Friday, August 31, 2007

Blenheim Palace

from the diary: “Friday 10/7/88

“Blenheim Palace was a twenty minute coach ride from Oxford. Huge ‘house’. In a horseshoe around a gigantic graveled courtyard, big gates. We came in through one of the side entrances. Guided tour through the state rooms. The Churchill family (yes, of Winston, though he was not an heir) still lives there. That wing was off limits. But Blenheim Palace was nowhere I’d like to live. Each room was so high-ceilinged anything you said echoed, so all our whispers and the monologue of the guide in another room, and people catching up nearly drowned out our tourguide. Cold, too. And I was not awed by the ostentatious display of wealth. The gold & silver, the tapestries depicting battles against the French which earned the first Earl of the palace his earldom, were all huge and gaudy, grotesque, gross of excess, and so unfriendly. But the grounds were different. Sure they were on the same scale as the house – big formal gardens with statuary and expansive lawns so neatly manicured they looked like carpet. But the statues and the trees had personality. An old English oak, bent & gnarled. And long trails leading down to the river or just along through the grounds. A rose garden with a last few flowers battling the strong wind.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

finding Gulliver on my travels

from the diary: “Friday 10/7/88

“Dint do much yesterday. After class I sat in Maria Asumpta library poring over Time Out, circling interesting events, listing some on a separate paper for easier reference. I was intending t’go to London Friend for their weekly social but I was afraid it might cost and I’d nearly used up my daily allotment. So I dropped by Chris & Shawn & Tanya’s place. Ended up staying for dinner again.

“Today was the coach trip to Oxford & Blenheim Palace. I hadn’t expected much … Oxford was a dud. … I did like some of the big old buildings with their spyres and domes and ‘classical’ sculpture. Took a pic of building that had no special plaque in evidence, our tourguide hadn’t dawn our attention to it & it was not right on the road, but I liked its style.

“Oxford University is not a place you can visit. Oxford is a city. There are many colleges – each with its own libraries, buildings, chapel, staff, administrators – a college of Foreign Languages, Science, Medicine, etc. All governed by the university. Oxford University is a collective entity, basically invisible – or more, I should say, it is the sum of visible parts. No single campus, but many, strung about. There isn’t much to do in Oxford. Shops! That seemed to be the big attraction. All the well-heeled kids wanted to hit the souvenir shops for Oxford University t-shirts and sweatshirts. … I [did] buy postcards as souvenirs. Then mail[ed] them away.

“Shawn found a little table outside a church. The top of the table was covered with old books. Attached a sign read, ‘10p apiece’. A slot in the wall was a couple feet above for depositing the money. So we shuffled through the books. Shawn found an old edition of Gulliver. I flipped through it. Sound, decent condition, even had a color plate next the title page, was from the late 40s. Bought it for ten pence."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal, part III

from the diary: “Thursday 9/29/88 day 22

After English class, lunch, and a bit of grocery shopping, “I was vastly pooped. Found a [park] bench in the sun, the other occupant moving on shortly after I sat down, stretched myself out using pack as pillow. Napped for about 2 hours, felt wonderful. The air was chill so I pulled my trench coat tight, but the sun delicious. Read about Boswell getting the clap.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Speaker’s Corner, part II

from the diary: “Wednesday 9/28/88 day 21

“While at Speaker’s Corner Sunday [9/25] I spoke with a couple or three older gay men – one of whom enlightened me on a little ‘having fun’ etiquette. He doesn’t want a relationship, he says, and he doesn’t indulge so often anymore but every or every other week he comes to the park to look and choose. Likes men younger than himself – between 28 & 40. He, I believe, was 50. He will wear a walkman radio on such evenings and stand on the outskirts of the cruising area, size up the passersby. When he spies what he likes he establishes eye contact, then turns and strolls away up another path – if the man is interested he follows. ‘They come to me,’ he says. ‘I won’t go to them. Medium risk, you know what I mean? You have high risk, which is in the end you know, then medium risk -- oral. And no risk which is just playing around.’”

By the way, what Senator Craig is into?, in Britain it’s called “cottaging”. Public restrooms being called “cottages”, don’t you know.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pride & Prejudice & Piano

from the diary: “Tuesday 9/27/88 day 20

“In Kengsinton Library at lunchtime … woman on violin, man at piano, classical concert. Nice accompaniment to Pride & Prejudice.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Speaker’s Corner

from the diary: “Sunday 9/25/88, day 18

“I went to Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park. I expected a little thing, so when I saw a big crowd I thought at first, ‘No. I just need to look a little further.’ But when I got nearer the crowd I noticed it was in clumps with one major head jutting out in the middle [of each] shouting. Ah! This is the business. I’d read that there was a gay & lesbian group (calling themselves Gays & Sapphics) that met every Sunday at Speaker’s Corner.

