Monday, April 21, 2008

The Olympic Torch, another embarrassment for America

We had a disturbing event take place here in San Francisco a week or so ago. Athletes were supposed to carry the Olympic torch along the waterfront in view of several thousand cheering fans. San Francisco is the only designated stop for the torch in the United States for the ‘08 Olympic Games so the city buzzed with excitement. But as the time drew near, it became evident that a few hundred protesters, half carrying “Free Tibet” signs and the other half carrying pro-China signs, threatened to disrupt the proceedings. Mayor Gavin Newsom, fearing violence between the two groups, ordered a last minute route change and the torch made its way down Bay Street and up Van Ness Avenue, about two miles away from where the protesters and the fans were gathered.
The issue for me is that the several thousand fans, who sat waiting for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the torch being carried through their city streets, were robbed of that opportunity by a few hundred hooligans. The whole fiasco turned into what I believe is yet another embarrassment for America.
I don’t blame the mayor for changing the route. It is his job to insure the safety of the city’s population and maintain order, and what he did avoided a potentially dangerous situation. I applaud his move. And I am an advocate of free speech. Those protesters on both sides of the issue have every right to peacefully voice their opinions. What I don’t agree with is people using the Olympic Games as a platform to voice political views, thus tarnishing the experience for everyone else. I was always told that the Olympic Games were above politics, and I believe that they should be. But it seems that some people can’t resist the opportunity to grab a few media soundbytes.
I’m not saying that the people of Tibet have not suffered under the rule of China. The atrocities of the Chinese government are well document, not only in Tibet but all over China. And this latest crackdown where many monks have lost their lives and hundred, perhaps thousands, of others imprisoned, leaves the whole world with a bitter taste. Human rights violations in China must be dealt with, but Washington, not the Olympic Games, is the place to do that. China’s economic growth is dependent upon American consumers. People who want to do something about China’s human rights atrocities need to apply pressure on members of our government, both on a local and national level. Make your voice heard in the halls of government, not on the streets of San Francisco.
Being a life-long Buddhist, I have made two pilgrimages to Tibet over the last ten years and visited some of the most holy sites in and around Lhasa, Tibet, including the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lama and the seat of government before the Chinese overthrow. I saw no sign of religious repression. People went about their business, openly prayed and meditated at the temples and on the streets, carried on with their traditions and their culture.
What I did see were thousands of Han Chinese moving into and around Lhasa, buying property, opening businesses, bringing in needed farm machinery and modernization. The Han Chinese have drastically lifted the standard of living and sanitary conditions in Tibetan cites. From my point of view, as one who has spent time there, what the Han Chinese are doing today is a good thing, for themselves and all people of Tibet.
The issue in my opinion, is not whether China should give up Tibet, which they clearly has no intention of doing, but whether the world can apply enough pressure to the Chinese government that they begin to treat all Chinese people with justice and dignity.
I can’t help wondering if these protesters in San Francisco were more interested in getting media coverage than actually doing something constructive to help. And in the case of the Olympic torch, they ended up disappointing thousands of anxious well-wishers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review of Unrequited by James Bennett

Unrequited by James Bennett

Unrequited is a dark story of love, betrayal, and attempting to define one’s self in a crumbling postmodern world. Written in the first person, the narrator, Aaron Edgeway, leads us through his experiences of living with his drunken, abusive father in a dilapidated, old house. When he and Alex, his best friend, attend a rich man’s fabulous party, it is clear that Alex wants more than friendship, he loves Aaron deeply and will do anything to have him. But Aaron is lured into the rich man’s bed for a three way, only to realize that he is being videotaped, and finds himself the victim of a blackmail plot. Alex helps him resolve this situation, hoping that Aaron will return his love, but before he can bring this about, Aaron literally stumbles into Victor, and the two become star-crossed lovers. Alex, however, becomes determined to show Aaron that Victor is not all that he seems. What follows is a series of events that will keep you up late at night turning the pages.
I had a love/hate relationship with this story. On the one hand, it is a compelling story with intelligent plot turns that kept me guessing throughout. The story unfolds in layers, and with each layer the pressure-cooker atmosphere builds strength. The characters seem real and fragile, and it was impossible not to sympathize with them.
On the other hand, Bennett has a flair for melodrama, making his character overreact to almost every situation. But the main problem I had was Bennett’s propensity to overwrite. The prose kept calling attention to itself, rather than the story. I had the impression that Bennett was trying to impress me with his heavy, clever prose. There were times when I was impressed. He handles many intimate scenes with style and grace.
Writing style aside, Bennett kept me anxiously turning the pages to find out what would happen next while making me reflect upon my own teenaged years of fumbling love affairs and desperate retaliations. All in all, I found it a worthwhile read, although I would not recommend this story to anyone who demands that a love story have a “Happily Ever After” ending.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Reveiw of The Dream Ender by Dorien Grey

The Dream Ender by Dorien Grey

This who-done-it story is set in the early 80s, when a “Gay Cancer” begins sweeping through the gay community. Little is known about the virus, and there is still no test to confirm its presence. Above the general fear of who would be the next to fall sick and die, grows a rumor that some villain is deliberately spreading the virus by having unprotected sex with as many people as possible. Is it true? Could anyone be so dastardly, or is the rumor being spread as a way to close a popular leather bar and financially destroy its owner? Detective Dick Hardesty is called onto the case to find out if the rumors are true, and if so, to track down the murderer. The tension rises as Dick is sucked into a world of leather bars and hospital rooms, chasing the grim reaper as he moves through this unsuspecting gay community.

Although I am, admittedly, not a fan of detective stories, I found The Dream Ender a satisfying read. Beyond the normal mystery plot twists, is the convincing story of a community in turmoil. Having lived through that particular time myself, this story kept me turning pages while remembering all the fear and confusion of the time. It also kept me guessing all the way to the last ten pages.

Dorien Grey paints rather pleasant prose that is spiked with wit. I sometimes felt he was sitting across the desk telling me the story rather than me reading it. He gives detailed descriptions of gay relationships, gay parenting, and the hectic life of a private investigator. Interesting characters, life style details and suspense, make The Dream Ender a good read.

This is the eleventh book in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series. I’ve heard some people call it Dorien’s best work, but I can’t say since this is the first of Dorien’s books I have read. I can say that, having not read the other ten did in no way diminish my enjoyment of this one.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Color of the Sea By John Hamamura

Color of the Sea By John Hamamura

This story follows the life of Isamu (Sam) Hamada, beginning in pre-WWII when Sam leaves his mother and siblings in their family home in Hiroshima, Japan to join his alcoholic father working the cane fields of Hawaii. While on Hawaii, fate brings Sam and an old eccentric sensai together, and for many years, Sam painstaking studies the fine art of self-defense. Sam eventually leaves Hawaii for California, where he hopes to better himself by attending college. He learns that his marital arts training helps him deal with his struggle to be accepted into college, falling in love, dealing with the pain and discrimination brought on by America’s war with Japan, and his feeling of atonement after the war in war-torn Japan.

John Hamanura is a first rate talent, writing about a man torn between two passionate loves, two great cultures, and during a time when life was perhaps too complex for Japanese Americans. With lush details and power descriptions, Hamanura pulls you into his world until you are fully engaged, seeing the colors of the sea, feeling the sweat running down your face on a hot summer day, hearing the singsong rustle of sugar cane. The characters are real, passionate, and thoroughly persuasive. The plot is a tightly organized storyline of family life and love that begins to unravel as discrimination in America grows against them, then must suffer the horrors of war before the attack on Pearl Harbor, through the American-Japanese concentration camps, suffering on the battlefield, and finishing in post-war Japan.

I literally cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a book as much as this one. With this book, you’ll want to find a quiet spot in the garden, with no interruptions, and let yourself be lost in its precisely controlled style and voice. This is one of the finest novels I’ve read in years. Not since McEwan’s Atonement, has a story haunted me like this one, or left me with such an emotional impact.

If you enjoy beautiful prose, credible characters, and well-constructed plots, do yourself a huge favor: read this book.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Two Smokeys, One Look At Life

Saying of the week:
No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work.- Mother Teresa

I celebrated my fifty-fifth birthday this past week. And as usual during this time of year, I reflected on my life: where I am and where I’m headed.

A funny thing happened this week that has brought my mortality into sharp focus. My partner, Herman, and I agreed to dog sit a five-year-old, chocolate lab named Smokey. We have our own thirteen-year-old, chocolate lab, also named Smokey. The two dogs are wonderful together. We take them for long walks in the hills every day. But having the two dogs side by side, one in his prime and the other very close to the end of his life, gives me a staggering look at just how old and feeble my Smokey has become. I mean, I knew he was getting old, an probably in his last year, but watching the younger dog zigzagging through the tall grass at a dead run while my dog shuffles along, sometimes managing a brief trot, brought it all home. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s true. This particular picture has me wondering just how much time I have left, and what I can possibly accomplish during that time.

I actually feel that I don’t need to accomplish anything else in my life. That what I’ve don’t is enough. That said, I still have a few goals. The top of the list is to continue being the best partner I can be to Herman, and to support him in every way I can. Next on the list: I would love to write a few more powerful novels and screenplays that really have the potential to make people examine their lives, their beliefs, and how they interact with each other and the environment. My last goal is to simply have fun with my life. I spent so many years working a full time job while going to night school, always under pressure for deadlines, pressuring myself to get ahead. With the time I have left, I want to enjoy this old world and the people in it.

I can say that I’m as happy now as in any point in my 55 years. I have much to be thankful for.

I have now finished three novels and one novella. Two of my novels will be published by Zumaya Publications. The first, Island Song, will be out by July of this year. The second, The Lover of Changi, will be published sometime in 09. As for the third novel, Match Maker, Pema Browne literary agency has requested to see the entire manuscript, so I’m mailing it tomorrow and crossing my fingers. So my writing career is finally taking off.

In addition to writing novels, my lover, Herman, and I have been taking screenwriting classes at the local community college. It has been a rewarding experience so far. It is a way of writing stories that I can include Herman in. And, not too surprisingly, he has begun to like the creative process of thinking through a story plot and defining scenes. I think that after a while he will be much better at it than I will be, because of his attention to detail.

Anyway, just wanted to record a few thoughts about life. Hope yours is as interesting and joyful as mine is turning out to be.