Friday, December 28, 2007

High Hopes

What do I hope 2008 will bring?

It's hard to hope with so many things going wrong for so long now. The events going on around us seem important for maybe two or three weeks and then something else pops up to replace them. Twenty or thirty years pass before we hear the truth about the matters we have to make decisions about today ... twenty or thirty years, if ever.

Individually we can be pretty smart, but en masse we're almost always cattle. Mass media play to the lowest common denominator, the part of ourselves that properly can't even be called a self.

Knowing this, still I have hopes for democracy. But not high expectations. Nothing about me is faith based.

I hope we can elect a decent U.S. President in '08. I hope both main parties find the person who they honestly believe is best fit to lead the country, not the most "electable," not the best totem representing some vague abstraction, not the most telegenic, not the one with the most money--I hope the Greens, Socialists, Libertarians, etc., put someone up too. I want the electoral process to become more complicated than it's been--more choices, more issues on the table, more democratic, more diversity, more change--less fund-raising, less emotionalist flag-waving and baby-kissing, less pandering to corporations and theocrats.

I hope the United States can make up (somehow) for the terrible fuckups in the Middle East and Central and South America. I hope the U.S. can get off its high horse, switch off the world-power bullshit, and redeem itself in the eyes of the world.

I hope people develop their reasoning powers and stop relying on faith and the good will of those who oppress them. I hope skepticism and sanity flourish. It's time to put our gods away and behave fully like reasonable adults. I hope people begin to trust their senses and instincts.

I hope the people of the world band together to stop the senseless exploitation of natural resources and the senseless exploitation of the poor, the weak, the sick, and the unpopular.

I hope blacks, women, and homosexuals decide to dis-appropriate the words "nigger," "bitch," and "faggot." I'm not for censorship and I don't believe any word is intrinsically evil. However, these words empower nobody, and using them puts a smug, self-justified smirk on the faces of the racists, misogynists, and bashers. Stop "scaring" the liberals in order to curry favor with the rich and powerful. Putting yourself down or putting your own kind down is reprehensible, sniveling, and small.

I hope people learn to laugh more, loosen up, start taking fewer inconsequential things seriously. Folks, your gods are not worth dying for, nor is your gasoline. Your jobs, your families, your life styles should not be making you sick, physically or mentally.

I hope people throw more parties throughout the year, invite friends over, have long conversations face to face, give and receive gifts graciously and joyously, stop the paranoid mistrust, blame-putting, and self-pity. Get along. Play nice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

boxing day

what a wonderful day to be inert.

40 degrees fahrenheit this morning, constant rain (in drought-stricken central north carolina), nothing to do but snuggle under the covers with ripley, eat a slice of janet's pecan bread, read a bit more of tom hodgkinson's how to be idle + michel onfray's atheist manifesto.

i don't box, but wouldn't mind a little bedroom wrestling right now.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

the night before christmas

christmas eve dinner last night with milton + dave at milton's.

cranberry martinis, cream of asparagus soup, garlic bread, shrimp cocktail, turkey breast in mushroom sauce, rice with cranberries, green beans, hot sweet+sour slaw, + tiramisu with raspberries + chocolate sauce.

discussion ranged from what dave's reading (a thousand splendid suns), what i'm reading (how to be idle), barbara's party last week (people milton knew from elsewhere), the documentary film durham: a self-portrait, n.c. history in general, regionalisms (language + food), family histories, dreams, holidays, the episcopal church, milton's new job at durham school of the arts, + his idea for a small community of aging friends (with onsite euthanasia on demand).

lovely evening. quiet + calm like the song, though not silent. milton gave dave + me each an amaryllis bulb. dave to grow, me to kill.

Monday, December 24, 2007

kicking christ out of christmas

christmas rocks, but christianity sucks these days.

who needs a 2000-year-old religion that shit all over the reputation of a galilean man of peace, elective poverty, + tolerance (that is, if he even existed) to enjoy the holidays?

