December 31, 2010

Tommy's Tale, Part Three

If you missed the first two installments of this story, you'll find part one here and part two here. And now for the last part of Tommy's Tale, the true story of my brother's death. 

I didn't want to know. 

Over a year passed and all the while I tried not to think of my brother. I'm good at compartmentalizing my feelings. People can hurt me -- for about five minutes. And then I put the part of them that lives inside me to sleep, and I never wake it up again. Poof, they're gone. You learn how to do things like this when you grow up gay. Rejection is always waiting around the next corner. You get very good at compartmentalization. At least, I did.

Thoughts of Tommy did enter my mind but I always pushed them away. He was fine. I'd have heard otherwise, right? I clung to this last point. Of course he was okay or someone would have called me.

Someone did call, but only about a year and a half after Tommy disappeared. It was a female relative of his, someone I didn't know. I don't remember her name and I never spoke to her again. She wasn't calling about Tommy. She had a question and thought because of my job, I might be able to answer it. So really, no one ever called me about Tommy.

During an otherwise innocuous conversation, she referred to my brother in the past tense. I think she said, "Tommy was such a good guy."  

My heart stopped. Time froze and the light in my office got much brighter. And then I took a breath -- perhaps I'd just heard her wrong.

"You just said Tommy 'was' a good guy," I said. "Past tense. Has something happened to him?"

She was horrified that I didn't know -- though how I would know without them telling me remains unclear. And finally she blurted out the details. I can remember every word of her description:

"Tommy died from that flesh-eating bacteria -- you know, the one that got Jim Henson. One day he was fine and then suddenly he was having trouble breathing. No one thought it was a big deal at first but it just got worse, so they took him to the hospital. But he was gone in 24 hours. It was that fast."

As I heard her words, I recognized that Tommy had died because of AIDS. Who is most susceptible to flesh-eating bacteria? The immune-suppressed. I've never wavered in my belief that AIDS took my brother from me.

I started crying while we were on the phone and I didn't stop for days, maybe weeks or months. I really can't say. The moment I hung up, I gathered my things and stumbled out of the office. I cried on the subway, cried on the streets between there and home, and totally fell apart when I got to my apartment. My brother was gone. Somewhere deep inside me, I had known for a long time that he was dead. But now it was confirmed.

That was the first day of the worst bender I ever went on. I didn't go to work. I just sat in my apartment, drinking around the clock. Everything went black, literally. I remember looking out the window and being shocked by sunlight. How could there be sunlight? It didn't make sense.

My life shattered into pieces and I couldn't put them together again. Tommy's death pushed me right over the edge. I'd only been hanging on, even before he died. But this set me adrift. I have never felt so lost in my life. 

Earlier, I said I was good at pushing my feelings away and burying them, seemingly for good. This technique works; I can assure you of this. But there is a stiff price to pay for slippery mental bookkeeping. When the feelings finally hit -- and they always do; make no mistake -- you are destroyed. 

All the pain you pushed away remains stored deep inside your mind. It waits for you to let your guard down -- and when it finally bursts through, that entire backlog of pain hits you all at once like an avalanche. I was buried in despair. I have never felt such pain at any other time in my life. My brother was dead. I felt so alone.

I can't say when I finally realized I needed to pull myself together. But one day I went to an AA meeting. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and I knew there was a tiny meeting in the Village. I figured I could handle that. I hadn't stopped drinking yet. I wanted to but the despair was suffocating me.

I had never talked to a soul about Tommy's death -- not one person. I just sat in my apartment, drinking alone. But when I hauled my body to the meeting that day, the magic that sometimes happens in AA surrounded me.

When the meeting leader entered the room I could see that he was visibly shaken. After murmuring urgently with a few people in the room, he sat down and opened the meeting. 

He said he'd just learned that an alcoholic friend had died during the night. He was very emotional as he spoke of his sense of loss. And so it went around the room, each person sharing about a terrible loss and how they handled it. I was bathed by their words, purified, settled. As people continued to speak about their pain, I realized this was a human thing; it wasn't something confined only to me. Other people had experienced similar pain. Immediately I felt less alone and was able to take a long, deep breath. I could breathe again!

I couldn't say anything when it came to my turn. I knew I would break into sobs if I spoke and I was unwilling to do this in front of anyone. But I didn't have to. That's the thing about AA magic: you bump into what you need at meetings. It just happens. I don't know why.

I did get what I needed that day. I felt I had shared my loss with these people, even without saying a word. The healing began in that room and stayed with me when I walked out the door. Within a month I went at a gay rehab in Minnesota, and I found my life there.

* * *

Tommy's death wasn't his fault. I say this in case any reader thinks this is the case. HIV/AIDS doesn't work that way. It's a virus. 

But for years I believed his death was my fault. I had been a bad example. I hadn't properly drilled the facts of HIV into his head. It was my fault. It took me about a decade to get over my guilt for not saving him. And the sadness has never left me; it's still here. It peeks out less often as the years pass but I still cry about Tommy sometimes. I guess I always will. I just feel so damn bad about it.

Two of my longtime lovers died of AIDS and it killed a ton of my friends. But the death that hurts the most is my kid brother's. I miss him and I wish he could be around for this part of our lives. We could have had such good times. I figure Tommy would be sober by now, too. I'll bet we would have had an even better relationship now.

But I lost him and there's nothing I can do to change that. I lost so many people that sometimes this seems to be a world of ghosts. But we were all quite real -- those of us who lived and those who died. We were just living our lives when a virus came to visit. And it took some but didn't take others. That's just the way it is.

We learned a lot from those early days. Because science studied the experience of those who died so swiftly in the early 80s, today we know how to protect ourselves from HIV. The people who died back then didn't die in vain. They saved many people. We need to remember that.

I know that even now some folks find it hard to stay safe -- especially if they're in the throes of addiction. I know for a fact that it's impossible to remember which syringe is yours once you're high. And it ain't so easy to remember to use a condom when you're drunk and that guy is so damned cute. It sounds simple on paper but life is more complicated than that.

It happened to so many good people, and my brother was one of them. I miss him a lot and I always will. And I also know that in a very real way, Tommy saved my life. I only wish I could have saved his.

Why not give up god this year?

Much as I'm trying to avoid the New Year's "festivities" (ugh), I keep hearing about people's resolutions. A foolish idea to begin with -- you don't need a special day to decide not to be an idiot anymore.

But if you're in the mood for resolutions, why not get real and give up god right now? I mean, think about it. Even if the idea of a "heavenly" afterlife is true, it would be an eternal nightmare.

Suck up to a power-mad "god" forever?! Hang out with folks from church forever?!  See the same, simpering, fearful faces at your side forever?!

They shouldn't call it heaven at all. This would be torture. No one thinks it through, no one realizes that their craven, selfish, incessant clawing after an afterlife is sickening. Why should you go to heaven while your dog can't? Oh, I forgot: it's cuz you're so special. You were created in the "image of god."

Get over yourselves. Toss god out with the garbage today and never think of "him" again. Consider the mental energy you'd free up, not to mention Sunday mornings! They can be quite cool without church always messing them up.

Look in the mirror today and say, "There is no god." Say it over and over. Guess what? The sky won't crash down on you, the world won't end, and you won't be going to an eternal hell. You'll just be a person. Now, I know a lot of you consider that a letdown but you are all buffoons.

The rest of us, the rational folks, know that this is a grand life, magical and mysterious in its own way. We know the only we have to do in life is be kind to others (and yes, that applies to animals too; put down that fork right now).

Wake up, folks. Heaven, if there was such a thing, would be Hell. But don't worry, neither one exists. It's all just a silly story. 

I'm talkin' horror and sci-fi movies heah

Were there any recent, stand-out horror or sci-fi movies? I think there were, but let's extend "recent" a ways back. More like "in recent memory", okay? Widens the field a bit. I'm only going to speak in general terms; you won't find spoilers here.

30 Days of Night is a terrific addition to the classic vampire genre (as opposed to the insipid kids-flying-in-the-sky genre of "vampire" movies). I love the setting of an isolated Alaskan town that, as the movie opens, is about to fall into a long night that will last 30 days -- and a tribe of vampires is waiting for darkess to fall so they can storm the town and eat everyone. Claustrophobic "pure" settings like this thrill me. It's so black and white, good and evil, snow and darkness. And the premise is marvelously oppressive. The characters will be trapped for a month in the dark with these monsters.  The movie is stylish, unlike anything I've ever seen. And if you haven't seen the way these vampires move, you're in for a treat. They're so disgusting. 

