Generic: Alicia Keys (2008)

Generic: Alicia Keys (2008)

I spent quite a bit of time on the set of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s poignant adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s best selling novel, “The Secret Life of Boys.” Given the task to produce the behind the scenes footage and content for this high profile project was both enviable and fulfilling. Impeccably cast with such luminaries as Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, and Dakota Fanning, I sat down with all of these formidable talents on set on some cold and rainy days in Wilmington, North Carolina in 2007, later following up with them at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.

I’ll never forget that beautifully designed pink house, the centerpiece of Monk Kidd’s historical novel chronicling the life of a young white girl on the cusp of womanhood and the effect her housekeeper, and especially, a family of three beekeeping sisters have on her life. Projected against the canvas of the Civil Rights era in the Amercian South, the layers on which the narrative is told still resonate today, perhaps even more so. 

The interviews with the cast had to encompass a dialogue on racial and gender equality, a conversation that has lost none of its power or importance today. At the time of principal photography, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were both seeking the Democratic Nomination for president. It was a time of great hope and wonder, at seeing history happen before our very eyes. It was an inspiring force, particularly for the cast who were essaying roles set in an era of great pain and suffering in a war for societal change. 

Grammy winner Alicia Keys was at the peak of her popularity when she signed on to star in “The Secret Life of Bees” in 2007. Still a vocal activist and philanthropist today, I chose this interview as the second installment of “Generic” as a means to bridge our conversation in 2008 with today’s dialogue on fighting to protect and promote gender and racial equality. Keys has not given up the fight in 2017, as heard through her artistry and public appearances. Neither should any of you.

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Alicia Keys as featured on Season 12 of the NBC music competition series, “The Voice.”

The Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto
September 8, 2008

Few recording artists today have the incredible staying – and selling — power like that of Alicia Keys.

Instantly setting herself apart from her rump-shaking contemporaries upon her 2001 debut, Keys’ smooth blend of old school soul and rhythm & blues continues to court global favor. With 11 Grammy awards on her shelf, as well as more than 20 million albums sold worldwide, the musical life of Ms. Keys is without compare. So, why the eagerness to extend her artistic reach into acting where so many others have been met with deaf ears? The answers were direct and simple.

Performance for Keys comes from the same place and she is more than up for the challenge of voicing new words without music. However, what matters for this artistic hyphenate – which continues to extend with new titles – is that what she is saying is something of worth. And in 2008, Keys proved she had quite a bit to say through several mediums, beginning with her most challenging motion picture effort to date, an acclaimed role in the hit screen adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Secret Life of Bees.”

Citing the novel as one of her favorite books, Keys was eager to portray “June Boatwright,” the strong protector of a trio of beekeeping sisters living in 1960s era rural American south. What drew Keys to the project was that the character of “June” more than understands the racial strife of the outside world and its threat to the idyllic Eden of her family home. It is no coincidence that the character’s ability to express a softer emotion is through playing the cello, something Keys, already trained musician in her own right, sought to learn to give realism to the role. It is a scene-stealing performance, in spite of formidable work from co-stars Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Hudson. Yet, it was the experience of making her third film, in advance of the most historic moment in African-American history that offered Keys the most gratifying and educational experience of her career.

In discussing this latest chapter in her life, the 27-year-old native New Yorker proved as passionate and focused as she sounds in such hits as “No One” and “Fallin’.” Those smoky tones are no studio-enhanced trick, something I commented to her during our chat at the Toronto Film Festival for “The Secret Life of Bees” earlier in September. Shamelessly, I said it was a “drop-drawers” kind of voice. I got a flash of that amazing smile and a husky laugh.

It is encouraging to know that film will continue a role in her life, whether on screen or by contributing music. In addition to “Doncha Know (Sky is Blue), the end credits song from “The Secret Life of Bees,” Keys can also be heard with Jack White (of The White Stripes) tearing through “Another Way to Die,” the theme to the new James Bond film “Quantum of Solace.” Even with just being nominated for a few more Grammy Awards for several tracks off her recent “As I Am” album, art will have to share space with her most serious endeavor, working tirelessly as a global ambassador for Keep A Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides life-saving AIDS medicines directly to children and families living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Yes, this Julliard-trained hyphenate knows no bounds this year, one of the 2008’s most important personalities.

Without further delay, a confession that is truly in the key of Alicia.

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(L-R) Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Tristan Wilds, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Nate Parker from the film “The Secret Life Of Bees”, pose for a portrait during the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival at The Sutton Place Hotel on September 6, 2008 in Toronto, Canada.

JORGE CARREON: It can be said that each of the woman in “The Secret Life of Bees” represents a different facet of what it is to be a woman. Would you agree with that?

ALICIA KEYS: I would. I really do see the many variations of beautiful women in this film. They come in all styles, shapes, sizes, colors and all types of pasts; things that we’re recovering from and going through and embracing. So I do agree.

