In the wind

Peter Paul & Mary: In the WindIf you can believe it, I’m still playing my record collection in reverse chronological order. I should be done by now, but I’ve slowed way down. It has been fascinating to wander back through the 1960s, a time before I was collecting records or listening to Casey Kasem (who started in 1970), or making much of any musical memories of my own.

My older sister got her first 45s for Christmas 1968—”Hey Jude,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Little Arrows” and “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize” among them. Prior to that, the only records I recognized from the time were those my parents had. Though I haven’t asked, it seems clear they each had their style and bought their records separately. Mom liked Englebert Humperdinck (Tom Jones must have been too racy) and the Lennon Sisters, and before that, the Ray Conniff Singers and Andre Kostelanetz’s orchestra. Dad bought Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass—Herb, my first celebrity crush—and Peter, Paul & Mary. (Granted, Mom is a couple years older than Dad.)

Currently on the turntable: Peter, Paul & Mary’s In the Wind. I’m so moved by this album, and I’m only now realizing that this trio was my very first musical influence. A quick glance at the album cover shows three attractive, hip folk musicians running around the West Village and performing at the 1963 March on Washington. Bob Dylan wrote the liner notes and three of the songs, including the song that I’m now using to describe my last relationship, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right“; and, of course, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Civil rights and Vietnam were the subject of protests back then, a hopeful time when real change seemed possible, so I gather (I don’t remember much about it), just before the assassinations started. The songs are earnest in a way that might seem quaint to us now if they weren’t asking the kind of simple questions we are still asking today. Especially today, when the world seems completely out of control. And the answer is the same: Love each other.

 

Now it’s come to distances: a tribute

Dave's kissing spot

“Nobody kisses like you,” I told him not so long ago. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

Boy, have I had a lot of ideas for blog posts since I’ve last written one! I think sometimes I should just dictate them and have somebody else do the typing and linking and posting. That’s what I’ll invest in if I win the lottery.

It’s probably just as well I haven’t written. My mind has been all over the place this past month. It was a month ago tonight, as a matter of fact, that I got some life-changing news. Everything in life is changing all the time, of course, but sometimes the shifts feel more seismic. And it takes some time for the dust to settle. I’m fine. But I have a hard time focusing and am feeling a bit lost, and I have been unsure what to write about it all.

Someone I love a lot has moved away—far away—and I’m sad about that. I can hear you exhaling sighs of relief. Oh, is that all? I thought maybe someone had died! As I said, I’m fine. And I’m happy for him. But it has left a hole in my life.

If you’re like me, you think about how all relationships eventually end. When we die, we are separated from everyone and everything that we treasure. Sorry to break it to you. Impermanence is a fact of life. Everything is changing all the time, coming in and out of existence. Nothing lasts forever. Even the mountains. Even the stars! And the harder we try to grasp on to what we love—electronics, pets, youth, reputation, beautiful boys—the more misery we’ll experience.

But, in the meantime, we love.

I really want this to be a joyful post, a tribute to a sweet man who has taught me so much. He taught me a lot about love—the kind of pure, honest love I’m always talking about—and most of all, love for myself. I swear, he is an emanation of a little Buddha.

Inevitably, when these big things happen, songs come flooding into my mind. The one that came to me the morning after he told me he’d be leaving, after I walked him to the corner, was this simple beauty written by Leonard Cohen, recorded by Roberta Flack:

Now it’s come to distances. But our love stays with each other. Actually, every line applies. Well, except the bit about the golden hair on the pillow. No golden hair.

Two coincidences: The day he told me he was leaving was the same day we first met (March 22); and a story I wrote—fiction, but riffing off that first meeting—uses the next song on that same Roberta Flack album, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” as its basis. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, but I still like pointing them out.

Most of this Magnetic Fields song fits, and some of it doesn’t. I’d never want to make him rue the day or pay and pay. But he is a splendid butterfly. And unboyfriendable:

And then there’s this, from his childhood:

Lots of lessons here. Live life and cherish each other, and love like you mean it. Wishing great love and happiness and peace of mind to you, my little Budhita.