“I browsed along the walk, listening to whomever sounded interesting. The gay group seemed to be setting up just as I arrived. A lovely young man, looked t’be about my age, quite blond, was starting with this gay rights nonsense – ‘I am a homosexual! … We want equal rights.’ One man challenged him for awhile saying he meant privileges. ‘No, no,’ protested blond. For quite a long time this tall young fellow, whose hobby apparently was heckling, told jokes & basically took the floor. Blond dint know how to deflect him. Matthew was the tall one. He’s a regular of Speaker’s Corner. I mostly just listened or grumbled or made small comments only those a foot or so away could hear. The circle was large, say spacious, when I got there, waxed & waned.

“At one point this older man came along who was one of those curmudgeons … who just loves to argue. Thinks he’s smart … reasonable, you know. I-base-my-frivolous-notions-on-the-facts. Yeah sure. He maintained that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice & that if you tried hard enough (sometimes with help!) – he likened gays to heroin addicts – you could change. Become heterosexual, of course. Blond tried the we’re-born-this-way tack. [Curmudgeon] jerk – he was from California ironically enough – came back with the grand unnatural and lifestyle choice (saying the studies he’d read showed that homosexuality was learned behavior, the dominant mother crap). Hm. The old boy was on my ground now. I’m good at this rational debate stuff because I analogize like crazy. And whenever he said, ‘I’ll give you an extreme example –‘ I came back with the mundane. So with lifestyle choice I countered religion. With you-can-change-if-you-want-to I countered with plastic surgery (Can I tell you to change the shape of your nose because I don’t like the bump in it? I fire you because you could eliminate that unsightly bump with a little corrective surgery.) Basically my approach was – You don’t like difference? Difference is wonderful! And you are unreasonable and irrational. Yes, I joined the fray. Two Californians having at each other in merry London.

“He said, ‘Don’t I have the right to fire a transvestite?’ I countered with, ‘Is he doing a good job? If he’s doing what you pay him for why fire him?’ ‘A pedophile!’ he said. ‘Are you a policeman?’ I said.

“I had supporters. The ‘poor’ fellow was outnumbered & though I dint think the arguments from my helpers were all flawless yet I know I wouldn’t have stood up well under a similar barrage.

“Introduced myself to blond afterward. Dye? Have no idea how it’s spelled but I believe that’s what he said. He dint seem in the mood to chat. I talked to some other folks hanging out, then went on my way. Still all keyed-up, arguing the case to myself just about all the way home.”

I guess the arguments haven’t changed much in twenty years.

According to this article from 2006 Speaker’s Corner is still populated. And the Hyde Park Gays & Sapphics may still show up to climb the soapbox.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

London Lesbian & Gay Centre

I found the London Lesbian & Gay Centre and attended a coming out group there. I didn’t feel like I was coming out, exactly, but I was totally new to the London scene and have never been good at bars and discos so rap groups have provided an opportunity to meet people without having to shout over music.

After the Saturday meeting (9/24/88), “I used the rest of the afternoon walking. Walked through the West End, I think, past Harrod’s anyway, dint feel like going in. Was looking for Hamley’s, the huge toy store, but couldn’t find it. Did drop by Gay’s the Word, London’s warm little, jammed & cozy gay bookstore. Hear they’re going to expand.”

According to Wikipedia the LLGC closed in 1991. Gay’s the Word is, according to their website, “the last surviving Gay and Lesbian bookshop in the UK” and they are “under threat.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

The family, part II

from the diary: “9/23/88 Friday

“Initial interest in me from Robert & Maria has passed. They now largely ignore me, which makes me feel lonely. As soon as they get home it’s turn on the TV, or, in Robert’s case, unfold the newspaper. They don’t ask me questions, ‘What have you been doing? Found anything exciting?’ They don’t make suggestions. ‘You really should see – you can’t miss –‘ When I ask Robert questions, as I did last night about his elected office, he answers my questions quite willingly yet distractedly. His attention is divided between me and the bills. When I said to Maria the other day, ‘I got my first letter from my mother …’ she said, ‘Oh! How nice.’ Then said something about her own mother to the neighbor woman who was visiting. I was going to say something about how fast the mail was or what Mom had said about the cat or [how glad I was the mail strike was over] but [Maria and her guest] carried on as if I weren’t there.”

I tried to make friends with Linda, the German au pair. She was into Duran Duran “& has Duran Duran pen pals around the world.” I remember her telling me she and her friends would make fun of English. “We would say it sounded like somebody chewing gum.”