CARREON: Regardless of the film’s time frame and issues, is it really hard to be a woman?

KEYS: I think it is. It’s the most beautiful thing to be on the planet, so that’s first. But secondly, it is difficult to be a woman because we carry a lot on our shoulders and we are very, very strong. Sometimes we make it look really easy, but it’s not always easy. I think another thing we do as women is we hold things inside of us because we have to keep on pushing and keep going. Keep going for our family, our kids, for the ones that we love, you know? Sometimes that does weigh heavily on us. But I think that we are the most resilient and we are definitely just beautiful creatures. I love being a woman. I love it very much.

CARREON: Do you think such gender driven a story like “The Secret Life of Bees” has a place in contemporary entertainment that extends beyond a female audience?

KEYS: There are so many wonderful women in the world and we have to be represented properly. So, yes! It is time to tell more interesting stories about the many variations of women.

CARREON: Men are thinking, “How does this relate to me?”

KEYS: I think ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ is something that will relate to a lot of men. In fact, all the men that I spoke to were like, “I’ll tell you what. I thought it was a ‘chick flick,’ but I really loved it.” They can see in the women their mothers, their sisters, lovers they know. They can see all the women that they know and they can see their own experience being a young person displaced and trying to find their way through it all. It’s not really about color and it’s not about gender. It’s about the experience of finding your place in this world and I think that’s something that everyone can relate to. It’s a story about the human condition. We can all relate to love, family, defeat, and fear. And, we can all relate inspiration, hope, and faith. These are all the themes that are inside the movie.

CARREON As you continue to evolve as an artist, what made this filmmaking experience important to you?

KEYS: This experience is what I expected it to be and more! I learned that it’s just incredible to be around such fascinating women. I learned that it’s amazing to be directed by a woman like Gina (Prince-Bythewood), who was the screenwriter as well. I learned that when you put a whole lot of great women in one space, it’s a wonderful outcome.

CARREON: Faith continues to be a buzzword in the media of late. It seems entertainment is not shying away from addressing such themes, either. Why do you think faith and family have to go hand in hand?

KEYS: Faith brings the family together. And through all of the things that families go through, it’s the faith that we keep that allows us to know that we’ll make it through everything. You can’t do it on your own, even if it’s just one person; you need someone that has that faith with you.

CARREON: Do you find yourself thinking about your life’s journey after being part of a project like a film as opposed to music?

KEYS: Very much so. Always. Especially now, I am definitely searching for my place, my stability, what I’d like for myself. It’s a good journey because sometimes I just dig and find and figure it out. That’s what I think they’ve all done in “The Secret Life of Bees” and I’m doing it, too.

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Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

CARREON: Is there any coincidence that three of the film’s leads are actually musicians in their own right?

ALICIA KEYS: No! (Laughs)

CARREON: As your career continues to evolve, do you feel different about music and acting in a movie? Is it exercising the same muscle or is it nice to switch it up a little bit?

KEYS: Well, for me, acting and music do come from the same muscle in regards to tapping into something that’s honest and pure. You’re expressing it with abandonment, and in that way, it’s very much the same. The difference is, obviously, you are in a film. You’re becoming a different person from yourself, so you’re expressing another person’s story. With music, I’m expressing my story but it’s so similar because you’re empathetic, you understand it and you can connect. What I find about “June,” I can connect with every part of her. I understand her from a woman’s perspective, from a transitional perspective, from growing from one kind of part of your self into the next. There’s so much of me in her.

CARREON: “Bees” director/writer Gina Prince-Bythewood gave the cast an amazing amount of resources to feel connected to the period of the film. Why is it important then, Alicia, to continue to look back to honor the struggles of one time and how they parallel to our own contemporary experience?

KEYS: That’s something that we discussed a lot. Gina has been phenomenal in providing us with a multitude of ways to dig out who our characters are and where they sit amongst society and what’s happening in the society at this time. The NAACP and SNCC and all of these organizations that were coming up were really fighting powerfully for a major change with the opportunity for Black people to be able to vote. It’s an incredible history. Sometimes we go on in life and don’t realize the amount of struggle that it took to just get to the point of where we are. You know how many people say, “Oh, I’m not voting, it’s rigged anyway.” How many people struggled, fought and died for that and you take it for granted as if it’s not important to utilize your voice when that’s all we wanted? To have a voice? It’s important to remember and understand things like that. To understand where we have come from and to realize that we, honestly, haven’t even come that far, which is the sad part. You know what I mean? Because you think about the state of the world today and I think about where we are in this film, and it’s almost parallel. Major change, radical change, much struggle and fighting needed to just demand something different.

CARREON: The film offers your first of two new songs bearing your voice this year. What was the inspiration for the song featured in “The Secret Life of Bees?”

KEYS: I love the song in the film and it really represents it perfectly. Just the fact that sometimes you might feel down, you might feel like the world is on your shoulders, but have a little faith in you because the sky is blue.

