Julio

Jose. Juan. No, Julio. Perhaps. I remember images, but not names. Never names. I worked at The Bailiwick Repertory, a Chicago theater in Boys town that featured plays and baudy shows celebrating the LGBTQ experience long before it was an acronym. It was a holdover from the 80’s, when the transgendered weren’t acknowledged, much less talked about, and being gay was a death sentence.

The Bailiwick also programmed works of new playwrights and gave new directors, like me, opportunities. But Aids had decimated the artistic community and by the early 90’s The Bailiwick grew desperate for more main stream audiences. No one came to see gay theater on the main stage and the only people interested in new works were other theater people. An artistic director and acting coach of mine once said, “You can get comped to death in this town.” His theater went under.

But before that, Julio. Yes, Julio. He came through town touring with a Mexican theater group one icy February. It was an Irish play translated into Spanish. Something haunting. Maybe a Yeats poem or a Wilde play. All male. The performers were gay, except one. Perhaps the straight guy was Jose? Nope. Can’t remember.  Simply a vacuum behind the face and the hot sinewy arms late at night as we slept out a storm on a wooden floor, the snow too blinding to leave. Julio slept in the bed above. He was sick. He warned me. Or simply told me. “He sleeps with someone in every town.” I think he said. Or maybe I asked.

The following day in rehearsal No Name no longer looked at me. He’d wanted one night and I wanted forever. I alway wanted forever. Once rejected, I no longer existed. A hole opened up within me, a familiar sinkhole. It stole my breath. It followed me everywhere anyway. I experienced momentary relief in the eyes of beautiful men who considered me beautiful, until they didn’t.

I found Julio elsewhere in the dim theater and sat next to him. I half expected him to leave. Instead, he turned and gently touched my arm. “Hi, Amy.” My name never sounded like that. I felt seen. Have you ever needed that so much in your life you thought you could die and just at that moment someone offers it? Without needing anything in return?

I don’t know if I said anything. Words often felt like sharp rocks in my mouth. I’d just as soon spare myself the agony of saying them. But I must’ve. He must’ve. Because at some point, as we sat together, he said, “You slouch. You’re so pretty. Do you try to sit up?” I thrust my chest out and sat up straight. “No,” he smiled. “Not like that.” He touched the back of my neck with one hand and my abdomen with another. “Take a deep breath.” I did. He tipped my chin forward and pulled the back of my head up. “Release your breath and tighten your tummy like this.” He demonstrated. “Pretend you have a cord from the ceiling holding you up here.” He tugged a little on my neck. “There. That feels good? Now breathe.” I sat up straight, my body felt right. “Everything feels loose, but like it’s supposed to,” I said. “Yes, you’re open now,” he said.

He was dying. Aids. In my memory he’s wearing white linen. But that can’t be right. It was a brutal February. Nevertheless, every time I see him, he’s in white linen and his feet are bare. He could’ve been 40. It’s hard to know now because, while his eyes shone like jet, his face was gray. He died that year I think. But one brief conversation left its mark.  I can recall the warmth his touch generated in my body even now. Not erotic. Something else, like the warmth sunlight offers after a storm. That’s not right. Too sentimental. I don’t have the words.

But the moment got lodged deep. Each day, at least once, I stand up straight the way he taught me. It’s involuntary. That’s what’s odd. I do it and think of him in his white linen on that freezing February day, wind howling through the walls. And I don’t know. It’s like, just the memory of him, and I can breathe. I don’t know what any of it means.

Ruminations on the Why of It

TCRiggs wrote a response to my last post I thought worth sharing. A personal essayist struggling to find her voice might find the following interesting. The essential question, “How much time does one give a thing before it’s safe to write about it?” 20 years? Perhaps. She also suggests perhaps turning to fiction. She keeps a level of anonymity on her blog.

But what if it’s too late for that? What if the damage is done? I mean essential damage? That’s what I’ve done. I’m really good at tearing down the foundation of a thing. Exceptional at destruction. Here’s my response to her:

Anonymity is good. Fiction even better. But I’m working on a brand and it conflicts with every area of my working life. I write to a small subset and write myself out of others. I’ve struggled with this and for decades I haven’t written at all, working for little to no money in other industries and profoundly frustrated. Unable to construct a sentence. I’m unsure of the connection between them, why must one exist to the exclusion of the other?

