Monday, February 27, 2006

A British Army Raid

Two good theaters have now asked to see the entire manuscript and a 10-paqe partial respectively. Very exciting.

As it's easier to send a partial before Saturday's reading, we've chosen both the first five pages of the play (on the assumption that they'd want to see the beginning of the piece) and five pages from Act III. The piece below concerns an early morning raid by the British Army on the Harkin home and features in the latter part of the novel.

(The below scene is realistic and was a very typical one played out in many Catholic families in Northern Ireland throughout the 1970s because the Unionist government urged the British government to introduce Internment without Trial to the province and it was a monstrous tool that was, unfortunately, wielded principally against the Catholic minority.

A SON CALLED GABRIEL:The Play

ACT THREE

June 1976 – October 1978

Scene 1 - Soldiers Raid

Loud KNOCKING. Silence. More loud KNOCKING.

Sergeant
Open the door. Open it, now.

A LIGHT goes on in the hallway. EILEEN appears in her robe.

Eileen
Who’s there?

Sergeant
British army.

Eileen
(She lets out a clipped shriek. She speaks in an unsteady voice.) It’s eight o’clock in the morning. What do yous want?

HARRY appears in the hallway. The LIGHT in Gabriel’s room goes on. GABRIEL gets out of bed and walks to his bedroom door.

Sergeant
Open the door or we’re kicking it down.

EILEEN opens the front door and a swarm of SOLDIERS with painted black faces and rifles sweep inside. SERGEANT AND SOLDIER #1 stays in the kitchen. SOLDIER #2 goes into Gabriel’s bedroom. SOLDIER #3 goes into Eileen’s bedroom off the hallway.

Sergeant
(He approaches Eileen’s bedroom.) You’ve got one minute to get dressed.

Harry
What the hell’s this about? Why are you raiding my house?

Sergeant
Where’s the other man?

Eileen
What other man? There’s no other man here. (She tries to stay calm but her voice is all over the place.)

CAROLINE and JAMES appear in the hallway.

James
There’s a soldier searching under our bed.
Harry
(From offstage.) There’s nothing of interest to you in those drawers.

SOLDIER #1 pulls POTS out of the cabinets and tosses them to the floor. We hear the sound of a soldier tromping around in the attic.

Sergeant
(He yells.) Rip up the floorboards and search everywhere until you find their guns.

Eileen
(In a firm voice.) Yous damage anything in this house and we’ll set the law on yous. Where’s your warrant?

Sergeant
(He walks back to Eileen.) We don’t need a warrant to search for terrorists.

Soldier #2
(He emerges from Gabriel’s bedroom.) Look what I’ve found, Sarge? (He holds a DUFFEL BAG in one hand and a polka-dot DRESS and WIG in another.)

Gabriel
That’s my Twelfth Night costume.

Sergeant
Your what?

Gabriel
My costume for a Shakespeare play we’re doing at school.

Sergeant
(He looks at the frock again.) That’s no costume, mate. Shakespeare costumes don’t look like that. They’re old-fashioned they are.

Soldier #2
It’s a fuckin’ disguise, Sarge.

James
It’s his fucking costume.

Eileen
Keep quiet, James. (She turns to SOLDIER #2.) Stop cursing in front of my children.

Sergeant
Is this a disguise, ma’am?

Eileen
My son told you what it is, and none of my children lie.

Sergeant
(He stares at her, then at the garment as he decides how to respond.) Where’s the terrorist who’s staying her? Does this belong to him?

Eileen
Call the priest at the school and you’ll find out it’s a costume for a play.

HARRY emerges from the bedroom followed by SOLDIER #3. Harry’s shirt is only partially tucked in, his fly is half open and his hair is totally rumpled. SOLDIER #2 walks up to HARRY and they both seize his upper arms.

Harry
Let go of me.

Sergeant
(He turns to HARRY.) Do these items belong to the terrorist?