** My interview with Alicia Keys was conducted on September 8, 2008, at the Toronto Film Festival for 20th Century Fox International. It has been edited from the original transcript.

“The End”

“The End”

“The American people are turning sullen. They’ve been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they’ve turned off, shot up, and they’ve fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps. So, this concept analysis report concludes, ‘The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them.'”

Diana Christensen (as written by Paddy Chayefsky) in “Network” (1976)

“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path”

— As Tweeted by Donald Trump, “President” of the United States (2017)

 

11/20/1983

“It seems fitting to begin with the end.”

That’s how journalist Harry F. Waters’s cover story on “The Day After” for Newsweek began. I’ll never forget reading that piece, nor that opening line. The publicity machine over at the ABC network had been working overtime. TV Guide featured its own cover story and countless news reports added further momentum, worrying that the highly publicized telefilm’s depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear war on midwestern Americans would be too graphic and devastating for audiences, especially children. Others declared it was merely a leftist polemic for ratings. Yet, ABC did detonate one of the most watched television events ever with “The Day After,” a three-hour telefilm that answered of the ultimate “What if?” question. And more than 100 million people in 39 million homes tuned in one November night in 1983 to find out the answer.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer and featuring an ensemble led by such era heavyweights as Jason Robards, John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams, Amy Madigan & John Cullum, “The Day After” was actually conceived as a two-part event. In the end, audiences would witness a three-hour film chronicling the lives of several Kansas families as they deal with the horrific aftermath of a nuclear exchange.

Whatever its technical limitations, the irradiated images of blast vaporization, flash burns, radiation sickness and the futility of restoring even the most basic of societal structures burned into the consciousness of a generation. President Ronald Reagan, who viewed the film prior to its airing, credits the experience as being the reason why he reversed his stance on certain nuclear arms policies.  (Reagan wrote in his diaries how the film was “very effective” and left him “greatly depressed.”)

Broadcasting a political statement as “entertainment” into the nation’s living rooms remains its hallmark. It was polarizing, but we had to watch, my family included. I recall how we sat in the den, my Dad, my sisters, and I. Mom or my younger brother weren’t present. Maybe, maybe not? What I do recall was sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa and whispering, “Here we go” as the movie began. And our collective nuclear fears hit an unforgettable peak for the rest of the decade.

And we are still here.

In the 34 years since “The Day After,” we’ve seen and heard elected officials, dictators, religious zealots, grandstanding fringe media show hosts and a rogue’s gallery of other malcontents wax lyrical about warmongering. Then America elected Donald Trump.

Flannel shirts. Will & Grace. Roseanne. David Letterman. Fiorucci. Nuclear war! Sooner or later, everything comes back in vogue. Even the end of the world. Or maybe that prospect has never left us?

To those who know me, I am obsessed with apocalyptic fiction. I don’t know where it began, but movies, novels, mini-series, I loved the idea of “the end.” Hell, I even read the endings of books and hit Wikipedia to see how other narratives end. Haha. So, “When Harry Met Sally,” yo.  I still joke that such eccentricities were preparing me for the inevitable. I’ve written about this before, stating that I watch films like “The Day After,” “Threads,” and “Special Bulletin” because no matter what we go through today, it still isn’t a nuclear wasteland.

I guess the jokes on us? Maybe?

 

Seriously, Trump is the quintessential rebound boyfriend, the one that is a huge swing away from the one who treated you well, but you broke up with anyway. He’s that loud mouthed douche who talks a lot of shit but can’t back any of it up. He’s the surprise date your friend brings to dinner and you all wonder, “The sex can’t be THAT good. Why is he with him?” At best, he’ll leave you with a case of crabs, but that can be treated. At worst, he’ll leave you with a scorching case of the uncurable herp. And let’s face it, America,  you can’t afford to be left with another social disease transmitted through “fake news” or abject hatred. Bad enough we don’t have the healthcare reform to treat it.

For those of you who lived through the Reagan era, the idea of witnessing a nuclear war was solid enough to kick start the low sweat stage in us all. Yet, how lucky to know we survived to see Trump engage in social media saber (i.e. penis) rattling. Now, I ponder whether “the end” as entertainment is no longer just a scary scenario. Can it manifest itself this time? And what does that mean for us all? It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine after all.

At times, I wonder if we are better of being dust in the atmosphere, given what we’ve done to ourselves and our planet. Then again, I’m not ready for “The End.” I refuse to give up on my right to dream of a good boy or girlfriend, the one who makes us all think and laugh at the dinner table, the one who believes in justice for all. Let all the haters ride the bomb to oblivion. We can’t allow for stupidity to have its way again.

