Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Gun in the House

I've never been strongly for or against gun control. I've always said laws wouldn't keep guns out of the hands of those who want them any more than laws have kept heroin out of the arms of junkies. On the other hand, I think we do need fewer guns all the way around and that without them, many of the killings wouldn't happen. That is what I believed until last night.

I don't own a gun, but I'm pretty sure if I went to get one I wouldn't run into any problems. I'd pass a background check easily and if you know me you'd say I'm probably a pretty stable person. I could be trusted with a gun. Or could I?

Last night around 1:30 am. I was lying in bed reading when I heard a "bang". After the second one I thought perhaps some snow or ice was falling off the roof and hitting the side of the house. Then I heard another one. At this time I went to my bedroom window and looked out.

I live directly across the street from a bar. In fact, the courtyard is less than twenty yards away. When I opened my blinds to look out, I heard the cheering of a crowd. There was a group of about ten guys in the courtyard of the bar and they were looking my way. And then the snowballs came again. At first I thought they might have been friends urging me to come out and play. Then I realized I didn't know any of these guys.

I couldn't understand and I stood there for a minute trying to wrap my mind around why they would be throwing snowballs at my house. Had I pissed someone off? No, I was lying in bed reading. Were they guys just trying to be cool and see who could throw the furthest? Were they just trying to hit the building or were they aiming directly for the windows? After a few more throws I realized they were aiming for the windows.

Now I realize they were just snowballs and probably just some drunk guys trying to show off, but at 1:30 in the morning, all alone in the house, with no apparent reason to be targeted, I felt like I was under attack. I was scared and then angry. My next thought was, "I wish I had a gun."

I watched as six guys took turns throwing snowballs at the windows standing between me and the cold night air. I needed to make them stop before one of the windows was broken.

I needed a gun. I didn't want to kill anyone, but I was damn sure if I went out waving a gun at these punks, the snowball throwing would stop and a couple of them might piss their pants. I wanted them feel just as violated as I did. What's more, I suddenly needed a gun because if they were randomly throwing snowballs at my house, I could just as randomly be targeted to be beaten up, robbed, or worse. I needed something to protect myself.

The feeling and need for a gun was quickly replaced with sound reasoning. I called the bar and asked them to tell the guys to stop. They did and it stopped immediately. Then I spent the next hour wondering if they would be retaliating against me for reporting them.

I don't know why they picked my place to throw snowballs at, or why they wanted to break some windows, but it probably wasn't personal. It was random. A random act done by some, probably drunk, guys trying to be badasses.

So now I understand why someone would want a gun to protect themselves, and I also understand that in the absence of a gun, I was forced to find another solution. I'd like to think if I would have had a gun I never would have gotten it out before sound reasoning would kick in. I would like to think that. I guess it all depends on how scared you are and what's at stake.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Isn't All Art Subjective?

If you read this blog yesterday, you'll know I did not enjoy the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables. I said what I liked and didn't like and I also acknowledged that many people will love the film. Some of my best friends, and people I admire, loved the film. How could this be?

Actually it's all subjective. What one person loves, another person hates. Or they're indifferent, which is really the death knell for art. Indifference. The role of art, and I mean this as in cinema, theatre, books, television, photography, or what we usually consider art: paintings, sculpture, etc.. is to invoke a feeling, or interest in a person. It's not just entertainment.

By hating (and I use that term loosely because there were parts I liked) Les Miserables, I felt immediately compelled to call my friend, Preetemdas, and tell him how much I hated it. I ran into a coworker at the grocery store and went on to tell him how much hated it. I even came home and blogged about it. It had me talking. In fact, I couldn't shut up. Like it or not, it did it's job.

In my novel, Postcards from the Desert, I have a character, Elsa, who is a blind artist. She makes paintings by using textures as well as colors. She explains to my protagonist how she sees a painting compared to what a sighted person sees. It's all a matter of perspective. We each bring our own set of baggage, feelings, prejudices and expectations to everything we experience. This is how one person can love The Fifty Shades of Grey and others can hate it. It's where we come from.

