Monday, December 17, 2007

The Origins of War

Saying of the week: "We are what we think. All we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." -- The Buddha

I've been considering writing a story that delves into the origins and nature of violence, in particular, of war. To that end, the following is a brief study (what I hope to be the first in a series) of the origins of violence in human culture. An attempt by me to get my head around a subject.

Before the time that civilizations of the ancient world erected walled cities and then established armies to protect them, the human race did not suffer war. Many peoples, from China to Greece, look back to a golden age when war and strife were unknown, and when, as Lao-tse puts it, one village might look at the smoke rising from the chimneys of another nearby village, without envy or rivalry.
As nomads, there surely was violence between roving bands, just as with many species in nature, but scarcity of food, violence, and death were mainly the results of natural adversities, not the direct result of man. Thus, the nightmares of destruction and extermination that has plagued man over the centuries seems a result of man's progression from hunting/gathering to farming/animal husbandry, which created industry (tool making, trade) and resulted in the building of towns, which grew into cities.
It seems logical to assume that once cities began to arise, along with the growth of law and reason, the city's founding fathers created a small force to protect their wealth from neighboring tribes. So were armies created because of man's neurotic anxieties to protect his wealth? Regardless of which came first, the armies or the need for armies, it seems that civilization's first great achievements awakened new fears and neurotic anxieties, which became embedded in the institutional life of every succeeding city, state, and empire.
With man's great leap forward -- which brought walled cities, the beginnings of astronomy, mathematics, the plow, the potter's wheel, the loom, and of course, metal weapons -- there came a new figure of authority, the all-powerful king. The king was the secular ruler, the chief priest, and in some cases, a living god. His will was law. I believe that the need for a king came about because an army needs a leader -- large assemblages of men moving and acting as if they were one, obedient to the royal command. But once the king had control of the army, he assumed total control over the people. The entire kingdom fell subservient to the king's personality, subject to all his/her positive and negative whims.
These new governments achieved a hitherto unattainable security and wealth, which spurred a growth in population, industry, and trade. As farmers and tradesmen grew wealthy, they grew greedy. They not only wanted more land, they particularly craved cheep labor to take the burned of manual labor off their own backs, so they could better enjoy the fruits of their economy. What happened then, I believe, is that the army that was established as purely a protective entity, took on the additional roll of raiding the neighboring kingdoms for additional wealth, and primarily captives which were used as slave labor.
The king increased his wealth by expanding his territory and by selling the captives to the merchants and farmers, the merchants and farmers got new land and cheap labor. Everyone benefited. But in time, the raids brought about the collective reprisals and counter raids that became institutionalized as war. Behind war, then, and even behind the need for stability and safety, is this the greed of people who crave prosperity without applying their own labor, or at least those who would prosper at the expense of other people's freedom.
If my thinking holds true, war, then, was a specific product of greed -- mainly if not solely, the outcome of an organized effort to obtain slave labor and expand the kingdom's territory. In a relatively short time, armed might itself took on a seemingly independent existence, and the extension of power became an end in itself, a manifestation of the health of the state.
The most threatening aspect of civilized man's original error is that, long after slavery has been eradicated, war still presses on us today, and we regard our most self-destructive acts as normal and unavoidable.
(to be continued)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Don't Ask, but Do Tell

Saying of the week: "Sometimes it's necessary to make the leap and grow your wings on the way down." Yoji Yamada.

This week I'd like to pass along an article that recently came my way. It shows that the topic of gays in the military, the backbone of my novel, Honor Bound, is becoming a hot topic once again.

I belive that the key issue keeping the U.S. armed forces from going beyond Don't Ask Don't Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is blind fear of love relations forming, not between enlisted soldiers, but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. My novel, Honor Bound, tackles this topic head on. It tells the story of an enlisted sailor who falls in love with his executive officer during WWII. When the crew of the USS Pilgrim become POWs in Changi, a notoriously brutal prison camp, this sailor is elevated through hardship and love to discover his inner resources and extraordinary courage, allowing him to sacrifice himself to save the life of his beloved.
This novel is now in search of a publisher, and hopeful it will find one soon, as this topic of gays in the military is heating up once again.

Hope you enjoy the following article.

Retired Generals: End Ban on Gays
International Herald Tribune December 03, 2007

Marking the 14th anniversary of legislation that allowed gay people to serve in the U.S. military, but only if they kept their orientation secret, 28 retired generals and admirals plan to release a letter Dec. 7 urging Congress to repeal the law.

"We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," the letter says. "Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish." The former officers offer data showing that 65,000 gays and lesbians now serve in the U.S. armed forces, and that there are more than one million gay veterans. "They have served our nation honorably," the letter states.

The letter's release came as rallies were scheduled Dec. 7 on the National Mall by groups calling for a change in the law, which is known as "don't ask, don't tell" because it bars the military from investigating soldiers' sexual orientation if they keep it to themselves.

Although the signers of the letter are high-ranking, none are of the stature of John Shalikashvili, a retired general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was adopted and now argues for its repeal. Shalikashvili refocused attention on the issue this year when he wrote that conversations with military personnel had prompted him to change his position.
The current generation of Americans entering the armed services has proved to him "that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers," he wrote in an Op-Ed article published in The New York Times on Jan. 2.

