dan will be visiting the class.
Also on my bed stand is a novel I'm writing a review on (I have an August 1 deadline) and and a huge stack of books I'm wading through as research for my historical novel.
I love books. I love reading. Life seems off somehow if I'm not in the middle of a meaningful story.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
In her mid-80's, Aunt Ruby is still an amazing piano player. We spent a lot of Thanksgivings and Christmasses when I was kid at their line-green house on a hill in San Francisco. Aunt Ruby would play raucous honky tonk while the adults all drank beer and we kids played bumper pool and compared our Christmas gifts.
Bob and Ruby bought the house in 1955. It still has a beautiful old stove my Aunt Ruby polishes to perfection and the original tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen window overlooks the intricate garden my Uncle Bob tended to for years. You can also see the bay and the docks where he worked.
Three days before Uncle Bob died, we (Mom, my sister and I) sat before that remarkable view at the kitchen table with with him, my aunt and cousin. We talked, told stories and laughed for hours. He knew his cancer was terminal. He was thrilled with all the "free stuff" hospice was giving to him: a cane, a wheelchair, medicines, care. He said he'd had a really good life.
If you still have your dad, love him extra today.
Friday, June 13, 2008
1. Put your butt in the chair every day.
2. Write on a laptop that doesn't connect to the internet.
3. "You are freer than you think." (Foucault).
What think you?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
There are horrible fires burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains again. A bunch of people in the little town of Bonny Doon have been evacuated. My friend Stacey lives there. I've been trying to get ahold of her but can't...I'm worried...
And to add to the apocalyptic feeling that can be on the flip-side of summer's joy: As I was driving to the store this afternoon, I saw that a nearby street was barricaded. Many cops . . . a couple of people on the side of the road in tears . . . and shoes and clothes in the road.
When I came home I checked my neighborhood listserv, and the tragic message was indeed posted:
A middle school girl was riding her bike in the bike lane away from the nearby school (today was the last day of the school year) when she was hit by a 4x4 truck that was making a turn. The driver was apparently watching for an opening between oncoming cars (familiar scenario?) and didn't see the bike rider. She hit the girl head-on and dragged her and the bike under the vehicle. The child was taken to ER in critical condition, but she didn't make it. The woman driver and possibly her daughter were sitting in one of my neighbor's driveways sobbing for two hours.
Be patient on the road. Be kind to one another.
"I am proud to join with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters in celebrating the accomplishments, the lives and the families of all LGBT people during this Pride season. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core this issue is about who we are as Americans.
"It's time to live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. Let's enact federal civil rights legislation to outlaw hate crimes and protect workers against discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Let's repeal 'don't ask, don't tell' and demonstrate that the most effective and professional military in the world is open to all Americans who are ready and willing to serve our country. Let's treat the relationships and the families of LGBT Americans with full equality under the law.
We are ready to accomplish these goals because of the courage and persistence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people who are working every day to achieve equal rights -- the gay couple who demands equal treatment in our family laws as they raise their children, the lesbian soldier who wants nothing more than to serve her country openly and honestly, the transgendered workers who ask for the simple dignity of being judged by the quality of their work.
Generations of LGBT Americans, at once ordinary and extraordinary, have made possible this moment in our history. With leadership and hard work we can fulfill the promise of equality for all."
I guess it's McCain video day on this blog. Watch him in action with America's sweetheart, Ellen. History is so obviously going to prove him wrong. Separate is not equal:
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
She's well known not only for her poetry but for her feminist scholarship, her memoir, and her teaching for years at UC Davis.
Here are two of her poems:
God, He Had a Hat!
Mrs. Rabinowitz is sitting on the beach with her little grandson, who is playing in thesand with a pail and shovel when a great tidal wave suddenly appears and sweeps him out to sea. Mrs. Rabinowitz (shaking her fist at the sky): God, bring him back! Bring that little boy right back! Another tidal wave appears and deposits the grandson on the beach, next to Mrs. Rabinowitz. Mrs. Rabinowitz (after scrutinizing the child for a minute): God, he had a hat!