Several months ago, I gave a copy of Postcards to some beta readers. One is a writer who is published and has become a friend of mine through Facebook and Twitter. One was a relative. Two were fellow writers from my writer's group. One was an avid reader. When I got their feedback each of them had different things to say. One didn't think a certain part was believable, while another person completely bought it. One thought it was slow in one section, another loved the pace of that section. As a writer looking for feedback, this can be very confusing. What to leave in, what to leave out?

It has taken me several months and lots of trial and error on revising my novel but today it finally hit me. Everyone is going to view it differently. I'm not going to write a novel that everyone is going to love. Some will be angry about it. Some will love it. Some will love parts of it and be uncomfortable in other parts. Ultimately, like Elsa says, "I finally stopped painting for other people and started painting for me."

My revisions just got a whole lot easier. I can stop trying to make the story fit the audience and write the story that's true to my intentions. I hope others will read it, but after all, I'm writing this for me and my characters.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Dreamed a Dream

It is not often that I leave a movie theatre angry. Well, in the case of subject matter, Schindler's List left me angry, but I was also kind of numb from having my heart ripped out of my chest.

Today I left the theatre angry. I went to see one of my all time favorite musicals brought to the big screen. Les Miserables. Yes, films have been made before about Les Miz but not musical films. I've been anticipating this day since I heard it was being done. Maybe my expectations were too high.

Critics have not been kind to the movie. I chalked that up to "theatre snobs." It turns out they were right. At least in my opinion. Many people will go see it and love it. And they should. If you've never seen the story before, you will be enthralled.

I've had the advantage, or disadvantage in this case to have seen the stage version many times. I've listened to the sound track many many times. It's my "go to" musical. It's about fighting the fight for equality, empowerment, redemption, and forgiveness. All of my favorite topics.

Now I knew not to expect much from the singers. Most had passable voices. Anne Hathaway stood out as excellent, as did, Eddie Redmayne, as Marius. I Dreamed a Dream and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables were my two favorites of the film. Also just two redeeming moments.

My problem was not the voices. I could accept that, although I did wish I was listening to the Broadway Cast Recording at some points, as I watch the scenes unfold. My problem was the cinematography and editing. Two things you don't really notice unless they're bad.

Tom Hooper, the director, is apparently a fan of close ups. The whole film is one close up after another. In fact, I'm not even sure the actors were in the room at the same time when they were filming some of the scenes. Close ups are good when the director wants the audience to catch a subtle moment, or tell them this is important. When you do a whole film of them, you never know what's important and what to pay attention too.

The second thing I hated was the jerky camera movements followed by rapid fire cuts. One close up to another. One jerky pan to another. It made me motion sick.

Les Miserables is a beautiful story set against the backdrop of an unsettled France. It's the weaving of the stories of Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert, Fantine, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, and others. It needs a large stage, or some distance,  to show the intertwining of the stories. Not more closeups.

There were times when I felt like the director was saying, "see, you couldn't do this on stage" as the camera would shakily follow an actor, or highlight a particular prop piece.

The straw that broke my back was during Eponine's On My Own, which she did wonderfully. She captured the heartbreak of the character. Samantha Barks could both act and sing. It was a lovely scene and song until the director decided to illustrate the words to the song in case we were too stupid to understand. There is a line in the song "in the rain, the pavement shines like silver." Don't you know the camera panned down to show the pavement shining like silver. "See told you," he seems to say. Then the line "all the lights are misty in the river." Pan to the street lamp in the fog. Then if those weren't enough, the line is "the streets are full of strangers." Eponine, who has been all alone in this whole segment is suddenly joined by one dark figure walking by and you guessed it, the camera panned to him.

I really wanted to love Les Miz, but I certainly did not. The actors were, for the most part, wonderful. I don't blame them. The singing wasn't bad. The sets, from what we could see of them, looked great. Although it could have all be shot in front of a green screen for all they interacted with the sets, or each other for that matter. I guess closeups can't capture that.