"I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," Shalikashvili wrote. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

Few issues have separated the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates this year as clearly as whether to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

At a debate in June, all of the Democrats said they favored rescinding the policy. The Republican candidates, meanwhile, have favored continuing the policy, saying that it is a sensible approach or that it would be a distraction to integrate openly gay service members into the armed forces at a time of war.

Efforts to prompt the House and Senate to repeal the legislation have gained little traction. Senior leaders at the Pentagon are on record as saying the Department of Defense would follow the lead of Congress.

"Personal opinion really doesn't have a place here," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March. "What's important is that we have a law." He was responding to comments by General Peter Pace, who was serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had re-ignited controversy over the issue when he said that homosexuality was immoral, similar to adultery.

Before the policy was put into place, gay people were barred from serving in the military. When he ran for president, Bill Clinton pledged to change that, but after he was elected he compromised with "don't ask, don't tell," under which gay soldiers could serve aslong as they did not disclose their sexual orientation.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Nov. 29 that there were no efforts at the Pentagon or across the military to alter the policy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A discussion of GLBT bookstores closing

Quote of the week: "When the author finishes a book he has told the reader all about himself, though happily in a code that few can read. You cannot write well and shield your innermost self from scrutiny. Your writing -- good writing -- is all about your innermost self." – Victor Banis

The following information was brought to my attention through an online writers group that I belong to, and it was interesting enough that I wanted to pass on the key discussion points.

Word on the street is that Crossroads Market, the LGBT bookstore, in Dallas is closing. Unfortunately, this is a trend that has been going on for some time and still continues. Not so long ago there were 300 gay and lesbian-owned bookstores in the country -- today there are fewer than 75. The reasons are easy to understand -- Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon all sell gay and lesbian books at discounts they can obtain because of their volume buying power, whereas in the seventies and eighties only a few mainstream bookstores sold gay oriented books. Add this to the skyrocketing rents that brick and mortar bookstores are facing today, and the independent bookstores are being screwed from both ends.

The fact that the big names are finally selling gay books might seem like good news, both to gay authors and readers, but there is also a down side. These big corporations are not interested in promoting gay authors like the independents are. It is very difficult to arrange book signings and readings, and browsing through Borders is definitely not the same experience as browsing at GLBT stores for gay readers.

Many of us old-timers remember that the first place we went after coming out was to an LGBT bookstore, stores like Outwrite in Atlanta, Obelisk in San Diego, and A Different Light in LA and the Castro. It is up to the gay community to keep these places alive and flourishing by frequenting these store and buy merchandise. So what if it's $1.39 cheaper at the mall or easier online? If we allow the big chains and Amazon to gobble up all the independent GLBT bookstores, then we will have lost something valuable to our community, and something we probably will not be able to bring back.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A short story written 15 years ago.

Saying of the week: "In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the niche of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line." -- Henry David Thoreau

The following short story I wrote fifteen years ago, back when people were still making quilts for people dying of AIDS. Hope you enjoy this short read.

An Empty Room

I move as if in a dream, but each sharp detail, combined with the pulse beating at my temple, makes it all too utterly real. The house is still, the only sound are my heels marking time with a tap, tap, tap on hardwood floors. Once again I walk down the long, somber hallway and stop before the solid wood door, knock softly, then hold my breath as I lean forward, listening. How silly. Turning the brass knob and pushing forward, I am announced by creaking hinges and greeted by a cold draft that rushes up my bare legs. No wonder. The window on the far wall stands half open, and its white curtains flutter into the yard as a breeze flows through and out of the house. Crossing the floor, I close the window; but not before the room has lost its warmth. I need to be more careful with winter coming on.
Outside, glossy yellow and fiery red leaves swirl around the yard in a kaleidoscopic chaos. The wind's cold fingers press against the glass, as if to gauge its strength. The old tire swinging from the lowest branch of the gnarled oak that veils the yard has a hypnotic effect. It drags me back to a time of summery joy and I hear his fearless voice, 'Higher, push me higher'.
Pulling away from the window, I break the trance. The room is shrouded in shadows, the only light an amber stream from the setting sun flowing though the glass panes. I don't turn on the lights; the dim will do.
Everything is neat and clean and never changing, like a museum showcase. The single bed, the dresser, the rocking chair, the full length mirror hanging on the door and the drab circle of home-spun rug are all old and rundown but still serviceable. Things - hard, solid objects - can be counted on.
Stepping to the rocker at the foot of the bed, I stoop to pick up the brightly colored quilt and my sewing basket lying on the hard varnished seat, before easing my body into its place. The chair groans with the burden of my weight and I begin to rock.
Spreading the quilt open across my lap, I note the progress I've made over the past weeks. I shake my head from side to side as I pick up the needle and thread and continue working on the 'i' in David.
Working with painfully slow, deliberate movements, my fingers pass the needle from one side of the fabric to the other. Each crossing fills in the pattern and sparks my memory. I struggle with unwanted images, keeping my thoughts in a stubborn grip, here and now.
My eyes meander over the room's faded blue walls. I had suggested wallpaper with yellow daisies. What a mistake that would have been. Sky blue was right. Like lying on your back in tall summer grass and looking directly up into lustrous, sapphire heavens. A perfect reflection of his soul.
Familiar sports paraphernalia hangs on the wall, including a Notre Dame pennant under an autographed poster of a smiling Joe Montana. Football. On top of the dresser in the corner, next to the blimp shaped ball and scarred helmet, his varsity class picture is encased in a heavy wooden frame. Strange that he loved both football and ballet. Rachmaninoff and Guns And Roses, for that matter.
A flash of memory makes me chuckle. I almost forgot. Years after college, he finally confessed what it was about football that he loved most; all the training and punishment were worth it when, after the games, he would shower with Joe. My tongue makes a clucking sound, which echoes in the silence of the room.
My hands move over the brightly patterned quilt to the ballet slippers sewn into the cloth, next to a figure dancing on cotton clouds. Perhaps I should also sew his jersey number into the lower corner, and a tight-end dashing across the goal line. Yes, that would be lovely. First I must finish the 'id'.
But not today. The light is now too dim. Also, the room has warmed and with the heat comes the faint, sour smell of decay. I lay the quilt aside for another day and rise to my feet. The chair continues rocking as I walk to the window, open it a crack, then cross the room once again to leave. I reach for the knob, but the mirror hanging on the door stops my hand in midair. My reflection stares at me. Its gray-framed face has dark patches under red eyes -- like the jet black smudge that football players wear to keep the sun's glare from shining in their eyes.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A cool explanation of Buddhism

