the thought police are after our vocabulary: the progress of dirty words

How did feminism become coupled with misandry? There seems to be a notable misunderstanding, a missing of the point. Feminism isn’t about proclaiming superiority of one sex over another, it’s about insisting upon equality. And no, things aren’t equal, despite what some may wish.

Racism is not eradicated because we have a black president. Homophobia isn’t a thing of the past because marriage equality has been reached. Anti-religious and spiritual phobias, hatreds, and mistrusts are still firmly in place, in spite of the many steps forward that have been taken. And acknowledged. And achieved.

Women are not on equal grounds with men. Consider that nearly 100% of women have been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted in one form or another. Nearly 100%. Consider that there are barriers to careers, to religious orders, to physical and psychological respect granted to more than half of the human population. Think about that.

Now consider feminist strivings and goals and gains, and losses throughout recorded time. Consider the right to vote, the sexual revolution aided by reliable birth control. Gains, yes. The end of the conquest? No. There is no end, and there is no sense in pretending we have reached the close of our prejudices. And even having to point this out is one more barrier in the way of progress.

Feminist is as misunderstood and reviled as atheist. Declaring one’s self a feminist does not equate to “I hate men” any more than atheist means “I hate morals,” yet both seem to raise the same fears of destruction of society and a frightening new world order. Finger pointing would be so easy at this juncture, because the source of these unfounded fears trace back to the same rule keepers. But I don’t want to add fuel to the fire by pointing out difficult truths that the world seems as yet unable to confront. No need to encourage further digging in of the heels – we’re unable to move as it is.

Do I sound angry? Yeah, I am, just a little bit, yeah. Angry women – that goes against every projection of Mother we’ve had to fulfil since the start of the human race. Sex and child rearing don’t go off well with angry women, now give us a smile make yourself amenable, please – there’s a good girl.

…Why is it not okay to take a position against this warped view? The answer to that should be clear. And it is very much not okay. It is at the crux of this issue, and of most other prejudices, too. Superiority against inferiority, right against wrong, quite literally white as opposed to black. Unquestionable declarations made by the ancient authorities on everything. Aren’t these antiquated proclamations beginning to sound a bit outmoded? Slowly, we’ve been crawling along toward the realization of yes, they do. That Yes has only really picked up true forward momentum in mid twentieth century, and when thought of in that light, we begin to see how daunting this is, and why.

The forces that be are very good at vilifying the words that define opposing ideology. So effective, that 20 year old women seek to distance themselves from the word Feminist. Marriage is so sacred that even the word was sought to be divided from nonhetero unions, and now is qualified with the word Gay. Black Lives Matter somehow is twisted to imply that all other lives do not. Words are powerful, and can be used as very effective weapons. Against progress, against ideas, against us.

Words are essential in communicating our views and experiences. We can’t allow them to be taken and distorted and used to block progress. The words aren’t dirty, nor are the thoughts behind them. Take them back and use them proudly, and without hesitation. We very well might make our voices heard after all.

film: sebastiane

guido reni

guido reni

Viewers seem to have a love/hate relationship with Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane – loved for being “ground-breaking” and “masterful,” hated for being “low budget soft core porn.” And while it definitely wasn’t made on the budget of a blockbuster, part of the questionable quality may simply come from the 1976 aesthetics of independent film. The other part, I’m thinking, comes from the low expectations and classifications of films that offer a lot of flesh.

I’m not as familiar with Jarman’s films as I should be, having come across him because of my interest in Tilda Swinton’s work. But I wanted to see Sebastiane solely because of the subject.

I know the story of Saint Sebastiane – I’ll stick with that spelling – through the many works of art recreating his martyrdom. There have been sculptures and stories… My fellow writer and wurbling buddy Anna Reith wrote a beautiful story about Sebastiane called Chiaroscuro. Sebastiane was painted by El Greco, Rubens, de La Tour, Carracci, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, Dali… you name it, they all loved him as a subject. One artist, Andrea Mantegna, painted Sebastiane three times.

andrea mantegna

andrea mantegna

Mantegna’s love for Sebastiane is said to have come about because of the saint’s purported ability to offer protection from the plague, which Mantegna managed to survive and so was duly grateful. But it’s the method of Sebastiane’s suffering that is the big fascination. Body riddled with arrows, he remained beatific and beautiful, even sensual.

