Monday, January 31, 2011

Something Special

What a tribute to my granddaughter's generation of students, and my daughters' generation of teachers!

Downton Abbey

I’m kinda down today.  Downton Abbey, a series from Britain’s ITV, ended its run on PBS Masterpiece last night.  Man, did I enjoy that show!  Four episodes, one a week, just gave me a taste for this story.  I am glad to read that a second season will start production in March.  It will be on the air in Britain starting in the Fall and ending around Christmas of this year.  That means I’ll have to wait until sometime later in 2012 to see it.  Something to look forward to, for sure.  Downton Abbey is the story of the Earl of Grantham and his family and servants, all of whom live in the building that gives the series its name.  It’s a more sophisticated, less schmaltzy Upstairs Downstairs.  It shows life in the great house as its lived by the upstairs family and their downstairs servants.
 
The series shows Britain’s class system as the series creator, Julian Fellowes, believes it to have existed in England’s great houses during the period from 1912 through 1914.  Philip Kennicott, in Saturday’s Washington Post, wrote an article about the series that spoke mainly about the house used as Downton Abbey, a house Mr. Kennicott rightly considers to be one of the main characters of the series.  He writes: “Highclere [the name of the house that is used for the Abbey] may not be the most important character in Downton Abbey, but it is the perfect setting for a drama that, despite its rich characterization and excellent dialogue, is weirdly regressive about class. Unlike a dramatization of a Jane Austen novel, which is a historical document of the era it satirizes, Downton Abbey is made up from scratch yet celebrates (perhaps unintentionally) the class system it purports to deconstruct.”

Beni, Becky, and I all loved the stories in Downton Abbey.  I’ve been wondering why.  For me, at least, I think the show’s appeal is the structured world it puts before me.  Everybody in the world depicted in the series knows from the minute of their birth essentially what their path in life will be.  There aren’t many questions about what they’ll do when they grow up.  Once in the Abbey, the family members each have their own rigid parts to play in life, and the servants know and accept their jobs as lifetime vocations in service of, not only the Earl of Grantham’s family, but the great British empire that still held sway over a quarter of the planet.  As frustrating as such immovability was for both the family and the staff, there obviously was security and even pride to be had in fulfilling their specific roles and expectations.

I’ve always known that I have a predilection for such structured lives.  The things I accomplished during my time with the friars were a direct result of my comfort with and acceptance of the life the friars designed for me.  It was rigid but also gave me a lot of freedom to do what I had to do.  Lucky for me, for most of the time with them, what the friars wanted and what I wanted were the same thing.

I know men who have spent a career in the military who have flourished in a similarly structured environment.  Once someone told me that he believed military life made men remain teenagers, always under the relatively benign parental control of senior officers.  I disagree.  I believe what such rigid structures provide is a creative environment for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time worrying about what they consider the inconsequential issues of their lives.

The irony of my life is that I have been making it up as I go along, just the opposite of what I thought would happen to me when I went to the friars.  I’ve had to find ways of living and doing things that work for me, even though they might work for no one else.  I suspect that is the universal challenge of life. I also suspect that organizations like armies and religious orders can’t help their members escape that challenge entirely.

The appeal of stories like Downton Abbey, maybe, is that it offers people like me a respite from the creativity that our lives require and lets us dream of a non–existent life where all life's big questions are answered authoritatively for us.

Read Philip Kennicott's article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/28/AR2011012806255.html

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fundamentally W R O N G


I learned a lot from Dr. Ken Kinnamon, my mentor and friend.  I learned about medical education, work ethic, and dedication to an ideal.  I also learned a lot about being a Baptist.

Dr. K was a born–again Baptist.  By this he would mean that he had repented of his sinful life, accepted Jesus as his personal savior, and tried from the time of that acceptance to lead a Christ–centered life. . . a Christ–centered life based on “the Word.”

Dr. K reads the Bible every day.  He collects various English translations of the Scripture and reads each from cover to cover.  He reads with a concordance, a biblical dictionary, and other aids.  He applies his habit of scholarship to his biblical study and reads not to feel better about his life but to try to understand the God of the scripture.  Dr. K’s personal theology is totally Bible–based.  If something isn’t addressed specifically in Scripture, then we can’t know for sure the mind of God on that topic.  I gather that Dr. K is fairly representative of a lot of biblical fundamentalists.

I also know Scripture pretty well.  Dr. K told me and many others that I am the only Catholic he ever met who actually has read and studied the Scripture.  He admired me for that, although he and I have entirely different views on the nature of Scripture and its place in the Church.

I developed a personal theology that was based on Scripture but also was open to understanding from Christian, especially Catholic, tradition and my own meditation on the Word.  My Christianity led me to believe that God and God’s ways are unknowable.  I came to the conclusion that God is a total mystery, beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand.  I also believed that the principal path to approach God was through silent meditation.  That meditation would bring me to adoration and gratitude, but never to any sort of comprehension of the Being that is God.

Dr. K thought this was a major catastrophe for me.  God is knowable, Dr. K believes, and God gave us Scripture specifically so we can come to know God.  That is why a belief in the literal truth of every word of Scripture is so important.  When we begin to challenge even a single line of the Bible, then we risk not knowing the full revelation of God’s person to us.  A single challenge puts us on the slippery slope to total loss of faith.

Even when I was a true believer, I had no problem challenging Scripture, especially things like the creation account in Genesis, the story of the Flood, the contemporary spiritual value of some of the Torah’s prohibitions, and the Nativity narrative in the New Testament.  I accept evolution as a given.  Dr. K, a practicing scientist with two scientific patents, had a huge problem with the Genesis account of creation.  He refused, however, to deny Scripture’s account of creation.  He came up with an understanding in which each “day” of creation in Genesis is something like six million years.