I loved this movie. It takes a great turn at the end, doing something fresh and new with the traditional vampire idea. The savagery, speed, look and sound of the vampires is startling. It is a whole new thing. Yes, the movie nods to tradition but in many ways it moves the genre forward. Fair warning: if you can't watch brutality, skip this one.

I see this one got a 5.1 out of 10 rating at rottentomatoes. You know how it works: if the public doesn't like it, it's probably great. And in this case, it is.

Next up: Solaris. I know it's been a while; the movie came out in 2002. But this was the best sci-fi movie since Alien, though in a very different way. There are no monsters in Solaris -- at least, no obvious monsters. I've watched my DVD of this movie about seven or eight times, and each time I see something new. It's so nuanced, so . . . magical. What a marvelous idea.

Not only is this remake of the movie incredibly gorgeous to look at and accompanied by a cosmic soundtrack, it also stars two of the nicest-looking humans who ever lived: George Clooney and Natascha McElhone. You can't take your eyes off them and they do a hell of an acting job. The movie is very much a sci-fi but it's also, and essentially, a love story. And the ending is so hopeful. It literally presents a new form of existence. 

The public only gave this excellent movie a 6.5 out of 10 -- so you know it's good. It's like the NY Times Book Review: if they say it's good, toss your copy out the window. But if they hate it, you may have a great book in your hands.

Lastly, Donny Darko, which is neither a horror nor a sci-fi movie, is one of my favorite movies of all time. And waddaya know -- the folks at the Big Tomater finally like one of my picks! Sort of. They didn't actually recognize the movie's greatness (phew!) -- they gave it a 7.5 out of 10 -- but at least they didn't love it, which would have been the kiss of death.

If you've seen the movie, and I'll bet you have, you know it's almost indescribable. It is a strange brew of schizophrenia, visions, time distortions, fear, hope, shock and death. Drew Barrymore did a stellar job directing the movie, melding those disparate qualities with a simple story about youth and its dealings with the wall of stupidity that we call adults. It's a thinkers' movie with thrills, and it's also endearing.

That's my three movies for today. What horror or sci-fi movies did you love?

The stupidest holiday of them all

Of all the brain-dead holidays that Americans celebrate, New Year's Day is the stupidest. I still haven't figured out what people think they're "celebrating" -- the turn of a page on a calendar? Whoopee. Yeah, that's fun. Meaningful, too.

On New Year's Eve, people get too drunk, too high, eat too much, have unsafe sex and then crash into innocent people on the way home. Nice holiday. I respect it a lot and can see why people treasure it. Ignorant gits.

It wasn't an easy decision, giving this award to New Year's Day. It had to edge out some serious competition, most notably from July 4th. But New Year's Day definitely gets the Special Gold Dunce Cap.

A holiday that "celebrates" nothing is an amazing thing to observe. I especially love how the stupidest people gather in little prison-cells on 42nd Street to watch a light go up a pole. Now that's entertainment!

So as you celebrate this day of all days, I don't know what the hell you're doing. Wake up! As for me, I have a warm and wonderful feeling in my heart today because I know I'm going to completely destroy this holiday in a future book. I guarantee you that New Year's Day is already shaking in its boots. It feels me sneaking up behind it, and it has every reason to worry.

I will eviscerate you, New Year's Day -- that's a promise.

December 30, 2010

Submitted without comment

Found this on AlterNet this morning in a post by Daniel Tencer. Here's an excerpt:
A study at University College London in the UK has found that conservatives' brains have larger amygdalas than the brains of liberals. Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other "primitive" emotions. At the same time, conservatives' brains were also found to have a smaller anterior cingulate -- the part of the brain responsible for courage and optimism.

Making a scene sing

When I read a draft of one of my books, I assess its worth as I go along. One of the things I ask myself about a scene is, "Does it sing?" What is the special element about this scene that will stay with a reader? What makes the scene? And if that element is missing, I have some work to do.

For example, imagine you've written a scene where a conversation is going on between two people in a quiet music room. You thought you wrote it well but as you read it again, an idea occurs to you.

You decide to include a metronome keeping time atop the piano. In the silences between the words of the couple, it is always there, monotonously ticking, as if asking them to keep pace. It lends a sense of tension and inevitability to the scene. Now it sings.

I think we have to ask this question with every scene. What's special about it that will make it memorable for readers? If this component is missing, it's time to re-imagine the scene and come up with a fresh angle, something that lifts it to a higher level.

In the end, it's a bit like touring your home right after you've decorated it. You look into each room and ask, "Does this room really work?" And maybe you realize the lighting in one of the rooms needs a little help. So you create illumination that showcases the best design elements of the room. And suddenly it sings. Quick, call Architectural Digest!

This has to occur in a unique way for every scene in the book. If that special something isn't there you may have a scene that works but is easily forgotten. Think about it in a design sense: what could you add to perfect it? What would give the scene added texture, fragrance, luminosity, allure? Until you answer this question I don't think you're done.

At least, this is how I do it in my books. What about you?

December 29, 2010

Editing with Edith

As usual, I'm plugging away at my work. Today I edited Xmas Carol for a few hours and it was a good session. I could tell that with every change I made, the book was improved. That's all I ask.

But all the while what I really wanted to do was listen to the slew of Edith Piaf songs I bought last night. Unfortunately, I sing along with Edith; I just can't help it. I mean, you can't just sit there when she's singing! It's a team sport. However, singing in French while you're writing in English is not a good match.

So I edited a scene and played three songs, edited a scene and played three songs, etc.. What a wonderful day I'm having!

NOM says gay marriage perfectly fine

This morning Joe.My.God posted excerpts from the blog of the officially-recognized hate group, NOM (National Organization for Marriage). The following quote is from Terry Duke, dean of the Tennessee Bible College.
"There are two basic ways of looking at marriage. Either humans invented marriage or God created it. If marriage is a human arrangement, then a society may alter it at will or do away with it altogether. But if marriage is a divine institution, then only God has the right to say what it is and who has the moral right to be in it." [My emphasis.]
There you go: marriage between two men or two women is perfectly fine -- and you got that straight from the horse's ass mouth.

December 28, 2010

Non, je ne regrette rien

A friend reminded me today of Edith Piaf. I don't imagine younger visitors to this blog will even have heard of the woman, but she was a singer who was popular from the 1940s until about 1960. She was wonderful.

She was a very tiny woman who was known in France as the "Little Sparrow". Edith sang about love and sexual attraction, about great joy as well as pain and loss. She put herself into her songs in a way that transformed them into mini-dramas. Each one is a compelling tale that pulls you in and makes you love her. And the voice! If you are immune to Edith Piaf's charms, you're probably dead.

My blog post title is the name of her most famous song. It means, "No, I regret nothing." She lived her life the way she wanted to -- and the world be damned. That's the message that comes through clearly in her music: I will take life and drink it fully, I will experience it all and no one can stop me. 

So when my friend posted about Edith on her blog today, I headed straight to iTunes and bought a 50-song album for $3.99! I was shocked by the price. Fifty songs! I'm listening to them now and the album is faaaaaaaabulous! Go buy it right away. It's called "50 grande chansons". You won't regret it (unless you're dead). 

Free stuff for Macs

It's amazing that there are so many open-source applications out there for Macs. I mean, first Apple gives you 17 tons of useful software with a new Mac -- and then you can download major programs for free.

For instance, I always use NeoOffice instead of Microsoft Office. I don't want anything Microsoft on my Mac. NeoOffice is a great replacement for Word and you can even save files in .doc format to exchange with poor slobs who are merely on PCs. You can download it here.

I also found an open-source Mac alternative for Adobe's Illustrator, which I never found easy to use but nevertheless relied on for simple tasks. I was sad to lose the program's functionality when I switched from a PC to a Mac about five years ago. Thankfully, I recently discovered Inkscape, an open-source program that pretty much does the same things as Illustrator. Mind you, this one isn't even halfway to a 1.0 designation -- it's very much a work in progress. But for the simple uses I plan for it, it seems fine. You can download Inkscape here.

And finally, I've just located an open-source substitute for PageMaker. I used to be a PageMaker maven on my PC, making newsletters for tons of good-guy organizations. I can really work PageMaker. When I switched to a Mac I bought Quark Express but I can't even transfer it to the new computer I just got, and anyway I hated it. So I recently downloaded Scribus, an open-source Mac alternative to PageMaker and Quark. This one is beyond 1.0 so it's pretty stable. I haven't used it yet (and it seems it may be difficult for folks who aren't already familiar with desktop-publishing concepts) but it seems quite functional, at least to me. I grok what all the buttons are for. You can download Scribus here.

