A Report On A Few Days in Springtime

A Report On A Few Days in Springtime

The woman crossing Atlantic Blvd. on the cusp of East L.A. smoking a cigarette. Did I mention she was pregnant?

The sounds of Dad shuffling across the living room to get a good seat and listen to the family chisme being dished out in big, heaping soundbites.  He’d call this “the Beautiful Noise” in life B.A. (Before Alzheimer’s).

Nancy starring as the G’rilla from Manila at the BBQ rig for our last-minute family brunch.

Neto acting like he had Dengue Fever, but oh-so awake and eager to contribute to the chisme and chatter on such topics as “Why the new Roseanne series is ‘relevant’ or a ‘piece of shit.'”

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Buying a foulard at the Versace boutique in the Design District in a bid to honor the great Gianni while having the clerk whisper to me that he is also an actor and model.

Being asked at Estefan Kitchen in Miami if I had a reservation for a late lunch even though entire place was nearly empty.

Discovering after interviewing great Nicky Jam that we have a lot more in common, like our battles with being members of the clean plate club.

Reuniting with Gin-Gin and getting ridiculous at Versailles in Little Havana over plates lechon and picking up where we left off, the true mark of a touchstone friend and savior.

Meeting two teen girls from NJ at LAX before our delayed VA flight to NYC and chatting like we were BFF’s while being surrounded by soap opera legends from GH heading to NJ for a fantasy weekend. It was no BFD for the girls yet it was for their moms as they texted them with pics, OMG!

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Watching a sumptuous revival of My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center, feeling emotional at listening to this glorious score by Lerner & Lowe, thinking how Dad saw the original production with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews during his life as a young man in the U.S. and understanding why he loves theater as much as me.

Sitting watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, desperately trying to suppress the emotion swells as Harry and his son Albus fought their way to understand each other, just like how I fought with my Dad.

Sharing some of the most important parts of my life with Nan in NYC, hanging with Karen and Stevie and hearing her effortlessly become one of this group storied group of friends who mean the world to me.

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Powering through sleep deprivation and jet lag and failed not to “fag out” before interviewing several of my screen heroines on a Sunday afternoon in Hollywood, especially the wonderful Candice Bergen.

Even as life deals you some difficult moments, you have to stop and look around you to acknowledge the wonderful that still occurs. And that’s good enough in a world that is all about the hustle and flow.

Be good enough. And laugh when you can, dammit.

The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978

The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978

If you know my family, you’ve probably heard the tale of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It remains one of our favorite stories to tell because it has everything, laughter, drama, realizations about a child’s true nature, and mummies. It makes sense that it includes mummies since most Latino families pretty much embalm all sorts of moments they can drag out from its tomb now and again. It usually happens at a family gathering, especially during the holidays.

But I digress.  First, a little context to the Tut connection.

From 1976 to 1979, the treasures found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb toured seven U. S. cities, including Los Angeles. The exhibition was a wild success, to put it mildly. “King Tut Mania” was the only pyramid scheme destined not to bankrupt the regular folk. It was as if a Cecil B. DeMille film had come to vivid life, seeing these treasures. The mystery, the glamour, the history! All of it on display and separated by glass. Angelenos lost their proverbial shit when it arrived at the L.A. County Museum of Art. About eight million Americans made the trek nationally to the “Treasures of Tutankhamen” when it hit their chosen cities. However, more than one million visitors were tallied in Los Angeles alone. (You know how Latinos love their gold!) And, I represented two of said entries at LACMA. Reasons exist as to why.

Dad was already caught up in the fervor. A factory next to his was manufacturing swag to cash in on “King Tut Mania.” He’d bring home such replicated artifacts as Tut’s funeral mask, a small statue of the goddess Isis encased in a lucite pyramid. Yes, these were factory rejects, but so what? It was so rare to see Dad get excited by such things, but his being a pragmatic man meant that he was obsessed with science and history. He loved truth and facts versus the fantasy of the abstract represented by fiction.

Tickets were sold out for the LA exhibition, but Dad was so proud when I was chosen to be one of the fifth graders from South Ranchito Elementary to visit with the Egyptian boy king at LACMA. It meant something to him that one of his family members could bear witness to this glorious exhibition of rarely-seen history.