This could have been a much better film, had the director relaxed and let it flow. The audience knows what's important. You don't have to beat us over the heads with it. The people coming to see your film are probably not the typical audience for Honey Boo Boo. We understand grown up things.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Imagine

I've struggled all weekend to come up with something to say about the school shooting last Friday in Newtown, CT. I could say something about gun control, but smarter people than I can better argue that. I could say something about mental health, but again, more intelligent people than me are already supporting that cause.

We all ask, "how did we get here?" Each shooting like this is more shocking than the last. We look around for someone to blame. Was it the mother? Society? The media? Was he bullied? Most of the time we will never know what goes on in the minds of these killers.

Since we can't understand why, our next question is how do we stop this from happening. I know many people say gun control, but we're naive to think that's the complete solution. Drugs are illegal, yet drug use is rampant in this country. People will always find a way to get what they're looking for. We have to make them stop wanting to look. How do we do that?

Kindness!

We live in a country so heavily fractured among racial, income and theological lines that we are actually broken. Our society is broken!

We've replaced empathy with apathy. Kindness with cruelness. Encouragement with ambition. We live in a society that says "succeed at all costs." A society where talking heads on television can openly show hostility to the President of the United States. A society where religious leaders can preach hate from the pulpit and say certain people should be put to death. A society where reality television shows glorify greed and manipulation. A society where corporate leaders are given million dollar salaries and bonuses while their workers earn minimum wage and go without healthcare. A society where people people with HIV can only afford to take their meds every other week, if at all. A society where The Westboro Baptist Church can picket soldiers funerals because "God is punishing us."

As long we accept these things, we are all part of the problem. The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but it does not say that speech can not be held accountable and have consequences. When the Westboro Baptist Church picketed a young gay man's funeral (Matthew Shepard), a friend, Romaine Patterson, organized a group of "angels" to block them. That's what we need. They showed love and kindness in the face of hate. And it worked.

This kindness doesn't have to be at a global level. It starts locally with each one of us. To start, simply look people in the eye when you walk down the street, and smile. Say "hello." You'd be amazed how few of people are used to that. Most will probably look away, afraid you're going to bum money from them. Isn't that what we all do? We live in our lonely shells and don't let people get too close. We're afraid they might want something. They do. A connection. Even a momentary connection with another human being done in kindness can change the course of a whole day. You might even be saving lives.

"You can say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one." ~ John Lennon, Imagine

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twelve Days til Christmas? What?

People keep asking me if I'm ready for Christmas.  It surprises me each time.  "What?!"  I answer.  "Oh yeah.  Nope."  The truth is I keep forgetting Christmas is coming.

Sure the trees are up and I hear Christmas Carols everywhere I go, but it just doesn't seem like Christmas for some reason.  It also doesn't seem like I should have to have my winter coat out either, but I get reminded when I go outside.

It's not that I'm not in the Christmas spirit.  The whole "peace and good will towards men" is something I try to carry throughout the year.  It's not that I'm not in the mood of giving, because I'm usually like that.  When money is scarce, I can never give as much as I'd like to, but the desire is still there.

It seems like the older we get, the faster time moves.  It seems like it should only be about October.  Thanksgiving didn't feel like Thanksgiving this year either.  What's up with that too?  Maybe I just need to stop and let my sense of wonder play for a while.  Maybe I could stop thinking about work, paying bills, walking the dogs, doing the responsible things I do everyday.

I hope my brain wraps around Christmas soon.  I'd hate to see another holiday pass and feel like just another day.

