“WHY are you so controlive?”

That’s what Owen just asked me after I asked – nay, ordered – him for the umpteenth time to turn off his phone (he’s probably texting his girlfriend) and start his homework. I said, “I just am!” Let me set the scene, here in the Burbs O’ Femme’s Family: we’re listening to a cd of trumpet jazz Owen’s trumpet teacher just gave him; Seth has gone to walk the dog, and Tex giving a talk at a local library so is not with us this evening.

Yesterday the whole family watched the “Ching Chong Asians in the Library Song”* which I learned about from reading Wired (see my previous post) and then we talked about how that poor girl has really messed up her life by carelessly posting her racist rant for all to see. We also talked about how it is she’s so ignorant; really, it’s heartbreaking to see her posturing in front of the camera, so young and so foolish. Seth was amazed by all the responses to her rant, and I told them how she’s even gotten death threats. I said, “Boys, don’t post anything dumb on youtube!” and they grumped and grumbled about how of course they wouldn’t, god, mom.

A while back we went to downtown Boston to see a dance performance a friend was in. Afterwards, I went on for a while about how the dance was so heteronormative (girls in filmy skirts, boys in loose pants) and also how heterosexist one part was where one of the boys was bragging about how straight he is (“Not all male dancers are gay, ok?” kind of thing). Both boys listened politely for a while, as they do, and then they started teasing me about how every time we go to an event, I give them a big speech afterwards.

And you know why? You know why I’m so controlive? Once they’ve flown the nest, I don’t want them blundering through life like that poor girl who inspired not just the relatively friendly “Ching Chong” song, but actual death threats! I want them to know how to deconstruct a piece of art or a situation so that they don’t jump to racist or sexist or homophobic conclusions. I want them to understand about layers, history, context. I want them to be kind and open-hearted when it comes to other people.

But with the stupid phone, I’m just controlive because they have homework and I hate seeing them hunched over the stupid little screen manipulating their thumbs in an unnatural fashion. So there!


Spare a kind thought for Alexandra Wallace, who has surely learned a lot since posting her rant, and who has certainly suffered. Also, much love to Jimmy Wong, who treated a very explosive situation with humor, creativity, and a layered and generous understanding of human nature.

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 7:12 PM  Leave a Comment  
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A Blog You Trust

Once again, I was in Harvard Square with maybe 15 minutes before I had to be at my appointment. Once again, I went into Harvard Books. This time, I marched right up to one of the cashiers and asked if they had an LGBT section. She led me to a shelf – one shelf – where queer studies, women’s studies, and gender studies were cozily nestled together. Well, that’s one way of doing it. There was almost no fiction except for a paperback copy of Rubyfruit Jungle (?). It wasn’t a bad selection of theory and nonfiction, and I ended up getting a couple of books there that I had planned to buy online, so that was good. The lack of fiction was so frustrating, though. As I was checking out, I asked the cashier about it. The cashier next to her joined the conversation, saying that of the 3 buyers, none is queer, so it’s not on their radar (!). She suggested I find a blog I trust and get recommendations for queer literature from there. I said I would rather come browse at a bookstore. We talked about the ghettoization aspect of having a section for queer literature. She said that Allison Bechdel is thrilled that her graphic novel is being marketed as a graphic novel and not a queer graphic novel. I had more to say, but I needed to get to my appointment. I lodged my complaint and my request, thanked them kindly and went along.

I’m glad Allison Bechdel is getting more exposure – she’s been working hard and steadily for decades and deserves to be acknowledged as an American great, but I’m thinking more about readers instead of writers. We readers still need to know where to find queer literature. Sure, I can look at the Lambda Literary and see who’s on their list, and so can you:

but nothing beats being able to hold the book in your hands and flip through it, reading snippets as you go. In fact, we could start with that: what if Harvard Books had a display of the Lambda nominees – how cool would that be? I don’t suppose it would take up all that much space, and it would say to queer bookstore patrons, “Hey! We know you’re here, you’re queer, and you might like to see some of the vast selection of queer books that we thought were worthy of note!” It would be a small but powerful gesture to queer patrons, some of whom, perhaps, don’t want to be ghettoized, but all of whom, surely, don’t want to be completely disregarded.

What about it, Harvard Books?

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 1:40 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Boom, Boom, Baby!

“You’re a Boomer!” Tex explains to me when I attempt to convey to her the intense strangeness I experienced while recently reading the latest issue of Wired cover to cover. This publication comes to our home courtesy of my parents who got tricked into believing their airline miles were about to expire and instead of letting them go in peace, sicced various magazines on us.

It’s not that I couldn’t understand the articles in Wired. English is my native language, and I am familiar with youtube, with the social media (although I myself neither facebook nor tweet), with games like Farmville (I even played that fruit one once, to the amusement of everyone concerned), I know what apps are, and my hubby’s in business school, so the article about Robert Neuwirth, who wrote a book called Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy was of particular interest. It’s just that everything is moving very quickly, not news to you, I’m sure, dear reader, and it seems to me the generation gap is getting wider by the minute.

