Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 July 2011

Improv and Poems

Recently I was in an improv show for some of my awesome friends at The Improv Space. It was a show by the all-girl group Token Boy and I was the guest token boy. As a person who is terrible at improv, it was kind of nice to A) be given an opportunity I would never actually earn through skill and to B) have my first improv experience with a group of women who were kind and generous with me.

Well, in the middle of each of their shows, the ladies of Token Boy feature their token boy, which means that he does something related to a skill set he possesses. While wracking my brain to figure out what skill sets I possess, I started thinking about poetry – not because I am good at writing it, obviously, but because I have actually written some of my own poetry and because I am not necessarily ashamed of a few of my poems, even if they are not exactly good.

I decided against the poetry after all. I told jokes instead and talked about marriage – I have officiated at two weddings for different ladies in Token Boy, so that sort of made sense. And this part of the improv was actually funny.

But the poetry thing kinda stuck with me. I was looking here, at poems that I have posted on this blog over the years, some of which are my own. And I find that there is a lot that still resonates with me on those pages.

I don't know anything about poetry, really, but I love reading it, and I wish I could write academically so that it looked more like poetry. Academic writing, I think, is a kind of poetry, too, when it is done very well.

I am going to share a poem that is on the back cover of Bob Hicok's book This Clumsy Living, which is a gorgeous book that everyone should check out. (The book also includes his poem "In Michael Robins's Class Minus One", which I absolutely love.)

This is called "Solstice: voyeur"

I watched the young couple walk into the tall grass and close
the door of summer behind them, their heads floating
on the golden tips, on waves that flock and break like starlings
changing their minds in the middle of changing their minds,
I saw their hips lie down inside those birds, inside the day
of shy midnight, they kissed like waterfalls, like stones
that have traveled a million years to touch, and emerged
hybrid, some of her lips in his words, all of his fists
opened by trust like morning glories, and I smelled green
pouring out of trees into grass, grass into below, I stood
on the moment the earth changes its mind about the sun,
when hiding begins, and raised my hand from the hill
into the shadows behind the lovers, and contemplated
their going with my skin, and listened to the grass
in wind call us home like our mothers before dark.

27 July 2011

Hey, Thanks

I've been reading a lot about marriage equality in New York lately. It's news, of course, so I am bound to come across discussion of marriage equality.

My friends and I, unsurprisingly, never discuss marriage equality. It's a total non-issue among any of my groups of friends because, well, because anyone who is against marriage equality probably hates me enough not to want to talk to me in the first place.

But anyway, I hadn't been paying attention before, really, but...
once the day came and all of those hundreds of couples got married on Sunday, something in me shifted. Not because I am all of a sudden delighted that many many gay people are bolstering the institution of marriage by deciding it is important enough to want, but because these marriages made so very many gay and lesbian people happy. So many.

I was traveling Sunday evening and so I was in the Atlanta airport on Monday morning having coffee and reading the news, and as I read a story about NY marriage equality in Terminal B, tears began to run down my face. I had a similar experience this morning looking at a website that features sixty pictures from Sunday's many ceremonies. I got to #16 before I started crying. It is all just too much! I am so happy for all these happy people. And I am so grateful for all of the people who lobbied to get this passed and for Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg and for the NY legislators who finally, finally were able to do the right thing.

...Which brings me to gratitude.

I often find myself thankful for things, of course, as I am sure we all do. I also rarely simply spend the time to thank people. Mostly this is a logistical issue. It's weird to tell people that I am actually thankful for what they do for me in my life. When they give me things, sure, or when they drive me to and from the airport or help me move or help me lift something heavy (metaphorically and otherwise); when they do those things, I thank them. But frankly it's a little awkward after, say, a great evening spent sharing a bottle of wine, to tell someone that you're thankful for them. I mean, thankful? Our friends aren't being kind or generous per se, right? They are just being themselves and so to thank them for that seems inappropriate.

Now that I am writing all of this, I am not sure what the heck it has to do with marriage equality in New York, but let me try.

I sat down the other day to write a thank-you note to a friend and while I was writing it I realized how so much of what I am grateful for is filtered through myself. In other words, I am grateful for what my friend has done for me and for what his actions have meant for me without him knowing. So I tell him what he has meant to me specifically, how he has impacted me...

