Words To Live By

A couple of years ago, I began reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.  For those who don’t know, the earliest of this series started out as a recurring installment in the San Francisco Chronicle, the local news paper.  I imagine it was sort of like reading a soap opera.  The books take place in San Francisco and center around a young gay man, Michael, and his naive, mid-western suburbia transplant neighbor turned best friend, Mary Ann.

One night, while reading one of the early volumes, a reference was made to an actor by the name of Tab Hunter.  The first thought that popped into my head was that “Tab Hunter” sounds like a made up name (it is) of a porn star (it is not), yet, in spite of not being a connoisseur of pornography, the name seemed vaguely familiar to me.  I never did find out why, but in my investigation I pulled up his IMDb page to see if I would recognize him, or might have seen him in anything.  While I’m sure to have seen him in some of his late career television guest roles, nothing jumped out at me, but as luck would have it, he had starred in a film adaptation of Damn Yankees!, a play I had the opportunity to see in the mid ’90s and very much enjoyed.  It also happened to have significant relevance to my, as yet unpublished (in fact, still unedited) novel I was writing at the time.

While I perused Tab Hunter’s IMDb page I noticed that he was quite a handsome man in his youth, though, to be fair, he’s not a bad looking man now, considering his advanced years.  Anyway, I became curious about him.  Along with adding several of his appearances to my Netflix queue, I also checked out a copy of his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential, from the library.  It was there that I learned a lot of interesting things about Tab Hunter.  Most notable to me, especially at the time, is the fact that he is gay, and while Hollywood (and society) would not allow its leading men to come out publicly, in that day and age, Tab never really made much effort to hide the fact either.  In fact, he claims, in his book, that he never really gave it much thought, never questioned whether it was who he really was or what he was supposed to do or be, and he never felt the need to make a declaration about the subject either.  It was just who he was, and he never gave it a second thought.  Too me, that seems like some pretty forward and progressive thinking, even by today’s standards, not to mention in the 1940s and 1950s!  Tab Hunter Confidential is Tab’s life story beginning with his birth on July 11, 1931, in New York City, as Arthur Andrew Kelm (later Arthur Galeen) and ending with his quiet life on a secluded ranch near Santa Barbara, California where he still lives with his “partner” (I hate that word in this context) of 30 years and their many animals.

In the final pages of the autobiography, Tab describes being at his mother’s bedside as she lay dying.  His mother had been a hard and difficult woman who never quite accepted who he was, choosing instead to ignore that part of his life and never discuss or confront the situation.  His description of the woman reminded me quite a bit of my own mother and her general reaction to the news when I came out to her, and so when he describes reading a poem to her on her deathbed, a poem that I felt was very poignant, I found it quite moving:

A powerful poem I discovered while reading Tab Hunter Confidential, an autobiography.

A powerful poem I discovered while reading Tab Hunter Confidential, an autobiography.

I felt that this poem was a powerful message, and words to live by.  It became the foundation of an idea; an idea which began to shift and grow in my mind.  Over time, it began to take shape until it became something real.

I hadn’t planned to write about this, or share any pictures, until all the touch ups and augmentations were complete and it was completely healed, but circumstances intervened, and here we are.

Today’s prompt (and it actually still is today, as I’m writing this.  Go me!) is Words To Live By.  While I originally thought to find a way to photograph my favorite quote, “Stop laughing!  You can’t fix stupid!”, I decided to try for something that is hopefully a bit more uplifting.  So instead, I now present, in all it’s imperfect, incomplete glory, my fifth tattoo.  The largest, most elaborate tattoo I’ve gotten so far, and certainly the one with the most meaning and significance behind it.  (Not to be confused with the most sentimentality, which is still tattoo number four, all the way!  Which, as it turns out, I don’t think I wrote about here…  Hmm…).

I gave my basic concept to the tattoo artist who created a more elaborate, and better than I could have imagined, design.  The poem, I think, is pretty self explanatory.  The rest represents baring oneself before God, concealing nothing, and basking in the knowledge of God’s grace, mercy and love.  With this tattoo, I proudly demonstrate the certain knowledge that I am a child of God, loved and blessed, free of judgement and condemnation, and that it is not a contradiction to be gay and a Christian.

The finished product is not perfect, however.  As you can see in the third image, the first line at the top, “If I relax” the I and the r are too close together.  The artist assures me that he can fix that and I certainly hope he can.  It was definitely a disappointment when I took the bandage off after I got home and realized that the letters were so close together that it looks like an h “If helax”.  The sun rays, in the colors of the pride flag, need to extend further onto my shoulder, chest and back than they do, and they definitely need to be filled in more.  He told me as he was doing the tattoo that they would need to be touched up.  Blocks of solid color that large rarely heal perfectly on the first pass.  It is also my preference, and he says he can do it, for the colors to be a little more bold and primary, as they appear on the pride flag.

