Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I Learned in 2008

My parents were in New York this year for my 30th birthday. After two AMOK shows in Harlem we walked probably two miles along 125th Street from Madison Avenue all the way over to Broadway. It could have been a few blocks past Broadway. It was dark, there were hundreds of people out. I was cranky, hungry and dirty with glitter and circus grime. We ended up, about 15 of us, at a Cuban diner, late-ish, practically closing the place. Over dinner, Jennifer asked Jenny and I to talk about what plans, what resolutions, we might have for the coming year--it's Jenny's birthday too on 9/21; I could not ask for a more inspiring birthday twin.

I wasn't prepared to talk extemporaneously about my plans. I didn't have any. At that point, about 8 weeks into full-speed circus mode, I barely had time to plan a good breakfast, never mind reflect on the past year and the one ahead--and turning 30--this thing that everyone was asking me about. Jenny spoke eloquently about having attended a wedding and finding herself out of place, about being reminded of who you are, who you are not. We all nodded our heads; I felt humbled by the exactness, the clarity of her story. When it was my turn, I went on a few minutes about trying to live in the moment--whatever that means--and I wasn't exactly happy with the way it all came out. I knew that I was feeling so many other things, having so many other important, meaningful realizations, but that I felt unable to articulate the details at that time.

It's been a few months, and I think I've figured it out.

At Thanksgiving this year, we were asked to write down something we were thankful for on a strip of paper, and put it in a bowl. Everyone's papers were passed around, one thankful-for-thing was pulled out, read aloud anonymously, and the bowl was passed along. Here is what I wrote: "I am thankful for the realization that I am the only one who should define my career."

Somewhere along the way, 2008 taught me that what I want from the world, what I want from my life, is really nothing more than community. In my early 20s, I felt a pressure, partly from myself, partly from the outside world, to become a certain kind of writer. The benchmarks for this kind of writer are, I thought: a story about you in the New York Times Magazine, perhaps a scathing review, a glowing review, a mention that you are "one to watch." A member of the 20 under 20. Or the 30 under 30. (Is there a 40 under 40? Probably not.) I thought that this was the kind of writer I needed to be, even wanted to be. I picked up random books at the Barnes & Noble, read a few pages--clearly I was more "talented" than these writers. Clearly, I had more skills with language and more interest in making art than this schlocky waste of trees. Right?

Okay, sort of. Maybe.

Something has shifted in me. Reviews would be nice. Press would be nice. Magazine covers would be a fun experience. (But do writers end up magazine covers anyway? Are reviews actually nice?) I realized somewhere that the only thing conventional publishing had to offer me is money. Money and perhaps a certain trajectory--and, of course, none of it is guaranteed. My interest in the "book" world has waned. I'm less interested in doing the work that it takes to get published. I'm less interested in doing any kind of work that's not fulfilling. And that kind of work is not fulfilling.

What is fulfilling: Writing. Sitting at home, alone with the words and the screen and the voices in my head. Sharing my work with the artists that make up my community. My circus community, my friends, my peers, other artists whose work I have learned from, explored, been slayed by. Should a book deal come sliding under my door tomorrow morning, you bet I'm signing it. But the enchantment of publishing has worn off for me. The idea that things come from it has worn off. Yes, they do--many things can come from it.

But then, what else is fulfilling: The work I've delved into in the last two or three years. Bringing vital, community-building theater, all for free, with queer visibility, to the people of New York City. Sharing in the amazing, taste-bud-exploding bounty of the earth with the joyful, the ornery, the elderly, the children, the people of all cultures and races, with farmers and farmer's daughters. To be squeezed into shape by the seasons, watching flakes drop out of the sky one at a time until the branches are covered and the world is quiet and white. To watch children, third graders, fifth grades, talk about a painting that they've never seen before, something complex and wonderful, and say to the teacher "I feel like I love this picture because it has in it everything that I feel every day."

The other idea here, the one that has just occurred to me is this: I am grateful. My writing has slowed--mostly due to lack of bandwidth, and partly due to the current project, which is long, extremely difficult, and often (I think) beyond my creative powers, as if my eyes were bigger than my stomach. None of this means that I am not writing, or won't write, or have given it up. It only means that I find myself so honored and grateful and empowered by the work that I am doing, that the writing sometimes too introspective, too contained, too idiosyncratic. The only times I am pulled toward it, are the times that I feel the need to hold myself closer, to hide the flame from the wind. As it were. Those moments still happen, of course. (One is happening now!)

As I write this, I am flying north from Charlotte to New York City, on my way home from being in Tennessee for a few days, visiting family, feeling bored and loved, feeling happy and fed. I wrote this in an email on the flight down -- and it sums up how I'm feeling now, too:
I wonder if people -- People with a capital P, the gyrating human mass -- are somehow bettered for having been offered this perspective. This morning, on CNN, I heard that at 8:00am there were already more than 1900 planes in the air above the United States. What sort of amazing release would that collective sigh create if all 20,000 or so people looked out their windows at the play of sunlight on the clouds? I wonder if we'd fall out of the sky. Or lift right on up through the layers into space itself. Beyond, toward the horizon, the sky fades from a darker blue into a thin strip of bright lightness. Beyond that is the ocean. I can't see it, but I trust that it's there.
Another thing I am thinking of--people on the ground should write messages on rooftops to people in the air. "Hang in there." "Good Luck." "We Believe in You."

Happy 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Temporary Solution / Thank You

In the guest bathroom, where I stay when I visit my parents' house in Chattanooga, on the back of the toilet there is a bottle of spearmint-eucalyptus hand lotion. When I walk into the room, my eyes pick out the bottle instantly, but on closer inspection, I read it more clearly. These two scents, at all costs, I try to avoid. On the bureau in the same bedroom is a bottle of Gold Bond Advanced Healing lotion, which claims to have a "fresh scent," as well as language printed on the front of the bottle claiming that it is "fast-absorbing." In my coat pocket, I have a small bottle -- 2 oz., or just enough to get me through TSA security -- of something lotion I bought at the airport. At home, there is a tub of shay butter direct from Africa, two bottles of Aveda lotion (one "cooling with oatmeal," and another "regular.") In my shoulder bag, which I carry with me everywhere, there is a 3 oz. tube of Vaseline Intensive Therapy Cream.

Every year, about the middle of October, sometimes closer to November, the skin on my hands and fingers becomes drier, and drier, until, it seems, that it just dies, becomes rough, and starts to flake away. It's a function of the weather, the dry air, the cold, and I'm sure me biting my nails doesn't help. I try to combat all this by applying a series of lotions and creams--hence the above obsession. I have convinced myself that some combination of these creams will do the trick, and that I have just to find the right order, the right dosage, as if it's a riddle to be solved by trials. Got any other solutions? Really, please share.

The good news is, that I seem to have found some combination of the Gold Bond and the Vaseline Intensive Care -- starting just after coming from the shower with the former -- and ending about a half hour after first and second application with the latter.

Sorry the posts have been slower than normal, the holidays have been distracting, and fun and fabulous. I send a huge thank you out to all my loyal readers.

Have a fantastic new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Spectacular!

I've always liked using 'spectacular' as a noun. For the last few weeks, I've been inciting jealous fits in many of my peers, upon sharing (confessing? bragging?) that I'd be seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with my boyfriend and my favorite lesbians. I've been here almost 11 years and I'd never seen it -- and upon hearing months ago that Laura & Amy were also itching to take part, I got us a chunk of second mezzanine tickets.

Radio City Music Hall is probably my favorite venue in the entire city -- it's just the most beautiful space, and it remains the largest indoor theater in the world. I learned last night that it was designed to look like a sunrise as seen from an ocean liner. How smart is that? Small details that make it unique: the ramped entrance, the oval lobby, the curtain--okay, not so small, as it's also the largest in the world.

The show itself is....how can I explain that I never wanted it to end, and yet I needed it to stop. One huge number after another, Rockettes in costume after costume, the huge stage elevators, ice skating, an LED screen as wide and tall as a city block, fireworks, Flying by Foy, plushy bears doing bits from The Nutcracker, and (with help from that screen,) an infinite number of Santas dancing off into oblivion. Oh, and then there's the whole sheep, camels, Christchild, procession scene -- including the most lush blue curtain I've ever seen, like insanely beautiful draping. Then big finale where the song lyrics are projected onto the beaming gold walls of the theater and that part where the mylar ribbons explode into the space. There's no time to rest, to catch your breath. Plus, there's a 3D movie at the opening, with glasses tucked inside your program.

It's not bad -- it's actually fantastic. But it's garish, saccharine, and I guess in the end what makes it a little grating is the fact that every number essentially runs at the same speed. There's only one level here, and it's balls-out, breakneck. Theatrically, it sort of goes on an on, and then when it's over, you want intermission and another 90 minutes. The whole thing is so baffling.

