How to Date a Gay Novelist Who Is Older Than Your Dad : Hugh Ryan

http://hughryan.org/how-to-date-a-gay-novelist-who-is-older-than-your-dad#more-442

Here’s a blog post that has several elements that appeal to me.   First of all, it’s written by a friend,  Hugh Ryan, so I am predisposed to like it, and if I do like it, to enable it to spread.  Second,  as I mentioned,  the post is very well written,  and finally,  it provides a glimpse into the life of someone of both personal and historical/cultural interest.

Anyway,  read on and enjoy.

Next Stop – Goa, India – A New Generation of Pilgrims Hits India’s Hippie Trail – NYTimes.com

In case you missed it… here’s a terrific piece from the New York Times back in 2006.  I know that I was only dimly aware (if at all) with Goa’s hippie history when I was becoming of age. Certainly, if I had been more aware of Goa’s role in the formation of the culture I claim as my own, I would have made sure to do more than touch down there en route to somewhere else when I was “in country.”  If you ever wondered why Goa, India has such a hold on the more Bohemian-minded among us, this article has it all.  It even references a DVD documentary I own called, “Last Hippie Standing,” which dates from about the same time period. If you ever wondered why India in general and Goa in particular hold such power among the more “artistically” (raver) inclined folks, this is why.  I may still write more about this or my experiences  at a later date, but I did want to pass this link along now.
Anyway, check it out if you like:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/travel/09goa.html?pagewanted=all
.

In Case You Missed It… Sasha Shulgin Has Left The Building

Although I am always sad to hear when a culture warrior has passed on, I am also secretly thrilled to see the New York Times obituary because it’s exciting to me to see my  counter-cultural heroes celebrated in the mainstream press, even when that exposure is post-mortem. In this instance, I heard a few days ago of the death of Alexander Shulgin, a psychedelic researcher, chemist, “neuronaut” of the psychoactive frontier, and synthesizer of more than 200 psychoactive substances, including MDMA and many related compounds.  (MDMA was originally produced by Merck pharmaceuticals in 1914, but when the company failed to find a way to monetize the substance, they allowed their patent to lapse, thus allowing Shulgin to re-synthesize the substance about half a century later.) Although I would not describe myself as a drug user per se, I have been long fascinated by the effects of psychoactive plants and chemicals on the human (and animal) psyche, by the variety of the chemicals and plant substances that have been traditionally used to alter reality, and by the lengths to which humans and even other animals have gone for eons to chemically enhance or alter their  reality, whether for spiritual, therapeutic, recreational, or other reasons.  (Among the more unique small books in my collection is the aptly titled, Animals and Psychedelicswhich anecdotally explores “the natural world and the instinct to alter consciousness,” according to its subtitle.) Most people who know me at all, even superficially, know of my fascination with herbs, supplements, and other natural substances, both with the rainbow of available options and the effects of these substances on the healthy functioning of our brains and bodies. What is less well-known — and really, this is partly by design because of the stigma that usually surrounds such subjects — is how I came to the study of herbs and medicinal substances at all.  I never set foot in a health food store, that I can remember, until the day I went into one to apply for a job.  As a child I was a student of the outdoors, and I always enjoyed learning about wild things.  In summer camp, I had a healthy fascination with outdoor crafts and learning survival skills, but really none of those experiences properly prepared me for my later encounters with wild foods, foraging, or the immense power of some innocuous-looking flowers, trees, etc. to heal or harm when used correctly or incorrectly.  At camp, we pressed flowers and butterflies, learned how to start a fire without matches, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to make rudimentary shelters, even how to make crafty things out of plants, rocks, etc., but I don’t remember a single syllable being uttered about how I should feed myself or give first aid if I found myself in the wild without food or a first aid kit.  Truthfully, our instructors geared any early preparedness training  more toward what we should bring from home to properly protect ourselves from the elements until help could get to us, not how we should feed ourselves if we became separated from our food supply or first aid kit. So how did I  come to the study of medicinal and edible wild plants?  Partly as a function of all the reading I did in high school about cultural upheaval in America in the 1960’s, I fell down a number of literary rabbit holes, digressing to dig deeper into various subjects and into the lives and literary works of  culture warriors and iconoclasts.  I read extensively about the lives and lively interactions of the Beat poets, spending a lot of quality time on Allen Ginsberg (an early gay hero of mine), William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.   Kerouac led me to Neal Cassady, who led me to Ken Kesey and the Acid Tests.  Ginsberg led me to the gay counterculture and to Bob Dylan.  I was already listening to the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and other bands, and it was thrilling to me to read about how Ginsberg, Cassady, Kesey, Dylan, and the Dead collided in psychedelic space and helped to catalyze one sphere in an already chaotic countercultural universe.  Reading a biography of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, I learned about Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and the French literary counterculture that swirled around them.  Everywhere woven  through these literary conversations was the creative use of plants, absinthe, alcohol, or other substances.  In many cases, as early as high school English, I learned how substances like these influenced the life and creative output of artists, writers, and other cultural icons.  (Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s use of opium springs to mind; reputedly, “Kubla Khan” was reputedly written under its influence .) Throughout my early forays into these controversial subjects there was always the background chatter from  Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign.  The chatter suggested that no matter how many writers and artists produced great works while under the influence, their success was almost accidental, and their work was of dubious value because of how they created it. Imagine my surprise when I had my first psychedelic experiences in college and realized that not only do a lot of these substances “work”, but they work well and there is not necessarily anymore likelihood that you will die the first time you try them than if you over-consume alcoholic beverages, which are legal.  In some cases (weed, for example), there is even less chance that you will overdose than with alcohol.  True, they aren’t for everyone, and there is a chance of psychological damage or physical injury if one is too casual or doesn’t pay proper attention to what is known in the psychedelic world as “set and setting.” (1) In any case, I was sad to hear that Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin had passed on but glad to see The Times give his life and work a nice review and give him a final send-off.