I took a tour bus to Stonehenge and Salisbury. “I was impressed. This big empty – and today, fiercely windy plain, flat, and these obvious, big, roughly shoebox-shaped stones in a circle in the grass. I wasn’t looking for skyscrapers.” My brother had told me when he visited he wasn’t impressed, expected them to be bigger. “Shoebox-shaped”? I’m not sure that metaphor aids their grandeur.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The family

I’d thought the father was a Member of Parliament. Turns out, no. “Robert is a member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council – or whatever the official title is. I plucked up enough courage to ask him a few questions. Parliament has approx. 500 members, each represents about 1/2 million Britons. [So there are 250 million Britons? I don’t know.] There are 46 councillors in Kensington & Chelsea, Robert being one of only about 15 who are Labour Party, the rest being Conservatives but one, who Robert says, is an Idiot.” (diary, 9/22/88)

Then I went over my freshly worked out new budget: “I had only spent 1.45 and was prepared for a quiet evening of study & perhaps some television when Maria [the mother] came home in a foul mood. She’d had an absolutely rotten day at work … & was looking forward to just plopping the tortellini in some boiling water for a hot meal. She came into the main room, said to Linda [the au pair], ‘Do you know what’s happened to –‘

“So I admitted that I had eaten it & apologized & asked if I should replace it. Yes, she said. I apologized again & she almost reflexively said, ‘That’s all right,’ but instead said, ‘That’s all –‘ and then did not want to forgive that quickly so finished her sentence with a grumble. She was also in a rush cuz she had to get along to an evening class. When she was out of the house I … hopped the Hoppa bus to Earl’s Ct then over to Sainsbury’s, the nearest supermarket, and got some more tortellini of exactly the same type as I’d eaten. 1.09 pounds. So then I was 4 pence over my ceiling for the day.

“Last week or so Maria had said, ‘Help yourself to anything in the refrig.’ I have been careful in the past – not wanting to eat anything special. Good fruit has spoiled (food spoils here quickly, I suppose because of the humidity) that I would’ve been glad to consume had I known it was going to spoil. I’ve tried to confine myself to eating things which there are a lot of & those whose expiration dates had passed. The tortellini’s expiration date passed 12 days ago. It had been in the freezer so I guess Maria thought that didn’t matter. It must not have because the tortellini was quite edible.”

Then I wrote that I had bought a loaf of bread and planned to pack a lunch from then on, no more cafeteria.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Good-bye, I Love You

from the diary: “9/21/88 Wednesday

“Has anybody been reading Pride & Prejudice? I haven’t. I’ve been putting it off because I’ve read it before – even tho’ I can’t remember much of the story – and because I have so godawful much else to read. [Our first English class assignment is to] analyze one of [William] Blake’s poems. As for Blake – we went on a field trip to the Tate Gallery to see some Blake originals – he was a painter as well as a poet. Was interesting for about ten minutes – we were there 40. [The professor] got us lost on the underground. We had to backtrack to find the correct station.

“I read tonight a good book: Good-bye, I Love You by Carol Lynn Pearson, a Mormon woman, poet and ex-wife (widow?) of Gerald Pearson. The book reminded me of Laura Hobson’s Consenting Adult. But it was a true story. Gerald died of AIDS. So the book was sad.” I was delighted to be able to read something “of my own choosing.” [emphasis in the original] The family had gone out; I was alone in the house. “I put ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon on the stereo and before I knew it was dancing.”

When I do a little research to help recover details about a book and its author I sometimes run across surprises. Carol Lynn Pearson has a play, “Facing East”, in San Francisco right now. And SFGate did a profile of her.

Although I read her Good-bye, I Love You in London and Pearson grew up (& married) in Utah, she’s currently living in Walnut Creek.

Here’s a bit from the SFGate article:

“Born a fourth-generation Mormon in Salt Lake City in 1939, Pearson was a happy and optimistic child ... By the time she graduated from Brigham Young High School and went on to Brigham Young University, she was immersed in theater and writing. She met Gerald, her husband to be, when they were both cast in a BYU production of Thornton Wilder's ‘The Skin of Our Teeth.’ It was during their engagement that Gerald first told her of his attraction to men.

"’This was 1966,’ Pearson said with a measured sigh. ‘We were so naive and so Utah. We accepted the promise that you just repent when you get off track and everything will work out.’

“[T]he couple married in Salt Lake's Mormon Temple on Sept. 9, 1966. Their first child was born two years later. By then, Pearson was something of a local celebrity. Her first book of inspirational poems, self-published with Gerald's prodding and a $2,000 loan, sold an impressive 25,000 copies. ‘Nobody but some outrageously gay man would decide to publish his wife's poems,’ Pearson said with a laugh. She has supported herself and for many years her entire family as a writer ever since.

“Pearson recalled her marriage as one of mutual devotion and fun – ‘in many ways a cut above the marriages of my friends.’ But, she added, ‘what Gerald had hoped would happen didn't.’ He still wanted to have sex with men. Apprehensive about her marriage ending at the heart of the Mormon world, Pearson proposed that the couple relocate from Utah to California. … ‘It was hell,’ she said, ‘the resentment, the anger, the confusion, the divorce. But we also remained close. He was a wonderful father.’ A small smile came and went, ghost-like, across Pearson's face. …

“After Gerald's AIDS diagnosis, and just a month before his death, Carol Lynn was facing a house payment she couldn't make. An 11th-hour sale of a Christmas story to a Mormon publisher saved the day and proved to be a major financial gusher in the years to come.”