Here's a couple of clips from the evening. The first is one of the Rockette's opening numbers -- there seemed to be a few different opening numbers, the first of which has them all dressed like S&M-ish reindeer, tethered by velvet rope to Santa's sleigh. Then, the second clip is part of the Million Santas number, what you see coming down from above is a rack of handbells.




Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaser Trailer, Vol. 2

In his office, which was a large gray oval, Dr. Samuelsson lifted a stack of papers on his glass-topped desk and fetched a pen from underneath them. He scrawled some notes onto a yellow pad—possible morning rituals, a list of phone calls to make—and then turned to look out the window, where a yellowthroat had landed on a branch. He watched it a few moments, its gleaming yellow breast shining in the sunlight. But when he reached for his camera, it startled and flew away. “Damn,” he muttered.

Allyn peeked in from the hallway. “Doctor? Rudine is ready for her initial mapping.”

“Thank you, darling. Tell her I’ll be just a minute or two more.” He fussed with the papers, moving them from one stack to another.

“She’s ready now.” Allyn smiled. “A bit fussy. The cap needs refitting, I think.”

“It’s fine.”

“She’s right, actually," she said. "It’s fine for now, but I’ll see if I can resize it this afternoon.”

“That’s why I married you,” he said.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Excitement!

-Someone graffiti'd on a wall along 34th Street "United We Stank."

-We're going skiing in Maine for Kip's 45th Birthday!

-We're going to see Sandra Bernhard at Joe's Pub just after Xmas!!

-We're seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with my two favorite lesbians!!!

-Exciting things are happening at the Circus!!!!

-I unstuck a lid for one of the ladies at the jam stand today at the market--and felt like a hero.

-Then I came home and removed a splinter from my finger--and felt totally self-sufficient.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

On Reading in Public

In the last year or so, I've had the pleasant opportunity to read my work in public, at various venues (bookstores and dive bars,) to various audiences (lots of friends, welcoming strangers and uninterested strangers,) and to (I think) a generally a positive reaction. However, what's really rewarding about the experience is how it teaches you about your work in general--the way it affects people, the way it sounds in the room, how it can surprise even you who wrote it and edited it 9,000 times, and how, in the end, you have no control whatsoever over the work once it's out in the world.

When you're asked to read something--this goes for me; I don't know how other writers do it--you either read what you're asked to read (in the case of a book release party, or reading on a theme,) or you pick something else. The choosing is where the weirdness starts to occur. I find that you're given a few options: 1) Read something that people will like, 2) Read something that you think will make people like you, 3) Read something popular, or funny, or charming, 4) Read what you want to read.

What's weird about all this is that the only one you have real control over is the last one, though you have to combat all this self-inflicted pressure to do one of the others. You want people to be entertained--there's nothing worse than a writer who's reading badly, not engaged, and not, as I say, recognizing that this is a performative moment! People came out, maybe in the cold, maybe in the rain, when the could be home watching TV, some paid a fee, and so you really need to bring your shit to the table. But also worse is the writer who picks something that's not really what his audience wants to hear--too erudite, wrong for the venue, messy.

Reading in public has taught me something about my work that maybe I already felt a little here and there, but has now been confirmed in a totally awesome and unexpected way. I generally like to read the more introspective, meloncholy, uneventful, detailed pieces. Not the funny stuff--do I even write funny stuff?--not the flashier, pop-culture-filled stuff that I think will get an immediate reaction. What's fascinating me lately is how I don't get much reaction during the reading--I only mean compared to, say, other writers on the same bill--no groans, or grunts of interest, or whatever goofy sounds an audience makes. But I think I'm getting a lot of reaction after.

When people come up to tell me that they enjoyed the reading, or the piece, they are doing it in this totally weird, almost private way. It's as if several things are happening at once. The writing is about a fragile person, and maybe they are projecting that fragility onto me, the writer, and they take an extra kind of care with their physical approach. (Or maybe this is always how you approach a stranger?) They talk quietly. They don't want to shake my hand. They stand a bit away and lean their top half forward to say something personal, or vaguely confessional. I don't know what's going on here--I'm not new to performing in public, but I am still somewhat new to reading in public. Maybe other writers have this same observation.

So I'm learning something new about how all the time and effort I put into making writing that's clear, emotional, and meaningful is making people feel. It's been a lovely opportunity. I'm very grateful.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My YouTube Debut

Thanks for coming out last night. And for everybody who missed it, here's me reading a few pages at last night's event at Nowhere bar. Due to technological mysteriousness, the first minute or so is missing--but you get the idea.

Thanks again, also, to the incomparable Charlie Vasquez.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Town Hall, Twice.

Ani Difranco played The Town Hall on Friday and Saturday nights, and I was there. Of course. Because I'm a huge fan and I have to go to as many shows as I can. I tallied them up, and turns out, these two were shows #29 and #30. This is not that absurd--some people who are fans of, say, the Broadway musical "Rent," saw it more than 150 times.

Her band is simply astounding: relaxed but energetic, textural, goofy looking. And the new songs, although a bit on the obvious side when it comes to lyrics, are still spotted with those trademark Ani-isms that somehow break it all down.

Take this:
Promiscuity is nothing more than traveling
There's more than one way to see the world
And some of us like to stay close to home
And some of us are Columbus, what can i say
Both shows were so fantastic. Setlists are here, for those of you who also get it:

11/21:
-LPC
-Paradigm
-Fuel
-Present/Infant
-Smiling Underneath
-Here for now
-Red Letter Year
-Napoleon
-Nicotine
-The Atom
-Promiscuity
-Everest
-Splinter
-Alla This
-November 4
-Landing Gear
-Gravel
==
-Every state line
-Overlap


11/22:
-God's Country
-Paradigm
-Swan Dive
-Smiling Underneath
-Back, Back, Back
-Untouchable Face
-'Round a Pole
-Emancipated Minor
-As Is
-The Atom
-Present/Infant
-Promiscuity
-Way Tight
-Alla This
-November 4
-Splinter
-Shameless
==
-Both hands
-Hypnotized

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Partitas, etc.

Some part of me always wonders if, when I step into a church, I'll burst into flames. So I was a bit surprised on Tuesday night, when, at St. Peter's Church in Midtown, I didn't. I had gone to see a friend of a friend play one of Bach's solo partitas for violin, (Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, to be exact) which was described by the program notes as the "Mount Everest" of solo violin. Wikipedia says that the piece is: "a pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire in that it covers practically every aspect of violin-playing known during Bach's time and thus it is among the most difficult pieces to play for that instrument." Truly, it was amazing. Beautiful, deep, moving, athletic.

And because I am the kind of person--and the kind of writer--who is as intrigued by the almost-missed details as the main event, I was as impressed by her playing as I was her moment of reflection before starting. She took a breath, closed her eyes, focused her thoughts toward something outside of herself, or perhaps inside. It was, I think, as important for her as it was for those of us in the audience. It said to us: I am about to try to do something very difficult. It's important, and I need your help. Should you have the chance to hear someone tackle this--do.

My friend (and downstairs neighbor) Mary was accompanying on piano for the other pieces on the evening's program. Mary has a grand piano in her living room, which is the same size as my living room, which is to say it takes up most of the space. I suppose it could be a nuisance, living above a professional pianist, having to listen to the hours and hours of practice and learning, of rote exercises and strange inconsistent blips of sound. But I like it. Years ago, I asked her if she knew Manuel de Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance," which is my favorite piece of music for piano. She said she didn't, but that she knew of it, and would learn it. I get to hear it now periodically, floating up through the floor while I'm cooking, or working, or sorting the mail.

I realized, while I was sitting in the aisles of the church, that there is a certain kind of older lady that I like--there were several of them seated around me. They've raised their children, and they color their hair, and they wear clothes that are a very specific kind of older lady. A vest with a busy print, maybe metallic, over a basic turtleneck and a long skirt. Large jewelry--big pendants on chains, brooches and big rings. It's desexualized, like a lot of older lady looks, but its kept a certain kind of style. Maybe in trying desperately hard not to look like what they think an old lady looks like, they've created their very own subset of old-lady looks. Dark, rich colors are definitely in.

Yesterday, I had to take the train up to Mt. Sinai hospital to make a hand off for one of my too many jobs, and I took the opportunity to walk across the park at about 98th Street, and take the train on the West side back down to the office. It was very cold, but also very bright. The park is a different place way up there, with bigger spaces, and practically empty. I buried my hands in my pockets and took my time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No on H8

It's been many years since I joined the throngs of fervent, angry, optimistic activists, carrying signs and candles, marching down Broadway in support of some cause or another. When I began taking my writing seriously--that is to say, when I began writing intentionally, for the purpose of writing--something in my perspective shifted, and I became even more of an observer. For better or for worse*, it has become increasingly impossible for me to include myself in the rants--"What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!" My own thinking became separate from the We, and I always think of the protesters as They. What do they want? When do they want it?