Saying of the week: "All of life builds up to and then radiates from a single
-- Milan Kundera

One of my loves in this life is the study and practice of Zen philosophy. While reading from Beyond The Sky and Earth, by Jamie Zeppa (a beautifully written book about living in Bhutan that I highly recommend to everyone) I came across the following description of Buddhism and was impressed at how she expresses complex ideas simply. Hope you like it.

The first of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha claims that life is suffering. The second truth explains why. We suffer because the self desires, grasps, clings, is never satisfied, never happy, never free of its many illusions; we desire what we don’t have, and when we get it, we desire to hold on to it, and when we are sure we have it, we lose interest in it and desire something new. In our constant, blind striving for something more, something better, something new, something secure and permanent, we act in ways that hurt ourselves and others, and create bad karma, which leads to rebirth and therefore more suffering. Even if we manage to be content with what we have, we are still subject to old age, sickness and death, and so are our loved ones. The third truth says that we must end this ceaseless wanting and grasping if we want to end suffering. The final truth explains how – through th Noble Eightfold Path of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
The Buddha did not claim to be a deity. When asked about the creation of the universe and the existence of God, he refused to speculate. He was not offering a new religion but a way of seeing and living in the world. For me, though, one of the most interesting things about Buddhism is not that there is no all-powerful God who we must fall down and worship, but that there is no permanent self, no essence of self. It isn’t even clear among scholars if Buddhism accepts the idea of a soul, an immortal individual spirit. Separateness is an illusion. Nothing exists inherently on its own, independently of everything else, and a separate, permanent, inherently existing self is the biggest illusion of all. There is nothing we can point to and say, yes, this is the self. It is not the body or the mind, but a combination of conditions and circumstances and facilities. At the moment of death, these conditions and facilities break down, and only the karma generated by that life remains, determining the circumstances of the next rebirth.
This is a principal tenet of Buddhism, but the Buddha tells his disciples not to take his word for it. They are to analyze and search and test what he says for themselves. On his deathbed, he reminds them, “Decay is inherent in all compound things. Work out your own salvation with diligence.” I am struck by this spirit of independent inquiry, by the fact that enlightenment is available to all, not through a priest or a church or divine intervention but through attention to the mind. In Buddhism, there is no devil, no external dark force – there is only your mind, and you must take responsibility for what you want and how you choose to get it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

What makes a good protagonist, and script outline

Saying of the week: "It has been said that "Common souls pay with what they do, nobler souls with that which they are. And Why? Because a profound nature awakens in us by their actions and words, by their very looks and manners." -- (unknown)

In reading an essay this week on the life and meaning of Jesus, by Lewis Mumford, I came across the following passage that made me think of what goes in to the make-up of a great protagonist. According to Mumford's interpretation of Jesus' lessons, a poor miserable sinner has a greater chance to attain righteousness and glory than the law abiding man with an unblemished virtue, because the very act of sinning causes, through humiliation and self-criticism, a change in behavior, which catapults one to higher states of grace. So a good protagonist is not without sin, without the ability to hurt others, but through internal strife, he grows from it.

Jesus undermined the knowledge of the learned, the pride of the powerful, the morals of the virtuous: he saw that sin and imperfection, with their self-humiliation and self-criticism, were far less dangerous to life than complacency; for sin might pave the way for an inward change which raised life to a higher pitch than unblemished virtue was capable of reaching. This inward change, the grace of the Holy Spirit as it was to be called, was all-important: repentance must precede regeneration. Mere willingness, mere rational efforts in themselves, could not bring about such a change: it needed the encouraging example of a living image, and that image was the personality of Jesus himself.
To know oneself, from his standpoint, was to realize the miserable failure of one's successes and the redeeming success of one's failures. The capacity to recognize one's inevitable shortcomings, to profit by every occasion of disintegration, was the only guarantee of continued self-development. That was a salutary doctrine for the heirs of a disintegrating civilization.