Pride Flag

Pride Flag – Photo credit not mine.

Finally, only after I’d had the tattoo for a few days and had looked at it regularly did I realize, it just doesn’t quite look complete to me.  I have an appointment for this coming Wednesday to have the touch-ups and corrections done and at the same time, I’m going to have him do some augmentation to frame the tattoo in a little better.  I’m thinking more flourishes, similar to what’s at the bottom of the poem along the sides and around my arm, meeting on the inside.  That should be quite an exciting experience since the skin there is quite tender and soft.  It does not go through a lot of abuse, being on the inside of the arm and, therefore, it will be much more sensitive than the outside of my arm was during the original application.

I’ve written about my first three tattoos previously, here, so I won’t get into them now.  If you’re curious, check that post out.  I had intended to link to the story of tattoo number four as well, but it seems that story hasn’t been written…  yet.  I will.  I promise.  It’s a good one.

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Critical

The critiques were pretty painless last night.  I made a “joke” about being nervous to our leader and so she “let me off the hook” early by making me first.  I’m actually grateful for that.  I was able to get it out of the way and relax about it the rest of the night.

I wasn’t bothered by any of what they said, in fact I anticipated some of it.  There are some areas in The Teacher that are entirely too detailed and serve no purpose for the story.  What I now have to decide is whether to cut them down, or to make them serve a purpose.  While I personally kind of like some of the details, there was a consensus among the group that a few specific areas needed to be “condensed” and what the leader told us the first night was, “take what you want and ignore what you don’t, but if there’s some consistency in a particular area, you should probably revisit it,”  so I guess I will.

A lot of the other comments were about wanting to know more about certain things that are actually already addressed in other areas of the book.  That’s one of the downfalls in the way this works.  I get to submit 25 double spaced pages, three separate times.  They do not have to be the same pages, so I can have up to 75 pages critiqued.  But the first draft of The Teacher is 418 pages.  You can’t expect to know everything about the story and the characters and their backgrounds in 25 or even 75 pages of a 400 page novel.

So all in all, I feel pretty good about the feedback.  I agree with a lot of the comments that require changes and feel good about what I covered in other places that they asked for.  While I may not be as close to Book-Deal ready as I had thought/hoped, I do feel good about what I’ve done and what I can do to improve it.

So…  full speed ahead!

Holy Hectic, Batman

What a day this has been.  After all those comments I made last week about not putting off the critiques until the last minute, I haven’t been able to get around to doing them until today, even though I got the samples earlier than last week.  And I’ve only been able to do one.  The other one I haven’t even cracked open yet.

I admit I’ve really been putting off doing it because it’s just so tough.  I want to be helpful, but fair, but honest, but constructive, but nice.  This does not come to me naturally, y’all! (I can’t believe I just used that word.)

I noticed last week that a lot of people did their critiques and comments electronically, using the review options (track changes and comments) in Microsoft Word and then printing out the hard copies for the writers.  The first of the two samples and the only one I’ve touched so far, the writer asked us to do it that way.  I’m not sure if that slowed me down or if it would have taken me a long time anyway, but it took me three and a half hours to do my critique and comments on an 18 page sample.  And that’s after having read the story last night.

There were a lot of technical problems with the story and some confusing points that slowed me down and I had to figure out how to comment on those in a positive and constructive way that still said, “You need to change these things.”  It’s not easy!

In addition to that, I had actual work to do today and errands to run at lunch, and blogs piling up in my reader and my own mental blocks against doing this in the first place, all standing in the way, holding me back.

I just don’t want to do them.  Not because I’m being lazy.  I just don’t want to tell people I don’t even know what I think of their writing…  but I want them to do it for me.  And I want them to like what I’ve done and have only great things to say (which is probably too much to expect) and I want them to be supportive and encouraging.  I don’t really believe in karma or good juju, or whatever.  I just don’t.  And yet, I do believe you get what you deserve.  You get what you give. (That’s different, right?)  So I’m doing the critiques and trying to be genuinely helpful in spite of my own insecurity and my fear of coming across more harshly than I mean to and hoping that they won’t, or that I won’t take it that way.