It’s the fifties and we stand in the doorway kissing,
suited in the decorum of our age,
shameless in ignorance.
Our betrothal kisses are small, soft,
nervous as rabbits venturing toward the yard
where the mastiff lunges on his chain and the chain
rattles its gravity across concrete.
But my nineteen-year-old
stance is gracious and wifely,
as if bidding an office-bound spouse goodbye,
although I feel the weird prod of your hard-on
poking against gray wool.
Goodbye, goodbye, sweetheart!
Goodbye to your graduate-student face,
your face of a young cynic that blurs as I kiss it!
Goodbye to your innocent almost-pompadour
(soon to be shaved in Basic by the 4th A.D.)!
Goodbye to the startled fur of your brows!
Past midnight, we’re through kissing, my father
waits in his fat chair, his haze of smoke,
and you dissolve into the vague hall,
the leafy sidewalks, the lit-up all-night
subways whose overheated cars
rumble into the dark like stage sets.
But now your hat swims back to me,
the one you’re wearing in the snapshot
just outside the honeymoon hotel—
gray felt, prematurely middle-aged,
with a brim stiff as cardboard and a crown
that was kind and crushable and soft,
soft as a peach to the touch. . . .
In the end, in the long-term
wing of the assisted living
home, in the small white chamber
looking out on the patio's locked-in
blooms or in the big plain
"day room" with its blaring
TV and hopeful posters,
they fed my mother
ground-up piles of pallid
stuff in bowls clamped onto
a plastic tray and at first
she smiled, delicious, delicious,
as she sucked the oozing
juices, the last pap,
smiling surrounded by fellow
diners drooping and mumbling
in their places until
after a while she tightened
her lips against the food and
instead began unknotting,
unknotting the flowered
gown, unclothing her wasting
nakedness still white and smooth
and then at the very end,
when dreamy and slim
as a teen she welcomed
old friends and relatives who flickered
on the walls, the curtains
of the tiny room, nodding,
hello, sit down, to the shiny
nothing, she'd eat nothing
but chocolate, only chocolate,
so every day I brought an oblong
Lindt or Hershey
and square by square
she took in mouthfuls,
smiling and nodding, square
by square, delicious, dear,
until she finally
swallowed the whole dense bar.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Surprise! Verse Daily posts a new poem each day, but they don't inform the poets in advance. So you might wake up one morning, like John Evans did today, to discover your poem and bio there. You can read John's amazing poem here. (Verse Daily posted one of my poems earlier this year here.) John is an insanely terrific poet--and he's received a major kudos in the form of a Stegner Fellowship beginning this fall. Previous Stegner Fellows I've had the honor ot meet include ZZ Packer, California poet laureate Al Young , James Houston and Tobias Wolff, all of whom have also taught in the program and all of whom (excelpt Wolff) have taught at my university as a Lurie Professor. Watch this blog; I'll be announcing our new Lurie Professor later this week. She's a well-known poet.
Callin' on Collin. Collin Kelley has written about a slew of online literary magazines that have recently been updated. Collin's edgy, surprising chapbook After the Poison is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, which is currently accepting advance orders. About the book, Jim Elledge says, "this slim collection is a must-read. In fact, I dare you to read it. I double dare you."
Queer Collection: Poetry & Prose 2008 is now accepting advance orders. Last year's inaugural anthology was terrific. I'm sure this year's will be too--and I'm honored that my story "Leaving the Baby" will appear in it.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
We're doing a one-hour tour of the bay in Santa Cruz with our small group of guests. Afterward, there will be time to take a quick roller coaster ride for those so inclined. Then we'll have dinner in a special outdoor spot at our favorite Italian restaurant.
After dinner, family and friends are invited to join us in the large suite at our favorite ocean-view inn. Maybe we'll even take a night beach walk.