In the online writing group I subscribe to, there has been much discussion lately about form and whether writers plan out their stories (outline them) before writing them. Apparently many do not. They define an initial set of characters and a setting, and then give them a push (very much like the creation myth where God created the universe, Adam, and Eve, then stepped back to watch the fun evolve.) Still others fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, planning out every last comma before putting fingertips to keys. I fall in the middle, making a character sketch (1 to 3 pages) for each main character, and a loose outline (2 to 3 pages) of the general path they will take, what they will learn, and how they will change along the way. That freedom (to let the story just evolve) is the beauty of writing fiction novels and short stories. According to a scriptwriter friend of mine, script writing is much more ridged (if you want to sell it, that is.) The script should be no longer that 110 pages (1 page = 1 minute of film) and certain events must happen on or by a certain page number, or it is simply rejected because it doesn't follow the formula. He gave me the formula, an outline written by Blake Snyder that spells it out. I sometimes compare this to my novels to see how close I come to this plot outline (in a three hundred page novel I multiply the following outline page numbers by 3.) I don't use it to change my story, but I find it interesting to see how close I do come to the "Formula", and also to insure I have included all the elements of a good plot. The following is the outline exactly as it was given to me.

Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet:
Opening image (pg. 1)
· First impression of what the story is
· Sets the tone, mood, style
· Before and after snapshot to show thing that will change
Theme stated (pg. 5)
· First impression of what the story is
· Sets the tone, mood, style
· Before and after snapshot to show thing that will change
Set Up (pg. 1-10)
· Introduced or hinted every character
· Character tic (exhibit every behavior that need to be addressed later on)
· Show six things that need fixing
· Story thesis ….. before world, calm before the storm
Catalyst (pg. 12)
· An external event that changes everything - a call to action
· Often comes disguised as bad news
Debate (pg. 12-25)
· React to catalyst
· Pose a question of some kind
Break into 2 (pg. 25)
· Define Action
· Proactive choice made
· Introduce story antithesis
B-Story (pg. 30)
· Introduced subplot, carries the theme of the story
· Booster rocket helps smooth obvious A-story break
· New characters, fun-house version of act one
Fun and games (pg. 30-35)
· The promise of the premise
· What does this story have to offer me?
· Heart of the story
Midpoint (pg. 55)
· "up" - where the hero seemingly peaks (false victory)
· "down" - where the world collapses around hero (false defeat)
· stakes are raised (where fun and games are over)
Bad guys close in (pg. 55-75)
· getting serious
· all seems fine - bad guys are temporarily defeated
· We must be beaten and know it to get the lesson
Break to 3 (pg. 85)
· Solution, thanks to characters in B story
· External (A-story) and internal (B-story) meet and intertwine
· An idea to solve the problem has emerged
· The world of synthesis is at hand
Final (pg. 85-110)
· Where a new society is born
· Not enough for the hero to triumph, he must change the world
· Wrap it up - lesson learnt and applied
· Character tics are mastered
· A and B story end in triumph for the hero
· Turning over of the old world, creation of the new
· Hero leads based on what he experienced in the upside down world (antithetical world of act two)
Final image (pg. 110)
· Often opposite of opening imageProof that change has occurred and it's real

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A look back from 2057

Saying of the week: "All sensible people know that vanity is the most devastataing, the most universal and the most ineradicable of the passions that afflict the soul of man, and it is only vanity that makes him deny its power. It is more consuming than love. With advancing years, mercifully, you can snap your fingers at the terror and the servitude of love, but age cannot free you from the thraldom of vanity....vanity cozens you with a hundred disguises. It is part and parcel of every virtue; it is the mainspring of courage and the strength of ambition; it gives constancy to the lover and endurance to the stoic; it adds fuel to the fire of the artist's desire for fame and is at once the support and the compensation of the honest man's integrity. It leers even cynically in the humility of the saint...sincerity cannot protect you from its snare nor humour from its mockery." -- W. Somerset Maugham