(1) Note: [Set is short for mindset.  In other words, how is your attitude?  How are you feeling?  Are you mentally prepared to ingest the substance you are about to consume?  Are you ready to face whatever personal demons you might stir up?  If you can’t face these questions, proceed cautiously, if at all.  Then, there is the other part of the equation, setting.  Are you going it alone or hanging out with friends?  Would you prefer sitting on a quiet starry hillside, playing frisbee on a sunny day in the park, or dancing all night at a banging dance party in a crowded, high energy club?  Not every altered experience is micro-manageable to this level, but learning that your preferences or safety needs are different from what you expected or planned for has consequences, ranging from seriously inconvenient to even downright dangerous under some circumstances.]

Smithsonian Folkways has reissued Mickey Hart’s Dafos, an out of print classic

Smithsonian Folkways has reissued an out of print classic

This looks like it would be well-worth hearing.  I have always been a fan of Mickey Hart’s world music forays, and this album is supposed to be a classic.  Featuring Mickey Hart (the Grateful Dead’s percussionist), Airto Moreira (“Brazilian sound master and Miles Davis alumnus), and Flora Purim (exceptional vocalist), this album featured a very ingenious sound-capturing technique that preserved the intimacy of closely miked recordings while capturing the expanse of a performance hall live recording.

To get a copy for yourself, you might try here: http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=8601975

In Case You Missed It… Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sent Off By Salman Rushdie

So as some of my regular readers may have gathered, I have a fairly active mind and a lot of reading interests, many of which overlap somewhere between thirty years of personal journals and my regular reading of the New York Times.

I had just read the cover story of the “Book Review” insert in The Times from a couple of weeks back.  There was a lovely and generous send off of Gabriel Garcia Marquez by another master of “magical realism,” Salman Rushdie.  I got excited because I remembered an essay I wrote when I was applying to college.  In my memory, the essay was about how I related to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and so would have made great fodder for my take on Salman Rushdie’s send off of Marquez.

