Archive | September, 2010

On Winning

29 Sep

I was recently awarded the 2010 GayVN Award for Best Newcomer. Here’s what’s on my mind.

Winning

Why don’t we know how to talk about winning yet?
We know how to talk about losing, failing, crying, broken hearts. We know how to write about tragedy, make movies about cancer, document catastrophe.

I won the 2010 GayVN for Best Newcomer, and I noticed that when I sat down to write about it I had no idea how.

Stories of winning are often preluded by stories of abysmal failure – the baseball team sucks, but works and works until finally, somehow, they win the World Series or whatever. Or the nerdy girl who everyone hates finally gets the popular boy after she lets down her hair. Everyone, it is said, loves an underdog.

I’m not generally inclined to point out socio-religio-economic factors in narratives, but this pattern does display the perfect capitalist and communist and Christian/Muslim narrative. That is:
Start poor + effort = A climax in wealth!
Or: Start oppressed + organize = revolution!
Or: Work your ass off + die = Reward in Heaven!
One slanted upward line. Flat without the contours of imagination, we begin in poverty and end in reward.

It’s as if we have to experience hardship to celebrate happiness. Is that a different, forgotten definition of guilt? No one can be alive, happy, excited, privileged, loved, without having a shadow to redeem it.

Worse still, If we never achieve reward, it’s out “fault”. We fucked up.

Connected to this is the notion that we somehow “deserve” our hardships. When someone dies of lung cancer: Imagine the shaking heads when we find out that person smoked. Or when someone tests positive for HIV and people say (sometimes in hushed tones, but other times, loudly, rudely), “Well he should have worn a condom.”

If we step back and look at our friends and our lovers, how can we not be ashamed by this backwards thinking? We praise work and suffering. We blame those in pain. We demand that joy and happiness and success be redeemed by turbulence. What kind of world do we want to live in if we demonize the joy of others?

I’m not sure when this all started. Was there a time when we were happier for each other, more connected when one of us succeeds, more loving when one of us suffers?

It has something to do with thinking of ourselves as intensely disconnected individuals: A win is a win for me, not anyone else. So is a loss. The disconnection that accompanies the isolated individual’s success or failure makes him uneasy with both.

So now, even when we win, when we succeed, we are often afraid.

A friend of mine won a GayVN and I caught his twitter feed later – Someone had asked him if he won. When my friend replied that he had, he wrote something like, “Well yes, but we’re not supposed to talk about it, right?”

Like sex used to be, success is a taboo. Too often, we hate the things that have brought others happiness and pleasure.

I don’t agree with the “death to the ego” notion espoused by Buddhists or new age thinkers. I’m happy I’m an individual and have a boundary and what (at least seem like) my own personality and tastes. I think the individual makes sense at this point in time. But I’m trying to figure out how to be myself – in this case, when I win something – and not feel badly telling you about it.

Look, even here, I’ve talked about failure, fuck up, remorse, redemption because I can’t just say “Thank you.” Because I fear saying, “I really did deserve it,” without experiencing rebuke.

Let me start again.

I won the 2010 Best Newcomer GayVN award. Thank you! I deserved it.

Everyone that got one deserved it.

I don’t care if some performers are better than others or one movie was better shot than another, or if -as was claimed last year – there was corruption in the selection process, or if some studios should have been recognized more, or if the whole ceremony was fucked up and self-congratulatory (it wasn’t).

I felt this great feeling when I went up to the stage – people were clapping and smiling and shouting. It wasn’t amazing merely in the winning – it was amazing because it was clear to me that we’re not isolated individuals. We’re in this together. We were there for each other.

I know I’m not always this clear. I know that sometimes I make fun of people, I forget that we’re friends, I laugh when someone trips, and I blame people for their problems.

But right now, it makes sense.

Thank you for the award. Let’s be in love with winning again.

Three Colors in Three Rooms in Three Houses

18 Sep

Recently, I visited my hometown in suburban Pennsylvania.  Here’s some of what I thought about.

Three Colors in Three Rooms in Three Houses

    Birth – Seven

The carpet in the den is red; too red.  It isn’t soft or thick, it isn’t anything.  It feels like the floor when you lie on it, but gives you brush burns if you run and fall or wrestle there.  There’s a wooden TV, meant to look like furniture.  There’s a hideous purple couch.  It could be a lake of red discovered in a clearing, still and impossible; you’d be shocked to come upon it.  It’s not the red of celebration, like cherries or popsicles.  If something fell on that carpet, you might pick it up and eat it still, but you’d think twice.  It is, yes, a color of childhood in its brightness.  But looking at it, one can’t avoid the question: Why would anyone do this?  Not just put it there, but make a carpet like this at all?