Dr. K was divorced.  I knew his second wife, and I also understood the horrible situation that was his first marriage.  I believe he was totally justified in divorcing his first wife and, some years later, in marrying his second.  I couldn’t help but ask him, though, how he reconciled his marital situation with Jesus’s straight–forward teaching in Mark 10/2-12:

>>>And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  He answered them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away."  But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.'  'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."  And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.  And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”<<<

Dr. K and I had our chat about this Scripture and I have to say it was one of the few times Dr. K was at a loss to explain his understanding of Scripture.  A week or so after our chat, he gave me a book by F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, which tries (unsuccessfully, I think) to reconcile difficult Scriptures with modern practice.

Dr. K—divorced, re–married, and a good man and good Christian—believed he was in God’s good graces in his second marriage.  I believe that, too.  He considered my sexual orientation, however, an abomination, because he believed that several parts of the Scripture used that horrible word to describe gay behavior.  Jesus, of course, while so adamant in his prohibition of divorce and remarriage, had nothing whatsoever to say about gay people or gay sex.

I love Dr. K.  He is a great man and is a great friend.  I mention him here not to condemn him or hassle him, but to show how fundamentalists look at Scripture.  Even dedicated, rational, educated fundamentalists such as Dr. K cannot escape the pitfalls of trying to apply the teachings of 2,000 or 3,000 years ago to life in 2011.  The Scriptures, in my view, are not meant to be anything more than pious writings addressed to a specific audience at a specific point in history.  They cannot be seen as infallible and they don’t work as infallible documents.  They can and do give people comfort, challenge, hope, and inspiration.  To be understood properly, however, they have to be read with a mind that has been educated by psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and literary criticism.   The emphasis in that last sentence is on the word “educated.”

To hear that, in this day and age, there are politicians who believe that our country should be governed by biblical principles and teaching makes me want to take my granddaughter and get her the hell away from here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

127 Hours

I don’t look forward to many movies these days, not being a fan of slasher flicks or teen romcoms.  But I have been looking forward to 127 Hours since I saw the first preview.  I had seen the story of Aron Ralston on 60 Minutes.  It is a frightening and totally engrossing story of stupidity and heroism.

The movie gets it just right.  It shows Aron’s self-amputation without showing every drop of blood.  Its strength, for me, was the development of Aron’s thoughts and fears as his entrapment moves from hours into days.  Aron is shown as a brave but impetuous dude who, typical of young people, never thinks about the horrors that may happen, only about the pleasure of achieving his goals.  The use of the video camera that Aron had with him allows for some very tender expressions of regret for his actions and love of his parents.  His hallucinations and dreams fill in his background and let us get to know more about this fascinating man.  The scenery, the Utah landscape, is breathtaking.

James Franco has been nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his depiction of Aron.  In my opinion, he deserves it.  He’s in just about every frame of the 93–minute movie.  He goes through an amazing range of emotions and experiences while not moving an inch from the place where he is trapped.  The role has to have been a huge challenge for Mr. Franco, and he met it and then some.  I was riveted during the scenes when he was removing his arm, not with my eyes closed—it wasn’t that hard to watch—but from the actor’s communication of the desperation, hope, and resignation that brought him to do what he had to do.

I liked this movie a lot.  I look forward to the DVD (to be released on March 1, 2011).  I hope the DVD has extra materials that tell us how they made the movie.  Aron’s entrapment is shown so realistically, yet camera angles and close–ups are so well done that it’s obvious they either used an amazing mock–up for a set or used computer technology to get the shots.

A perfect movie for a cold winter day.






The real Aron Ralston

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sex and the Young Franciscan



Writing here is easy sometimes, and sometimes not easy at all.  I want to write about some things so that I can work them out in my head.  When I sit down to write about those things, it’s usually not easy.  This is one of those times.

I did one year of graduate work in German language and literature and I took lots of undergraduate German courses while majoring in philosophy.  During these German studies, I learned about a genre of poetry from the middle ages called Minnelieder (love songs).  Minne was a special kind of love, I was taught.  It was the chaste love of a knight for a lady—love from afar—love that promised protection and constancy but did not include physical or sexual expression.  It was considered the highest form of romantic love.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, was one object of  MinneMinne most often, though, was directed at a human living lady who was considered beautiful, noble, virtuous, and unattainable.  Minne existed around the time of the Crusades and later.

As I think about it now, I’m not sure what to believe about Minne.  It seems to exalt the traditional Roman Catholic hatred and fear of human love and sexuality.  At the same time, it seems to embody the selfless love that universally is considered the highest expression of human affection.

My sexual history is strange.  I was sexually active as a young gay teen, having sex with several boys my age that was consensual and mutually enjoyable.  I had a lot of sex between the ages of 11 and 14.  Then, on New Year’s Day, 1961, I made a promise to god that I would stop having sex.  I made this promise because for years I had wanted to be a Franciscan priest and I knew that to be a friar, a priest, or both, I would have to be celibate.  I kept that promise.  Sex stopped for me right before my 14th birthday.  Interpersonal sex, that is.  I had to wait until I went to the seminary, in September, 1961, to have any success at stopping masturbation.

Once at the seminary, I started having a series of crushes on my fellow seminarians.  In all my time with the friars, almost until I was 22, I never had sex with anyone, including the objects of my lustful affections.  The crushes were a form of Minne.  They elevated the object of desire to some kind of perfect being. I worked tirelessly to please these boys.  I wanted friendship and love from them, but I never ever expressed that desire.  I never once in all those years, with any of those boys, said the words “I love you,” although love them I did, as best I could given my immaturity.  Most of the time, the boy would become a friend, although some of the friendships were ruined on the rocks of my neediness and insecurity.  If ever any of those boys felt a  reciprocal sexual attraction, I had no inkling.  I’m almost positive none of them felt sexually drawn to me because, as I understand myself now, I was selecting these specific boys precisely because they wouldn’t have any sexual attraction for me, Just as the knights of Minne selected ladies who were totally unattainable.

This pattern continued when I left the seminary.  I developed crushes on a series of straight men through my 20's and 30's.  I had very strong sexual attraction to these guys, but I didn’t have the guts (the balls) to act on that attraction, so I picked guys who wouldn’t, couldn’t, reciprocate my feelings.  I told none of them, at the time, how I felt about him, how sexually drawn to him I was.

