Thursday, February 28, 2013

I don't think I ever mentioned

that my play After School Special got into this year's Great Plains Theatre Conference. I'm going to Omaha!

I'm not sure

what's made Jacob Bernstein the go-to feature writer at the NYTimes whenever a notable gay man dies, but I'm looking forward to the day that he eulogizes a great queer pioneer without some kind of alarmist suggestion that all gay men are obsessed with youth and beauty and can't bear the thought of losing either.

I first noticed him last year with a piece about Bob Bergeron that invokes Dancer From The Dance to suggest that this gay therapist's suicide was due to the fact that he couldn't handle turning 40 and losing his looks.
Here was a man who ended his life at the exact moment he seemed to be nearing a professional peak, one that involved the upbeat story of a mature gay man facing the second half of his life with enthusiasm, hope and an endless array of tight T-shirts. 
[...]
“We sell this idea that 60 is the new 40, but it’s just lying,” said Dr. Frank Spinelli, an internist in Chelsea who referred numerous patients to Mr. Bergeron. “We tell children there’s Santa Claus, and then they get older, and learn better. I can’t even begin to imagine what Bob was going through.” 
And just the other day he wrote about Spencer Cox, the major ACT-UP figure who died of complications from his HIV infection. Bernstein likes his little ironies; just as he writes about how Bob Bergeron killed himself in his 40s while writing a self-help book called The Right Side of 40, his piece on Cox asks the question--
Why would Mr. Cox devote his life to obtaining lifesaving medications for people all over the world, only to stop taking them himself? 
But then there's this--
Mr. Cox’s friends worried that his depression and his physical deterioration were feeding off each other in profound ways. With them he was good humored and self-deprecating about the effect H.I.V. drugs had on his looks. Still, he had not had a significant relationship in years, and having lipodystrophy probably was not easy for him.

“Spencer was not primarily motivated by being an attractor,” said his friend Carly Sommerstein, an editor at Simon & Schuster. “But we are all looking in the mirror and seeing things change.” She added: “Aging is complicated, and accelerated aging is very complicated. New York is an unforgiving city.”
So facial wasting is what did it? Again, aging and losing his looks? It's as if he's working towards a book of essays on the myriad ways gay men sacrifice themselves out of pure vanity.

Or each other, of course, if you add his moralizing obit of porn star Erik Rhodes--
“People faulted him for doing steroids, which was the thing that allowed him to be the ideal they wanted,” said Samuel Colt, an actor who appeared with Mr. Rhodes on-screen and was a friend for the last several years of his life. “And people were always trying to push drugs onto him.”
Get that? Gay men and their insatiable hunger for smut and drugs are what did him in. Listen, I don't dispute that porn can be exploitative, but I also don't understand why the gay community requires such consistent, negative treatment.

A quick Google search shows the queer suicide feature is not that new to him. He wrote about the death of L.A. trans sportswriter Christine Daniels in 2009. Let's set aside the article's predictable pronoun disaster; all these similar tropes are invoked -- anxiety over appearance, aging, depression, isolation. Did Bernstein perfect the formula here? Just the right amount of acknowledgement that suicide is ultimately complex and inexplicable threaded through a run-down of obvious, reductive warning signs?

I've been hyper-sensitive to writing about suicide lately. Mindy McCready shot herself in one of the towns I grew up in, leading a lot of people in the media to talk way too much about her dramatic life and what must've done her in. I've been volunteering for a suicide prevention lifeline for over four years now. My own writing lately has been exploring the topic as well.

The subjects of these articles are not emblems of some crisis of substance in the vapid Chelsea social scene. They're not examples of how our culture exploits its most troubled. And they're not cautionary tales about the perils of non-conformity.

They're people. Gay, trans, or straight, they're all people, full of depth and contradiction and mystery. And it's really awful that they died.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's 2:42 AM and I can't sleep