The words “floor” and “blood” both huddle together two Os in their middles.  The red carpet is a flood.  Anyone that stands on it seems to float in that contrast.

And so my strongest memory of this first house I grew up in is not being so small that I could hide in the broom closet; nor is it seeing my sister fall down the stairs and break her arm and leg; it’s not the circus wallpaper that once, through a fever, sprang to life in its details with moving clowns and elephants; it’s not even my dogs galloping around the backyard with their lolling tongues.  It is not anything anyone did or said.

It is that carpet.

All colors, all words and deeds seem natural against that unspeakable red.

    Seven – Twelve

As a child, I slept in a yellow room.  Yellow is the color of the will, of the Archangel Raphael, of healing, of mischief, of laughter.   This was after the divorce, which I’d heard of by accident.  My babysitter bought me a book called Benjamin Bunny Moves to a New House. That was how I found out we were moving. The babysitter was not fired.

My mother’s room was down the hall, and my sister’s bedroom was long and pink.  Later, she would take over the yellow room and I’d move into the pink one.

She and her friends wrote all over the yellow walls with pen and marker.  Drawings of boys they liked. Curse words tiny enough that my mother couldn’t see them.  Song lyrics.

But while it was mine, the walls were clean and bright, like the sun.  Yellow is the color of the wind, of flutes, of archery.

I shared the wall with a neighbor.  At night, she would tap on the wall and I’d knock back.  When my mother found out, she scolded me.  “This is our own house,” she tried to explain.  “If you do that, it’s not ours anymore.”  I couldn’t make sense of what she said.

I hated church, like most children.  One Sunday, I hid between the mattress and the box spring so I wouldn’t have to go.  My brother- thirteen years older than me – was visiting from college.  He sat on the bed and leafed through one of my comic books.  I felt smothered, hot, like I would die.  Yellow is the color of the kidneys and of breath.  I could not breathe.  I managed to shoot a hand out from between the two bed parts and heard my brother scream, the sound muffled by the material and springs.

That was the room I made a voodoo doll in after signing out a book on black magic from the elementary school library.  Why was that book there?  That was the room I lived in when I had my first strange supernatural experience.  Later, in that house, I would start to understand what sex was, and start masturbating and start being confused.  Yellow is the color of protection.  It is the color you call on when you need help.

    Twelve – Seventeen

My neighbor would come over after school each day and we’d fuck in my white room, which I’d half-covered with posters of bands.  Nirvana, of course.  But also Jesus Lizard, The Pixies, Fugazi, The Breeders, The Cows, Mercy Rule, Throwing Muses, Brainiac, Minor Threat, The Pain Teens, Sonic Youth, Pavement.  Clean walls, noisy insides.  He and I weren’t friends.  I wouldn’t talk to him in the hallways.

Music and sex were everything.  I couldn’t see beyond them. This was Pennsylvania.

When he didn’t come over or was on vacation, I’d stare out the window across the street at another neighbor, who mowed the lawn with his shirt off.  The light in the room bounced off every strip of white paint not covered by a poster or a picture.  This neighbor was sweaty.  He had black hair and a wife and a loud, annoying son.  My mother said this neighbor was gay.

When he wasn’t there, I’d think of Lee, who lived down the street.  I’d masturbate and think of him coming over and rubbing his thick dick, which I’d never seen, on my face.  I’d try to conjure him up by doing that.

When it wasn’t Lee, it was anyone else:  My teachers; my classmates; my father’s friends; my sister’s friends; the construction workers who came to fix the house; my cousins; my friends; the men in the underwear ads on Sundays; the straight porn stars I snuck into my life on worn-out VHS tapes; my stepbrothers; people I passed by; customers at the record store I worked at; everyone, everyone.  I had a list of all the men I masturbated thinking of.  It was pages and pages of white printer paper, and eventually I lost it.  It blended into the background.

I became such a different person there.  When sex walks in, there’s no going back, no abandoning it or forgetting.  Like learning to read, the symbols on the page can never be clueless again.  Everything gains the weight and pleasure of meaning.