Only thing is, when I tracked down that essay (which I do still have, archivist that I am, in my “high school essay” folder), I was somewhat mortified to discover that it wasn’t about how I related to Gabriel Garcia Marquez at all but how I related to Mario Vargas Llosa.  Three names, from an older generation, from the Americas, and an author but not a lot of similarity beyond that.  According to Wikipedia, Vargas Llosa “writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers.”  Garcia Marquez, however, started off as a journalist but was most well-known for popularizing a writing style known as “magic realism.”

Oh, well, such are the vicissitudes of memory and time.

In any case, the article is well worth reading.  Go here to check it out.

The “perks” of writing and the compulsion to create revisited

One of the blogs I follow regularly is by a writer named Cristian Mihai, who often writes about creativity and the art (and business) of writing.  Although I’m not yet in his league as far as earning money for my writing, I do think this guy hits it spot-on about the “perks of being a writer.”  In a lot ways, reading this I found myself thinking, “oh, this is what I have to look forward to if I persist in writing regularly to the point where more people notice.”  At the same time, a big “perk” for me is one that he didn’t really mention: one of the best parts about writing, for me, is the ability to regularly and reliably stretch my creative and intellectual muscles. Why am I a writer?  I am a writer because I have to write.  The need to create and transform language and  thought compels me, and has for as long as I remember.  When I write, I am engaging with my world and my environment, while when I don’t write I feel like I am treading water and not making any progress at all really.  Here’s one of my favorite parts of this piece, which is worth reading in total as well:

“Okay, now on a more serious note. The perk I like most is that once in a while someone tells you they love your story. Whether a five-star review on Amazon, an e-mail, a blog comment, it doesn’t matter as long as someone genuinely loves your writing. Money can’t buy this mixture of admiration and envy that people feel when they read something really, really good. A paragraph or just a few short sentences that describe exactly how they feel in the world.

Two strangers, the writer and the reader, locked in this strange dance… there’s nothing that can compare to it. And you, as a writer, realize that you’re not as alone as you thought. Someone else feels the same way as you do.

As Tennessee Williams once said, you’re not lonely alone.”

For more on my thoughts about creativity and writing, you might check out these earlier posts from Greenfae’s Leaves (tagged “Creativity”).  Here are a few to get you started: 

The Recommitment

Not Writing Easily Now, I Find Myself Watching Old Movies And Trying To Stay Focused…

Another Great Article On The Origins and Practice of Creativity

A Universe of Its Own (this one is a perennial favorite of mine)

 

 

 

 

Two Vignettes: Studies in Dominance & Submission

English: The Eye of Horus, done in photoshop

English: The Eye of Horus, done in Photoshop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

22 September 1998

I was thinking just now about this ring I used to have, the one with the Eye of Horus on it.  It was just a cheap metal thing, seemingly entirely forgettable, and yet it was my first ring, and I really liked it.  Curious about what it looked like?  I Googled Eye of Horus ring and found one almost just like it, except mine was sheet metal.

I lost my original ring in a parking in Arizona in 1992, when I was on a pilgrimage to see the Grateful Dead at the Sacramento Speedway.  I was with one of my best friends and his then girlfriend, who we’ll just call Bella.  My friend, Gene, could be a real  dick, but he could be sweet and was, in any case, attractive and a real cock tease, especially with his friends.  I was really hung on him, but he was one of my best friends, and we were on a buddy trip with his girlfriend to see the Dead when we happened to stop in a parking lot in Arizona.