And then there are other things for which I am grateful: the ability to be able to do something generous for someone else or an odd trick of timing that means I am in the right place at the right time to make a small impact on someone else's life. These things have nothing to do with me, actually. Nothing at all. Nothing to do, even, with my feelings. But rather, these things – tricks, really, or strokes of luck or fortune – are events outside of myself for which I can be grateful.

I can be thankful that something happened. That someone did something wonderful that perhaps impacts me only faintly. That someone was somewhere when she needed to be so that something else could happen. I can be grateful that good, generous people (like the friend to whom I sent a thank-you card) exist. I can be thankful for gifts that exist even if they were not meant for me and I have not actually received them.

So I am indeed grateful for New Yorker's elected officials, and for all the New Yorkers who made their marriages public, and for the very fact of marriage equality in New York. I have no intention of getting married anytime soon and have shown no interest in it either. And so I know this gift is not for me (at least not right now). But I know, as well, that I am thankful – so thankful – that it exists.

20 July 2011

Butt Pirates?

I honestly haven't felt like blogging much while I've been on vacation in Los Angeles. Sorry 'bout it, y'all. It's weird, actually; each trip to Los Angeles feels really different to me. Sometimes I am here and the whole thing feels really spiritual (like last year) and sometimes I feel connected to different people or rekindle certain relationships or feelings that have meant a lot to me. This time I have been feeling really productive. I was telling my friend Michael that this time I feel like I want to be doing something while I am here so I have been... assembling furniture and moving bricks.

And I've been reading, of course. I just finished a book called Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash by Hans Turley, which was intended to be a corrective to B.R. Burg's Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. There has been lots of rigmarole about sodomitical pirates, it seems to me. And the fact that there are two books about pirates having sodomitical sex is actually quite excessive considering that there is basically no evidence that any pirate ever had sex of any kind with another pirate.

Burg's point is, basically, that well of course they were having sex because men having sex with men was just not that big of a deal in the eighteenth century (a theory I don't necessarily disagree with completely), and there were no women on the ships, so... and this is what Burg more or less says... you do the math.

The trouble is: that is not a theory. And Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition is deeply flawed for all its (delightful) fantasizing about pirate sex.

Turley's Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash takes a different tactic, exploring histories of pirates and placing what he calls the piratical subject (an exceedingly clever term) in relationship with normative, middle-class English sexual subjects from the eighteenth century. The whole thing is quite an ingenious frame. The book goes a little off the rails at the end, examining for thirty pages, the two sequels to The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with hardly any discussion of either sex or pirates. It was a very strange end to the book, but academic texts can sometimes end abruptly. I am not sure I understand why this is, but it is a tendency I have noticed.

Anyway: pirates and homoeroticism don't necessarily go together, as it turns out, although what Turley is great about pointing out is that as a criminal deviant, the pirate necessarily becomes an implied sexual deviant for many, many readers, and his sexuality is automatically called into question because of his curious monosocial culture and his rejection of middle-class economic and sexual mores.

If you know of any other books on pirates and queerness, I'd love to hear about them.

15 July 2011


Four things:
1. Carmageddon is all anyone is talking about this weekend in Los Angeles.
2. I loved the original Oliver Hirschbiegel movie from which this clip is drawn.
3. I am well aware of how played-out this meme is.
4. Something about the way this is done is still really really funny to me.

13 July 2011

So Many Bottoms

As I was leaving the Levi's store today, I notice the above sign.

Great Selection of Bottoms.

I obviously stopped to take a picture. My mother laughed. I almost said something, she said. I mean, how can they not know?

Then we were outside, still laughing about it, and I was like Why would they write that? Seriously. 

And Mom – who is clearly in on the joke – says, Well we didn't see any in there that we liked.

Camp, it would seem, is alive and well in Los Angeles.

12 July 2011

In This Story My Mother Knows Too Much about the Local Fauna

So my mom and I are having lunch in the dining room of my brother's enormous house, and my mom has started leaving peanuts for this squirrel who lives on the property. So while we're eating, the squirrel starts climbing down a fence just outside the dining room headfirst.

Aaron: You are so fat, little squirrel.
Mom: He is not.
Aaron: Yes he is. Lose some weight, little guy.
Mom: You are going to give him a complex and then he will get an eating disorder or something.
Aaron: Over twenty percent of all squirrels in the state of California are obese, Mom. It's a serious problem.
Mom: You are ridiculous.
Aaron: I can't back up my statistics.
Mom: Anyway, you should see his parents. He's skinnier than both of them.
Aaron: ...?