So I pull out a copy of Matthew Dickman poems
I got at City Lights Books in San Francisco a few years ago.
I love the poetry room in that bookstore.
Up on the second floor of that creaky old building,
Full of light on a sunny day, chairs and benches
Offering cozy spots to crack something open.
Few customers climb the stairs
From the crowded stacks below.
I’m don’t consider myself a poet
But I can write poems from time to time.
I admire poets greatly.
All writers, really.
The serious ones especially.
Sometimes I think I’m serious.
Other times I know I’m serious.
Tonight I’m just trying to practice, which some would call 
A sign of my seriousness.
And Dickman’s poems, their lush, comfortable thickness
Offer some inspiration.
In him I see Ginsberg, and read his name invoked in
A poem called “Byron Loves Me.”
And I look up to the Ginsberg postcard I’ve propped up
On top of a frame on my wall.
It’s him and Peter Orlovsky shirtless and adorable.
I bought it at City Lights Books.
And I remember that New Yorker article about Dickman
That turned me on to him. The anecdote he told about
Making out with an aged Ginsberg
In his hotel room, just to be nice.
And my mind drifts to Ginsberg and Patti Smith,
Him trying to pick her up because he thought she was a boy.
And I think of John and me watching Patti talk about art
At USC a few weeks ago,
And trying to remember if she invoked Byron
But no it was only Blake
Who toiled in obscurity
But had purity of vision.
Kevin’s trying to get into a workshop
Where Dickman is teaching poetry.
I wonder if he could get something signed for me
If he gets in.
I’m glad Kevin’s writing again.

Matthew Dickman
Tells us to light a candle for our books
Because they save our lives,
Invoking Byron, Ginsberg
And Lucille Clifton in one poem.
I don’t know Lucille Clifton
So I Google her
And read “A Dream of Foxes.”
I read it twice because dreams are
Everything to me right now
And I want to receive what she’s giving.
I feel like I should mention
Frank O’Hara in here somewhere
So I try to insert a passage
About how I have his poem,
“My Heart,” framed on the same wall
Where I’ve propped up the Ginsberg postcard.
I want it to be casual and effortless
But it feels clunky.
I should just let him pulse
Under the surface of the text
The way Ginsberg does for Dickman.
Because honestly, if I ever write a poem
O’Hara helps me do this.
Frank O’Hara tells me that poetry is the better part
Of his heart.
Sometimes I think I have poetry in my heart too.
I don’t know that I have purity of vision,
But I would like to.
I admire poets. I really do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I wrote a lunch poem

for Muses at MUSE on Saturday and it went over really well when I read it. I thought I'd post it here. I made a couple of small edits from the version I read; since I wrote it on my lunch break at work there were a couple of references I needed to trim for discretion's (or paranoia's) sake. I'll post another one that I wrote a little later.

I would like to write with more imagery.
In a way that’s “less direct.”
But that’s not true.
I actually value directness.
I work on overwriting
What an idea—
To “work on” overwriting.
Ridiculous.
But I remember Dr. Henenberg’s dictum—
“Never be afraid to be clear”
Which I think is important.

I see a co-worker sitting on the other side
Of the dining room
Eating alone
And I feel a twinge of guilt
For having avoided his gaze.
But this time is so precious
And I have an objective.
I’m not required to be social.
Other people don’t always have to
Come first.
And is that even what this is about?

I worry that my shirt is offensively yellow,
That my jeans should be retired,
That I need to shave my hairline again.
God the indignity of shaving one’s forehead,
The tyranny of aging.
I like my hairline, though.
Why am I complaining?
My jeans, though,
They’re really bad.
And the big boss saw me this morning
In this Casual Friday nightmare.
I hadn’t planned on that.
 
I had this epiphany the other day
That I don’t have to interrogate
My own feelings.
That I just get to have them.
For example—
“Oh, I don’t really value directness,
I just feel inadequate about imagistic writing.”
Or, “I’m just jealous of that guy’s success,
I don’t actually think he’s an asshole. “
God, what a breakthrough!
Can you believe it?
Here I am valuing directness
And I can’t even accept my own reactions
To things as honest.

There’s a tubby guy two tables over
On a cell phone to a loved one.
Average, affable.
Thinning hair, heavy stubble
Not a problem.
Hawaiian shirt? Uhm, no.
Who are you, John Lasseter?
But then my shirt is offensively yellow.
And my jeans should be retired.
What is my problem?

Who do I know in El Segundo?
He just called me.
He or she.
God, the tyranny of gendered pronouns.

I can’t help but eavesdrop on Hawaiian
Shirt and know he’s married
With kids.
I find it annoying that I feel compelled
To specify “to a woman”
Because assimilation and
Heteronormativity are all the rage.
But then I start to find his
Hawaiian shirt charming,
His matter-of-fact helpfulness
To his wife, his soft, assertive support
Endearing,
Admiring his Everymanness.
Then I wonder if that could be a
Subcategory of the Butch-Femme
Dynamic, as in
“She was very L.A. Lipstick.
She was more Everymannish.”