The room, because of the white walls and how it faced the sun, was effulgent and couldn’t rest. I masturbated in it not just once, but three, four, even a record nine times a day.  It was never in the dark.  It was always in the light.

London, Part III

9 Sep

In July, I took a trip to London.  This is the last part in a series about that trip.

That Chair


First, I need to tell you, I’m a spiritual person.  I hate when people say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.”  To me, it implies new age-flakiness – a love for power and notions of strangeness, but no arduous thinking.

I went to school for – among other things – science.  My mind demands evidence, experience, and radical investigation.

But since my spiritual and philosophical tradition, anthroposophy, is so full of what from the outside looks like hocus-pocus, this isn’t the place to explain why it is not, in fact, a religion (there was even a court case held to prove that).  I just state all this at the outset, because there’s a chair in London, and I was told it was a powerful chair, and I believed it.  And I believed it not because I’m stupid or unscientific.  When you’re an anthroposophist for long enough, you start to weed through the spiritual jokes to find the  truth (often, the truly hilarious.)
The chair, which sits in a little bookstore near the British Museum, was the chair that Aleister Crowley used to sit in.  He’d live his crazy life, put out the noises in his head, and read books in that chair.

Later, Dion Fortune sat in the the very same chair.  She was a better communicator than Crowley.  Dangerous too, but not so unhinged.  These people were real people; they made real use of their time as human beings.  And so the chair that accepted them is reported to have some sort of…residue.

People claimed to have been paralyzed in the chair, and to have stood up from it and into the sun – a new light shining about their heads.  The chair was evil or good or neutral, but always powerful and able, if you were lucky or unlucky, to cause a shift in you.
I found the bookstore.  It’s on a street that looks like London – If someone were to ask you about London’s features, you’d find them there.  The only things missing were the fog and long coats.  It was a small store with a good selection.  It was what you’d think – shelves filled with strange topics; books behind the counter that seemed forbidden; books stacked on the floor that there was no room for; some pictures on the wall of oddly blended colors, charts, planets.  There was even a chubby woman with long, gray hair sitting behind the counter.  And in one corner, that chair.

It’s brown leather and very old.  The seat, with criss-crossing lines, rests like an open palm.  There’s a dent, a welt, a track, of whomever has occupied the little space between arms and back and floor.  It’s beautiful and curving and very old.

I searched around the store for the right thing to read while I sat in it.  I wanted something simple but beautiful – I didn’t want to be distracted from whatever subtle things I might feel as I sat there.

After some deliberation, I settled on a book of Christian fables about animals.  It seemed profound and clean.  I settled into the chair and opened the book.

Then I put it down.

Then I closed my eyes and felt…something.  Happening.

First, I couldn’t move.  My entire body felt heavy.  Then, despite it heaviness, I felt all of it.  I don’t only mean my head, my toes, my eyes; I mean my organs, my cells.  I knew where it all was; my heart of course, but also my liver, my spleen, my veins.  I felt the nuclei in the cells tremble and the mitochondria breathe.  It was a pure feeling, as my body began to feel like it was spilling over into light, into water.  And I envisioned, with my eyes closed, white flames rising from my feet up around my head and into the sky, stretching to touch the sun above the building.  Everything was alive.  My lungs felt full and open.  I felt like I was becoming something.  I couldn’t move.  I sat there for a long time with my eyes closed, still to anyone who saw me but blurring with motion inwardly.

I’m not sure how long it took me, and it was only with tremendous will that I finally moved.

I pulled my back forward from the divot where others had been.  Then my arms, then my legs.  It felt like they were being held, and I had to struggle to stand.  My head was swimming.
I caught my breath and walked slowly toward the woman behind the counter.  She must have seen the whole thing, must have known this happened.  Did it happen to everyone that sat there?  Was it just a chair to some people?

“That chair,” I said to her knowingly, “is really something.”

She smiled.

“Oh that chair.  Yes, it’s great isn’t it?”

I nodded.

“It’s so funny,” she said, and laughed a little.  “Someone started this rumor that Aleister Crowley used to sit in it.  But it was given to me by my mother.”

Everything Must Happen and It Must Happen Now

3 Sep
I’m working on a full-length play.  I’m learning not just about plays, but about life – that’s either a desirable side-effect or the whole point of plays.  I’m not sure which.  Anyway, here’s one reflection.