(+ what can you say about a religion that totally ignores its supposed founder's teachings in favor of focusing on his death?)

the catholic church stole the december 25 holiday (bruma) from the romans, anyway, originally a celebration of the empire's state religion--commemorating the birth of the unconquered sun (sol invictus).

if you want to celebrate christmas without the usual angels, creches, haloes (also copped from the romans), or even santa claus, you can't go wrong by consulting these three recent films, all out on dvd now, set in the christmas season but totally fucking with the whole tradition.

eyes wide shut--stanley kubrick's final film does for the christmas movie what 2001 did for science fiction. audiences who hated the movie back in 1999 were under the mistaken notion that they were going to see a sex film starring tom + nicole. instead, they got a film about consumerism--+ a class system based on what + whom you are able to buy. what most people missed was the all-pervasive xmas decorations + the characters' compulsion to buy + let themselves be bought. if frank capra's it's a wonderful life taught us how each human life matters in the world, kubrick's eyes wide shut shows us that, at the right price, people can vanish without a trace without their disappearance registering even as a blip in the social fabric.

sheitan--this french film, directed by kim chapiron, features three parisian club kids who on christmas eve follow not a star but a drunken whim to the country home of a mysterious + attractive new acquaintance named eve. the home's caretaker is a doltish shepherd named joseph, whose wife is upstairs on the verge of having a baby. the house is full of creepy-looking toys, mainly dolls, which eventually figure into the house's secret + unfolding plot. the film offers a hilarious + perverse performance by the limitlessly talented vincent cassel. by the way the film's title is the persian word for "satan," so the film provides a truly twisted twist on the nativity story + also toys provocatively with christian concepts of sacrifice + miracles.

eastern promises--again with vincent cassel, this time as the drunken heir to a herod-like russian mobster intent on whacking a newborn child, named christine, born out of wedlock to a 14-year-old junky whore. like the previous films, eastern promises takes place at christmastime, + director david cronenberg visually cites not only the nativity story but also the nutcracker + bergman's fanny + alexander (another great pick for the holiday season, by the way). unlike the previous two films, eastern promises has a tight plot +, though less audacious than the other two, its urban crime story shows that some guardian angels come with prison tattoos + moonlight as angels of death. it's also cronenberg's most homoerotic film to date, with a key plot point hinging on a character's presumed homosexuality + a now notorious nude knife fight in a bathhouse.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

the one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it

"the one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it. ... when we have fully discovered the scientific laws that govern life, we shall realise that the one person who has more illusions than the dreamer is the man of action. ... if we lived long enough to see the results of our actions it may be that those who call themselves good would be sickened with a dull remorse, + those whom the world calls evil stirred by a noble joy. each little thing that we do passes into the great machine of life which may grind our virtues to powder + make them worthless, or transform our sins into elements of a new civilisation, more marvellous + more splendid than any that has gone before. ... what is termed sin is an essential element of progress. without it the world would stagnate, or grow old, or become colourless."
--oscar wilde, the critic as artist, 1890

Saturday, December 22, 2007

you can't buy charm like mine

last night i once again tested the borders of my agoraphobia + went to a party thrown by dear friends barbara + shane.

everything was wonderful. food was great--especially those rolled-up lettuce+cheese sandwiches + tiny pigs-in-blankets. drinks were plentiful. the guests were attractive + articulate. the tree was everything a secularized version of a christianized druidic totem ought to be.

no go-go boys or wesson-oil twister, but i left relatively early.

i stayed over two + a half hours, yet the party was still hopping when i left.

stationing myself strategically close to the food, i even managed to introduce myself to a few new people. charming people who told me their names, which i instantly forgot. lubricated with a little dewars, i spoke with them on the merits of atheism, the necessity for a french government that would remain adamant in its hostility to the u.s.a., + the hopelessness of 2008's offering any relief for us right-thinking people. my new friends offered a word or two in reply + then suddenly noticed others in the room with whom they needed to speak.

if i could bottle my debonair, i could make a billion.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

seriousness + laughter

"for rabelais, man of the renaissance, laughter was precisely a liberation of the emotions that dim the knowledge of life. laughter proves the existence of clear spiritual vision + bestows it. awareness of the comic + reason are the two attributes of human nature. truth reveals itself with a smile when man abides in a nonanxious, joyful, comic mood."
--l.e. pinsky, realism of the renaissance, 1961 (qtd, in bakhtin)

"true ambivalent + universal laughter does not deny seriousness but purifies + completes it. laughter purifies from dogmatism, from the intolerant + the petrified; it liberates from fanaticism + pedantry, from fear + intimidation, from didacticism, naivete + illusion, from the single meaning, the single level, from sentimentality. laughter does not permit seriousness to atrophy + to be torn away from the one being, forever incomplete. it restores this ambivalent wholeness. such is the function of laughter in the historical development of culture + literature."
--mikhail bakhtin, rabelais + his world, 1965