“Erma”

“Erma”

It’s been another week to upchuck thanks to the now even lower set of public standards established by our “president.” Defended by his equally inept minions as “fighting fire with fire” over media criticism, we are forced to bear witness to the tweeted verbal diarrhea of a school yard bully. Morning show hosts are being called out as “psycho” or “ugly.” He’s approving clips of his taking down the CNN logo like a WWF star. It’s all being done to overshadow a travel bans, dangerous health care laws and other exhibitions of governmental malfeasance now threatening the stability of the country. Hell, let’s make it the world. After years of “scripted” reality shows, we are keep tuning in on “That Crazy Trump!” because so many Americans can’t tell the difference anymore. Besides, it’s so entertaining! He’s keeping it real! He’s giving it to the Left, finally!

Yeah, he’s giving it to us, alright. However, one key difference must be recognized. We are ALL going to wake up with a scorching case of moral herpes. America will be that person other people whisper to you about NEVER dating because “they’re whores.” We are exactly that, whores. Trading our sanity and moral compass for the promise of something, white, rich and devoid of anything that sounds/looks like Barack Obama.

Many people turned to the Trumpian Way because they wanted to go back to the “old days” of when America was great. One of the sadder realities about such sentiments is that Trump does not represent what made this country such a beacon of hope to many. We know that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia will fight to the end before leaving their places at the table. It is why many have taken up the mantle of resistance for generations. However, this era on “notice me” and “I want it now” has overtaken the important of virtues of shame, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusivity. More, it is robbing us of the one thing that could bind us to see our way through it: a sense of humor.

The era of “snark and awe” punditry has obfuscated the role of the news person represented by Chet Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. The columnist and humorist is no less present, either, replaced by bloggers, vloggers and YouTube “personalities,” fueled by a cynical and arch tone aimed at showing how stupid everything and everyone can be today. It is the equivalent of graffiti with punctuation, offering little analysis and said as loudly as possible. All that matters are that these posts make an “impression.”

Making an impression.

Before, it meant impressing the group as they met you for the first time. Now? Social media marketing execs with crow about millions of impressions, but they cannot accurately gauge if it goes beyond just “looking” at the post. Does the audience engage with it beyond just blithely sharing it with their friends? Does it provoke them into acting? Of buying? Of contributing to the cause? Of any of the interactions we did not take for granted decades earlier?

The American columnist once carried such power, a power on par with reach and impact of Twitter today. From Andy Rooney to Ann Landers, from Louella Parsons to Hedda Hopper & Rona Barrett, and from Walter Winchell to Frank Rich, Americans read, listened and watched their way to understanding the political, social, cultural and gossipy effluvia of the growing celebrity age. They could turn the tide on national opinion and they gave it context beyond 140 characters or less. Sure, some of them appealed to the lowest common denominator. William Randolph Hearst makes Steve Bannon look like sloppy kid reporter with pizza stains on his chin. But we had a choice. We had options that catered to something classier. One stood above the fray, whose columns were about our shared humanity in a crazy world, all written to make us feel like we weren’t alone in our flawed beauty. And it made us smile, cry and laugh. Sometimes all at once. We had Erma. Erma Louise Bombeck of Dayton, Ohio.

Friends, she was a wise one. Clever, authentic, and funny AF. It was hella fun playing “Beat the Clock” during those elementary school mornings, the ones where she’d appear on Good Morning America right before the end of the final hour. My mom, who loved Auntie Erm as much as I did, would listen and laugh and then sweep us all out the door to our faithful aqua Beetle and haul ass to South Ranchito. She was so worth the tardy slip.

The inimitable Erma Bombeck, one of the most beloved American humorists of the 20th century. Her “At Wit’s End” nationally syndicated column appeared three times a week in 900 newspapers worldwide, earning a weekly readership of 31 million people at its peak. Bombeck’s columns, books and morning show appearances seduced a legion of fans comprised of women, men and even precocious kids like me. So beloved was she to her readers, it was like she was that Auntie Mame-like tía you couldn’t wait to see on family visits. No one exists like that today, a lost generation replaced by Kris Jenner and Kim K., who are now the criteria to be declared “New York Times Best Selling” writers in this era of Selfie Life as Style.

“They never lost their temper, gained weight, spent more money than their husbands made, or gave viewers any reason not to believe they were living out their lives in celibacy. 

Their collective virtue was patience.  

It was the age of the God, Motherhood, Flag, and Apple Pie. All you had to do to be a mother was to put on an apron. No one did it better than the prime-time mothers. I was of the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-mothers.” – From Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983

Unfortunately, life after Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson and Carol Brady has been a trauma that will never be solved with a warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie and a hug. Aunt Erma was that voice of sanity in the chaos faced by the country in the 1970s and 1980s. While many fought for equality at home and in the workplace, people were still becoming parents and struggling with the many realities that plagued every new mom and dad. Erma was in the trenches with them, offering up a much-needed laugh in the face of what seemed insurmountable. She spoke to us, about us and it gave many of us a sense of security in knowing we were not alone in the changing tide of family dynamics.