Have you ever wanted to look back on the events of today with the advantage of hindsight? I often do. The following is a little tibit from my imagination of what today could look like from 50 years out.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century A.D., the United States of America lay dying. Death permeated the stagnate air: never more visible than when the Christian families painfully pretended to keep alive their faith, as though by rouging the face of a corpse they could somehow bring it back to life. The frequent visits to sterile, well lighted, immaculate churches, the loud chants of brotherly love and family values and freedom, above all freedom, the heart-felt Amen to sermons on the Christian channel, had become purely decorative: a senile grimace before a cracked mirror. Death was in the air, and even though the Trade Towers no longer reached upward through the smog-filled air, the crowds in Dodger Stadium, and Madison Square Gardens, and at the Super Bowl still roared with pleasure.
The specters people witnessed in places like Iraq, the Sudan, Myanmar, all from the comfort of their cozy living rooms, was all too real: they were the projections of their own tortured souls. But the vast majority of people whose souls were already dead saw nothing, and therefore had no premonition of the terrible changes that were already in play.
With the fall of the Trade Towers at the beginning of the century, there had come a sharp change in the political climate. Politicians still boasted of the of the country’s military might, the benefits of technology, and increased corporate wealth; CNN still claimed the country was the land of freedom; but outsiders asserted, on the contrary, that the U.S. was dying, as did Rome, of iniquity and pride and vanity. People were more concerned with Paris Hilton’s latest embarrassment than how many people were killed in order to keep the nation’s troughs full. But events began to confirm the darker suspicions. After all, a predatory economy can only flourish so long. The wars bled the country into feebleness and debt while parasitism ran rampant, eating into the countries vitals: the blinded vulture could neither seize new prey nor remove the maggots that feasted on its own body.
Countries that were once allies turned hostile. The very people who profited most from the crumbling culture were the first to cut and run: the rich gathered their wealth around them like a cloak and fled to other countries, engrossing themselves in their private amusements rather than their public duty. Overburdened by their debts (from the wars, the astronomical cost of raw materials, the need for Hummers and a flat-screen TV in every room), the American middle class, who had once made America great, defaulted to their creditors, causing a collapse of the world banking system. Desperate people on the fringe became homeless, forming lawless bands of marauders roaming the countryside, who took what they needed to survive. Inside the cities alcoholism and drug addition became the norm; outside the cities it was every man for himself. Farmlands went fallow; the cost of food skyrocketed.
Many who could afford to leave the country did so, and in 2020 when the Congress sought to forbid the further exodus of the population, they were talking to empty air.
The engineering works were stable for many years, and indeed, large-scale expenditures for new public works were visible in the colossal municipal buildings, shopping malls, power plants, the Christian cathedrals, sports arenas, military spying technology, and monuments to the heroes fallen in war. These new projects were paid for by budget cutbacks in infrastructure maintenance, which hastened the decay, and the country began to crumble.
In the face of this steady deterioration, the remaining population’s belief in the “American way of life” and “a benevolent God who loves and protects them,” the opium of the self-centered masses, remained incorrigible. They were convinced that there would always be a United States of America, and that technology and Christian ideals would keep them at the pinnacle of human culture. So they thought until the blows of their conquerors came raining down on their heads.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

9/11 -- A Short Story

This week, in remembrance of 9/11, I'm posting a short story I wrote shortly after the tragic event. Hope you enjoy it.

He struggles up the bridge's inclining sidewalk towards the center of the span with tiny, yet purposeful steps. The tap tap tapping of his bamboo walking-cane measures out his pained progress along the concrete walkway like a metronome marking time. Still wearing his lavender terrycloth bathrobe over thin-striped mustard yellow pajamas, he feels the sting of cold concrete on his bare feet and the morning wind biting into his flesh. The strong breeze blows his thin strands of hair wildly in the direction of the city below; he turns to see San Francisco shimmering like an iridescent pearl under the cobalt-blue autumn sky. To his left, beyond the lines of morning commute cars waiting at the toll-plaza, spans the Pacific, spreading out like a heavy cloak to that point of infinity where water merges with horizon.
It is 11, September 2001. Seeing the people sitting in their gas-guzzling SUVs and shiny BMWs, one person in each, he realizes that some of them have no idea that the world has changed forever. Several commuters smugly sit behind the wheel unaware that the towers have collapsed. They have not seen the television footage of people falling from a hundred floors up. He pauses to watch a lady behind the wheel applying ruby-colored lipstick to her mouth. Lucky you, he thinks, you still have a few more precious minutes to pretend you are safe and happy, and that your makeup is somehow important.
He turns back towards the city. The crush of tall, white buildings sprawling over seven hills now seems like so many piles of bleached bones decaying under the strong glare of morning sun. He slowly makes his way beyond the immense red-orange south tower - tap tap tap - the images still burned on his retina; unbelievable scenes of bursting flames, bodies spiraling through space, towers crumbling into massive clouds of gray soot. Sobbing again, he pushes his feeble body along, feeling like a criminal. His crime is appalling. The country, the entire world, has tumbled into a war of vicious hate where thousands have already died, and he still lives.
He has left Garrett a note. Only one note and only for Garrett, who should be waking up just about now. Up ahead a group of sixteen or seventeen runners come trotting towards him wearing shorts, sneakers and sweatshirts. They all have that well-fed, clean-cut, military look about them and he assumes that they are all army personnel stationed at the Presidio out for their morning run. How many of you will die on a desert battlefield? How many mothers and children will your bullets butcher? He can not look at their faces as they dash by.
He does, however, study their solid bodies brimming with vitality and he remembers that his own body was once like that. That is, before this disease chewed away his life a mouthful at a time. Yes, he was once strong but his strength has failed him. At thirty years old he is feebler than his grandfather. He was once a brilliant artist but the energy required to focus on a subject, much less hold a steady brush, has faded away. For a decade he was a loving husband and now this new horror will rent that away as well. Who was it, he wonders, that said death is a process of losing everything you cherish, one by one, hour by hour, until there is nothing left.
Garrett is his last cherished thing. He pictures Garrett's head against the white pillowcase, opening his eyes and finding the yellow-paper note on the other pillow. Garrett sits up, rubs the sleep from his eyes as he does each morning, takes the note and begins to read,
My Love,
I'm not sure if we ever really get to choose who we love or how we live our lives. But the one choice we always have is whether we continue living within our circumstances. Today, I choose not to live in this world of hate, even if it means losing you. I can't go on minute after minute living with this terrible agony. The world has finally defeated me.
War will surely pull me further into despair and I cannot allow myself to keep dragging you down with me. You're free. I'm giving you a second chance at happiness, and I feel so very gratified to be doing this for you. Live again, love again, follow your dream.
My moments of true happiness in this lifetime of joys and sorrows have all come because of you. I love you more than the ecstasy of life, more than the comfort of death. Everything has slipped away from me now except the certainty of my love for you. The thought of your goodness warms my heart as I write this.
For you, let this war be a genesis, a beginning point, a second chance. For me, it is an untimely ending. A last gasp of horror before death.
Goodbye my love.