Christmas is supposed to be special.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Name is Rick...and I'm an Alcoholic


I was four months shy of my twenty-first birthday when I first said those words out loud.  It was a small meeting in Oakwood, and I was less than twenty-four hours from my last drink. In fact, I was still shaking from the blackout I had the night before. I had awaken that morning about five miles from home in a motel room.  I didn't have my car, my shoes were nowhere to be found and I was in bed with a man and woman I didn't know. I sneaked out of the motel room before the others woke up and grabbed a pair of house slippers that were on the floor.  As I walked home that cold January morning, I tried to piece together the events of the night before, but nothing came.  It was my worst fear-- a complete blackout.

It sounds like the beginning of a novel, but it was actually the end of a nightmare that had become my life.

I had no idea what to expect in that first AA meeting.  I thought I'd find a bunch of smelly old guys in trench coats.  I was surprised to find about half of those in attendance were only a few years older than me, and they were also gay.  They were good looking and their faces held some kind of serenity I hadn't known. I wanted desperately what they had.  That was January 6, 1986.

I quickly fit in with the recovering alcoholics I surrounded myself with, while continuing to go to bars and working as a waiter and bartender.  Some of the oldtimers warned me I'd never stay sober that way.  But I did... for over a year. One weekend I slipped, and curiously enough, so did my sponsor.  We both got back to meetings and began our sobriety over again.  It was a rocky couple of months of in and out, but then on August 1, 1988 I began what was to become twelve years of sobriety.

Twelve years without so much as a drop to drink.  I went to meetings. I hung out with sober friends. I stopped hanging out in the bars as much and started living a productive life.  I was amazed at how much time and energy I had by not drinking.

Growing up I was always around alcohol and I want to be clear here that I don't blame anyone for my drinking problems, but it was very easy for me to drink.  It started when I was thirteen and continued through my teen years.  I had always been everyone else's caretaker when they drank too much until someone wisely, or no so wisely, suggested I don't worry about others and I have a good time.  Alcohol became my refuge.  My escape.  My excuse not to take care of others.  That need to take care of others came back after I got sober, but that's a whole other blog entry for a later day.

After twelve years and having my shit together for a while, I began to wonder if I really was an alcoholic.  Alcoholics Anonymous calls this thinking cunning, baffling and powerful.  After all, I was a completely different person, right? So after much thought I did what the Big Book of AA suggests to those who think they may not be alcoholics. I decided to try some controlled drinking.  I had a beer.  Then three weeks later, I had another beer.  Two months later I had a cosmopolitan. Nothing happened.  I didn't get drunk. My life didn't spiral out of control.

For someone who had been sober and studying the text of Alcoholics Anonymous for over a decade, this fucked me up.  I didn't know what to think of my ability to control my drinking.  It went against everything I had known.  I certainly couldn't tell my friends in AA.  They would say I was in denial.  Eventually I learned why I was able to stop at one or two beers.  It's because I had a choice.  Before AA I didn't know how to live sober.  I didn't know what people who didn't drink could possibly do for fun.  How did they deal with life? Once I had a taste of sobriety I actually preferred it.

Twelve years after picking up that first beer again, and I still prefer living a sober life.  Don't get me wrong.  I do love an occasional beer, glass of wine or cocktail.  And sometimes I've had one or two more than I should have, but it's not my life now.  My life is waking up clear headed in the morning. My life is not blacking out and coming home with an empty wallet.  My life is mine.  I'm not just along for the ride while my dark passenger sits in the driver's seat.

I will always be grateful for those men and women in Alcoholics Anonymous.  They saved my life.  I would not have lasted much longer in the life I was living.  Thoughts of suicide were always hanging over me every time I drank. My dark passenger was winning. I put myself in situations in which I never should have survived. Robbed. Beaten. Raped. But somehow I came out the other side.

Although my life is good now and I'm far away from that person I used to be, I don't delude myself into thinking it could never happen again. It's part of me and as long I don't forget how lucky I am, I think I'll be okay.

One day at a time.





Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Do You Have a Dark Passenger?

If you're fan of Showtime's hit drama, Dexter, you know about the dark passenger.  If you're not, here's a little history. Dexter Morgan is a serial killer.  As a young boy he watched his mother being murdered.  That event left it's mark on him as the urge to kill.  That urge is something he began to call his "dark passenger."   This season Dexter has begun to question who is in control?  Does the dark passenger control him, or does he control the dark passenger.