Given our current state of angry racial, gender and cultural politics, a new generation may fault the writings of Bombeck as a dusty reflection of that suburban, white reality. Isn’t that what Trump’s legion of “fans” fighting to restore? But here’s the rub. It was never lost, just remixed by the inevitable forward motion of other groups in the land of plenty. Latinos, African Americans, Asians, all groups aspired and succeeded in reinventing the suburban experience in their own image. Struggling through oppression is not the only narrative we can contribute anymore! We have more to offer tales from life on the house on Mango Street or pen the umpteenth take on the “last mama on the couch” play, too.

The impact of Bombeck’s writing was a needed respite, especially after the upheaval of the 1970s. The 1980s were no easier thanks to the barrage of the Phil Donahue/Gail Sheehy/Self-Help Guru/You Can Have It All narratives that we started to ingest. We need a little Bombeck-style love again. We need someone who can write about the themes that are continuing to happen at a breakneck speed, despite the ugly that has exploded forth with Trump.

We continue to be new parents.

We continue to raise children.

We continue to be children.

We continue to see children as parents.

The grass is still greener over the septic tank.

We are still thinking if life is a bowl of cherries, while are we STILL in the pits?

We need a new Aunt Erma’s help to cope.

I say resist the snark and awe. Enough of the screaming. Enough of the blaming or bullying total strangers. No more extoling the virtues of sex tapes, reality stars, impressions and followers. We need to stop thinking our best means of curating an authentic life are those posts that disappear in 24 hours. We need to speak up and share our best insights and humorous outlooks at life today. We need to share those stories when we hear our kids refer to spaghetti as “gasphetti.”

Whatever our political sensibilities, we do share one common reality: we are such flawed human beings. Bombeck wasn’t shy to offer keen insight into her own less than perfect reality, which was a welcome breath of the authentic. As wrote about her family in “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…”:

“I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing of your basic screw-up family.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with?”

We are all enduring the pain of an era we can’t seem to fathom on the daily. Maybe it’s time to take a breath and look beyond the 140 characters. Maybe it’s time for us to champion voices that lead us to feel it all a la Bombeck again.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s time for some tío Jorge realness in our lives? Who’s with me?

“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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“Why I write…” — #uncagedbird

I’ve been asked why I write, in particular, why write about the personal aspects of my life. A friend joked that whenever I reach an emotional peak, I run to “journal myself to tears.”

Yeah, she has a point.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. Perhaps it is in keeping with the vanity of the our time, where the “selfie” has become our dominant narrative.

But, what’s a picture without a context? I write to question what’s happening to us on the daily. I write because I feel a need to understand why I do what I do? I write because I don’t want to feel invisible.

And I write, because, as Maya Angelou said to the world in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Tuesday, December 9. 

“In the broken promise land of 30…” — #glassboxofemotion

“In the broken promise land of 30…” — #glassboxofemotion

“Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece”
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

This is one blog entry I have not been able to leave well enough alone. While its theme has remained intact, I keep refining what was originally written at a peak setting of emotion. Some phrases just sounded trite. Others seemed full of contempt against the gent that inspired this post. It didn’t seem fair because I wasn’t hurt by him. He didn’t do anything. But I think I can walk away from it now.

It wasn’t anger that motivated me to offer this post-mortem on the events of the last few weeks. It was a desire to understand why someone, who exhibited such fire, would just snuff it out without warning or reason. Honestly, this is a real first in my dating life, which made it an ideal topic to explore in these pages. I know I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.

So, here goes…

Since ending it with my Ex over four years ago, I’ve tried to evolve myself into being a latter day Jack Tripper. You know, enjoying the company of a different guy every week. Regular drinks at the Regal Beagle, i.e. the Eagle. Never wanting to settle down, never allowing myself to be someone’s “catch.” I wanted to be single and ready to mingle! I wanted to be living life as a paragon of unbridled, but safe, sexuality. It would be oh-so perfect except for one minor thing.

I’m the version of Jack Tripper that does want to get caught.

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Dating in your 40s in L.A. is sure as hell not for pussies. I still have yet to master the art of being detached and cool when it comes to reading the signals from the other guy. But man, it’s like I’m dyslexic. I always seem to get it wrong. Although, I’d be curious to see if anyone would have read this situation any different.

When we first met, the connection between us was surprisingly tangible. It was immediate, visceral and pretty fucking hot. He possessed humor, vitality, introspection and optimism. It was a high, to be honest. I couldn’t wait to kiss him again because it was THAT GOOD. Hell, I’ve stumbled through enough situations with blind faith. His brand of shock was something that woke me up. We had great banter. We spoke with honesty and humor. At the very least, it was the start of a new friendship

Then, after a night at the movies, I told him, “Dammit. I am starting to like you.”

Cue the crowd going, “Awww, dude! You blew it!”