Shrill sirens. He pauses and turns back towards the toll-plaza. A police car races towards him, red lights flashing. Did the taxi driver radio 911? Perhaps a commuter using a cell-phone reported a lunatic in a bathrobe and bare feet hobbling along the railing.
He turns back and gazes towards the center of the bridge, which is still a quarter-mile away. He is certain of what he will do but now has less than a minute to do it before the cops stop him. He scrambles over the red-orange railing and crawls down onto a two-foot wide steel girder that forms an outer ledge. The bamboo cane is left behind, it's shiny handle lying against the dull concrete. He had originally imagined that he would leap from the center of the span, but no matter. He is over water and that's what counts. Now they can't stop me, he thinks, but even as this thought floats away he gets distracted. Clouds skirting between the sun and water are causing various shaped shadows to move over the bay's surface. They're mesmerizing from his vantage point, a kaleidoscope of muted colors.
He suddenly hears voices behind him, loud and rough. Are they just in his head or have the police reached him already?
He pulls off his terrycloth robe and it flies off on the wind. He stares wide-eyed at the queer sight of a ragged piece of lavender cloth sailing like a beautiful Chinese kite towards Alcatraz Island. He now understands why everybody who has ever jumped from this bridge, leaps from the city side rather than the ocean side. The wind. A strong wind always blows off the ocean and into the bay. Jumping from the ocean side would blow you back into the steel girders of the under-structure. On the city side, the wind blows you away from the bridge, giving you a clean, unhampered fall to the churning water below. Yes, that must be why, he thinks. The wind bites into his bare neck but he no longer feels the cold. It feels more like a steady pulse, a throbbing against his flesh.
Looking down three hundred feet to the Golden Gate Passage, he sees that the tide is rushing out to sea. He smiles, thinking that he prefers it that way. Perhaps they will never find him in that vastness. He should have worn something heavy to make him sink but it's too late for that.
Again he hears voices close behind him and he feels the sudden urge to turn back and climb over the rail, into the hands of the police who are trying to attract his attention. It is too late to take back the note, too late to pretend it was all a joke, but not too late to live; to continue living as the nightmare of war coalesce with the torment of this disease. Would that be kinder to Garrett? But even as these vertiginous thoughts swirl about his head, he leans forward, beyond the angle of repose.
Now the iron gray water is hurling to meet him. He has seconds left. His body screams something frightening and incomprehensible while arms and legs thrash against the onrush of air, as if trying to stop his fall. Then his body involuntarily goes limp. There is nothing to be done now. His thoughts are that this is exactly what the Trade Tower people experienced and he is happy that he is now one of them. Then he suddenly feels immense sorrow for Garrett, knowing that his lover will not understand. Having to deal with his death and the New York tragedy at once could very well break that magnificent spirit. Can he recover? Please forgive me, my love. This is his last coherent thought.
The water below becomes a torrent of foamy waves expanding to encompass the entire universe. Unimaginable pain sears though his being and then the sensation becomes a soothing one, chilly seawater incased within utter silence. Like a gentle lover, the ocean wraps its arms around his shattered body, slowly pulling him into peaceful depths, borne along by the current into the vast trackless Pacific. For a few seconds, a mustard yellow smudge remains on the surface of the sea, which then melts away and is gone.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Nominations Open for 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards

Saying of the week: "Pursue not the outer entanglements,
Dwell not in the inner void;
Be serene in the oneness of things,
and dualism vanishes by itself."
--From "on Trust in the Heart"
by Seng-t'san (d. 606)

For all you gay writers with books being published this year, check out the following:

1. Nominations Open for 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards
2. Men of Mystery Tour, New York and Boston
3. Calling all Surreal Queers, Bisexal Lesbians, Poets & Others
4. Lambda Literary at the West Hollywood Book Fair1.