Harry
You heard my wife. There’s no other man living here. Luksee, let go of me.
Sergeant

(From “luksee”) That’s not what our intelligence confirms.

James
You’re intelligence is bloody useless.

Harry
(From “bloody”) You have no right to be bursting into someone’s house at this time of the morning. And your guns are frightening my children.

Eileen
I don’t give a ball of blue what your intelligence confirms. The only other man staying here was his brother. He argued badly with his wife and stayed here weeks ago.

Sergeant
(Surprised by her answer, he takes a step back. He speaks with a softer tone.) Your husband’s brother, you say?...and who’s this vicar you’re talking about? Is he local?

Eileen
He’s not a vicar. He’s a priest. He’s headmaster of Saint Malachy’s. (She makes a quick, deliberate laugh.) Oh, yous have made a grave mistake coming here and raiding an innocent man’s house. Yes indeed, a grave mistake.

Sergeant
How would he know it’s a costume for a play?

Eileen
Who?

Sergeant
(He is a bit nervous about being wrong.) The vic...I mean, the priest. Give us it, then.

Eileen
Give you what?

Sergeant
The number. (He looks at the SOLDIERS holding HARRY.) Get him into the truck.

Harry
Let go of me. I’ll walk out of my own house on my own good time. I’m not going to be taken from my own house like this in front of my children.

Gabriel
Yes, leave my father alone. He’s done nothing wrong, and he’ll walk out on his own if needs to go out.

SOLDIER #2 and SOLDIER # 3 lift HARRY inches above the floor and he struggles and swears as they move toward the door. HARRY claws at the doorjamb on the way out but the SOLDIERS are strong and have momentum on their side and whisk him outside.

Eileen
You have no right to do that to my husband in front of his children. Where are you taking him?

Sergeant
The phone number, ma’am.

EILEEN quickly crosses to the telephone table in the hall and viciously whips the PHONE DIRECTORY out of the drawer, bangs it on the tabletop and begins flicking through it, snapping the pages, ripping some as she does. When she finds the number, she thrusts the book at the SERGEANT.

Eileen
There it is, besides Father Rafferty’s name...and I’ll tell you another thing for free, the priest won’t be pleased you’re calling him at this hour of the morning.

The SERGEANT goes to PHONE and dials.

Eileen
Where are you taking my husband?

Sergeant
Ballykelly barracks.

Eileen
What for?

Sergeant
For questioning. We must. It’s routine in cases like this, ma’am.
Eileen
Even if you know your intelligence is for nothing?

The SERGEANT doesn’t answer. He’s already talking to the headmaster. After a few moments he starts apologizing and kowtowing to the headmaster.

Sergeant
Yes, Father. I understand. Yes, I realize it’s very early in the morning.
Rollins, Sergeant Rollins, Fourth Battalion. (He hangs up the phone and comes back into the kitchen.)

Eileen
Now that this has been cleared up, I’m sure yous won’t need to take my man away.

Sergeant
I can’t do that, Ma’am. I’m very sorry, but I’m under orders to take any men living in this house to the barracks.

Eileen
Well, we’ll just lie in front of your Land Rovers and you’ll not be able to take him. Gabriel, James, Caroline, out yous go and lie on the ground in front of the wheels.

Sergeant
Ma’am, we’d just have to remove the children if they did that. Please understand that orders are orders.

Eileen
They’re orders that’ll land the pack of yous in a pan of boiling frying-oil by the time I’m finished. (She makes no attempt to advance, however.) Coming here brandishing guns and wrecking the homes of civilized people. If there’s as much as a scratch on him when he comes home, yous’ll have me to answer to, personally.

Sergeant
We’re done here.