But Prop 8 changed things. And last night, with more than 10,000 other people--from what I saw this morning, the AP reported roughly 10,000; estimates from within the crowd were at about 16,000--I marched in protest of California's decision to deny equal rights to thousands of its queer neighbors. We began outside the Mormon Temple at 65th Street--surely it was empty. Surely they were wise enough to go home early? When we first arrived on the scene, I kept thinking, Why isn't everyone spread out? Why aren't they blocking traffic? Why aren't they climbing the face of the temple and pouring buckets of fake blood down the front of it?** Once the energy and numbers came to a head, we marched slowly down Broadway and into Columbus Circle. People in cars cheered and honked. People leaned out of their windows and off their balconies and cheered. It was great.

My queerness separates me from the heteronormal relationship model, and that's the way I like it. A few years ago, when it became clear that gay marriage would be a huge dividing line in the queer and straight communities, I didn't really see myself as part of the movement. I don't exactly agree that "marriage" is our greatest need. In fact, I think the religious right picked the issue for us, as a way to force decision-makers to take a stand. And here we go again, unable to define our own movement, our own self-identity. The right to marry, in itself, does not serve the primary needs of most of queer culture--you could argue that it actually further marginalizes an already marginalized group of human beings. (Add that marriage is a religious institution grown out of patriarchy, and now existing primarily in the realm of capitalism and this bizarre notion that "we are just like you.")

The gay community needs to address the fact that its face is primarily one of gay white males, who--for various reasons: race, class, power--have become the loudest voice in the marriage movement. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that our white male privilege has left us feeling more entitled to those rights, and therefore more affronted when they are taken away, or perhaps anger is a more acceptable reaction for white males. And in a state like California, people of color are going to have to get behind your idea. And I wonder if there was enough outreach into those communities--did a bunch of gay white men want to pass out information in a black church? And would they have been welcome? The gay community needs to address its own racism. The black and Latino communities need to address their homophobia--and true, most social movements in those communities begin in their churches.

But I wonder, too, about the choice to target Mormons, a religious group who's (arguably) been persecuted enough. But I realize the issues that are setting people off--the fact that roughly $20M of Mormon money was spent to fund advertising (among other things) that was made up of lies. And I think people are using Mormonism as a stepping off point to talk about the entire religious right's involvement in politics, and about any church's involvement in the state. I don't object to a religious group getting muscle behind an idea, but I do resent the money spent on absolute false presentations. If you're a Mormon in Texas who gave $50 to the cause, you should be upset, too, that in your name someone financed lies and signed hate into law. Did you know this when you signed the check? (It occurs to me that they probably did.)

All that said, the passing of Prop 8 in California is hateful, vengeful, disgusting, and wrong. It makes me sick to my stomach. No amount of talk about movements and faces of movements, about privilege and whiteness, capitalism and patriarchy, change the fact that what it finally boils down to is this: people want to love one another. And they want to say publicly that they are willing to take a chance. Even in the face of the fact that half--HALF--of all marriages end in divorce, that's how optimistic us gays are. We're willing to sign our names on the line for even a 50% chance at happiness.

I felt a part of something last night, as fractured as my feelings are about the issue. Kip and I held hands, we held each other. There were so many men kissing each other, both in greetings and out of love. One our way to the subway, I heard someone say, "New York is totally next."



*Sometimes I wonder if this ambivalence has made me a better writer, but a more distant person. Or the opposite. Probably, neither is true.

**Okay, theatrics. But hey, I'm one for drama. Kip kept reminding me that this was to be a "peaceful" protest. I heard some conservative news programs claiming that "gays" were "rioting" all over the country in response to Prop 8--so I figure, if they're going to report that, then hell, we might as well riot.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Plath Would Say I Made You Up

I sat on the couch and watched you close
the door to your tiny bedroom
and then I listened to you call the boy
who interested you more than I did.
(Geography or age or body type.
I never knew what was the difference
between us. I stared at photos of him
trying to understand.)

I buried you like a botanical bulb inside me
cultivating you until you were a bright, amazing vine
that bloomed around me, while I willed
myself into the unconscious limbo of sleep,
or not sleep -- I wanted you in my dreams, too.
Plath would say I made you up.

You were still there in the morning, in your bedroom.
Alone, which soothed me. Some.

There are some people I know
for whom the longing is the point.
I watched the shadows made by
your body along the bottom
of the door.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Reading Nov 26 @ Nowhere

I'm reading some new stuff:

Wed, Nov 26
8pm SHARP

Nowhere Bar
322 East 14th Street
(btwn 1st and 2nd Aves)

Featuring myself, as well as Carol Novack, Sassafras Lowrey and Matthew Johnson.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Summary of Text Messages Received

Capitalization and punctuation preserved.

-Whoo hoo! Feels a little brighter
-Its amazing. And majorities in both houses!
-in shock.
-Free at last!
-I don't even know this feeling
-OK!
-I haven't been this happy in a very long while. I'm elated.
-Overjoyed. Overwhelmed!!
-Crying. Hugging. Never felt so full of hope.
-Yay!!!!!!!!
-Holy sht
-AMAZG! AMAAZZG!
-Loves it
-Are you seeng ths?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dinner at Pipa

For my birthday--which was more than a month ago--Kip and I went to Pipa with Robert and Sean. Pipa is that tapas restaurant that's sort of inside ABC Carpet and Home. Overall, the food was pretty inconsistent, now that I think about it. Some things were really phenomenal, and some things were strangely forgettable. But, with pitchers of delicious sangria--"Red, since summer is over," said Kip--who really cares? I say go, eat lots, and bring good company.

What we ate:

Superb:
--Mini Chorizo, with sherry, olive oil, and chilies
--Crispy Calamari; with some kind of sweet paprika-ish glaze.
--Mushroom Croquettes; with rosemary, thyme and garlic
--Same for Ham Croquettes and Cheese Croquettes. Deelish.
--Mushroom Coca; wild mushrooms, caramelized onion, fig, serrano, almond, truffle oil.


As expected:
--Dates; stuffed with cheese (I think) and wrapped in pork.
--Asparagus; with some kind of truffle aioli.
--Manchego plate; with standard accessories.

Regretful:
--Scallops a la Mancha; with caramelized onions, manchego and crispy seranno.
--"Pipa Coca;" sobrasada, artichoke, tomato, pepper and manchego flatbread.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We Say It's a Slow Burn

I forgot this was out there in the universe. It's not all that uncommon for people to drag a camera crew around the Greenmarket, and sometimes they stop and ask you questions, although you never get to see what it finally looks like. I am not at my best -- and I will spare you the million things that I'd like to change about my performance....

Check it out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Back from the Brink

What a lag! I've been thinking of you, I just couldn't seem to get it together.

--Kip and I hosted our annual pumpkin-carving fete last night. Cory took first prize with his spider-web pumpkin, and Ross nabbed second place with his one-eyed, slightly-goofy, slightly-adorable looking pumpkin. Kip had it in his mind that this was some kind of Oktoberfest thing, what with brats and beer, but when it came down to it, I didn't really want to cook anything as boring as that -- not without a grill, at least -- and so I made pulled pork tacos with rice and beans. Also, a veggie medley for Joe. Plus this amazing tomatillo salsa with green apples. I thought it was good. People seemed to eat it up. Note to everyone: When you serve tacos, chop more cilantro than you think they will eat, and the same with cheese. (Props to Cory and Sean, friends who I adore, who made the long-ass trek from one borough to another.)

--While I was in Chicago, I saw about 30 minutes of The Duchess, the new movie with Kiera Knightly. We sat in on that one before seeing Burn After Reading, which was the movie we bought tickets to see. Ms. Knightly is absolutely amazing in it -- nobody does that period piece stuff like she does, it's like she was born to play The Duchess, and I sort of want to see the whole movie now. SPOLER ALERT!! Does she eventually just trade babies with the other girl?

--I'm reading at Nowhere Bar toward the end of November.

--Someone told me the other day that they thought healthcare was something that should be "earned" and not just "given away." This, naturally, changed my opinion about this person. I wondered what a person is supposed to do if they get cancer and yet they haven't earned their right to healthcare yet? And what is this person's criteria for earning your healthcare? Rising to a certain class? Whiteness? Ugh.