Nominations Open for Lambda Literary AwardsNominations are now being accepted for the 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards for books published during 2007. New guidelines and a nomination form are available at: Guidelines.A book may be nominated by its author or by its publisher. Each nomination requires a complete nomination form, four copies of the book, and a $20 administrative fee. All nominations must be postmarked by December 1, 2007. Finalists will be announced by March 1, 2008. SAVE THE DATE: Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 29, in West Hollywood, California. Please consult the new guidelines before directing any questions to

2. Men of Mystery Tour in New York & BostonMystery authors Anthony Bidulka, Neil Plakcy, Chuck Zito and Mark Richard Zubro -- four of the best practioners of the gay mystery genre -- join forces to talk about their new books, their handsome, sexy heroes, and the future of the gay mystery. 6:00 PM Thursday September 6 The LGBT Community Center, 208 W. 13th Street, New York7:00 PM Friday September 7 Calamus Bookstore, 92B South Street, BostonThe four authors can be reached through their websites:

3. Calling all Surreal Queers, Bisexal Lesbians, Poets & OthersWe've been busy adding new listings to our Calls for Submission in the Lambda Literary Resource Center.PLEASE NOTE: All resources are open to changes and additions. If you have suggestions for resources or a project to be listed, please contact us at

4. Lambda Literary at the West Hollywood Book FairMeet Lambda's Executive Director, Charles Flowers, on Sunday, September 30, at the 6th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair. Charles will be staffing a booth from 10 AM to 5 PM, so come say hello and keep him company! LGBT authors featured during the Book Fair include Felice Picano, Fiona Zedde, Perry Brass, Patricia Nell Warren, Christopher Rice, Myriam Gurba, Stuart Timmons, Jeanne Cordova, Tim Miller, Ali Liebegott, Jim van Buskirk, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Lisa Freeman, and others. For a complete schedule, visit West Hollywood Book Fair.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Henry David Thoreau, a Visionary.

Saying of the week: "In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high." -- Lewis Mumford.

In my readings this week, I came across an old friend, a book I'd read and cherished many years ago: Walden's Pond. In light of Global Warming, it has become clear to me that Henry David Thoreau looked into the future and saw the twenty-first century as clearly as black thunder clouds drifting across a cobalt blue sky. He heard the rumble of the Industrial Revolution in the distance long before the storm actually broke, and he saw how the land pioneer and the industrial pioneer would transform American Society. A true visionary, he saw the industrial cities, the slums, great bodies of depauperate immigrants, and the rape of both the earth and society through greed.
At the time Conestoga wagons began plodding over the Alleghenies, when the country was on the move and consumed with material conquest, Thoreau stayed put and deliberately remained poor. He practiced civil disobedience as a principle, in protest against the Mexican War, the Fugitive Slave Law, and slavery itself. He saw his fellow man as someone who clutches at everything but holds nothing fast, because he soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications. Thoreau did just the opposite. He wanted more than anything to live fully. He prized each minute for what it brought, and nothing brought more joy than a spring day by Walden Pond. He was not willing to work any harder than necessary to feed himself and keep warm, because work took him away from life.
He scoffed at people who slaved day in and day out all their lives to erect a fancy house, dress in gaudy clothing, send their children to the most expensive schools so that they too would become enslaved. He was penniless, however, he considered himself a rich man indeed. He had the wealth of the earth at his fingertips, the riches that each moment brings.
Thoreau went to Walden Pond as an experiment, and what he discovered was that people are so eager to gather ostentatious comforts that they fail to profit by civilization itself: that people are not enriched by comforts, but because life turns into a rat race of one-upmanship, they are rather pauperized by them. "There is not one of my readers," he exclaimed, "who has yet lived a whole human life." Thoreau believed that simplification led to a higher civilization.
Is that not the kind of attitude needed today? One that is based on the premise of leaving the smallest footprint possible, to enjoy life moment by moment, nurturing the earth and being happy with less material possession? Has twenty-room houses, flat-screen TVs, and five car families truly enriched our lives, considering the cost of the lifetime of drudgery to attain it and the polluting of the earth to maintain it?
In his great experiment at Walden Pond, Thoreau "learned this, at least . . . that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in the common hours. . . . In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Moby-Dick, More than a Good Read

Saying of the week: "First man learned to measure time and built clocks. Then man learned to measure space and built maps with longitude and latitude lines. His dream of eternity slowly turned to focus on time and space and the riches and adventure of the new world around him. Rather than focusing on eternity, he spent his time traipsing back and forth in time." --Lewis Mumford.