Saturday, December 15, 2007


a new extended clip of the film cloverfield has just been released at

i am totally stoked about seeing this movie, + have been since the first mystifying trailer, which didn't even name the movie, a few months ago.

online rumors have attempted to identify the threat as a terrorist attack or, once it became clear that it was some sort of monster, as godzilla or even the giant stay puft marshmallow man from ghostbusters. rumors persist that the movie may somehow be linked to the tv series lost.

the marketing of the film has been especially clever. keeping audiences in the dark. leaking bits + pieces of information through the internet. it's fascinating, too, that the film does not come with star power--neither the director nor the actors are famous ... so far the biggest name associated with the film is its producer, j.j. abrams, producer-creater of lost.

the concept is genius. a giant monster movie told from the point of view of a small group of partygoers whose celebration is interrupted by the monster's attack on nyc.

limiting the perspective is a great tool to enhance suspense + terror, witness daphne du maurier's short story the birds or the complete works of h.p. lovecraft. it even worked in steven spielberg's underrated remake of war of the worlds (which itself is genius for the first hour + collapses only because of spielberg's characteristic inability to end a movie satisfactorily).

let's just hope cloverfield doesn't wind up with the partygoers in the oval office with the president + a crack military and scientific team tasked with the destroying the creature.

some responders to the trailer comment how the film may be traumatic to many because of its parallels to 9/11.

but horror movies have always been indirect ways of responding to + filtering trauma--the original godzilla, the beast from 20,000 fathoms, + them! allowed audiences to face their fears of the bomb, without having to directly contemplate the real implications of atomic war, + invasion of the body snatchers + invaders from mars paralleled public fears instilled by the cold war + the rosenberg trial, as americans panicked that even their neighbors might be soviet spies, if not martians. arguably, 1980s slasher films similarly treated the threat of aids, as sex + drug use almost always foreshadowed grisly violence.

i hope the film itself lives up to the promise of its marketing campaign.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

white liberals are the best tippers

the american democratic party has a long history of corruption + bribery. i don't think that this spin on history (usually brandished by conservative republicans) is necessarily untrue.

however, democratic corruption, though ethically suspect, does lean towards a certain generosity of spirit, money offerings to local neighborhoods, labor representatives, + minority leaders, etc., to "grease the wheels" of justice, civil rights, + progress.

one finds such generosity lacking in the no-less-corrupt republican party--where cabals + closed meetings (even closed campaigns + "missing" voting booths) are the norm.

all i mean to suggest is that republican pay-offs are no more virtuous than democratic giveaways.

republican officials repay their constituency with billion-dollar military contracts + corporate rescues.

republicans offer charity to the rich--the saudis, halliburton, shahs, royals, oil magnates, + general motors.

democratic officials repay their constituency with handouts to the poor, though undoubtedly a great amount often gets siphoned off by go-betweens + welfare programs are vulnerable to a certain amount of fraud.

on occasion, the money goes to foreign nations in a bid to prevent or just delay war.

on the other hand, republican money goes to contractors to profit from war, so that, for example, $9 billion can just "disappear" in iraq back in 2004 ... as hard to pinpoint + retrieve as bin laden's dialysis machine.

democrats at least have the decency to spred their bribe money around to the poor + genuinely needy, from time to time.

i often hear conservatives complain about how poor people abuse the system, but they seldom acknowledge the greater greed of the rich. the rich hold the pursestrings to the system, so their pilfering can, to a certain extent, be legislatively "laundered."

the rich get no-bid contracts. the poor have to rely on guile alone.

the stickiest fingers are the ones with the most stuff stuck onto them.

it's not that i think ends necessarily justify the means. but on the whole republican ends tend to be just as venal (or loony) as the means used to achieve them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

writers to learn from

this morning i responded to an e-mail from a promising student who would like to be a writer. he asked me to recommend some writers--contemporary realists--whom i would recommend to help him in becoming a better writer. i composed a list of 14 or 15 writers i admire + sent off the reply quickly, but not thoughtlessly.

now let me try the list again, putting a bit more thought into it. many of the writers are the same, but this time i want to name what exactly i would want to learn from them. i have not, however, limited myself to realists or contemporaries this time.