This behavior ended when I came out of the closet, finally, at age 40.  At the time, I had a major crush on a psychologist, a bright guy with a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school, who genuinely loved me as his best friend.  He was, like all my other adult crushes, totally straight.  His friendship, and his professional insight into who I really am, helped me to come out of the closet.  Only then did I feel comfortable telling him how much I had wanted him sexually.  Of course, he already knew all that, but it was a healing process for me to talk to him in detail about my sexual feelings for him.  Later on, I had similar conversations with other guys on whom I had had adult crushes, and I found out that most of them, too, knew all along how I felt.  Once I came out, and went into five years of therapy with a gay shrink, I no longer was attracted to straight men.  Just being honest with myself about who I really am seems to have cured me of that impossible habit.

Was spending all this emotional energy on impossible crushes on totally unavailable men a complete waste?  I used to think that it had all been a waste, a total wash–out, a completely sick thing.  Now I’m not so sure.

From these guys, both in the seminary and in my adult life, I have learned how to love.  I have learned especially how not to be a doormat to some jackass simply because I’m attracted to him.  I’ve also learned how to be myself with guys I like, not aping their likes and dislikes but honestly expressing my preferences and wants.  From these guys, too, I’ve learned that I can love deeply and really without there having to be a reciprocated sexual attraction.  They taught me that Minne does exist, in my life anyway, as a special and rewarding kind of friendship.

Had I never made my promise on New Year’s Day, had I never gone to the seminary, had I come out when I was in college. . . all these “what–if’s” plagued me for years.  Now, though, I look back on all these guys and sort of pat myself on the back.  All in all, they were and are a great group of men.  They all are bright and giving men who, still today, “melt my butter,” as Dolly Parton says in Steel Magnolias.  Each one of them, even today, would do about anything to help me if I needed them.  I am lucky to have had each one of them in my life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just the Thing for a Snowy Day!!!!



Rufus Wainwright being Fabulous. . . Enjoy!!!

Snow, Taxes, Cigarettes, and Jimmy Buffet


It’s 5:30 in the afternoon.  It’s been snowing off–and–on since this morning.  It just got serious about 3 pm.  We have about 4 inches, with as much as six additional inches forecast.  Yuch!

I did our taxes today.  I already had done the compilation of mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and medical costs.  When my annuity 1099 arrived today, I was all set.  Thanks to TurboTax, it took only about 30 minutes to do both Federal and West Virginia taxes.  We get a refund on Federal, but owe on State.  We should move to Florida where there is no state tax!  Doing the taxes made me want to smoke, and I did.  I went out in the snow and got cigarettes and smoked.  It didn’t help one bit.  Now I have to throw them away and get back on the nicotine wagon.

Becky went to Winchester to exercise at the hospital gym there.  While she was gone, the snow got intense and I got worried.  She got home a few minutes ago, none the worse for wear.  She didn’t make it into our parking area off the alley, however, and her car is stuck in the ramp going to the loading dock of the old bakery in back of our house.  That’s a problem for tomorrow.

I’m not at my best today.  I have a lot of unfulfilled wishes.  I would love to be in the Caribbean somewhere with warm weather, no snow, no taxes, and no cigarettes.  I would love to be as thin as I was 10 years ago (size 33 waist).  I would love to be talking with some friends and having vodka and tonics on a beach.  I would love a conversation today that had nothing to do with the weather, my taxes, peoples’ health, the cost of living, or the idiocy of conservative politicians.  I would love to live somewhere where fundamentalist religious zealots had no say in any public matter.  I’m not going to get any of my wishes. . . today anyway.

Instead, I’ll let myself enjoy talking to my family, watching Modern Family on TV, and finishing Palo Alto, the book of short stories by the actor James Franco (good book, in my opinion, although critics disagree).  That will be more than enough to make me happy, I think.

And I’ll listen to Jimmy Buffet sing Margaritaville over and over again while keeping my eyes closed.

The snow has to stop sooner or later, right?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

12 Days of Gay. . . but No Cigarettes

It’s 12 plus days since I smoked a cigarette.  I’m doing ok, much better than I thought I would do.  I’m using the patch, so I guess I still have total nicotine withdrawal to look forward to.  That won’t be for six weeks or so, as I understand the patch plan.  I feel much better.  I sleep much, much better.  42 years and 5 months of smoking. . .  Could it have ended?  I hope so!

I find I’m doing different things to keep my mind active and off smoking.  I’ve been watching a lot of movies and some stuff on Netflix streaming.  On Netflix, I just finished the original British version of Skins.  The American version is causing a lot of ruckus on MTV.  Sponsors like Subway have withdrawn their support.  All I can say is that I liked the British version very much.  It has drugs, alcohol, and smoking, and lots of sex.  Also lots of drama, romantic and otherwise.  Well worth the 15 hours or so it takes to watch the two seasons available.  I think it’s an honest picture of what it’s like to be a middle class teenager in the UK today.

I also watched some gay movies, one on Netflix, the others on DVDs that I own.  On Netflix, I watched a beautiful movie called CiaoCiao is the story of a guy who dies suddenly in a car accident and leaves behind a best friend who helps take care of the details of his dead friend’s life.  It is an amazing story of friendship and the love people can have for one another that has nothing to do with sex.
 








Two older gay movies I watched again after many years: Get Real and Beautiful Thing.  Both are stories of teenagers who come out of the closet, and both are British.  I have to say that I used to prefer Beautiful Thing, but now Get Real is my first choice.  Get Real is a little harder-edged and has a less predictable ending; it’s truer to life.  Beautiful Thing is more the story of families’ acceptance of their gay sons than a coming out story per se.  Its ending is more predictable, but it’s still a very good movie.

Then I re-watched Brokeback Mountain.  What a movie!!!  I can’t imagine what straight people think when they watch it.  They must like it enough, judging by its success at the box office. It is such a true and brutal story of gay male love.  One of the things I like most about it is the depiction of affection as rough and intensely physical.  I believe that is so true of a lot of gay male affection, especially between two young men.  Another thing that moves me every time I see the movie is the obvious joy mixed with sorrow that Ennis and Jack have for one another.  Do straight people ever have that mix of feelings?  Probably, in extramarital relationships, but I really can’t imagine their understanding the life-and-death nature of the fear and sorrow that Ennis particularly expresses.