What I'm most thrilled about is this wedding is so us. It's casual and fun, it features the ocean and sea otters and lasagne, and it's a small production. I wish I could invite you all, but as I said, a small family-centered production is very us (besides, we're both teachers, which means we ain't rich!).
In lieu of gifts, we've registered with Equality California, the group that has done a lot to make marriage equality happen. If you're interested in donating, go here. Click on "Make a Gift" and fill out all your information. At the bottom of the page, click on the drop-down mnus next to "THE HAPPY COUPLE IS" to find Tobin/Evans.
Here's to love.
a documentary on devout Muslims struggling with their homosexuality. Angst is the norm in this heartfelt debut by the filmmaker Parvez Sharma, whose documentary ranges from Johannesburg to Istanbul, from doubt to despair (with a happy detour among the drag queens of India). He does manage to locate a headstrong lesbian in Paris, albeit one whose face, like those of many of the subjects here, has been digitally blurred.
“If we are truly Muslims,” runs her contradictory lament, “we have no right to alter his creation.”
Mr. Sharma’s film emphasizes testimony over context to such a degree that it feels at first of little use to anyone except gay Muslims who might take comfort in knowing they’re not alone. But the documentary gains depth of feeling as it goes and even develops something of a nail-biting narrative as it follows a clique of Iranian men who flee to central Turkey in hopes of applying for political asylum in Canada.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Here's what it's about:
In the opening to For the May Queen, it’s 1981 and 17-year-old Norma Rogers' parents drop her off at the college dorms. Soon, Norma finds herself drunk and nearly naked with three strangers. The strip poker event is the first of many experiences that prompt Norma to question who she is—and who she wants to be.
Norma's relationships with an array of characters induce her to grapple with society's messages about women, sex, and freedom. These characters include Jack, her aloof on-again, off-again boyfriend; Goat, her antsy dorm neighbor; Liz Chan, a pot-smoking sorority girl; Benny Moss, a nerdy guy who has a thing for Liz; and Paul Fellows, Benny's roommate, whom Norma calls “Chuck” because he reminds her of Charlie Brown. Chuck, a witty aficionado of old films, plays a pivotal role in Norma's discoveries about life's possibilities, as does Norma's roommate Stacy—a beautiful, kind, and somewhat mysterious blonde.
Many tumultuous events take Norma (and the reader) through an array of troubles, pleasures, and thrills: from drug use and ominous encounters with strangers, to rowdy parties and road trips, to queer coming-out surprises.
In the midst of these incidents—which are peppered with 1970's and 1980's pop cultural references—Norma reflects on her desire for freedom (sexual and otherwise). Reinforcing these themes are the intermittent appearances of her middle-class parents and her sister, as well as her best friend from high school whose life in a small town—as she prepares for her upcoming wedding—is poles apart from Norma’s.
Ultimately Norma comes to see that there are many ways to live and love.
Friday, June 6, 2008
You help him out of bed and into the living room where he inhales a series of medications while watching the morning news, the anchor’s voice blaring. He isn’t hard of hearing, but it’s difficult for him to hear the TV over his coughing.
You get the coffee going and make the bed and pull the slant-board from the closet, unfolding it onto the bedroom floor. You set out the portable suction machine and place a cup of water next to it. In the garage, you fill up a small oxygen tank by hooking it onto the big tank, an awkward maneuver that takes two or three tries. You can be in the garage or anywhere in the house and still hear when the TV switches off and he shouts: “I’m ready.”
He might be able to make his way into the bedroom alone, or he might need to hold onto your arm. When you switch on the suction machine, it roars to life. You help him sink down on his back to the slant-board, his head lowered. He labors for every breath as you pound on his chest with thick rubber cups with knobs you hold in your hands. All the while he coughs and coughs, loud as a shout, each cough a muscular worker carrying up the liquid from his lungs. Soon he grabs the plastic wand from the suction machine and places it in his mouth like a milkshake straw; it sucks up the phlegm through a hose into the body of the machine, like the old pneumatic tubes sending messages from one floor of a department store to the next.