A few weeks later, as the exhibition prepared its departure, Dad had this wild notion of heading down to LACMA to see if we swing two tickets. As he always stated, “The worse they can tell you is ‘No.'” So, we jumped into our aqua blue VW Beetle and made our way down Wilshire Blvd.

Mind you, Dad first sent me by myself to the box office to see if any cancellations were available. He waited in the car and I bolted up the steps to the museum entry. (I don’t think any parent would do that today. I was 10-years-old and Wilshire Blvd. was still a muy busy thoroughfare then.) Unfortunately, my this first inquiry did result in a “No” that held until I got back to the curb where I was to wait for Dad as he made a turn around the block.

As I kept a vigilant eye for Dad, I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up with nary a look of surprise to gaze at a handsomely dressed woman. She smiled this congenial smile and asked, “Are you trying to get tickets for Tut.” This wasn’t a “Stranger Danger” moment as she looked like she’d been to Bullocks Wilshire and that mattered to me then. Haha. I think I said something like, “Yes, ma’am. But there aren’t any tickets.” She then reached into her pocketbook and pulled out one of those Golden King Tut tickets from her pocketbook.

You could almost hear an angelic choir at that moment. I went’ from a “No” to a shocking “Yes!” Fortune really favors the child left alone on a busy street, dammit!

“My friend isn’t able to make it, so why don’t you take it,” she said.

I wish I remembered more of that exchange because all I know is after saying “Thank you, ma’am!” I took a good look at that ticket just as Dad pulled up to the curb. I do remember that I was too excited to enunciate, “Dad! I got a ticket. Look!” Dad smiled this huge smile.

Then I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going back in!” And boom, I was off!

Oh, how my family and I discussed the selfishness. The lack of awareness. The utter glory of my young self-absorption! For years!  Reflecting on that moment now, I know my Dad would have never left me in the car while he walked through the exhibition… again. Although, he did leave me to my own devices at the ticket office. Whatever. The important thing was for me to say, “Dad. Here’s the ticket.” For him to decline it would be a lesson in how we sacrifice our own needs and feelings. (Orale, Latinos católicos! Guilt starts early!) Haha.

Well, it is kind of true.

I do remember Dad’s dejected look as I turned and walked away. When we got home, I remember the silence in the car. I knew I hurt him a little. Once home,  I also remember hearing Mom and Dad talk about my brazen nature, my incredible luck, and my brazen nature again. It was followed by laughter, but I knew I disappointed them. Hell, I’d live to disappoint them again and again, but this episode remains my favorite since it carries a better layer of charm and innocence.

In the end, we both did get our chance to share the Tut experience in 2005 when “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” made its appearance at LACMA. This time, the entire family made the trek to Wilshire Blvd. Of course, that adventure is marked by Mom saying, “Hmmm. This looks smaller than the exhibition your father and I saw in Cairo. You know, in Egypt.”  (Hahaha. Yes, we’re THAT family.)

In the end, my globe-trotting parents did venture to the land of Pharaohs to get a singular view, first hand, to the wonders of Tut and more. As much as I envy them, I am also proud of my parents, who took their vacations in places far and further away. They were our first guides, showing us the way to see the world as a source of adventure. We were meant to leave our backyards to see what doesn’t have to exist in a museum brochure. As a result, we’ve created our brand of history, too, and I love that.

It’s wonderful to see our family history repeating itself as Tut has returned to LA yet again. It’s been 100 years since Tut’s tomb was discovered, thus the largest exhibition of artifacts ever will be touring the world to honor the occasion, perhaps the last time they will ever be seen outside of Cairo. Los Angeles was selected to host the world premiere of “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharoah” at the California Science Center. Of course, my family and I made the journey yet again and yes, the day is sold out. However, due to Dad’s current health issues, he won’t be able to make the trek to the California Science Center with us. Mom and Neto were also down for the count due to having colds.

My family and I know we don’t need a reason to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It is a bummer to note that glorious golden mask can no longer leave its home in Egypt. It just means our spirit of adventure will take us to the heart of the Nile, see the pyramids, and give them our best from our parents who stood there in awe and joy so many years ago.