In place of smoking, I’m watching sexy things on Netflix and DVD.  Whatever!  It’s working, so I won’t complain.  Beni is, as usual, very tolerant of my shenanigans and is so supportive of my effort to be free of cigarettes.
 

Louisiana 1927 by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur singing "What'll I Do" on Golden Girls:

 

I found this video of Bea Arthur on YouTube and I had to post it for my own archive of it.  People think of Bea Arthur as the wise-cracking, acerbic Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls.  She was so much more!  A lot of her career was on Broadway where she enjoyed a great career as an actress and musical theater performer.  Now she is gone, and I am so thankful that we have little snippets of her great talent still available to enjoy. Is it only gay men who enjoy her?  Beni and the girls tolerate my playing these snippets, but they don't seem to enjoy them.  They certainly aren't delighted, as I am, to find them.  As far as I'm concerned, it's their loss. What an interpretation of this song!!!  Ms. Arthur, I miss you!  Thank you for this song, and for all the many other gifts you gave us.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Remembering


Maker Makes
Rufus Wainwright

One more chain I break
To get me closer to you
One more chain does the maker make
To keep me from bustin' through

One more notch I scratch
To keep me thinkin' of you
One more notch does the maker make
Upon my face so blue

Get along, little doggies
Get along, little doggies

One more smile I fake
And try my best to be glad
One more smile does the maker make
Because he knows I'm sad

Oh Lord, how I know
Oh Lord, how I see
That only can the maker make
A happy man of me

Get along little doggies
Get along little doggies
Get along



Friday, January 21, 2011

Silence



Justin Rosario writes from a liberal perspective and posts on a site called Addictinginfo.org.  Today, he’s published a piece about the righteousness of and the need for liberal rage.  Please check it out at http://addictinginfo.org/new/?page_id=655.   As usual, I couldn’t agree with him more.  Not only does he write pieces with which I agree, but the pieces he writes make me think and make me want to act.  In other words, he’s good at what he does!

My first taste of adult politics, after my adolescent political crush on JFK, was in 1967.  The war in Viet Nam was taking more and more of my peers and giving them back in body bags.  I was one of thousands in the 1967 March on the Pentagon.  That day changed me. I was a Franciscan Friar and so immune from the draft at that point, so my feelings weren’t prompted by direct self–interest; they were prompted by a sense of powerlessness, a sense that my fellow male baby boomers were being used by President Johnson, Secretary MacNamara, General Abrams and others in an obscene way for obscene purposes.  I wrote letters to the editor of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Time Magazine (none of which were published).   I participated in any local protest that was open to me.  I boycotted classes.  I was mad.  My rage only increased under Nixon and his thugs.

Justin’s piece this morning made me remember the intensity of my rage during those Viet Nam and Watergate years.  Because most of my peers back then felt the same rage for the same reasons, it seemed normal and right back then to stand up and scream my anger in concert with my buddies.  Justin’s piece also makes me ask myself what has caused me to become so complacent, even in my current anger and rage.  Why have I become so accommodating of assholes?

I live in a country and in a time where people try to teach superstition instead of science in high school science classes.  I am a gay man living in a time when Marine Generals, televangelists, and pseudo–counselors feel that they can tell me on TV that I’m an abomination.  I am a man who fully supports women’s rights, including their right to determine what happens to their bodies, living in a time when women’s rights seem once again to be endangered.  I am a man who has been personally harmed and misled by religion living in a country and at a time when uneducated religious zealots are trying to turn my government and my culture into some kind of Christian gulag.

If ever there was a time when I should be enraged, now is that time.

It’s good for me to hear what young people like Justin Rosario have to say.  It’s good for me to plug into the fury and angry energy of young people who see injustice and stupidity and are brave enough to speak out.  I need to march again.  I need to stand up to bullies like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson, and their ilk.  I need to feel and express the anger that I know is in me.  I need to get over my lethargy and start screaming.


 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"The Girls"

 
 
My mother is 93 years old and lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Three times a week—on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—she goes out to lunch with “the girls.”  These are her friends of many years who are now in their late 70's and 80's.  Still, they are “the girls.”

Mom used to have a very active social life.  She’d meet up with friends for exercise class, shopping, or meals, and when she wasn’t with them physically, she’d be with them on the phone.  Mom rarely makes a phone call to her friends.  They all call her.  She’d also go dancing at least twice a week with her ex–husband (her second husband), Ed.  They would go to one of the many organizations in and around St. Pete dedicated to former service members.  The American Legion Posts were their favorite.  Both Mom and Ed were known as good dancers and they were always complimented on their dancing.

Now Ed is no longer with us and Mom is much less strong than she used to be.  She believes, though, that it is essential for her to get out and spend time with the girls.  I agree with her.  I think one of the main reasons she has lived so well for so long is her love of her friends.

Mom always has had a gift for friendship.  When I was a kid, her friends were women with whom she worked, and she would almost always take her lunch break with one of them.  When I was in the seminary, her friends kept me supplied with towels and candy and cookies, not because they liked or even knew me, but because they were so fond of Mom.

My Dad had a strange relationship throughout my youth with a dentist.  Their activities—whatever they were—kept Dad away from home almost every weekend.  Mom, of course, didn’t like this arrangement one bit.  When she had the opportunity, though, she became great friends with the dentist’s wife, and Mom and the wife stayed friends until just a few years ago when the wife died at the age of 103.  Mom was and is friends with all kind of people.  She enjoys knowing people from all backgrounds and with all kinds of life experiences.  She told me that she was able to understand my being gay because a son of one of her friends had been out to his mother, my Mom’s friend, and so to Mom for many years.  She loved that gay man: “He is so good to his mother,” she told me!

I envy Mom all her friendships.  They feed her soul.  They keep her healthy and alive.  My brother inherited from her this gift of making friends easily, and he and his wife have friends all over the country.  My friendships have been harder for me to come by, and harder to maintain.  I don ‘t know why exactly, but I know that my Mom and my brother have a much easier time with their friendships than I do.

