Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Everyone, open your books at page...

Since it's autumn and the trees they are 'a peaking,' I thought it might be interesting to share how the various colors come into being, something I just came upon quite recently. I used to think it was utterly dependent on the amount of rain and degree of frost and stuff like that. Well, that's not entirely the story.

Leaf color comes from pigments: the yellows and oranges are carotene; the green is chlorophyll, of course; and the red is anthocyanin.

When autumn arrives, the leaves produce little or no chlorophyll, which thus allows the stored carotene to come forward as an array of magnificent golds, oranges and yellows. (In Ireland, I went to primary school on the site of an ancient fort whose old moat was ringed with beech trees and I remember staring for ages into the bright gold canopy at this time of year.) The intensity of red produced in a given year is dependent on temperature and amount of cloud in the sky. Reds are at their most impressive when there's a period of warm, sunny days followed by cool nights because during the day the trees can still produce sap in which anthocyanin is synthesized; then during cool nights, the sap does not flow to the trees extremities and all the stored anthocyanin turns the leaves into hues of brilliant red, maroon and purple--think red maples and dogwoods on the east coast.

Rain does affect the intensity of color, however. If the Fall is warm and wet, such as we've been experiencing this year, the brightness of the turning leaves is affected adversely. I'm finding this year quite strange because many trees are still green and those that are turning are very disappointing. But I suppose it takes an off-year or two to make us truly appreciate those spectacular years when the show really blazes. And lastly, an early and severe frost simply causes the leaves to turn a horrid brown immediately.

Tonight we're supposed to get our first frost and it'll be very interesting to see if my turkey vultures change color, too. Just kidding. Dear reader, you do know I'm not that naive, right?!

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Friday, October 21, 2005

The visitors

A most extraordinary sight occurred near the house last night. At dusk, I was taking our doggie out to pee and I heard an enormous crashing in the tree canopy and looked up to see about ten turkey vultures descending into the woods. One even looked like a black-feathered Holy Ghost as it landed with wings uplifted in the cleft of an ash. As I peered into the nooks and fissures created by the tree branches, I saw there were about a hundred or more of the birds already roosting there. I stood utterly amazed. And as I watched, another flight arrived and negotiated paths through the trees, their huge wing spans beating against the trees extremities which in turn sent a rain of turning leaves spinning to the ground. It was at once beautifully primal and beautifully eerie, the silence of the great birds and the approaching darkness broken only by turbulence of wings beating against limbs.

The sight also made me laugh. Prior to our friends moving from Bucks to New Orleans, ten turkey vultures landed on the roof of their bank barn. As both of them are elderly, they got very spooked and went out and threw stones at the unwelcome visitors until they had no choice but to leave. I also recalled my mother doing the same years ago in Ireland when doves landed on our home, though in that case she was such a lousy shot she broke two panes of glass--much to my father's annoyance.

A few years ago, a flock of turkey vultures had done the same thing for a couple of weeks in the trees surrounding a nearby village. There were hundreds of them. It caused a sensation and TV stations from Philly came out to film the sight for the evening news. It turns out that turkey vultures congregate in this manner for a brief period during the fall. And the village was advised not to shoo them away because the birds, if frightened, would expel the carrion they'd eaten that day.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Theatrical obsessions

Given I may be about to collaborate on the play (dealing with the contract stuff presently) of A Son Called Gabriel, I've been doing some preparatory work and am thus understandably obsessed with all things theatre currently. So, last Sunday I went to up to Princeton to see the final matinee of Miss Witherspoon by Christopher Durang. Full disclosure here: Mr. Durang is a neighbor and I do know him.

Durang's play is billed as a comedy fantasy and described thus:
"The show's title character is a persnickety woman forced to reincarnate against her better judgment. Miss Witherspoon's previous lives - whose highlights include a ringside seat at the Salem witch trials and an exasperating tendency to run into Rex Harrison - were no picnic, so it's no wonder she's dragging her feet. The 21st century, after all, isn't going too well so far. With a motley cast of characters that include appearances by Jesus and Gandalf, Miss Witherspoon is a fractured fable for our time."