There is a whole routine he insists upon, his magic formula for prolonging his life. You might not be able to tell, but in his head he counts the coughs and the strikes against his body, a metronome keeping track. He knows exactly how many times he has released sputum out of the upper lobe of the left lung, then the lower lobe, and so on. He’ll tell you where to hit, softer or harder. If he’s struggling more than usual, you turn up the oxygen.
When one side is finished, he points to the other, too out of breath to speak. When that side is done, you hold out your arm like a grab bar so he can pull himself up off his back. He sits, gasping, and when he’s ready you help him lower onto his side for the pounding. Next comes his back.
While he pauses in between positions to catch his breath, you see yourself poised over him in the reflection of the mirrored closet doors. You haven’t had a chance to brush your hair. Your eyes seem far away. In his white tee-shirt and gray sweatpants, he looks like he’s dressed for a morning run. You told him once he reminded you of an athlete in training. He seemed to like that analogy. Perhaps it was foolish, but you were grateful you could suggest a way to think of his illness as health.
When finished with the various slant-board positions, he drops to his knees on the carpet where he sits, blowing his nose into a tissue you hand him. He lifts his arm and you help him move up to sit on the edge of the bed. You pound a few more hits to his back, right side then left. He hacks with determination, the final coughs, urging the phlegm up, warding away pneumonia. He needs to evade drowning. He is a relentless swimmer.
And then there’s an exaggerated silence. The machine is off, the coughing has ceased, an aftermath of calm. Sometimes the silence is soothing; other times, if he seems more besieged than usual, you fill up that silence with chatter about the weather or something you heard on the morning news. He can’t respond—not enough breath—but you know in lieu of being able to say what he wants, he likes to listen.
You take the suction machine into the bathroom and dismantle it, tossing into the toilet the gelatinous fluids still warm from his body. You think jellyfish, you think embryonic fluid.
Reassembling the machine, you turn its sucking energy back on, the little engine roaring, and drip two drops of dish soap into a plastic cup, filling it with water that flares up the suds. (Years ago, when he was able, he cleaned the machine himself; he firmly stated two drops of dish soap was the perfect amount.) You dip the wand into the soapy water to clean out the hose and machine, followed by a rinse with clean water. To avoid mold, the hose must be pulled off and hung to drip-dry in the shower. Until tomorrow morning it will hang there like a snake from a tree.
In the bedroom, if it’s a good day, he will have pulled some clothes out of the closet. Otherwise, he’s still sitting on the bed and tells you which pair of pants and which shirt he wants to wear. He reminds you to fold up the slant board and the newspaper that goes underneath the water cup to avoid spillage, and to put them in the closet in the space provided. The suction machine must be plugged in to recharge. You bristle at the reminders. You’ve done this so many times. You know the drill.
Later, though, you realize that his reminders aren’t only about control; he asks you if you’ve done his therapy recently. He doesn’t remember that a few months back you stayed with him for two weeks. Lack of oxygen is diminishing his formerly obsidian-sharp memory.
If you’re his daughter, you might rub his back or shoulders for a few minutes, just to hear him sigh and say, “You have strong hands.” It strikes you that his morning routine is the closest he comes to sensuality, to eroticism—touched in the act of being helped. Perhaps that was why he was so upset when his wife, the mother of his three daughters, said she couldn’t be part of his morning routine anymore. Every day for more than twenty years she pounded on his body. Every day she touched him, a forced intimacy. It must be years since they’ve made love. For years it’s been impossible for him to exert himself without coughing and coughing and coughing.
Holding his oxygen cord so he won’t trip, you help him stand. He has to remove the oxygen cannula from his nose for his shirt to come off. He does so casually, as though he could do without four or five liters pumped into him each minute. His shirt off, he fits the cannula back in his nostrils with the familiarity of someone sliding on eyeglasses. His chest is brilliant blue-white, the chest of a man who never ventures outside shirtless. At another time, in another life, he used to plant trees and build decks and clean the leaves from the gutters, his summer skin the color of earth.
