March 21, 2012 § 6 Comments
Once, I had to go to the emergency room – some weird upper stomach spasm or I was getting a hernia or something else that never happened to my body and couldn’t be explained by a memory. It was new.
The person who did my intake told me there were 14 people in front of me to see a doctor. It was 11:48 pm and I was tired and wanted to go home. It’s strange how you can remember a certain time when you are in a certain place – the place, of course, where you have never been before. A certain time exactly: 11:48. My stomach wasn’t doing anything strange so I just left with my boyfriend and we took a gypsy cab down the 10 blocks or so back to where we live.
At one point, during my whatever-this-is attack, Andrew said it was like somebody was sticking a pin into my voodoo doll. And it actually did feel like that. But I didn’t think it was funny: Andrew pointing to a doll of me. I wanted support in that rough draft of something happening in a hospital and because he is funny, I got something else. You always get something else with funny people: the thing itself, which is what you share and the funny version, which is yours alone. I wanted to judge Andrew but I realized that nobody really has any right to custom order the comfort just as long as its there. I wanted Andrew to take the pain away or make me think of something else and instead he put his hand on the pain to listen to it as I was listening to it.
I love to lie in bed and watch TV late at night. And no matter what my living situation has been – and they have been as varied as the television manufacturers – there has been a television across from me when I am bed-horizontal.
I remember happiness when I was lying in the unhappy hospital having my appendix out when I was a kid and my stepfather (in an uncharacteristic stroke of generosity) actually rented a television for me to watch in my room. The television was so high in the corner that when it wasn’t on I imagined that it must have been filming me sleep walking with my dreams.
What happens with the television now is that I lie with Andrew while it’s on and he goes to sleep and I go back and forth from whatever show I am watching to softly pushing on Andrew so that he’ll stop snoring.
It used to make me lonely: him, the beloved, falling away and me still very awake, involved in a story, a guest host, an old movie – moving through time projected from inside a screen to find something that will make me unthink softly softer into sleep. But now it’s pleasurable: my little world of shows in the dark. And turning to real life every now and then to watch Andrew sleep. It is such a distinct and total departure from the self to watch somebody sleep that it almost feels religious. And I always resist the urge to wake him up by letting Andrew enter my mind for the last time.
March 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
In early recovery, I was sponsoring someone who ended up sponsoring me. Bob F. was the house manager of a theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and before that he had been a sheriff in a town in Connecticut that I forget the name of, if I ever knew it, which I don’t think Bob ever told me. Bob was sponsoring me because he knew a lot more about how to be in a relationship than I did and I wanted to be in a relationship with somebody. I was sober now. It was time to meet some fellow citizens!
But I wasn’t quite sober enough. In those first sleepless days of sobriety, I would get crushes on guys who were very newly sober and whenever that would happen, Bob, the good sponsor, would ask as a way of gauging the seriousness of the crush (and thus the potentially disastrous aftershock of being crushed by the crush) did you give them the Sondheim tapes yet? He was referring to that moment where – because these crushes were always on people who were too young to know Stephen Sondheim’s music – I had come to a kind of musical rescue, turning my beautiful boys on to a beautiful kind of music they would fall madly in love with. More than any composer I know, Sondheim’s music is in my head more than other music and I wanted my objects of obsession to hear it, too.
I loved being Stephen Sondheim’s secret messenger (though, I strongly suspect, as a group of gay men, we are legion), not only because the composer meant so much to me in my own life, but because anyone who truly appreciated him was somehow – in my humble recovering opinion – a sophisticate able to see another man as a diva, as much as the old way of seeing a woman that way.
But my dead twin trumps me when it comes to the iconic composer. Kevin wrote letters to Sondheim and I have a shoebox in my closet full of the letters Sondheim wrote back. The correspondence started when by brother wrote a love letter after seeing Sweeney Todd. I don’t know what Kevin said but it must have been interesting enough for Sondheim to have written back. Kevin was a bit of a serial letter writer and much like the fate of messages shoved into bottles, it was always a surprise whenever a message had actually reached its destination – made golden by an actual response. I remember the letters from the fiction writer Joseph Hansen to my brother as particularly filled with writerly advice – advice of someone who traveled quite a bit and was very much in the world, as opposed to my brother, who rarely left his room. You have to get out of your house and see how other people live he told him in one letter. Kevin wrote back two words to that advice: Emily Dickinson.
My brother’s back and forth with Sondheim was, thankfully, advice-free. But it was also inspiration-free or, at best, inspiration-lite. I never understood why Sondheim kept writing back because most of those letters were merely answers to Kevin’s letters and never elaborated on the public life or remotely approach the private life. The juicer news (two standouts: a snide remark he made during Madonna’s Dick Tracy recording session about her artistic worth, and a story about Barbara Streisand taping phone calls with him in the name of “posterity”) came out when Sondheim would call my brother occasionally at the lighting store where Kevin worked in Elmsford, New York. I don’t know what to do with the shoebox of Sondheim letters, but like Kevin’s empty wicker suitcase, I know not to throw them away. They both sit in the darkness of their past – not saying very much about Sondheim, not saying very much about my brother.
Whenever Sondheim would call Kevin at work, someone else would answer the phone and make Stephen Sondheim calling for Kevin sound like the joke they all believed it was. There couldn’t actually be a real Stephen Sondheim calling a clerk in a lighting store. And my brother left the collective response alone because it was easier than saying that there was a real Stephen Sondheim.