This is such a powerful full circle moment nonetheless, one I will share with Poppadoodles when we return from our visit with El Rey Tut. I am reluctant to write more now as I feel tears building up. I have so much more to say to Dad from “Remember when?” to “Thank you” to “You were so right!” That’s a conversation that has to happen sooner than later and time is no longer on our side, I’m afraid.

As my family and I take in these treasures anew, I can’t help be reminded of the beauty of history.  Wherever these essays may rest long after I’m gone, I hope people will appreciate the love and respect that remain the hallmark of my Dad, as a parent and a human being. What I hope is also unearthed years from now is that our history as father and son, and as the Carreon Family as a whole, was a precious one indeed.

 

 

“Shame”

“Shame”

“A very simple statement
A very simple crime
A lot of grief reflecting in how we spend our time
I want to change things
I want to make a change
I’m tired of spending time agonizing yesterdays”

— From “Shame” — Written by Martha Davis, Performed by The Motels

What’s your secret shame? You know, the thing you do when no one is looking?

What is that one vice or action you judge yourself for the most when you look in the mirror?

That loss of control we feel when we indulge in our secret shame is on par with an electric burst of adrenaline. It’s when you let a sly smile cross your face, that sweet release of euphoria when you reach that peak moment. It is a high, one that seduces you to keep going back again and again for another hit.  And it is always followed by your telling yourself, “This is the last time” or “Starting June 1st, I’ll get back on track!”

But you don’t. Because all you want to do is indulge in that behavior you’ve let overwhelm your sanity and self-control. Because it feels that bloody good.

Initially, this essay was going to be titled “Failure,” but I thought better of it. Shame can be overcome. Failure is a trap that can keep you locked up in a zone comprised of a darker shame. It is when you just give up and when it comes to addiction, you can’t just give up. It is a dangerous path, one that can have longterm effects and consequences.

I know I can’t reverse the decisions I’ve made during these last weeks. I can’t blame Fatlanta anymore. I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, embarking on a new project that is taking me to Vancouver. I cannot un-eat the food I’ve been attacking with unsteady hands of late. It’s been consumed and absorbed. I can only feel and see the effects daily and that sense of shame is now one that has me staring at the mirror with anger and disgust.

In six weeks, I am turning 50. While the excitement builds to this milestone, I have a few outstanding narrative threads that have yet to be resolved. The biggest one? Being a total bully to myself when it comes to this issue of food and wellness. Yet, instead of allowing the excitement of this milestone to lead me to a stronger place, I am a woeful mess right now. I can feel the anxiety throwing me off balance. Anger is present where hope should be right now. It is roiling the sanity I have worked so hard to reconstruct, letting frustration and outbursts of emotion spill out and over without warning at times.

I’ve been battling over what is keeping me in this dark space, but the source is both personal and social. The first layer? I didn’t think I’d be living the life of a gay spinster, locked away from potential suitors like Catherine Sloper in The Heiress or Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. I am probably skirting closer to becoming Miss Havisham in Great Expectations now. I held a torch for Tucker so long, I developed muscles in my arm I didn’t know existed. Yet, after seven years, my self-made prison isn’t so much the pain of leaving him behind when I did. Not anymore.

The damage I inflicted on myself over Tucker pales in comparison to what I’ve let take its place. The new layer is playing caretaker, scratch that, enabler to someone who has yet to understand that being an eternal dreamer doesn’t create a dream life. It is the most selfish way to live, keeping people in a state of stasis until YOU figure YOUR shit out. It is cruel and unforgivable. Anger is holding up my house of late. Anger and self-defeat to be exact. And it is punishing everyone around me, keeping most us from reaching new destinies in the name of “family.”

I hate feeling lonely and rejected, but the pitiful attempts of my meeting men are merely my picking at an old scab. It fills me with a different shade of shame because I am still in my prime, dammit. I should not have to fear my sexual self, much less repress it. Yet, because I can’t control the anger I feel, I have opted to rebuild the prison in which I’ve locked myself away. I’m getting heavier, covering myself up again. I am returning to the protective embrace of comfort foods because I want to feel the warmth of something loving and familiar, even though I am well aware of the only outcome of this reunion. I am angry that I don’t have a relationship to assure me that “It’s going to be okay.” Dammit, I don’t want to be fixed! I just want to be reassured by someone’s care and open heart. And that tender kiss, elusive and beautiful, has never felt so out of reach to me.