You help him pull down his sweatpants and his underwear, pretending it’s normal for a man of his age to be naked before his daughter, or a stranger. The scent of human exertion, of medications, of age radiates from his pores like rising bread dough, like a seaweed-strewn beach on a hot day.
He holds your arm as you walk into the hot bathroom—hot because you turned on the space heater in advance, as he expects, and hot from the steamy water that is already running at perfect temperature. You guide him into the shower and he clutches the grab bar, easing down to the chair.
If it’s a good day, he’ll take the extension shower-head that you offer to him and rinse himself off and soap himself up. If it’s a bad day, you’ll do that work. No matter what kind of day it is, though, you are the one to wash his hair because it exhausts him to raise his arms. You work in the shampoo like a tender but competent hairdresser. He loves his scalp massaged, and he melts into it. You don’t linger there too long, though, for fear he will become aroused. For fear of providing a ruthless reminder of what he has lost.
When he’s rinsed, you help him out of the shower. You are sweating and so hot you’re light-headed; he’s shivering. He eases down to a chair, the seat covered with a towel. You wrap another towel around him and lay another across his lap, thinking about the coziness of being a kid just helped out of the bath by your mom.
Then comes the body drying, hair drying, and the slathering of his red, puffy, peeling feet with anti-fungal cream, and the trial of pulling on those impossible support socks that are intended to prevent a wayward clot from rushing up to his heart. If it’s a bad day, you hold up a hand mirror while he waxes his mustache into curled handles. If it’s a good day, you help him stand and he performs the waxing while leaning over the sink. If it’s a bad day, you roll in the unwieldy wheelchair and push him over the stubborn carpeting, through the narrow doorways, into the kitchen. If it’s a good day, he walks, holding your arm, pausing halfway to catch his breath.
But first you need to transfer him from the big oxygen tank he sleeps with at night to a portable oxygen tank. You make the trade: he hands you the tube from the big tank, and you hand him the other. Usually he reminds you, as you take the tube to hang it in the proper place on the big tank, to make sure to turn off the big tank. He reminds you, even though it’s second nature for you to turn it off at this time every day. If he’s in the wheelchair, he holds the small oxygen tank in his lap. If he’s walking, you carry it on its strap over your shoulder. It might bruise you a little as it bumps your hip when you walk.
Next you make him breakfast. By this time, your back might be sore. Maybe a headache is coming on. The aspirin is in the bathroom closet; maybe you’ll go swallow two or three later. The oatmeal must be cooked so the individual oats can’t be seen; otherwise, it’s undercooked. The orange juice must be poured in a short glass, not a tall one, because with his medication-shaky hands, he knocks over the tall ones. The milk for his coffee must be microwaved for 30 seconds before coffee is poured in. You’re hungry but none of his food looks good. Maybe you’ll make something for yourself later.
He eats loudly and swallows his coffee loudly and turns the pages of the paper loudly and breathes loudly. It’s as though you sit inside his body, entrenched in the world of his lungs struggling to perform their noisy and nearly impossible task.
If it’s a good day for you, you will pour yourself some coffee and cereal, and join him on the other side of the table. You will notice his blue eyes, as blue as the deepest sea. You might suggest a game of cards later, and he will always say yes.
If it’s a bad day for you, you will escape into the living room with a book, sitting in a place where he can still see you. He asks you to hand him his plastic medicine container, the blue one. You stand again, return to the kitchen, and pick it up off the counter next to him. You pour him a glass of water, in a short glass. You will go back to the living room, and he will ask you what you are reading. You will tell him, usually adding that it’s research for a writing project, or in preparation for a class you’re teaching, even if that’s not true. You need an excuse not to be in the kitchen with him, and work is the only excuse he accepts. He has never been comfortable with leisure. Even his vacations seemed like work, an array of activities planned out meticulously in advance. That is why he has lived so long. His illness is his vocation.