All the SOLDIERS LEAVE. The sound of the LAND ROVERS engines starting up can be heard amid the SOLDIERS VOICES and LAUGHTER. CAROLINE and JAMES go to the window and watch the soldiers leave as the LIGHTS slowly fade.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

First performance looms

This coming week will be a busy one as the reading of our play, A Son Called Gabriel, by actors will take place on Sat. March 4th in Orange County, New York. It's very exciting to see my novel come to life in this way. Phil informs me the theater told him a lot of people have rang to say they're coming to it; apparently, there's a section of the theater loving public who love to see plays 'being born,' so to speak. Anyone living in and around the theater--address is on program cover--is most welcome to attend as its a free event.

My collaborator, Phil Hilden, is also a photographer and designer, so I asked him to post copies of the program, scenes and cast list, etc. on his website and he has now done so. So take a look and see the great work he's done. It's the first row of his images on page 1.



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Saturday, February 25, 2006

American contrasts

America is a complex land full of startling and wonderful contrasts, and the actions of these biker-veterans on behalf of deceased comrades is a reason I believe ultimately in Americans and our country. My opinion on 'Rev.' Phelps I won't bother to express in detail; suffice to say, any individual possessed of such hatred in the name of God needs committing.

Bikers roll

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Return of the hornet

My training at the 'Y'--now in to its fourth month--has been going extremely well and I'm now up to almost 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercises. Most remarkably is that my stomach and waist is beginning to take on an embroynic washboardy abs sort of appearance--I really didn't believe that would happen. I am really pleased my hard work is paying dividends as I am visiting parts of continental Europe, Ireland and England in the Spring and wish to look my best to my friends over there. I figure the reason for this success is partly due to diet (a lot of fruit and less spuds, bread and ice-cream, although I had a major setback while attending a party over the weekend and ate about twenty, yes twenty, mini-cream puffs and eclairs), and partly due to two amazing machines, one for the stomach and the other for the waist. They're manufactured by a company called Strive and have five levels of difficulty, and I've been pushing myself to do all five levels.

This morning was cold but the sun was shining brightly and my workout started very promising, very promising that is until the hornet approached and spoke to me for the first time ever. (I've described her in a previous post and won't do so again--suffice to say she's late middle-aged, has brassy dyed hair and sports the demeanor of a New York Supreme Court justice I'd argued before a few times--in fact, they might be sisters.) When she presented, I was actually in a state of gym-induced euphoria:the surround music was high-energy and top notch, I was twenty-five minutes into my fat-burner program, sweat was 'rivering' off my face most satisfactorily, and I was absorbed in reading a screenplay Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I happened to look up from the script and there she was, her spindly legs striding toward me in the signature black leotards. She was also sporting a tight pink sweater with matching leggings (think Jane Fonda's exercise video from the 80s) that had shiny butterfly thingies in sequins running up the front.

She and I gravitate toward one particular elliptical (it's the only one of its kind) if its free, though normally she arrives before me so I have to use another machine. I like the machine because it is nicely positioned in the gym and, because it's one of the first I tried since becoming a member, I really know its workings and enjoy the workout it gives. The hornet is not friendly--not even with other women, and I just can't picture her as cuddly with her grandkids if she has any--but for some reason she has decided she doesn't like me in particular. I don't know why excatly; maybe she doesn't like how I look, maybe she's read my novel and despises it, maybe she just needs to dislike somebody as motivation to do a good workout. She stopped in front of my machine, plucked off the clipboard containing the sheet where one signs up by penciling in one's initials, and ran a bejewelled finger over the names and time slots.