I’m tired of Queer advocacy
Sometimes.
Should I write about how
I feel kind of bad about that?
I’m sorry but it’s true.
And when I watch
Some Youtube video
Of some queen shouting down
A delusional fire-and-brimstone
Screamer on the subway,
My knee-jerk response is
“Why are you talking to him?
DO NOT ENGAGE!”
And I turn it off
Embarrassed by the absurdity
The emotionalism
The whole thing making me
Extremely uncomfortable.
And then championed on social media
As some kind of triumph
Of the Gay Rights movement?
Is my discomfort self-loathing?
Or can I invoke Fran Lebowitz here
With impunity?
These questions are still hard
For me to answer sometimes.

El Segundo didn’t leave a message.
Screw them.

Fell Swoop's Muses at MUSE

We had a great night at MUSE on 8th on Saturday night at our evening of poetry and prose. I started things with a couple of poems I'd written for the occasion about artistic inspiration. The great Luke Gattuso aka Dogwelder was there to record events. Here's a photo he took of me--

Fell Swoop at Muse 01

Check out the rest here.

I'll post the stuff I read in a bit.

Monday, February 25, 2013

In Saturday's L.A. Affairs

we learn that straights cruise at the gym too. Who'd have thought?
We had never met, but we knew each other's bylines. I wrote for the Long Beach paper, she for a travel magazine. I suggested that I do a piece on Long Beach for her magazine and she, acting generously, said that was a good idea.

In truth, I wanted to ask her out rather than write for her. But instead of getting her number, I allowed her to flee up the stairs to the exercise bikes.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This is encouraging

I just signed this petition started in response to the transphobic article published earlier this month in the LATimes. I wrote about it here.

HuffPo writes that--
Times' officials have agreed to meet with GLAAD and members of Los Angeles' transgender community to discuss the issues surrounding the cryptic story, a report on the recent death of Cassidy Vickers.
Read the rest here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I've been writing and reading

a lot these days, which might explain the light posting. Working hard on our Strindberg project for Fell Swoop Playwrights for the Hollywood Fringe, which is scary and exciting, but making progress. If you have any interest in helping make it happen, check out our donations page here.

I've also been writing poetry again, which I haven't done much in a while. Just light little things I began in part because I couldn't sleep the other night and also because I'm going to be reading something at Fell Swoop's Muses at MUSE this Saturday at 8. I called it an evening of Poetry and Prose and figured I'd better write some poetry just to keep myself honest. Here are all the details on our website, but the short version is THIS SATURDAY MUSE ON 8TH 8PM BE THERE!!

The reading I'm doing is Edward St. Aubyn, which I may post some more about later.

How could he ruin

 Crocodile Dundee?
All had seemed rosy as he bought tickets for "Crocodile Dundee." We had laughed, he talked about his work as a psychologist, we stood in line for popcorn and then it was the by-the-way-I-think-we-need-to-go-our-separate-ways bomb. He couldn't wait to share the news until after the movie?
Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I forgot to post

about seeing Patti Smith at USC! I get emotional just thinking about it, so instead of my going on, check out this nice blog post about the event.

My favorite song of the evening (and it's a hard call -- she did "Because the Night" with just piano accompaniment and her "Pissing in a River" gave me chills) was her elegy to Amy Winehouse, "This is the Girl." It's lovely and simple and poetic.

Here's a vid of her singing it in the UK last summer.


Hey, get down to Santa Ana

for [title of show] at TheatreOUT. It's a fun production and the cast is adorable.

Foodies in love

in LA Affairs--
We've consumed the Parisian-style baked leeks and egg dish at the Mignon Wine and Cheese Bar downtown, the sinful pot de crème at Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and the tomato and sausage strozzapreti and the luscious fig dessert at Il Fico on Robertson Boulevard. Our burger list has evolved to include an exquisitely bloody pig candy-topped patty at Plan Check; the lamb, tzatziki and arugula version at Short Order; and the musky French brunch bombshell version of traditional beef at Comme Ça on a lazy Sunday morning. We checked deep dish off our "must eat" pizza list on a dimly lighted summer night at Masa in Echo Park and had our taste buds spoiled by white truffles and cannellini beans at Pasadena's swank the Royce.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fell Swoop's Muses at MUSE, 2/23, 8pm

Come hear members of Fell Swoop Playwrights read their own writing about artistic inspiration. Check out the details here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

This LATimes article

is so fucked I almost don't want to draw attention to it.
The last that Cassidy Vickers' street friends saw of him was about 10 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2011, outside the Donut Time shop on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

He was waving and saying he'd be back in a bit.

A transgender prostitute whose legal name was Nathan, Cassidy had come down from the San Francisco Bay Area to work the Hollywood streets.