He was one of the unlucky Christians persecuted by the Romans, but what made Sebastiane special was that he survived his trial by arrows. He was a sneaky undercover Christian, converting followers when he was supposed to be cleaning house. As a captain of the Praetorian Guard, this was a major betrayal. Diocletian was pissed off, and had him tied to a post and executed by a slew of arrows – or at least that was the plan. Sebastiane recovered and resumed his conversions, and apparently he was feeling rather invincible because he got cheeky with Diocletian by taunting him from a street corner. The emperor wasn’t having it. He said enough was enough, clubbed Sebastiane to death and tossed him into a privy. The story goes that he later appeared to some ladies, not to offer heavenly inspiration, but to ask if they might fish him out of the sewage and bury him properly. But despite that rather inelegant ending, he became the twice martyred saint of soldiers and protector from the plague, which came in handy during the medieval period. He is always portrayed as beautiful, always young, and always has a glow of serenity about him.

niccolo renieri aka nicholas regnier

niccolo renieri aka nicholas regnier

So it’s easy to see where the fascination comes from, and why the iconic portrayals are hugely influential. Then this little movie comes along and has its way with Sebastiane – it was bound to rouse admiration and ire. I admit I wasn’t quite prepared for Jarman’s portrayal. Right out of the gate we get a lurid Dance Of The Phalli, culminating in a cream off. And while watching this opening scene, one does have to wonder how this applies to Saint Sebastiane, and gamely theorize that perhaps in some avant guarde way the phalluses are arrows and the, uh, stuff that shoots out of them represents strikes to the body. But the opening seems quite disconnected from the rest of the movie. It gets better from there, or shall I say less anachronistic and more focused and historically faithful, if drawn with a free hand. It may have been made on a tight budget, but care was taken. I liked the authenticity of the props, the setting, the Latin dialogue, and the nudity is not gratuitous. Not in my opinion, not for the setting, as Roman soldiers were known to train starkers (or at least the Greeks did and that’s close enough), and frolic in the sea and rub their bodies down in the baths after their workouts. The camera lingers on their wet bodies, rippling muscles and perky arses, lovingly stroking all that divine golden flesh on our behalf, thank you very much. Perhaps this is disturbing to some in such close proximity to the story of a saint?

Oh, pish-tosh. Everyone’s had a go at Sebastiane, why shouldn’t Jarman have his say, too? He’s just as qualified to give us his rendition, and he portrays the saint faithfully and well. The most striking images are given to us at the end, as Sebastiane suffers his martyrdom with as much radiant tranquility as in any other artistic rendering. Are the naked bodies, the kisses and wrestling, necessary? In Jarmal’s portrayal, yes, they are, because he gets to decide how he will depict the story. I don’t think his depiction is at all far off, given Sebastiane’s consistently portrayed artful eroticism.

nicholas regnier apparently he had a thing for him, too

nicholas regnier
apparently he had a thing for him, too

This is why I liked this movie, because this is what I’ve been yammering on and on about: sensuality and sex do not undermine storytelling, can in fact faithfully aid in it. Whether it’s the story of a saint or sinner, whether it’s identified as lit-rah-chah or a cheap and cheerful quickie, sex is an ever present and influential facet of all our characters. In philosophy, in religion, sex is frequently a front and center aspect of the concepts, the earthly pleasures that often throw a wrench in the progress toward enlightenment. That’s because it’s a powerful thing. Discussions and depictions of sensuality are incredibly enthralling, even saintly sensuality. Especially saintly sensuality. Symbolically, the sensual nature of rapture through pleasure or suffering looks the same, and maybe that’s frightening, too. Taboos are all about fear, and the refusal to acknowledge how close we are to losing ourselves every second of every day. We don’t want to look, and that’s exactly why we should.

I’m grateful to Jarman for his Sebastiane, for remaining true to the beauty of the saint’s yielding to the fervency of his flesh, and finding that, instead of compromising his devotion, it strengthens and restores his conviction.

sandwiches are not on the menu

Michelangelo's Night sculpture

Michelangelo’s Night sculpture

As much as some people are bothered by women authoring books featuring gay male characters, I’m bothered by the continual analysis of it by everyone, gay and straight, male and female. Would there be the same reaction to a painting of two men done by a female artist? I’m thinking not.

Fiction featuring female protagonists has been authored by men since the beginning of story telling. Men write about women, women write about men—there’s little questioning of this in heterosexual literature. It’s the element of sexuality between subject and author that causes the friction (pun acknowledged, but beside the point), and along with that, the dismissive air that some of these theories take on. “Oh, the little lady wants to be a man!” A woman writing about the engagement of physical features she doesn’t have is wish fulfilment. Or that it’s about fantasies of being with two men. The fear of sandwich subterfuge, and the whole Freudian theory of penis envy that one could bash on about forever. Penis good, vag bad, whatever. Sounds like an intentionally restrictive viewpoint to me. I’ve found that very, very few female authors are interested in making sandwiches, they just want to make art.