--The best news: I am feeling optimistic. About everything.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Off to Chicago / My Sisiphean Moment

I am off to Chicago for a few days of frolicking through their city blocks, seeing beaucoups de old friends, and hopefully eating lots and lots until all I can do is lay flat. I'm back in the middle of the week.

People ask me sometimes what it's like to work at the Greenmarket. One of the things I sell is maple candy, and just because today was one of those days where the sun is shining, the leaves are beautiful, the breeze is cool--and the people don't stop asking the same friggin' question over and over--I thought I would sort of be grumpy about the whole thing and give you this, the standard exchange:
-How much is the candy?
-It's $15 per pound, with no minimum.
-Can I just get a few pieces?
-Yes, there is no minimum.
-Well how much for a little bit?
-It depends on the weight.
-Well, like how much?
-Anywhere from about 50 cents up to a pound.
-But I don't want to buy a pound.
-I said there is NO MINIMUM.
-So how much is just a little bit?
Now try that 9,000 times in a row.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Material World

I read this afternoon that Liz Rosenberg confirmed that Madonna and Guy Richie are planning a divorce. The first thing I thought of was a poem by Sharon Olds, "Summer Solstice, New York City." This is how the poem begins:
By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it,
he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building
and over the soft, tarry surface
to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice
and said if they came a step closer that was it.
I pictured Madonna in her English castle, surrounded by telephones and assistants and stylists and hairstylists and makeup artists and emails and photos to approve or not approve, five or six syringes full of liquid pink B12 rubber-banded together on the side table. I saw her surrounded by her estimated $400 million net worth, by her three children, each born to a different father, by her rows upon rows of Givenchy and Gautier couture. I saw her there, now at the end of her longest day of the year, and saw that she could not stand it.

I don't know if it seems shallow, or naive, or melodramatic, but I feel really sad for her. I'm sure it sucks for him, too--but I don't know him very well. I've known her my whole life--or whatever her she has constructed for us to know in the last twenty-five years--but so what? What, in the end, is the difference? She was there when my my mother pulled the VCR's plug out of the wall after she heard Madonna say 'Fuck' ten times in the Blonde Ambition Tour. She was there when I realized that I was maybe moving a little too gayish in my gym class when 'Open Your Heart' came on the radio. She was there when I was walking across the Christopher Street Pier, 'Express Yourself' on my iPod--the sunset and the moon and I felt like anything was possible.

I thought of Ms. Olds' poem because it speaks to the subtext of suicide--and also of divorce--which is the fundamental question we, humanity, always carry around, and that is: "If she can't do it, how can I?"

Oh, Madonna, we love you, get up.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dispatch from the B61

I love the B61. I am riding it from Carroll Gardens to South Williamsburg. My day job--that would be the one where we teach kids critical thinking skills through interaction with visual art--is contemplating a location change. Rather, we are being forced to location-change due to rising rents. (New York City, I love you; Landlords, eat shit and die.) So, as a tester-outer, a kind of see-how-shitty-this-actually-would-be, Nick and I are meeting to look at the possible space on South 6th Street--a lovely 4th floor corner office--and ask probably tedious questions of the current tenant. "Does this sun get too hot by this window?" "What about the radiator?" "Is it loud when the subway goes past?"

As we saunter around the chunky lucite furniture and fabulous Eames conference room chairs--the office currently belongs to a set dresser/prop house--she answers all the questions politely, encouragingly, as if she herself were the agent getting the commission. "The light is warm, but in the winter you'll really love it." I even feel the need to ask about where the electrical outlets are, and she points, "All that is plugged in back there, you just can't see it." Somehow this makes me feel secure. About the trains going by on the Williamsburg Bridge--fifty feet from the window--she says, "You know, it's New York, the subway is just there and you get used to it." This made me think again of the bus. What would it be like, I thought, to only take the subway one or two times a week, which is a distinct possibility, should things go down this path.

If you take the bus, you move at a more appropriate speed--only walking, which is clearly not an option at this distance, provides a more natural pace. The bus allows time to notice the sort of things I like to notice, or can't help but notice: the textures of the trash heaped up by the corner, the kind of buttons on the cuffs of the lady standing by the curb.

I could also decide to become a person who bikes from here to there. But, you know, I have a lot of fear surrounding that. As you well could imagine. But I am not adamantly opposed to it. It's something I'm interested in it as an idea. (I say that a lot, whatever it means. I think it means "I am scared to death of this, but it is also intriguing." Other things that I am interested in as ideas: culinary school, moving to the beach in northeast Florida, touring with Ani Difranco for a year and writing a book about it.)

But, the bus is so civilized. The people who ride it often know each other from the same long, bumpy trips they take to and from home every day at the same time. They talk, they ask about each other's children. They ask about each other's doctor's appointments and weird skin anomolies--it's sort of like hell on earth, and a writer's fantasyland, all at once.

Not that bus riding needs a lengthy defense, but I offer this, as my closing argument: If you are standing outside the subway turnstile underground, and you don't have the fare you need, you could stand there for a half hour before you have enough money to get you where you are going. And then you'd have to find a Metrocard machine that works. Or you'd have to con someone into giving you a swipe from their card. But if you get on the bus, and discover that you are out of change--I've seen it happen a dozen times--everyone in the front half will dig through their pockets as if by command, and donate what they have. It's a small thing, but to me it feels like a miracle. It's a small act of forgiveness performed between strangers, in public.

Sorry there's no closure here. I don't know what the outcome is.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Surface Temperature, Part 4 of 4

Many years ago, I wrote this short story, "Surface Temperature" -- I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It's mostly bad, but there's something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It's a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I've felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago--maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it's worth, part 4 of 4:

I have come to a conclusion. When everything is blown up, all you have is what is behind you. No matter what you plan to do, how many experiences you hope to live, who you plan to marry, what you want to be when you grow up, where you want to buy a house, and what you want done to your body when you die - none of that matters. Because all that can be taken away, and it will. I hear people who are thirty years old asking each other "what do you want to do with your life?" They talk as if life somehow begins as soon as you decide that it has. They're waiting for the defining moment to alert them to the fact that life has indeed begun. But the thing is that waiting doesn't get you anywhere. Waiting is what those people back at the grocery store are doing. Waiting is what that man selling kites is doing. Waiting is dying, and they're just doing it slower. I can't live that way. I'm afraid of dying that way.

So here I am sitting on the sand with just the ends of my toes in the water. I wiggle them back and forth and the heavy sand covers them. I move my ankles a bit more and the sand cracks open to reveal my now nuclear skin. Funny, it still looks the same. The air around me is becoming more and more chemical. When the wind blows now, it smells like boiling ammonia and ozone. My UFO kites block the sun and spin a shadow on my chest that dances across my torso and shoulders. There is no one, as far as I can see.

What is my life? I am terribly disappointed in what I have accomplished so far. But there it is again, so far. In a few hours there won't be anything left to desire. All I've ever worked for, hoped for, asked for, has come down to this moment, and all I have to show for it is a couple of UFO kites.

I shove their strings deep into the sand and pile more on top so that they are well anchored. I pull off my swim trunks, then lie down again. The chemical air is blowing across my entire naked body. The heat is greater now, and the sun has moved directly above me. I move myself down onto more of the wet sand. I shift my weight from one shoulder to another to push the sand out from under me, making a hole. I wiggle and writhe until there is room enough to cover my whole body. I slide into the hole I've made and begin to cover myself up with wet sand. I even cover my face. I'm taking a hint from those turtles. I move down into a hole in the sand to wait for the surface to cool, so I can come bursting out to make a mad dash towards life. My UFO kites are flying like tethered birds above where I'm buried. I wonder will anyone see them. Every few minutes (or every few seconds, I've lost all time now) I check the surface of the sand for coolness. Only it gets hotter and hotter each time I check. I'm beginning to wonder if it will ever again be cool to the touch.

I eventually fall asleep. When I wake up (who knows how much later) I check the sand above me, knowing that now is the time. But it's still hot. The sand feels so hot that I think it might be cool at first, but I know that feeling all too well from standing barefoot in the road as a kid. I don't have enough guts to burst out like the sea turtles did. I'm too afraid of what I might find out there. I'm too afraid of how hot it actually might be.

I can only wait. Wait like those poor crying mothers in the freezer case. Wait like the kite salesman. And the waiting feels like dying, only slower.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What Happened on the Train

A few things happened on the train Tuesday morning.

1) I started reading again.
A Book of Common Prayer is my favorite of Joan Didion's novels, and whenever I've been struggling with concentration, with having no interest in anything written, with the desire to disappear into the games on my iPod--which I have been doing for the last 6-8 weeks--I go back to this novel. Every time I read it, I find new things, or things I'd forgotten re-appear. Grace Strasser-Mendana, the narrator, is stronger this time for me than she's ever been before; perhaps foolishly, I always thought it was a novel about Charlotte Douglas. Perhaps this is what happens when you read a good novel--but I started wondering if Grace and I are any different. We, Grace and I, seem to view the world as an accumulation of evidence. I could be projecting this on Grace, as well. I still feel that it's true.

