Friday, June 29, 2012


Darryl … called me a year or two later and said … I had wounded him terribly by making him doubt his sexuality. I guess he was clueless enough to think maybe he was gay just because I said so, and then when he found out he wasn’t I turned into a demon bitch in his mind. It was one of those phone calls that make[s] you realize someone has been relentlessly seething about something you don’t even remember.
That’s from Jennifer Blowdryer’s autobiographical White Trash Debutante. Now and then I get to feeling guilty about some mean thing I did way back when and wondering how unhealed that person I wounded might still be. Other times I wonder if some other so-and-so who hurt me real bad ever realized he hurt me. How could he not! Then I wonder which events stuck in my head are ones that matter to other people. As age gathers the years into a fatter past and my brain’s capacity doesn’t commensurately enlarge, I note that recent events really can’t compete in emotional weight with childhood injustices. Why? Maybe those old hurts got the mental real estate and, boy, they ain’t giving it up. They’ve been revisited frequently so have an insurmountable statistical advantage over the newer tears. Not to say you can’t hurt me today like you hurt me yesterday. I don’t know. Don’t make that a goal, ‘K?

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Frans de Waal suggests that the continuing prohibition on anthropomorphizing chimpanzees smacks of something he calls anthropodenial, “a blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other animals, or the animal-like characteristics of ourselves,” a blindness that emerges from our subconscious need to promote human exceptionalism at all costs.
I’ve written before on this blog about what Andrew Westoll here calls “human exceptionalism.” I’ve not been sympathetic to the tendency.

Although I can’t quite say I’m fond of the particular coinage offered by Frans de Waal, it’s probably useful to have a pejorative to counter the pejorative. Denying that nonhuman beings have emotions is one of those thought games that, when imposed on the real world, has justified a lot of cruel behavior. The prohibition on anthropomorphism, it seems to me, is closely allied to the ranking of human races. They may seem like us, but it’s an illusion. Really, those creatures displaying human-like characteristics aren’t human. Therefore it is okay to treat them in a way we would never tolerate with other humans. See: chattel slavery. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine, if you read up on torture, the dropping of the atom bomb, the factories of death in Germany or the neighbor-to-neighbor machete killings in Rwanda, what atrocity one could name that humans refrain from perpetrating on other humans.

quote source: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: a true story of resilience and recovery by Andrew Westoll

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"my brother and his husband"

The Smith nuclear family and their spouses went out to dinner … It was a glorious evening, everyone talking, laughing, eating heartily, and enjoying being together. My sister and her husband lived in Japan at the time, my brother and his husband lived in Florida, and Jen and I were out in California, so it was rare that my mom could get all her kids together in one place.
This happy little family reunion is described in filmmaker Kevin Smith’s new memoir disguised as a self-help book, Tough Sh*t: life advice from a fat, lazy slob who did good. I’ve tried to think before about what it means to be gay and find that considered unremarkable, uncontroversial certainly, merely one aspect of the way one is identified in a crowd scene written by a non-gay person. Kevin Smith has a brother and that brother has a husband.

Now and then I read histories about gay people. The people who research and write such histories are faced with a difficult task. If Kevin Smith had written about his family getting together a hundred years ago, or fifty, or if he weren’t the type of writer he is, unashamed and cheerily confrontational, the brother’s husband might have gone unmentioned. That doesn’t mean the brother’s husband wouldn’t have been there, nor does it mean that the siblings would have considered the brother’s husband a stranger or even considered him unmentionable among themselves, but he would have been left out of the description and everyone would have understood that including him in the description would have required a dangerous explanation, putting information out that would implicate loved ones in criminal acts. Thus things that were actually taking place are left out of the written record, or, if written down, carefully guarded and destroyed should the possibility arise that they might be read by unsympathetic eyes. The historical record is an edited one, censored often by the actors themselves. The testimony of a primary source can be the closest we get to the truth, but that doesn’t mean it is the truth. Who kissed who, who fucked who, who lived a long and loving life together, these are stories we don’t get unfiltered.

Yes, he really meant husband.

But what did he mean by that?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

pile of reading

Ishi: last of his tribe by Theodora Kroeber
Theodora Kroeber was the wife of Alfred Kroeber, the chairman of the Dept of Anthropology at the University of California when Ishi was found. In California you know Ishi. His story is taught in elementary school. Ishi was the last survivor of a small tribe of California Indians. They only made it as long as they had by living in hiding from the Whites. When Ishi found himself alone he no longer cared whether he lived or died, so he turned himself in. The Kroebers helped to find a place for Ishi in his last years. I didn’t think I’d read this book, a story-like biography of Ishi and his tribe in hiding, but once I started it it seemed familiar. I suspect I have read it, perhaps for school, or maybe I heard one of my grade school teachers read it aloud.