So much free stuff! My thanks to all the developers who worked so hard to make these programs available for mere mortals. May they live long and prosper.

About this blogging thing

After nearly two months, I have to say I'm enjoying blogging. It's a lot of fun and provides another outlet for my endless urge to write. It's easy to do and I certainly never feel pressured to produce the next post. Coming up with ideas is what my brain does. So blogging seems a very normal and natural thing to me.

In the days before I began to write fiction I would write endless email and letters. I always tried to amuse my correspondents and I think I was successful for the most part. That was how I got my writing rocks off. It worked for a time.

It was fun but then one day I noticed how limiting this was. After all, who was I reaching? One friend, period. That was nice in its way but was that all I could do with my writing? Once this thought came along it changed everything. Eventually it caused me to break out and starting writing novels.

And now there's blogging. For me, this is not only new and fun, it also presents all sorts of possibilities for connecting with new readers. I'm grateful to have this new avenue for my writing.

I don't know if anyone's reading what I post here (except for my one loyal commenter -- may she live a long and fabulous life!) but the possibility is there. With each new post I could connect with a new reader. It's not quite like having a book published and gaining throngs of readers but it's a mini version of that and I'm glad to have it. 

Blogging is great. Now if only some folks other than my one trusted commenter would leave evidence that they had been here. If only.

December 26, 2010

TV should be treated like porn

American TV fare is obscene. And by "obscene" I mean fat, ugly and stupid rather than pornographic. Obscenity comes in many flavors. However, a correlation between both senses of the term could be argued.

Let's first note that TV could be, but isn't, a bonus in our lives. If there was something entertaining, fascinating or truly educational on TV, there might be a reason to turn it on. But there isn't anything good on TV.

Maybe it's time to re-tune the whole plan. I say we start by pulling things off TV. We could take our cue from the internet. For example, I propose that there be a special "domain" for reality shows. Like the .xxx designation for porn sites on the net, perhaps we could use ".sht" or maybe ".pus" to denote it.

This way, by noodling with our controls we could easily exclude the .sht and.pus stations. Reality TV would disappear from our systems forever. Hooray! Or maybe you're a dimwit and you want to see only the .sht and .pus shows. You could have that too.

And let's relegate religious shows to their own domain. How about ".god" so it's easy for the fools to remember and equally easy for us to exclude. And again, if pinheads want to watch the damn .god channels, fine. But I don't see why they should clutter up my listings.

There's more. We could also create a domain for creative, intelligent TV. I know, I know: there is no such thing. Still, let's consider doing this. We could call the domain ".gud" or ".smt" or something. I think if we did this we would notice that there are no shows in this category. Then perhaps someone would try to fill the gap by making, you know, smart stuff to watch. Who knows? By creating the domain we might actually grease the skids for smart TV. It could even show up within our lifetime!

Perhaps that's setting our sights too high. But by creating domains we could at least block the dumbest shows from our sets. Those things belong out back by the trash. And like I said, if idiots want to go out back and hang around the cans, that's fine with me. Just tell them to shut the door behind them when they leave.

TV is screaming for a revamp -- but then, so is American culture. Oh, I forgot. TV is our culture.

Sinead seconds the motion

Sinead O'Connor, wonderful ripper-upper of Pope pix, caught the same thing I did in the Pope's recent remarks. (I'm ashamed to say I found this article on the Huffington Post. Yes, I was so bored by the after-Xmas slump that I visited the awful Huffington Post. So sue me.)

What set us both off was the way the popey guy referred to child buggery as something that was was an accepted thing in the 1970s. Here's my post. Here's Sinead's

And in case you don' t want to visit those links, this is the actual quote from AP that set us both off: 
"He said that as recently as as the 1970s, pedophilia wasn't considered an absolute evil but rather part of a spectrum of behaviors that people refused to judge in the name of tolerance and relativism."  
This is one seriously confused fellow. Too bad he's in a position of authority. But hey, I know -- let's not think of him that way. I know, I know! Let's think of him as a batty janitor who works at the vatican. This way it's just the batty janitor sounding off. Feels better already, doesn't it?  

UPDATE: And PZ took it up the following day. But the best take-down of the popey guy over this was at Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Click here to read it.

The joy of having internal resources

I've mentioned that "the holidays" are my least favorite time of year. Everything is boring and no one does anything useful. I mean, I just looked at all the blogs and they still have yesterday's stuff up. Hey, I did my blog post today. Why didn't they? I hate the sleepiness of "the holidays."

So there's no news today and no one wrote anything interesting on a blog. Hmmm. And there's nothing on TV but snow talk and plane delays and the dogawful, continuing story of Shopping, the American pastime that substitutes for having a personality. Oy.

But my thoughts today are gleeful because I don't have to rely on anyone else for stimulation. Who cares what the world does? I don't need it because I'm a writer. There is always a voice inside me, calling out for attention. It wants to write and it never lacks for ideas. It's my friend, my mentor, my purpose, my life.

For me, writing fills every day with joy. It's more interesting than anything else I've ever encountered. I get up each day thrilled to return to the chase. Yesterday, for instance, I had a very productive session editing Xmas Carol. I actually axed scenes -- whole scenes! -- to tighten up the story. And today I'll return to this task, a mug of hot espresso at my side.

As the snow falls outside my window (over a foot is on the way, or so they say), I will once again visit the world of Xmas Carol. My day will be stimulating and creative, and when it's over I'll have the satisfaction of knowing I pushed the project along. I don't know how anyone lives without doing something they love.

So enjoy your holidays, people. Sleep, eat and don't worry. Some of us luckier folks will remain on the job and keep the world spinning till you get back.

December 25, 2010

The day a helpful bird pooped on my head

This photo shows me on the day of my "first Holy Communion". Bad day. I forgot to avoid breakfast, told a nun and then she wouldn't let me go up to get my magic wafer. I had to sit there in this foolish outfit, the only child left in the pews as the others went up. For all the world, I looked like a sinner unworthy of this "sacrament."

Don't you think the nun could have said to a seven year old child, "Well, we don't want to ruin this day for you, so it's okay but just this one time. Next time, don't eat." But as we know, the Catholic church doesn't act kindly toward children. We've had ample evidence of this fact in recent years. So nice try, church. Perhaps that event colored my whole perception of religion. If so, I truly thank you.

A short time later I was on my way to church one sunny Sunday morning when a bird pooped on my head. I couldn't believe it. I was on my way to church! Didn't the bird know this? Wasn't this a perfect universe?

The full force of cognitive dissonance descended upon me that morning. I immediately knew what this meant: there is no god. After all, He would never let a thing like this happen. I went home, ripped off my clothes and took a shower. And with that shower I washed the poop out of my hair and the vestiges of religion out of my "soul". I never went to church again or doubted my new perception. There is no god.

Soon I became a nightmare for the teachers in my Catholic elementary school. When the brother (it was always a brother in our sex-segregated classes) asked what Jesus said to the apostles three days after he died, I answered, "Nothing. People don't talk after they're dead."

My parents forced me to go to Catholic schools so this continued into high school. I went to a braindead Catholic school and it was one of the worst, most homophobic experiences of my life. My only joy at school was disrupting any and all religious discussions in class. The religion teachers finally became frightened to call on me, which provided a lovely armor but cut down on my opportunities to knife religion in front of believers. Darn!

Finally, they took me out of religion class and let me talk to a cool brother instead. We even smoked during religion period. See? Blasphemy pays off. He was a great guy and I heard he left the brotherhood in later life. Good for him! There ain't no god, people. There just ain't. 

If you have a fun end-of-religious-innocence story, tell us about it in the comments. G'wan.

Good post at Ed Brayton's site today

"Mandatory US Army Survey Says: Non-Believers Unfit to Serve" is a post by Chris Rodda at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

It's hard to believe our armed services force Christianity on those who serve, but apparently this is exactly what they do. It's disgusting. Christianity is nothing but nonsense -- and it's forced on our military volunteers?! They actually punish the soldiers who won't come to their braindead Christ-fests! It's like something out of the Dark Ages but it's happening right now.

This is our country; this is what we do. Read it and weep. (Click on the article title -- theirs, not mine -- to read the post). The Christian Taliban is a strong and despicable force active right now in our military services. It's the year 2010, people -- almost 2011.

This is unacceptable. They must be stopped.

Tommy's Tale, Part Two

Me and Tommy
We had 15 years together, from the time Tommy was 15 until the day he died fifteen years later. I wanted more but I also know it was enough, that I was lucky to know my brother.