2) I reconsidered my notion of bandwidth.
The circus takes up all of my energy: emotional, physical, creative. It uses up all my patience. It uses up all my critical-thinking skills, my sense of aesthetics, my concentration, my ability to simply decide between the lemonade or the Coca-Cola. This is not the first time I've discovered this, but it seems that every year I am re-learning it anew, as if part of what drives me (us?) forward year after year is the ability to forget what happened last year. There must be some medical term for this, some psychological condition--I think it has to do with the drug making you forget the reasons you need it, or something--although this drug is a hugely-important, amazing part of my creative and social existence. Not damaging, just exhausting. Anyway, all these things are the facts of the situation, without interpretation. And most of me would rather leave this story at that. Because, for me, the facts are the interpretation. (Just like Grace in A Book of Common Prayer.)

The other part of this idea of running out of bandwidth, was that, feeling all these things that the circus makes you feel, (plus a huge sense of accomplishment and joy,) I thought again about this argument I'm always having in my head with Virginia Woolf. "A Room of One's Own vs. The Truth of Modern Life." Think of working mothers, I always say. Think of those refugees who write memoirs in crowded, foul-smelling camps covered in barbed wire. (Hers always felt a bit like the argument delivered from a place of leisure. But yesterday I began thinking that maybe she's right. Maybe I'm being a bit too too.) I've not written anything of any substantial merit in months because I just didn't have any room of my own. My brain was full, the bandwidth had expired. Okay, Virginia, you win this one. For now.

3) The writing came back.
Poof, like magic. The words aren't pouring out of my fingers yet, which is the real work, of course, but the sounds of my characters talking, the textures of their pants, the lengths of their dress hems, the leafy, worn ends of magazines stacked by the toilets--all that came back. Quietly, insistently, easily. As if the fog just blew away.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sick with Circus

Circus AMOK played a show today in the gymnasium at Judson Memorial Church, which served as our rain location since Seward Park, where we should have been, was dealt a soft mist that seemed easy, but over time becomes a drenching cardboard disaster. I was, honestly, not looking forward to it at all. I've got some kind of head cold, going on 2.5 days, and the last thing I need to be doing is unpacking and repacking a truck full of circus stuff, and then of course, sweating through my clothes during the show, and running around being fabulous.

But I did it. It was a nice show. There were probably about 75 people in the audience--which is about 70 more than we thought might show up. Despite this being the circus's fifteenth season, and despite the fact that we perform for who knows how many people (1,000? 2,000? 5,000?) we still look around at each other before some of the shows and say "Do you think anyone will show up?"

I thought a lot about taking the show somewhere else, about touring. I wondered how the audiences might be different, how it could look more like theater to those other audiences, look more like a foreign spectacle. Because if you listen to our audiences, the way they scream and cheer, laugh and boo, all the right places--it really feels like the circus belongs to this city. If you took us out of that context, I'm not sure how it would come across.

I still think we should tour. Please, if you know someone with a few hundred thousand dollars laying around, or if you yourself have a few hundred thousand laying around, send it our way. We could use it wisely and well.

There is a moment in the show, just before the vaulting act, after a few "slower" acts--the animal bits, the wirewalking, the kind of acts that people really watch, and watch closely--where Jenny Romaine asks the audience if they are ready to see some of the something something (it changes every day, and I don't hear much of it anyway.) The point is, it ends with her asking the audience to scream their heads off like babies. And never fails--they do. It's easy to forget that they're out there sometimes. We are so focused on getting through the next costume change, the set change, the hurry-we-need-an-ice-pack-now.

So. Thank you for coming, for listening, for tossing money into the hat, for writing emails to unknown recipients about what our circus did to make your day better, for sitting your squirming, squealing children in the first row, for standing in the back and waving, for never failing to boo at the right moment. And for screaming your heads off like babies.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Surface Temperature, Part 3 of 4

Many years ago, I wrote this short story, "Surface Temperature" -- I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It's mostly bad, but there's something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It's a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I've felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago--maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it's worth, part 3 of 4:

I continued down the road. I took off my shoes. There weren't any cars. Although the man who sells UFO kites was still parked on the west side of the highway. His sign had changed. It used to read "UFO KITES $10." He had added the words "EVERYTHING MUST GO" to the bottom. As I walked past he slathered white sunscreen across his flushed flesh. He was wearing a straw hat with the brim flipped up, a severely ugly bathing suit, and some well-worn purple flip-flops. He looked like John F. Kennedy with a couple of earrings. Maybe he was in the navy at some point.

"Where you think you're going?" He shouted lazily from his lawn chair.

"Just down the road a bit."

"You live around here?" He added. I could tell by his tone that he didn't really care.

"Yeah, I live down in the Three Palms Apartments."

"Really? Mind if I ask how much you pay for something like that?"

"Four sixty. Plus utilities."

"Really?" He pulled his head back and the skin on his neck folded up. "Do you like it much?"

"Oh yeah, it's got a great view." I told him what I tell all the people who ask. Mostly only tourists ask me how I like my apartment. In Florida everyone makes the balcony sacrifice. If you want to see the ocean you pay five times more than you would if you want to look at sea oats in front of a line of pine trees.

"Maybe I should look into getting a place there. I'm looking into moving you know. It's just that I'm waiting to really get up on my feet. You know, financially. I'm trying to save up to get my daughter to college by selling these damn things." He sat forward. “She wants to be a baby doctor. You know, deliver babies.”

"Yeah." I pretended to be interested.

"I mean I can't just go out on a limb and take a chance like moving into a snazzy apartment like the ones at Three Palms. I don't have that kind of security. Oh well, one day." He sat back.

"How much?"

"Ten dollars." I thought the kites might be drastically reduced.

I reached into my bathing suit pocket and pulled out a twenty that had been through the wash several times.

"I'll take two."

"Sure thing! Do you have a color preference?" He inquired honestly.

"No. Just whatever you have will be fine."

"Okay. Here you go." He handed me two long strings with kites attached. They fluttered in the wind twisting around each other like sea serpents.

"Thanks. So I'll see you around."

"Yup. I'm here every afternoon." He waved as I walked away. I just turned and went, like it was a regular day, like it was a regular conversation, like I wasn't consumed by fear.

When I got to the beach nature had gone a bit askew. There were sea turtles hatching. Sea turtles aren't supposed to hatch in the daytime because the sand is too hot to crawl on. Normally, they hatch out of their eggs then crawl to just underneath the surface of the sand and wait there until it's cool enough to make the mad dash for the ocean. The movements of one turtle inspire the others so that when one breaks the surface, so do all the others, and all three-hundred or so baby sea turtles burst out at the exact same time. Nature.

Why is this happening now? It's almost noon and the blast made the temperature rise even more. The turtles were braving the hot sand like they didn't even feel it, flapping their tiny flippers as fast as they could go, chasing each other towards the water. Their backs each caught a single shimmer of blue light that sparked across the sand in waves. Most of them made it to the water. I hadn't the heart to tell them that it's tainted. Their one chance at life has already been poisoned.

I walked a few hundred feet down away from the turtle’s nest to where the sand was fresh white and I couldn't see any footprints. It was warmer there, but I sat down anyway. I took deep lethal breaths and my mind wandered. A short while later, I'm really alert.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some Circus Pics

As the circus arrives at its final four days of performance -- I've scoured the web for some pics. We just show up and do the show, and of course, thousands of people are out there watching and taking pictures. Here is the evidence. I stole all these from Flickr.





Friday, September 19, 2008

Surface Temperature, Part 2 of 4

Many years ago, I wrote this short story, "Surface Temperature" -- I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It's mostly bad, but there's something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It's a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I've felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago--maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it's worth, part 2 of 4:

Slowly people began to realize that the very air was tainted and some began to cover their mouths. They looked like they were halfway between hypochondria and sheer disbelief. I began my way through the cars towards the road and stepped off the curb. I even remembered to look both ways before crossing the street. I looked up. I didn't really know what to look for. Would there be another one? I let the wind blow across my face and my hair fell into my eyes. My skin was tingling and pink. It was the same feeling you have right after really good sex, and I was breathing the same hard slow breaths. I burrowed my eyes into my palms, expecting the skin on my face to rub right off. Isn't that what's supposed to happen?