Scenes play out in the place souls go to when they're awaiting reincarnation --represented by azure sky, fleecy clouds and ornate glowing Indian lights because her guide in the afterlife is an Indian deity replete with colorful sari--and on earth. Sound effects such as something akin to the tumultuous whine of jet engines or perhaps a rocket bound for space during the unsuccessful reincarnation sequences were superb, though the scenery was a trifle minimalist for my taste on occasions. Though wary of works tending toward the crackpot and/or whimsical, I found the play entertaining without having to belly laugh (unlike some members of the audience in attendance) and thought it well written and executed. At the core of the play is the theme of religion, though unlike his Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You where a Catholic education is held up for scrutiny, Durang refers to Christianity and at one point concludes God has more than one face.

(The play will begin a run at the Playwrights Horizons theater in NYC in November.)

Still consumed with preparations for writing my first play, I popped into the Drama Bookstore on W40th Street and purchased copies of the adaptations of The Cider House Rules Parts I and II, Michael Cunningham's adaptation of Flesh and Blood , and, since he won the Nobel Prize last week, the complete works of Harold Pinter 1971-81. Pinter is a dramatist I can relate to; his work is clean, understandable, relevant and breathtakingly brilliant.

I've now gone through my novel and broken it down into 68 scenes. From some of these scenes will emerge the play and, as the writing progresses, I'll post little excerpts so you can get an idea of how the thing's going. All very exciting, though daunting too, of course, because of the looming decisions about what to include and more importantly what to exclude. In effect, one is trying to distill a 341 page novel into around 100 pages of story and dialogue.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Banishing cockroaches

TNMy Husband Betty
Last June in NYC, at the Lambda Literary Awards, I had the pleasure of meeting author Helen Boyd, a heterosexual woman married to a heterosexual crossdresser, whose book My Husband Betty was an award finalist. We exchanged books and, as I looked at its contents and cover, it set me thinking about these people and their community and the prejudices they must endure and fight to overcome. As the offspring of parents who were brutishly discriminated against in their own country, and as a member of a so-called 'alternative lifestyle' minority, I have absolutely no tolerance of prejudice and bigotry, or of people who herald these human flaws as qualities to aspire to, and shall in my own way try to shine the light of education on difficult subjects so that all cockroaches will eventually be exposed and banished.

I, too, have in my life been prejudiced against different kinds of people. It's inescapable, the product of being reared in a homogenized community. We learn it from watching our parents deal with others, from our teachers, from our vicars and priests, from all in positions of authority. I think all young people growing up in conservative communities are saddled with that burden, and we spend the rest of our lives--the intelligent, enlightened ones, at least--trying to erase the marks of that onerous saddle. With regard to crossdressers and the transgendered, my prejudice was based entirely on ignorance and laughter. By laughter, I mean laughing at, not with. I have had no dealings with crossdressers, nor have I made any attempt to befriend such people. After all, it is so much easier not to befriend those regarded as outcasts or defective by society; it saves one from having to explain how one came into contact and befriended such a person to one's 'normal' friends. In fact, until I met Helen, I hadn't pondered my prejudice about this to any degree, unlike for example, the way I occasionally ponder the paucity of black, Indian or Pakistani friends I have got, and how few of them I encounter at the dinner tables of my friends, both gay and straight, in suburban America.

My knowledge and experience of men dressing as women is limited--as will most likely be the case of my Brit and Irish peers--to bizarre and comic characters on the telly such as the effette Danny Leroux (I think that's how his name is spelled and he's Irish, I believe) and Dame Edna Everedge (Australian, and used to be pretty tight with Maggie Thatcher as their politics were the same) and the slaggish Lily Savage (now retired by her creator, Paul O'Grady) who began her meteoric rise at a South London pub called The Royal Vauxhall Tavern where I used to drink on occasional Sunday afternoons. In other words, my contact with crossdressers amounted to watching drag queens, both those on stage and the garish, sharp-tongued wags inhabiting the periphery of gay life.

My friend Lee of L&L also read My Husband Betty recently, found it fascinating and had this to say:
"The book was very funny and at times heartwrenching...the author does a wonderful job of letting us into her life both good and bad..."

So I've invited Helen Boyd onto the blog to shine a light and hope you enjoy learning about what she has to say about her friends and community.

Helen, thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

Thanks for inviting me.

DMN: The preface to your book begins:
"I never thought I would write a book about crossdressing, but when the opportunity knocked, I couldn't resist..."
You are a heterosexual woman who's married to a heterosexual crossdresser. Is this quite common in the crossdressing community?

HB It’s very common – since gay crossdressers don’t end up married to women, and hetero crossdressers often think that getting married will keep them from crossdressing. So a lot of women find out years into a marriage, and are upset by having been lied to. I was lucky in that Betty told me before we got married, and even though I did a lot of research, I still wasn’t fully prepared. I should add that Betty never thought of herself as a crossdresser – that was more what other people called what she did, but she didn’t use a label – and has come, over time, to identify as trans, or transgender.

DMN: Can you talk a little about your relationship with your partner and share with us some details about the community?

HB Betty and I had to forge our own community to some degree; we feel most at home with lesbians who are hip to transness, trans people who are hip to GLBT people, gay men who are hip to crossdressing, and tend to hang around most with other trans-couples (ie, where one person is trans and the other isn't, usually, like us). We think of our community as the queer community, which consists of a lot of smaller communities. We also, of course, have friends who are artists, especially actors (as Betty is one) and writers (because I'm one). But historically, the "straight" crossdressing community tends to separate itself from GLBT people, often while mumbling something about how straight they are. We found that hypocritical, and so never felt really comfortable in a community we were told we "belonged" in. Luckily, a younger generation of CDs is rejecting that homophobic and transphobic attitude, too.

DMN: What percentage of crossdressers are heterosexual and what percentage are homosexual, or is that too simplistic a categorization?

HB It’s too simplistic. There are definitely both types, but any guesses at what the percentage is – even if you were to force all of them into one category or another – is unknown. A lot of crossdressers’ sexualities involve feeling “like a woman” sexually, by which they mean being somewhat coy and submissive, and being the one seduced. Some of the “straight” ones, as a result, end up experimenting with men not so much because they’re sexually attracted to men but because being with a man makes them feel like a woman. Some of them probably like men, too, and crossdressers will often have sexual relationships with each other, too. Sometimes they’re bisexual but their bisexuality is dependent on their gender presentation. And others, like Betty, only love women. (The whole “opposite sex” idea gets pretty complicated when someone switches genders, as you can see.)

DMN: Is it fair to say that the world of crossdressers is not discussed often in Western culture and is thus misunderstood? If so, what are the major misconceptions and how do you and your husband try to overcome them?

HB I think most of the time crossdressing is dismissed as a kink, or an eccentricity, but the feelings behind why people crossdress are much more complicated than that. It’s not like collecting vintage ties, and it’s not a “lifestyle.” It’s more a quality of life kind of need, along the lines of being gay or lesbian – yes, it’s something people can and do repress, but doing so isn’t a good way to be mentally healthy. But it’s also not entirely about sex, either, though it can be deeply connected to sensuality. I think the one thing I can say for sure is that most of what people think they “know” about crossdressers isn’t always right, and probably isn’t even usually right. Very few crossdressers fit the textbook definition of seedy men getting off on wearing women’s underwear. For some, the crossdressing is an outlet for gender dysphoria, and for others, a way of embracing sexuality in ways they can’t as men. Basically, there are as many reasons to crossdress as there are crossdressers (which is usually estimated at somewhere between 2 – 5% of the male population.) Many crossdressers are starting to identify as transgendered – either because they feel dually-gendered or because they have deep feelings of being gender dysphoric – that is, that they were assigned the wrong gender at birth, or that their gender is not the one that their genitalia presumably indicates.

DMN: What do you hope to achieve by writing My Husband Betty?

HB Four things: 1) to provide crossdressers and their wives useful information, 2) to dispel larger myths the public has about who crossdressers are and why they do what they do, 3) to provide a book for counselors, therapists, sociologists, etc., who wanted to more more from an insider’s point of view, and 4) to provide anyone interested in unusual love story a good read.

DMN: How have you been received by your heterosexual peers and people whom you meet along with your husband for the first time?

HB Our heterosexual peers are pretty open-minded, and I haven’t lived a particularly white picket fence kind of life – so my friends were fine with it. And Betty’s friends like her, so they were sometimes surprised but were also supportive – like good friends, they wanted their friend to be happy. Strangers who meet us for the first time usually can’t figure us out, and keep their distance, but it’s kind of remarkable: if we’re at a party and one person works up the nerve to ask us what our deal is, a crowd will gather pretty fast. So mostly, strangers are curious. Het women generally respond better than het men, but that really depends on the situation.

DMN: Can you share a funny incident or two as well as some that made you sad or were particularly hurtful?

HB ThereƂ’s one incident that’s both sad and funny, depending on how I’m feeling. Betty was in male mode one day when he decided to try on a pair of pumps at a small boutique here in Park Slope (a neighborhood with is very GLBT-friendly). The woman who owned the shop nearly hurt herself being open-minded, and immediately went into her best gossip-dishing I’m-speaking-to-a-drag-queen chatter. Then I said something about how the shoes fit, and she looked at me as if I’d beamed into the store at that second; she’d welcomed us when we both walked in, but after Betty asked to try on the shoes, I became invisible. So it was funny in the sense that people will go out of their way to be welcoming, often in ways that show they’re also nervous or uncertain, but sad because when someone assumes a man who wears pumps is gay means our relationship disappears.

DMN: Have you experienced overt discrimination or prejudice as a white heterosexual woman who happens to be the partner of a crossdresser?

HB Not discrimination, no. Lots of misunderstanding, and I’m occasionally challenged in difficult ways. Some older gay men apparently think I’m the biggest fool that ever was, as *they know* that men who wear women’s clothes are always gay and that I’m deceiving myself. Lesbians likewise often look at me like I’m the biggest closet case that ever was. Wives of crossdressers and crossdressers themselves often assume I’m a lesbian because I’m okay kissing Betty when she’s en femme. None of these things are true, and it often makes me feel quite lonely – but hardly discriminated against.

DMN: Are you working on anything new?

HB I’m working on a book now called Boy Meets Girl, which is about the things I've learned about gender in relationships as a result of being with Betty and as a result of meeting a lot of gender variant people since I published My Husband Betty. What I've noticed is that until or unless there’s a problem with gender, it’s invisible. We make huge assumptions about who a person was and who they’re supposed to be as a partner and lover based on gender – and I came into this relationship thinking I was pretty smart about gender, and didn’t do any of those things. But when your husband starts wondering if he should transition (that’s the PC term for a ‘sex change’ these days), you have to think a lot harder about gender, and learn a lot more. Boy Meets Girl will be a memoir of my struggle to figure out what it might mean to our romance if my husband became my wife, and how what I learned in the process might help others in relationships of all kinds.

Helen also runs a blog Myhusbandbetty.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Philadelphia, the conclusion

The next evening I arrived again in Philadelphia to participate in the Formats are for Losers forum, hosted by Kevin Smokler at Voices and Visions Bookstore in The Bourse. Having arrived in town early, I decided to go to the Reading Terminal Market and walk about the place taking in the sights and smells of the farmer's market. This is a Philly gem, a must visit.

The market's underneath an old railway terminal and it's just like an Irish town in the variety of small shops. There were no garish T-shirt outlets, no record stores, no cheap necklace and lurid poster stalls. I walked about like a child in a candy store, engrossed by the colors of goods and aromas and sounds of the place. There's well over a hundred stalls, not including restaurants, and one can purchase meats from an old fashioned ruddy-faced butcher, or chicken, turkey and fresh eggs from another specialty vendor, or inviting breads, veggies and preserves from Amish farmstores (which were unfortunately closed that day). There's also a collosal variety of European and American cheeses, enough to make you momentarily consider walking up to the displays and start tearing open the packaging and devouring the contents.

I was truly spoiled for choice as to where to have supper, whether to sample something at an old fashioned sausage store, or dine on something aromatically Moorish, or traditional perhaps Japanese or Chinese, etc. In the end, still guilty because I've put on a couple of pounds due to rich eating while our New Orleans friends stayed with us, I selected a salad bar and tucked into a mound of greens and some of the most delicious tuna and crab salads I've ever tasted. At the next table was an elderly African American gentleman talking to an elderly white lady and I couldn't help evesdropping because he was telling her how his North Philly neighborhood was changing, how people were buying up home and prices were going up. She was from South philly, Italian I thnought, and all she did was shovel down the rest of her dinner and then start in on a collosal bowl of ice-cream. And all about me the same sort of thing was happening, office workers and people of all races, ages and classes were chatting and eating their suppers.

My will power crashed shamelessly fifteen minutes later while strolling on 13th Street. As soon as I looked inside the window of Capogiro Gelato Artisans and saw the tumult of gelato in the openfaced fridges I knew my self-denial was over. I should say here I am from a family quite fond of Gelato. Mum spent my siblings and my childhoods hunting for the most perfect gelato in any place we ever visited. Ireland did not have much to offer, let me also say. It was an obsession, a still as yet unfulfilled attempt to relive her girlhood experience of first tasting what she considers the true nectar of the Gods during a visit to the shore.

Caught up again in the hunt, I frantically pushed open the door and charged up to the display. I'd have called Mum if I'd had a mobile phone and am absolutely sure she'd have been fully absorbed within seconds of my describing the decedant bounty before me. A smiling young Goth--yes, smiling--whose arms were awash in tattoos smiled as I greedily satisfied my eye hunger, then asked what I'd like to try.
"Try...what, for free?" I said.
"Sure." She whipped a heap of colorful plastic spoons from a bucket.
"What would go with that bitter chocolate?"
"Everything goes with bitter chocolate," she said. "And we've just gotten in our Fall samples today."
I felt like I was in a boutique, which of course I was.
"Try the Thai coconut, and the mango, the banana foster, and the candied Russet apple."
In the end, I purchased a cup of bitter chocolate and a new fall flavor, Italian plum, took a seat by the window and watched Philly life stroll by. It was good, though I can honestly state she's wrong. Not everything goes with bitter chocolate.

The forum was fun and we discussed how contemporary writers are not confining their writing to books nowadays. Quite a few are blogging, some are writing for radio, and yet others are writing screenplays and/or adapting their work for the stage, myself included.

Rita-Anne, a lady who'd emailed me some time ago to say how much she'd enjoyed my novel, showed up with her friend Nick and we chatted before the event began. (Actually, I posted her email expressing how she felt about my writing because I felt it was something worthy of sharing.) Later, I bumped into the pair again outside and Rita Anne and I went for a drink to a pub called Lucy's Hat Shop. Isn't that a neat name for a pub?

We chatted up a storm over a pint of really, really hoppy tasting beer (I love hoppy beer and I love micro-breweries and cannot understand why Americans drink stuff like Bud, Coors or Miller); subjects covering included her forthcoming marriage, life in Philly, and her thoughts about moving to suburbia upon her nuptuals. We also shared our thoughts on sex, monogamy, and our views on the give-and-take in relationships. I love it when I meet a kindred spirit and Rita-Anne was one such spirit. I'm sure her previous contact with me and her love of and frequent trips to Ireland shortened the time needed for us to get deep into our psyches. She shared with me a story that brought home how truly small our world has become today. Recently, she was on the internet at her home in the States scanning the crowd in her favorite pub in Belfast who just happen to have a video cam streaming to the internet. To her surprise, she saw her best friend walk in and watched as she sat with a pint of beer at a table with some friends. For a laugh, Rita Anne called her mobile and told her to put down her beer. Her friend was stunned because she hadn't known the pub had a video cam streaming to the internet.