After my newly found father freaked out about me being gay, we didn't speak again for about 15 years. I retired my thoughts of him. Before, I'd always wondered what my father looked like, what kind of man he was. I knew now: he was a colorless drunk living in the Bronx. This enabled me to put my daddy issues to bed forever. As most gay men whose fathers reject them know, there's a simple way out: you have to become your own father. That's the game and it fixes it for all time. You can walk anywhere alone after that because your internal father is always with you. I never needed my father or cared about him ever again.

But I always wondered what had happened to those two young half-brothers of mine. When I was 30 I found out, at least about one of them. Out of the blue, Tommy, the youngest of my half-brothers, called me. He wanted to get together and I jumped at the opportunity.

Tommy turned out to be, at 15, as big as me -- 6'5". In fact, he was a bit taller than me. We didn't look alike at all. I guess he took after his mother. And Tommy was gay! That was such a wonderful surprise.

As it turned out, this was one of the reasons why he sought me out. He was enrolled in a Catholic high school in the Bronx and was getting tremendous grief because he was out at school. Here was another similarity: neither of us ever lived in the closet. But because of his out status he was taunted by the cave-children at school. They did typical dimwit things like putting tacks on his chair. And the dear "Brothers" who ran the school apparently felt Tommy deserved such treatment. Always kind to children, the Catholics.

So he turned to me and I was more than happy to be his gay role model. From the day we met, we were brothers in every sense of the word. Tommy was my other half. We understood each other perfectly. We were different, of course. He was much more easygoing and friendly than I was, and I was more aggressive in life matters. I went after what I wanted while Tommy laid back and enjoyed whatever came his way. For fifteen wonderful years we shared our lives.

Unfortunately, we'd both inherited our father's genes and were prone to alcoholism and substance abuse, and over the years we were both addicted to various things. I was the one who fell apart regularly because of drugs and alcohol. Though Tommy seemed to drink and drug as much as I did, somehow he withstood it better. He was the guy with the hollow leg who never showed evidence that he was high or drunk. I never heard the boy slur a word.

So in the end, I don't know how much of a role model I was. For gayness, I was a good one. For life, I guess I wasn't. But then we were both hammered by addictions. I don't think Tommy would have used less alcohol or drugs if he'd never met me. It was in our genes; we couldn't avoid the problem. But even drunks and druggies have good days, and when we were together it was always a good day.

I'd get sober in AA now and then, for a year or three, but I'd always relapse. In my early sober years I tried to get Tommy to understand that he was an alcoholic too, but he never did get it. He figured I was the one with substance abuse issues, not him. And then of course I'd soon relapse and we'd be hitting it together again.

Despite this, we had some great times. I have a half-sister too; she's the "sister" I refer to here at times. We've always been wildly close, closer than any brother and sister I've ever known. So at some point it seemed sensible to have Tommy and Maria meet. One night we all went out dancing at the Limelight. We drank and laughed and danced and I think all three of us would agree that it was one of the best nights of our lives.

But all things come to an end. Tommy started to get sketchy about contacting me -- and even sketchier about what he was doing. He'd slip away for months and I wouldn't hear from him. He was living here and there, so there was no way that I could contact him. And then after a longish absence he'd appear at my house, filled with wild stories.

And some of those stories weren't good at all. It was the 80s and at the time, I was working in the field of HIV-related discrimination. In other words, I was very familiar with AIDS issues. So when he visited one day and finally told me what he'd been doing -- having unprotected sex with strangers, shooting dope and sharing needles -- I knew exactly what this meant. As I heard his words I felt a cold wind slip into the room.

Of course I tried to get through to him. "You can't do this," was my basic message, phrased in various ways. But I'd never been able to reach Tommy with any information he didn't want to hear. In all the years I knew him I don't think I ever changed his mind about anything. He did what he wanted to do. I might as well have been talking to a brick wall.

And really, I knew it was over then and there. He wasn't going to be able to put the genie back in the box. I was sure he was infected although he seemed healthy enough at the moment. It was a horrible visit. I felt I was spending time with my dead brother.

And that was pretty close to the truth. I never saw him again after he left my house that day. He called one more time to say he'd be over the following weekend, but the weekend came and went without him. I knew immediately what had happened. He would never just fail to show up like that without calling. Never.

I felt that cool breeze rushing around my heart again but I ignored it. I told myself I didn't know for sure that anything had happened to him, couldn't really know that he was dead. And if I didn't know it, then it wasn't true.

I went on like this for another year or so, my head buried in the sand, knowing but not knowing. It was better this way, I thought. Maybe he was still out there, healthy and having fun and that's why he didn't call. That was it: he was just having too much fun.

I didn't want to know.

Stay tuned for the next and final installment of Tommy's Tale. It will appear here next Saturday morning. If you missed Part One, you'll find it here.

UPDATE: You can find part three of Tommy's Tale here.

December 24, 2010

TV listings note

Christmas night at 9 pm, BBC is going to deliver an episode of Doctor Who that is apparently a sci-fi take on Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". It might not be good but in case it is, I point this out.

I like new takes on old stories. And though I've grown tired of Doctor Who in general, I have a feeling this might be interesting. Tune in if it sounds like a good idea to you.

(See? I'm not a true curmudgeon. One of those would have said, "Bah humbug" if they heard about this show. Maybe there's hope for me!)

OCD is not always a bad thing

Right this moment, I have 18 draft posts ready to publish on this blog. It's the way I am. I decide I want to do something and I do it till it's done. This is how I wrote three and a half books in two and a half years.

Things have to be done, they have to be done perfectly (or as close to it as possible), and they have to be done now. That's the way it is.

I don't mind this aspect of my personality at all. Is it compulsive? Sure. I don't find that a bad word, in certain narrow respects. Why not be compulsive about your positive interests? Suits me fine.

And I've got 18 posts ready to go! Did I already say that?

Bah, if not humbug

Ah yes, Xmas. Merry ho ho ho. Despite my atheism I have no particular problem with Xmas. You give gifts to people; what's not to like? I enjoy giving gifts (and don't limit myself to Xmas day) so Xmas is a good match for me.

However . . . I do have a problem with holidays in general. I dislike them as a group: all holidays. For one thing, the world stops functioning on holidays. I know people like resting and all, but I don't. I want things to shoot by at 300 mph all day, every day. I'm a naturally speedy guy. Holidays are just too damn sleepy for me. (I'm not keen on weekends either.)

Plus, American holidays are always so fuzzy-headed. I can't count the times I've heard on a newscast recently that something terrible happened to someone ". . . and at this time of year! Tch, tch." Like there's some magical protection that slips down from the sky in this "joyous season" to cover us with an invulnerability shield. It's kinda creepy (and dunder-headed).

So I am a curmudgeon after all. What can I say? This is my personality. I love to give gifts, mind you. And when my nephews were young it was wonderful to see their faces as they opened their gifts on Xmas morning. That's the good part of Xmas: kids and the fun they have on this day.

But holidays themselves? I don't like them at all. In fact, I decided a couple of years ago that I would write a horror novel to attack each major American holiday. My first horror book, Xmas Carol, is the first iteration of this plan. I might not shoot an arrow through the heart of every holiday but I definitely plan to smash July 4th and New Year's Day in upcoming books. These two strike me as being the most mindless of American holidays, which makes them wonderful objects for my scorn. I look forward to strafing them!

Good fun! What makes me thankful for the holidays is that they're big, fat, ungainly targets for my writing. So merry Xmas and ho-ho-ho, folks. Have a great day! And hopefully by next year you'll have read Xmas Carol and will from that point forward include an annual re-reading of it as one of your most "holy" Xmas traditions.

December 23, 2010

Work Update: editing Xmas Carol

Yesterday and today I drank a ton of espresso and edited Xmas Carol. As I said in a recent post, this is my current push: to get Xmas Carol into final form and out the door to a potential publisher. I'm on the case.

It's been fascinating. My specific task during this edit/rewrite is to decide what to cut. What survives the cutting process will be the final draft of the book. I've never done anything like this before. Cut entire scenes?! It seemed like blasphemy at first glance but that is exactly what I'm doing. Readers like the book but think it's too long. And when I asked them what they liked least, thinking that might point me toward an area to cut, none wanted to lose anything. It seems it's up to me to figure out how to wield the axe.

Today, I suddenly began to understand my job when I saw how some scenes sparkled and moved things along swiftly, while others seemed like detours. Today I axed an entire scene, plus I carved away a large section of another. Poof, they're gone (though due to the magic of Scrivener, they're only hidden from view).

I get it! I'm beginning to see the underlying book, the essential text. It's like being a paleobiologist -- I see the creature hiding in the fossil. And I like it!