And so here we are on Tuesday night.  I’ve done one critique and have another one to go and yet, twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes from now, I will already be in the work shop, either listening to what they thought of my sample, or telling them what I thought of theirs, and I haven’t even started on the last sample, yet.

No pressure here…

In Over My Head

So I had the second meeting of the writing workshop/class/group/thingy, last night.  I’ve been really looking forward to it and I’m glad I’m doing it, but I’ve been in for a few surprises.

Last week, we met at the leader’s beautiful house in San Francisco where we chatted amongst our selves for a little while, waiting for everyone to arrive and settle in and then the group leader gave us copies of some pages from a book she had.  After she passed the pages around to everyone she began to read selected sections of them out loud to us.  Following along with her and trying to keep up, I wasn’t able to read them myself and I wasn’t able to fully process what they were saying and what I took away from the endeavor was:

“Secrets are lies and lies are truth and truth comes out in writing in the form or your secrets.”

Or something like that.

Then she told us to take a few minutes and write about a secret.

I really didn’t know what to make of that.  I’ve already told the biggest secret I was keeping.

Before we left for the night we selected which weeks we were going to have our stuff read and critiqued by the group.

Over the last week, I received writing samples from three of the people in the group and was expected to read and critique each sample.  I didn’t really know what that meant, exactly, and as I mentioned yesterday, I found that harder than I imagined I would.

I received a chapter from a memoir which was competently written with lots of descriptive imagery and scenery and even showed a bit of growth in the person the memoir is about, but ultimately was just a piece of a larger work.  I wasn’t personally interested in the location and history of the place in which the story happens.  The feeling and sentiment of the character is moving, but not overly compelling to me.  I marked a few typos here and there, indicated an analogy I really liked, but mostly had very few comments to make.

I received a short story, 15 pages, the first half of which I really enjoyed.  Beautiful locale, really well written, with just a couple of stumbling points in my mind, but then halfway through I felt like the story fell apart and she rushed the second half entirely.  Again, I marked some typos, made a few notes and comments, but for the most part, I wasn’t engaged in the story.

Then I received two pieces from the third person.  An 8-page short story that was whipped out in one morning, because she hadn’t expected to have to submit so early and it just played out that way.  Given that she wrote it in a couple of hours and sent it out with not much editing, it was really good.  Well written and executed.  And sad, depressing subject matter.  The rest of her pages were an excerpt from an early stages novel in progress.  There wasn’t much to glean from that in my opinion because it seemed to come from somewhere in the middle of the book and didn’t cover much.  There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t grab my attention.

But what really had me worried was when we got to class and the rest of the group started giving their critiques.  We sat in the circle and started with one person, going around the room, each of us taking a turn giving our feedback.  We have a four-minute limit and when that time is up we move on.  I listened as each person started commenting on the imagery and the symbolism and the subtext and so on and so forth and I thought, “well, shit, I didn’t see any of that.  I wasn’t even looking for that.”  I don’t think like that.  I don’t go looking for those things.  If they jump off the page at me, fine, but most of the time I see just what the words say and not much more.  So I didn’t need my full four minutes and I didn’t have much to say and I felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight.  And then I felt like a fraud because when it was my turn to talk, I found myself saying things like, “I really like this story” (I didn’t), “This was beautifully written” (sometimes true, sometimes not.  I mean we’re all competent writers or we wouldn’t be there, but some of the pieces weren’t exactly exceptional).  And then I was trying to give my feedback on the things that I saw that needed work and I was so afraid of saying something wrong that will come across as mean-spirited, when it’s really just an observation, an opportunity for improvement or clarification.

I drove home seriously worried about next week.  I am one of the three people who signed up to submit pages for the next session.  I’ll be submitting chapters 3 & 4 of The Teacher.  They happen to add up to exactly 25 pages, wich is convenient, but also, Chapter 1 has been posted on this blog and read by several people with lots of commentary.  It’s pretty polished.  Chapter 2 was given to two people and both had encouraging positive things to say.  So it only stands to reason that I would move on to Chapters 3 & 4.  But I found myself worried.  What if I’m the one person in the room who doesn’t write flowery, symbolic, laced with subtext, deep, meaningful stuff?  What if they all come back next week and tell me that my chapters are vapid and meaningless, with no substance and nothing to pull you in?  What if I just look like an idiot because I’m not an abstract thinker and that’s what this calls for?

Okay, let’s be honest here.  I know I’m a decent writer.  With the occasional lapse in proper comma use (or is it coma? – See, I’m screwed!) I’m pretty technically proficient.  Spell check is my best friend, unless I’m spelling the wrong word the right way (see coma/comma) in which case it’s of no use to me whatsoever.  But I’m also pretty straight forward and literal.  I’ve never been an abstract person.  Suddenly, I feel like a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes in the middle of a grown up party.

