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  It also happened to have significant relevance to my, as yet unpublished (in fact, still unedited) novel I was writing at the time.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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WOE: Mentor

The Write On Edge prompt for this week was simply the word “mentor”.  Now those of you who’ve been around for a while and already know a thing or two about me, might have suspected I would write about Lil’B and my mentor-ship with him.  You might be surprised that my relationship with him is not the first thing that popped into my mind.  Those of you who have really been around for a while, I think I might have written about this experience once before and if this is old news, I’m sorry.

Do you have a mentor, or are you a mentor for someone else?

Now write about an experience with your mentor (or the person to whom you are a mentor) that shows us what that relationship means to you.

500 words maximum, please. And remember, this is a non-fiction prompt.

 

My family moved three days after my seventh grade year started.  I walked into the school office where I was enrolled in the school and given a class schedule with mere minutes to spare before the tardy bell on my first class and the secretary told me how to find my first classroom.  Somehow I was expected to make my way from class to class entirely on my own after that.  I really don’t even know how, but somehow I managed to get from one class and classroom to the next that morning.  And I either managed to do it without ever being tardy, or I looked sufficiently shell-shocked that my teachers had pity on me that first day (I never had detention.)

Finally, after my third class of the day, it was time for lunch, or so the NCR copy of my class schedule told me.  The problem was, unlike the rest of the line items of my class schedule, this item listed no room number other than “CAF”.  It seemed simple enough though, I would follow the rest of the students in my class.  Surely we would all be going to lunch at the same time.  Surely we would all be going to the same place.  Only it wasn’t just my class in the hallways.  And it wasn’t just time to wander to the cafeteria for those who were in the halls and very soon, I lost track of the heads I was following as they bobbed through the crowd.

I found myself back in the hallway near the office, completely lost.  I held the grubby paper in my hand knowing that I was supposed to be in the Cafeteria, but having no idea where that was, when I heard a voice form behind me.  “Are you lost?” she asked.  I turned, expecting to look up at the teacher but surprised to look her straight in the eye.  She looked grandmotherly to my twelve-year-old eyes, with curly hair and big square framed glasses.  After pointing me toward the cafeteria, which happened to be just down the hall and sending me on my way with a pat on the back, I was grateful, but thought little else about the kindly woman who had helped me.

I ate my lunch as quickly as I could, having spent half my lunch period looking for the cafeteria, then made my way to my next class, Music.  Lo and behold!  I walked into the kindly teacher’s classroom.  Music very quickly became my favorite class of the day and I spent many afternoons after school in that classroom, helping clean up and organize.

The next year I spent my first class each day as a student aid.  I chose the music teacher as the one I would assist.  Though my family lived only a few blocks from school, I was always a few minutes late to class (some things never change) – and yet, I never had detention.

 

Are You Being Served Downstairs?

A quick point of correction for those of you keeping track at home, and really, aren’t you all?  Last week I told you the Write on Edge program was called “Remebe(red)” which evokes thoughts of the “Join (Red)” campaign and the many forms it has taken over the years.  While Join (Red) is certainly a worthy thing (isn’t anything whose purpose is to eliminate the AIDS epidemic?) that is not what Write on Edge’s program is about.

In actuality, the program is called, “RembeRed.”

This week on RemerRed, “…we asked you to write, in 400 words or less, a memoir in which dialect or colloquialisms feature prominently.

“Why are you watching that?!?” I asked my mother on multiple occasions.  I would find her in her usual spot, laid out on the living room sofa with one cat curled behind her knees and another snug against her breast, and always with the remote control resting on her hip, ready to obey her tactile commands.

My mother always felt that American television was too unwholesome and often looked for alternatives.  Frequently she would find something she deemed acceptable on the local PBS affiliate which often aired British television shows.  She was fond of the likes of Upstairs Downstairs and Are You Being Served, All Creatures Great and Small and Masterpiece Theater.  It all felt so old and foreign to me, which of course it was, though it wasn’t nearly as old as I believed it to be at the time.  It didn’t help that most of the shows took place in a bygone era.  In truth PBS could be counted on to broadcast various British television series from just a few years prior.

I would sit in the living room, in front of the only television in the house, captive to my mother’s whims of fancy, pouting while my mother would laugh at things I couldn’t understand.  It was as though she was listening to a foreign language or a code only she could decipher.  All I knew was she had deemed these to be morally acceptable programs.

For many years as an adult, I avoided British television at all costs.  Little did I know there were a lot of wonderful television shows on British television, now more readily found on their American cable affiliate.  I have learned that at least one of these “morally acceptable” programs, Are You Being Served was actually quite risqué… and quite funny.

One of my favorite television shows, today, is Doctor Who.  Oh, it’s still like watching a program in a foreign language.  Sometimes I have to watch with the captioning activated, just to understand the words.  At least once per episode, some joke or reference escapes me entirely due to the cultural differences and the colloquialisms I simply do not understand, but these days I’m far more entertained, and even motivated to learn what these “foreign” words mean.

Fries are chips, chips are crisps, crackers are biscuits and biscuits are cakes (I think.)  Don’t even get me started on pants versus trousers!

 

 

Wednesday Bonus: Friendship

In addition to the weekly fiction writing prompts on Write on Edge, there is also a weekly non-fiction or memoir writing prompt called “Remembe(red)”  (Write on Edge used to be known by a different name…”The Red Dress Club” I think it was.)

This weeks Remembe(red) prompt as about friendship.  Four hundred words exploring a friendship, past or present.

Enjoy:

 

When you walked into my life, I never thought we’d become what we have.  Me with my judgmental, depressed, unforgiving attitude.  You with your insightful wisdom and huge, open heart.  We were never meant to be friends.  How could it even work, two souls, so different from each other?

You saw things in me that I didn’t even know were there.  You coaxed them out of me, gently, cautiously.  You had all the time in the world.  You helped me to see things clearly.  Helped me to open my own heart – more importantly, my own mind – to the world around me and the possibilities that surrounded me.  You helped me to become a better person.  And the best part is you never even tried.  You did all this simply by being there, simply by loving me for whom and what I was…even when I couldn’t love myself.

I don’t know if you even realize how much you affected my life…how much you affected me.  In so many ways, I would not be the man I am now, if it hadn’t been for you.

You moved away and it broke my heart.  The emptiness I felt at your absence was too much for me to bear and when you came back the world was right again.  So naturally, I moved away and when I did, I knew I’d never see you again and it broke my heart all over again.  I knew it was something I had to do, though, for me.  I knew I’d never have you all to myself and I couldn’t hold myself back hoping that would change.

Fate brought us together again and for one beautiful day, each year it was like we had never been separated.  I cherished those days; counted the minutes until we would be together again.  Until Fate intervened again, putting an end to those days and now I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.

I think of you often, and not just because of Facebook or Words with Friends.  I know you think of me often, too.  You are my dearest friend and I cherish our relationship, knowing that no matter what, no matter when I see you again, it will be as if no time has passed at all.  Thank you for that.