I swear, everything about writing is a learning experience. It's as if the book exists within a heavy mist and it's finally becoming visible to me. This editing process is going to blow away the mist and leave a gleaming, streamlined story behind. 

(See how happy I am? I'm mixing my metaphors like mad!)

It this a painful experience? Yes. But anything that moves the book forward is a positive thing. Therefore I applaud it. You have to go with the flow, wherever it may lead. I'm very pleased with what's happening.

More Bradley Manning

If you care about whether the United States is an ethical, law-abiding entity, read Glenn Greenwald's post today about the torture of Pfc. Bradley Manning, a man convicted of no crime but held in solitary confinement for the past seven months. Click Greenwald's name above to get there.

Cartoon science

I just watched a short video called, "Brian Greene: the Search for Hidden Dimensions". Hit the title to visit the 8 minute video. It's very basic but not bad. That's a screen shot from it on the left.

I love the topic (and Brian Greene too, for that matter) but whenever I watch these things, I'm horrified that they illustrate their points with cartoons. Why do we have to have a typical buffoon cartoon character (look at him) in a discussion of extra dimensions? And this is a video produced by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. 

I don't get it. Same with shows like NOVA on PBS. Why do they show us cartoon images while explaining complicated things? I can see using images that illustrate the point, but why use stereotypical cartoon characters? And by this I mean tripping, stumbling, idiot-type cartoon characters. Yeah, like that guy.

I find these images distracting, disheartening and dumb -- heavy on the dumb. I mean, I know the current public are a bunch of ignorant gits. But must we dumb everything down to reach the slowest of them? This is educational TV. That means relatively intelligent people will be its likeliest audience. So what's with the children's cartoon characters?

December 22, 2010

Don't get fooled

While everyone is cheering the president's signing of the repeal of DADT today (you know, the bill he never fought for), we remain a filthy, craven country.

Digby today reports that they are waking Pfc. Bradley Manning every five minutes while he's in isolation, although he has been charged with no crime, and certainly hasn't been convicted of any crime.

They're using sleep deprivation (torture) to get him to lie and turn on Julian Assange. (I can't link to the post directly since Digby doesn't separate her posts for direct linking. Click here to visit Digby's site.)

This is no longer my country. No matter how much lipstick they put on the pig (DADT repeal, for instance), the United States is a terroristic, torturing nation that pays no attention its own Constitution. I could not be more ashamed of our country.

Oh, look, there goes a drone on its mission to kill another innocent Afghan family!

Immortality can solve that

I was thinking about a hypothetical alien civilization somewhere out there, one that had achieved immortality and somehow -- through augmentation or perhaps by altering their own genetic code -- had stepped up to the next level of existence, one far beyond our ability to understand. Specifically, I was wondering what dreams this race might have and what it still longed to accomplish . . . when suddenly it hit me.

If we were immortal it would eliminate one of the main obstacles in humanity's way -- our short memories.

For instance, in the 1980s we learned about the dangers of HIV and discovered how to stay safe. But then a new generation came up, knowing nothing of what we had learned, and the infection rates rose once again. Our information, our understanding of various matters, does not remain with us because, unlike genes, information cannot be physically transferred to the next generation. In life, any information can be lost if the next generation doesn't pick it up and carry it forward into the future.

(In fact, an entire culture can be lost in one generation if the new one doesn't cling to the language, customs, etc. of their forbears. Note that suddenly no one can read. One generation is all it takes to lose a skill.)

If we were immortal there would surely be new problems caused by immortality itself; it is not a panacea. But if we could live forever, what we learned would stay learned. Perhaps that is the key to our finally becoming an enlightened race. If we all, as a race, remembered the past and its lessons, perhaps we could finally build a positive future.

Or maybe not. But it's an interesting thought.

December 21, 2010

Popey condom redux

How many times has the vatican "clarified" the pope's recent remarks on condom use and HIV/AIDS? Six? Eight? Well, they did it again today in a vatican statement that speaks volumes with its condescending tone.

Here's a quote from the statement issued by the important-sounding Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, frequently described as "the Vatican's moral watchdog":
"The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought," the statement said.
Stupid, sanctimonious twits. They can't just say, "Condoms are okay to prevent disease but not pregnancy." Nice and simple. No, they have to dish the people who "could deduce" the opposite from the pope's idiotically opaque comments. The vatican's "moral watchdog" indeed. It is apparently a vatican organ whose goal it is to deflect criticism of the popey guy. It's all the fault of the know-nothing nabobs out there, not the popey guy.

They are just so infallible over there, aren't they? It kinda takes your breath away and makes you know there is indeed a god floating around way up in the sky. And for sure, the popey guy is on a first-name basis with him. For sure.

Talkin' crow

This is my friend Crow sitting out on the ice in the morning, waiting for me to wake up. It may be the holidays but not for crows. Every day is about getting that next meal. Look at this poor guy! It's scary. As I understand it, birds have to maintain an internal temperature of about 105 degrees. How does a bird survive northeast winters? I don't get it.

Some mornings he'll be waiting for me high in a tree, perched on a leafless branch that provides no cover. He just sits there, constantly buffeted by the wind, and waits for me. How do they do this?

Ah, but this post is about talkin' crow so I'd best move on. And by talkin' crow, I mean me talkin' crow. Here's how it happened. I noticed that one crow (who I think is my original pal, Crow) alerts the others when I throw out the peanuts. He gives three short, almost connected caws: "Ca-ca-ca!" This means, "Dinner is served!" (or possibly, "The fool is throwing away perfectly good peanuts again!" I'm not sure.)

So now when I throw out the morning's peanuts I announce it with their call, doing my best impersonation of, "Ca-ca-ca!" I must say Crow looks at me oddly when I do this. He tilts his head to the side and locks eyes with me for a moment. But then it's all peanuts all the time, so it's not like my language skills hold his attention for long.

I will feed Crow and his family until the day I die. He can count on it. And I sure wish Spring would come soon so he could be warm again (and I could watch baseball).

December 20, 2010

More fun with the popey guy

The pope rolled out a litany of excuses yesterday for why the church let priests molest children for literally ages. Here's one quote from an article AP offered this morning:
"He said that as recently as as the 1970s, pedophilia wasn't considered an absolute evil but rather part of a spectrum of behaviors that people refused to judge in the name of tolerance and relativism." 
Wait a minute. I was around in the 1970s and I must have missed this. Nowhere in the news or at school or at work or in the people I met did I ever see this view represented. In fact, I have never met anyone who thought that screwing kids was not evil but a behavior that should be tolerated.

Oh wait! Now I get it. He means that's the way he and his pals in the church saw it. Ahhhhhh!

The article goes on to say:
"In the 1970s, pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children," the pope said. "It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a 'better than' and a 'worse than.' Nothing is good or bad in itself."
"The effects of such theories are evident today," he said.
Indeed they are. But again, what is the little popey guy talking about? When in modern history did anyone think screwing kids was "fully in conformity with man and even with children"? What planet is this guy from?

Oh, right. The vatican.

"Dirty" words

I don't know if you're counting the "bad" words I've used here but if you are, you know the total is zero. I've also written three and a half books and I believe I used a "bad" word once, and only for comic effect.

The reason I don't use them is that there's no need -- plus they're not a good fit for my writing. Mind you, I could see writing something specific that required tons of "curse" words because it was intrinsic to the piece. But in the sorts of things I write, the need doesn't arise.

On the other hand, I put "dirty", "bad" and "curse" in quotes because there's absolutely nothing wrong with "dirty" words. In conversation it's sometimes appropriate and fun to speak this way. It's not a big deal.

Words are just words. They're fine and innocent. Note that I'm not talking about ethnic or sexual slurs here; just words that the stereotypical sailor might use. As for the others, that's a different post.

I don't use "dirty" words when I write and I suspect I never will. It's just the way it is.

December 19, 2010

Leandra's Law

NY has a law referred to as Leandra's Law. It's named after a little girl who died when an adult drove drunk with her in the car and crashed. I've had a problem with this law since the moment it was enacted.

It provides for an automatic felony charge for drivers caught driving drunk with children 16 or under in the car. Wonderful. That's just what these people need: to be taken away from their children for decades and placed in prison, where they will get little or no help with their alcoholism. Now isn't that sensible?

No, it's not. Instead of providing people with the support they need to learn how to live sober, they toss them in jail and take a child's parent away. This is not pro-family in any way.

A story on NY1's website -- NY1 is NYC's main cable news station -- today said that 660 people have been caught breaking Leandra's Law. Six hundred and sixty! That's how many families lost a parent: 660!

