Monday, October 16, 2017

A Writer’s Focus

Normally, good writers are not eclectic. Each focuses his/her oeuvre on a single idea, a subject that ignites his/her passion, a theme he/she chases with beautiful variation through a lifetime of work.

For example, Hemingway was captivated with the idea of how to face death. After he witnessed his father’s suicide, it became his central premise, in writing and in life. He examined death in war, in sport, on safari, until he finally took his own life.

Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt, wrote of the lonely child searching for the lost father in almost all his great works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations.

Not that I’m in the same league as Hemingway and Dickens, but I also have a central theme that keeps popping up over and over—a gay protagonist who gets crushed by an unkind world, who picks himself up, and crawls through hell in order to pursue his dream, and ends up finding something even more treasured than he first imagined. 

Looking back on my history, I can pinpoint where this theme came from. When I was just coming into manhood, my father had a cancer operation that left him bedridden and weak as a newborn. His doctors told him he had only months to live. He fought back, day by day, recovering his strength an iota at a time. He beat the cancer, and eventually returned to work. He lived for another sixteen years. Because of his illness, he was forced to give up drinking. He attended AA, and became a supporter of the Twelve Step Method. His last several years he spent mentoring recovering alcoholics, which brought him enormous gratification. He lost everything, fought back, which led to a new calling, and that eventually led to a meaningful life. His battle has been my inspiration all these years.

Like so many other writers, I have found a subject and it sustains me over the long journey of the writer.

Genre should be a constant source of reinspiration. Every time I reread my manuscript, I get excited about it, because it is my kind of story, drawn from the thing in my past that most inspires me.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Reivew: What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


A middle aged American teaching history in Bulgaria hooks up with a young hustler, Mitko, in a public restroom, and he pays Mitko for sex. The teacher finds himself drawn again and again to Mitko over the following months, until he is ensnared in a relationship where lust leads to pain and resentment, feelings are one-sided, and each new tenderness comes with a higher price.

What Belongs to You is an exquisite debut novel of middle-aged desire and its consequences. About reaching for something that you can never really possess. It is a story about how our needs, our scars, and our shame shape who we love, but more importantly, who we are.

At first, this novel seemed like a cliché setup I’d read many, many times. And indeed the plot is well-worn.  However, the prose has such lyric intensity and the story holds such staggering eroticism without becoming erotica, that I became enthralled. It is an intense study of two very different people, and the author skillfully takes the reader deeper and deeper into each character, until you feel you know them inside and out, because they share so many genuine human emotions as the reader.

Greenwell has created an indelible story, a masterpiece that will stand long after other contemporary works are forgotten.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Finished a Week of Expunging

At least once per year, usually around New Years, Herman and I do a house purging. This year it came early, because after the wretched news of another mass shooting, we needed a mental tonic.

We started by cleaning out our garage and shed, donating or throwing away everything we no longer need or use. Those two areas produced two truckloads of stuff. Then we focused on the inside of the house, the closets, which produced another truckload of donatables.

I don’t know why, but purging always brings me joy. I’ve never been a packrat, and the fewer possessions I have around me, the more liberated I feel. Possessions weigh me down, shackle me. They take energy, pull my attention to them, clutter my mind.

One of my happiest times in the last several years came when Herman and I first moved into our Palm Springs house. During the first two weeks—before the moving van arrived with all our belongings—we lived in an empty house. Only an air mattress and sleeping bags in the bedroom, a card table and chairs in the dining room, and our laptops. No pictures on the walls, no TV, no writing desks, nada. I felt so free. With nothing but white walls, I felt I could remake myself into anything I wanted. I could be someone new each day. Then the furniture and artwork arrived, and with it came all my personal history. And I was back to being that person again, anchor into that mindset by all those things.

I believe it’s true, that the things we gather around us do define who/what we are. It’s why people hoard. The more things you gather, the more tightly expressed you become. All those things are a visual manifestation of who we are, they define us, and that gives most people a great deal of comfort. Not me; I like existing with as few boundaries/definitions as possible.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Essence of Zen Practice

The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” is often true. I’ve been studying and practicing Zen for going on forty years, and I resently came a cross a picture on FB that encapsulated my impression of what Zen Practice is all about. Buddhist call it being mindful. New Age folks often call it staying in the moment. Whatever you call it, I believe the picture below clearly shows the essence of Zen practice, and the secret to a happy life.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why I Travel

At home in Palm Springs, my life feels comfortable, gratifying, yet often dull and repetitive and predictable. But when Herman and I travel, even to places that we’ve been to many times, every day seems exciting. I pay closer attention, and I notice things I’ve never seen before. I feel more alive, as if something mysterious is always just around the corner.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

“Traveling is one of the easiest ways to become aware of the magic that weaves all of creation together through serendipity and synchronicity with perfect timing.” – Adam Siddiq

Monday, October 2, 2017

Another Day of Mass Death

Woke up to another day of sadness. One shooter with an assault rifle, fifty-eight dead, over five hundred injured. My heart weeps for these people locked in this tragedy. I weep for all Americans who wish to live in peace and security, and who reject violence.

And I ask myself the same question I’ve asked many times over the years: How many innocent people must die from gun violence before the people of this country snap out of their inanity and outlaw assault weapons? Fifty thousand? A hundred thousand? A million?

How many parents must lose a child? How many spouses must lose the love of their life? So much loss, so much anguish, and for what? So a few million people can feel empowered? Can’t we find a better way to empower people? A way that lifts us all up, instead of taking precious life?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Rest in Peace, Hef

Hugh Hefner just died at 91. I was part of that joke "who reads Playboy articles?" The answer was - tons of people, even gay men like me. They published some of the best writers in America, fought for overturning censorship and government intervention into people's private lives, racism, on and on. When I was in my 20s, he owned two magazines, Playboy and OUI. The latter was sleek, irreverent, edgy: the European-style alternative to Playboy's "girl next door" style. They hired young editors and young writers, and many writers got their first exposure at Playboy (no pun intended). The two magazines published Charles Bukowski, Gay Talese, Norman Mailer, Alex Haley. Several years ago, with circulation shrinking, they went to a bi-monthly magazine. 

His definition of obscenity was "war, racism, bigotry, poverty, and injustice." I never had the opportunity to me Hugh Hefner, but he impacted me, and he impacted what and who we are as a nation. I'm a fan and always was. Rest in Peace, Hef.