"We have to move out of here!" A man in a long black trench coat was tiring the stunned masses ever more. He was trying to fix us, and most didn't yet know they were broken. He had smooth cheeks that faded into curious black hair that lined the curve of his ear. It was pulled into a braid that slid down his back and pointed to his hips. "Listen to me! If we don't get to a shelter fast the air is going to kill us. You feel hot because your skin is burned. Listen you people; there isn't much time! Five more minutes and you're sure to die. If you made it through the blast get your asses off the pavement and get inside!"

Several of us peered into the store. We saw faces that mirrored ours, only they weren't us. They were the faces of strangers, fear flooding silently from every opening.

"It won't help,” I said. All the glass is broken and the walls aren't thick enough to do any good." I could hardly hear my own words. My hair began to blow into my mouth and it tasted like red wine, a charred finish and a suburban bouquet.

"Quit arguing and get inside. If we get inside the freezer case, we'll be safe from the radiation." He stirred once again.

Lots of the women who had gathered their children were obeying and most of the men too. There were a few of us left out in the parking lot. I could do nothing to stop them. At least the tourist moms could die with their children huddled tightly against their stomachs.

"I'm telling you, it won't help. The wind is blowing through just as much in there as it is out here." I heard myself contesting, even though I didn’t really care. There was no way I was going to get cramped up in a tiny broken freezer case in the basement of the Save-A-Lot. I began walking towards the beach.

"Look, stay with us. When the police come we will all be together. I won't come looking for you." The man in trench coat was sincere. I didn't turn around for another twenty feet and when I looked, he was gone, just as quickly as he had appeared.

The road was hot. When I was a child I would stand on the black paved streets without shoes because I liked to feel the bottoms of my feet burn. I thought that the heat would make my skin stronger and tougher. I thought I would be able to run faster through the mowed fields, through the musty pinewoods. Tough feet were equal to limitless character.

After three or four minutes standing on the burning streets, your mind begins to play games with your body. You can't tell whether your feet are burning or freezing. It's the same feeling when you put your fingers into scalding water. First it feels terribly cold, then hot. As I was standing alone in the parking lot, when the bomb actually detonated, there was unbelievable heat. It was like all of America's suburban ovens were thrust open at the same time and everyone's glasses became foggy. The concrete heated up so fast that my heels began to burn. I stood there and savored the heat, knowing that I was becoming stronger, knowing that I was on my way to limitless character.

But if you want to know the whole of what I was feeling – the heat was closing in on me from the outside, and the cold was exploding from my insides. I felt with such lucid clarity my own isolation. The cold began to emerge and wrap itself around me. I was alone. In this way what I felt was the opposite of what I normally feel. It wasn't the stinging cold of hot water, but the caustic heat of solitude.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some Updates

--The severely-talented Charlie Vazquez have an interview together over at BigFib.com, where we talk about our creative processes, music we like to listen to, the state of gays and gay marriages, and even blowjobs in expensive cars. You can check out the interview by clicking here, read an excerpt of mine by clicking here, and read one of Charlie's stories by clicking here.

--Who wants to see a queerly-situations, politically-themed, glitter-guilded, fantastical spectacle, all for FREE in your very own New York City park? You have only 8 more chances, to see "Subprime Sublime," Circus AMOK's 2008 fantasia on financial themes. Check out the schedule by clicking here.

--My parents arrive on Thursday, for a weekend of excitement, birthdays, food, food, and food. It's been years since they came to visit, maybe 4-5 years. They stopped coming once my brother had children. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars to come to this dirty, stinky, crowded, loud place, when the magic of your grandchildren are in sunny Orlando? I'm kidding. Maybe someone will take pictures and I can get them on Flickr. I've basically given up picture taking--I think I don't have the patience for it. More so, I'm just not that interested it.

--This idea that I'm not interested in things. I've been trying to figure out what that is. It seems to be my answer, or my initial impulse, quite often these days. So, is it indeed the crux of what I'm feeling, or is it some kind of laziness, some kind of apathy, some kind of fear?

--I'm also obsessed with this game Zuma, which I got for my iPod. Mary Steenburgen was on some late night show talking about meeting people on airplanes, and they were always catching her playing Soduku on her Blackberry. And she worried that this was such an uninteresting experience for the person who stopped to talk. I have the same thought when I play Zuma all day. My fans will find me so uninteresting!

--Kip and I had the best sushi last night, at Sushi Kyoto on Smith Street, near Atlantic. The highlight for me was something called the Tuna Tortilla. It was a small flour tortilla, layered with toro, panko, and who knows what else, then cut into pieces like a pizza. Oh, baby.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Surface Temperature, Part 1 of 4

Many years ago, I wrote this short story, "Surface Temperature" -- I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It's mostly bad, but there's something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It's a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I've felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago--maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it's worth, part 1 of 4:

Hiroshima happened on an ordinary day. This morning when the sky was blood red from dawn, I could see it wasn't going to be an ordinary day, and that's why I didn't worry. I woke up fast and hot − night sweats, except the air was cold. I opened the east-facing window and the air smelled of wet rust. There were no yard sale signs posted, as usual. There were no women walking dogs, as usual. There were no metal-detecting tourists on the beach, as usual.

Work started in forty minutes and I was only half prepared for the hours ahead. I work at the Save-A-Lot on A1A. I am a bag boy. I studied at the University of Southern Florida for four years. I have a bachelor’s degree in advanced mathematics, but don't ask me to recount the list of events that promoted me to bag boy. It's a very short list.

I force myself into the bathroom and cough up some phlegm into the sink, (ahh…Florida mornings.) The hot water is steaming my nasal passages open and my eyes are still foggy from sleep. My face in the mirror looks like a frightened mouth gaping open. The steam rises from the fake porcelain to surround my head in a smoky wreath. It smells like a dirty mixture of ocean water and all-you-can-eat seafood buffets. It’s that smell that Floridians know too well. The smell that arouses the tourists attached sentiment. I gather up enough of myself to begin the day. Half a stale everything bagel and a fifteen minute walk later the glowing Save-A-Lot neon casts red light across my face and I can feel it's warmth.

What people allow themselves to buy when they're on vacation--every cart looks the same: half a gallon of skim milk, one tub kool-aid powder, several ice cream flavors, lunch meat, Wonder bread, tortilla chips, mild salsa, Chips Ahoy! Cookies, and salad dressing (no salad ingredients.) I make sure to bag the bread separately. The tourists seem to like that and they always ask for plastic.

The registers were beeping at their usual random intervals when all of a sudden they began to beep in unison, one after another like a giant bar code countdown. Only the beeping continued, and the freezer case when out with an almost silent whimper. Babies quit crying and mothers quit sorting through coupons. Everything in the entire supermarket stopped and we all stood there silently listening to the countdown of the laser registers. Five, four, three, two, one, and then even they stopped. The radio in the store buzzed static like it does during a hurricane. We began to look out the windows and up at the sky. There was nothing. It was clear and empty only the blood red that I woke up to was gone, now it was a loose striped olive color. The air blew through the aisles and smelled like sweet rotting fruit.

I started to walk out into the parking lot; most of the customers were already on their way outside. We stood there in the strangely empty lot staring up at the sky, looking for it, waiting for it. A seagull flew in a growing spiral above our heads. There was an incredible flash of light, like God taking a picture of us. There were smoke circles in the sky high above; an atmospheric crystal pond − and someone had tossed an atomic pebble into the center. The greenness of the sky faded to yellow, then burned orange, then was black. The smoke lifted upwards, away from us and wind blew plastic bags around our feet in miniature tornadoes.

Then there was the noise of a thousand freight trains skidding to a cold dead halt − the noise of a dozen hurricanes thundering in over the coastline in one fatal swoop − the noise of a massive herd of charging bison − the noise of a cheering crowd − the noise of one hundred Fourth of Julys. Then the cry of a tiny baby, strapped into a car seat. She stretched her arms and legs out as far as they could reach, reaching with every bit of sacred life inside of her. The child screamed with such innocent terror − it was the sound that all of us would have made, if we could have made any sound at all. We were thrown to the ground. As I lay there listening to the nuclear holocaust above us my mind raced to find a conclusion. I tried to think of something that would set my mind − not at ease − but in a still quiet place. I tried to remember my mother. I tried to remember my first love. I tore through all my experiences trying to find something that would give me the courage to die. I could think of nothing.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Okay, I'm Back

Not very much of a break, maybe. Just a few days. But they were thick days, long hours, with huge meaningful leaps taken in various directions. I've just come out of the shower, with water much hotter than is perhaps necessary or healthy for the skin, but I needed it. I needed to just stand there and stare at my feet. I seemed to have forgotten what that was like.