08 July 2011

Gong Li

Do you know about Gong Li? She was Zhang Yimou's muse in the 1990s when they made Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, To Live, and Shanghai Triad together. She was also the female lead in Chen Kaige's Farewell, My Concubine. More recently she reunited with Zhang for Curse of the Golden Flower. She was also in the absurd USAmerican film Memoirs of a Geisha, but more importantly, she had a fantastic role in Wong Kar-Wai's 2046. She is a fierce, exciting actress, and I've always been blown away by both her incredible beauty and her onscreen power.
Love her.

07 July 2011

New Obsession

The guy who says he doesn't really dig music in the way other people do (i.e. me) is currently obsessed with one James Blake and his album James Blake. The above song is not on the album; it's a cover of Joni Mitchell's immortal "A Case of You". I am in love.

06 July 2011

The Tree of Life

If you've read A.O. Scott's review of The Tree of Life in the New York Times then you do not need me to write a review of it.

Scott places Malick in the company of Walt Whitman and Hart Crane and Herman Melville. The film, Scott argues, "stakes out well-traveled territory and excavates primal, eternal meanings". The review is a slam dunk and the film is nothing less than visionary. It demands to be seen. And implores the audience to work at making coherent sense of it.

For my part, I didn't have much trouble allowing the movie's parts to cohere. The film is a delicately cubist (a descriptor which is overused and seems inadequate for The Tree of Life) exploration of a man's grief as he mourns the loss of his brother and asks important questions of god, the universe, his country, and most importantly his parents during this mourning.

The ending is absolutely perfect, and this is so true that the audience at the screening where I saw the film sat quietly while most of the credits rolled.

The Tree of Life is a Terrence Malick film, so I don't need to tell you it's shot breathtakingly, edited beautifully, and scored almost painfully well. Malick is the master. The film demonstrates an ability with form that is, I think, unparalleled in contemporary USAmerican cinema.

So: basically, you should go.

03 July 2011

To Be Fed

I have just returned from about ten days of work for Endstation Theatre Company in Virginia. Visit their website and fall in love. This is what it looked like at rehearsal every night for Twelfth Night, the show I was working on for them:

I posted last August about having a summer of the spirit. It must be something in the air over at Endstation. One of the things that the summer does for me – and this is not to say that teaching and writing and studying are not spiritual or moving experiences, anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how regularly my students and my work impact me spiritually – is that I get a chance to pause. This means that I have time to take stock in the directions I have chosen, to reconnect with my own goals, and to spend time that is truly precious with people I deeply care about who are not my students, but who are my colleagues, friends, and co-conspirators. I get a little emotional (a pattern recently, hmm) when I think about what this time means to me, how it energizes me and pushes me forward.

I am in California now performing a wedding for two of my best friends in the world. Weddings mean parties and silliness and fun, and I've spent the last two days in the company of some very dear friends of mine talking about marriage and the future and (ugh) salaries. But the best part of all of this is that it feels like home. Fundamentally, having a solid group of friends means having a steady and constant system of support, even if that is only for ten days in Virginia or for three weeks in California.

This is not to say that teaching doesn't feed me, and that my wonderful students, of whom there are many, do not energize me or excite me. They do. Very much so. But perhaps what I am learning is that I need to be fed in several ways: artistically and spiritually as well as intellectually and pedagogically (creatively). There is an excitement I feel when I teach, a palpable energy of information being exchanged and collective learning. I need and love that excitement. And there is also a different kind of energy exchanged when I sit down and drink a beer with my friends.

It seems cliché to say that the world is about balance. That I need both of these, and that I need to find a way of braiding them better into my everyday life. Cliché it may be, but I think it is, in this case, correct. I do. My life in Tallahassee feels far away from the lives of my friends and colleagues, far removed from their support and faith in me. But this distance is something I know I perpetuate.

It may seem odd to come out of all of these musings by setting myself a task, but that is what I think I will do. It is, perhaps, part of my own fundamental belief system that I wish to strive to make my own life better, that I can spend time figuring out how to become the me I wish to be. This is only possible through tasks, through work, through... and I use this word too much, probably, but it is because I can think of none better: practice.