My mother told me she read a book recently, set in the 20s, I believe, where the father of the family absolutely refused to use what he referred to as “the instrument”. Every time something really, truly had to be conveyed via the telephone, he would get one of his kids to do it. It hasn’t quite come to that yet with my own boys, but without a doubt it will, especially since I’m so crotchety about it all. I just don’t understand how people can keep all this stuff in their heads. How do you figure out which youtube show you want to watch, let alone find the time to actually sit down and get after it when they’re posting about 500 a day? How do you keep up with all those tweets? Those facebook friends and likes?a Who has the time and the brain capacity? It’s all very puzzling.

As someone who grew up reading science fiction, I am not surprised by the twists and turns our society is taking as it becomes more and more plugged into the machine, but I find that I come just that much short of being able to relate. When I was reading Wired, I felt like I was reading about a completely different culture from my own. Interesting, and I can sympathize with their issues, but their issues are not my issues – I certainly didn’t spend huge amounts of time clicking a cow nor had I ever heard of Tay Zonday (which, according to the article, means I was living off the grid). We are all, of course, human, and contending with human problems, but the way those play out, the props now being used, are so different from my own experience.

This weekend, I was alone in the house. The dog and I took walks, I got a tv series out of the library and watched a couple of shows, I worked on a story, I did some ESL tutoring, I went to church today and sang in the choir, but mostly I just sat around and read. I took a nap. I did get on the email, but I managed not to look at Tracy’s* latest onslaught – I can do that on Monday. Even just that bit of screen was a lot, a time suck, something I had to really work hard at managing so it wouldn’t be the only thing I did all weekend. I’m already exhausted from just managing those 2 screens in my life. Am I missing out on all this other stuff? Definitely. But just as I can no longer eat a whole plate of beer battered onion rings, I really can’t see how I could manage the tweets and facebook and clicking the empty field where once the cow stood and still have enough time and energy and creative juices to write stories and read books.

It’s a very interesting feeling to realize how out of it I am pop culture-wise, after being at the cutting edge for so long in my younger years, when pop culture was to be found in media much more familiar to me. Being media-isolated does leave room for deeper thought, however, and I truly enjoy the studying I’m doing now, reading queer theory and Native American history and smut. The only problem is that I don’t have anyone to talk to about my deep thoughts, ‘cause they’re all doing something online! (Ok, I know that’s not true – book group, anyone?)

*my ex, and the boys’ other mother – she gets a different nom d’ex each post

Published in: on March 25, 2012 at 5:24 PM  Comments (1)  
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This morning everybody is angry with me, total kon kon (which is the Japanese sound for when people are super pissed). Seth and Owen because I wouldn’t let them have sleepovers last night, and Tex because, in a serious lapse of judgment, I let Seth wear her wedding tie to his freshman/sophomore semi-formal last night. Doesn’t matter that I was fielding things on the fly (Seth came home in a rush for his clothes and couldn’t find a good tie that matched the shirt he wanted to wear), that I actually didn’t remember it was her wedding tie (what kind of wife am I??) or that I thought it was adorable that Seth wanted to borrow Tex’s tie and that I’m married to a butch who has ties that Seth can borrow – none of that matters, although I guess it kind of matters to me since I’m going on about it in a whiney defensive manner – what matters is that everyone is mad!

 I hate it when people are mad at me, especially the people I love most. It makes me feel like I’m the suck person of the universe and can’t do anything right. It makes my stomach hurt. Tex has stomped off to walk the dog and take her tie to the cleaner, this after an extremely unpleasant interchange when she discovered Seth had not only borrowed said wedding tie with my blessings, but tossed it carelessly on top of the dog’s crate (his way of saying “fuck you” to me after the sleepover ban; he also left his dress shirt on the ottoman with a dirty ice cream dish balanced on it and a dirty glass on the floor) and said wedding tie is drenched with the extremely noxious “cologne” the male children Seth hangs out with insist on anointing themselves with. 

 When people are mad at me, I tend to let the bad feelings accumulate. My one mistake becomes a magnet to pull to me so many, many other mistakes I’ve made in my life; not only that, but I start thinking about how I’m a failure in every other way, as well. Not a very good or consistent parent. An indifferent wife. Don’t take good care of myself or my family. My work life is a joke. My creative life is a joke. I disappoint everyone. I’m old and dried up. Oooh, don’t it ‘arf go on and on!

 I’ve got a picture of Seth as a baby kicking around on my windowsill that I can see as I type. We were at the mall, and it was one of those instant picture-onto-keychain things we were getting for relatives. He doesn’t have much hair and he’s trapped in his stroller and he is certainly not wearing cologne. But he was still himself, and from his expression I can tell he wasn’t exactly enjoying being peered at and made over; he much preferred being left alone. That was 15 years ago and now there are a scant 3 years before he flies the coop and is out on his own.

