Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted

I don't remember meeting Amanda, really. She was just sort of suddenly around, or on the other end of the phone (this was in high school in the early 1990s, when conversations were tethered to a cord coming out of a wall), or in a desk adjacent to mine in class. For a time we were inseparable, united in our vague lust for Ryan the Writer and our complete lack of interest in modern music.

It's possible we met at the birthday party of a mutual friend, but that cannot be our first meeting as I recall we were already familiar with one another, familiar enough to break away from the party to stroll around the grounds.

The party, incidentally, was held at an old folks home because the subject of the birthday party lived there--her parents owned and ran the place, and lived in a concise, simple apartment just off the lobby. Interesting place to throw someone a sweet sixteen. The residents either didn't mind or were too terrified of teenagers to emerge from their private rooms.

As Amanda and I circled the exterior of the home, we were aware of groups of giggling girls dashing from window to window, spying on us. We noted the attention, and enjoyed it a bit.

It was cold, and it was night, and I let her wear my jacket. And there was a light snow falling, which shivered through the orange glow of the security lights, lingering a bit in the illumination as if each flake, too, enjoyed a bit of attention on its way back into the darkness. Flakes of snow stuck in Amanda's blond hair (she had a name for the color of her hair but I can't remember it now; she had a name for everything, even things that didn't exist).

The reason I assume we'd met before this night is because it was very rare for me to go to parties. Rare as in never. And rarer still for me to break away from a group with a girl at my side, talking together as if no one else existed except us. Giggling spies aside, for that evening it was just Amanda and me.

Eventually we sat down on a set of steps. We shared a kiss in the light snow, my first real kiss, our hands resting in our laps and our bodies leaning into one another. A year later, when she was the first person (aside from the guy, Bo, I'd been snogging for a month) I told about my then-bisexuality, she laughed gently and said, "I knew you were the first time we kissed." Never asked her to explain what she meant--was I too soft, or too eager? Did I seem too hesitant? I'll never know what she meant, of course. It will remain one of the many mysteries of our complicated relationship I'll just have to wonder about until I die, and there's nothing else left to wonder.

After that first kiss, we returned to the party. We beat the giggling spies back to the family apartment, in fact, and for a moment we--I am sure--thought of it as our apartment.


Memory isn't a reliable thing. Most memories, to me anyway, exist in flashes rather than coherent narratives. There's the time I leaned forward from the back seat of my parents' Astrovan to kiss Amanda's hand resting on the seatback in front of me. We were on our way back from Huntsville, AL, to see a terrible production of Starlight Express, and my parents were in the front seat not really paying attention to us. A stolen bit of illicit teen sexiness seemed called for.

I remember sitting with her in Wilson Park--"Gay Park" it was called then, as it was before the internet and therefore the best place in town for guys to cruise for guys. It was again night, and we were watching the fountain at the park's center spewing water twelve feet high. A cop car pulled up and trained a spotlight on us, which caused Amanda to flush a bit, then grab my hand and break into a run. "We're not Bonnie and Clyde," I said to her. "Why are we running?"

"Cops with spotlights are looking for something, and I want to not be that something," she replied.

Fair enough.

Incidentally, the guy I ended up dating after Amanda lived in a house with a basement, and Amanda and I spent many hours in that basement with an assortment of people. The basement was standard-issue, with shag carpet (green, maybe; I don't remember) and wood paneling and an unused stone fireplace. And taxidermied animals. Dead stuffed things. When I confessed to Amanda, who was not formally my girlfriend because it had never really occurred to us, despite hours of being together and making out ("You know, Marc, you can put your hand under my shirt sometimes"), to declare anything to one another other than mutual love, I confessed it in that basement. She asked a few questions, shrugged, and then we returned to the room where Bo was sitting at a computer. She gave Bo a knowing look, and we resumed whatever it was we had been doing before the confession.

Amanda disappeared from my life, then reappeared, then disappeared again. The last time I saw her was on a trip home in 2010, and we met at Wilson/Gay Park. Fell into easy conversation, strolled around downtown Florence visiting old places. She was light and funny, a bit tired. We fell into old habits, making up back stories for each person we passed on the street, each contributing to the story until Florence seemed much more interesting than it ever was.

And then we hugged, and went our separate ways--on a streetcorner, just like the final scene of Annie Hall, which we were very conscious of and so both lingered for a bit, daring the other to be the first to walk away in order to allow the other to stand still and watch (in the film, if you haven't seen it, Diane Keaton strolls off into the distance while Woody Allen stands for a moment, watching her leave his life; Amanda and I had a joking fight over which of us would be which character).

So then she disappeared from my life again, and I assumed she'd be back at some time in the near future.


Amanda loved John Lennon. So it occurred to me I should end this post with a quote by John Lennon. But I'm generally a selfish person, and she knew this about me. She knew my love was Paul Simon, and she probably knew, if she ever thought about it, that when I came to write about her I would go with Paul Simon. She probably knew, if she considered it, that I would use a John Lennon reference as the title of the piece, but would ultimately cap off the piece with Simon. And if she thought about it, and if she knew that, then she was right.

It's a song about Carrie Fisher, actually. But the lyrics, like all great lyrics, mean something differently to each individual.

