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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Dream On

A week ago, a friend wrote to tell me she dreamed of my dog, Sophie, who recently died. She dreamed she was walking Sophie and that dogs from the neighborhood surrounded them. She reported the incident to a local official, concerned that the dogs would somehow be in danger. The official told her to talk to her neighbors and solve the problem together. Back on the street, the dogs had vanished. When she set Sophie down, Sophie ran away across a beach and into a city.

My friend asked me what it meant. If there’s an intended message from The Universe, I don’t know what it is. But I’m jealous that she’s having dreams of Sophie and I’m not. Supposedly we all dream, but I almost never remember mine.

Her dream makes me think of something that actually happened. Shortly after we adopted Sophie, my parents visited. Sophie barked at my father for a day and a half until Dad offered her a Triscuit. That simple gesture won Sophie’s trust. Whether she was easy to win over or had been demanding some kind of payment from him, who knows. Once while Dad had her outside, she ran into the corn field behind our house. We lived about a quarter of a mile from a highway, so I worried not just that she would get lost but that she would get run over.

I’ve forgotten the details, but Doug tells me he was inside and heard me yell her name and saw me run after her. All I remember is feeling relieved that she stopped, that she came back home. I couldn’t have taken the pain of responsibility if she’d gotten hurt or disappeared. Even though Dad was with her, I’d trusted him, so it would have been my fault.

I do have a brief, apparently false memory of my father running after her, disappearing into the stalks of corn. Not only did he not run after her, but the corn would have been harvested by the time they visited, which was around Thanksgiving, so there would have been nothing to block my view. Considering Dad died just before Sophie, I’ve probably rewritten the scene to connect them. They’ve both run off, and this time they haven’t come back. I’m impatiently waiting for something I know isn’t going to happen. I’m feeling responsible for something I didn’t do. I’m feeling abandoned when neither of them would have done anything to hurt me.

Knowing they’re together would comfort me if I could believe it’s true. I’m open to the possibility, and maybe my friend’s dream is a faint sign. But where the hell are my dreams? My dead loved ones never come to me. I’m as open to their visits as I could consciously be, and still there’s no pixie dust sprinkled in my dreams, no irreverent voices from Beyond telling me they can see me peeing. No sublimity, no ridiculousness. Just absence.

I’m assuming their presence in dreams would fill the emptiness I feel when I remember them in waking moments. “They’re always with you” is a nice idea, but in day-to-day life, it’s kind of a bunch of crap. A colleague noticed Sophie’s photo as we ended a meeting in my office. I explained that she recently died. His response? “She has the sweetest face.” His observation happened in the present tense, tempting me to avoid talking about her in the past tense, which I do to acknowledge reality. It’s the same with my father. It’s the same with friends who died on me nearly 20 years ago.

If I love you, I don’t let go. I want to have you around in present tense again. I want to feel some confusion about which moments are happening now or even real. Every now and then, I want to take a staycation from reality without plunging headlong into psychosis, and I want you to be there. I don’t do faith, but I’m faithful. I’m like a dog that way, waiting on the front porch for you.

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Standing on Larry Kramer’s Lawn

In a very recent interview to promote the revival of his play The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer accuses young gay men today of not caring about their history. Thomas Rogers challenges Kramer’s suggestion that lack of concern for history is unique to this generation, and offers his own experience to indicate that youth’s ignorance isn’t necessarily willful.

What’s surprising is that Kramer, who has a history of accusing people they don’t care about gay history, seems to get Rogers’ message, and the interview becomes an interesting and (kind of) endearing conversation about such macro-yet-micro topics as marriage equality and the difficulty older gay men face finding sex partners. And there’s a fascinating exchange about Kramer’s ongoing feud with Ed Koch, who lives in his building. Clearly, Kramer holds grudges, and it’s hard not to wonder how much of his famous anger stems from his personality rather than injustice. But I sense there’s more to him, that maybe he’s not simply shouting at the youth of today (read: anyone younger than he is) to get off his lawn.

The problem with gay men today, Kramer and Rogers come to agree, is that we currently lack a widespread life-or-death problem like HIV/AIDS was in the early 80s. Kramer remarks that there was a “special glow of importance” during that time, and Rogers says that, after seeing Kramer’s play, he felt a “perverse nostalgia for those early AIDS years [I] never lived through. They were obviously utterly terrifying and filled with sadness, but there’s also something appealing about having this galvanizing issue to unite gay men. We don’t have that as much now.”

This kind of myth is common and powerful, and not just in the LGBT community: Once upon a time, our group (pick any group) had a common enemy, and we united to fight it/them. We worked hard. We didn’t fight among ourselves. Life was beautiful then, but now, we’re a mess. The distance created by elapsed time or lack of firsthand experience really fucks with people’s depth perception.