Layer three? It is bad enough we are living in a world without grace or accountability, where shamelessness has replaced decency and compassion. All we do is rip each other apart with lies, innuendo and avarice. We speak in tones of violence because we have to be heard above the din, leaving a body count as proof of being heard. We have leaders who spout the most reprehensible things for attention and justify their destruction of all civility.

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We denounce political correctness as being the enemy of a tottering state. The demand of restoring decency and peace is not being “PC.” We are surrounded by varying degrees of terrorists, all of whom think they are just and fighting a holy war built on a religious dogma that can only end in death. That’s the biggest, ugliest shame of all, forcing your will on billions of people who just want to live without fear!

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As I near the end of this post, I feel a different kind of shame. How can I wallow in my own self-pity when so much is off balance in this world? I can only say, I am no less flawed or confused as any other human at the moment. Yet, I can scream into this void, a blank page onto which I can spout all that ails me on the inside right now. Clarity does take form as I let this my thoughts unravel and let my insanity release its stranglehold.

Perhaps we all need to understand what shame means again.

Perhaps we all need to remind ourselves that accountability takes more strength than merely Tweeting obscenities and lies or shoving world leaders out of our way for a photo opportunity.

Perhaps we need to stop letting our fear keep us from turning away from the woes of our world because it is too hard and what does it matter anyway?

Perhaps I need to put down the fork and take a long look at the person struggling to become better and stronger again.

Perhaps it is time to stop being a coward and start loving the one person who has designs on making a difference, not use depression as an excuse to keep my addictions alive. What good am I to the rest of the world if I can’t withstand that which is within my power to fix and heal?

I know I can’t get better alone. None of us can. Neither can this planet. Shame is not always a bad thing. Shame can also keep us from making the same mistakes over and over. Not because failure or flaws are “bad,” because we must let what is “good” about ourselves cast a light to help other lost souls find their way back to the group, too.

Naive? Perhaps.

People have become quite adept in finding new ways to peddle their brands of hate, which will only succeed in making the world a lot sicker and dangerous. But to combat this sinister world order, we have to believe in the good within ourselves again. Therein lies the need for empowerment and education! To stay in this state of isolation would be more than a shame, I recognize that. No more agonizing yesterdays. It’s exhausting and self-defeating. Perhaps it is high time I learn to love locally, then act in the name of goodness…globally.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

 

“Beautiful”

“Beautiful”

“Beauty’s where you find it
Not just where you bump and grind it
Soul is in the musical
That’s where I feel so beautiful
Magical, life’s a ball
So get up on the dance floor…”

— From “Vogue” by Madonna/Shep Pettibone

I started this entry with a basic question:

Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?

It was my intent to deconstruct that specific moment when you knew you could express yourself without fear of being called out for being “different.” It’s that version of yourself that is obfuscated by societal norms or misguided attempts from our parents to “protect” us from a judgmental world. This post was not supposed to be about outward beauty, although that is a prison of different making. As for the rest of us who haven’t scored big at the genetic lottery, we tend to water down the impact of the word “beauty” to its most superficial definition. What do we do with the concept of having a bold personality, of being able to express a powerful sense of verve when we’re young? Why do many of us spend much our adult lives, countless dollars and more trying to coax that child back into existence in the end? Does that qualify as being beautiful, too?

As I discussed this post with my boss and best sparring partner, I found myself unable to defend my position on what I felt meant being beautiful. He kept leading me outside of the boxed context of what I insisted was the point of this piece.  He led the debate beyond what is “pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically.” Before I could even begin to write about “beauty,” he insisted, I had to dig deeper into the complexity of this word.

Greek philosopher Plato maintained that beauty is a universal construct. We may not always recognize beauty through our senses. Each individual’s reaction can be triggered through a different means: sight, sound, smell, etc. Perhaps when we acknowledge something as being “beautiful,” it is because it is a potent reminder as to how our souls possess a wonderful sense of mystery.

The late English art critic John Berger opined that “seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” When we do begin to learn how to speak and we start amassing a vocabulary, we also start learning how to use these words to build declarative statements and opinions. These bloom into judgments, influenced and curated by those around us. From that point, how we “see” things in inextricably affected in the end by what we learn and by what we think we “know.”