The quality of what women are producing naturally comes into play. People may automatically assume that a woman writing about men cannot do so from a convincing perspective. There are some artists who do have trouble expressing outside of their personal perspectives, absolutely. That’s more a question of choice, empathy or talent rather than inherent ability. Michelangelo’s sculpture of Night is little more than two malformed lumps representing breasts, slapped onto a male form. He wasn’t an admirer of the female form in his personal life, and from his art it seems that he didn’t identify with the feminine apart from Madonnas and angels. Fair enough. But that doesn’t mean there’s no purpose or merit in what he created. We all know that Michelangelo was entirely capable of sculpting realistic breasts and curves. The fact that he chose not to was just that – a choice, and perhaps there is a specific intention behind it.

It’s what I’ve been saying all along about words as art. Art – all art – is storytelling, whether through painting or sculpture or dance or novels or whathaveyou. It’s not a matter of ownership, it’s a matter of artistic ability. Either you like or dislike the end product, that’s a matter of aesthetics. And there’s nothing wrong with having an immediate reaction to what we’re seeing, it’s part of the process. But the next step is to move beyond that initial judgement and say okay, what’s in here for me? There’s a sliding scale between two extremes, and in coming to a conclusion, there’s always thought about underlying themes and motivations—or there should be, because of course they exist. There’s little point in creating if there’s no motivation behind it.

It’s also a two way street: there’s the artist and there’s the audience, and each has their own opinions and motivations, and the ability to discover something more by engaging. That is the purpose of art. But here’s something we as an entire culture need to address in order to focus on the aesthetics – letting go of sexual paranoia, the taboo of the body. Sex and sexuality in all its variations should be alright to play with. It’s called exploration, and it’s something we need to do more of. We might discover some new things, like the natural mutability of sexuality, and that maybe we have risen to a level of intelligence that allows us to pull down the barriers and cross the borders we’ve constructed. Art helps us to do that, if we let it.

In my second novel I identify art and the role it plays in self exploration like this: “The exposure of all ills, the onslaught to anarchism, to advancement: artistic enterprise. Sounds quite lofty doesn’t it? Perhaps, perhaps not. …Repulsion breeds the exquisite, is it not true?”

I think it’s true. We can acknowledge the creator without being dismissive of the creation. Let there be advancement in the wake of repulsion.

book three, you are kicking my ass

Narcissus PompeiiVery, very ironic, since I thought you would be the easy one. No rules, no holding back, flowing like absinthe. Ha. You’re the Green Fairy of late stages, when the effects are hard won, puzzling and painful. Quite fitting, since a drop has never passed my lips. Kicking my ass at the conclusion before I’ve even begun.

You are an intoxicant. I’m craving you, but when I have you it’s all confusion and stupor. I want more, I’m desperate for you even when you’re making me ache. Hurts to be with you, hurts to be without you.

Am I raving? Yes. I’m a lunatic with this one, and it’s only right that I should be. This one has taken on some enigmatic concepts, along with very intense transcendence. In short, I don’t know what I’m doing. But I kind of like it.

This book is all about transcending. Transcending all boundaries, all definitions, labels, concepts of what is beauty and what is broken. This is about the void, chaos and confusion, and the sound of echoes through time.

I’m not quite ready to talk about the series as a whole, so I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it does make sense, it is exactly as it should be. I’m doing exactly what I want, I’m getting the words I want, everything is falling in place just as I wish, only it’s taking for-e-ver, piece by excruciating piece. Now, I’m thinking and I’m hoping that the difficulty is all mine. I hope those who read it will enjoy the playful irony of it all.

Here – this is a good representation of where I’m going with this, what I’m doing and the reason behind it all. Hey look at me, all sharing and everything. Another side effect of the drug that is Echo.

The three descend the stairs to the café below, and once seated, Aequus begs to try the absinthe. Around them people talk of everything all at once. Their voices are at discord: no rhythm, no melody. A rush of white noise. 

A carafe of water and three glasses of the yellow-green liqueur are requested by Amadeo, and these are brought to their table along with a china bowl of glittering sugar lumps, and three pretty little silver spoons, pricked and ornamented. The twins watch as Amadeo places a spoon across each glass, a lump of sugar centred in each spoon. He methodically trickles water over the arrangement until the liquids louche, and passes a glass to each. “Enjoy,” he says. “Don’t expect too much—it’s merely drunkenness, until you develop an acuity for it. But that takes experience.”

“Like the first time getting high.” Caprice smiles and plays with her spoon, tapping it against the glass, the table top.

Amadeo puts his hand over hers, gently silencing. The room echoes with the clink of spoons against glass, of cutlery against china accompanying the drone of conversation, but Caprice’s rhythm is a dissonance amongst the din. Incongruous. They’re not meant to be here. “Getting high?” he says. “No, not like high. Like drink. A lot of drink, a pretty colour, fascinating taste….” He takes a long swallow that begins with lips softly coated, the tongue, the palate suffused in warm bite and florid bursts: coco and citrus; the back of the throat, the slide into earth and jade. It flows through him, the pleasure. He knows how to coax passion from the milky depths. The twins watch, fascinated, aroused. “This is absinthe, children. Not a hypnotic, an experience. It’s the experience that enthrals—what you ask of it, what it allows. It’s the consent that gives one the impression of transcendence.”

Aequus tries to mimic Amadeo’s limpid sensuality. He coughs up the herbs, licks the spatters fromabsinthe his lips. “I guess it’s not consenting to me, yet,” he jokes.

“It’s condescending,” Caprice laughs. “You’re like a baby sucking at a bottle, it’s not mother’s milk!” But she must force down her own mouthful, inelegantly hiding her shuddering swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing like a tackled lure.

“Nor is it an emetic, but it has been treated as both,” Amadeo says. “Alright—what are you doing here?” He rolls the glass between his palms, lifts it again to his lips.

“We’re tracing the origin of us,” says Aequus. “The true origin—us before us. If anyone should know, it must be you.”

Amadeo laughs. “Oh I know; I’m there when it happens, I know. But babies, you don’t need then what you have now. It’s like the absinthe—the consent to transcendence.”

Aequus thinks about this for a moment. “Theirs, or ours?”


Caprice pushes away her glass, reaches across the table for Amadeo’s hand. “Uncle, isn’t it like the origin of you? You then into you now. It is similar, yes?”

“No, baby.” Amadeo reaches for Aequus, and holds both of their hands in his. “A body? Yes. All that is me held in one form, all that is me that cannot be held.” He smiles at them, a doting, familial look. “You are flesh and blood. You came into this world as all humans do—tiny, wet, crying in the shock of vicissitude. But the pain we experience, that is much the same. The pain of singularity, when you are in fact multifaceted little jewels.

Aequus studies the foggy liquid in his glass, inhaling its scent and taking cautious licks around the rim. “Do you think we can’t bear it? We will. If it helps us to know, we will.”

An unsteady silence, and Amadeo speaks again. “I’m not worried that you can’t bear it. I’m worried that you can.

“That boy upstairs—it’s not that he doesn’t see; it’s that he does. He sees what all else are blind to. He lives in agony, he lives trying to create a world within a world, without the constructs to do so. Everything he does in attempt to create sense, it falls apart over and over and over. But you; you have always lived outside the bounds, you were born into this chaos. You want to pull the world in with you. Very clever, babies. You may yet find a way.

I don’t know why I’m sharing. For one thing, it’s a pretty safe bet, since no one reads this. Maybe I just want to send a little echo across the waves, perhaps dole out a bit intoxication along the way.

conversation with myself

foolSince I’ve already stepped out on a ledge, I’m going to take another toddle forward because why not. I’ve never known when to check myself, I’m a lot like The Fool in the Tarot deck – head in the clouds and blissfully unaware of where my feet are taking me. In this case it’s my words. They always have been my favourite mode of transportation, and like my feet, have an intimate relationship with my mouth.

I have a friend who is working on a thesis based around “dirty” books and how they’ve historically been dealt with by society and its laws. She’s exploring whether explicit sex is the last boundary in literature. I’m not sure whether it’s the sex itself or explicit sex as entertainment for the masses that’s creating a breach, but is it literary, or license?

Widespread exposure to sex via the Internet has made it safe (or at least convenient) for people to peek out of their closets and claim an interest, which in itself is a positive thing. But what are they meeting with on the other side of the door? I’ve been calling 50 Shades suburban porn – couch art. It has made the common denominator feel as if it has joined, at equal footing, a conversation that’s been happening around it all along. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. I mentioned in a previous post that the public has historically been unable to see brilliance from within its concurrent restrictions and opinions. Perhaps I’m having trouble seeing talent where I should, and that is entirely my fault. We’re at the foundation of new innovations to the written word, how it’s shared and enjoyed, and accepted by the public. Barriers have already been crossed and the question I have is this: is it freedom, is it destruction, both, neither – will it amount to anything? And ultimately, will it elevate us, or lower us?

Said friend mentioned Fanny Hill as parody of “sexually explicit virtue novels of the 18th century” as she put it. Everyone wanted to get their hands on it, mostly because they couldn’t – at least not without subterfuge, which is always a tempting little motivator. But what did it really do to advance literature? I’m still on my comparison of literature with other art forms, and as I said before, I think fine art had its revolution long ago. With installations such as Seedbed, I truly don’t know whether there are boundaries left to cross, at least not significant ones. What does that do to art?

But literature still does have clear boundaries between art and porn (even if it’s called by the more acceptable term, Erotica). So does film. As I told my friend, I find it very curious that literature and film are essentially neck and neck at the same signposts of restriction, when literature has been around for so much longer. One could argue that it’s because writing evolved along lines of religious representation, whereas film did not – but so did fine art. So why the discrepancy?

Does it have something to do with the written word as a common means of communication, which therefore has stunted its growth as art? Is the commonality the impediment? Or is it completely typical to disregard “impressions of sunsets” as having any value? Deconstruction is evolution in art. Fanfic is the new Fanny Hill – parody that has made a public splash, and found its defense in historical reference to having put access into the hands of the public via subterfuge. Deconstructed works of fiction. But don’t you need to understand the construction before you can successfully deconstruct?

Perhaps these works of 21st century Dada will ultimately have little effect on the ways we define literature. I’m not so sure. I think it will have a lasting and perhaps profound effect – I just don’t know what that will be, and it has me worried, because I’m already part of a much maligned genre of fiction that will not benefit from further compartmentalization. 50 Shadeseque writing is not empowering; it reinforces several long held—as well as a few brand new—stereotypes. That’s not something I care to see expanded. It’s the unenlightened contribution to a conversation that has remained incomprehensible not because it’s inaccessible – not anymore. But because it’s misinterpreted by those who will nonetheless interrupt the flow by diverging into tributaries that may or may not benefit the destination, unknown though that may be. Wherever it’s going, I’d prefer the momentum to be focused forward, and not diverted into little eddies of stationary movement.

sometimes a brick is just a brick: or, the incredible triteness of p33ning

Writing is my overriding passion, on which I spend most of my time and energy. But I also have a great interest in fine art, and I’ve spent years educating myself on different artistic periods and movements.

the lute henri matisse

the lute henri matisse

The Renaissance is overwhelming in the vast amount of sculptures and paintings produced, and I’ve just nicked its surface. I’ve spent a great deal of time enjoying the Impressionist period with its glut of bigtime artists, and the subsequent flow into modernism with Cézanne and Matisse leading the brigade. But I have danced around the perimeters of contemporary art, because for me, it’s a minefield.

It’s true that nearly every movement suffered through a period of adjustment, wherein art and artists were mocked before they were appreciated. New things are difficult to take in, and it does require dedication to receptiveness, and the trust that you will find the keys to opening those doors. I’m missing some keys.

le gerbe henri matisse

le gerbe henri matisse

I plunged in with Matisse, who showed us collage as fine art. There are certain shapes that repeat throughout his work, whether paint or paper, that make his evolution as an artist easy to follow. I have a great love for Picasso, which led me to his contemporary Duchamp, whose evolution was made in leaps rather than steps. He was a cubist painter who moved on to what he called Readymade art – he’s the one who signed a urinal and called it good.

Now, that was quite a jolt to the public. People hate to be jerked around, and that’s what it felt like to some – a twisted joke, making fun of their sensibilities. It was one of those Emperor’s New Clothes situations in the art community, where you were either going to join in the praise or fear for your head. Or miss out altogether.

fountain marcel duchamp

fountain marcel duchamp

The thing about Duchamp’s urinal was that it was legitimate, in that it was a new definition art. He saw it as engaging the viewer by providing an opportunity to view and define art from a different approach. He said he felt unmoved by these objects, and therefore instead of forcing us to praise the Emperor’s complete lack of clothing, we were allowed to stand back and make an assessment based on our own aesthetics.

I really am building to a point, here. Bear with me.

There have been standout artists in the time since Duchamp busted open those doors. Andy Warhol took everyday objects and arranged them in ways that we couldn’t help but notice, and therefore see in a different light. Jean-Michel Basquiat took graffiti and moved it into artistic statement. The thing is, there are a handful of standouts in a glut of artists. I know when I’m looking at a Basquiat, because there is unmistakeable skill in what he gave us. Put his work beside an admirer’s, and there absolutely is a detectible difference in the use of paint and form and space. We can’t all be geniuses.

untitled (skull) jean-michel basquiat

untitled (skull) jean-michel basquiat

So it is with much difficulty that I approach the majority of contemporary art. A signed commode does not speak of greatness to me, it speaks of a lack of originality. A dirty mattress shoved into a corner, a brick on the floor – to me, they read as jaded attempts to mimic a greater man’s work. However, I can’t believe that we’ve wrung all creativity out of ourselves, even as presentations such as these have me asking, “is that all there is?” Have we said everything, done everything? No. And there will be many more innovators who come along and pull us into something completely new. So far, with my present day view of what is and isn’t significant, I have largely been unmoved.

Sometimes, a brick is just a brick.

Which brings me to the second part of this diatribe: Are the plain bricks essential? Are they basic structures upon which the innovators can build their masterpieces? Or are they merely obstacles in the path.

david michelangelo di lodovico buonarroti simoni

david michelangelo di lodovico buonarroti simoni

I’m drawing a parallel between fine art and the written word, because I think the same factors apply. You have innovators and you have mimics, and in between there are perfectly acceptable, if not remarkable, stories to tell.

But there’s a new medium that is influencing our output and our standards, and I’m afraid it’s not all for the better. Epublishing is like Duchamp’s urinal. There is the initial innovation and the ability to engage the public in a way that has never before been explored, and then there is the ensuing onslaught of those who would sign their name to anything and call it good, not out of creativity, but because they can.

olympia edouard manet

olympia edouard manet

Finding your way as an artist is essential. There are a few prodigies, and there are a much greater number of those who work their way toward success. That’s true in any art form, including writing. But is it right to pull something half baked from the oven and serve it up to the public? Isn’t that detrimental not only to the artist, but to the audience? Standards will either drop to invisible clothing levels, or leave the public cold.

It’s freezing out there.

And I’m not happy about it, because it’s not the self published would-be artists—who have every right to hone their craft in whatever way they see fit—who are the problem. It is the proponents who are eschewing standards in favour of cheap and cheerful profit. It’s easy to do with a virtual product that requires little more than a push out the door.

les demoiselles d'avignon pablo picasso

les demoiselles d’avignon pablo picasso

And it’s definitely, definitely exacerbating the already existing obstacles in the path of certain genres. Genres that have a sexual focus. Genres that have gender centred focus. I don’t believe this is commode art, I never did. I believe there are innovators, and I absolutely believe there are great strides to be taken in introducing the public to new art forms, new thought processes, and a new way of engaging with the world.

It has happened before. The human body has long been revered as an artwork in itself. Prostitutes have become a revelation, their depiction a thing of beauty; urinals have become Fountains of forward thinking. Ugliness has been ground breaking and glorious. Defacing has offered statements of importance. In fine art, sex, along with several other plain and simple facts of life that have routinely been kept hidden, have become masterpieces of artistic expression. Why should the art form of words be any different?

nude descending a staircase marcel duchamp

nude descending a staircase marcel duchamp

But we have to respect it in order to elevate it. We have to revere it, and embrace the beauty in order to share it. We have to give the world something that will break through the barriers and allow others to see and experience in a different way. We have to believe in our art and respect ourselves as artists, and our venues and avenues must support that as well. We’ve got to step up and take control of what has become an increasingly precarious situation.

We’ve been used and abused as much as our subject matter, and the exploitation is becoming more and more mainstream. The more visibly prevalent it is, the more widely acceptable it becomes to marginalize. Those who have never before ventured beyond the black curtains are being introduced to a view that is the exact representation of their worst expectations, which greatly influences every subsequent encounter.

We don’t have to call it good, because I know we have something better to show for ourselves. We have prodigies and skilled artists and innovators who can lead the charge, if we as artists and champions of the art of words make it a priority to support them. Are we ready for a revolution? A Salon des Refusés for writers of debauchery, who are poised at the entry to a key shift in culture.

I think it’s time.

isn’t it romantic?

Romance. This is a word around which I’ve had a considerable amount of awkwardness. After having avoided The Word for so long, it’s now constantly dangling within my periphery, and I don’t like it. Which of course means there’s something to be learned from all of this hissing and cowering like a vampire who has just been shown a cross. It’s time to delve in.

A couple of weekends ago I participated in the Rainbow Book Reviews Blog Hop, on the topic of what writing GLBT literature means to me. Many participants boiled it down to one overarching inspiration – the love of love. I’m fine with love, I’m totally okay with love. Love is a many splendored thing and whatnot – though when I was a kid I thought the lyrics were “love is a many splintered thing” and I have to say, it still makes more sense to me, because true love, real love, isn’t all splendorific.

And I’m not a romantic. I don’t like all of those typical gestures of romance, the red roses, candles and champagne. I can’t stand rom-coms. Romantic words directed at me make me twitch (and not in a good way). But when I really look at it, I discover it’s not the love I’m rejecting, it’s the common associations with romance that make me cringe. It’s when love scarpers over to the side of puppies and hearts and flowers that I get squeamish. But how much of that is truly dominating the genre, and how much is it my own Harlequin-tainted fears?

I’ve said before that I don’t like labels, and it’s true. There are labels that have scared me off, and Romance is one of the top five. I’m trying to restructure that reaction. My friend and wurbling buddy, writer Anna Reith (aka M. King), pointed out in one of our many epic discussions that in literature, Romance has broadened its definition, and the common formula of boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy wins back boy and they live happily ever after is no longer the focus. Happy endings – these are still key to satisfying romance, but there are many ways to reach that conclusion, many roads to take.

Overall, I write satisfying endings. Ninety-nine percent of the time, things turn out well for my characters (okay, maybe 96.7%). I’m all for positive storylines, and especially in this genre, there have been too many tragedies. Balance needs to be created. In fact, one of my books took on a decidedly romantic spin when it was accompanied by too many depressing movies about thwarted love, lost love, and heartbreak. In response, my story became romantic – sort of a “fuck you” romantic retaliation. So why do I feel like I need to defend myself – “I didn’t mean to! They made me! Hey, you know I am not like this, right? I’m not like this!” But I didn’t change it. I tried to when I came around and all of the sentiment had seeped out of my brain, but I just couldn’t. It was meant to be.

Urgh, it was meant to be. I guess that’s the key to romance?

film recommendation: otto: or up with dead people

Let’s do something fun.

Jey Crisfar

I haven’t done a film recommendation in awhile, so I’m going to talk about one of my very favorites, Otto: or Up With Dead People.

You may notice that I have a particular interest in zombie flicks. I talked before about the zombie metaphor, which I find fascinating; that’s what drew me to Otto, but there are many more aspects to this strange little story. The unique mix of humor and melancholy, of live action and animation, and the way director Bruce LaBruce plays with storytelling by the use of color and sound, of silent film and art film form, makes Otto multidimensional in a way that sounds like a messy amalgam of competing methods when described, but in fact works as a whole to tell Otto’s tale.

Otto is a young man zombified by love – loss of love. If he’s acting a part, he’s taken to it full on, with his dead expression, his stumbling walk, his sustenance on road kill, raw chicken and live cats. He doesn’t seem to sleep, and his encounters with others are limited by indifference to every form of interaction, from kindnesses and sexual encounters to displays of repulsion. The thing is, it’s obvious that Otto feels deeply, even in his suspended state. Otto may appear dead to the world, but he elicits great compassion from those who are drawn into his plight.

Whether his condition is real or a very outward reaction to his inner turmoil is something to play with when contemplating this film. Frankly, I don’t try to pick apart Otto’s state of being; the real story is made up of the reasons for finding himself in that undead state, and the ways he influences, and is influenced by, the reactions of the people surrounding him. Some shun him, laugh at him and avoid him; but avant garde “documentary” film maker Medea Yarn is fascinated with him, and takes him in as a pet project, recruiting another zombie actor to care for him while she works her own odd brand of cinematic magic.

The ending is visceral. I was left amazed and hopeful, and crying my eyes out over the finalities and the rebirth that may be on the horizon for Otto as he continues his journey. I wanted to cuddle up this undead corpse of a boy and tell him everything is okay, because zombie or not, Otto is a remarkable being.

…Oh, and uh, it’s pretty fucking sexy, in a zombirific kind of way.

book recommendation: death in venice

It takes few words to achieve greatness. There are two novella-length books that are so grand in content, the resulting response consists of volumes and volumes of discussion and contemplation. Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground is one; Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice is the other.

Death in Venice is written in beautiful prose – I wish I could read it in the original German to fully appreciate the subtleties, but from what I’ve heard, the English translation by Clayton Koelb most closely follows the style and intentions of Mann. It’s the edition I have, and I’m very happy with it. There are also lots of useful footnotes that help to clarify the significance of the setting, the time period, etc.

Now, before I potentially scare anyone off with words like ‘footnotes’, I want to reiterate that this is a shorty – 63 pages, is all. The rest of the book contains discussions, and explanatory texts and maps. They aren’t necessary to the story, but if your interest is piqued – and I’m willing to bet it on it – they offer some interesting insights.

This is the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a writer who has strained his literary muscles and is in need of a break. He goes to Venice to stay at a “resort” hotel for a period of time. The date we’re given is 19__, but the book was published in 1912 and contains some historical facts from 1911, so it’s no big secret as to when it takes place. Gustav is 50ish, and feeling unwell. He spends a lot of time sitting in the hotel common rooms and on the beach, people watching. He becomes fascinated with a 13-14 year old boy, who is staying at the hotel with his family.

Tadizo is a beautiful boy, so perfect that Gustav likens him to Narcissus. He seems to live for his next glimpse of Tadizo, and even admits to himself that he’s in love with him. Many critics and readers have labeled this as pedophilia. Gustav never acts on his adoration, but some find his attraction unsettling. I say: not so fast.

I am giving my interpretation here, it may not match with some critics and scholars, but I think to slap Gustav with the Scarlet P is too quick a reaction. There’s much more intricacy to his attraction. The comparison with Narcissus is just one of the references to Greek myth and gods made throughout the book. In my opinion, what he’s experiencing is mythological in its remote and beautiful, unattainable nature. He’s not truly expecting to possess Tadizo, nor do I think he wants to.

There are some things so beautiful, so revered, that they’re impossible to possess without ruination. We’re a tactile lot, we see something pretty or interesting and our immediate impulse is to put our hands all over it. But what we’re driven to do and what we’d really act on, given the chance, are two different things.

When I saw my first Van Gogh up close and personal, after I (nearly) pissed myself, I wanted to get as close as I possibly could to study it. The knife slaps of thick paint are evident even in photographs; in person, they stand out in relief, very nearly like all those beautiful marble and stone Greek gods chiseled into temple walls. Tactile. Now, I did set off the alarm, but that’s because I leaned too far over the acceptable barrier. Yes, I went too far; but never, never would I touch it. I couldn’t live with the guilt and shame of putting my stain on even one little peak, and ruining an imperceptible and nearly unmeasurable speck of paint. But it would be there, a blot on his work, and if everyone succumbed to this impulse, soon it would be ruined.

People are like that as well. Say the wrong thing to a child, intentional or not, and we mark them for the rest of their lives. Force them into certain directions and mindsets, touch them in ways no living creature should be touched, and we could break them irreparably. I think Gustav is aware of this. Tadizo is a work of art, something to be admired, worshiped, dreamed about, but never touched.

There’s also the conditions Gustav finds himself in. He’s an older man – physically and mentally much older than a man of 50 is now – and unwell. There’s a cholera epidemic in Venice, people are dying. He feels his mortality. Tadizo is youth and beauty and fresh potential – everything Gustav has lost and is gradually losing permanently, even as memories. Tadizo is a god, a mythological creature. Gustav’s love for him is a brief escape from reality, his lifeline.

Death in Venice is beautiful in every sense of the word. There’s nothing shameful here, nothing unsavory happening. It’s primal nature and survival and mythos and the drive to attain the unattainable. Take it into your hands and enjoy the experience.

too bad so sad

There was a time when it was virtually impossible to find a story featuring gay characters that didn’t end tragically. Like there was no other option – loss and unhappiness was the inevitable outcome in fiction, as in life. Well of course, that’s bullshit; has always been bullshit. Life is not an endless stream of placidity, but that’s true for everyone. Nature, left to her own devices, shows no discrimination in doling out good fortune and tragedy.

brokeback mountain

proulx’s sad story

No matter what the time period, location or common condition, there have been happy, fulfilled, well supported gay people. Perhaps high on the fortunate scale, some might say – yes, very true, there’s no question that overwhelmingly, circumstances have been difficult, even dangerous. But it’s also dangerous to have the scales so constantly tipped on the side of tragedy. Think about it: if every story of the girl’s handsome prince was like that of The Little Mermaid (I’m talking about the original Hans Christian Andersen story wherein the little mermaid lives in excruciating mute pain in order to win her prince, and when she fails, dies alone in sadness, transformed into sea foam – not the sanitized Disney version) do you think for one moment that little girls would have the happily ever after princess fantasy?

the mudge boy

just kill me now

That’s changing, of course. Gay boys and girls of all ages deserve and need their happy stories. There are more positive stories available, more celebrations and triumphs, and more situations presented in which characters go through the everyday trials and tribulations we all face, their sexuality in no way a cause or effect, or even significant to the story. Still, there seems to linger that propensity to err on the side of misfortune. Perhaps it’s a matter of following the well traveled route laid out before us; perhaps it’s laziness or pessimism or a love of tragic romance.
a single man

tragic or beautiful?

And yes, there are still unfortunate stories to be told – will always be, due to the human condition. We can’t just sweep that under the rug and hope for the best. Reminders of this serve an important function in keeping society on the forward move, and we do need constant prodding. We take an awfully long time to learn lessons, and even so, there will always remain pockets of the uninformed, or holdouts who refuse to accept what should be common knowledge: the Earth is round, disease is caused by bacteria not demons, sexuality is naturally varied.

brideshead revisited

tragic story. gay story?

We need these stories to remind us, motivate us, share solace and support. There are many people to tell these stories much better and more deservedly than I.

I also can’t tell fairytales – neither Grimm nor jolly (though I think jollity in fairytales is a rarity). I must leave that to others more qualified as well. My focus is more on the everyday aspects of life. They’re not always positive, but that’s most often due to circumstance, not sexuality. Ultimately, I want to tell stories of human experience. Our tenacity, our successes and failures, the things we contemplate, the things we encounter as we go along our singular ways. To be human is divine, and that’s something we all share in.