Yeah, you could practically hear the tables turn ever so slightly. Things dropped a few degrees, nothing worth causing a commotion. Yet, in the back of my head, I knew I stepped into it. My chronic case of verbal diarrhea flared right up. I thought I kept in check with some mental Imodium, but maybe not.

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We went out one more time. Another movie. (Ironically, it was “The Theory of Everything.” I think Stephen Hawking’s theories are easier to figure out than dating in L.A.!) Another hand holding session during the movie. Another late night meal, where we got to know each other a bit more. Another great kissing session at the end, albeit not as crazy as the first few times. Still, I walked away mollified. My explanation of “my liking him” meant “I’m glad we’re not treating each other like pieces of meat.” It was designed to clear up any trace of “hold on, pal. I ain’t into you that way.”

But there was some truth to it. I genuinely liked being with this gent…as a person. When he dropped the question, “Real talk. What’s your expectation?” I honestly didn’t have any. I was thinking only of how exciting the day turned out. If anything, it would have been great if we only decided to keep up the line of dialogue because it was interesting. He was interesting. I’ll be darned if he didn’t epitomize cool. He was smart, witty and held a great passion for filmed arts. I have enough friends, that’s true. But, I also know that you want to be around people like this when they make their presence known. If anything, he was an exciting new ingredient to introduce to a recipe that could stand a remix.

Most people hold fast to the truth that you don’t always reveal every thought to someone you just meant. But how else are you supposed to get to know a person unless you reach out and touch someone? There was no barrage of texts or urgent demands as to when we’d see each again. I gave him space, because everyone has a life, right? It was hard not to get excited, though. Excited can be desirable. Desperate is not.

I got a few good morning texts, a few other exchanges. Then…total silence. Mr. Excitement had evaporated in less than a week. Now I’m left wondering, “What the hell happened?”

Was there was a family emergency? Did he lose his phone and can’t restore his contact info? Perhaps he met someone better suited for him? Maybe he wasn’t single after all? Maybe he got scared or scared off? Maybe he really did just want a hook up? Maybe my id was too fuckin’ apparent? Maybe he got some really bad advice from friends, telling him to slow the F down? Did I reach out too much? Am I just too old or not daddy enough? Or maybe, as the saying goes, “He’s just NOT that into you!” Hahaha. (Fuck you, SATC. This is real life!)

Meh. What’s the point of speculating at all? Even if guys do the gentlemanly thing to offer an explanation, it never arrives as a satisfying answer. Silence is never golden, but it sure speaks volumes.

This all makes me feel so freakin’ stupid. Writing this as a blog entry is probably a little too Taylor Swift for its own good. But, I hold fast to the rule of “writing what I know” and he did inspire two entries already. The upside is he encouraged me to stop this Eeyore Syndrome for a moment. He woke me up, which was such a nice feeling.

Again, I learned a long time ago that expectations mean disappointments. Is it wrong to feel a bolt of good had creeped after so much chaos within myself and my family these last few months? It was that thrill of being reckless, of being unshackled from the norm that made me feel a sense of hope. It wasn’t my heart that was stirred. I am still a long ways of giving that up to anyone just yet. It was proof that my libido was alive and kicking again.

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By now, I am sure some of your are wondering why the “Lolita” reference. No, he wasn’t 15. (Sigh of relief, huh?) But, he was 30, not my first time at this particular demo rodeo, either. Know that it doesn’t really matter the age group. A variation of this fade out happened earlier this year with someone who was approaching 50. Sometimes I think I’lm naive enough to be 15 when it comes to this bullshit.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, he’s 30, what else did you expect? Why aren’t you meeting people your own age?” For the record, it isn’t their age that compels me. It is more a person’s attitude, their enthusiasm for life and living that I seek. That, along with a great smile and the means to communicate, whether through humor or intellect, are essential. Bonus points if he creates art or harbors a desire to express himself in an artistic medium. Surprise. They ain’t easy to find, folks. But, on paper, he was that kind of gent.

To be frank, I don’t understand this era of gay men at all. Although, I don’t think I’ve ever really had much of a grasp in the first place. Today, it’s like we’ve all failed to understand the meaning of consequences. Is it possible that most of us think emotions have a kill switch like some video game? No one seems to care if or when it’s triggered. Is it possible too many men have seen nothing but broken when it comes to relationships so we’ve evolved into thinking pairing off is simply not normal or worth it?

Yet, why will some men still try to exhibit behavior like wanting to hold your hand? Why do they bother to look deep into your eyes in the heat of being intimate? Is it an awkward bid to experience that human connection that keeps us all from going mad? Once that carnal lust is sated, a lot of us act as if nothing happened. Time goes by and then our desire builds to that fever pitch again.

We reach back out to Scruff, Growl’r or whatev’r and we scroll search to engage again with someone new. It’s like that old saying, “The only way to get over one man is to get under another one!” Hahaha. Yeah, I’m guilty of it, too. Maybe this time I forgot how it feels when they are the ones seeking a one-time connection with no option for renewal?