Bridging Plato to Berger takes a bit more than the foundation I am laying here. Yet, I can see a link to a key moment in my childhood. Addressing the issues of the consequences of being bullied and the body dysmorphia/food addictions that continue to haunt me, which remain a key focus of this diary. So, my initial to my question was:

“I haven’t felt or deemed myself as being beautiful in a long time.”

I reference that hat glorious Spanish summer of 2014. I felt in control of my self and my soul. I felt powerful and limitless, just like I did up until the 4th grade when I became aware of what I saw as being “me” was “different” from the rest of the pack. More, once I understood the hurtful words and opinions hurled at me through elementary school junior high from those who rebuked me mercilessly, I opted to hide much of what made me “me.” And I hurled those same words back to others weaker than me with decided force and intent. My concept of beauty, the image of myself, has never been the same since.

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I think about the moment I thought I understood what beauty could mean. Given my middle class life, of course it was built around media. As I discovered much later, I wasn’t alone in my nascent gay self, pouring over Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview and New York magazines, drawn to the light of these glossy pages like a pilgrim making the journey to Lourdes. It is no coincidence that I hid here as much as I did in the literary and musical testaments to cafe society that I regularly snuck into the house from the library. Dad worked in textiles, which first opened a window into fashion, then all things New York City, for me. It didn’t take much to to begin whispering the names of photographers, editors, models and designers with solemnity of a prayer during Sunday mass: Avedon. Penn. Elgort. Newton. Scavullo. Saint Laurent. Givenchy. Dior. Lacroix. Lagerfeld. Halston. Versace. Ellis. Dovima. Turlington. Evangelista. Campbell. Tilberis. Vreeland. Wintour. They were all what I deemed as being “beautiful.”

I felt so superior in thinking that no one knew who they were in Pico Rivera. In reality, this world shielded me from those who tormented me in the hallways of South Ranchito and Meller Jr. High. I knew one day, I’d be able to move amongst them, the ultimate smalltown boy revenge. What it really meant was that I had capitulated to bourgeois materialism in the guise of being cultivated.

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Looking back at this now, was this fascination (obsession), really the best definition of “beauty?” Wasn’t this realm of artifice derived from fashion and fashionistas merely examples of what is simply “pretty?” Did it fall under the tenets of beauty attributed to Plato? What did it reveal about me at a young age, chubby, acne’d and peculiar in terms of my own personal code of aesthetics? Was I merely wading into this pool of superficiality, engaging in a clichéd game of middle class rebellion because I hated NOT being one of these people? Perhaps. Oh yes, perhaps. Misguided or not, memorizing the pages of Judith Krantz’s “Scruples” or Jackie Collins’s “Hollywood Wives” left me breathless and eager to get the hell out of the SGV as soon as I could. Needless to say, I sold myself short.

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It is no irony that I became a publicist, that messenger of all things glittering and glamorous. I battled with never being as cool as the message, even at the peak of years at 20th Century Fox. I lived and died at the altar of the Hollywood experience. I needed not have bothered. What we should find is truly beautiful is not always the thing we see outwardly. Yet, we continue to bandy about with words that act more as hyperbole than being catalysts of profundity.

I continue to grapple with long cycles of depression, excess eating and overindulgence, which includes the manner I continue to spend my money on material things. It would be easy to fault a steady diet of glitz and glitter as the source of my demons. I won’t, because I still admire the craft of couture, which is a true art to me. I knew what I was doing then and now. As to when I’ll take firm control of those urges, I won’t ever stop trying to compartmentalize them until they torment me no more. Yet, after the debacle of “Fatlanta,” I am still faced with that blasted question: “Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?”

Now that this conversation has started, I realize I have much to learn and understand about what is “beautiful.” It is more than my long held ideal of becoming a gentleman in the style of my cinematic hero Cary Grant. As for the current state of fashion and fashion magazines, the joy is less apparent in this renewed era of status mongering and greed. Nor can my definition be something on par of Madonna’s exquisite paean to other icons of film glamour, “Vogue.” But a singular truth can be found within these beats, “beauty is where you find it.”