I wish Mom and the girls well.  Her buddies have closed ranks around her these past months as she has undergone chemo for her mesothelioma.  They monitor her progress at their trice–weekly lunches, by keeping touch on the phone, and by visits to Mom’s condo.  Mom stays up with all the gossip, and is aware of just about everything that happens in the lives of these women.  The girls help heal her by giving her a lot of joy.  I wish all of them many more years together.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exceptional?


Justin Rosario writes fascinating stuff for Addictinginfo.org.  Today, he wrote a piece about how conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have very selective memories when it comes to American history.  I would include in that group a whole bunch of other conservatives, notably George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Ronald Reagan.  You can read his piece at http://addictinginfo.org/new/?page_id=608.

Justin’s article stirred up my feelings about the idea of “American Exceptionalism.”  Exceptionalism is a complicated historical term that is being used by Palin et al. to refer to something that the historian, Anna Gandziarowski, explains in her book, The Puritan Legacy to American Politics.  Dr. Gandziarowski writes that our Puritan forebears believed god had made a covenant with their people and had chosen them to lead the other nations of the Earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop, metaphorically expressed this idea as a “City on a Hill” – that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world.  This metaphor is often used by proponents of exceptionalism and was used directly by Ronald Reagan.

Very interesting to me is the fact that one of the causes of this historical belief in American exceptionalism is America’s immigrant nature.  America has been attractive to downtrodden people of other lands (their "City oin a Hill") because of its freedoms, opportunities, and culture.  All of us, except for Native Americans, are immigrants.  Many of the people today who talk about American exceptionalism are the same people who want to build an iron curtain between Mexico and the United States.  Apparently, for these exceptionalists, there are racial and other limits to those who will be admitted to the “City on a Hill.”

There are so many reasons why I bristle at the idea of American exceptionalism, especially in its current fuzzy conservative political expression:

1.  As Justin points out in his piece, these exceptionalists seem to deny or forget huge parts of our history, especially the treatment throughout our history of Native Americans and the institution of slavery that was very much a part of this “City on a Hill” for much of our history.  How can a country that massacred Native Americans and enslaved and marginalized black people be considered at all “exceptional” in anything but the worst sense of that word?

2.  As Dr. Gandziarowski explains, exceptionalism is firmly rooted in a religious belief that the Puritan’s god made this country somehow special.  If we are special, I hope that our uniqueness has nothing to do with anybody’s idea of god.  How arbitrary and shifting an idea that is.  America is a product of the Enlightenment, and most of the Founding Fathers so revered by Palin et al. were desperate to establish this country as a refuge from the faith–based governments of England, France, and other European countries.  What a travesty now to see these modern exceptionalists claiming that their god makes us special.  And look at their god for a minute.  This is the god that is so petty that—according to Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others—he destroyed New Orleans and the World Trade Centers because he hates gay people and proponents of women’s rights.

3.  I am so sick of hearing that we have the greatest military in history.  Really?  More effective than the allies in World War II?  Braver than the Roman legions who fought the barbarians?  I do believe we have the best equipped military in history.  I also believe that the men and women who are in our military today—men and women with whom I worked for 40 years—are the best this country produces; they are literally our best and brightest, in my opinion.  What our military lacks is visionary civilian leadership.  Our political leaders since World War II have become increasingly mediocre and less and less able to give the definitive leadership that a great military needs.

If America is to be exceptional, I would like it to be known for its exceptional compassion, its exceptional inclusion, its exceptional record on human rights, its exceptional public educational system, its exceptional universal health care system, and its exceptional humility.  When that happens, when we are known for those things, then I’ll become an American exceptionalist too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rest in Peace, Lance Lundsten

 
Openly-gay, Miltona, Minnesota eighteen-year old Lance Lundsten, who friends say was bullied for years, died of a previously-undiagnosed heart problem on Saturday.  His funeral was tonight.

The Jefferson High School senior, who wrote on his Facebook page that he was gay, left this as one of his final messages: "Love knows no gender, color, or religion."

Earlier today it was reported by The Advocate and other gay outlets that Lance had committed suicide because of being bullied at school.  He didn't commit suicide; he died of heart disease.  He apparently knew how to deal with the bullies, or at least he knew how to live in spite of them.  It's so sad to think of his parents tonight, and of his friends and classmates.  It seems to me, though, that Lance lived well. He died too soon, but he died an apparently happy young gay man of the verge of a wonderful life. 

I admit to struggling every day to make myself be honest about who I am.  I am 64 years old, and not many people can hurt me, and if someone does hurt me, I generally know how to deal with the hurt.  Lance was 18 years old and was much more vulnerable in the viper pit of high school than I am living in the luxury of acceptance.  He was out.  He was honest about who he was. He learned at such an early age to be the kind of man I'm still trying to be.  I admire him for his honesty and for his apparent bravery in the face of bullying.  I know his Mom and Dad must be very proud of him.

It isn’t easy to live any life, gay or straight, male or female, young or old.  It takes a lot of energy to get through this.  Beni, the girls, my wider family, and my friends, especially my gay friends, give me that energy every day.  I hope the many gay kids who struggle in middle and high schools everywhere will start to find one another.  There really is strength in numbers.

Tonight I remember Lance, his friends, and his family.  I'm thankful for the life of this young gay man.  I think also of the gay kids who are struggling with bullies and  my wish for all of them, all of us, is peace.
Lance Lundsten

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

Here’s what’s on my mind—REALLY on my mind—today.

Cigarettes and chocolate milk
These are just a couple of my cravings
Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me

If I should buy jellybeans
Have to eat them all in just one sitting
Everything it seems I like’s a little bit sweeter
A little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me

—Rufus Wainwright, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

I stopped smoking cigarettes—again!—last Friday night.  I’m in day 3 with the nicotine patch.  It’s really not that bad, but it’s not that easy either!