thomas berger--for his dry, matter-of-fact sense of the absurdly obvious

joan didion--for her sentences, sleek and highly evolved as sharks

nicholson baker--for his absorption into sensuous details

george saunders--for combining satire + perfect pitch in diction

don delillo--for turning the masses into a dynamic character + paranoid hysteria into narrative

frank o'hara--for the liveliness of his breathless conjunctions

vladmir nabokov--for his obvious delight in words

manuel puig--for combining hollywood myth + marxist politics

virginia woolf--for expressing amusement + weariness in the same phrase

flannery o'connor--for her fascination with extremes

john milton--for creating intellectual metaphors that have weight + pulse

marcel proust--for understanding human consciousness + feeling + conveying this knowledge through events + gestures

james ellroy--for transubstantiating harsh reality into noir poetry

harold pinter--for his ellipses

armistead maupin--for his winsome narrator

guy davenport--for the chiseled, angular elegance of his pedophilia

j.r. ackerley--for creating the first fully-rounded animal character without relying on anthropomorphism

william s. burroughs--for mixing horror + comedy + eroticism

d.h. lawrence--for writing the first pornography to succeed in exciting me

sinclair lewis--for saying what nobody wanted (or wants) to hear in such an appealing way that, at times, it is heard

Sunday, December 9, 2007

party boy

yesterday i went to a christmas party that should convince me either (i can't decide which) that i spend too much time on my own or that i should not bother doing anything else.

the party was nice enough--a bright + intelligent host whom i like, good food, a healthy mix of age groups--the guests consisting of equal parts the host's neighbors, fellow employees or (like me) ex-fellow employees, + fellow bicycling enthusiasts.

the problem was that i went to the party with a friend + so i couldn't leave when i wanted to, so my stay was about three or four times too long. we were among the first guests to arrive + the last to leave. the most agonizing part of the party for me was the first three-quarters of it, during which i ineptly attempted to chitchat with strangers ("how do you know the host?" "isn't this picadillo tasty?")

at the end, the party was just me, my ride, the host + one other person--a small group happy to discuss u.s. politics rather than engage in small talk--for me, the party's last hour was the most enjoyable part of the party.

now, although i enjoy parties (went to two this weekend) + hardly lead a hermit's life style, i do spend a great amount of time alone ... or, at work, in a classroom where i am able to create the environment in my own image.

my people skills are weak--more particularly, i'm a complete idiot at small talk, shmoozing, or the kind of offhand flirtatiousness that comes effortlessly to most people.

at 54, i have a fairly strong sense of myself. i am not particularly eager to be liked by a wide array of people i'm not already interested in. as i get older, the kinds of people i'm interested in are people, like me, who live self-designed lives. i have virtually zero interest in people who try or especially who succeed at living a readymade life--a life striving for normalcy, competing for gold stars, + polishing one's social resume.

having just recently reviewed woolf + forster for my brit lit class, it may be that i yearn to be a part of the bloomsbury group--or some more modern, homoeroticized yet working-class version of bloomsbury. having just ended said class with orwell's classic essay politics + the english language, i yearn for conversation that gives new shape to consciousness + reality, not conversation that draws on cliches or other vague semi-scripted niceties of social intercourse.

i much prefer the trippy conversation induced by absinthe + marijuana to the polite exchange of innocuous anecdotes.

the party yesterday made me wonder if perhaps i think i'm better somehow than all these other people--with their zeal for office gossip + workplace politics, popular sitcoms, + "good restaurants."

i certainly don't think i have any more right to life + happiness than they do.

but i do think that there are a great many people--good people, whom i can admire abstractly--with whom i just have no interest in becoming better acquainted. or, at any rate, i wish more people that i meet at parties would attempt to surprise or even astound me. the kind of chitchat that 90% of party talk consists of, between new acquaintances anyway, is to conversation what muzak is to music.

perhaps one day some entrepreneur will market a device that trades social pleasantries with other similar devices, leaving guests free to stuff their mouths with quiche + alcohol.

maybe it could be called 'dizkuss.'

Thursday, December 6, 2007


reading through orwell today with my brit lit students, on our last day of the semester, reminded me why i think it is important to teach people how to write.

to write well is to think well. those who do not think well end up letting others do their thinking for them.

stupidity corrupts language, as ignorance + mean-spiritedness try to mask themselves with lofty rhetoric, mundane ambiguities, question-begging pieties, + diversionary tactics.

once corrupted, language breeds even further stupidity, in turn.

the naive + the uneducated fall back on ready-made phrases + jargon they pick up from advertisers, politicians, + other propagandists.

a good idea cannot be built from a language stripped of specificity + elegance.

the people try to think, but succeed only in recycling cliches and bumper-sticker slogans +, what is worse, they repeatedly contradict themselves, most often + most distressingly when they try to express their most deeply felt beliefs.