Ergo, the glass box of emotion.

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Okay, so this is more a rant and less a confession. I guess I let him hit the two buttons that are my hottest ones. Yet, if it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else doing me the honors. You can only take so much of the same bullshit pattern of failure before you decide to raise your voice with the aid of your laptop keys.

Despite my overthought sense of frustration and disappointment, I really don’t fault him for anything. (And if he reads this, I hope he knows I harbor no ill feelings.) In fact, I’m actually glad it happened, this moment, one of many in the unfinished masterpiece that is life. (Thank you, Mr. Nabokov.) What I experienced with him helped me better define the type of gent that could be the catalyst for me connect with in a way that lasts. (I guess I do have a type, after all. He was definitely in that zone. Maybe this means I am getting closer?)

Who knows how many more times I’m going to be walking after midnight on this search? But, sooner or later, that clock is gonna strike with someone in my favor. Right?

Right.

Tuesday, December 2. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA

“When it rains in Los Angeles…” — #eecummings

“When it rains in Los Angeles…” — #eecummings

I love it when it rains in this city of angels.

Sadly, those moments have been far and few for quite some time now. Yet, when it does happen, the effects are inspiring. It is that cleansing of the air, the prospect of making things grow, of giving life a chance to restore itself.

This period of drought is a metaphor for much of what the world feels right now. We are suffocating in this arid landscape, allowing our own frantic lives to take root, but refusing to let positive things bloom. Yet, nature has a way of making its power known in the rain. This liquid state of hope is a sign that what was once desert can be transformed. What was once lost will be found.

Woody Allen featured a stanza of a poem by e.e. cummings in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which remains one of my favorite films. His script made use of this phrase, “not even the rain, has such small hands.” The yearning of this poem and its use in a voiced over moment punctuating a scene between Michael Caine and Barbara Hershey has stuck with me for years. It is so easy to think you’re closed off in this world, safer, to be frank. Yet the prospect of the new, that downpour of yearning, is a marvel to behold.

Last night’s rain brought cummings back to me, but not to reinforce a romantic ideal. No. That voice of positive I nurtured in Spain renewed itself, if only for a momenet. We do have the power within ourselves to open our own hearts and imaginations to create a better sense of self, to engage in a greater purpose in this world. It really is a miracle when it happens.

Just like the rain in L.A.

“somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot tough because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain, has such small hands.” — e.e. cummings

From Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters”

Friday, November 21. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor.

“The Tale of My City” — #istand

“The Tale of My City” — #istand

“You’re not going to lose him this time. He’s a part of you forever,” said Mrs. Madrigal to a heartbroken Michael Tolliver in Armistead Maupin’s “Babycakes.”

How I loved the Tales of the City books. In some way, Maupin’s chronicle of 1970s to late 80s San Francisco and the denizens of Barbary Lane felt like a primer to the gay life I was trying to nurture in the 1990s. I identified at first with Mary Ann Singleton, that ambitious career gal from Cleveland who was so intent on reinventing herself. It made sense to me, a 20-something from Pico Rivera making inroads as a publicist and future MediaJor. But now I see myself as early Michael Tolliver, the one who wanted love so hard it hurt. Yet, he always got right back out into the dating fray. After all, tomorrow was another day! But so much was to change.

In the years since the start of the AIDS wars, HIV is no longer an immediate death sentence and being gay is no longer just a poignant coming out story told once a year. Gay is part of our national dialogue, a new frontier of the civil rights movement. Marriage and parenting stand right and center with acceptance and tolerance. We see progress, backlash and an uncertain future as gay will not live behind a stone wall anymore. It’s an extraordinary time for many of us. Yet, I fear we are no closer to finding happiness within ourselves. I think we punish ourselves in so many ways. I sometimes think we are our own worst enemy, taking on so many negative isms, particularly in how we look, who we fuck, who we love.

Sigh.

It doesn’t matter. Because I can’t stay in this place anymore. Like Michael Tolliver, I fumbled some nice attempts at being in a nurturing and caring relationship. Mouse, as he is referred to by his best pals in the books, never stayed down for long. Well, once, after his cherished Jon Fielding is claimed in the early part of the AIDS crisis. But Mouse finds his direction again and learns to not let the scars of the past paralyze him. I admire his strength so much.  And I admire the power of Maupin’s own romantically charged realism. What I have forgotten was one of the essential lessons of his books: Being gay doesn’t mean being a victim.

For too many months now, I’ve been allowing myself to exhibit the worst of victim mentality. I gave up so fast once I got back from Spain. I’ve returned to wallowing in that same swamp of depression, building a new fortress around myself again. The weight of this misdirected emotion is starting to drag me under all over again. The heaviness of this mindset is like wearing concrete shoes. It’s the Eeyore Syndrome all over.