Finally, I looked at my watch and realized I'd have to hightail it to the station or I'd miss my train. In the end I did miss it because every damned door to the station was locked and I had to go out to the street again and go to the main door. But it was worth it. There's nothing like spontaneously doing something, and going for a drink with Rita Anne was just the perfect way to end my Philly jaunt. And that's what Philly represents. It represents down to earth people, real people, people who don't get all hung up on the rat race and other nonsense, and that's why I can see why it's a city on the rise. So, cheers to Philly and hoppy beer.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Philadelphia Story Part II

My Wednesday reading at Valanni's Restaurant was scheduled to begin at 10.00pm so I drove to Jenkintown and took the train into center city. I arrived twenty minutes early and, as I mounted the steps to the restaurant, a woman hollered my name and I spun around to see her approach.
"Are you Damian?" she asked.
I nodded my affirmation.
"Thought I recognized you from the photo on the festival's site." She held out her hand and shook mine enthusiastically.
Janet is a poet--an exceptional one it transpires because we exchanged books (as authors are wont to do in these circumstances) and I read her work on the train journey home. Quite frankly, I was transported to another world, a world of magnificent femininity and promise.

Here's a couple of excerpts from A Woman Alone which she told me was inspired by a trip to Greece.

a woman alone
is her own possession;
she is a street
dark with devout faces;
she is her own high priest
swinging the incense
of her own scent;
a woman alone
is the flame;
she is the wax that burns

a woman alone is time
turned back
on itself;
she is a swell
of sea;
foam born
from its own breaker;
a woman alone
on the crest,
her own wave

a woman alone
is her own body
she is the cold embrace
of sea and her own
that swims in it;
she is the heat
of the sun
and the smooth
hot rocks that contain her,
a woman alone......

Should you wish to find out how to acquire Janet's work, just email her at and I'm sure she'll be delighted to help you.

Janet and I sat at a table--her with a soda water and me with a diet coke, which we though were on the house because no-one gave us a bill...initially--and slipped into easy camaradie, the two of us jabbering ten to a dozen as if we'd known each other for years. I so enjoy it when I meet people with whom I feel immediately comfortable. So engrossed did we become, we scarcely noticed how quickly the place filled up, and next thing the manager approached and introduced us to our festival host, John Lessard. Soon there was a band of gregarious writers milling about the narrow room, including Jim Gladstone whom I'd also never met. I loved this opportunity to mingle with fellow writers, an opportunity which many city writers enjoy regularly, and even indulged the thought that it would be wonderful to live in Philly because of it.

The event began late and, as Janet had to leave early due to an early morning meeting, she, aided by a green keychain light due to a snafu concerning adequate light for the authors to read their work, was first up. I was to swiftly follow second owing to the fact I had to catch the last train home or I'd have been stranded until five o'clock the following morning. Despite a healthy din from some diners also in attendance, I was immediately struck by Janet's words and only regretted her reading was so short. In a flash, she was gone and the DJ recommenced playing, his performance accompanied by a partner who kept fiddling with some peculiar gadget that caused images flashed against an opposite wall to move and contort in all sorts of odd ways.

Ten minutes later, it was clear the DJ was on a roll and would brook no interruption from the plebian authors. Consulting my watch, I saw it was 11:25 and I had about half an hour to read my excerpt and bolt to the train station about ten minutes away. The chap was in full view but no amount of glaring and finger drumming on the table would guilt him to relinquish the floor. Simply put, we were plebs. Two minutes later, a jag of pure panic compelled me to mutiny and I went up to the restaurant manager, seized his arm, explained my dilemma, and the reading commenced. Still very noisy, I read my piece and left, very disappointed not to be able to stay and hear the others read from their work.