But it was when I started to write those things closest to me that I found words again. Much to the detriment of many things. I don’t want to. I don’t try to. But when I stop, then I stop writing.

My heroes are the rebels and the cynics. I’ve always felt that cynicism is thinly veiled hope. A cynic sees the world for what it is, but knows its potential for more. A glutton for punishment, she never stops hoping even when things are at their worst.

When I read Hunter Thompson’sThe Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, it unfastened a latch within me. I recognized something in his writing, a thing that felt like me. Not in the subject, not in the content, but in the how of it. In the rage of it. And in the self-awareness of it. There’s beauty in his disgust and self-knowledge. In the last sentence of that essay he recognizes that he and his subjects are one. They disgust him as he disgusts himself. He never judged himself for it. I judge myself for everything. So on the page, I fight for his courage.

There are others who inspire me now, but it was Hunter Thompson who taught me to trust my voice. I’m somewhat transgender in my writing. My voice sounds like a man’s. A friend once told me that, and he didn’t mean it to flatter. But I don’t mind anymore. Except that the world still wants girls to sound like girls.

There is always luck in success and Thompson was the writer for his time.  I’ve been mining the depths of my life and I cannot find it. That thing that makes me unique. That thing that people want.

As for making money in the meantime, there are many things I’m good at, but one thing I want to do more. And when it’s in opposition to those other things, it creates constant tension. I’m looking for work, I’m not writing. I’m writing, I’m not able to find work because of what I’m writing. Now it’s all out there. It was unwise. It was unrealistic. It was perhaps, wishful thinking to imagine I could give the finger to the man and expect the man to give me a paycheck.

Since this exists on the internet, I have to find sympathetic employers who can see what I do and value it, not fear it. Whether or not I meant to, I created this. The secret will is a powerful thing. And so is the Internet. I’m deep into it now.

One Potent Mash Up

Go for the jugular or don’t go at all. If you don’t write from the gut, then what’s the point? Losing friends, family members, jobs, means you’re on the correct path. But you better be right, even when you make mistakes. It better be true. If it’s not. If it’s made up. If it’s cruel for cruelty’s sake or to make yourself look good, then you don’t deserve the title of writer.

But I’m not a journalist. I don’t have the stomach for it. My facts are subjective, therefore opinions. Listen, I don’t write to smear. My observations are just that, conclusions strung together on a clothesline  of experiences.

You should deduce from that that I’m a coward. I don’t fact check or interview sources. I vomit my positions onto the page and press,”publish,” without a second thought. Until about 24 hours later when, like Colonel Nicholson in Bridge Over the River Kwai, I think, What have I done? I had to remove another post. This time it was a judgement call and not a corporate directive. Social media is a bit like walking into an interview and spilling your guts to a future employer about everything you hated about your last job.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I had to do it. To write that. To lash out with my words. Because they’re good words when they’re close words, yes? The closer they are, the bloodier they flow. Because no one cares about bloodless words. They want a murder scene, carnage. They want assassinations carried out by the person who cares the most. The one who will stab 27 times. Overkill.

That’s me. That’s what I do. That’s what I want. To hurt. I think. Because I hurt. And you hurt me. And don’t you deserve it for being cruel and stupid? I’m smarter. That’s my weapon. And I hold a grudge. Until I don’t. And then I toss  your body into the river. I won’t even watch you go.

And for what? For who? I don’t know what I serve. Because I’m not serving myself. Jesus, let it go, Amy. Because I can’t. I just can’t. Not until I write it and not until someone reads it. And honestly, I don’t want the subjects of my ire to read it. I don’t want anyone who misunderstands the point to read it. The point that it’s about the writing less so the subject. Don’t listen to what I say, but how I say it. It’s the words that matter. Yes, the subject. Of course the subject. But we all say the same things. We just don’t say it in the same ways. And it’s the ways of saying things that matter to me. That’s the skill. That’s the craft of writing.