"I'll be off in about ten minutes and then I'll wipe it down for-," I said breathlessly.
"We have a problem," she said. "I came in here this morning and signed up for this machine and my time begins now. Have you erased my name?"
"I certainly have not."
"Why's my name not on here, then?"
I was so incensed, I stopped, flew off the machine, and grabbed the board from her. She seemed to anticipate some of my sweat flying off and sticking to her because her neck wrinkles began to lazily recede like a tortoise head retreating into its shell. Her torso leaned back simultaneously.
"It's plain to see there's no evidence of anything being erased on that sheet," I said. "You can see my initials have been lightly inserted and nothings been written underneath." I remounted the machine and began to peddle before I would get timed out and lose the 'calories burned' count if the machine incorrectly anticipated the session was through. "Perhaps you made a mistake."
She went to the next machine and, under my eyelids, I watched her eyes narrow as she scrutinized its attached clipboard.
"Here it is," she said. She thrust it in my face. "Here it is. See? Have the sheets been switched?" She attached this clipboard to my machine. "It's my turn."
Clearly, the implication was that I'd made the switch. "I did not switch any clipboards and I have nine more minutes plus a permitted cool down," I said.
"The rules state you're not allowed use of a machine for more than thirty minutes. Please dismount."
I let the fact she hogs machines for forty minutes or more per session slide. "On your broomstick," I muttered.
"What did you say?"
I ignored her and began to read.
"What did you say?"
"Nice leggings."
"That is not what you said."
Two women on nearby treadmills had removed their iPod earphones and were watching us now.
"Then why did you ask?" I said.
She stomped off, not prettily because her butt is very wide and twin tires protrude at her waist like those of the Michelin Man. I assumed she was seeking the aid of management, but instead she must have decided she was in the wrong and opted to work on her buttocks. I watched as she sat in the seat, placed her feet on the metal plate, and the pink, butterflied leggings extended and retracted as she pushed and released. She did three sets and moved to the chest machine, though not without a baleful glance in my direction followed by a pointed look at the 'official clock.' (There's three wall clocks, but only one has been designated 'official' for session use of the machines.)

Twenty seconds into my cool down, she approached and stood with her arms crossed in front of the machine. I gave up, stepped off the machine, sprayed some disinfectant onto the tissues, and cleaned the handles and machine dashboard.

"Enjoy your workout and have a nice day," I said.
No response, naturally.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Glowing underbellies

My writers group, The Rebs, meet one evening every month and, yesterday, on the way there, I was passing by a small river and happened to catch a quiet but breathtaking spectacle. Beside the weir, I saw a flock of Canada geese silently feeding in the water. Pristine snow covered the banks and roof of a nearby abandoned mill, the pitch-black tree trunks and filigree of their naked branches standing in stark relief, and in the water, as scores of the geese dived beneath the surface their white underbellies glowed like beacons in the dusk.

For a while I watched them undisturbed and it was easy to imagine the Lenape Indians (the Native Americans indigenous to this part of Pennsylvania who were given gifts of fever blankets and 'evacuated' by the British and their lands taken and given to white settlers) watching them from their canoes with their bows poised centuries ago. In turn, that thought caused me to think how ignorant my concept of the American Indians had been when I was growing up in Northern Ireland. Then, all I knew about their culture was from Hollywood westerns. Then, all I knew was they were either Souix or Comanche, their men were called 'Braves' who rode piebald horses called mustangs near vast, rugged mountains and the women were called 'Squaws', their Braves were continually at war fighting cowboys and the US Calvary and they 'collected' scalps, and at night they returned to eat bison meat and sleep in tepees.

In fact, I'd wager if you ask any Brit, Irishman or woman, or continental European today about Native Americans, they'd say, "Are you talking about Red Indians?" before their mind would crowd with an image of trailing head-dresses, unsaddled horses and cowboys. Over there, we had no knowledge of the diversity of the Native American tribes, of their rich culture and diversity, how some tribes lived in the forests, others in the plains, etc. Most Europeans would also not know that there's tremendous poverty and alcohol abuse in the reservations today, or that the Native Americans living in and around Palm Springs (the Agua Caliente, part of the Shoshone tribe) are enormously wealthy because they own the land upon which many of the hotels, casinos, and houses are built and, consequently, collect rents in the same way the Queen of England and the Duke of Malborough receive rents for most of the housing in London's tonier neighborhoods.