Hurtling along 13th street, I spied a tall, well built African American lady shouting something indiscernible as she started along the next block. As I drew closer, I saw she was wearing high cork-heeled shoes and a lightweight, dangerously short black dress that displayed the nether regions of her very full bottom. It appeared as if she wasn't wearing knickers, and the sleeves of her dress had long, silky fringes which swayed back and forth as she raised and moved her arms in the balmy October evening air.

I crossed the street as she called aloud like a Victorian street vendor, "Some sweet black ass here."

Given it was 13th and Chestnut, I was positive I'd misheard, until I saw other pedestrians turn their heads to look back at her. Chuckles emanated from a posse of young men and women on the other side of the street. Despite a need to maintain momentum, my feet began to slow.
"Hi Sugar," she said, as I swung out to pass her by.
Her accent was Southern and, given the recent catastrophe down there, it flashed in my mind that she might be a New Orleans ex-pat adrift in the wrong end of town. Certain her pickings would be slim, I wondered if I should redirect, though had no idea exactly where to redirect her.
"Good evening," I said,instead.
"Aaw Sugar, don' be in such a hurry," she called after me. "Nobody got time. Don' you want some o' this sweet black ass?"
I focused on the pink neon guitar at the Hard Rock Cafe on the corner of Market St. and began to increase speed again. But the incongruity of location and this woman's mission proved far too intriguing and, like a hick, I turned my head to stare and marvel at how dextrously she spun around on those high-arched cork heels at the street corner and began to retrace her beat, her call and fringes rising above the low din of the late evening traffic.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Spice update

Spice is now on oral steroids for two weeks after which the vet--a lovely, warm and kind lady--will evaluate. Here's hoping!! Thanks to all who emailed or posted well wishes. It is appreciated.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Philadelphia Story Part One and a Presidential interruption

Recently National Geographic did a feature on the rise of Philadelphia as a great city again entitled Next Great City: Philly, Really, The premise of its re-ascension is based on two undeniable facts: Philadelphia is an open city, namely it accepts and actually courts all kinds of people--artists, singles, gays, etc.--to live here and it is installing WiFi (wireless access to the internet) for all city residents to exploit and enjoy. The latter service will be made available at a low cost (free to its poorer residents) by the end of next year. This will result in Philadelphia being one of the most sophisticated cities in the US from a digital perspective, as well as enable its residents to find high-tech jobs. Of course, the cable and phone companies are displeased, but Philadelphia is a blue-collar city with sound blue-collar values, and is not in the business of making corporations millions of dollars in profit at the expense of its residents.

Don't misunderstand me: Philadelphia currently has problems. Mayor John Street's administration is mired in corruption and the subject of FBI investigation--he vociferously denies any personal wrongdoing and so far there is no evidence of any on his part--accused of rank cronyism in dealing with lucrative City contracts, some of which was used to fund the mayor's campaign for office. But despite this, the city is bustling with energy and excitement.

Last week I had an opportunity to experience this vibrancy firsthand when I participated in a reading and panel as part of Philadelphia's literary festival, 215Festival. As a warm-up to the festival, my publicist, Joan Schweighardt, arranged for me to appear on Marty Moss Coane's Radio Times show on NPR (WHYY) with authors Chris Bauman and Kevin Smokler. To my dismay, when I arrived at the station across the road from the magnificent Constitution center, they informed me that President Bush had decided to call a news conference which would devour part of the hour during which we were to appear.

Together, in the studio, poised to don our earphones at a moment's notice, Chris and I watched (Kevin was on the phone from San Francisco) with Marty as the President waxed on yet again like a broken record about Iraq, New Orleans, and his latest choice of Supreme Court justice. I keep this blog free of American politics, feeling that my objective is to entertain with stories and slices of life, but I was incensed by his pointless intrusion.