Kip and I went through a pretty intense crisis. Things were teetering on the edge of ending there for a while. Among all the lessons that I learned in those hours between our initial breakdown and our subsequent apologies and mending conversations, I learned that everyone has these conversations--some people have them every week--but it felt like I'd never had this one before. It also occurred to me that perhaps the fact that I've never had this conversation before is really just the proof that when this conversation comes up, I've steered it, or whoever has steered it, into a different place. And then there was a different outcome.

I have bread in the oven, three loaves that I let rise earlier after having come home from the half-performed Circus AMOK show in Riverside Park--as much of it as we could do before the rain came. That meant, Stilts, Chari, Juggling, Lectures, Interruptions, Singing, Blue Jay, Wire-Walking...and then the sky opened and everything went under a tarp. Well, everything except for us. About 5 hours ago, I was changing my clothes in the ATM area of the Chase Bank on 79th Street. As in, stripping down to the nearly-nothings and putting on whatever I could find in the bottom of my bag that wasn't soaked. As much I love to look fabulous, I just don't have the courage to ride home on the 1 Train in my tutu. (This paragraph is meant to transition into the next one, but also meant to make you excited about seeing the AMOK show--wire-walking? Singing? Tutu? You can see the schedule here.)

So, back to the bread. I needed to do something earthy, something that would feel simple, healing, and also beneficial. I needed to complete something. It's possible that they will turn out terribly--I don't make bread often--but it's more about the process than the product. For me, that's always been the truth.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Everything is Shitty

I'm taking some time away from the blog to deal with some personal stuff that's swirling me around in bizarro land. Just a little break. Not too long.

Please stay tuned....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Away in Chestertown, Part 2

Art-making is mysterious. It's not alchemy, it's work. But the moment that the work really becomes art is actually quite unknowable, or if it's not unknowable, it's always shifting, and with each new moment, new directions emerge. So nothing ever gets pinned down. All this is (I think, maybe) one of the reasons that writers are so cagey about talking about how the work gets done. We'll talk about what we need nearby, the music we listen to, our process. But those odd, magical weird moments where you finally have made something amazing--those we don't really understand. And we writers get to do the art-making all by ourselves, which is maybe why our implosions are felt less in the larger artistic communities.

Theater-making is even more mysterious. Everyone has to run on all cylinders at the same time, with the same intentions--basically--and eventually everyone on stage begins chasing that thing that you all made together. Weird.

Am I rambling? It's been a long day.

I'm home now, returned from Upstate with the circus. It took only about 4 hours to get from there to New York, and then we spent about an hour and half going around the space of about 5 city blocks, because of 1) the Holland Tunnel, and 2) Who knows what else. It was a fruitful, eventful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes maddening trip. Like art-making is.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Away in Chestertown, Part 1

I am sitting in the kitchen of the big house upstate, where Circus AMOK comes to put our show together every year. It's a flurry of work and conversations--work happening amid conversation, conversations about work, working through misunderstood conversations. I often forget, since most of the year our circus is a smaller team, just how many people it takes to get the thing on the road. Three, maybe four others arrive tomorrow--mainly "art people" which is our code for people who paint, sew, make things, design, or any combination of those skills. I'm not one of them.

We arrived on Thursday, after a horrendously long day of packing and travel--none of it was particularly impossible in any certain way, but everything took longer than we had planned (duh) and eventually, 14 hours after I woke up, we arrived at this beautiful barn, which they made into a house years ago. It feels like we've been here for a week--but it's only Saturday evening. The time is compressed--the same faces, the same images, the same geography. There is no "going to work" or "coming home," and in that way the entire week feels like a single experience. You don't move in different social circles up here, know what I mean? You are never invisible to the rest of the group.

After our afternoon work sessions, we go swimming in the lake, which is just cold enough. It's bracing, but welcome. I like how we sort of take over the small beach there, with our crazy gender-bending troupe and people of all ages. I see the locals watching us, unsure of who we are, what we are, what to make of us. Most of the time I think that, in the end, they think nothing that concrete.

I managed to talk our cook into letting me make a carrot thing tonight--she had the idea, and then I sort of knew a recipe that I thought would work out better--and so she let me go for it. Carrots, yogurt, olive oil, garlic, cumin, cilantro, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Oh, the carrots are steamed and then it all goes into the food processor. I don't know what the exact recipe is. Just everything to taste. The troupe sort of scoffed at it -- but it's all gone.

Now they're serving up the peach kuchen--plus a blueberry sauce made with the syrup that I lugged up here from the city. Work, in the right form, is so fulfilling.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blueberry Sour Cream Pie

The fabulous Jane noticed that I twittered (see right) about the making of two Blueberry Sour Cream pies over the weekend. She asked for the recipe. This pie is, hands down, my absolute favorite. On more than one occasion, I've eaten half the thing in one sitting. My mother will tell you that she's seen me eat it for breakfast about a hundred times, as well. It's fantastic--in my humble opinion, the ultimate mix of texture, temperature and flavor.

Blueberry Sour Cream Pie
(makes one 9" pie, serves 6-8. Or serves 2, if you're a pig, like me.)

Crust: Make your own, or buy a frozen one.

Filling:
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cups sugar
2 T flour
.25 t salt
1-2 t vanilla
2.5 cups fresh blueberries
Topping:
3 T flour
3 T butter, softened
3 T pecans, chopped (I always use much more than this, maybe a half-cup.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat together all the ingredients for the filling for a few minutes. Fold in the blueberries. Pour into the unbaked crust. Bake for 25 minutes. While the pie is baking, mix together the softened butter and flour until you make an even paste. Then mix in the chopped pecans, and mix with your fingers until you have a nice crumble. Remove the pie, crumble the topping all over, and then bake for 10 minutes more. Cool completely, then chill for at least 6 hours before serving.

It should look something like this:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ghost in the Machine

I had forgotten how she moved, the way her stare had in it everything she was considering about any one task, and also everything outside of it. She taught me more about focus than anyone I've ever known. I had forgotten that in the year before she died, she'd starting doing her hair with some very expensive clay-based product, forming an unruly spray on top of her head. I had forgotten how her voice carried through the room only if you were listening for it--only if she meant for your to hear it. She said to me once, "I don't like speaking without meaning."

But it's all there. Or rather it's all here, in this YouTube video, which was sent to me by her once-partner Pam via email this week. My friend Meg died three years ago this September. The details are here and here if you want to go through them again.

This forgetting is exactly what I was afraid of. As backwards as it is, the grief that drives you deeper and deeper into yourself after something awful like this happens, it brings you close to that person. The details of their life explode into view over and over, even while you sleep. Especially while you sleep. This is not to say that I liked it. I hated it. But in some way, grieving is like hanging out with that person. And so you get to have them around a bit longer.

I realize that this feeling that they're hanging around is false. It's only your memory of that person replaying in your head--a sort of one-sided friendship. The time you stayed awake until the sun came up talking about your fucked-up families. The time you caught her, literally as she fell from the top of of the stairs, and landed in pile at the bottom. The time you started making jokes about the pickled plum paste in the drawer of the fridge and how that became a huge, undying metaphor for everything you ever did together, or knew of each other. For some reason.

In the Tom Hanks episode of "Inside the Actor's Studio," he talks about making "Philadelphia," and working with an HIV+ extra, who died before the movie was released. "And there he is on the screen," Hanks says, through tears. "These things, they last forever."

I'm glad the tape lasts forever.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Circus AMOK 2008!

Coming Soon....Circus Amok's 2008 spectacular:


Sub-Prime Sublime!

Can Dorothy find her way home from the tornado of foreclosure and debt? Our heroine embarks on a journey with the Liberty Sisters, the sassiest all-female juggling act since the Flying Karamazov Brothers, crossing the Alps via tightrope and encountering a magical lost flock of alpine zebras. Dorothy and the Sisters stumble across a Keystone Kops bank heist, only to fall into the world's hottest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. All manner of mysteries are revealed, with the Circus Amok Band throwing a disco party for the smashing atoms and spectators alike.

Four weekends of Fun!

Sat, 9/6 - Riverside Park - 2pm & 5pm
Sun, 9/7 - Coney Island - 2pm & 5pm
Mon, 9/8 - Martin Luther King Park - 5pm

Wed, 9/10 - Ft. Greene Park - 5:30pm
Fri, 9/12 - St. Mary's Park - 5:00pm
Sat, 9/13 - Socrates Sculpture Park - 3:00pm
Sun, 9/14 - Prospect Park - 2pm & 5pm

Wed, 9/17 - Columbus Park - 5:30pm
Fri, 9/19 - Sunset Park - 5:30pm
Sat, 9/20 - Washington Square Park - 2pm & 5pm
Sun, 9/21 - Marcus Garvey Park - 2pm & 5pm

Wed, 9/24 - Bedford Playground - 5pm
Fri, 9/26 - Battery Park - 1pm & 5pm
Sat, 9/27 - Seward Park - 4pm
Sun, 9/28 - Tompkins Square Park - 12pm & 3pm

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dinner at Boqueria

Kip and I met Laura and Amy at Boqueria tonight for dinner. It was really superb. The longer I live here, the more I realize that it's not so much for the theater, the art, the culture, the opportunities. It's really just about the food. (This, from a guy who for many years ate only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What can I say, I got bored.)