I know everyone will be nice.  And the truth is, people who look for those kinds of hidden, deeper meanings, will probably find them even if they’re not really there.  And all I have to do is sit quietly scribbling notes and nodding my head reverently.  Try not to roll my eyes and, please God!, don’t let me blush.  (That’s a pipe dream.)

I want the feedback and I know I’ll gain something from it.  I just don’t want to feel like too much of a fool.

I’m so in over my head.

Dreaming

I work for a company that purports itself to be big on diversity.

Actually, I guess I shouldn’t say it that way.  We rank 90% on the Human Rights Campaign‘s 2012 Buying for Workplace Equality guide.  The company provides Domestic Partner benefits, financial benefits for adoption services.  We allowed same-sex couples to visit their spouses in the hospital before it was federally mandated.  Our physicians are trained and encouraged to respect other cultures and their alternative belief systems in regard to medical care.  Periodically, we are required to attend sensitivity and cultural diversity awareness training.  So, I guess they are pretty big on diversity.

It is for this reason, that I find it fascinating that I AM NOT OFF WORK TODAY.  What the hell, man!?!?  I think if the mail doesn’t run and the bank is closed and kids are out of school, I should not have to work either.  Whatever.

The truth is, I think the significance of this “holiday” is lost on a lot of people, these days anyway, and as the time goes on, it will be lost on more and more people.  Not because Martin Luther King Jr. doesn’t matter.  Not because what he did for this country isn’t invaluable, but because as time goes on and we age, it’ll be harder and harder for the surviving members of our population to imagine what this country was like before MLK did his thing.

I remember learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. in school.  I remember the first time I heard the “I have a dream” speech:

I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I looked around my classroom at the faces of the non-white boys and girls in my classroom and I thought, “how could it ever have been different.”  Certainly I was naive, but I couldn’t imagine a world where people were mistreated for their differences.  It’s funny how things change.

In my book, there’s a scene when Calvin (the lead character who is in no way based on my own existence and any similarities that may exist are entirely coincidental – *whistle, whistle, whistle*) has gone home to visit his family for Thanksgiving.  His sister Haley picks him up from the airport and as they are chatting on the way to their mother’s house, she tells him she’s dating a black man and “mom doesn’t know.”  It was something Calvin should not, and would not want to, tell their mother.

In reality, my sister did briefly date a black man in college and she never told my mother he was black, largely because of her reaction when our older brother dated a black woman when he was in college.  Our mother insisted, and for the most part, I really do believe, that she is not prejudice, that she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with interracial relationships, she would just rather her children not engage in them “because of the hardships you’ll endure because of them.”  The fact that my brother’s girlfriend was also, “a witch” and that her brother turned out to be gay (while attending a Christian University), were certainly not points in her favor…

I can’t help but wonder what my mother’s reaction would be if I ended up married to a black man.  Would that be two strikes against him, or has even she progressed enough not to care about race any longer.  The fact that he would be male, would be problem enough for her.

Anyway, a world where black people were not treated as a welcome and equal member of society was just unimaginable to me in my naive, teen years.  I didn’t think discrimination existed in this country any longer…  And then I realized I was gay and it was a whole new ballgame.  But that’s a different story.

I knew my commute would be light today and I was glad for that; I was running late yet again!  As I rounded the corner to the parking garage entrance I thought how nice it will be for the garage not to be so full for once.  Once again, naiveté rears its ugly head.  Nobody parks in this garage but employees of the company for which I work.  Today is not a holiday at the company for which I work.  The garage was as full as ever.

At lunch, I had two errands to run; buy cat food and pick up a library book that’s on hold for me at the branch by my house, four miles away.  I bought the cat food first, three miles in the opposite direction…

So like I was saying, if the mail doesn’t run and the bank is closed and kids are out of school and the library is closed, I should not have to work either.

Whatever.

2012 New Year Declaration

Well, here we are.  It’s 2012…  The last year of the world (Yeah, right!)  What are we going to do with it?

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions.  I don’t like to set myself up to fail and that’s what I think New Year’s resolutions do for me.  But I’ve been thinking about what I want for this upcoming year.  Lot’s of things have come to mind of course.  Yeah, I’d like to lose weight… again.  Of course, I’d like to get back into the habit of going to the gym and get in better shape… again.  I’d like to get back on the blogging bandwagon…. again.  I don’t write here nearly as much as I should.  Not as much as I would like to.