Everything Must Happen and It Must Happen Now

I’ve been trying to write this play.  Not what I’m used to.

I’m used to writing fiction and more recently essays in which the characters – by which I mean the actual letters, the symbols that make up language, are in front of the audience, the reader, in ink.  It’s visual, but strangely.
In a story or an essay, you look at the symbols on the page and they turn into light that hits your mind and understanding.
You can write about thoughts or the way the few, thin trees in San Francisco catch the light differently than the few, thin, shadowed-over trees of New York do.  Or if a vase means something, well then, write about the vase.

On the stage, everything must happen and it must happen now.

There’s no hiding.  The entire world – often rectangular, viewed like a diorama – is present.  No one has private thoughts.  (Voice-overs are cheating.  Narrators in plays, a la Arthur Miller have fallen out of style.)  Your characters must always want something, and they’re always trying to get it.  The people around them must react to this (even if it’s a stone-like reaction; cold, distant).

If you walk around as an audience, observing others as if they’re in a play, you’ll find very quickly: It’s no way to live.

It makes you wonder about everyone you know.  What are they thinking?  What do they want?  The playwriting term for this – what someone wants – is “action.”  It’s not a good thing to wonder, when someone says hi to you at the gym, “What’s his action?”  It’s a good phrase when your with a friend and someone hits on you at the gay bar or smiles at you (read it again in a British accent “What’s his action, anyway?”), but not a good thing to always be thinking.  You’ll turn suspicious, maybe even psychotic.  Like playwrights.

Better to be an audience when appropriate.  Go see a play.  If it’s at all good, the characters will lie to each other, undermine each other, try to appease each other.  But here’s the thing: To the world, to the audience (I write “the world” but I could write “the universe” or even “God” if you believe in a dispassionate, observer God), it’s all so obvious.  The character’s actions, so carefully constructed, so clever and ploying, are apparent to the everyone-who-can-see.  The audience only appears to be the one in the dark.

Is this what we, in our lives, look like to the rooms we sit in, to the sky, to the ground?  These things are the audience to our lives.  We can’t see them, but they’re watching and absorbing and being moved to tears or disgust or laughter.
We think we’re so smart; we think we can hide our actions – but really, the world knows better.  There is nothing we can do to fool anything.

This is why it is better to avoid being a character.

Sometimes, I imagine the conversations I’m having taking shape in the air above my head.  The other person and I, with each carved bit of air we announce, form something.  Errant words go in there too.  Small talk builds the edges.  Sometimes, the shape of that conversation is a terrible thing.  If I’ve lied to someone, if I’ve tried to manipulate someone, or if I sense he’s tried to manipulate me and I react with each word defensively… I imagine black, baroque curves and latticework turning in the air – too much detail to be beautiful; ornamental only.  And that shape can follow me into my sleep as a ghost.  I’ll feel guilty or wonder why I’ve woken up in a bad mood.  My words, which I might have thought were flippant, were noticed by the world, the unconscious, the people who passed by, the air.  They have effects.  Those are my words – what about my behaviors?  Taken together, what sort of shape would they create?  What effect on the world?

Generally, characters do not become aware of the audience.  They will sometimes address the audience in monologues, but these could just as easily be delivered to a mirror, or occur in a dream.  The character keeps going, pulled along by what he or she wants, with no regard for the swelling emotions in the surrounding black room.

This is, I realize, a very spiritual concept – that no action, no conflict, no event, goes unnoticed, and that every moment of our lives has an effect.  This is a lesson, mostly, of the play, where everything is shown. In a book, the words are framed.  They can go anywhere and then be closed – they are symbols.  They can take their time and meander.  Sometimes, they can refuse to disclose their meaning, or whether they even have meaning.  We read and may miss something.  A paragraph slips by us because we are thinking of someone as we read and it’s lost forever in the ocean of hundreds of pages.

In the play, we are shown: all the words go out into the world.  They aren’t contained.  Someone is always watching.

This is what I want to say, what the play has taught me.
There is an audience to my actions and it is the world.  If I am aware, I act more carefully and purely.  My actions are kind, because they’re not isolated.
If I am not aware of the audience, who knows what schemes I’ll come up with, and I will be threaded along, dragged by the force of my action.

So.  There is a difference, in life, to being a human and being a character.
One knows and tries to keep his heart pure.
The other is locked in drama.

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