At some point, we have to acknowledge the sensation of hitting the bottom of the abyss. It is an all too familiar place for me. I’ve made this trip before, man. So many times now, I can use my miles and still have enough left over to return a few more times. With upgrades, too.

My heart can’t take much more of this. My brain is constantly screaming at me to man up, that it is time to simply not give a fuck. John advised me that since he turned 50, he wakes up each morning making a list of things he simply won’t give a fuck about that day.

Well, John. That day has arrived. My list is my own, of course. However, I offer these lyrics to one of my favorite tracks recorded by Idina Menzel, which speak so much about the frame of mind I am in right now.

My ex Tucker and I always debated about what mattered most about a song. He said the music revealed more than the words. I countered that the music’s emotionality didn’t exist without the lyrics to guide the way. We were the embodiment of that debate. He saved his best self for his music and I continue to write down what I feel needs to be said at the peak of emotion. I often wonder what we would have sounded like if we dared to collaborate on a song. If we ever did let that happen, I would hope that it would sound like “I Stand.”

Because, after all these years of carrying around this guilt and disappointment, I can’t believe I haven’t allowed myself the freedom to believe that I can stand on my own two feet. So much has been lost this year, reminding me of how fleeting life can be. We will be up. We will be down. But we are never out.

I know he won’t save me. I have to save me. And no, moving on doesn’t mean I’ve “lost” him. He’s always going to be a part of me.

Whoever comes my way next, like Menzel and Ballard write, I, too, will live for that perfect day. And I am going to keep loving until it hurts like crazy. I have to recognize that the past is just that, the past. The present is not so bad. The future? Well, ask me tomorrow.

But I know I will be standing.

Tuesday, November 11. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA.


“I Stand” by Idina Menzel & Glen Ballard

“When you asked me, who I am
What is my vision? Do I have a plan?
Where is my strength? Have I nothing to say?
I hear the words in my head but I push them away

As I stand for the power to change
I live for the perfect day
I love till it hurts like crazy
I hope for a hero to save me

I stand for the strange and lonely
I believe theres a better place
I dont know if the sky is heaven
But I pray anyway

And I don’t know what tomorrow brings
A road less traveled, will it set us free?
‘Cause we’re taking it slow, these tiny legacies
I dont try and change the world
But what will you make of me?

As I stand for the power to change
I live for the perfect day
I love till it hurts like crazy
I hope for a hero to save me

I stand for the strange and lonely
I believe there’s a better place
I dont know if the sky is heaven
But I pray anyway

With the slightest of breezes
We fall just like leaves
As the rain washes us from the ground

We forget who we are
We can’t see in the dark
And we quickly get lost in the crowd, oh, oh

I stand for the power to change
I live for the perfect day
I love till it hurts like crazy
I hope for a hero to save me

I stand for the power to change
I live for the perfect day
I love till it hurts like crazy
I hope for a hero to save me

I stand for the strange and lonely
I believe there’s a better place
I don’t know if the sky is heaven
But I pray anyway, oh

I stand for the power to change
I live for the perfect day
I love till it hurts like crazy
I hope for a hero to save me

I stand for the strange and lonely
I believe there’s a better place
I don’t know if the sky is heaven
But I pray anyway.”

Lo que es ser latino. (Cuentos de la vida real)

Lo que es ser latino. (Cuentos de la vida real)

Ser latino es ser una persona emocionado. Pasión es la calentura que vive en nosotros. Es la raíz de nuestro archivo cultural, en donde encontramos material para telenovelas hasta el fin del tiempo.

No quiero disminuir el impacto de la emoción latina. Lo digo porque soltamos nuestros emociones porque no las tenemos miedo en expresarlas.

En la novela chicana, La casa en Mango Street, la niña Esperanza enfrenta las emociones de su calle con ojos y pensamientos bien claras. Para ella, lo emoción es ser humano. Somos débil, con deseos en proteger el imagen de ser un adulto maduro.

Mi mamá, una persona quien es la imagen de ser la mujer latina fuerte, prefiere tragar sus emociones que expresarlas con una lagrima. Pero en el 1977, recuerdo del momento que la vi llorar por la primera vez. Murió su hermana Carlota. Estuvieron peleadas sobre algo que se dejó en el pasado. Ni recuerdo los detalles.

Yo contesté el teléfono, la llamé porque estaba afuera de la casa. La llamada era de Tampico. No entendí mucho pero supe que era algo importante. Mi mamá se presentó, había un silencio y de repente se tumbó al piso.

Ahí, en sus rodillas, fue todo el peso de su emoción, el remordimiento y la tristeza.

Sentí que el mundo cambió en un breve instante. Mi mamá no era de fierro. Era una persona normal, con emociones como las mías. Nunca me sentí mas cerca de ella.

Ahora entendí como es ser alguien sin temor. Se me salió lo que es ser latino ese día. Tomé su mano para darla mi apoyo como su hijo de dos mundos distintos.