Luckily we're not all serial killers, but the idea of a dark passenger is not all that different than the parts of ourselves we don't fully accept, or show to the world. As Dexter struggles to stay in control of his dark passenger, how many of us struggle to control our smoking, drinking, drugging, gambling, food addictions, sex addictions, lying, cheating, depression or other secrets?

Dexter's father, who knew about his son's urges, taught him to use a "code" that would help him to control the urge and use it for good.  Dexter's code is only to kill those people who are bad guys, or who have slipped through the cracks of the justice system somehow. What kinds of codes have we created for ourselves?  "I'll only drink on the weekends.  I'll only smoke when the kids aren't around.  I'll only cheat when the spouse is out of town. I'll only get high when I'm stressed.  I'll only eat until 7pm."

I've had a dark passenger.  Several, actually, in the course of my lifetime.  Some I'll freely admit to, some I won't.  I suspect I'm not alone in this.  Anyone who has ever dealt with an addiction understands the concept of something other than ourselves calling the shots.  I think that's why shows like Dexter thrive.  People identify with a character who seems to have come to term with his urges, whether he's controlling them, or they're controlling him.

As Dexter learns his dark passenger is not a separate entity, but a part of himself, we can learn the same lessons.  How much more at peace would we be if we could accept ourselves completely and as one integrated human being?  Flaws and all.  Sometimes merely embracing those flaws and admitting them gives us the strength and courage to change the behavior or take the power away from the dark passenger.

If things feel out of control and you think you need help, ask yourself who's in control of your life?  You or your dark passenger?  Even if it is your dark passenger, you are not alone.


If you're struggling with an addiction or causing harm to yourself or others,  I urge you to seek the appropriate help.  Dexter may be a fascinating television show, but it's no way to live. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Do We Really Want To Define Marriage?

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court agreed to take on same sex marriage. Marriage Equality experts are rejoicing everywhere because its a good thing, right? Well, isn't it?

On one hand I'd say yes. I should be able to marry whomever I choose. On the other hand, I'm not sure "marriage" is the answer.

One of the perks of being gay, besides knowing a lot of good hairdressers, is that we've always been able to operate outside the norm of societal expectations. Where society has said women are supposed to be married by a certain age, or men are expected to be providers for the family, gay men and lesbians have been able to carve out their own lives, free of those expectations. Now if marriage equality becomes the norm, everything changes.

If same sex marriage becomes legal in all fifty states, what happens to those partners who have decided not to become married? Are their relationships suddenly invalidated because they chose not to sign the piece of paper the government provides saying you have a valid union? Instead of equality, we have judgment.

Personally, I don't think we can define any relationship (gay or straight) as valid or invalid. Each relationship is as unique as the two (or sometimes three) individuals who make up that relationship. Some relationships are open, some are hostage situations. Some are two people, some are triads. Some relationships are for convenience, some are arranged. Some are business transactions and some are to legitimize a birth. Unless someone is getting hurt, the terms of the relationship are no one's business except for those involved.

Recently my grandfather passed away, and he left behind a wonderful woman named Joyce. After my grandmother died several years ago, Grandpa met Joyce. They've been inseparable ever since. They attended all the holiday gatherings together. They came to see me in plays together. They did everything except what would have been unheard of a generation ago. They never married. I realized this week when I was telling someone about Joyce, that I was looking for a word as to what she was to my grandfather. Wife? No. Girl friend? Doesn't seem appropriate at 70 something. Life partner? No. Lady friend? Maybe. The fact is, she was just Joyce, a wonderful woman who brought joy to the life of my grandfather and all of us. Isn't that enough of a definition?

If we really have to define marriage, or any relationship, can we just say, "someone who brings you joy?" Maybe the joy isn't everyday, but there is joy in each of our relationships. That's enough to make it valid.