As I begin to redefine my own standards of beauty, I realize something is happening at long last. I am finding myself again in these discussions that stir my collective senses.  I am learning again thanks to an evolving family of friends who choose and want to think beyond what is accepted or acceptable. This time feels so much like Spain. The arrested development that I’ve allowed to set in has no place in this quest for wellness. Perhaps what makes us beautiful is believing in the desire to grow and to be challenged by a world, even one in flux.

Given our current political state of ugly at the moment, we have to train our eyes to see beyond what lies what ahead or even what we think we’ve learned about people, even ourselves. Perhaps beauty is the possibility afforded by being better and stronger and willing to accept our flaws, to finding the willingness to build them into strengths.

Only when we allow for acceptance and tolerance can we best repel the rhetoric from people who dare keep us asunder in a state of homogenized hatred.

Only when we begin to understand the true nature of beauty will we be able to say, “Life’s a ball!” and just fucking dance already.

We are forever accountable for our journeys and decisions. Perhaps that’s what I’ve come to finally learn:

Be your true self. Be beautiful.

Cary Grant photo by Richard Avedon

Dovima & Ray Bolger photo by Richard Avedon

Kristen McMenamy & Nadja Auermann photo by Richard Avedon

Gia Carangi in YSL photo by Helmut Newton

From the MediaJor Vault: Anne Rice

From the MediaJor Vault: Anne Rice

I have to credit Facebook for this profile on Anne Rice. Originally written in 2011 when I was the loftily named LA Personalities Examiner for Examiner.com, the interview was timed to the publication of “Of Love and Evil.” At the time, extraordinary events were unfolding in the Middle East as Egypt struggled with reform. We watched in amazement because it proved  both thrilling and disheartening to contemplate what it would mean for us all.

As we wade deeper into Trump infested waters, seeing this Rice profiler appear on my Facebook feed is almost too eerie. The original Examiner link is no longer working as I haven’t written for that site in several years. Most of my Examiner contributions have been claimed by the ether, to be frank. So, it was a nice discovery to find it exists. Because Ms. Rice had some really interesting things to say about our “eternal struggle between right and wrong.”

I hope you agree.

This eternal struggle between right and wrong is the identifying narrative of our time. Can change survive or will repression continue to get its way? For iconic author Anne Rice, exploring such themes has evolved into the hallmark of her current artistic life. With her latest novel, Of Love and Evil, Rice weighs in on the conflicts that continue to rage hard within us despite living in a modern age.

“What interests me is the war between good and evil inside each person,” Rice said, “and the capacity for good, and the way people fight to be good even when others are telling them to give up.”

Expressing any opinion on the meeting between faith and politics is grounds for certain damnation in today’s conservative media landscape. As regimes, democratic or otherwise, continue their desperate bid for control, the importance of love conquering evil will only increase. It comes down to a simple choice: Take a stand and voice your dissent. In the summer of 2010, Rice ignited a media firestorm when she announced she was excommunicating herself from the Catholic Church. It was a bold decision, one that garnered national headlines.

Later that year, Rice offered her own reflections on that turning point and more in a Personalities Interview via phone from her home in Rancho Mirage, CA. Conducted during her promotional tour for her latest novel in the Songs of the Seraphim series, Rice’s comments have taken on a timely resonance in light of the current political climate. Here’s more with Rice on where she chooses to stand in the battle between love and evil.

JORGE CARREON: Perhaps the most controversial F-word of late is “faith.” It is astounding how we have yet to reconcile the political nature of organized religions. You made a defiant statement to withdraw from the Catholic Church in 2010. How has that decision continue to reverberate for you today?