I no longer remember why we stopped at that point, but it was such an intense trip and even though we had a destination, we had a bit of time to get there, so we were probably just tired of driving.  I remember it was nearly dusk, and we were just hanging out, talking shit, and kicking the dirt.  At some point, Gene started teasing me, which was a favorite pastime of his.  He grabbed my key ring and began throwing it up in the air, blocking my attempts to catch it, letting it hit the ground, and then snatching them away when I tried to pick them up.  If his girlfriend hadn’t been there, we would eventually have gotten to wrestling for control, and if the ground wasn’t too rough, we might even have ended up rolling around in the dust until he had me pinned.  Knowing him, Gene would rub in the fact that he had the upper hand by pinning me with his crotch or his pits in my face so I could feel how fully in control he was and smell his dominance.  I can even now remember many times in our room at college when he would pick such a “fight,” and we would wrestle for control.  We’d roll around, knock over furniture, twist the carpet into a ball, and nearly always we would come to an impasse.  Gene would pin me in a wrestling move.  I would twist out of it, he would pin me again, and many, many times, I can remember feeling how excited pinning me had made him.    Gene wasn’t bigger than me, but he had played competitive sports for most of his life, so he usually had the upper hand.  We occasionally had these wrestling matches when he had a girlfriend, but mostly I think they occurred when he was in between girlfriends and needed to work off some sexual frustration by dominating a friend.

But back to my ring and that parking lot in Arizona.  His girlfriend was there, and he couldn’t really properly torment me in public anyway, so he was taking it out on my key ring.  He threw it up, blocked me, and caught the key ring, or the key ring hit the ground while he was blocking me because he was, after all, not superman and sometimes he couldn’t control both the ring and me simultaneously.  Anyway, the second or third time the ring hit the ground, there was a little flash of metal, and when I retrieved my keys, the ring was gone.

Truly, it was just a sheet metal ring, but I can remember being really irritated.  It didn’t help that Bella said, “Well, maybe you weren’t supposed to have it, ” as if cosmic forces instead of common rudeness might have been to blame.

*

[This next bit originated when I still did a radio show on a community supported radio station, which I is something I did for about a decade between 1996 and about 2006.]

Last night I had a “grandfather moment.”  What happened was, in the last half hour to forty-five minutes of the show, I got in an increasingly discordant mood.  I finished the show with ten minutes of a fourteen minute piece featuring rusty hinges.  About six minutes before two AM, this furious older gentleman called and hissed through clenched teeth that he was a card-carrying member of the station and that he did NOT like what he was hearing through his radio.  Then he hung up on me.

I let the track go on for another three to four minutes (I am not one to let go without a fight) and then eased into “Coil” by Robert Rich off of his album, Seven Veils, a stunningly sinuous album of experimental electronica and percussion that is well worth hearing in its entirety.  As was my habit, I slowly faded out of the rusty hinge track while gradually blending in the Robert Rich track and in my best, soothing radio voice, I described “Coils” as soothing to the savage beast and ruffled listener.

Later, after I had signed off, I realized why the incident had both upset and unsettled me.  It’s not just that I don’t like upsetting people.  There was more to it than that.  I was flung back into my childhood, when my family was visiting my Cape Cod grand parents one summer.  I was still a kid but had developed a habit of locking myself in the restroom when I needed to use it.  (Don’t ask me what that was about — maybe bathroom shame, I don’t know.)  Anyway, my grandfather tried the door and found it locked.  I guess maybe he was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out, and he’d be left to figure out how to unlock the door.  Instead of going away and leaving me to poop in peace like any normal human would, he hammered on the door with his fists until I fumbled it open, and then he stood towering over me yelling without explanation until I ran sobbing to my parents’ bedroom and hid behind my mother.

I had  forgotten about that moment right up until that old man yelled at me and I had my “grandfather” moment.  For a drawn out, discomforting instant, I was back on that pallet on the bedroom floor with my mother kneeling at my side trying to comfort me.  Sobbing, I saw over her shoulder, through the partly closed-door, the reflection of light off my grandfather’s glasses.

Aiken in the afternoon (Journal Entry)

Sandwiched among the dreams and remembrances in my old journals, there are quotes that stuck with me from things I was reading at the time.  Here’s one from Conrad Aiken’s poem, “A Letter from Li Po,” which is well worth reading in its entirety:

“Exiled are we.  Were exiles born.  The ‘far away,’

language of desert, language of ocean, language of sky,

as of the unfathomable worlds that lie

between the apple and the eye,

these are the only words we learn to say.

Each morning we devour the unknown.  Each day

we find, and take, and spill, or spend, or lose,

a sunflower splendor of which none knows the source.”