Why incensed? Well frankly, I am tired of seeing President Bush's face on the telly. The White House stated it was a rare news conference, but his presence is uniquitous these days. He's on the telly and radio as often as some advertisements I abhor. He's relentless. And the message is always the same. It's insulting to me that he continues to deliver the same meatless tripe on every occasion. Does the White House really believe that, if I am forced to endure the same message over and over, I will believe the banal spin to be true? Enough, Mr. President! I have teeth, I am intelligent, I want meat. Do not insult me with repetitive asininity.

Anyway, after half an hour, said interruption came to an end and we came on the air and there was plenty of meat for all. In the space of thirty-five minutes, Kevin, Chris and I talked about writing and the different formats that some contemporary writers are experimenting with, such as me with my blog for writing nonfiction and slices of life, and the essays that Chris and Kevin do for radio. Moreover, we talked about how some writers are even adapting their books for the screen and the theater, of which I am one now too because I've started work on a play of A Son Called Gabriel.. You can listen to the show by calling up the second hour of the Oct 4th show. If you'd rather not hear 'the interruption', just move the controls forward until you hear Marty introduce us.

In the next post, I'll talk about the 215festival event at Valanni's Restaurant and whom I met there, my brief encounter with a buxom lady in Center City, the Forum next day with Kevin and Chris at Voices and Visions, and my jaunt to the pub with Rita-Anne.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005


It's been a difficult week because my doggie, Spice, is getting on and is now unable to stand up. His back legs are shot currently. I feel very sad. There's nothing beautiful about getting really old, either for dogs or humans. So I'm taking him to the vet today to see if steroids will help.

And I was running about like a lunatic to and fro 215Festival. I'll post my doings there very soon.
Philadelphia Stories interviewed me for their Fall did the literary ezine VOID Magazine. If you'd like to read the interviews, just click on their URLs' on my blog's sidebar on the righthandside.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A festival, a play and turkey vultures

Last week was very busy and this week will be too because I'm reading at the 215Festival in Philadelphia on Wednesday night (starting 10 pm) at Valanni's Restaurant (13th and Spruce) with a number of other authors and then on Thursday evening (starting at 7:00 pm) will be taking part in a forum with Christian Bauman and Kevin Smokler at Voices and Visions Books in The Bourse, 111 Independence Mall.

Tomorrow between 11 and noon, I'm back on NPR with those same authors to talk to one of my favorite hosts, WHYY's Marty Moss Coane, about books and how authors are also using other forums--theatre, music, film, blogs, etc.--to reach their audiences.

In this regard, it's quite possible you'll be able to see a stage production of A Son Called Gabriel in the future because I'm currently talking to a playwright with a view to collaborating on writing a play based on Gabriel's life. Very exciting, and I'll report more on the blog as things develop.

We've had some friends staying with us for the past five weeks from New Orleans and they leave tomorrow for that great city. As you can imagine, they're excited to go back to their home in the French Quarter, though they're also apprehensive as they don't quite know what to expect vis-a-vis the infrastructure, etc. Luckily, their home emerged unscathed from Hurricane Katrina though, as I'm sure you can imagine, they're devastated by what has happened to other New Orleans residents.

Larry and I had some friends around yesterday to say goodbye to them and, at one point, we took a walk though the fields to the site of the new French Country home we're building. It was a beautiful day because the dogwoods have now turned crimson and the sky was cloudless and cerulean. At one point, I looked up to see a hundred turkey vultures floating like black rags in the sky. It was breathtaking. Immediately, I alerted the others and all of us stood in the silence watching the drifting silhouettes. The birds were stacked at various heights like aircraft at a busy airport, some I'm convinced were more than a mile high, and it was truly spectacular. As I continued to watch the drifting birds, images of Hurricane Katrina popped into my mind, and I thought how hideous and gorgeous can be the face of Mother Nature.

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