ANNE RICE: Well, I received thousands of emails in response to the news stories about that. I had no idea when I walked away that it was going to make news. I mean, I announced it on my Facebook page really to tell my readers that I was no longer part of organized religion, and I had no idea that it would be written about in the Washington Post, and there would be so many blog posts about it and so many stories. And thousands of emails did come in, and the vast majority was positive. They were all supportive. They were mostly from people who said that they, too, believed in God, and they too believed in Jesus Christ. But, they, too, did not go to church and would not go to church for various reasons. I found that just amazing. I did receive critical emails, very nasty, unpleasant emails from some people. And, many that simply invited me to a new kind of church that said, “Why don’t you come to the Unitarians? Why don’t you come to the Episcopalians? Why don’t you come to the United Church of Christ? We are inclusive. We accept gay people. We have married gay people. We have gay people who are clergy.” I was quite surprised at how positive the reaction was. I mean, it’s sad in a way. It’s very nice for people to support you in your decision, but it’s very sad that this many people are disillusioned with organized religion. They really feel let down by it, confused by it. And that’s the explanation why my statements struck a chord, because they struck a chord with people who felt the same way or had been hearing from people who felt the same way. It went on for about a month, stories and blogs and so forth. And I shared a lot of it with people on Facebook and got many more comments, and it was great. I can’t say I’m happy about it. I don’t think it’s a happy thing to walk away from Catholicism. It’s sad. I mean, you lose the group, you lose the rituals, and you lose the beauty. You lose all of that. And that had for 12 years been part of my life, just as it had for the first 18 years of my life. And it was very sad to once again step away and say “I can’t support this. I can’t believe it.” But I do feel liberated, and I feel that it was the only thing that I could do, and I guess I’m glad that I found the courage to do it, if courage is the right word.

CARREON: Do you believe religion may never relinquish its grip on global politics and our daily lives?

RICE: I never dreamed in the ‘60s or ‘70s or ‘80s that religion could be this much of our lives, that somebody during a presidential election would ask the candidates whether they believed in God or believed in evolution or believed in Creationism. I mean, I’m shocked that it became that important. I really believe in the separation of church and state. I think we had traditionally two different approaches to the law in Western culture. One approach is by reason. We reason with one another about the law and we evolve our laws based on reason. That’s what I believe in when it comes to politics and law. The other tradition is that law is revealed by a deity, and that one has to stand by those revelations. That’s what a great many religious Americans are trying to tell the rest of us, that the law is revealed and that we have to listen to them on the subject of revelations. I think it’s very dangerous. I think our country is founded on the principle that law is arrived at by reason. I think it’s dangerous, I think it’s bad, I think it’s alienated and upset many, many people, and it certainly contributed to why I walked away. I walked away from religion for theological reasons as much as social and political reasons, but it was all part of the picture. I mean, I simply could not support a religion that relentlessly persecutes gay people and women and children. I just won’t do it.

CARREON: Beauty can still be found in the message of faith. As you continue to write, that message looks to still play a huge part in the narratives you create.

RICE: It’s true.

CARREON: How do you reconcile the two halves of yourself, the narrative mind and your real self, so to speak?

RICE: I finished Of Love and Evil before I broke with the Church and a lot of what Toby (the novel’s lead protagonist) goes through in that book reflects what I was experiencing. He speaks of doubts, and fears, and how even though he’s seeing angels, even though he’s converted and he’s witnessed miracles, he still is subject to doubts and fears. That is something that I was coming to face, that the consolation you receive at the time of a conversion is not necessarily going to stay with you day in and day out. Doubt and fear are going to be part of your life and I was wrestling with it. I think when I get to the third book; I will be able to go into this ever more deeply. I feel a freedom to go into it ever more deeply.

CARREON: Love and evil are small words to look at, but they pack such extraordinary definitions. What do they mean for you?

RICE: Love, I think, can save the world. It can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. It is the greatest thing that we are capable of, love. And it can save every single person on the planet in some way, psychologically and socially. It can bring peace on Earth. Love is everything. Evil for me is largely what we’re capable of when we behave in a selfish and greedy and destructive and vicious way. And of course I know many people who are believers of a personified Devil. I’m not sure I do. I think that comes out in Of Love and Evil. There’s a real question as to whether there’s a personified Devil and I’m wrestling with that. Because that’s what evil and love mean to me. Evil means what we are capable of doing when we hurt other people, when we kill them, are violent to them and really harm them.

CARREON: Can atonement still exist in today’s culture?

RICE: Oh yes. Sure. Just go to an AA meeting. Go to an open meeting and listen to people from all over talking about how they’ve made amends with the people around them, how they’ve changed their lives, how they’ve made amends to children and spouses they’ve hurt. And of course, there’s atonement there. You know, the word atonement is a funny word. It means “at one meant.” So, if you think of it as strictly suffering to pay a debt, no. Maybe that’s something we now reject in the 21st century. We don’t think you have to suffer agony to pay a debt. We think you have to do something good about what you did. You have to change your ways. You know, you just don’t go off and suffer for how badly you treated your children. You re-approach your children and try to show them love.