She can't sleep now
The moon is red
She fights a fever
She burns in bed
She needs to talk so
We take a walk
Down in the maroon light

She says "Maybe these emotions are
As near to love as love will ever be"
So I agree

Then the moon breaks
She takes the corner that's all she takes
She moves on

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out

Disclosure: I am a fan of Woody Allen's life's work, which is not to imply I am a fan of Woody Allen's life. Most artists lead miserable lives. Not all, but most of the creators of art and literature and film and theatre and music, male or female, were and are dreadful human beings leading appallingly dreadful existences.

Nothing new to say: perform a talentectomy on any given artist, and you're left with an ambulatory asshole, a monstrous creation wandering without direction.

With talent, for instance, Oscar Wilde would be a welcome addition to any party; without talent, you're left with your peculiar uncle given to non sequitur observations after consuming too much wine, tolerated only by your shared eye-rolls with other dinner guests.

With talent, Pollock would make a great living as home decorator for the more adventurous among us willing to hire him; divested of his talent, Pollock would be the guy you hire to piss off the people you just sold your house to because they demanded you repaint the bedroom before they'd sign the papers.

"Talent," Woody Allen argues in Manhattan, "is luck." Except most talented people are notoriously unlucky--there are many examples to the contrary, but the list of artists meeting bad ends, talented as those artists were, is long. Suicide, murdered, murderers, persecuted, committed, cirrhosis, overdoses, venereal diseased, Nazi-sympathizers, bigots, and molesters of women, children, men. Talent may require luck, but being talented does not promise luck, or goodness.

Being an admirer of the talented, too, fails to lend one a luck guarantee, or a share in talent.

Fans of Lewis Carroll's work--and there are many, even if they haven't read his books--may find themselves in an unfortunate position when confronted with allegations of the writer's pedophilia, realized or fantasized. There's no evidence Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican reverend and author of Alice in Wonderland, sexually assaulted Alice Liddell, but both Dodgson/Carroll's legacy and fans of his work have been left with a decidedly untalented question-mark on the subject. Pieces of Dodgson's personal journal are missing--destroyed--and it is said that the author exchanged bits of his opus with 10 year old Liddell for the chance to take nude pictures of the girl.

Quid pro quo, Alice.

Speaking of Alice, Walt Disney, the man who brought her story to a wider audience, was a misogynist anti-Semite. As the company he founded has in years since attempted to make amends for its founder's rather unsavory views of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it may seem incongruous to point this out except the company recently released a revisionist history of their founder, Saving Mr. Banks, which pushes a lot of bullshit at a lot of unlucky audiences about a very lucky, very talented man.

Someone else who disliked women and liked Nazis was Henry Ford. Ford won the highest honor afforded to persons not of German origin, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. It is said he refused the honor, but Ford cars sold during Ford's lucky, talented life came equipped with a free copy of The International Jew, a collection of articles penned by Ford for the Dearborn Independent detailing for unlucky fans of Ford the many ways Jews were ruining the world.

Shout out here to Elsa Iwanowa. She brought a suit against Ford Motor Company some years back because, she claimed, she was forced as a child during WWII to work in a Ford factory. Forced labor. Enjoy your Ford Toughness, Ford fans.

Thomas Jefferson. Richard Wagner. Norman Mailer. Leni Riefenstahl. J.D. Salinger. Dostoevsky. Mishima. Vonnegut. Maria von Trapp. Messy lives. Talented, lucky. Talented, unlucky. To respect them is to lose a piece of one's soul, is to compromise one's own personal worldview shaped, in part, by their art.

(For noise, there's a documentary about Memphis on the television. Talk about messy talented lives both lucky and not: Elvis and Martin Luther King are mentioned.)


Woody Allen. What to do about Woody Allen.

(On cue, the Memphis doc has now given way to a speech on international affairs from Carnegie Council. Ethics Matter, the Council says without a hint of irony.)

For me, Woody Allen's films saved me. Possibly not the best thing to say right now, but it is true. His sense of humor made me feel less alone when I was a kid, and I cannot tell you what a revelation his Love and Death was to me when I saw it as a 12 year old.

So I won't tell you. Just assume I got lucky when I came across an airing of it one night. Also assume I'm not implying I'm talented. Talent is luck, I was lucky to witness someone's talent, and now I'm in the unlucky fan group to reconcile his talent with his life. I named my dog after the dog in Manhattan, for chrissakes.

Also please don't read much into my statement about being saved as a 12 year old by Woody Allen.

Here's a fun fact: many of my influences are unsavory people. Great artists, but terrible people. A lot of my influences--artists and not--rattle around like ambulatory assholes in my head, and it's up to me to separate the good from the bad. And it's up to me to be ethical. And it's up to me to be responsible.

Talent is luck. Except it isn't luck. Talent is something far more complicated than any aphorism one can pithily spout over aperitifs or in a blog post. Child molestation, however.

Spousal abuse, however.

Slavery, however.

Murder, however.

Talent is not luck. Being moral is, probably, a talent.

Being influenced by talented, amoral artists is unlucky. All you can do is hope you get lucky enough to influence others to be better than your influences.

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