March 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
“Try to make your life as though it’s a movie, and you and God are going to watch it. Try to make some parts that he will like.” — Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
I went to a screening of “Being Flynn” in Chicago a few weeks ago and had that exhilerating and eerie experience of seeing somebody I knew in real life being presented as a character in a movie. How strange it was to see scenes played out that were once real conversations I had with somebody named Nick Flynn years ago on Cape Cod. It’s a hard movie to watch, even if I wasn’t already familiar with the true story that makes up the screenplay of Nick’s life (based on his memoir “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City”) and specifically, his relationship with his narcissistic father who is homeless and living off and on at Pine Street Inn, the shelter in Boston (the movie made it New York) where Nick himself works. When I met him more than 20 years ago with Marie Howe at a pot luck dinner at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, I thought that he was also homeless in some ways — wild and unmoored, trying to get clean and sober, just beginning a serious commitment to writing poetry and working on a boat that was parked on dry land at the end of Bradford Street so it could hopefully one day hit the water again. I think Nick was living on it, but he may have gone inside somewhere at night. It was that kind of relationship in the beginning, I didn’t see him much. And over the years, we’ve become good friends and he’s stayed remarkably the same person while the frenzy of fame and whatever fortune rushed in to meet him with the life that he has now — a very different life and like so many of us, a resolutely saved life. I kept being hit with that hard knowledge of Nick’s saved life as I was watching his movie about it and struck harder still by the idea that he and his father have been living off and on at different ends of the same boat.
I ran into Nick the next morning in the hotel lobby where we both had breakfast and asked him — like a fan — what he was working on and he told me that he was finishing a book called “The Reenactments” about the making of the movie “Being Flynn” and of course, I thought in the same way that a mirror reflects a mirror reflects a mirror through a hall of eternity that I was looking at Nick Flynn who wrote a book about his life that was made into a movie about his life that was made into a book about a movie about his life. How odd. What if nobody likes the movie? Who’s going to read a book about a movie nobody liked? And then in back of that thought came this: it didn’t matter. However “The Reenactments” turns out, it will be like everything else that Nick Flynn writes — a gorgeous meditation on the new version of Nick, in Nick Flynn’s life.
March 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
This is a picture of my dead brother’s best friend, Bruce and I’m not sure how I ended up with it, but I love it for a lot of reasons. It might even be the cover for my new book of poems which is called “The Talking Day”. The photograph’s beauty is made with what you see and what I know. For one thing, Bruce is, obviously, beautiful and he is doing something not so obviously beautiful (what are those rings made of?) — something that looks like a sorcerer’s trick, probably outside his home in Colorado where he had been living the day he walked down a path into a valley and his heart just stopped. Bruce had a rare heart condition, and like so many rare heart conditions, nobody knew — nobody I knew, anyway — exactly what it was, what it was doing to his body, how long it would mean he would live. Still, I think Bruce knew he could go at any time, and if it was anywhere close to the time that this picture was taken, I would say that he lived a charmed life. Like many charmed lives, it was very short, and in retrospect, necessarily emblematic.
Bruce died the same year my brother died — only a few months apart, actually, in 2002. And even though Bruce was straight and my brother, Kevin, was for the most part, gay, they would probably each say that they were in love with each other. Of course that love must have been — at least in part — fueled by the fact that both of them knew they would probably never have sex and I think that probably both of them lived in that incredibly charged erotic space that separates two people who want each other but won’t step out of the force field of their own making. Even when one is willing (Kevin), the field is sealed by the one who isn’t (Bruce). So I was surprised in Chicago, recently, when one of Bruce’s ex-girlfriends — also a good friend of Kevin’s — told me that Bruce told her once that he should have had sex with my brother. Because he loved him. Because it would have meant so much to Kevin. And now they’re both dead sweethearts and only Bruce had the grief of Kevin’s death and only Kevin died without ever knowing that Bruce should have had sex with him.
March 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
I’m starting this new blog with a homage to “Back on The Block” released by Quincy Jones. I love that recording. It flies in many different directions and the singers on it are just terrific and young and full of surprises which Jones has, as a producer, always been a master at making happen. Actually, I’ve been in love with Quincy Jones for most of my life. It began in a classroom in a school that sat at the beginning of Harlem (unofficially — 110th Street, which, of course, is below the “official” 125th Street). I sat there with his daughter, Jolie Jones, back in the sixties and the school was called New Lincoln — one of those great schools where you got to call your teachers by their first name. The best thing about calling your teacher by her first name is that whenever you have a fight with her about anything, it’s taken much more seriously because you get to say, “But, Harriet!!” back to her “Michael!”.
The school had once been a prison, and I actually think it’s gone back to being a prison though I haven’t been up there for a long time and the school closed long ago. Jolie was a beauty in those days when beauty wasn’t a somewhat vicious commodity the way it is now. And she was funny, which made her physical beauty even less obvious because the humor deactivated the glamor. And her father wrote music for the movies which was something then that I had always wanted to do (I actually bought soundtracks, when they were real soundtracks and not the silly compilations of soft-cock rock they are now). I also wanted to be an astronomer, but I didn’t know any astronomers and here was someone in my immediate world who had a father living out loud the dream I was having so it was much easier to want to be that than wanting to be a stargazer. At that time, Quincy Jones had only written the soundtracks to “The Pawnbroker” (his first, I believe), and “A Deadly Affair” — a complex, immediately forgettable movie starting Simone Signoret and James Mason. But that music, Quincy’s music, was unforgettable because it came out of a jazz tradition and movies didn’t generally have that kind of music playing on top of them — unless, more often than not, they were foreign movies. (I don’t believe it when anybody says jazz is an American invention. I’m convinced it came out of France). I saw every movie Quincy Jones ever wrote orchestrations for, whether they were good or not. It didn’t matter. More than the director, or the actors, or even the writer, I wanted to know what Quincy had been thinking about.