After telling us this, the article mindlessly goes on to wonder why the numbers haven't gone down at all since the law passed. Duh. Drunk people are drunk. They usually don't even know about things like laws, so the numbers will never go down. All that will happen is that more children will lose their parents.

Why couldn't there instead be a campaign mandated by law, that reaches out to parents who are alcoholics and have young children? Why not try to get them into treatment so they don't drink and drive with their kids in the car? Couldn't this be done with an intensive PSA campaign? Why not try to provide a benefit rather than a lifelong penalty for these families?

The moment the law passed, all I could think of was all the parents who would be caught in its snare. These aren't people who are trying to kill kids -- they're people who are alcoholics and don't know how to deal with the problem. They just think they're driving their children around to be helpful. They have no clue.

And for those who think these parents (and that's who they are: parents; let's not forget this for one second) will go to AA meetings in prison and "straighten out", I've got news for you. I've known good people who went to prison and who were alcoholic. Universally, they told me that you cannot be honest at an AA meeting in prison because you are surrounded by predators. Your honesty will be paid back twenty-fold with duplicity. AA in prison does not work.

These parents need help, not decades of incarceration. But politicians don't care about facts or sense or thinking through the issues anymore. They only want to get votes and this seemed like a big vote-getter, so now it's the law of the land.

I detest this law and all the harm it brings to families.

DADT repeal

While I'm happy that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed yesterday and that Obama will sign it, I'm not cheering ecstatically yet. Obama could have stopped all the discharges any time he wanted to. And now we've got Gates saying it might take up to a year to "implement", as if there's a trick to it.

Gay and lesbian armed service members are already there. Nothing has to change at all except that you don't fire them for being who they are. A year for implementation? It sounds like the insanity is still with the overlords.

And today, MetroWeekly provides the following report:
Saying that they had been "focused" on the vote, a senior White House aide intimately familiar with the administration's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal efforts was unwilling to say whether President Obama agrees with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that DADT-releated investigations and discharges should be halted immediately.
So no, I'm not going to cheer wildly yet. Maybe later. And the fact that this doesn't fix all the other inequalities GLBT folk face in America means even if this repeal goes well, there is a ton more work to do.

I've been a half-citizen all my life because I'm gay. I'm still not a full person in this country. When I'm equal, you'll hear me shouting hallelujah from the rafters. Until then, color me suspicious.

UPDATE 1: I just saw this quote from Gates:
"It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today's historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time. In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect. (Emphasis added.)
Nice, huh? Gives me a lot of confidence.

UPDATE 2: The AP headline this morning is "Gays see repeal as a civil rights milestone", not "DADT repeal a civil rights milestone." We've got a long road ahead of us before we reach equality.

Next blog

At the top of this page, you see the "Next Blog" link. It's tempting and I think lots of us click it just to see where it leads.

It's very strange how Blogger organizes this. One day you'll click Next Blog and encounter eight insane religious blogs before you run from the computer in shock and horror. Another day you'll encounter ten Chinese blogs that use an alphabet you don't understand. (I did see some cool Shanghai blogs that day, in English, no less.) The next day the link brought me to a bunch of family blogs. They come in themes, it seems. (I wonder if they ever schedule "Atheist Blog Day". Something tells me they don't.)

After grokking this, I finally came to understand the mystery of the "Stats" page for users on Blogger. Before then, I had been looking at my "Audience" stats, thinking "Gee, lots of people in Singapore like me. And in Malaysia too." But it was just that folks in those countries mindlessly clicked "Next Blog" and it happened to be Northeast US Blogs Day. That's all. Sob. I'm not popular in Slovenia, after all!

Ah well, it was a fun fantasy for a while.

December 18, 2010

Predators eat own future

So the Republicans successfully filibustered the DREAM Act today. Congratulations and shout-outs to all the Republican pigs. Go, pigs!

The image I have when I hear the word "Republican" is this: I see a circle of predatory birds standing around the last burrow of a species (say a worm) on which they live exclusively. Their beady little eyes are focused on the tiny hole in the ground from which the worms' babies emerge. And as the last couple of dying worms release their last progeny and a baby emerges from the hole, one of the birds pounces on it and eats it. This is repeated until no more worms emerge and the species is forever extinct. Now there's nothing for the birds to live on, but they only care that that their bellies are full.

Immigrants are our future. Allowing them to become educated enhances that future. Predicating citizenship upon enrollment in college is one of the best ideas to emerge in ages. And bolstering our military by offering citizenship for armed service is also a wonderful idea.

Killed, DOA, by a bunch of hungry, short-sighted Republican birds. 

And on the very same day, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has finally been repealed. This is great and I posted my "hoorays" over at Joe.My.God. (But I worry about the roll-out of the new policy. I figure they'll screw it up somehow.)

Wouldn't it have been great if DADT was repealed today and the DREAM Act passed? It might have felt like there was some hope for our country. Still, we take what we can get. Congratulations to Dan Choi, the brave man who championed the repeal of DADT while in uniform. He has every right to feel proud today.

Tommy's Tale, Part One

I had a younger, gay brother named Tommy whom I loved dearly. When he died about 25 years ago it tore a hole in my heart. He was 30. The official cause of death was flesh-eating bacteria but I recognized it for what it was: he died of AIDS. Other relatives would tell you this isn't true but I know this in my heart.

In a recent post I mentioned my Italian mother. I also grew up with an Italian stepfather named Fred who was a wonderful man. My biological father, on the other hand, was an irresponsible Irish drunk who ran off as soon as I was born. So I never really knew the guy although he showed up to take me swimming a few times when I was very young. I remember this vaguely. After the last visit he said, "I'll see you next week," and disappeared for good. Not a reliable character, dear old dad. So I grew up not knowing what he looked like or who he was. In my early teens I found myself wishing I knew him. I became determined to find my father and get to know him -- whether he wanted it or not.

The only thing I knew was that his name was Bill O'Connor. When that's all you have to work with, there's only one choice: I called every Bill O'Connor in the New York phone books. Do you know how many Bill O'Connors there are in New York? A ton! I felt I couldn't make the calls at home, though I'm not sure why; my quest was a secret for some reason. So one evening I took a ton of dimes to a phone booth and went through every damn phone book, calling them all. It took several nights.

I really did this. I called all the Bill O'Connors. Usually a woman would answer the phone, which made it particularly awkward. "Excuse me, but did your husband ever have a son named Keith before he married you?" That's pretty much how I phrased it.

Not one of those women was mean to me, not one, which is a testament to the times, I think. They were all kind and helpful but the answer was always the same: "No. I'm sure I would know if he had. I'm so sorry." And they were. For some reason these women felt my pain and empathized

And then one evening I finally tried that tiny City Island phone book, and lo and behold I found him. To tell the truth, I don't remember anything about that conversation except that he invited me to visit him on City Island. On the walk home I felt like I was flying. I was going to meet my dad!

It was a tumultuous thing when we met. I loved the time we spent together but it also felt very strange. My father was sitting across from me! It was a heady thing. Right away, I learned that he was a drunk. In fact, he and his wonderful wife Mary (she was great!) were both drunks. It was morning when I arrived at their house and they were having Tom Collinses -- and offered me one. Sure.

We had great fun that day and it felt so good to be with this man, drunk or not. But the greatest surprise was that I had two half-brothers, Tommy and Billy. Tommy was the younger child, maybe 14 months or so, and Billy was about four or five. I played with them on the sunny floor for hours. It was wonderful. I couldn't believe I had two more brothers.

It was a beautiful summer's day and my father suggested we go swimming. He handed me one of his bathing suits (he called them "trunks") and told me to change in his bedroom. I said, "I'll wait for you." Who knew? This might be the only chance I'd have to see my father's body. As a son, shouldn't I know what he looked like? I also had some idea that by doing this, I would see the future of my own body. That was an interesting prospect.

He asked again a couple of times but I always gave the same answer: I'll wait for you. Finally we did change together in his bedroom. It was no big deal but my curiosity was satisfied. The image of him naked filled a daddy knowledge-gap, and I wanted to fill all of them that day. I had the feeling this might not last.

The swim in the bay or river, or whatever it was, turned into a nightmare. He suggested that we paddle out to a float and we did -- but there were lots of dead white rats floating in the water. You literally had to push them aside to make your way to the float. Nice place, City Island. But what the heck, I was swimming with my father.

We went out drinking that evening and I danced with Mary as my father got drunker and drunker. They invited me to sleep over and I agreed but by the time we got back to the house, Bill could hardly stand. When it was time to head for bed he announced to Mary that he was sleeping with me.

So first I didn't know him at all and then we were sleeping together in boxer shorts. It felt warm and comforting to me. It was a good day. I remember staring at him after he was asleep. I  tried to memorize his features. My father. How strange.