Pearson remembers “her Mormon community rose to the occasion.” Her dying husband moved back in with her. “’It was always done, whatever it was - food, transportation, yard work,’ said Pearson. ‘There was no shunning of me or Gerald, not ever, not once.’ …

“In Pearson's own cosmology, 'we're all in the correct classroom, working out the story problems that we should be doing. And the answer to all of them is: "How much do you love?"'

She has published a new book for families with gay loved ones, No More Goodbyes. Most of the stories in it are from the Mormon community, apparently. Sadly, the Mormon Church remains a major obstacle to gay human rights, being a big source of funding for anti-gay ballot campaigns across the country.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kensington Library

from the diary: “9/20/88 Tuesday

“Got my library card for the Kensington Library. Great library! I s’pose it helps that the borough is very well-to-do. Checked out the limit – 3 books. Gay subjects mostly – I’m looking over what British books on the theme are like & am pleased by the selection.”

9/21: “I just divided out the money I have in British pounds – both that which I have in cash and that which I have in traveller’s cheques. Assuming there are 85 days remaining in my London semester I have approx. 2.90 pounds a day to spend. That’s a division of 250 pounds. I also have three hundred American dollars in traveller’s cheques. I am going to Amsterdam with that. I think. Maybe.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Boswell, myself

I scouted libraries – got a card at “the University of London” and at “the Kensington Library.” The Kensington library was closest and, I decided, had plenty to chose from.

My English prof wanted us to keep a journal of our own personal London adventure, with Boswell as a model? John Boswell, if the name means nothing to you, eventually became Samuel Johnson’s biographer. Samuel Johnson was the man who wrote the first English dictionary. Boswell did such a thorough and well-regarded job recounting Jonson’s life that “Boswell” has become another way of saying “biographer”, as in, “The poet has found her Boswell.”

On 9/17/88 I wrote, “I am conducting a documented life. I write poetry, I keep a diary. Not just for myself but for those who might read them. Am I a Boswell whose works [will be] read 300 years after he wrote them? Don’t know. I am always intimidated by those published diaries. These people seem to remember so much. They record dialogue without apology as though their memories were photographic [or phonographic?] and they fill pages & pages a day. I have neither the recall nor the time to write it all down. If you’re writing, you are not living.”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

lawn bowling

from the diary: “9/11/88 Sunday

“Coming back along Hyde Park … I strolled over to watch grass bowling or whatever it’s called. While i was standing next the green an older couple, the man a typical American upper ‘middle’ class paunchy … the wife the usual slender-in-comparison & neatly dressed & made up … They spoke, I recognized the American in their voices. The man asked me about the game.

“’I know as much as you. I recognize your American accent. I’m from California.’ He said he was, too, then proceeded to pay me no more attention. … Overheard the man inquiring: ‘Hate to be rude here but is the object to get the large balls closest to the white?’

“The players genteelly laid out the basics, which I understood no better than my fellow countryman. He persisted with, ‘Is there a winning score?’ & ‘When does someone win?’

“Winning occupied his mind. Prob’ly occupied the players’ minds quite as much tho they made it sound rather secondary. I dint much care one way or the other, I just thought it looked comfortable, sedate, careful, possibly boring.

“After he left with … ‘Don’t know if I got it all, but I’m closer to getting the rules on this one than cricket. That one’s still got me.’

“The elder woman to the younger: ‘What do you usually tell the Americans?’”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal, part II

from the diary: “9/9/88 Friday

“On the plane I read the Introduction to Boswell’s London Journal and amidst the lavish praise for everything else the editor singled out Boswell’s habit of displaying the events in chronological order – quite the opposite of my own [method] where I not only give away the present but mishmash the past. [Boswell’s chronological method, says the Introduction,] instills suspense and fictionesque drama.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

cultural differences

A few observations upon arriving at London’s Heathrow airport Sept ’88: “’It’s the coach with capital on,’ said the gentleman who [had come to pick] us up … pointing the confused lot of us down the passage. I, apparently, was the only one who heard him properly tho I still dint entirely understand. ‘the capital on’? Turned out to be a bus with the word CAPITAL written across the back of it. … ‘Way out’ here on street signs instead of ‘Exit’, ‘Give way’ instead of ‘Yield’.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal

from the diary: “Tuesday 9/6/88

“Was reading some of the introduction (which is interminable) to Boswell’s London journal. The lad was 22 when he wrote the journal in 1762-3. A page was pictured of his handwriting and, my! – but it’s incredibly legible, something one can say for few people of any age. Aren’t I 22 & ain’t I gonna write a London journal? Oh, yeah, I think [Prof] Sherak wants us to keep a journal – I suppose that means he wants us to turn it in for his perusal. Yuck, what a drag. That’ll sure sap my energy for my own journal and gak but I hate sanitizing my thoughts for old fuddy duddies let alone letting somebody run his rough old eyes over perceptions that are still raw & personal. In 20 years I’m sure I won’t/wouldn’t give a fine fling who plowed his weary eyes down the fields of my suspect prose, but the present is not the time to consider the present.”

This was one of the books that had been assigned by the English teacher, an SRJC professor, whose class I was taking in London.

“I’m taking textbooks aboard the plane with me – Boswell, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway & Small Is Beautiful, think I’ll leave the Stephen King books David brought over here at home. Just don’t have room! And if I do get to reading I might as well get a jump on studying I don’t want to do anyway.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

sending out poems

from the diary: “Monday 9/5/88

“Last night I … typed up 4 poems for Sonoma Mandala. These prob’ won’t go in their precious literary annual any more than the stuff I’ve sent in the past cuz my poor poems do not fit their ‘little literary magazine’ type poetry. Green Fuse called the 2 poems I sent them ‘precious’ & ‘intellectual’. Intellectual as an insult again. Why is being smart considered not smart? I don’t write oh-so-awe-filled poems about brooks and babies and babble. My poetry is good. So much of what is published is so damn usual. Oh, I’ve read this before & before & before that. The poems that aren’t little concrete packaged images – in the ‘little’ magazine style – are abstractions of abstractions that make no sense and are praised lavishly becuz they are ‘difficult’. They appear in the big magazines. With everyone all over the country churning out words on paper, how can anyone’s work stand out? Just another tiny poem in some literary magazine fourteen people and the author will read – the same 14 who read the last poem. Yuck.”

Sonoma Mandala was the literary magazine of Sonoma State University.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Understanding the U.K.

from the diary: “Monday 9/5/88

“Mom & I went to Salmon Creek Beach this morning fairly early. I brought along my scarf and was grateful for it. Chilly – ooh. I picked up a small piece of driftwood and a particularly nice gull feather which I think I’ll take along to gift to my English family in lieu of the ‘plant or chocolate’ that the AIFS handbook recommends upon arrival.

“An interesting and helpful book I picked up, Understanding the U.K. (published ’87) recommends taking along some little American thingies to give to new friends in Britain. Yeah, any souvenirs I take along would be ‘made in Taiwan.’ I can’t think of anything to take, anything that wouldn’t uncomfortably drain my cash reserves or take up space in the luggage.”

I don’t know why I let spring & summer of 1988 pass largely unrecorded in my diary. I had been protesting that I was tired of hearing myself talk; I got tired of talking to myself in my journal, too, I suppose. I wanted a big change, something that would catapult me from the rut I was stuck in. I had $5000 saved. That was enough to purchase a car. A used car, but a decent one. But it was also enough to do something else. And the something else I decided on was a semester in London. Here was an opportunity to live somewhere totally different for three months, a place with lots of possibilities, abroad. Perhaps I could visit the continent at the midterm break. I knew when I got back that I would be poor again, that I would be stuck in Sebastopol as ever. Then again – I would have gotten away! Really away! The JC also offered a semester in Spain, I think, and Italy. I considered those. My Spanish was so halting that I didn’t want to have to rely on it, and I’m shy, I didn’t want any more barriers than I could help.

It was essentially an SRJC semester transplanted. We brought our professors with us. We had the option of taking additional classes at a college in London. I applied for a homestay with a London family. The family that took me was Anglo-American, the wife was American and worked for AIFS (the American Institute for Foreign Study), the company that put together the program. They had two young kids, a girl and boy. As a gift I brought a jar of Mendocino Mustard. I remember worrying that the glass might break in my luggage.

Monday, August 13, 2007

pile of reading

In the Hub of the Fiery Force: collected poems, 1934-2003 by Harold Norse
Having read Norse’s memoir recently I thought I should get to his poems. I’m only a few pages in.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
I try to keep a novel in my pile. Too early to have much of an opinion.

580 Split, issue 9
The literary magazine for Mills College. Deadline is fairly soon. October 1. So I figured I should read it soonish.

Twinkle Tales by L. Frank Baum
I recently read the short stories starring Twinkle (a little girl on the frontier) and her friend Chubbins (a boy) that were gathered under the title Twinkle and Chubbins. Bison Books now has a volume that also includes the full-length fantasy novel Policeman Bluejay, which continues their adventures, so I’m reading Policeman Bluejay.

Bay Poetics edited by Stephanie Young
This collection of SF Bay Area poets came out last year. I’m not in it.

Sunflower Splendor: three thousand years of Chinese poetry edited by Wu-chi Liu and Iring Yucheng Lo
Mostly these English versions don’t impress me as poetry. Just read some nice translations of Mei Yao-ch’en by Jonathan Chaves. “I just saw the gatherer of shepherd’s-purse / walk out alone from the capital’s south gate: / brittle iron knife eroded by the earth; / green bamboo basket mottled with frost.”

Indian Days of the Long Ago: Indian life and Indian lore by Edward S. Curtis
This is written in a not-quite idiomatic English that, I suppose, suggests the otherworldliness of the Indian for Curtis’ average American reader. “Far into the night lasted the dancing. … Furious was the dancing of the old chiefs and warriors as they acted in pantomime the story of their battles.” The whole is probably a novel, a didactic novel, I guess, in which Curtis has two travelers from far tribes stop to tell their life stories to a plains Indian tribe (and drop a bunch of ethnographic information on us).

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith
I’ve never seen Smith in performance but I like the idea of building a story from disparate voices, voices that can disagree. Smith went to L.A. shortly after the riots and recorded interviews. These are rendered as monologue-poems. So far my favorite is the one attributed to an anonymous juror in Simi Valley. The jury had just acquitted the officers of all charges in the beating of Rodney King. To his horror, as the jurors are being led to the bus that will take them home, he hears a reporter asking, “Do you know that buildings / are burning / and people are dying in South LA / because of you?” He sounds earnest, tried to do his civic duty being a juror. He had no idea what that would mean. He seems shaken by a look at the world entirely new to him. What is fair? Was he fair? He thought so. He claims still to think so ...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

“Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself talk.”

from the diary: “Wednesday 8/3/88

“My last date with Scott – last Thurs. was bust. He’d had some great revelation of how he’d been acting immature and irresponsible and had decided he’d all shape up all-of-a-sudden like that. He proceeded to talk about himself all evening with minor detours into ‘past’ loves (‘I’ll always love Anthony.’ This on a date with me.) He told me his philosophy of money; his career plans; his love needs. He even went so far as to ask me to be his mirror – ‘What impression do you get of me?’ he asked.

“At first I was diplomatic as I really dint know what to say. Finally, after he’d changed his mind about going dancing … He dint seem to want to do anything. I was, frankly, bored. And depressed. He ast if I was tired. I said, ‘No.’ Then I came out with the bad stuff about him. The ‘second’ date he’d stood me up after I’d taken the bus in to Santa Rosa especially to see him, I waited, he never showed. I called 2 days later and he apologized. Yeah. Who called? The one who did the standing up or the standee? Out of our four dates – 2 were fun & 2 were total disasters as far as I’m concerned. Diana said she went out on a date with a ‘nice guy’ and one line seemed to sum it up. He said, ‘I was never really much of a reader when I was young.’ The quip of doom.

“When I said, ‘Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself talk,’ Scott answered, ‘Oh, I never get tired of hearing myself talk.’ A few minutes later I said, just as I was about to take him home, ‘There’s a point at which I get tired of talking. And there’s a point at which I get tired of listening. There’s a point at which I get tired of listening. To you talking. About yourself.’”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

She Broke My Heart and It Left Little Bits of China under the Edge of the Kitchen Cupboards

The Spring 1988 issue of the SRJC literary annual, First Leaves included one of my poems.

“She Broke My Heart and It Left Little Bits of China under the Edge of the Kitchen Cupboards”


She lifted my heart from the table, carried
it carefully and I watched her for a minute, not
puzzled, just interested. It wasn’t a
minute, though, that she held it above
the kitchen floor. She was standing by
the stove, I didn’t have to turn around to
see – wouldn’t have done that. I turned a
page in my book.

I always thought one made more noise
than that. When a bottle falls and shatters it
certainly makes a pop, a smack, a huff like anger or
the dog you woke by stepping on. I looked up
again and she was sweeping. She had to get down on
her knees to reach under the stove with the broom. She
dumped a pan of red glazed white porcelain crumbs into
a paper bag.

“I would have used plastic,” she said, placing
the folded-over bag on the tble next to the novel. “But
there weren’t any.” I would’ve told her to go away,
but I didn’t have the energy. “I wish you wouldn’t talk
to me,” I said.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another First Leaves

from the diary: "Tuesday 3/15/88

“I turned in an entry for the SRJC literary awards. I don’t know if I can win anything since I won the Manalli last year but Wayne Neel, the advisor for First Leaves who gave me the application, said, there’s nothing that says you can’t. Not on the application anyway. My selections this year are much better than last year’s. I only got the application a day or two before I had to turn it in last year and I was in a very down mood. I hated everything I’d written. This year I had a chance to be much more clearheaded. I found out Lou (the guy who runs Papa Ron’s’ poetry readings) thinks First Leaves is a rag (along with Chris Evans) but he submitted several poems this year anyway – on D. Emblen’s urging, I gathered.”

There were no poems by Lou in that year’s First Leaves. Nor is there mention in the diary of my winning any of the English Dept awards.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Queen of Diamonds

from the diary: “Sunday 3/13/88

“[I] went to a poetry reading at Papa Ron’s. Read a selection of very short poems that I titled, ‘Love, Truth, and Shoes: the Cheap Poems’. They dint go over way big. Some, I decided, were too hostile. Spent a lot of time preparing them, practicing, selecting, so I guess I had a lot of expectations to be let down.

“Ann Erickson came and I got her chapbook, Queen of Diamonds.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

diary, 5/18/87 – 2/16/88

Some dating (mostly unsatisfying), a few parties.

Summer I took a swim class. I remember shivering in the pool – got my first leg cramp!

A friend attempted suicide. Pills. I phoned him at the hospital. “I don’t remember you,” he said, “but my diary says good things about you.”

Attended the Winkie Convention at Asilomar. When I asked David M if he would give a congratulatory kiss to Eric S after the “Woggle Bug” play performance – all the girls were getting kisses, the boys handshakes – David said, “He’d probably deck me.” Surely not!

Signed up for fall classes at SRJC: Review Algebra, Spanish Conversation, Critical Thinking, and American Sign Language … And got a 4.0 out of the semeseter.

Was taking driving lessons, got my learner’s permit. Paid for driver’s lessons because when it was Mom trying to teach me she would cringe or snap at me and we would end up shouting at each other. I think Mom helped pay for the lessons, though. At the end of August I got my driver’s license. I looked at cars but did not find one I liked & thought I could afford.

As documented on DIR (here, here, here, here, and here) I initiated a poster series for SRJC’s Gay & Lesbian Student Union. As always the club dwindled over the course of the semester and I pitched in to keep the club going.

movies:
Room with a View
Children of a Lesser God
Swimming to Cambodia
The Untouchables
Man Facing Southeast
Screamers
Prick Up Your Ears
Snow White
The Lost Boys
King Kong vs. Godzilla
The Living Daylights
La Bamba
Superman 4
Animation Celebration
Monster Squad
Parting Glances
Desert Hearts
Pink Triangles
Maurice
I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing
Tampopo
Robocop
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Theater:
Talking With …

TV:
The Jewel in the Crown
Miami Vice
America’s Top Ten
Star Trek: the Next Generation
Agronsky & Co

music:
Camper Van Beethoven
Madonna
Culture Club
Steeleye Span
Jimmy Cliff
The Wiz soundtrack
World Party
George Michael
Los Lobos
INXS
Blondie
“Reggae Dance Party”
Bob Dylan

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

selling the book

When I got to the end of the diary I’d been working my way through back in June, I stalled. I didn’t want to reread it for a “story so far” post. Going over that period of my life … I’d just done it, hadn’t it? How many times was I going to have to?

A couple nights ago I got through it the second time. And this try wasn’t so tough. The DIR memory project. Bring up old emotions, stir old pots. Let them settle. Some incidents came clearer in my memory this time, others more distant, documentation of something that might as well have happened to someone else. Tomorrow I’ll put up a post on the 5/87 – 2/88 diary. Then I’ll get back to the chronological book log.

The Word document DIR occupies on my Mac is 343 pages long. That’s a lot of writing. It may be something to turn into a book. Who knows? It’s not something I’d try to sell a New York publisher on. But with the new print-on-demand technology (see yesterday’s post) selling isn’t so damn necessary.

Monday, August 06, 2007

making the book

SFGate has an article today about Blurb, a self-publishing vehicle. Dan Fost says he chose Blurb (rather than Lulu, say) because Blurb is local. He doesn’t say in the article that he took advantage of that. Can you stop by Blurb’s offices to pore over their books? The article is accompanied by photos, Fost’s family book, which looks OK, but also a table at Blurb heaped with Blurb-made oversize photo books that, from a distance at least, certainly look attractive.

Kevin Kelly at Cool Tools also likes Blurb for a photo book, though he recommends Lulu for one that’s text only.

Kelly has professional experience designing books, it sounds like. Fost doesn’t. So Fost’s endorsement actually means more to me. It sounds like making his book wasn’t a snap, but it was easier than he expected and he didn’t find the tweaking painful.

Says Dan Fost, “One of the most fun parts of creating Plumlee's book [Sybil Plumlee, 96, is Fost’s grandmother-in-law] was making a cover, and especially putting Plumlee's photo on the back inside flap, just like a real author.

“My wife, Betty Barker, and I also enjoyed fiddling with the software, playing with layouts, and inserting photos to get the project looking just right.

“We did hit a few glitches, however, that made the experience somewhat less than perfect. Some of the pages didn't come out flush left, so that looked a little strange, and I wasn't able to cancel the order [for the unsatisfactory version]. … Additions to different parts of the book sometimes threw things out of whack later on in the book. Headers and page numbers sometimes needed a little wrestling. But for the most part things worked simply and well.”

Of the result Grandma says, “It really looked like a book.”

Sunday, August 05, 2007

[poet's name redacted]

A few years ago I took a creative writing class at the new Harvey Milk Institute, an attempt at a sort of gay community adult school in San Francisco. Not sure whether it still exists but I liked the idea and wanted to support it. Plus I hadn’t taken a writing class in years.

E.. was one of the other students and she had a wounded, brittle air, always wearing long-sleeves and long pants and wide-brimmed hats. She said she had been badly injured and was still recovering. Every so often since I’ve seen her around Berkeley and she still covers up.

Last week she hung out at the Claremont branch where I work. She had an essay in the San Francisco Chronicle about the breakthrough she’d made in her recovery, and the article was the first time I got the details on what she was recovering from.

“I learned it was a propane explosion at a factory nearby. In the emergency room I heard the phrases, ‘explosion,’ ‘third-degree burns’ and ‘skin-graft surgery.’ I must have been in shock because all I could think about was going home to Berkeley and bicycling.”

