Friday, February 2, 2018

Love, Longing and Loss; catching up too late

The mark of a good writer is prolificity, that is, the ability to get it all written. Fortunately, I've been doing that, elsewhere, leaving the obligatory blogging to wait.

A single theme escapes me, other than the toll of author departures. With so many tumultuous events and lossesand I'm not talking about the Dow it's time to roll on after a brief review. I have to write something to get the December Christmas tree off my front page.

When discussing literature, it's pretty much turned into a toll of loss. Well, one could do that by consulting a list of all recent writer deaths, but let's not. There is hope.

The prolific Victoria Brownworth offered this proper tribute to science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin. The author died in January 2018. Here is her official website.
I never became a passing scrience fiction or fantasy author, but diving into those worlds, with characters facing intelligent problems, not space operas, were part of my reading.

The importance of her themes were not well grasped by my teenage mind. But Brownworth explains:

"The genre of science fiction/fantasy that Le Guin devised was one women and LGBTQ people were aching for: a world in which women were ascendant, a world in which gender was as fluid as times necessitated, a world in which there was only strength in being female and gender non-conforming."

A few days ago, while attending a longtime coworker's abstract art exhibit when I met a mutual friend who reminded me of author Bo Huston, how we both knew him, and our experiences with him. 

I recall his patient critiques of my early '90s fiction attempts. We also drove together from LA to Anaheim in a convertible red rental car to attend the Lambda Literary Awards. I over dressed, and Bo chatted with friends at our table. I knew few of the attendees at the time.

Bo wrote novels, all of which you should read, or reread.

These were the days when press releases were mailed to the offices of the B.A.R. and even then, I typed up events listings, a skill set that's paid my rent more than novels.
Back in the 1990s, colorful flyers included gigs at Josie's Juice Joint, where Funny Gay Males came to town for shows. Among them, Bob Smith, who recently died from a twelve-year battle with ALS. His famous response: "Lou Gehrig's Disease? I don't even like baseball!"

His live local shows and encounters at literary and journalist conferences made up most of our interaction, but his prolificity despite enormous challenges remains remarkable.  Here, Bob chats with his co-comic colleague, Eddie Sarfaty, for The Gay & Lesbian Review.

Here is Lambda Literary remembrance of Bob Smith by editor Donald Weise. 

The New York Times coverage is here, which includes comic Judy Gold's summation of Smith's bravery, even before his ALS began:
“Bob came out onstage as a proud gay man in straight comedy clubs in the mid-’80s at the height of the AIDS crisis by telling an unthreatening and hilarious joke,” she said by email. “There were so many of us who were terrified to be truthful about who we were at that time because it would end our careers, and here was this tall, handsome man who resembled Jimmy Stewart fearlessly delivering brilliant material with dignity and confidence."

In addition to being the first our gay male comic on The Tonight Show, Smith penned memoirs, essays, and novels, all of which you should read, or reread. I particularly loved Selfish & Perverse for its epic setting and funny/sexy romantic story.

So, what are the new uplifting forms of inspiration, other than the work of these people? I'll switch to films for a bit, or one film in particular, since my own fiction writing now includes a rural setting (spoiler alert: a farm).

Here's a nice interview with God's Own Country writer-director Francis Lee. He's hope that in addition to the raves for the gay-ambiguous Call Me by Your Name, this rural romance will continue to find audiences.  From the sheep-birthing to the plaintive landscape, and the hot sex, this life-affirming film should hold us through. I look froward to watching it again.

An excerpt from Lee's interview:
I’m a big fan of hope, and I think no matter how difficult circumstances that you find yourself in emotionally or physically, I would always like to think that at some point that those circumstances will shift for the better,  I felt that the two characters worked so hard in the film that I had to deliver that ending for them, and in fact it wouldn’t be doing their work any justice if I ended it any other way. I have become quite tired of watching films with same-sex relationships depicted when it would end with loneliness, or isolation, or rejection, or an unrequited love.  Or even with society saying they can’t be, as that had never been my experience, and I wanted to redress that balance."
 This film has become a terrific addition to the genre. My own uplifting empathetic novels hopefully continue that hope, both for the gay themes, but also the depiction of the father through his physical challenges after a stroke.

But what if there is loss and tragedy? As real people leave us, and become ill, should we not include those events in our stories with empathy?

In a certain chapter in my upcoming novel, news of a death is shared. In that scene, or the real version I experienced, a worn paperback of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed sat on a coffee table. I had included this detail (because I read the book while I was at that setting), but Le Guin's death made it seem anachronicistically false, inserted. I removed it; perhaps a cold decision.

This is a question I face as I describe a decades-back setting; who from our past deserves mention? The historical and personal events blend. I base a character on a lost high school friend, a comrade in activism, and mentor, a date.

Even Call Me by Your Name author Andre Aciman offered opinions about a proposed sequel to the acclaimed film that will 'take on AIDS.' We're assuming that to mean a character will get sick or die; which one(s) remain(s) a question.

This is the burden we face, remembering and appreciating the lost ones. Telling of their lives, but also their deaths.

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