Where is his wife this whole time? The woman he’s been married to for almost fifty years? She will have gone on a walk in the neighborhood or perhaps driven to the gym for step-aerobics. (She’s the rare septuagenarian at the gym; the gym-rats tell her they want to be like her one day. They think she’s engaged with life.) When she comes back into the house, she wears on her skin the energy of daytime, of outside. Maybe she’ll be carrying a little white bag holding a donut or bear claw for him, which he’ll eat after the oatmeal and toast and juice and fruit. He can eat more than any sick person you’ve ever seen, and he remains the same weight, sometimes even loses weight. It’s as though his lungs run a marathon every hour.
He will ask her where she’s been, and what her day looks like. She’ll tell him in a syllable or two, the tone of her voice conveying a deep, complex weariness. As she’s leaving the room, he tells her about something he’s read in the paper. She’ll stop and turn. If it’s a good day, she’ll settle in to listen, pour herself a cup of coffee, and sit at the table across from him. She may add a few of her own thoughts about another attempt by their idiot senator to reinvigorate support for the local dam project even though the land lies on an earthquake fault; or about how one of their friends is mentioned in an article or obituary; or about their disdain for a letter to the editor written in support of the war.
If it’s a bad day, she won’t sit at the table. Instead, she’ll make her escape into her cave of an office. After she leaves, his eyes wander back to the newspaper, scanning the headlines until he nods off. Maybe the phone will ring and jolt him awake; one of his daughters is calling, or a friend, or a neighbor to ask him a Homeowner’s Association question.
She spends hours at her computer, emailing friends, editing a freelance article, checking on her book sales, until it’s time to make lunch for her husband, then dinner. If you’re the paid caregiver, you left before lunch and will return tomorrow morning. If you’re a daughter, you stay to spend the night.
On the couch after dinner, you all eat vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce while watching an old movie on Turner Classics. You know every evening your parents inhabit that black-and-white movie world of women with plush lips and shoulder pads, of men in hats and ties. A world once theirs. A world replaced by new things. While the man with oiled hair pulls a gun from his desk drawer and the woman with deep dark lipstick stands in the shadows, the woman on the couch puts her feet in her husband’s lap. Lightly, he runs his fingers up and down her soles like there’s a secret between them.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I was very moved by the second half--and saw the whole book as a complicated homage to her father, as well as an important exploration of sexuality in relationship to religion.
Of course this is very complicated since she "outs" her father. He was a well-known New York Episcopal bishop who fathered 7 children and had been having sex surreptitiously with men for most of his life. Moore demonstrates what a toll this hidden life took on both her father and his family.
And yet she also points out how this hidden anguish made him in many ways more compassionate and progressive. I love that take because so often suppressed or hidden gayness is portrayed as turning someone into a homophobe. Instead, in the bishop's case--in addition to being harmful, it may have fostered a certain goodness in him. That's a very important story to tell.
Apparently, some of her siblings don't see it this way. Some are upset that she revealed this family secret (even though both their mother and father are dead). They write: "We wish that our sister Honor Moore had grappled, in her memoir of our father, Bishop Paul Moore, with the ethical dilemma of 'outing' a man whose public legacy is great, whose private life he chose to keep private, and whose personal agony often estranged him from many of us who loved him."
It makes me feel they didn't read the book. I think she does grapple with this throughout the memoir, especially toward the end. And yet, I can empathize with the fact that his adult children are very tender about it all. It's hard for those who lived through the stories you tell to recognize that everyone has a right to craft her own version of events. We own our lives and our subjectivity.
Being a writer and a memoirist, I think a lot about the ethics of "telling all." What seems to me crucial is to not tell all for the salacious sake of it, but to write well and deeply about our humanness. That is what Honor Moore has done.
Listen to an interview with Honor Moore here.