In any event, when I stumble upon scenes like feeding Canada geese in the raw American countryside and I'm transported into her past, I love it. This country really is so vast and much of it is beautiful and, despite what is seen of towering skyscrapers and crowded East coast cities, pockets of the Eastern seaboard remain almost as it was when the Indians 'left.' And there's a chance they'll remain that way because bands of concerned citizens are fighting to contain urban sprawl.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Mashed Mack truck lips

It was an enchanting Winter wonderland here on the East coast this weekend. Yesterday, I woke up to see that we'd gotten 18 inches of snow from the sixth largest snowstorm on record and the worst since the winter of 1996--a storm I remember well as I got stuck on a Long Island railway station waiting for a train to Manhattan for hours because my boss at the time decided to be magnanimous and close the office 'early,' which in actuality was only about an hour earlier than the usual knocking-off time.

We went over to L&L's for dinner on Saturday night. Lynne had created a Julia Child dish--a medley of beef, pork and kelbasa done in a mustard cream sauce that was absolutely delicious--to try out her new oven that, due to its stash of buttons and lights, more resembles an Airbus cockpit when the kitchen lights are dimmed. Afterwards we settled into watching a movie; out of a choice of four, we agreed upon an offering called The Island. It was set forty years in the future and the kindest thing I can say about it is that it is atrocious. A majority of mediocre sci-fi movies dealing with clones follow the same well-trodden story and this one was no different. Moreover, insults to an audience's intelligence were added into its threadbare plot for good measure because, obviously, the producers in conjunction with a part of corporate America had concluded the special effects would be a perfect opportunity to do some sublimal advertising, the emphasis on advertising not subliminal; thus, we had to endure numerous images of Microsoft's butterfly and logo because all computer systems were controlled by MS, Mack trucks at high speed, and an assortment of GM and Chrysler (300s) cars in hot pursuit.

Due to the film's lack of 'compellingness', I found myself concentrating more than is usual on the physical characteristics of the cast, specifically the women, and as I did so, the preponderance of Mack trucks led to an unexpected connection. Simply put, what is it about Angelina Jolie's plump (and gorgeous, it must be said) lips that has so many young female--and not so young--actors and wannabees running to their cosmetic surgeons in order to be butchered so that their mouths appear as if they've been driven over and squashed by laden trucks. The kindest thing I could say about one character's mouth is that it reminded me of Bart Simpson's wife's mouth when she's utterly baffled about something silly that Bart has done or said.

I must confess to having also recently noticed this curious form of butchery on the telly show Dancing with the Stars, a popular program developed over here from the BBC original. There's one women whose re-sculpted mouth is far sadder than any of the better Shakespearean tragedies. She's pretty and a lithe dancer, but one's eye is continually drawn to the wrinkled, overly fleshy mouth that not even abundant lipstick can correct. When she smiles--and naturally she does often--one side of her upper lip rises at the same rate the other side plummets, and the final effect is such that one could well believe she'd careened during the dance into a solid wall and they'd edited out the faux pas prior to broadcasting. Vowel delivery remains wholly unaffected, strangely.

So to all Hollywood ladies and wannabees, please know Ms. Jolie has beautiful lips, beautiful and alluring, but do NOT try to emulate them by having massive collagen injections or whatever potions are used under the mistaken assumption that you, too, will have a similarly alluring mouth. Do not re-sculpt under any circumstances because, just like an artificially created male cleft chin, the result is consistently unnatural...and worse, in the case of lips, scary to children. Children find such lips cute on Miss Piggy only.

Yes, I understand fully that Goldie Hawn sported them on The First Wives Club. But, though Hollywood is notorious for its excesses, surely you did understand that Goldie did this as part of the plotline...for a laugh. Her actual lips remain fully untrampeled. As trailblazers and creators of fads, those of you who've already succumbed, I urge you to disregard the opinions of your friends and smile as you take a good, honest look in the mirror, I mean a really honest look, and then, for the sake of American culture and the twenty and thirty-somethings of middle America who adore you to the extent of emulation, be the heroes you are in your screen roles and admit your dreadful mistake. Seek the aid of your shrink if it proves too difficult, but please relinquish your Hollywood career and seek some kind of back-office job...or possibly agenting. In addition, all Americans satisfied with their body bits will also be most thankful for your generosity.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

MSNBC story

Recently, I was contacted by reporter Alex Johnson for a story he was doing for MSNBC. I thought you might enjoy reading Nurturing a community in the online world and you can also listen to a snippet of my interview with him into the bargain.