In my readings this week, I came across an essay written by Lewis Mumford in 1944. The topic was Moby-Dick, and although I have read the novel and thought I understood its meaning, I found the essay fascinating. I extracted what I deemed to be the most interesting points (at least to me) and wanted to share these ideas, so this week's posting is snippets from that essay. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Moby-Dick, admirable as it is as a narrative of maritime adventure, is far more than that: it is, fundamentally, a parable on the mystery of evil and the accidental malice of the universe. On one reading, the white whale stands for the brute energies of existence, blind, fatal, overpowering, while Ahab is the spirit of man, small and feeble, but purposeful, that pits its puniness against this might, and its purpose against the blank senselessness of power.
The whole tale of the West, in mind and action, in the moral wrestlings of the Jews, in the philosophy and art of the Greeks, in the organization and technique of the Romans, in the precise skills and unceasing spiritual quests of the modern man, is a tale of this effort to combat the whale -- to ward off his blows, to counteract his aimless thrusts, to create a purpose that will offset the empty malice of Moby-Dick. Without such a purpose, without the belief in such a purpose, life is neither bearable nor significant: unless one is fortified by these central human energies and aims, one tends to become absorbed in Moby-Dick himself, and becoming a part of his being, can only maim, slay, butcher, like the shark or the white whale, or Alexander, or Napoleon. (or George Bush?)
Ahab has more humanity than the gods he defies: indeed, he has more power, because he is conscious of the power he wields, and applies it deliberately, whereas Moby-Dick’s power only seems deliberate because it cuts across the directed aims of Ahab himself. And in one sense, Ahab achieves victory: he vanquishes in himself that which would retreat from Moby-Dick and acquiesce in his insensate energies and his brutal sway. His end is tragic: evil engulfs him. But in battling against evil, with power instead of love, Ahab himself becomes the image of the thing he hates: he has lost his humanity in the very act of vindicating it. By physical defiance, by physical combat, Ahab cannot rout and capture Moby-Dick: the odds are against him. And if his defiance is noble, his final aim is confessedly mad. Cultivation, order, art -- these are proper means by which man displaces accident and subdues the vacant external powers in the universe: the way of growth is not to become more powerful but to become more human.
Here is a hard lesson to learn: it is easier to wage war than to conquer in oneself the tendency to be partial, vindictive, and unjust: it is easier to demolish one’s enemy than to pit oneself against him in a spiritual combat which will disclose one’s weaknesses and provincialities. And that shapeless evil Ahab seeks to strike is the sum of one’s enemies. He does not bow down to it and accept it: therein lie his heroism and virtue: but he fights it with its own weapons and therein lies his madness. All the thing that Ahab despises when he is about to attack the whale, the love and loyalty of Pip, the memory of his wife and child, the sextant of science, the inner sense of calm, which makes all external struggle futile, are the very things that would redeem him and make him victorious.
In the very creation of Mody-Dick, Melville conquered the white whale that threatened him: instead of horror there was significance, instead of aimless energy there was purpose, and instead of random power there was meaningful life. The universe is inscrutable, unfathomable, overwhelming -- like the white whale and his element (the sea). Art in the broad sense of all humanizing effort is man’s answer to this condition: for it is the means by which he circumvents or postpones his doom, transcends his creaturely limitations, and bravely meets his tragic destiny.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Gift of Time

Friday, August 17, 2007

While nearing the finish line of my twenty-year career in Information Technology -- during that marvelous time between announcing my leaving the company and saying my good-byes -- I began to worry that forty-five years old was too young to sit at home watching soaps. Indeed, my coworkers chorused that a stress junky like myself would come crawling back within six months begging for a fix. I assured them that I would find plenty to keep me busy, but underneath that cheerful facade, I felt they were right. That gut feeling grew into a nagging ball of fear as my retirement date crept near.

Eight years later, I know that there was nothing to fear. I've been wrong about numerous things in my life, but I've never missed the mark so much as that time. What I didn't realize then is that you never stop working, never stop doing things. The difference is, back then I worked to pay the mortgage, now I work to enrich myself and those around me. It's amazing what happens when you have all your time to command as you wish. The possibilities become infinite. The principle joys in life -- for me it's my partner Herman, writing, tennis, and traveling -- bubble to the top of the to-do list, and those things comfortably fill the hours, minutes, and seconds of each day. That's the wonderful aspect of retirement; you devote all your time to what you love. The flip side is that you spend no time doing what you hate -- sitting bumper to bumper, nagging bosses, back-biting coworkers, project deadlines, system crashes, business lunches, dressing in suits and ties, paying astronomical dry-cleaning bills…I could fill ten pages. Suffice to say, I miss nothing in the corporate world.

Over the years I have fallen into a comfortable routine. I spend May-November at home in San Rafael, California, working on my novels and short stories. During December-April, my lover and I travel (mostly to Asia, but in eight years we've visited over forty countries on five continents.) While at home I'm generally up with the dawn and clock four to five hours of writing before the mind grows weary. I try to write 1,200 words per day, but too often I'm lucky to make 800, and some days it's as little as 200. I take a long mid-day break for lunch, tennis, yard work, and quiet time with Herman. Then late in the afternoon, I crawl back to my computer for another few hours of editing. I also write while traveling, but I'm not nearly so prolific because I spend only a few hours per day at it.

By far the most glorious boon of having heaps of time is being able to dally in my fantasy world: writing stories. It is the only territory where I have complete control over people, places, circumstances, and emotions. And I love being in control. Completing two novels, Island Song and Honor Bound, has been my greatest personal accomplishment, and by far the most difficult. The process is turning me, ever so slowly, into a perfectionist; something I never thought possible. So far, only a handful of friends have read these two stories, although hopefully that will soon change -- Island Song will be published by Zumaya Publications in February of 2008 and I am searching for a publisher for Honor Bound. But of the close friends who have read my manuscripts, almost all have enjoyed my stories to some degree. That generally brings on a mild sensation of euphoria when people connect with my work, and I can't help being amused that I greedily seek their approval. It's childish, I'll grant you, but it validates my hard work and inspires me to improve.

And now I've found a new way to fill the oodles of minutes in the day, by joining the countless others on the net who share their experiences on personal blogs, educating and entertaining us. In future posts I hope to share the thoughts, frustrations, and triumphs of a gay writer struggling for perfection. I hope the few minutes you have spent here has brought you a small degree of bemusement, and has not been a waste of your precious time.

New entries are posted weekly. Please come back.