I wrote something and I lost a family member. Snip, in one essay, snap. That was a clean break. It’s one I think of nearly everyday. Turn it over, study it. Wonder if it was worth it. Ask myself again and again, Why? Why did I write something like that? Couldn’t I have left some things out. Just at the beginning. Just those few sentences. Everything would be so different.

That’s right. Everything.

But if you’re going to tell the truth, even when you make a mistake, you better be right. And I was right. But do you want to be right, or do you want a normal life with family and friends and frustrating jobs filled with secrets and shadows and unspoken wounds. Why not? It’s what everyone else has. Social constructs hang in the balance. Why would anyone in their right mind rip that apart? No really?

The written word is not the spoken word and the Internet is forever….But I gotta tell you, full disclosure, I’m glad that it is. It is my fail safe against my own remorse because my biggest regrets are when I must hide behind an anonymous curtain. I wrote several pieces for Salon that had to be published anonymously. The editors and lawyers decided it was best. No one wants to be a Rolling Stone. I don’t want to be a Jackie. But I’m not a Jackie. I tell the truth.

I want to write about it. I am never as good a writer as when I am spitting with rage. And when I write something I know is particularly imprudent, I want to keep it up.

But we live in a society for a reason. There are rules. And my rage along with this blog, a potent mash up for sure, could be my undoing. So best to keep it all under raps. And so here I go, back underwater. Perhaps an Ophelia, or just dumb doll, I’ll ride the tides and I may not emerge.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t you dare.

 

 

Tip Out Head

Everything’s been a little ish lately. My head is a sieve. My sense of direction is like a bat whose lost her homing device. That’s it. No homing device. I was late to the vet. Because I hate the vet. Because Chloe hates the vet. Everyone hates going to the doctor. But not everyone loses hair. And she loses hair she will not grow back. I was late to a job interview…a good one…so there’s no real excuse there.

But I am not becoming. And working in jobs I hate is no longer an excuse. Now I must face the greater obstacle. Me. And there it stops. The wall. I am the wall I cannot see around. I am the world I cannot step beyond.

I moved out to Los Angeles to shake loose my thoughts and tip out my head, that heavy thing filled with muddy waters and tiny rooms. Sunlight, lots of sunlight, I thought, might burn away the dreck weighing down my body. Instead I found the blinding sun didn’t purify, it scorched. I looked for a dark hole and retreated. Outside there was so much dust and sorrow.

I got stuck in many jobs I hated. As I was stuck in my head. See previous post. But I’m free now. And I’ve got to stop sabotaging it. See previous post. That post I wrote could follow me, if I don’t take it down. I should. I want to keep working in the beauty industry. Yesterday’s interview was for a beauty line I like a lot.

But more than anything, I want to develop a writing life. And to do that, I need to write out the immediate stuff. The stuff swirling around in me right now in order to get past it and write better stuff. Every writer goes through mediocre periods. What was it I heard Prince once say? “When you write as much as I do, not all of it’s going to be great.” See, that took balls. It took heart. It took demons to write like he wrote. It also took a vault. He never knew what he might use in the future. So, this blog is my vault. The difference between us; even his mediocre is better than everybody else’s.

I can get better. But only if I write all the time. So, forgive me. I’m going to be mediocre. And angry. There’s a lot of anger in this swirling pool inside my head. So, you may be subject to that as well. I’ve managed to keep it at bay for the last year or so, but I’m opening the flood gates, because good artists are not careful artists.

For those of you who prefer fun, funny, carefree reading. That won’t be this. Even my cat fiction is dark. I’m about to kill off my favorite cat in a cat dungeon at the hands of cat torturers. Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway, that was my first instinct, which usually means there’s a better one out there.

The featured image for this post is obviously Psycho. Hitchcock was great. And prolific. Can anyone tell me of a time when his prolificacy got in the way of his greatness? I thought not. Well, shoot for the stars, get the moon. Or a bird. As Tippi Hedren did.

I’ll stop now.