(I see he included a pic, the one with a full body photo of our Cockerpoo which was taken at the time my book's hard cover was being prepared. I'm so glad I had this taken because the doggie's now very old and unable to walk very far and, quite honestly, others would probably have had their old pets in similar condition put to sleep by now. But he's not in any pain and so, the Irish RC part of my psyche that consistently comes to the fore when death and disease issues raise their ugly heads, will not allow me to have him euthanized just for the sake of my own convenience.)

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Something about freedoms on an anniversary

It's astonishing to me that I've been on the blogosphere for one year today. When Lane at my publisher first introduced me to blogging, informing me that they were doing a book about blogs, and I investigated the whole concept, I became tremendously excited and said I'd like to take a whirl at it. And being a maverick book distribution company with a publishing side and totally in love with my first novel, they decided to help me set up my blog and appointed the chap who'd created the book's website to design something for me. (That, to me, was the advantage of being first published by a smaller publisher; they really know how to move quickly...although, admittedly, they gave me many a tummy upset as my book went through six readings at the house before they gave it the greenlight. So they're fast on the web, but slow when it comes to making decisions about which projects to take on...which I suppose makes sense as it's their money on the line.)

At first, I thought my blog would last but a few months and few would read it and, as a result, I'd lose interest--or I assumed other writing projects would take precedence and the whole thing would dwindle. I also panicked I wouldn't have anything interesting to say:I didn't want the blog to just be about books because...well, there are many blogs about books...and I found I lost interest in most of them after a while. Nor did I want it to be tiresomely political because there are far too many of those too and, while I follow politics and get angry at the current ineptitude and downright dishonesty of many American politicians, I felt I didn't want to get bogged down rehashing what many others in the blogosphere do far better.

As the months passed, the blog began to take shape and I found my style of telling anecdotes and commenting on social issues and art--anything from the Pope, those Saffron Gates in Central Park, Charles and Camilla, scouting and Northern Irish matters, was something I enjoyed. The number of visitors to the blog started growing astonishingly quickly from all over the world and, quite frankly, I found this thrilling and an incentive to continue what I was doing.

Now seems a good time to thank all of you for joining me on the ride. Blogs are important, vital, because they are one of the purest forms of individual expression. Freedom of expression is something we must hold dear, it's the lifeblood of a true democracy, and, given the recent outrageous violence targeted against Europeans, the Danes, French and Norwegians in particular, I believe we all have a duty to stand up and assert those freedoms, especially when zealots try to intimidate and beat us into absolute submission vis-a-vis their values and beliefs. I salute what my fellow Europeans had the guts to do because, here in the United States, I fear our media is controlled by powerful conglomerations who seem more interested in profits, power, and corporate image than truth and freedom of expression. They are so paranoid and lily-livered, they have not as yet shown us, mature Americans with the ability to reason and make up our own minds on the subject, the cartoons in question. This, in the greatest free country in the world!!! And they continue to cover the story incessantly, pixelising and blurring the cartoons as if they were women's naked breasts, etc.

What was even more surprising this past year was the discovery that my terror of running out of things to say has not materialized...at least not yet. Moreover, my latest projects in the shape of the stageplay of 'Gabriel' and now a brand new screenplay project have not dampened my interest in blogging...though at times it has and will continue to cut into the number of posts.