The big headline that day seemed to be, "I met my dad". But the lasting headline was that I met my brother Tommy. Soon afterward, my relationship with my father fell apart when I told him I was gay. Of course an Archie Bunker like him couldn't handle the news. But I never hid it from everyone, so he had to know. End of knowing my father. I'm told he drank a lot over it afterward. Like he wouldn't have been drunk all the time if I hadn't told him. Uh-huh.

I didn't hear from Tommy again until he was older. But as soon as we were back in contact we became inseparable. We loved each other instantly and that would never change. Stay tuned for part two of Tommy's story.

Stay tuned for part two of Tommy's story. A new installment will appear here every Saturday until his tale is told.

UPDATE: Part Two of Tommy's Tale is here.

December 17, 2010

I guess we're lemmings

We look at the well-worn image of lemmings running off a cliff and say, "How could they do such a thing?!" Yet we don't notice that our species is rushing toward the cliff right now.

Although I understand that mammals (like us) aren't good at determining future risk and taking steps in the present to avoid it, I still find it shocking. The science is there and the scientists are screaming at us to pay attention. We cannot ignore climate change -- yet that is exactly what we're doing. We may as well start wearing shrouds.

Do you realize there will be worldwide water wars within 30 years? It's that close for so many people. Particularly in areas where the population depends on snow-melt for their water supply, warming will mean a loss of snow and consequent loss of the rivers on which people rely for water. But even if doom was 100 years in the future rather than 30, would that mean we should ignore it because we'll die before that time? What about the human race?

We never think about the future of the human race anymore. In fact, we're not even aware that there is such a thing as the human race because we're so busy separating ourselves into warring clans. We think the only thing that matters is our clan. This myth is at the heart of our inaction. In other words, we're both stupid and cruel: stupid to think it won't happen to our clan, and cruel because we don't care if it happens to others as long as "we" are safe.

Look at the climate agreement that just came into being as a result of a recent world meeting on the topic. It falls far short of what is needed. Apparently there is no hope of an intervention. In fact, it's already too late unless everyone on Earth were to literally stop using oil today -- and even then, we'd face problems.

But we just go on with our lives, shopping and eating and filling our burrows with big-screen TVs. Nothing matters except food and the accumulation of goods. This is what passes for culture in our country today: eating and shopping. That is who we are.

And we just don't care that we're going to make our species extinct. That is of no concern. What a world.

PS: Wikipedia says lemmings jumping off a cliff is a myth. I'm sorry to say that people doing so is the only accurate representation of this previously mythical phenomenon.

The cutting room floor

I finished writing the new scenes for my first book and can put it aside for a while. The next task is getting my third book, the horror tale, out to a publisher. But the book, Xmas Carol, is too long and I'm going to have to trim it down.

This is an odd task for me to face as a writer. Trim the book? How do I do that? The terrible answer seems to be that I'm going to have to axe a goodly number of scenes, and some story-lines are going to end up on the cutting room floor. This is a painful prospect.

But the writing software that I use, Scrivener, will be a major help in this endeavor. It gives you the magical ability to select any number of scenes or chapters (or whatever) and see them as one long block of text. In other words it lets you hide the scenes you're considering deleting so you can see how the book would look without them. That is so cool. I almost can't wait to try it.

Plus this news bulletin: I've got a plan for how I'm going to deal with publishing this year. Here it is:
  1. Send Xmas Carol to a brick-and-mortar publisher and see what happens.
  2. Edit the first sci-fi book, The Worlds, into final form and give it away free on the net.
  3. Self-publish the second book of the sci-fi trilogy, The Pod, the God and the Planet, and sell it on Amazon.
That's the plan and I think it's a go.

December 16, 2010

Wikileaks and journalism

As I said here the other day, the American prosecution of Wikileaks is unsound and poses a threat to all journalism, not just to Wikileaks. Today, faculty members and officers of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism sent an open letter to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Here is an excerpt:
"[W]e all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment. Any prosecution of Wikileaks' staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity."
This ill-considered pursuit of Assange and Wikileaks could pave the way for the end of journalism as we know it. The Justice Department could prosecute the NY Times with the same argument it is using against Wikileaks. This is wildly dangerous for our democracy. And is anyone noticing? Hardly.

We need to pay close attention when our freedom and our country are threatened -- by our country. Obama is a disaster. The man doesn't seem to know right from wrong.

Hat tip to Todd Gitlin at TPM Cafe for the quote.

Pope delusions

Associated Press reports today that the Pope says Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. I'm sure the Shiites in Iraq had a good chuckle over this remark. And they need a good chuckle.

December 15, 2010

Is the pool really that small?

Isn't it amazing how movie after movie comes out, allegedly fresh and new, but with the same damn actors? American movies can only star Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and maybe 20 other people -- and that's it. So I guess that's the entire pool of American actors.

What happened? People aren't studying acting anymore? No one wants in? Or is it such a special skill that only these 22 people have it? Apparently, because the pool always contains the same number of fish.

Same with baseball. How many damn years have the same players been in the game? Are there no other talented baseball players out there? Only this small bunch of guys? I mean, I know new, young players come up every year. But let's face it, they only replace the very old players who are finally breaking down after a lifetime of playing the game. That's not much turnover. I guess there really are no talented young players out there.

Same with politics. Please tell me that our country isn't going to elect yet another president from the same low-brow, cold-blooded, hare-brained family. Is Jed really on his way to the White House? The problem doesn't stop with the Bushes, of course. Take the last election. Did one of the leading Democratic candidates have to be the wife of a former president? I mean, I know she's a nice person and all, but seriously. There was no other great candidate out there in our gigantic country? That seems so odd to me, unless we're suckers for this sort of thing. Family trumps all. Is that it?

It's everywhere. In New York we're just about to crown Andrew Cuomo as governor. We had to choose the son of a former governor, apparently. There's such a dearth of good people out there, you know.

Why is it that nepotism is fine in politics but poison everywhere else? Just look at the dynasties in Congress. Ron and Rand indeed. And it was truly horrifying to see Quayle II pop up on the political radar screen recently. Like we needed another one.

It's sickening. We are a nation of 300 million people. Surely there are some fresh, promising candidates for political positions out there. Surely.

Movies, sports and politics. Shouldn't these huge, important and vastly different arenas have a ton of talented players? Wouldn't that enrich the mix (and our lives)? And if it did, wouldn't that be a very good thing?

I know that part of the problem is our tendency to see those three areas -- movies, sports and politics -- as magical realms peopled by celebrities, folks who are bigger than life. We revere them and want to keep them around. That much I understand. But why can't someone new enter the group? Think how rarely someone new thunders onto the acting scene, for instance. How many fascinating new actors did you see last year? The year before?

Why do we accept such narrow choices? I don't understand.

UPDATE: I wrote this post about three days ago (yes, I write a number of posts in one evening and put them up on successive mornings). Then, yesterday morning I found PZ talking about the same thing (sort of) and he offered an explanation for why we accept such a small pool:
"But sometimes we seem to be prone to a pathological degree of attachment, where because once we favored some strange object of worship, whether it's Jesus or Spock or America or the Green Bay Packers, we can't let go. Changing our minds would be an admission that we were wrong and could be wrong about something we regard as important in our lives, and there's a reasonable fear that opening the door to that kind of uncertainty might lead to chaos."

Get that danged word outa there!

Tonight I remembered something that I hadn't thought about in years: my first "published" work. It was an article I wrote for my college newspaper. I went to a Catholic college at the time. Don't ask. Anyway, they actually blocked out the word "sex" in my article and replaced it with "s - -". Can you imagine? As if the word itself was unfit, unclean.

Censorship is such an ugly thing. Of course, in this country there is no dictator who prohibits newspapers from printing the truth. Here we do it another way: the news is quelled through self-censorship. It's an insidious disease that has decimated American journalism and come close to destroying the institution. It's not just that no one wants to read physical papers anymore. It's that there's little benefit to reading them.

American "journalists" literally oppress themselves, believing they must not offer certain viewpoints because they will displease the overlords -- at the paper, in government and in powerful corporations. They've also got an editor who will put a stop to any accurate story that tries to shoot past him, but it never gets that far. Since the journalists never attempt to write true stories there's no need for Big Brother. He's built into the writers now. Journalists bow to the overlords and cuff their own wrists before they approach their keyboards. It's quite amazing.