I’m not at all fond of chocolate milk—that apparently is one of Rufus’s cravings—but, like Rufus, I crave cigarettes.  I also love jelly beans, especially black licorice jelly beans, and I can eat a bowlful in one sitting, no problem.  I also have been known to eat an entire coconut cake, a whole box of cookies, an entire pecan pie, and a half–gallon of ice cream, though not all at the same time.  “Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger, a little bit thicker, a little bit sweeter, a little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me. . .”

Today has been filled with thoughts of cigarettes.  People today see smoking as it really and objectively is: disgusting, dirty, expensive, and unhealthy.  Smokers are pitied, avoided, banished to remote parking lots, and turned down for sex.  Gone are the days of Bogart and Bacall when smoking was sexy and sophisticated and fun.  A lot of my classmates smoked when I was in the seminary.  In high school, we weren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes at school, but as soon as we got on the train to New York at Christmas or summer break, the packs would appear along with matches and lighters, and many of my buddies were immediately in nicotine’s deadly thrall.  Smoking was allowed without much restriction once we finished the novitiate.  All through the seminary, I resisted smoking.  My Dad smoked and I hated the ashtrays and other filth that his smoking produced.

When I turned 21, though, I was in the middle of a strong sexual attraction to a smoker.  This attraction was one of the fiercest I’ve ever experienced.  Of course, the object of my lust was straight to the max, so the lust was never consummated.  I’m fairly certain, though, that this smoking god of youth knew how I felt about him.  I was sent to the Friars parishes in Georgia and South Carolina that June (1968) to work with the kids of the two parishes.  While there, two things happened to me: first, I pretty much decided to leave the Friars at the end of the summer (after my German course in summer school at Catholic University), and second, I started smoking.  Some gay men have told me they believe smoking cigarettes may have a sexual component (displaced fellatio, they believe).  In my case, I know without a doubt that, in 1968 when I started, smoking for me was a substitute for sex with my smoking god.  No question about it.  None.  Smoking for me still has a small sexual component, but now it’s mostly just an addiction, although an addiction I have enjoyed.

I’m sure that most of my classmates who smoked quit in their 30's and 40's.  I quit, too, when I was 37, but only for four months.  That was when it hit me that smoking really IS bad for me and that it is a habit I should never had started.  It is an addiction, though, and I fell off the wagon.

Now I feel like I don’t have many options.  If I plan to live much longer, or at all comfortably, I’m going to have to stop smoking.  In the past year, I’ve started getting smokers’ problems that I know other people have had but which I never before experienced: lots of phlegm, and wheezing when I really exerted myself.  Smoking has become more than just “a little bit harmful for me.”

Maybe I can learn to enjoy chocolate milk. . .

Sunday, January 16, 2011

UnNaked Men Singing

I love music.  All kinds of music.  But I especially like choral music.  My favorite choral music is that which is sung by men’s choirs.  I also love mixed choirs, and women’s choirs.  Music sung by an all–male choir, though, is far–and–away my favorite.

I’m not sure why this is.  My favorite theory is that my fondness for all–male choirs stems from the seminary choirs that I heard and then sang in when I was in high school and college.  The choir at St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, New York, was great.  Granted, we sang only religious/liturgical music, but we sang a huge variety, from Gregorian Chant to 20th–century composers like Randall Thompson.  Thanks to our Directors (in my time, Fr. Kevin, Fr. Regis, and Fr. Florian), we were well–trained and the training showed when we sang.  I loved singing with those guys, and, when I couldn’t sign, I loved listening to them.

Men’s choruses have a power and a sensitivity that isn’t found in other kinds of choral music.  A chorus can sign a piece such as The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and knock your socks off with their power. . .

A men's chorus can sing a gentle lullaby-like song that gives hope to a young baby, and overwhelm with their insight and gentleness. . .

A chorus can sing a hit song from a hit Broadway show and give it new meaning...

I have become a fan of gay men's choruses. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus (from San Francisco, obviously) and the Turtle Creek Chorale (from Dallas) are two of my favorites.  They can be cute. . .

or very serious. . .

I hope anyone who comes to this post listens to these men and enjoys this great music.  Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Kind Of Town

I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, about one mile south of National Airport.  My family moved to the house in Alexandria in 1949.  We lived there until New Year’s Eve, 1970. These are some random memories of Washington, D. C, the city very near our house.

Washington was just a 15–minute bus ride from my house.  I rode the number 12 bus on the old AB&W (Alexandria, Barcroft, and Washington) line to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue, where stood the Main Post Office (now the “Old” Post Office Pavilion).  The ride cost a dime. From 12th & Penn, I walked everywhere in DC: to museums (the Smithsonian museums were then and are now free), the National Gallery of Art (also free), to movies, to book stores, and to places like the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument.  My Mom worked most of the time from 1949 through 1969 at the General Services Administration (GSA) which was and is at 17th and F Streets, an easy walk.  When I was older, I often would meet her and we’d have lunch together.  I spent at least one day a week during the summers in DC from the time I was 12 until I started working myself in 1970.  I love Washington!  It is my favorite city in the world, followed closely by San Francisco.  Rome and Barcelona also are high on my list, but both are way below DC.

My mother’s mother was a Kennedy, but not one of the Kennedy's.  My Mom adored John F. Kennedy because he had that name, and because he was, she thought, very handsome.  In 1960, when John Kennedy was a candidate for President, my Mom, my brother, and I went to hear him speak at the old George Washington High School in Alexandria.  That was the high school I attended for my freshman year, and the High School from which my brother graduated (Class of ‘67).  When he was elected, my mother set about getting tickets to see Kennedy’s inaugural parade.  From somewhere, she got passes for her, my bother, and me to watch the parade from the balcony above the entrance to the Main Post Office building (see arrow in picture above).  It was a bitterly cold day, and the streets had just been cleared of about 20 inches of snow that had fallen the day before.  My Dad drove us into town, and we were in place above Pennsylvania Avenue in plenty of time.  We saw Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, along with future Presidents Johnson and Nixon, drive to the Capitol from the White House.  We listened to Kennedy’s famous speech on my brand–new (and still fairly rare) transistor radio.  Then we watched the parade and saw President and Mrs. Kennedy, President and Mrs. Eisenhower, President Truman, Vice President and Mrs. Nixon, Vice President and Mrs. Johnson, Sam Reyburn (then Speaker of the House), and many, many other officials whose names I can’t remember.  All of them passed by us in open limousines.  We got a very good look at President Kennedy, Jackie, and other members of the family.  We saw President Eisenhower and Mamie.  All the people who now are in history books right before our eyes!  It was an amazing day!