So, as the second year begins, I'll continue to do what I've been doing and we'll see where it takes us.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Miracle Number One

Possessed as I am of a streak of skepticism instilled as a result of a Northern Irish upbringing and accentuated by having worked as an attorney, it is of no surprise to me that the Vatican has announced that miracle number one may have been found on the road to John Paul II's certain canonization. Its discovery was announced by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Catholic Church's overseer of the process and it appears to have all the hooks necessary for a subsequent Hollywood movie: there's a young nun suffering from Parkinson's--the same illness that had the late Pontiff in its grip--she works with children, and she's been praying to the late Pontiff since his death.

I said on this blog shortly after the Pope's death that they'd be a rush to find the miracles and it looks like they're a coming.

Here's the CNN article about the discovery.

As I said in my previous blog post, John Paul II was a decent man who did much to alleviate suffering during his papacy--something I imagine all Popes are expected to do by virtue of the position. However, I am a bit concerned about this rush to pronounce him holy and that he should be canonized as a matter of course.

As a child and then adolescent, I followed the tenets of my faith rigorously and prayed to the saints as all practicing Catholics do. I recited novenas to Saint Anne, to Saint Martin, to Saint Gerald Majella, etc. in hopes of obtaining good examination results, or that I would get better if I was ill, and most especially, I prayed to Saint Jude when I lost something of value and needed it back. During my prayers, I assumed that the saints I prayed to were holy. To me 'holy' meant (and still does) that these people lived exemplary lives and grappled with and overcame their human flaws.

John Paul II had flaws that he did not overcome and thus, in my opinion, while he may be considered good, he cannot be called 'holy.' For example, he did not accord women equality in the eyes of the Church, and I am certain God did not intend women to be less in any way to men. He did not reach out to gays and lesbians--people whom God created throughout the world to live in families as loving sons and daughters--and instead sought to deny them, as adults, a chief right accorded to all human beings entering loving relationships. And he did not vigorously pursue a campaign to oust pedophile priests from the heart of his church, indeed seemed to offer but a deaf ear to the suffering of the victims.

For these reasons, I am truly mystified and will be most interested to learn how the church will reconcile these and other points as the process moves forward. Or will they just ignore them and act on the premise that the vast majority of its laity are as ignorant and uneducated as was their medieval predecessors?

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Male sexuality and Brokeback Mountain

Now that the Oscar nominations have been announced and Brokeback Mountain is a contender in eight categories, I decided it's time to write about something I've been thinking about for a few weeks now. It concerns a remark made by NBC film critic Gene Shalit (father of an openly gay son) during his review of the flick and it caused a wee bit of a stir. (I really do like Shalit's weekly film reviews very much and, with his unruly, aggressively dyed jet-black hair and colorful attire, he adds to the drama of their delivery. With regard to Brokeback, Shalit remarked that the character Jack Straw (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) was a sexual predator in that he chased after Ennis post their time spent together on the mountain and coaxed him into 'sporadic trysts.' His remarks upset many NBC Today Show viewers and the folks at GLAAD who fired off letters and emails of condemnation to NBC and Shalit saying he was defaming gay people and that he would not have called Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) a "sexual predator" because he was pursuing a relationship with Rose (Kate Winslet) in the film Titanic. Within a few days the requested apology came and Shalit added he had not intended to defame the gay community by what he'd said about Jack and, further, his record showed him very much a man who supported gay equality.

GLAAD is a stellar and important group who have striven to erase bigotry, intolerance and those who seek to defame members of the LGBT community in the media. Their objective is stated thus:

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Their record is impressive as can be seen by the lists of accomplishments posted on their website.

In the current instance, while the LGBT community and GLAAD must be ever vigilant, I think there was an overreaction here. The issue raised by Shalit, albeit unknowingly, is wider reaching. By his choice of words, I feel Shalit has touched upon a key truism regarding the male and female approach to sexuality and society's compelling interest in preserving the concept that it is sexually monogamous man and woman within the confines of marriage that is paramount and the only viable way to regulate intimate adult relationships. Seen through this prism, it is little wonder that the scornful Shalit, wearing the mantles of church and state, used the term 'sexual predator.' Jack went after a man whom society regarded as married, monogamous and thus untouchable, and Jack's behavior must be held up in public for contempt and condemned absolutely.