(An aside: Since I mentioned Alison Bechdel here, I wanted to mention that on her blog she writes about being a dyke who loves Sex & the City--the TV show, not the movie. I was also interested to see that, like me, Alison doesn't like The L Word, which I find poorly written and badly acted. Annie doesn't seem to mind that. She watches it without me. Poor Annie; most lesbians watch it in big groups, but she sits in front of her laptop with an earbud in because I can't even stand to hear it. What kind of lesbian representatives are Alison and I?! Iconcolasts, I suppose!)
and Dan Savage calls for a kiss-in at the stadium.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Hillary, however, voted for the Iraq War. Who knows what Obama would have done if he'd been in her place? However, he wasn't. He's in a much better position to hammer home his differences with Bush & Co.
The last eight years have wreaked havoc on the U.S.'s world-wide reputation. Too many people hate us, fear us--and for what? A war designed to enrich Bush & Cheney's corporate friends in the face of killing, maiming and displacing millions of human beings. If we elect Barack Obama, Americans are telling the world that we don't support this.
Along those lines, look at what this New York Times piece says about foreign reaction to Obama's clinching the nomination:
Indeed, for many, the idea of an African-American in the White House for the first time seemed a concept that could potentially presage a profound shift in America’s sense of itself.
Gerard Baker, the U.S. editor of The Times of London, wrote: “In 220 years a country that has steadily multiplied in diversity, where ethnic minorities and women have risen to the very highest positions in so many fields of human life, has chosen a succession of 42 white men as its leader. For good measure, the vice presidency, the only other nationally directly elected position in the US government, has been held by a succession of 46 white males.”
“But last night, in a tumultuous break with this long history, the ultimate realization of the American dream moved a little closer, and a black man became his party’s nominee for the presidency,” Mr. Baker wrote.
Ségolène Royal, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Socialist rival in last year’s French presidential election, called Mr. Obama’s candidacy “a historic choice.”
“He embodies the America of today and tomorrow,” she said Wednesday. Ms. Royal, who attended an Obama rally in Boston on Feb. 1, said his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq could help mend America’s battered image in the world. “He had a lucid judgment of the war in Iraq.”
. . .
“It should bring a good change in relations with Pakistan” should he win the presidency, said Munaway Akhtar, a prominent lawyer specializing in international arbitration in the capital, Islamabad. “Pakistan has always been friendly to the United States but the people have never benefited, the rulers have always benefited. Hopefully, that would change with Obama.”
There was a prevailing sentiment, he said, that Mr. Obama would better serve Pakistan’s interests. “If Obama would become president there would be a push for democracy in Pakistan.”
A former senior Pakistani diplomat, who was briefly ambassador to the United States, Tariq Fatemi, said that Mr. Obama’s “idealism” struck a chord with Pakistanis.
“Barack Obama would do very well in improving the image of the United States. He would position the United States more as a force for moral values rather than for brute force,” he said.
That sense of optimism emerged in Hong Kong’s financial district.
“I feel his image is younger, fresher and more energetic, with no baggage and a shorter history,” said Richard Law, 50, a lawyer.
Across Europe, Mr. Obama’s announcement was seen through the prism of national interest. In Kosovo, whose birth as an independent country in February won strong support from the United States, political observers said that both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain would be embraced by the territory’s ethnic Albanian majority, since both supported Kosovo’s self-determination.
In Denmark, which supported the invasion of Iraq before withdrawing its troops amid a growing domestic backlash, Matias Seidelin, the political editor of the newspaper Politiken, said Mr. Obama was widely seen as the candidate who could repair America’s damaged reputation.
“Obama is viewed a multilateralist who favors dialogue in his foreign policy,” he said.
Mr. Seidelin said Mr. Obama’s s multiethnic background could foster understanding between cultures in the United States and other countries.
In Germany, where newspapers and broadcasters have been fascinated by the United States election campaign, several politicians and commentators have referred to Mr. Obama as the new John F. Kennedy, expressing fervent hope that he will be make it to the White House not only because of his youth and background but also as radical departure from the Bush administration.