language should be "an instrument which we shape for our own purposes," not the half-hypnotic recall of jingles lyrics + insincere campaign promises.

clear, exact, specific, concrete, emphatic, + grammatical sentences are the building blocks of intelligence + reason.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

ghosts of christmas past

i've been recently flooded by the spectre of my past. a cousin i haven't seen in over 30 years has sent me a two-cd collection of photographs of my mother's side of the family from 1874 to the present. a roommate of 20 years ago has corresponded via myspace, + a girlfriend from high school, 36 years ago, now a grandmother, has reached me through facebook +, just today, offered to put me in touch with yet another old friend from highschool days. another friend of 15 years ago recently phoned me to get permission to refer to me + certain aspects of my personal history in the introduction to his dissertation.

is this my life flashing before my eyes?

why does revisiting my past, through the eyes of other friends, both lure + repulse? perhaps because it calls up people who may contest my embroidered versions of my past? perhaps because a resumption of contact after decades serves to remind me how old i've become? perhaps because their existence presents me with a different version of who i might have become, had circumstances been different than they were?

having lost three years ago my (then) furthest back friend, whom i'd known since 9th grade, to aids, the "return" of these "new" old friends is more welcome than dreadful, but my feelings are mixed.

they are ghosts of my past requesting permission to cross the threshold to my present life.

i don't know how to explain myself to them ... not to people who once knew me so well. do they know i'm gay? (perhaps the ex-girlfriend did before i did, having written in my senior yearbook, something to the effect that she hoped i would find the right woman someday "if" there is a right woman.) do they know i no longer believe in a god? can they begin to comprehend the path i have taken since they last knew me?

or can i begin to comprehend the paths they have taken since i last knew them?

Sunday, December 2, 2007


queerness first entered my radar as transgendered.

one reason why, growing up, i never thought of myself as homosexual was that i was told that homosexuals were men who wanted to be women. since i wanted nothing of the sort, + still don't, for years i deceived myself that my strong physical attraction towards certain men did not make me gay--just a 'man's man.'

even before my first misunderstanding of homosexuality, the concept of transgendered entered my imagination. i remember that, when i was four or no more than five, my mother gave me an old discarded women's purse to play with (such were the toys of sissy trailer trash like me). she told me the purse had belonged to my grandmother, but my grandmother no longer needed it. i thought that this statement meant that in old age people changed sexes because, by my childish logic, the only reason my grandmother would no longer need her purse was that she was becoming a man.

i have not yet become acquainted with (to my knowledge) a transgendered person. my small circle friends includes straight people, gay men, and lesbians. i had a long relationship with a bisexual man once, + a friend of mine now is bisexual. but no transgendered people.

when sandra bernhard performed for an aids benefit in raleigh a few years ago, she mulled over the politically correct 'lgbt' printed on all the promotions for the event. she asked the gay men in the large audience to applaud (big roar of applause), then the lesbians (big roar, again), then the bisexuals (a healthy, though more subdued, applause), + then the transgendered (nothing--you could hear crickets chirping). she smirked + said, 'just as i thought.'

where were the transgendered people?

today i'm happy that transgendered people consider themselves a part of the queer struggle for equality + justice. years ago my impression was that transgendered people objected to being associated with gayness. i remember a male-to-female transsexual proclaiming proudly on an old phil donahue show, 'i have always been a strict heterosexual,' with a strong air of disgust at even the thought that she might be grouped with gays.

thus, as i came to accept myself as gay, my impression of the transgendered was that they were gays + lesbians who did not accept their homosexual natures.

i understand things differently now, but lacking transgendered friends, i find myself limited in my understanding + empathy. i want the transgendered to enjoy the same rights, respect, and opportunities as everyone else, but as a gay man, i don't particularly identify with them apart from our shared humanity.

i don't want to be a woman. i like women. i like men even more (or, rather, i like men + cock). if a friend of mine wanted to change sexes, i would support him or her + do my best to remain friends. if a boyfriend of mine wanted to change sexes, however, i would no longer be interested in the person sexually. or, more accurately, i cannot now imagine that i could be ... simply because i like men sexually, not women, not even women who used to be men.

maybe this is bigotry. or superficiality. i'm just trying honestly to assess my feelings on this issue. so i guess what i'm saying is that as a gay man of 54, i identify strongly with three-fourths of 'lgbt'--i still need to get used to the idea that the 't's' are legitimately in league with my own struggle for equality + justice.


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