Let's analyze exactly what Jack does in the movie. He is overwhelmingly attracted to Ennis sexually and, throughout the passing of the summer, this fierce, manly desire between the men develops into a deep-seated, unwanted love, albeit more so on Ennis's part because of the poisonous way he was brought up to regard gay people. After the summer, the two, while clearly totally in love by now, part company and that is to be the end of the matter. The following summer however, Jack returns to seek work with the same rancher in hopes that Ennis has been missing him and will also show up. He doesn't: he is now married and has ostensibly moved on with his life. After the passing of a further period of time, Jack writes Ennis and informs him he'll be visiting in his area and would like to get together if Ennis would like that, to which Ennis hurriedly replies in a postcard "You bet." Of course, Jack is visiting for the sole purpose of having sex with Ennis again, but, by the quickness of his response and it's wording, it is clear Ennis is equally anxious for the trysts to begin again.

I would submit that many such situations (heterosexual or homosexual) are initiated, as in the film, by men simply needing or desiring sex outside of a long-term relationship. It is a truism not often discussed that after a long period of time together with one partner, the sex becomes rote and, well, boring for many men. (I suspect the same goes for women too, but I can't speak for them for obvious reasons.) And despite the abundant counsel dished out by 'Keeping your marriage/relationship on track" type books and legions of psychologists and psychotherapists, a new pair of frilly knickers (the equivalent for an anxious gay male partner being a new jockstrap), furry stiletto slippers (no gay male equivalent, at least to my knowledge) or untried, perhaps novel, lovemaking position will give but limited additional mileage. (Note: I've always found it curious how these books, etc. often make it the resposibility of the woman to address what is a natural condition in men?)

The jury's back on this, though the verdict is never acknowledged or discussed in our constrained society. Many men, straight or gay--and I'm not stating all men--enjoy the physical thrill of having sex with new partners, period. 'Sporadic trysts' throughout the millennia have been initiated with far too much frequency that we should now act as adults and acknowledge this aspect of male sexuality.(The ancient Romans acknowledged it and thus I feel their approach to sexuality was a lot more healthy than ours is today.) Married or gay men--lawyers, judges, vicars, plumbers, garbage collectors--initiate 'illicit' liaisons daily. It's mostly men who do the initiating because the sexes are wired differently in this aspect--just as men and women exhibit different symptoms for similar illnesses such as heart attacks--and, while it's more complicated than the space I can allocate it here, I believe a great many men (straight and gay) can have casual sex and not allow it to affect or threaten the dynamics of their primary relationship. It is the natural sexual dynamic of the male operating, nothing more, nothing less.

Most women, on the other hand, prize and demand monogamy and have extreme difficulty accepting that their spouse or partner can function like this. I feel this is a result of both nature and culture, and many women are utterly devastated when they find their partner has so-called 'betrayed' them. (Please note I'm not going to get bogged down with considerations of morality, etc. because these are well aired and supravening in that they are related to cultural and/or religious beliefs that do not alter the fundamental truth about male sexuality. Nor does their sexual wiring mean that men cannot love deeply. Of course men can love, but sex and love can be distinct in the male mind.)

So to conclude, is Jack's behavior tantamount to his being a sexual predator? Of course not. He is behaving as many heterosexual or homosexual men will behave;no more, no less. It's been this way for millennia. Shalit made the flawed assumption that Ennis had no choice in the matter, that he was a hapless victim to Jack's having taken the initiative, searched him out, and moved the relationship forward. This overlooking of choice, together with his addition of a healthy dollop of good old fashioned American puritanism from the vat labeled "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder," is what I believe led him to use the term 'sexual predator' erroneously.

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