Saturday, February 27, 2016

The reading this week went well.  There were a dozen or so readers with a diverse array of genres and topics--one colleague performed two pieces of slam poetry on discrimination and immigration, another wrote a short story about one "Jane Bond," while someone else shared a beautiful essay on oysters.  The experience was really fun and encouraging.  I read three poems - two of which were edited versions of ones I'd posted here.  The third is something I thought I'd share now...

* * * * * * *

Pondering Those Stars & Dots

Like the sting
of a fresh tattoo
I bear 
my grief.
while I 
feel these wounds 
in the body,
on the body.
At least
a tattoo
would create
a scar made
If only I
could display
this pain
so colorfully.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

And now for something a little different...

I recently finished watching a show that, at the outset, is highly out of character for me.  It would require the most severe parental guidance warnings in nearly every category - nudity, sex, profanity, drug use, and even occasional violent images [though not easy, I've made it my aim to keep this review PG-13].  For half of the first season, my experience watching was a constant oscillation between sneering "Wow, this show is such trash" to sobbing "Oh my goodness - how is this so good?!?"  It went from being a guilty pleasure show to something much more significant.  In the process, I flew through 5 seasons in one month.

So a little bit of background on the show... Queer as Folk, which centers on a group of gay friends, aired on Showtime from 2000-2005.  It was an adaptation of a British tv show of the same name created by Russell T. Davies (just a few years before he'd revive Doctor Who).  From the clips I've seen online, the first season of the US/Canadian version (though set in Pittsburgh, it was filmed in Toronto) relies heavily (at times shot-for-shot) on the British one (1999-2000).  Fun fact... the British QaF starred Aiden Gillen (most known as Game of Thrones's Petyr Baelish, The Wire) and Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, Crimson Peak) - reportedly break out performances for both of them.  The American QaF centers on Brian Kinney (Gale Harold)--a narcissistic, ego-centric, hedonistic, self-proclaimed heterophobe, and all around a-hole.  He is also the most effervescently sensual character I have ever encountered.  And I'm in love with him.

[a little bit of Ashton Kutcher, a little bit of Nathan Fillion, a lot of sexy]
The show opens on the night when, after leaving Babylon (a dazzling gay club), Brian meets a young, impressionable Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison) and takes him home.  There's no "will they/won't they" in this show--Justin loses his virginity with Brian and is completely smitten.  There are just a few problems.  Brian, 29, is a successful advertising agent on his way to becoming an executive; he owns an awe-inspiring loft, designer clothes, a fancy car... despite deep-seeded insecurities about getting older, he has it made. 17 and in his senior year of high school.  Also, in coming out to his parents and at school, his life is instantly much more complicated.

[Justin "Sunshine" Taylor and Brian Kinney]
On top of all that--and in some ways the crux of the show--Brian doesn't do relationships.  He does one-night-stands...lots and lots of them (e.g. in the pilot he bangs 3 separate guys in a 24 hour period, with Justin being the middle of the trio).  As the hottest stud in town, his character apparently gets so much action he can walk into a bar and sigh with boredom that "I've done everyone here."  When Justin seeks him out after their first night together, Brian tells him:
"I've had you. What happened last night, it was for fun. You wanted me, and I wanted you. That's all it was... Look, I. don't. believe. in. love. I believe in f---ing. It's honest, it's efficient. You get in and out with the maximum of pleasure and minimum of bullsh-t. Love is something that straight people tell themselves they're in, so they can get laid. And then they end up hurting each other, because it was all based on lies to begin with. If that's what you want, then go find yourself a pretty little girl... and get married."
And yet, despite his best efforts, Brian's life becomes increasingly intertwined with Justin's, often through tragedy.  Theirs is an on-and-off again, unconventional, and yet profound romance.  And oh what a romance it is...

[If nothing else, watch this "ridiculously romantic" montage...]

There's Michael, who's been Brian's best friend since high school when they both came out.  While he is the only person Brian won't sleep with, as his not-entirely-platonic friend, Michael's also the only one he'll say "I love you" to.  The pilot also introduces us to partners Lindsay, an art historian, and Melanie, an intense lawyer.  Lindsay, who'd always been the "Wendy" to Brian's "Peter," is about to have a baby--thanks to a donation from Brian.  Then there's the other best-friend pairing: Ted, a deeply insecure accountant who loves opera, and Emmet, the stereotypical to archetypal "flamboyant one" who is also one of the show's most engaging and inspirational characters.  

[L to R, Emmet (Peter Paige), Ted (Scott Lowell), Brian (Gale Harold), Ben (Robert Gant), Lindsay (Thea Gill), Michael (Hal Sparks)
Justin (Randy Harrison) and Mel  (Michelle Clunie)]

The group act as a non-traditional family through many ups and downs, united especially in their fond ridiculing of Brian.  While his actions often come off as heartless, it becomes apparent that he is willing to do what he believes will be best for his friends--even if they hate him for it.  He is willing to bear that hatred if it means his friends will have better opportunities.  He's the guy who says he won't help and then actually, quietly does all the work.  And then, there are a few times his own pain surfaces and the world seems to stop when Brian Kinney cries.  As the series progresses, he slowly, subtly changes.  Eventually, he is self-aware enough to admit:
My mother is a frigid b-tch, my father was an abusive drunk; they had a hateful marriage, which is probably why I am unwilling, or unable, to form a long-term committed relationship of my own. The fact that I drink like a fish, abuse drugs and have more or less redefined promiscuity doesn't help... much.
If nothing else, this show as a character study of what can happen when a broken person is loved. 
[Season 4 promo]
But enough of an introduction to the characters... It's worth discussing that QaF deals more frankly and graphically with sex than anything else I've ever seen - including Game of Thrones.  But there is an old adage in the study of literature (and I imagine other arts) that "It's always about sex... unless its actually about sex and then its about something different."  While a vast over-simplification, there's a reason this saying has stuck around and I've often found it's that second half that's accurate.  So while this show is unashamedly, from the get-go, in-your-face "about sex," I've found that it's actually about something else, something more.  In the world of the show, sex is a way people work through insecurities and their identities

The show is far from perfect.  It's too melodramatic.  It reinforces some at-best unflattering, at-worst harmful stereotypes.  The cast is alarmingly white.  The dialogue can be campy.  Groundbreaking for 2000, the showrunners clearly went for shock more than sophistication or nuance.  I think the reason I haven't been able to stop thinking about it is how paradoxical it is - while not always "good," it is meaningful.

In the end, Queer as Folk is a show about overcoming.  As the title suggests, the show reappropriates many of the derogatory terms used to demean LGBTQ people to make them empowering.  The characters face issues ranging from the dark--homelessness, bashing, HIV+ status, discrimination, conversion therapy, infidelity, prostitution, rape, addiction, and death--to the beautiful--adoption, reconciliation, recovery, and gay marriage...including the first legal gay wedding ever shown on US television.  While, as a straight person, most of this show was a learning experience for me, I identified strongly with their perseverance in overcoming, in loving each other, and in living the truth.  At one point in the show, Emmet is offered a relationship he wants but at the price of secrecy and he responds by saying, "I never had to live a lie. And I'm not about to start now. Not for you. Not for anyone."  Watching this show reaffirmed for me that I want to be the type of person that doesn't live a lie for anyone, that the me you get is honest even if it's raw.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

So... this happened. 


I'm gonna go eat some chocolate and tell some dementors to beat it with the encouragement of the best. selling. author. of. all. time!!!!!! 

Update: Buzzfeed!