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Anne Rice’s latest novel, Of Love and Evil is currently available from Knopf at Amazon.com and all other booksellers. And, yes. That regal vampire of a generation, Lestat, may be coming back to the big screen sooner than later. Rice confirmed that she is fielding renewed interest in her Vampire Chronicles books.

“I don’t have anything firm yet to announce,” Rice said. “I hope that there will be movies soon and I hope that they will be productions that are true to the spirit of Lestat’s personality. That’s what the readers really want when they see the name Anne Rice and the name Lestat.”

As to who she would like to see take over the fabled role?

“When the rumor came out last year that Robert Downey, Jr. might do it, I thought that was terrifically exciting,” Rice added. “He has such depth. And he has such a mischievous spirit. I could really see him being a great Lestat. But there are many, many other people who could do it.”

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“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

Why I’m proud to be a Mexi-can in Hollywood

Why I’m proud to be a Mexi-can in Hollywood

While we dissect the Trumpian phenomenon ushering in the era of Idiocracy in America, the New York Times published a stellar think-piece on the struggle for diversity in Hollywood. Written by Melena Ryzik, the article was a welcome respite from a news feed clogged with Trump’s latest example of “hoof in mouth” rantings. We are living in serious times and we need to keep our focus on the issues that are seriously undermining our identity and modern culture.

I know I am not alone in thinking that America still leads the world by example. Imagine our disappointment in knowing we are now the biggest reality show ever produced, where racism, ignorance, vulgar excess and rampant egoism has been given a platform — and worse — validation. I refuse to allow this Age of Idiocracy to take further root. We all bear a responsibility to not just elevate the whole of society, not our specialized interest groups. That is why Ryzik’s article resonated so strongly with me. We ALL need to take the country back.

I can only speak from my small corner of the entertainment industry, but it is a powerful group with which to be associated. We are the ones charged with creating the narratives for the general public to enjoy. What we project on screen has impact and can shape popular thought. If we are to beat Trump at his own game, then we need to educate everyone as to why we need the media to curate a national image that is representative of the nation as a whole. As it stands, we are still woefully deficient in having the infrastructure to even contemplate such a shift in image. As Ryzik’s writes in her lead:

The statistics are unequivocal: Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. Here, 27 industry players reveal the stories behind the numbers — their personal experiences of not feeling seen, heard or accepted, and how they pushed forward. In Hollywood, exclusion goes far beyond#OscarsSoWhite.

Reading this article was empowering and frustrating at the same time. Frustrating because eliminating the racial/gender bias of Hollywood is still like chipping away at an endless wall of concrete.

I still have people assume I don’t speak English at junkets based on my name. Sometimes, these same people will address me in a slower or louder tone, even AFTER I’ve already spoken to them in what I think is a very educated, American English voice. Or, I’m referred to as “Jose” or “Javier,” even in a city like LA. I guess being “Jorge” is the most foreign name ever.

For a time, I would only be considered the “best” choice for certain projects because these films had an “ethnic” theme. It was a lot harder to get the “event” or “mainstream” films. That isn’t the case anymore. But it took the support and encouragement of a handful of studio executives that were my bosses in publicity to make this happen. They saw beyond my ethnicity and realized that I had a unique perspective as an interviewer that wasn’t just dictated by gender, orientation or cultural background.

Today, I can safely say I’ve interviewed some of the best and best-known figures in entertainment, as well as cultural and political figures that have shaped our modern world. (Take that, Oprah and Charlie Rose.) Few Latino (and even fewer bilingual) producer/interviewers exist in the studio content industry. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I think the advent of social media will refine this reality.

It is important to recognize the roles we all play in proving why the “norm” is not acceptable. As long as we continue to encourage and be part of the dialogue, we will be the designers of the solution, too. More, we need to encourage future generations that they have every right to dictate the narratives realized on screen. We need to inculcate in our children that they have no reason to fear not being seen, heard or accepted within industries like entertainment and media. Their face is the face of the new America.

No matter what Trump says, we don’t need any new walls. If anything, we need to bring them all down and end this Age of Idiocracy before it destroys the very things that make this country great.

Click the link below to read Ryzik’s article now: