Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Eric, Ron and Duncan on welshcake are three bloggers new to me whose links I have included because I like their style and enjoy reading them. In addition, Ron
has been my entre' into the small but lively group of gay Boston-area bloggers; Duncan has wide-ranging interests and writes very well; and Eric has a unique style.
The others on the link list are men whose sites I have followed for some time and whose journals have been a strong influence on my desire to blog and the openness with which I hope to do it. Keithlife, with a photojournal and extensive videoclips and slide shows, is the site of a Brit in his late 30s, resident in the Castro but currently on asignment in New York City, who has made much of his life and career in the U.S. Keith is a systems manager with strong leanings toward filmmaking whose uncompromising honesty about his life and sexuality can be breathtaking. Bryan of chaosinaustin runs an extensive site with guest columnists, a weekly photojournal that reflects his winning domesticity (a trait we share) as well as his second career in erotic male photography. Bryan is a real artist whose work is getting a lot of well deserved recognition; his writing celebrates a wide and warm circle of family and friends.
Jonno and sturtle are boyfriends, each with his own blog and point of view. The writing of Jockohomo, toddo, Cyberkenny and unprotectedtext have engaged me for their continuing interest on a wide variety of topics. It is significant that these blog sites can be found listed on a wide range of other bloggers' links.
They are among the very best on the web.
They are lovely kids, incredibly hard working and grateful for our invitation and support. The play this year is Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, interestingly and wisely trimmed and performed with enthusiasm and admirable energy. One of our directors attended tonight and hated every moment of what little he stayed to see. There is a great gulf fixed between the acting style taught here in the U.S. and that taught in England. That difference crystalized in his comment as he left at intermission: "Exactly what I expected--imitation of technique and not an honest emotion anywhere."
I've got to get to bed. I teach tomorrow and there are all kind of meetings going on. But it went well today--I didn't resort to Doritos at any time during the day!
Sunday, September 28, 2003
My partner and I redid a bathroom this weekend. There is some plumbing to be done and that will be taken care of by an actual plumber. But we are handling the cleaning, painting, new fixtures, curtains, ceiling and floor. This is a bathroom in a small apartment in his house that had been occupied by an older man alone for something like eighteen years. He had been there in residence with his nephew and the nephew ran off with a guy he had become infatuated with, abandoning his uncle in the process. My partner is a very compassionate man, so he made an adjustment on the rent and told Uncle Ed, who was already over retierment age, that he could stay and be secure as he faced old age on his own.
Ed had been part of the American force that took Iwo Jima in WWII. He had seen a great deal of brutal action in the Pacific and had become somewhat reclusive. In his mid-80s, he recently decided to move into an assisted living facility and we began to reclaim the apartment. He hadn't mistreated it but for many years he hadn't been able to clean it properly or, finally, at all. We have redone the kitchen and living room, the bedroom has been cleaned, but we had always looked in the bathroom, screamed, shut the door and said, "later!" Well, later is now. We should have the whole thing done in a couple of weeks. For now, an incredible amount of filth has been cleaned out, the walls repaired and repainted, and a new shower curtain and sundries put in. The toilet is beyond salvation and will be replaced. There were actual growths in the tank--I've never seen anything like it. It's amazing how fast things can deteriorate when left without maintenance.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
I wish that a lot of work all at the same time didn't agree with me so much. I find that when I have too much to do it all gets done, and that when I am in a relaxed time nothing gets done because there's no sense of urgency. That's when I start repainting rooms in my house and spending all my time reading blogs on the web (no offence).
About the book: I am having a lot of fun. It is based on my thesis, a history of theatrical lighting before electricity. Please don't roll your eyes--I know it is a niche topic. But I am told there is a market for it and that European publishers in particular will go for it. Of course it has to be extensively rewritten and expanded
and part of that will be historical vignettes from the era when going to a theater could cost you your life, so frequent were the theater fires. There were also amazing inventions, bizarre and wonderful scenic spectacles, and interesting facts and statistics. I hope to make it all an interesting theatrical pageant.
I was completely engrossed by the first new "West Wing" of the season last night. I had been worried when I heard that Aaron Sorkin had been forced out of his own creation if only because his plotting is so sharp and the dialog so witty and literate.
But last night just crackled and the foundation is laid for a long stretch of strongly dramatic situations. I try not to watch too much TV but this and the various "Law and Order" series are must-sees for me.
Monday, September 22, 2003
In between meals, we got the pear harvest in and did some more work on the barn that is being cleaned out. It is dragon fly season and they are a delight. There are two varieties, both on the small side. One has a speckled aqua body with transparent wings.
The other is a brilliant chinese red with opalescent brown wings and is stunning. The nice part is that if you put your finger anywhere near them while they're hovering, they will land on it and stay for as long as you don't disturb them. I was going to say that it's a lot of fun but really it's magical to have them be so calm and friendly.
Sunday night as the women were leaving, the boys were arriving for a Sweat Lodge. We had a small group this time and, at dinner afterwards, I showed something I had printed from Ron's Log (http://ronslog.typepad.com/ronslog/). It is an Italian Renaissance plate
showing a man's head in profile made up entirely of penises. There is an inscription in Latin that says something like "Everyone who knows me calls me a Dickhead." I thought this must be a joke but the accompanying article tells of a museum that has just paid over $300,000 for it. You usually see this kind of thing from the Renaissance with the head made up of fruit and vegetables, sometimes even with cooked meats. But this is real and everybody got a huge laugh out of it. One of the guys is a very talented professional ceramicist so I gave him the sheets to show his students. I'd love to see what they produce next with that kind of inspiration.
Friday, September 19, 2003
This morning as I drove to work CBS news reported that, after however many months of intensive United States search of Iraq, a report has been delivered to the government that Saddam Hussein did not have biological weapons. The investigators found closed and locked labs thick with cobwebs and obviously unused for years; equipment and biological weaponry that had been disabled and/or broken for quite some in accordance with U.N. regulations; and no trace of small pox or other biological toxins anywhere.
Sooner or later, the President will have to come clean about the "weapons of mass destruction" if he has any shread of honesty or honor about him at all. Three more young Americans died last night in Iraq in this continuing nightmare that will leave us bankrupted, morally hollow and possibly isolated in the international community of nations for a very long time.
Not at all coincidentally, figures also came out that the number of working Americans who have health care coverage through their employers has dropped from to thirds to around 50%, and those with dental coverage is down from 39% to 32% as companies eliminate these benefits trying to stay afloat in the struggling economy. The average family of four must now pay an average of $14,000 per year to purchase health insurance on its own.
All one can do is hope that the Democratic Party can function as a united entity, field a viable candidate and replace GWB in the next election. But even if that happens, it will be too late for our dead; too late for the students and teachers deeply affected by the cuts in school funding; too late for the great art and historical inheritance of our common humanity destroyed in Iraq; too late for the children, elderly and all others who die or have their health broken by the lack of access to medical attention when in dire need.
What has this country done to itself on so many levels?
Thursday, September 18, 2003
It began in the late summer when I was asked to join the little team working to develop a Gay, Bi, Lesbian, Transgender exhibit to increase gay awareness among the greater MIT community. That one is going very well, the opportunity to work with some great guys as important to me as the results, well as those are going.
Two weeks ago, I got an email from an old friend and colleague, an internationally known musicologist, who wants me to develop my Masters thesis on pre-electric stage lighting, into a small, well illustrated book. He assures me of a European publisher and good sales at surviving Renaissance and Baroque theater and opera house bookstores throughout Europe. This will obviously be a niche publication and never a best seller, but at this phase of my career some solid professional recognition is a very nice thing to get. I am beginning the process of expanding and updating it .
And yesterday came a call from an architectural firm asking if I would be interested
in being the theater consultant on a new performing arts center being developed in Boston's western suburbs.
On a strictly personal note, I was websurfing the web last night and discovered the blog of a rare fellow Bostonian gay blogger, Ron at www.rbgilbert.com. One of my hopes when I began this blog was that I might connect with other gay diarists. Nice that it's beginning to happen.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
I design all my own work. I turn it out scaled the exact size I want in two forms, one in line only for the transfer onto my skin and another colored as I want it for the artist to use while filling in the color. I have enjoyed very good relations with my tattoo artists who like my designs and the way I prepare them. I usually choose from primitive or pre-Columbian sources and adapt, combining or changing motifs until I get what I want. My color scheme is limited. Black predominates with highlights in red and tobacco brown. I make the designs compatible with the contours of whatever part of the anatomy they're going on and I plan an over-all look, not just a random collection of uncoordinated pieces.
There are two major exceptions to the pre-Coplumbian theme. My big back piece combines Leonardo da Vinci's ideally proportioned man with the "What a piece of work is man" passage from Shakespeare's HAMLET. I needed to say something about all the important men in my life and that was the most powerful statement I could think of at the time. The other one is on my right thigh, a compass rose with the direction points--N, SE, W--replaced by the initials of my partner, me and all the people involved in bringing us together. The center of the compass rose has a graphic representing the event where we met along with the date.
Why did I do all this? It wasn't just to be fashionable but to place a great deal of what I am and what I believe in on the great canvas of my skin. For me tattooing is a link to a specifically male and far more authentic spirituality than anything to which I had access via conventional Christianity.
My partner isn't into body art. But he is infinitely patient and understanding concerning my needs and how I express myself. This is how we treat each other. Neither of us has ever thought of the other as a home improvement project or somebody we could or should change. He is actually proud of my ink in his way and will show it off to other guys, as he understands that I would never have had it put on my body if I hadn't meant it to be seen. It's part of the incredible bond between us.
Monday, September 15, 2003
That colleges and universities spawn large amounts of theory on art, history, politics and philosophy comes, I suspect, from the requirements of the scholarly life. Throughout most of our history the highest levels of education were the preserve of a small number of the elite. But after WW II my generation was sent off to college en masse across all economic lines, almost unthinkingly as if it were the norm. While producing what is probably the most educated society in world history, immense pressure has been placed on grad students to explore progressively more and more arcane topics and on faculty to respond to "publish or perish" with ever more intricate disections of topics in their field.
I remember a faculty meeting at Middlebury College one winter as proposed dissertation topics were being reviewed. One PhD candidate had presented a subject that caused an extremely excited response: the use and placement of commas in the the prose of Thomas Hardy.
I, of course, approach my art from the viewpoint of a practitioner not a theorist, and that orientation surely colors my reaction. My world is about the concrete even though my research delves heavily into the history, culture and subtext of the plays and operas I design. One of my most faithful companions and reliable advisors over the years has been my gut instinct. I have learned to trust it and so have (most of) the directors with whom I have had the pleasure of working in a 41 year career (let me add at this that I started VERY young--and I am not kidding about that). Audiences have to have something with which to connect emotionally and the physical environment of a play or opera can be one of the most effective entry points into the material for them. The stage is a medium specifically for a visceral confrontation between performer and partaker. If over-intellectualized it eventually becomes too aloof for the public to grasp and its power is gone.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
There is warfare going on between the directors of opera productions and audiences, a large proportion of which cling tenaciously to the idea that the language of the stage IS and MUST BE absolute realism. We're talking America here, as experimental production styles were common in Europe in the 1920s and 30s and became solidly established after the Second World War. But American audiences resist non-representational scenery ("The libretto says it takes place on the deck of a ship and that didnt look like a ship."), non-linear narrative, visual abstraction, updating to the present day or to periods other than that in which the story originally takes place, and other staging devices that are the bread and butter of the contemporary stage. I have no idea where it will end, but one can have a really interesting experience at our major opera houses during the curtain calls. On the opening night of a new production, singers and conductor usually get strong audience recognition but when the director and designers (aka "opera-hating egomaniacs," "clueless less than 0s," "idiots," "rapists of the score," etc.) come out for their bows the crowd turns ugly with booing, cat calls, and insults.
It isn't just opera, of course. Painting isn't in such great shape these days and the symphony orchestra is an endangered species. In fact, a study of the performing arts done several years ago identified opera as the most fortunate of the performing arts because it is such a rich and big art form combining music, theater, visual design and voice. Then comes ballet and modern dance, then spoken theater and finally concerts--because"nothing happens" at a concert--ie. the orchestra just sits there. Supposedly, the MTV generation gets the kind of constant stimulation from opera it is used to (assuming it gives opera a chance at all) from music videos
and rock concerts.
But the influence works both ways. If opera is attracting the MTV generation to its
performances, it is because those performances are being placed on the stage by directors and designers of the first MTV generation. Their aesthetic was formed in large part by the earliest rock videos that in many cases were dazzzlingly surrealistic and creative. These directors will not accept a singer who cannot walk across a stage with at least some degree of authority, and they will not accept singers who don't have some visual credibility in their parts (what the French call "physique du role").
One precept I declare and support constantly is that change is the driving and renewing force in the arts. Try to stop the progress of the arts or freeze them in time and they will die. Whatever else happens to my profession, I know that it will look a great deal different in twenty years than it does now and I cannot wait to see just what that will look like.
Friday, September 12, 2003
PBS, in its continuing coverage of where we are as a people two years after 9/11, ran a program on the crisis of faith that people from teenagers and community leaders to priests and rabbis are undergoing in their attempt to understand why god permits or causes such things to happen. This is the kind of discussion I shy away from because my views on religion were so soured by the twelve years of strict Catholic education on which my parents insisted.
I'm not sure when it started but my withdrawal from belief was propelled by the pride they had in all the people they had killed for heresies of one type or another, several of the nuns declaring that burning people alive to protect the faith was holy work. I also vividly remember a fifth grade teaching nun pausing in the midst of reading about the trial of Jesus from the New Testament to comment, "You see, children, the Jews have no business complaining about what the Nazis did to them because they DID say right here "Let his blood be upon us AND OUR CHILDREN." (Emphasis hers) I was only ten or eleven at the time but I know I reacted as if struck. From then on was in the position of having to continue in the system for years while personally rejecting the bigotry, anti-semitism and hate with which we were indoctrinated on a daily basis.
I am very spiritual but completely atheistic. I cannot look at the international scene without seeing that most wars, even in this supposedly enlightened modern age, are still playing out the religious conflicts of a millenium ago. And my great question
is: if religion isn't about improving the human condition and teaching people to live together in peace, what possible purpose does it serve? Yet so very many cling to the idea of Big Daddy in the Sky. Their argument is that without a god figure there can be no morality--this from religions that condone the persecution of gays, the degraded position of women and attacks on followers of other faiths.
I find my strength in joining with others working toward a common goal for the benefit of society. As for morality, it should spring from our simple duty to our fellow human beings, not from some archaic reward/punishment system. I feel deeply for those who have lost their loved ones and are now losing their faith. But I also feel that strength of purpose and love for fellow humans must grow from inside based on the simple conviction that it is the right thing to do.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
But, of course, I was drawn to them inevitably. PBS ran Rick Burns' lates chapter in his history of the City, a three hour, mesmerizing and quite beautiful history of the Twin Towers from their troubled, politically poisonous gestation to the aftermath of their fall. For more on this documentary, go to http://toddo.blogspot.com/ . International politics are not the point of Burns' treatment, being mentioned only as is necessary to set up what happened. The focus is on the City and its people. I couldn't leave it. There is the horror and the compassion; the instant transformation of Rudolph Giuliani from hated, almost fascistic strongman of New York to Saint Rudy who attended every funeral, put his arms around children and embraced all New york in the process. This, by the way, is also the Rudy Giuliani who, astonishingly, moved in with good friends, a gay couple for the duration of the crisis and who said yesterday on one of the early morning news shows that Father Mykul Judge, the out gay Catholic priest, had been his personal confessor and dear friend whom he had consulted for the last time just ten minutes before Mykul died in the fall of the first tower.
Then this morning I put the radio on in the car on the way up to work and broke down as the names of the dead were being read at Ground Zero by children of the victims. What pushed me over the edge was the girl who had been reading with poise and dignity who ended her group of names with " . . . and my father, Kevin . . ."