Neuromancer by William Gibson
I plucked this tattered copy of Neuromancer from the shelf thinking it would be a good thing to read on our Kauai trip. Turned out it requires a little more concentration than a casual bite, you gotta pay attention to the world Gibson creates. It’s one of the first cyberspace novels (pub. 1984) and some of the territory Gibson pioneers gets taken up by the Matrix movies, among other things.

The Big Splat, or how our moon came to be by Dana Mackenzie
I bought this book when the author gave a talk at a local bookstore. My receipt was jammed in the book and I’m using it as a placemark. 2003. I stuck it on the shelf cuz in the talk Mackenzie pretty much answered the question about the moon’s origins, even showing some nifty animations of the proto-Earth being struck by a Mars-sized body, going all liquid, then coalescing into the Earth and Moon as we know them. Science books, especially astronomy books, often spend a lot of time on earlier theories, and The Big Splat is no exception. I bog down a bit in the review of Aristotle and Anaxagoras.

The Yellow Knight of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson
I’ve read L. Frank Baum’s Oz books in order and more than once. They were all available to me as a kid. Not so Ruth Plumly Thompson’s 19 sequels. I became a collector just so I could read those out of print stories. Once I finally got them all in readable if often battered form, I lost interest in first editions and printing variants. I would still like to have copies that contain all the illustrations. The illustrations produced as separate glued-in color plates were too expensive, the publishers thought, to keep in late reprints. If you want those pictures you have to be ready to pay some high prices. I’m really not. Anyway, after I completed the Thompson set, reading them as I got them, basically in random order, I knew some day I would reread them all in the order they’d been written. But I long assumed that would be a rereading of the entire Oz series from the beginning. This spring I decided, since revisiting Baum wouldn’t tell me much I didn’t know, I would reread Thompson on her own. I’ve often liked Thompson’s writing and she deserved an independent evaluation. Yellow Knight features an original Thompson creation in the lead, Sir Hokus of Pokes, a King Arthur-type knight that she introduced in her very first Oz book, The Royal Book of Oz. With Yellow Knight Thompson gives Sir Hokus a back story.

The Hidden Europe: what Eastern Europeans can teach us by Francis Tapon
I saw Mr Tapon give a talk and slideshow at the Berkeley Library a few months ago. Eastern Europe hasn’t featured as one of my dream destinations. The dreariness of the communist legacy being one reason, the persistent homophobia being a strong current obstacle. But Tapon’s twitchy energy and the grand nature of his project (he visited all the countries in person, sometimes couchsurfing) intrigued me. So I put a reserve on one of the library copies of the book. At more than 700 pages it takes time to read; I’ve had to return the book to the library and get it out again. Right now I’m in the midst of his chapter on Hungary.

White Trash Debutante by Jennifer Blowdryer
Jennifer Blowdryer writes her autobiography. Jennifer takes her last name from her first punk rock band, The Blowdryers. Sounds like she formed the band for the most punk rock of reasons, boredom, alienation, not being good at anything she could stand to do, and a need to be the center of attention. I’ve heard her read from her writings and bought this at one of those readings, maybe even the one I asked her to do for Poetry & Pizza.

City of Concrete and Hope by Luke Warm Water
A chapbook of poems by a Lakota/Sioux poet living in Oakland. “My first year living / in the San Francisco bay area / knowing nobody / I ate my Thanksgiving meal with homeless / so I didn’t have to feel so alone”

The Negritude Poets: an anthology of translations from the French edited by Ellen Conroy Kennedy
I brought this anthology home from the library because it contains poems by Tchicaya U Tam’si, a poet who is now represented in my personal anthology by two poems copied out several years apart. U Tam’si’s poems don’t appear until page 200 but I didn’t jump ahead. I guess I wanted to build the suspense. Now that I’ve read this batch of U Tam’si I want to read more. While there are other poets of interest in the anthology U Tam’si is the one I had the most sympathy with. He’s more playful than most.

Legitimate Dangers: American poets of the new century edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin
My generation. Many of the poets in this 2006 anthology are younger than me – and all have published a book or two (or more). My poems wouldn’t seem out of place among these post-Surrealist, post-Language school works. I’ve gotten to page 79 (a little less than 400 to go). I haven’t yet marked anything for rereading.