I saw my first Broadway musical, a road company production of The Sound of Music, in 1962 at the National Theater on E Street in DC.  My mother got tickets for her Aunt (my Great Aunt) Martha and me to see the play, and we took the bus into DC and saw it.  I’ll never forget the thrill of this first experience of live professional theater.  I had had the Broadway cast album of the show since 1959 and I knew every song by heart.  It was a magical experience that, to this day, makes me want to get in the car and go to Manhattan so I can feast on a week of Broadway shows.  Aunt Martha, in her 50's at the time, was blown away, too.  It was an incredible experience.

My brother was and is a huge baseball nut.  When we were little, our Mom somehow managed to get tickets to a game between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees at the old Griffith Stadium in DC.  I bitched and complained, little gay boy that I was, at having to go to the game.  But now I can say that I saw Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford (along with some other now–legendary ballplayers) play baseball.  In 1962, Mom got us tickets to go to the All Star Game in what is now RFK Stadium.  It had just opened a year or so earlier.  I don’t remember anything about that game except my total fear at being seated so high up in the stands.

When our four kids were little, I took them as often as their mother would let me into DC.  I especially enjoyed taking them in the wintertime when the tourists were mostly gone and we had the place to ourselves.  I dragged them to all my favorite childhood places, plus some new favorites, like the Kennedy Center, that had sprouted up after I was an adult.  They complained sometimes, but generally I think they enjoyed the city, and I’m pretty sure all four of them, like me, love DC.

A word about the song I chose to accompany this post:  I hate Cats!  But I love this song, Memory,  The musical was the favorite show of my favorite aunt and my godmother, Marie Jenkins Rizzoto.  And the song was her all-time favorite song.  I can't agree with her on the show, but I do agree that the song is well done.  I'm happy to include it in here in her memory.  She died at age 80 on April 15, 1997.  Rest in peace, Marie.  I love you!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Misconception?




My poor mother!  At age 29, she became pregnant with me before she and my Dad were married.  Coming from a family of severe German and Irish Catholics, this circumstance alone was enough to send her into nine months of agony, even though Dad “did the right thing” and married her soon after the pregnancy was diagnosed.  But things went downhill from there.

About five months into her pregnancy, Mom began to suffer from toxemia.  She swelled up all over her body, she was constantly vomiting, and she gained a huge amount of weight even though she could barely eat.  Her general practitioner didn’t treat her for the toxemia and advised her to eat different foods, to exercise, etc.  She went to an obstetrician at about six months, and this woman properly diagnosed the problem and put Mom to bed for the remainder of her pregnancy.  She moved in with my Dad’s sister, Pauline, at my Dad’s family home in Sperryville, Virginia, and left her bed only to go to the bathroom and to make frequent trips to the doctor’s office for evaluation.  I was born on January 8th.  Labor was protracted and unusually difficult.  Mom was put under general anesthesia for most of the ordeal.  I had neonatal jaundice which cleared up within a week, but otherwise I was a healthy newborn, thanks to the doctor’s care of my pregnant Mom, and to Mom’s willingness to do what the doctor told her to do.

I was a healthy new born with no real problems.  I did have, however, one anomaly: I had a fairly large bump on the left side of my forehead, right above the eyebrow.  You can see it in my seventh–grade picture, above.  The doctors thought it was a malformation of the cranium, possibly caused by the forceps that were used to get me out of the uterus.  The bump went through my life with me, staying about the same size, and no one paid much attention to it.

When I got into puberty, at about age 14, the bump started to grow, apparently in response to the rich hormonal cocktail I was producing.  It got bigger and bigger until Mom and Dad decided I needed to see a doctor.  Off we went to a surgeon that had been recommended to us, a man who practiced in Washington, D. C.  I was 16 when I saw the surgeon, and the bump had more than doubled in size in the time since I was 14.

The surgeon examined the bump and said things like “tumor” and “cyst” and “nothing to worry about” and “must come off.”  One summer morning in 1963, a Friday, my Dad and I went to Sybley Hospital in D.C. and I was prepped and put in an operating room.  Under local anesthesia, the surgeon started to remove the bump.  The first problem he encountered was the large amount of blood that resulted from any attempt to assault the mass.  The second problem was the nature of the bump itself.  It wasn’t a tumor.  It wasn’t a cyst.  It wasn’t a malformation of the cranium.  It contained teeth, tiny bone fragments, hair, and other weird tissue.  It was very difficult to remove.  He said it was a separate body fragment fused to my scalp.  What was supposed to take an hour wound up taking 3.5 hours, and the mass finally was removed.  The mass was sent off for analysis and I was sent home.

As I was treated in follow–up, the doctor told my parents and me that the “bump” actually was my identical twin brother.  The “bump” was evidence of something called “a vanishing twin,” also known as fetal resorption.  A fetal resorption occurs when a fetus in a multiple pregnancy dies in utero and then is partially or completely reabsorbed by the twin or the mother.  This theory of the bump also would explain my mother’s toxemia during the pregnancy.  My  dead brother was producing toxins that made my mother sick.

So there should be two of me!!!  A frightening thought for anyone who knows me!!!

Myron Maye was a great friend to me.  He died in 2004 of AIDS.  I once told him about my lost twin brother.  He wondered if the loss of the twin is what made me gay.  In his theory, I am wandering the earth looking for someone who will fill the void caused by my twin’s death when I was about five months along in utero.  I don’t really accept that theory, but it is kinda romantic!