That night, on Lexington Avenue, 10 blocks from the doughnut shop, Vickers was shot to death by a man on a bike.
The transphobic convolutions are endless in this thing. And RIGHT SMACK DAB IN THE CENTER of the online article is this correction--
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier online version of this article contained a typographical error inserted during initial editing of the text, referring to Cassidy Vickers as "heshe." It has been corrected here and in the final print version.
Typographical error. Mmm-hmm.

Also, this murder happened in 2011. Why is it published in February 2013? Sam Quinones has a byline on previous, paltry writing on Vickers' death and I guess saw his opportunity for a feature? Something about how The Western Bandit is still on the loose so here's his opportunity to write some seedy retrograde cautionary tale?

This is about the best he can do.
The last time Amber saw Vickers, he seemed happier and more exuberant — the kind of outgoing person that Bay Area friends describe. "She felt good about herself that day," Amber said.
I guess Cassidy only gets to be female in quotes. And how about this one?
More than a hundred people attended Vickers' funeral in East Palo Alto. Thompson didn't know many of them. She was startled to see a few were men with women's breasts and clothes.
Is that what the mourners were? Men with women's breasts and clothes? Is that all Cassidy was? No wait, she was more than that, wasn't she? She was a lurid Hollywood cliche! Here's how Sam ends his article--
For police, Vickers' story is one they've seen all too often.

"It's the age-old Hollywood story," said Brett Goodkin, the Los Angeles police homicide detective called to Lexington that night. "People come to Hollywood … so they can be somebody else. In Nathan's case, he could be himself in Hollywood. That was his Hollywood dream. It ended like so many others."
I'm sorry Cassidy, but you deserve better than this. You deserve to be alive, and to feel good about yourself, and to be exuberant and happy. And you definitely deserve better writing than this.

Daily Kos made an effort here, writing about her and other LGBT victims of violence in an attempt to tell stories behind statistics. Here's a quote from the post--
The murder happened in Hollywood three days before the 2011 Transgender Day of Remembrance gathering, at which Cassidy was not forgotten.
Discrimination, hate and violence comes in many forms.  Whether it’s verbal, physical or psychological, violence is violence and we need to get angry about it. --CoCo LaChine, chair of the West Hollywood Transgender Advisory Board
Agreed.

Monday, February 04, 2013

I skipped a week

on L.A. Affairs for no good reason. Here an excerpt from Saturday's edition.
She was a journalist, feisty, funny, honest, open, quick, opinionated and passionate. I was a corporate lawyer; my suits ran the gamut from Brooks Brothers blue to Brooks Brothers gray. But I was struck that evening by how simpatico our political and world views were. And we had the same musical biases (loved Wilco, hated Sting), cinematic tastes (loved "Rushmore," hated "The English Patient") and literary tendencies (she recommended Martin Amis to me; I suggested that she check out "Lucky Jim," by his dad, Kingsley).
Read the rest here.

Backbeat

doesn't really work but it's interesting.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

No posts since 1/21?

Unacceptable. I've been a bit swamped, but let's see if we can put together a highlight reel. I'll start with West of Memphis.

Saw West of Memphis, which is powerful in a way that the Paradise Lost films (without which this movie would never have been made, of course) couldn't possibly be. Okay, the first Paradise Lost film is pretty devastating, but still.... There's something thrilling and unsettling about West of Memphis, not just in its investigation of infuriating governmental ineptitude, but also in its brazen investigation of Terry Hobbs, clearly a prime, neglected suspect. Even so, it doesn't make it any less creepy to hear of some P.I. paid for by Peter Jackson stealing cigarette butts out of his ashtray for DNA samples.

But more resonant to me than any of the specifics about the investigation, trial, private investigation, or appeals, are the new stories and people the movie introduces the audience to. Amanda Hobbs is heartbreaking, undeniably damaged by things that happened when she was around 3-years-old. With her oversized t-shirt and rolled up sleeves, cigarettes and heavy eyeliner, she's eerily familiar to me.

And interviews with David Jacoby, the the working man with a foot-long beard who provides Hobbs with an imperfect alibi, are raw and tough to watch. He's emotional and confused, having to walk off-camera because he's so rattled by the past and its unanswered questions. In watching it you feel like you're intruding on something almost too painful to be filmed.


The movie's a contender for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year, just like Paradise Lost 3 was last year. I've seen three of the best doc noms this year (Searching for Sugar Man and How to Survive a Plague -- my favorite). They were all great; this is a strong year for them. Here's a trailer.