I have some firsthand knowledge of those days that time hasn’t let me forget. I remember a lot of confusion and pain. We worried about stopping the spread of infection, although we weren’t sure that HIV was really the cause of AIDS. We resented that no one in the mainstream seemed to give a shit about the disease until kids became infected through transfusions.

Those of us not at the head of the movement who hadn’t had the resources and/or cowardice to flee mid-size cities or rural areas, lacked the “special glow of importance” Kramer recalls. We just wanted to keep our friends from dying. We wanted the luxury of taking them for granted rather than savoring every mundane moment in case it was the last.

Far from there being a glow, we lived in a shadow of suspicion of everyone, straight and queer, as if no amount of prophylaxis or abstinence would prevent us from contracting the disease. We struggled to push away the belief that we were worthless faggots who deserved to die. Continue reading

Jane’s School Bag Meme

Jane invited me and some of her other buddies to play Show and Tell, or perhaps a better name would be Spill It. On her blog, she shared a lovely photograph of the miscellaneous in her school bag (her stuff is so photogenic) and catalogued the items. There’s her stuff for all the world to see, textually and visually.

So here’s what’s in my bag. It’s a roomy courier bag. You might be sorry Jane asked.

In the front pockets:

  • Approximately 20 of my business cards
  • Pens (3 ballpoints, 2 rollerballs, 1 fountain)
  • Pencil (1 eversharp)
  • Markers (2 Sharpies, 1 yellow highligher)
  • A reimbursement check for $11.72 that I need to deposit
  • A mailer from Verizon Wireless about new wireless phones*

In the compartment right in front of the main compartment:

  • My glasses case
  • My checkbook
  • My Moleskine
  • Earbuds
  • My digital camera
  • Temporary filling material, which I had to use when my crown came loose* Continue reading

My Internal Editor Is a Big Nag

Referring to internal editors in my last post made me realize that mine has been sabotaging me lately. Ze tells me that none of the manuscripts I’ve submitted in the past few months is going to be accepted, and adds that if I really plan to submit more in the next few weeks, then that’s up to me, but why would I want to waste my time on that when nobody really gives a shit about what I have to say. Of course, I’m also wasting time on this blogging; ze suggests that perhaps that’s the reason for my failure to get anywhere close to finishing the rough draft of my novel this summer, as I had so ambitiously planned to do.

So, basically, my internal editor is a big nag who assumes that time is a vessel to be filled and that goals (must) never change.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been feeling very rebellious. As usual, I’ve been focusing on what I haven’t done rather than what I’ve accomplished. Not that I buy the internal editor’s bullshit, but I don’t quite have the energy to challenge zim on my own. A few friends have heard my call for help, which I communicated in the form of whining, and they patiently let me talk it through. I know what to do in these situations. If this were happening to you, I’d pump you up to help you externalize all the negative messages you’ve internalized over the years. My friends helped me get that kind of critical distance. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to start singing, “You’ve got to have friends,” or anything like that. Yeesh.)

True, I could be further along with the rough draft, but I was never going to finish it this summer. That was a ridiculous goal that desperately needed to be revised. I need to push past all of this, finish revising another piece, send it out, and get ready to send out another while I keep the novel going in the background. That’s reasonable. It’s a short-term goal that invites momentum. For now it’s all I can do.

Nonconformists Unite and Take Over

In high school I attended weekend and summer courses at the Kansas City Art Institute, where I learned about the conformity of non-conformists. The cool art students in my classes, who were also in high school, shared a look. Regardless of their individual styles–punk, preppy, thrift shop–they wore black or had articles of clothing spattered with paint, presumably from their “work.”

My style resembled what Willy Wonka might have worn had he starred in Flashdance. I wore baggy, bright-colored clothing, heavily layered as if I were protecting myself from New Wave mosquitoes. I’d smeared paint on some pants, shirts, and shoes, but I’d clearly done it on purpose, whereas my fellow art students bore stains that seemed random. They appeared to have been innocent bystanders of their own genius.

I was a weirdo, even by art school standards. I wanted to fit in, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. In a few ways, I was simply out-classed. The cool kids’ paint-spattered clothing were the brands my parents could afford to buy me. Their parents were also funding their art institute experiences, by and large, whereas I was there on scholarship.

My classmates compared notes about their artwork, seeking approval from one another even as they pretended they didn’t care what anyone thought. In that way, maybe I seemed like them. I didn’t conform my artistic vision to their noncomformist rules, although I probably would have if I’d understood it. I simply did what I did–what else could I do?–and my lack of social competence made me come across as aloof, even in my layered clown suit.

I’m surprised I didn’t work harder to please. I was so eager to connect with them, but I must have known that they would have smelled the effort, and the whole point of their cool-but-not-that-I-care pose was to make it seem they weren’t putting any effort into anything. We were all learning without acknowledging we had so much to learn. They went their way, and I went mine.

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