In 2001 I got down to the City the moment they would let cars in again. The streets were empty, essentially. Lots of buildings like power stations and other high risk facilities were locked down. But the fire stations were mobbed. They looked like Spanish churches during Holy Week, with huge blow up photos of their dead mounted on the facades, surrounded by written tributes and letters of condolence taped up to every surface. Outside the Lincoln Center Station on Amsterdam Avenue were tables set up along the sidewalk piled high with sympathy cards, baked goods, lit candles and flowers. A long strip of heavy paper like a photographer's seamless portrait backing was filled with messaages and signatures from hundreds of students and faculty at the Julliard School of Music. There was no fire truck in the station any more. Somewhere trapped in the wreckage, surely. The line waiting to get to the open garage doors to speak with the surviving fire fighters were dropping off checks, offering whatever consolation they could. Some couldn't speak, they just offered their gift, threw their arms around a fireman and hugged for a moment before moving on. It was New York at its very finest. God love them.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
So, I started thinking about such things here in the US. I have known for at least the least fifteen years that the generation that is now about 30 years old is vastly more gay friendly, or "gay ready" as I call it, than any in American history. My daughters are of this generation. As adopted Korean children raised by a single gay father they were certainly predisposed to be social liberals. But when my elder daughter went to Oberlin College we discovered a school in which straights are reputedly in the minority of the male student population. Here at math and science-oriented MIT, which has certainly had its problems with hompohobic fraternities from time to time, gay student culture flourishes. And of course, there is TV and the movies.
I think of "Will and Grace." This show has taken a lot of brickbats from some quarters for not being a realistic representation of gay life. Excuse me, folks, this is television, not sociology. Since when was a sitcom a realistic representation of ANYTHING? And the larger question is, how could any half hour program truly grasp the enormity of experience of any community, let alone the staggering range and richness of lifestyles within gay and lesbian culture? Sitcom's techniques are the send-up or, if they are blessed with truly literate writers, satire. And because they are painted in bright primary colors, they can have an enormous communicative power with the mass audience.
What straight America sees on W&G with some regularity is men living with men, dating men, kissing men, in bed with men, dumping a man for another man, marrying another man, cruising men, aching for a once and (hopefully) future partner, flaming joyously, raising a child as gay parents, playing sports, etc. etc. Seems like quite an ambitious range to me. Some very prominent actors have arrived in certain episodes to "play gay," some gay icons have appeared, stereotypes have been celebrated and/or debunked. And other manifestations of gay life are everywhere to be seen. A huge billboard in Central Square, Cambridge shows a guy who has been fishing in the surf. Carried in his arms, instead of a fish, is a bright, good looking guy who is clearly thrilled to be there. The caption is "Great catch!" It is an ad for gay.com personal ads. The very first same sex wedding announcement from the New York Times hangs in a prominent place on my office wall. Gay issues of one sort or another are nightly subjects on the national news.
It has been a full generation since Stonewall, so in one sense this hasn't happened overnight, but the bulk of it has come along in the last decade with steadily increasing speed. There is surely a backlash--it will be strong and determined--but I do not see it prevailing. We will prevail.
Monday, September 08, 2003
The one remaining barn on the property is a little New England gem--a granite first level set into a slope with two stories above in old clapboard that we are slowly but surely reshingling. Inside is all warm colored wood with very wide plank floorboards. In the upstairs there are two large windows at either end and several skylights that provide excellent light. This space he wants to be a studio for me. I was delighted when he proposed it. But there is no way it can happen without a lot of work.
One of his dearest traits is his generosity. In the 31 years he has had the property, lots of people decided that this barn would be just the place to store all their stuff while they ran about the countryside experimenting with alternative lifestyles, Looking for America or just trying to find themselves. He said sure. What most of them seem to have done was to find themselves on the left coast, settle in and forget whatever it was they had left behind. Add to this the storage needs of a working conference/teaching center, the gradual invasion of what Bugs Bunny used to call our dear little woodland friends--and the arrival of a healthy colony of bats--and conditions eventually became what we call in this neck of the woods "way wicked pisser" gross.
So . . . on the Labor Day Work and Play Weekend (aka gayboys use chain saws and do other really butch stuff) I said the time had come to begin to attack the barn. The truly heavy and awkward items like the broken refrigerator, the old mattresses and springs and some office machines from the pre-electronic cast iron age were sent to the dump while we had a lot of muscle to haul and load it. Last weekend I took over alone to go through everything and bag most of it for a yardsale or the dumpster. Then there was a LOT of work with a shovel. I did uncover a gem, however, a late Victorian Eastlake harmonium left over from the previous owner. As it is filled with nut shells from several generations of rodents, I have no hope that it actually might work as an musical instrument. But it is certainly a great restoration project for somebody looking for a beautiful piece of antique woodwork. Interested parties, please be in touch! I want to get that studio going.