 

 

Leee Black Childers has left the building

Leee Black Childers (yes, there are three ‘e’s) was a portrait photographer who escaped my notice successfully, right up until the day that he died.  Just this morning, I read his obit in last sunday’s New York Times.  It seems like he lead a rich, full life.

One of the take-home messages for me, upon reading his obit, is that it is crucial to stake your claim to your own life.  How do you want to be remembered?  Who are you?  Claim your dreams, and they are yours.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Mr. Childers life comes from a conversation that he had with Andy Warhol at the Factory, Warhol’s New York studio, in the late 1960’s.  Childers, who was all of twenty-two then, confessed to Warhol that he “aspired to be a photographer; in that case, Warhol told him, he should just call himself one.”

“[Warhol] said, ‘Say you’re a photographer, and you’re a photographer,’ Mr. Childers recalled in an online interview. “And he pointed across the Factory to Candy Darling, who was one of the great drag queens, and he said, ‘Look at her.  She says she’s a woman.  She is.’  So from that moment on, I was a photographer.

Anyway, I found Leee Black Childer’s  obituary a great read and oddly inspirational when it comes to the claiming of my own life story.

You can check it out here.

 

Talking in my sleep

Trolling through old journals when I was at home with a sinus infection yesterday, I came across this little curio.  (Apparently, sometimes in my sleep, I say interesting things.)

Talking in my sleep [again.]  Chris told me that this is what I said last night:

“I like it

when the music

goes

DOWN

LOW

and

DEEP.

If it’s a sound

I’ve never heard before….

I

like

that.”

The intriguing thing about this to me is that this is a pretty good description of the music, especially the electronic music, that I like.  I like intense, psychedelic trance and sample-intensive or  bass-heavy tracks. I have always collected media, especially books, CD’s, live concert tapes, and vinyl albums.  I have an especially large collection of what I might describe as Net Label audio and found sounds.  When Black Lodge Video first opened here in midtown Memphis, I often rented unusual fare, and when I found soundtrack dialogue, music, or atmospheric material that I thought might sound cool sampled into music, I ripped it to cassette, so I have somewhere a fair-sized collection of stuff like that too.  Even as a child, I did stuff like that.  One of my earliest audio projects as a kid involved making audio cassette recordings of  one of HBO’s first original programs.  These shows were a series of very atmospheric, half hour-long renditions of Raymond Chandler’s early 20th century detective stories, featuring the private investigator, Sam Spade.  I faithfully recorded every episode but made the mistake of leaving the tapes in my parents’ basement while I was at college.  My mother, bless her heart, threw them away in one of her anti-stuff purges.  Periodically, I have looked for that series online, with thoughts of replacing those lost tapes, though buying them would only be step one, with re-recording all of those audio tapes a major step two, and I do have other projects.  Of course, the other side of the coin here is that this occurred a long time ago.  Why do I even remember this event at all?  I made those recordings years before I came to understand the reason to buy the highest quality recording medium you can afford, so I most likely recorded those shows on cheap cassettes that would have disintegrated or melted long before now in the less than archive-quality purgatory in which most of my remaining cassettes now live.  At the same time, if I still had those cassettes, I could have used them as sample fodder on my radio show or as fill when I was still doing the DJ thing occasionally.

Nonetheless, the pattern of sampling and archiving is one I began very early in my life.

Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, given that my mother was a librarian, and my father was a teacher for almost 40 years.   My father has always been quite rigorous in his archiving tendencies.  He keeps journals (as I do) and freely admits having kept a copy of just about everything he has written as well as copious notes on anything he’s read that relates to any of his several research subjects.  From my dad, I learned to archive my work, to keep journals, and to take notes on (and in) books, magazines, articles, etc. that touch on my subjects of interest.  My mother’s influences in this area are more subtle but still there.  She is ardently (and increasingly) anti-stuff, where I have always been a collector.  The collector impulse I got from my father, but my mother’s work as a librarian has meant that I spent a significant part of my younger years in and around libraries, and because both of my parents worked for the same academically rigorous and resource-rich private school, I had early access to world-class libraries with college-level resources.  As a child, I spent any afternoons not otherwise engaged in after school activities hanging out in the library where my mother worked.  As time went on and I outgrew the kids collection, I graduated to the teacher’s reading room where the grown up fiction was kept.  From my mother, I learned the importance  of reading, for pleasure as well as for a purpose.  Spending so much time in libraries helped me see the utility of catalogs and lists to create order.  By extension, keeping clippings and notes on an array of subjects has helped me to impose a kind of order on my otherwise chaotic universe of interests.

While on the subject of the personal archives to impose order, I just read an excellent eight-part series of reflections by London-based evolutionary biologist and writer Olivia Judson on the New York Times blog .  Called “The Task,” the series was an extended meditation on the power of stuff and on our complicated relationships with objects, mementos, and emotional debris accumulated over a lifetime. Judson talks a lot about the emotional attachments she uncovered after her father died, when she and her brother had to dispose of forty-five years of her parents’ accumulated stuff.  The author details some of the conflicting emotions that came to the surface, while at the same time conveying to us what interesting folks her parents were.   Apparently, her dad worked for Time Magazine in 1960’s, and he kept everything he ever wrote, as well as file cabinets full of notes and clippings.  And books.  And stuff.  Lots of other stuff.  At the time of his death — he was the surviving parent — his house brimmed with mementos, memories, and emotional landmines for her and her brother.  I read the entire series and can say that it is well worth it and is a surprisingly quick read at that for what it is.  I was most struck by Judson’s last few paragraphs of part one, though, and found these words most germane to my thoughts on the power of stuff.  In closing, I’d like to offer this quote from Olivia Judson’s “The Task” because it encapsulates a lot of my conflicted relationship with  stuff, both having it and collecting it.:

“…To anyone who suggested that maybe he did not need all the stuff, my father would invoke the great psychologist William James, who wrote that the loss of possessions gives ‘a sense of the shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness.’

“I never agreed with the idea that personality is defined by objects; I would rather say that objects are defined by personality. Yet when someone is dead, and their belongings are all that is left, dispersing those belongings feels like an erasing of their physical presence on the earth.

“Moreover, although my father didn’t mean it this way, there is a sense in which James was right. An old T-shirt waves at you and says, ‘Remember when we went to Hawaii together?’; a plastic cup reminds you of a party you went to one hot summer day. A dried corsage — where was the dance? who was the date? — reminds you of the girl you were, who thought a corsage worth saving. In other words, objects are keys to remembering what happened and who you were, and their loss can make the memories inaccessible. So — for me at least — this task also brings with it a fear that in throwing things away, I am also throwing away access to parts of my mind.”

To a certain extent, Judson speaks to my fear too.  On some level, I think my objects (and the collections of which they are a part) are like place holders for the memories and experiences they represent.  I wonder if I’m afraid that parting with my things, whether journals, or books, will erase the memories or experiences they represent.  Should I continue to buy (or collect)  books, music, etc.?  Am I afraid that without such reminders, I won’t remember the present five, ten, or even thirty years hence?  On what level do I use objects to hold space for memories I’ve made and experiences or connections I’ve had, and on what levels do the memories impart relevance unto the objects?  Does collecting these things help me to form or hold on to my memories?  Do these objects enhance connection or insulate me from it?  Which objects enhance and extend my life and which detract from it?  Does having these books, journals, magazines, and media in general offer enough value to my life that it is worth it to have them around, or do they mostly provide another excuse for why I am so rooted in my life in Memphis?  After all, I can’t load all of this stuff in a truck and go on the archetypal Great American road trip across the country, or can I?  And would I even be able to enjoy such a trip if I hauled all of my stuff with me?

All are good questions, really, but there are no easy answers here.

The best I can hope for, I think, is that wrestling with these issues will help me live in the present, write honestly, and continue to engage in my life while not simply archiving or recording it.

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