I read a while back on Jen Lancaster’s blog that writing is a muscle and like with any muscle, you have to keep exercising it or that muscle get’s weak.  That makes perfect sense to me and I’ve experienced it first hand.  If I don’t write regularly, I find it harder to get back into the habit.  So I would like to write more.  Ideally every day, though that may be easier said than done.  I’m going to try though.  If you’re looking for me to make a “resolution” to write more, forget it.  I ain’t gonna do it!  But keep checking back, hopefully you’ll see more writing more often in the new year.  According to that fancy pants year-end review thing that WordPress put together and I posted yesterday, I had 69 new posts last year.  Sixty-nine new posts out of 365 days…  That seems kind of shameful to me.  This year, I hope, will be better.

Anyway, thinking about 2012…  I’d like to eat better.  Cook more, learn to make new, healthy, but interesting recipes.  I took some time during my stay-cation this past week to really clean up and reorganize my kitchen and I’m amazed.  I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but whatever.  When I looked at this apartment more than four and a half years ago, I liked it a lot.  The guy who lived here before me didn’t have a ton of stuff and the apartment wasn’t terribly cluttered.  I liked it (except for the inordinately small closet) and I was interested, but the thing that put me over the top, was the kitchen.  It’s not large, by any means, but what put me over the top was this beautiful kitchen with the black marble slap counters, the stainless steel appliances, the gas range and oven and the over-sized sink.  I didn’t notice until moving in that it didn’t have a microwave or a garbage disposal, but I owned my own microwave and I’ve managed to make do without the garbage disposal.  Over the years, the kitchen counters became a dumping ground.  I walk in the door with my mail in my hands and I walk straight into the kitchen where I dump everything on the counter.  For months now, I’ve had so much clutter on my kitchen counters, that I had only one small section of counter space to do my chopping and mixing and plating.  My kitchen was no longer my friend.  The other day, I took some time to go through the stuff on the counters and put a lot of it away.  I threw a lot of things away and some additional stuff that I haven’t used, but I’m not ready to part with, got boxed up and taken down to the garage. I now have a wide open and beautiful kitchen I’ve regained the ability to appreciate.  Now it’s time to make proper use of it again!  I’ve even been remarkably consistent about putting dishes in the dishwasher the moment I’m finished with them, instead of piling up dishes in the sink and on the counter before they finally get into the dishwasher.  Yay me!  🙂

Like I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of things I want to accomplish this year, and there’s one thing I keep coming back to more than anything else.  I want my book to be published.  So instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I’m making ONE 2012 New Year’s Declaration, by the end of this year, barring unforeseen, and very positive intervention, The Teacher, by Kevin Riggs, will be published in one form or another.  (And that does not include matchbook sized Christmas Tree decorations.)  I have very high hopes for some sort of successful deal with a real publishing company, but barring positive results of that endeavor, I will self publish this book before the year is out.  Stay tuned!

On Being Published

Speaking of sentimental and thoughtful gifts…

Karin walked into my office today and handed me a small blue tube-box with sparkly blue ribbon tied around it and said, “I wanted your book to be published.”

Karin is one of my biggest supporters, as far as my writing is concerned.  We’ve talked at length about my book, tentatively titled, “The Teacher”.  She’s only seen what I’ve posted here on this blog, plus one additional chapter.  She’s chomping at the bit to read more and I get no small amount of pleasure out of tormenting her by dangling tidbits in front of her but not letting her see the rest.

It is thanks to Karin and people she knows, who know people, that I am going to be attending he writers workshop/class/group/thingy in February that I hope will give me greater insight into my writing ability, this book and the industry in general.  I’m treating this workshop (or whatever it is) as a step in the process to publication.  I hope that turns out to be true.

Anyway, Karin is a huge supporter and she wants to see my book published, which led her here.

I opened the blue tube-box with sparkly blue ribbon tied around it and turned it on end.  It’s contents slid into the palm of my hand, wrapped in simple tissue.

Karin found a store on Etsy.com that makes these:

20111222-151144.jpg

It’s a Christmas tree decoration, about the size of a matchbook, with a cover page (I guess it has to be titled The Teacher, now!) and the first sentence of my book printed inside, and it is bound, hard cover.  I love it!

And it gave us an idea.  Somewhat accidentally, I began work on my second novel, (I know, go figure!) yesterday.  Perhaps, I can get one of these ornaments made for every book I write.

What do you think?  Will “The Man With Too Many Names” fit on one of those teeny tiny pages?  🙂