 Holding steady against the onslaught of all those old, powerful emotions is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and is perhaps the definition I most relate to of being a parent, a wife, a friend. When I denigrate myself, give in to my deep desires to crawl back in bed, scream and accuse, eat cookies all day, what kind of home am I making for myself, for my family? What am I saying to my friends? I do do those things, often, actually, because they attract and seduce me in my most human places. And I’m really pretty upset right now and I can tell you that my stomach hurts and that I’m already thinking about cookies.

 There’s something else I can see from my desk, but only if I turn around: stuck up on my file cabinet is a little card I picked up somewhere that says “Life gets better no matter what.” Some days that feels counterintuitive and dumbly Pollyanna — how can life get better if, say, you get cancer, or someone you love gets killed, or they drop the bomb? Other days it makes a glimmer of sense. Like right now I’m making breakfast, and I’m planning the day, and when Tex gets back I hope she’s feeling better and when the boys wake up I hope they’re feeling better and already from writing this I’m feeling better, even though I was really in a devil mood when I sat down here.

 Dear reader, I hope for you that your life is also getting better. No matter what. 

Published in: on March 17, 2012 at 9:02 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Every once in a while I get it in my head that I’m going to learn a poem by heart. Just now, I’ve been learning one by W. H. Auden. He wrote it in 1935, when probably he was still in Germany fucking lots of German boys (being a boy at the time himself, albeit an English one).

I wasn’t an English major and they didn’t have queer studies back in my day, so I wasn’t too familiar with this faggoty elder statesman of English poetry and in fact first learned about him from reading Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs in which they’re dear friends and sometimes lovers. Then I got a BBC recording of him reading things on the radio.

The delicious shock of hearing his voice, knowing the little bit about his life that I do, this opportunity to connect the cadence of his words, the timbre of his voice, to the living, breathing, fucking, creative, observant, moody, and a hundred-other-adjectives-that-make-up-someone’s-life, queer artist that he was really moved me. And since I’ve got the cd in my car, hearing him read the same poems over and over again as I went about my urgent, voluntary errands, just continued to move me, since, as I so often forget, poems, especially his, are meant to be heard over and over, said over and over, memorized so that they’re in your head, the rhythm a comfort, the content a renewed challenge to think more, go deeper, relate, renew, react.

As I say the words to the poem beginning, “Look, stranger, at this island now…” it’s just so damn good. It feels so damn good. You don’t think Wystan didn’t say those words himself hundreds and hundreds of times before he let the poem go? (And I’m sure, like every artist, he never really let it go, would always see something to tinker with.) It gives me such a marvelous, fabulous feeling to be saying those words again and again, just like he did, knowing how the very same words passed through his lips, lips that sucked cock, that kissed boys, that kissed Chris and probably sucked Chris’s cock.

Why think about sucking cock when the poem doesn’t have anything to do with sex? Doesn’t it, though? Who are we to say that his looking out at this view and writing this gorgeous poem didn’t have something to do with feeling himself, being able to live as himself, fuck who he wanted, without the conventions and constrictions of a disapproving society back home? Or if he was in England when he wrote it, that his sojourn in Germany in the wildness before the war, hadn’t opened his eyes in a way they never would have been if he’d stayed in England?

I expect that the whole time he was the beloved elder statesman of English poetry, no one really asked him about his lovers or his sexuality. I expect that aspect of his life (only the heart and soul!) was politely ignored, and he played along, giving the public what they wanted from him and keeping the rest private. Who knows, maybe he wanted to keep it private and maybe he would even want to keep it private if he was alive today. I haven’t the faintest. But for me, a queer artist myself, it is intensely meaningful to imagine his whole life, and not just the words out of context on the page.

And the magical thing is, the words on the page just by themselves are amazing and universal; imagining him as a whole person, with soul and sexuality and depth, makes them both universal and personal in a way that makes them even more universal. Art is funny that way!

Imagine me saying this poem as I stand alone in the kitchen looking out at our slightly scraggy back yard. Say it yourself. Say it hundreds of times!

Look, stranger, at this island now

The leaping light for your delight discovers,

Stand stable here

And silent be,

That through the channels of the ear

May wander like a river

The swaying sound of the sea.

Here at the small field’s ending pause

Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges

Oppose the pluck

And knock of the tide,

And the shale scrambles after the suck-

ing surf, and a gull lodges

A moment on its shear side.

Far off, like floating seeds the ships

Diverge on urgent voluntary errands;

And the full view

Indeed may enter

And move in memory as now these clouds do,

That pass the harbor mirror

And all the summer through the water saunter.

November 1935

Wystan, thank you for your poem, your queer life, and for having agreed to do some recordings so I can hear your voice even now that you’ve walked on. Dear reader, you can hear it, too, right here:

Published in: on March 13, 2012 at 10:36 AM  Leave a Comment  
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