We live in a society where we can say anything we want to. In the end, that's the most precious freedom. Nothing good can happen without it. But if journalism won't stand against the powerful we will lose our freedom in the long run. It all breaks down once the Fourth Estate fails to do its job. It's happening now. No one is standing up to power and freedom is disappearing by the day. If you're not following the Wikileaks affair, you should be. The course the US is pursuing could end not only the era of Wikileaks, but the era of real journalism.

If information isn't free then freedom has no meaning. We are living in precarious times.

Something shirtless this way comes

From the AP this morning:
"Four acrobats have taken their circus act to the Vatican, performing shirtless for Pope Benedict XVI during his weekly general audience."
Something tells me popey's gonna be very unsettled for a few days. In fact, he may lash out at gays again, and quite soon.

Poor popey. He can't take stuff like that. I'm sure he's all roiled up inside. Let's hope a nice young prelate offers him an oil massage to soothe his nerves. Otherwise he'll be gay-bashing for weeks, perhaps months.

Update: The day after I posted this, Joe.My.God posted this link wto a video showing the popey guy and a bunch of appreciative nuns enjoying the "stripping" of the acrobats. Fun!

December 13, 2010

Before Ellis Island

This is a photo of my mother and her sister with their mother in Italy. It was probably taken in about 1933. My mother is the one on the right, the older sister. I thought I'd post this photo today and tell about my family's immigration to this country.

My grandfather came to the US before them so he could earn money to pay for their passage to the US. He was in construction and helped build the Empire State Building. It didn't take him too long to earn the money and his wife and children boarded a ship headed for New York City.

Of course, they had to stop at Ellis Island where they would be quizzed and examined to see if they were "fit" for entry. Unfortunately, my mother's mother had Sleeping Sickness. She'd had it ever since she was bitten by a tse-tse fly when she was 14. The woman was a wreck. I can remember this about her from my early years. She spent her life lying on a couch, moaning in pain or irritation, almost always with a damp washcloth across her forehead. She had a difficult life.

Naturally, it was dicey getting her past the monitors. Really, I can't imagine how she pulled it off. She was so phlegmatic and didn't respond to anything the way you'd expect. But they did get her through and that's why I'm here today. If they had been turned away, my mother would never have met my Irish father and I would not exist. My family always passed on to me the idea that this was the greatest country in the world, and we were privileged to be here.

This is why I want the US to get its immigration act together. We are all immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, none of us has a family that "comes from here." It scares me how easily Americans have fallen into zenophobia, always pointing fingers at others and thinking they're trying to steal something from them, when all the immigrants want is what we have: the right to live lawfully and decently in this country.

If I was in charge of immigration, the population would swell suddenly and hugely. But until Americans get off their high horse and start seeing other people as, well, people, it's not going to happen. That's so sad and I feel this in a very personal way.

My bible-thumping best friend

It's true: me, the guy who bashes religion in every third post, has a bible-beating best friend. His name is Mike and he's like my brother. He is indeed my best (male) friend.

Mike loves religion and god. He carries a bible around with him and reads it whenever there's a lull in the action. If he has to wait ten minutes for a bus, he pulls his bible out. That's Mike. He also goes to a bible class once a week and I can tell it means the world to him.

So how can a militant atheist like me have this guy for a best friend? I don't know. It just happened. Mike is also the kindest guy imaginable, and that's a big part of our relationship. He listens to others and tries to learn from what they say. His impulses are all good ones. There isn't an evil bone in Mike's body.

See, that's what I go by when making friends: is this a good person? Or is he (or she) a walking weapon? If you're in the first camp, you'll find it very easy to become my friend. In fact, I have the kindest group of friends in the world. Every one of them would help anyone in need. That's what I base friendship on. I collect kind people.

There's more, of course. He's a bit younger than me and I do look on him as a younger brother. I try to help him through any crises in his life, try to be there when he needs someone to talk to. It's friendship, and that has nothing to do with religion. And in turn, I know he values my friendship. We are indeed best friends.

He gets something out of his religion, and I'm fine with that. When he visits, he knows not to bring jesus up with me. But with anyone else, he's spouting god stuff all the time. I know because people often tell me this. They say he can't shut up about jesus. But he doesn't do it with me. We suspend all that when we're together because we're friends, and that's the important thing.

Do I try to talk him out of believing in god? Sure. If he breaks the unspoken rules and brings god up with me, I try (in the kindest way I can) to tell him why what he's saying is nonsense. It never turns into an argument because it can't. Why? Because we're the closest friends imaginable. It's merely a difference between us, and we're okay with it.

Mike would not be upset if someone called him a jesus freak. He might even be a bit proud; I'm not sure. But I don't think of him that way. He's just my best friend. And that's that.

Writing the afternoon away

I spent the day yesterday working on The Worlds, my first book. Luckily the day's work was to write new scenes. I swear the only time I feel I can breathe is when I'm writing fiction. The rest of life is just noise. I want to write my stories.

That's how a lot of (mostly) women at my old job used to refer to their soap-opera watching, as "my stories." At work I would hear the women talk about how they recorded their stories to watch when they got home. They couldn't live without them. Although soaps seem boring to me, I can understand the rush a person gets from following "their stories."

My books are my stories. It's fun after you've written a few books and can look back on those worlds and all the characters you've created. It's fun to revisit them by reading the story, or even thinking about them in odd moments, as if they're old friends. But right now I'm doing a rewrite, which means I'm really back there again. To me, it feels like an honor. I thought theese worlds (there are many in that book) were closed and done with, yet now I'm a player in that reality once again. I'm there.

It's exciting to me. I missed these places, these characters, and all the stories that take place in that world. It's a joy to create new scenes within this familiar framework. It's kind of like a high school reunion, I guess, only you're right back in the actual old days and you can alter the way things turn out. I'll bet a lot of people would like to do that with their high school "stories".

And that's it, that's the great thing about writing novels: you guide the story, you shape it and dress it. The colors you see when you read the book are the ones you put there. And as for the characters you've brought to life, they are the most personal possessions a person can have. You made this person or child or alien; it's yours in such an intimate way. It's family. I love that.

December 12, 2010

Your eyes tell the tale

I came across an interesting article on this morning. It made me laugh since it confirmed an obvious truth: liberals and conservatives have very different brains.

The article is "Look: What your reaction to someone's eye movements says about your politics". (Click this title to read.) The short version: conservatives have no empathy and don't give a damn about anyone other than themselves. I know: not news. But here's the science to back it up.

It's not a long article. Give it a read and know that you're different (and better).

Joining the atheist web

I read atheist blogs fairly often, though not a lot of them. Basically, I'm the sort who enjoys PZ's smashdowns of religion and Jasen Rosenhouse's careful dissection of it. Those blogs are my home neighborhood. But there are many other blogs that discuss every possible aspect of religion and atheism. That's the sort I'm writing about today.

I find it admirable that so many atheists take the time to argue through the god nonsense and knock it down, peg by painful peg. Someone has to do it. Personally, in real life I enjoy trying to talk people out of believing in god and consider it a public service. If someone is hobbled by religion, I try to help them open their minds to the real world. I do this because I don't want them to waste their lives thinking obsessively about things that don't exist. Makes sense to me. But I've never done it on a blog, nor do I do it here. This is more the occasional smashdown type of blog.

Recently, in an attempt to connect with more atheists I joined AtheistNexus. It seems to be a smart, active site with a ton of well-informed members. Reading their stuff, I thought they seemed like people I could happily spend an evening with. Potential friends by the dozens (hundreds?).

But I hesitated to jump into any of the forum discussions because . . . I have no interest in talking about any aspect of god or religion. And that's what's basically what goes on at atheist blogs. In a sense, it's all god talk. Sure, it's putting it down but it's still talking about this thing that doesn't exist. It kind of made me tired, like stepping into a ring to box shadows.

It's nonsense, right? So why spend time talking about it? Due to this feeling, I lurked, frozen and unwilling to participate. It was so strange: I liked the place but didn't want to jump into . . . god talk.

To me, atheism has nothing to do with religion. It's oranges and apples. You've got reality on one side and zilch on the other side. What is there to compare? Or talk about? It felt so strange to want to join in all the atheist fun and games -- and then not be able to do it because of my perception that everyone was talking about god.

But then of course I read enough posts to realize there are a lot of people there who are just getting used to the idea that there's no god. It can be weird to have the universe suddenly transformed from a mushy god-dominated fairytale, into the real world. It's not the same old, familiar ballpark, at least not if you were a true believer at one time. So I finally realized everyone there was talking about god issues to help the newer folks. That I could grok, so I took the plunge and felt right at home.

It was weird, though. I didn't know I'd have to break my own ice when I joined an atheist group. I didn't even know there was ice to break, but there was. It's a great place and I'm glad I joined.