Reinhardt Bütikofer, leader of Germany’s Green Party, said the election was of crucial importance for democracy. “I think this is a major historical moment,” he said. “And it came about against all the odds. What is most exciting is how Obama has been able to mobilize younger voters. This is one of the most important aspects. He can always be proud of that.”
The enthusiasm was also clear among conservative politicians, such as Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.
If Mr. Obama becomes president, “a transatlantic honeymoon will take place which will reach its climax at the next NATO summit which will be held both in Germany and France. We will reach a new peak of transatlantic romanticism,” he said.
“The dreams of Germans are connected with a renaissance of multilateralism, to which Obama is committed.”
In Brussels, Jan Marinus Wiersma, vice president of the Socialist Group, which has 216 seats in the European Parliament, was equally exuberant: “Mr. Obama represents an agenda for change for which we in Europe are longing. We hope and expect Mr. Obama to win. This will be the start of a new era of positive cooperation between the U.S. and Europe.”
In Switzerland, Miriam Behrens, the spokesperson for Switzerland’s Green Party, said, “Among the general public there is a tendency to support Obama. He’s perceived as a person who’s very charismatic and he’s more open to a European approach to things. That’s very much appreciated here.”
Some Europeans expressed caution about the outcome of the November election. “It’s clear that to affirm this change, there would have to be a victory in November, which isn’t at all certain,” said Mario Del Pero, who teaches American history at the University of Bologna in Italy. But Margherita Boniver, of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Party of Freedom, said an Obama victory in November “would be a moment of great liberation, of the overcoming of many millenary prejudices” whose impact would spread to the entire world.
Nikos Karahalios, a top strategist of the ruling New Democracy Party in Greece, said the government in Athens “isn’t playing the Republican or Democratic card game. But Greece, a small country struggling to make its mark in international affairs, has always had a history of siding by the underdog. That’s what Obama is. That’s why he’s appealing to the Greeks.”
He also evoked expectations that Mr. Obama could soften the anti-Americanism that has flowed from the Iraq war. “How well Mr. Obama rebrands America is crucial for Greece. It will determine how Greeks position themselves vis-à-vis the United States,” Mr. Karahalios said.
The American campaign has been closely followed in Baghdad, where politicians have tended to judge their American counterparts by reference to their stance on and knowledge of the Iraq war.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Mahmoud Othman, a prominent member of Kurdish alliance in Parliament, said: “It is a matter related to the American people. I have preferred Clinton to be the candidate because she is more concerned about the Iraqi issue and the Kurdish issue especially. In general, I think it is good for the Americans because they want a change. They want a new administration since Obama represents the youth and he wants change.”
And since Obama is now the nominee, here's a poem in honor of him:
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Paula Gunn Allen, the revolutionary lesbian Native American and Lebanese writer, teacher and cultural historian passed away of lung cancer on May 29.
More information on Paula Gunn Allen here and here.
Two poems by Paula Gunn Allen:
Some Like Indians Endure
dykes remind me of indians
like indians dykes
are supposed to die out
or drink all the time
to remember what will happen
if they dont
even though it
and they remember
because the moon remembers
because so does the sun
because so do the stars
and the persistent stubborn
of the earth
She stood, a weed tall in the sun.
She grew like that and went
over it again and again trying to be tall
trying not to die in the drying sun
the seeming turbulence of waiting
the sun so yellow
There was nothing else to do. It was like that
in her day, and the sun who rose so bright
so full of fire reminded her of that.
It was the sun that did it; it was the rain.
She stood it all, and more:
the water pounding from the high rock face
of the mesas that made her yard
she knew where she was growing. Didn't
she know what sun will do, what happens to weeds
when their growing time's done? Didn't she care?
She got the sun into her, though.
The fire. She drank the rain for fuel.
She stood there in the day, growing,
trying to stand tall like a right weed would.
The drying was part of it.
The dying. Come from heat, the transformation
of fire. The rain helped because it understood
why she just stood there, growing,
tall in the heat and bright.