It was nice to see E.. smiling. She seemed almost bubbly, her enthusiasm infectious. It seems she has a poetry chapbook forthcoming from a small press, too. She entered a contest, didn’t win, then was asked by the publisher if she wouldn’t mind them publishing her book anyway.

Update 7/22/10: E.. remembers this blog post as being very hurtful. Not wishing to hurt her feelings I thought I would remove it. Having reread it I have decided to leave it up, redacting her name. You may follow the link above if you wish to know it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Recycling Day

Recycling day
reading the Vanity Fair history of The Simpsons
at the curb


Recycling day
two issues of a New York literary magazine
don’t smell of smoke or coffee


Wednesday evening people wheel their garbage cans out to the curb, and next to the garbage they snuggle up blue bins filled with cans & bottles & bagged paper.

I walked about the neighborhood that evening. The two copies of the New York literary magazine were issues of Open City from 2003. As they were clean and had a few names I’d heard of, I brought them home.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Winkie Convention haul

Kent & I went to the Winkie Convention last month, weekend of the 6th, 7th and 8th. Haven’t been to Winkie in years. 12 years. I’ve kept sending in my Oz Club dues. But going to Winkies hadn’t seemed essential. Used to go every summer.

I figured I’d pick up some of the Club publications, save the shipping charges. But I didn’t figure I would buy anything at the auction. The auction takes up most of Saturday afternoon. Was there anything I needed? Not really. I’m not much of a collector anymore. Even though now I can afford most anything I want (a first edition of The Wizard of Oz is not on my list). I recently read L. Frank Baum’s non-Oz fantasy, John Dough and the Cherub, got it via interlibray loan, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. If there’s a copy of John Dough and the Cherub at a decent price, I said to myself, I’ll get it.

And there was a copy on the auction table. The cover image is printed right on the cloth of the binding. The copy I saw recently at a bookstore in Berkeley was badly faded, or perhaps the ink had rubbed off. The copy in the auction was bright. The binding was tight (a repair job?). One of the pages of the illustrated endpapers was missing. But nobody’d penciled (or crayoned) on any of the interior, other than the owner’s name. Edward Eager.

Edward Eager? I said to myself. Author of Half Magic, Magic By the Lake, etc?

I sat through hours of auction, not so bored as I’d expected. Fact is, I’d planned to skip out to the beach (which, at Asilomar, means putting on your long pants and jacket). After occasionally looking at the prices of Oz books in bookstores and on the internet I was startled to see people snapping up bargains at the auction. Of course, these are folks who’ve been collecting for years. Probably they have most everything they want; why bid on it just because it’s cheaper than you’d find elsewhere? After all, if all you wanted was the book it would have been cheaper to pay the premium and not fly yourself out to Monterey for a weekend. When at last the John Dough came up I gave myself a mental budget of $75-100. The auctioneer entertained an opening bid of $15. I raised my auction card. And got the book for $25. The auctioneer made no mention of Edward Eager. I was so surprised to get Dough for $25 I immediately bid on a copy of Patchwork Girl of Oz which I neither wanted nor needed and got that for $50. I had instant buyer’s remorse but shrugged it off. After all, I could say I bought Dough for a reasonable $75 and they threw in a Patchwork Girl.

When I got home checked up on author Edward Eager’s middle name and it matches that written in my new copy of John Dough.

Also bought at auction:

an original illustration by Dick Martin from the Oz Club published Enchanted Island of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson

Magical Mimics in Oz by Jack Snow

Bought new:

Dorothy, v.1, a graphic novel retelling of The Wizard of Oz starring a punked-out Dorothy, a robot Toto, laser guns, etc. Mark Masterson, one of the creators, gave a presentation.

Annabel, a young adult novel L. Frank Baum published under a pseudonym, this reprint from Hungry Tiger Press

Speedy in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson, an Oz Club hardcover reprint that includes the original color plates (no sooner did I take this out to show someone than I put a little tear in the dustjacket)

Hidden Valley of Oz by Rachel Cosgrove, an Oz Club paperback reprint

The Scarcrow of Oz, one of Baum’s original Oz books in a Club reprint, my first edition with the color plates

Aunt Jane’s Nieces, a book L. Frank Baum wrote using the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne, Oz Club publication

The Hidden Prince of Oz by Gina Wickwar, an original Oz Club publication

The 2006 issue of the annual Club publication Oziana, which features fan fiction and art … I remember David saying he’d been asked to illustrate a story; I didn’t realize his illustrations would be so extensive & elaborate.

Der Zauberer der Smaragdenstadt, a German translation of the Russian Alexander Volkov’s version of The Wizard of Oz … no, I can’t read German (or Russian) but I love the illustrations by Leonid Vladimirski

When we registered we were handed the following:

Animal Fairy Tales, the only collected edition of L. Frank Baum’s animal tales, published by the Oz Club … as Kent and I both were given a copy he handed me his. (I have since passed one of the copies along to an old Oz friend who didn’t make the convention.)

A tin lunchbox designed by Eric Shanower. Kent says he is going to send his to his sister for her birthday. Which was last month.