What we drank:
A 2005 Uriondo Txakolina. I knew nothing about this, only that it was the bottle recommended by the server that was in our price range. It was delicious, and seemed to please the entire table--not too dry for me, a little bubbly for Kip, and crisp and clean. Laura and Amy also seemed happy with the choice.

What we ate:
Pimientos de Padron--these are Shishito peppers, sauteed simply with some sea salt. (These are also all the rage at the Greenmarket lately, where Yuno's Farm cooks them up as samples. They fly off the table.) At Boqueria, the peppers are smaller, a bit less spicy than Nivea's, but still fantastic. If you can find these near you, or grow them yourself, do.

Brandada de Bacalao--I'd never actually eaten bacalao, although it's all over the grocery stores in my neighborhood. It's not difficult to prepare, although it's a bit of work, and I usually don't spend more than a half hour in the kitchen cooking anything these days. Boqueria's version is whipped and served hot on toast points. It's clean, salty, mineraly, fresh; like the sea.

Datiles con Beicon--dates stuffed with almonds and Valedon cheese, wrapped in bacon. Whenever I try to make stuffed dates in bacon, I overdo them. These were quite good, although I would have picked a different cheese; the Valdeon is a bit too pungeant for the date, and the bacon is somehow lost. (Still, we practically licked the plate.)

There was a special of Greenmarket romano beans in a romesco sauce. Romanos are the wide, flatter green bean, much more substantial than a regular green bean. If you go and this is on the menu, try them. There was also a snap pea dish on the menu, (which isn't listed on their website,) that came with some cubes of what I guess was bacon, or some other pork thing, a tart Greenmarket apple, and a milder Valdeon sauce.

We also had some tetilla cheese, which is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese, and manchego with a rosemary rind. Manchego is perhaps my favorite cheese--other than the cabecou feuille--and this was really tasty. The rosemary is interesting, offering a piney, vegetal tone which actually enhances the creaminess of the cheese.

For dessert, we went all out:
Helado de Avellanas--a hazelnut ice-cream, with chocolate and coffee mouse. Honestly, the mousse was less spectacular than the ice cream. But there was a little bite of salt here and there with the hazelnuts, which I always like.

Churros con Chocolate--I saw these churros go out to another table and knew we had to have them. I heard once that every culture on the planet has a version of fried dough covered in sugar. I'll take churros over doughnuts any day. These were served with a teacup full of thick hot chocolate for dipping. We took turns sipping the leftovers like communion.

Crema Catalana Clasica--I wasn't sure what exactly would emerge from the kitchen when we ordered this. It turned out to be a creme brulee, but without the vanilla bean. Normally, I steer away from this kind of thing at restaurants, it's the kind of dessert that people think is fancy, but really isn't, and it's often pretty underwhelming. But this was a nice surprise, not too sweet, and it sort of reminded me why this kind of thing is so often on a menu: it's just plain good.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympics!

I'm sitting here on my fabulous couch watching the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. And waiting for my Thai food to arrive. It occurred to me that I could live blog the event, but frankly I just don't have the stamina right now. Periods of heat and rain at the market today made much of the day rather miserable. However, I got to deliver some syrup to Public, a fantastic restaurant on Elizabeth Street, where Mark Simmons, of Top Chef 4 fame, works in the kitchen. We had a short chat about his recent marriage.

The opening ceremonies are fucking fantastic. The countdown and subsequent fireworks just gave me chills. Incredible. Incredible. Incredible. Considering the culture of China, and the world's perspective on China, it should make for an interesting games.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Open Letters, Vol. 7

Dear Commerce Bank,

What person, or most likely what committee, at what advertising firm, decided that the new Commerce Bank "push pin" campaign was a good one? Okay, everywhere there is a bank branch, there is a giant push pin on a map--great, got that part.

But then a GIANT, Claes Oldenburg-stylin' push pin comes flying down from the sky like a missile, pierces the hood of a taxi cab and drives the metal point through the engine? Are you serious? In another spot, a push pin lands in the concrete, cracking the sidewalk and bursting a water main.

Will this push-pin assault make me want to give you my hard-earned money? Is terror-from-above really what you're going for?

Sincerely,

Lee

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable

At the Greenmarket on Friday, Laura, my syrup-slinging cohort, got into an argument with a customer about a plastic bag. The woman bought an eight-ounce bottle of syrup, thanked us, then said, and I quote: "I'll just put it in my purse." She started walking away and I thought the transaction had gone like all 1000 others that day, simple, quick, without any particular interest. I was wrong.

When she got about ten feet away from the table, she turned and came back. "You know what, I have a bad arm, maybe you can give me a bag." We hear this kind of thing all the time. People lay their insecurities out for you for no reason. "I have a bad arm, so I need a bag." "I'm worried about it, so I need a bag." "Do you think this is a good gift, I need a bag." I'm never surprised at people's endless ability to just tell you things you didn't need to know about them, just to alleviate their guilt about taking ONE MORE plastic bag.

Because what it always comes down to is people not caring enough about the problem. Smart, educated, well-meaning people, with an armload of plastic bags. One for eggs, one for tomatoes, one for fish, one for maple syrup. "I can't put it in her because there are vegetables." What? The syrup doesn't care if it nestles in with the cousa squash. Or the canteloupe. Or the frozen links of Russian sausage.

The truth is, if you are careful, and care enough, all of these things can go in your canvas bag. This will make the farmers very happy. Because not only does it save the planet, it saves us from having to buy more plastic bags. Everyone wins.

We need to get rid of them. We, the farmers, should just stop all together. If none of us had plastic bags, then no one could use them, or over use them, and I think it would take about two weeks for everyone to start using canvas, or reusable bags. I think it's our job to lead the way. The people are sheep, and farmer's have always been intrepid idealists (well, sort of).

Laura then said to the customer, "We like to discourage people from taking plastic bags, if they already have one." At this point, the lady went basically insane. "Where is the person in charge?" At first I thought she was talking about me, as I am, ostensibly, Laura's boss--whatever that means. But no, she meant the Greenmarket managers, whom she promptly brought over to my stand. After some back and forth about who said what, and her "bad arm," I gave her the bag she so desperately needed. She balled the bag around the bottle of syrup, and put both bag and syrup into her purse.

See what I mean?

"I'm going to write a letter!" she screamed. I hope she does.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Waterfalls / AMOK / Busy Busy Busy

--A few of us went yesterday to see Olafur Eliasson's "Waterfalls," which is a very large, very expensive public art installation on the East River. I decided earlier in the year, upon seeing a horrible but earnest dance performance, that I was going to see if I could spend 2008 not hating on other artist's work. But: I just don't see what's impressive about them. Firstly, they are, if you ask me, quite ugly. Scaffolding? Really? Eliasson says on the project's website that he used scaffolding because it is a "common part of New York City's landscape." OK, so it's part of our landscape, but it's also ugly. When the wind blows the water back through the scaffolding, that's when the work really starts to look cheap. Also, these oil-spill-style barriers at the base of each waterfall? I'm not feeling you, Olafur.

--Circus Amok is in full swing. At least my side of things. The shows run September 6-28, in fifteen different city parks throughout the boroughs. Do you fear for the health of your mortgage? Do you love Glinda the Good Witch? Do you ache for the pumping dimensions of disco? Are you party to particle physics? It's all here, baby. More updates soon....

--I'm busy with a few of projects that I hope to share with you soon. Some writing, some reading, a new idea for my old novel. It occurred to me that I'd like to give it some kind of life, whatever life it might be able to have. Look for that happening in the fall. There's also some September happenings, with my friend and fellow queer writer, Charlie Vazquez. And then more publishing ventures in November--two somehow opposing, and yet complimentary anthologies.

Apologies for the slowness of the updates. It's that time of year.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

God Training Wheels

I saw a letter-collage that says "everyone knows you're a fraud"
and thought
that should be up in my office.
so you stole it
it was a picture
online

I think we all feel like that
like the time I held my nephew during his baptism
and the people asked me if I would help bring him into a world of god's love
I thought -- everyone is thinking FRAUD

well, yes, you will
only, in your way.
you don't need "god" training wheels because not knowing doesn't terrify you
that's how I feel
I deal with that kind of feeling on a daily basis.

that's some brilliance, cory
forrealz