Saturday, September 06, 2003
Another characteristic: I am generally an optimist. But when the current administration began I had unfocused misgivings that focused really fast when the war started. I know something about the Middle East and particularly about Islam because I have taught about Islamic art and culture. I realized as early as the Reagan administration that our State Dept.--let alone our presidents--has inadequate understanding of Islamic politics and history. I mentioned to friends how quickly I thought the situation could turn into Viet-Nam with sand. I do not rejoice that I appear to be right. In fact, it has been tough hearing on virtually a daily basis of our fine young men and women being continually endangered and many--far too many--of them coming back in body bags. We haven't captured either bin Laden or Hussein and there has not yet been a single Weapon of Mass Destruction. Add to that the bankrupting of the country and the insults to some of our oldest allies, and I have real concerns about our future, both immediate and long term.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
The idea now is to create a permanent, portable, easily storable set of panels that can be spotted anywhere at any time around the Institute to highlight gay groups, individuals and events on campus. That's my job. Others will work on photography, text, etc. It's really exciting to be included in this because I have wanted for a long time to become more involved in gay activities at MIT. I have been part of GABLES, a social group that meets once a month for lunch, for several years--but GABLES doesn't actually initiate anything. This new project will get me into contact with administrators in the offices devoted to student and residence life as well as staff management and allow me to become pro-active in gay life on campus.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
But where we mesh most of all is in cleaning up and throwing out. Individually we are very bad at this. I am a career pack rat. He's always got an attitude like, "Ok I've thrown out two things so let's take a break and: have tea/take a nap/have sex/etc. But each of us is an excellent editor for the other. When we're together we get the job done, make the hard decisions, clear the space fast and neatly no matter whether it is at his place or mine.
The final episode of the first "Boy Meets Boy" is tonight and I will miss all or most of it because I'm working late.
We have our Open House for theater at MIT tonight. It runs until 9PM--and then there is clean-up. I should get home for most of the Fab 5's weekly overhaul of a straight guy but will have to see James's final choice via reruns or the show's web page. Why am I even watching these shows, cheap, shallow, trendy, contrived and surely as artificial as they are?
Well, because they are part of contemporary gay culture and I think that needs to be supported. For how many centuries have we all watched as society has given its approval to hetero men and women slobbering over each other in all the media, literature and arts. It has been considered acceptable--admirable even--to show women's bodies, idealized mostly but sometimes not, for men's enjoyment and for commercial purposes. I think it is about time that the culture at large should have to deal with the male body, with men courting men, men loving men, men doing things outside the narrowly proscribed range of officially sanctioned "manly" activities. The culture can take it. It has dealt with immigrants pouring into the country, with black folks in the work place and in the suburbs, with the youth of the nation screaming defiance in the face of a corrupt war in Southeast Asia. The culture can stretch yet again.
And these shows are fun. James and the other boys are extremely pretty (I can't understand his sending Rob away) and they occasionally have something intelligent to say. The 5 are full of manic energy, irreverence and high spirits. Probably these shows point up that gay America can be as trivial and obsessed with surface image just like the rest of America.
Just like the rest of America--I think that's the key.
Monday, September 01, 2003
Going with MIT was the best thing that could have happened to me. My friends in the profession never fail to be astonished that there are performing arts at "Math and Science Central," but where better? In the highly pressured MIT environment, the arts provide an alternative experience and also provide some "gray area" issues for students who all too often are led to believe that there is only one "right answer" and only one acceptable procedure. When they come to us, they go at the arts with the same energy and focused attention with which they approach physics and engineering--which is exactly what the arts require.
Tomorrow is a 7:30AM to 9:00PM day as we work on getting our students registered, attend opening day meetings and host an Open House at our design and production center to introduce new and returning students to our operation. I am going to have a bit of trouble getting into harness as I am coming off such a great weekend at my partner's place. Fewer of our friends were able to come this year for the Work and Play but we got far more work done than ever before. I think it was just that the "right" guys showed up. We made a natural team and had a great time of it. There is such pleasure about working with gay men toward a common goal and, when the job is finished, getting to throw your arms around each other to share a kiss and full body embrace.