The whole story should make me wonder what might have been.  But to tell you the truth, I hardly ever think about it.  Being the father of twin girls, I have to say I’m happy I grew up a singleton.  It’s really hard to be a twin!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

iPhones, Roku, and Me

I really like to play with the fun technology that’s available now.  I can’t believe what the new stuff can do.  I remember the progress of technology from the cathode-ray tube TV to the HDMI flat screen we have now.  It’s amazing!

Beni enjoys the fruits of the technology—she loves watching streaming Netflix videos on our TV, for example—but she is a little wary of hands–on operation.  I’ve been pestering her for months now to get a smart phone.  I got a Blackberry last May and I love it, and I thought that Beni would like having something similar, especially for its camera and e–mail capabilities.  She resisted all this time until last week, when she asked if she still could upgrade her cell phone to a Blackberry.  Apparently she wants to take photographs whenever the impulse hits, and she isn’t likely to take a camera with her everywhere.  I checked with AT&T and found that for the same cost as a Blackberry upgrade she could get an iPhone 3GS.  I ordered one for her based on the glowing recommendations from Sarah and Matt, both of whom have had iPhones for several months.

The phone came on Tuesday, and Beni loves it.  She is making calls, reading her e–mail, doing on–line banking, and checking the weather.  No use of the camera so far, though.  I love the iPhone too.  It is a fascinating piece of work.  It is the most user–friendly electronic device I’ve encountered.  The fact that Beni is so comfortable with it so soon after being introduced to it is the only proof anyone should need that this thing is a design miracle.  I’m so glad Beni is finally getting comfortable with on–line stuff like banking, and I love watching her use the phone so competently.

The girls banded together and for my birthday got me a Roku streaming player for the TV.  It came today.  It took a while to install, but it’s a great device, too.  There are so many channels available on the thing.  There are several hundred in the Roku Channel Store, and a whole bunch more “unlisted” channels that are available but not offered in the Channel Store.  The gay channel is one of the “hidden” ones.  I’ve been busy the past several hours just exploring all the content available.  I’m still not sure I’ve checked it all out.  I LOVE it!!!

I envy Casey (my granddaughter) who was born in 2002.  Imagine the technology she will experience and use in her lifetime.  She will be living her life with technologies that I can’t begin to fathom, and I think that is amazing.  She is a whiz on the computer already and can play games on her Wii and on some other smaller games computer that she carries around with her.  She takes it all for granted!  Good for her.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Don't




It’s ironic.  Beni and I have been married for 32.5 years, and both of us are, to some extent, anti–marriage.  We come to this opinion from very different starting points, believe me.  I can’t and won’t speak for Beni (she might find out!!!), but I think it’s okay to say that her opposition to marriage is based on her appreciation of the historical oppression of women.  I share that appreciation, but my feelings against marriage are inspired by other beliefs and observations.

Sarah is married to Matt, and I am glad that they are together.  They probably won’t agree, but I see their “coupleness” as a mutually complimentary and efficient union.  As a couple, they are clearly (to me, anyway) more than the sum of their parts.  How important a marriage certificate is to their synergy, I don’t know.

Annie is engaged to Jared, and they are planning a June wedding.  Here, too, I believe the two of them compliment and strengthen one another.  But again I wonder whether the legalities of marriage will add anything to the efficacy of their union.

Our daughters Rebecca and Beni Marie are not married and, as far as I know, have no immediate plans to marry.

My distaste for the institution of marriage comes from several sources.  First, it is a heterosexist concept that historically has favored the male.  I believe it is a product of male insecurity and the male need to control events and other people.  How horrible it would be for some insecure hunter–gatherer to come back to the cave and find his wife pregnant by the hunter–gatherer from next door.  What a shock to his fragile self–esteem!  How unfair to have to love and care for a rival’s offspring and leave to that bastard his hard–won estate.

Faithfulness, or sexual exclusivity, is a constitutional part of marriage.  I don’t understand this.  Sex and love/affection certainly are connected in some sexual encounters, but by no means in all.  If marriage is to last, in my opinion there has to be a strong underlying friendship.  And friends don’t demand exclusivity, or much of anything else, from one another.  In our time, pregnancy isn’t necessarily a possible outcome in every instance of heterosexual intercourse.  Men and women have the means and the freedom to control if and when pregnancy might occur.  If the risk of pregnancy is absent, then why all the fuss about sex with someone other than the spouse?  Is intercourse the heart of heterosexual marriage?  If so, no wonder we have a 50% divorce rate.  Sex over time is just not that compelling.  What should be at the core of any long–term relationship, I believe, is a commitment to friendship.  Friends enjoy one another.  Friends have things in common.  Friends listen to one another in times of crisis and sorrow.  Friends have one another’s backs.  And friendship doesn’t need legislation to exist or to endure.

Many married people, I believe, expect too much from their spouses.  A spouse to these people has to be a great lover, inventive in his/her sexual technique over the long haul so as to keep the marriage “fresh.”  The spouse has to be a good, if not best, friend, able to understand, like, enjoy, and live with the other.  The spouse has to be a good and mature co–parent.  The spouse has to agree on how money is earned and spent.  The spouse has to like, or at least be tolerant of, the other’s friends, and the other’s friends spouses.  And the spouse has to accept and get along with the other’s family, no matter how odd, dysfunctional, or different that family may be.  How many people can be all these things for someone else?  There is so much expectation heaped on the institution of marriage that no one can fill all the roles.

Beni and I are friends.  Beni is my best friend, no doubt about it, and I believe I am hers, but I don’t know whether she thinks that.  Beni has been my best friend for more than half my lifetime.  We know one another and, more or less accept one another.  We are married, that’s true, but we use the terms “husband” and “wife” sparingly and only when necessary.  We live in the same house, but we try to stay out of one another’s way.  We both have become stronger people over the course of our time together, and we each have our own interests and habits.  There are days when Beni is getting up just when I am getting ready to go to bed.  We both love and enjoy our daughters, but in very different ways.  We share strong core beliefs, but we argue over insignificant details.  We enjoy seeing one another happy.  We have stayed together, I believe, mainly because we gave up on the idea of, and all the expectations associated with, marriage, and instead have embraced our friendship.