Javi

My Writing Process

Dave X Robb in the kitchenHELLO THERE. THIS POST is part of a blog tour called My Writing Process. It’s kind of like a chain letter for bloggers, but without the annoyance of having to send something in the mail in the hope of receiving back 1,000 of the same kind of thing, which of course never seemed to work as planned anyway, but it never mattered because you didn’t want all those recipes or pot holders or post cards or whatever it was in the first place.

This is about sharing information about the writing process in a personal way, and I recommend you do it too if you have a blog or even if you don’t. It’s a good exercise to do just to learn more about yourself as a writer. The sharing makes it even nicer. Here are the official My Writing Process Blog Tour instructions:

Step 1: Acknowledge the person (and site) who involved you in the blog tour.

Step 2: Answer these 4 questions about your writing process.

Step 3: Tag another writer or 2 to answer the questions the week after you. Give a one-sentence bio of each, and link to their websites.

WHO TAGGED ME? I was tagged by writing coach, blogger, grammarian, writer, lunch-companion-cheerleader and friend Kristy Lin Billuni, aka the Sexy Grammarian. Sex and grammar–what a great combination! Her answers to the questions can be found here. Kristy was tagged by incomparable, inspirational writer-teacher-friend Minal Hajratwala, whose answers are here.

I’M TAGGING: Next week (or so), you’ll be able to read #MyWritingProcess posts from Chauna Craig, a wonderful writer-educator-imagineer (to borrow from her website; the “wonderful” is mine, though) and inspiring, supportive long-distance friend with whom I’ve had the pleasure of taking a couple of online writing courses; and Katayoon Zandvakili, an absolutely amazing poet, memoirist, blogger, and painter I also met in an online class, but have since met in real life…and she’s just wonderful!

I’ve asked a couple of other terrific bloggers I’d love to introduce you to and will add them to the list when I hear back from them, if they’re willing. If you’re a blogger or writer and want to post your own answers, please do! Just follow the instructions above, use the #MyWritingProcess Twitter tag or link to your blog post from your Facebook page or do both. Also ping me on Twitter, Facebook, or in a comment below so I can help you spread the joy.

Here are the questions and my answers:

1) WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I’ve been blogging for a little over three years now, try to write a daily 1000 words or so on whatever is on my mind, and am getting my feet wet in the poetry pool. The blog started as musings on the intersection of 1970s music, grammar, and my love life; it has since evolved into something a bit more introspective, with a decidedly Buddhist tilt, but it’s still fun (for me, anyhow) and still ties in with pop music much of the time.

The project I am most excited about at the moment is weaving a collection of short fiction pieces into a novel about love and sex and heartbreak and healing that is hopefully going to be a lot more interesting than I’ve just made it sound. It’s sexy and sad and hopeful.

2) HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS’ WORK IN THE SAME GENRE?

Well, by saying “genre,” there’s already an implication that my work fits in with other work out there, and I would say that’s true. I think the difference is in how I present it personally, which is of course something we can all say. So, I don’t worry about being different because I automatically will be. If you take my genre to be “gay fiction,” or maybe “gay erotic fiction,” you could say that the stuff I’m writing is not just for gay men, but could appeal to anyone who has been through the kind of emotional stuff I’m writing about. The feedback I’ve gotten so far seems to confirm that. And, I know I’m not the only one doing it, but I do think it’s less common to find people writing about sex—maybe especially gay sex, because of the trauma we’ve all been through—in a way that isn’t just about the physicality of it. Mind you, I don’t shy away from that stuff; in fact, I like hardcore sex description a lot, but it’s not enough. It’s hard to get turned on by descriptions of sex without there also being some strong element of emotion, some connection to the characters and what they are feeling, in both their bodies and their minds. I think that’s why the vast majority of gay porn and erotica (and sex apps, for that matter) leaves me cold. And I have a feeling other people feel the same way. They’re looking for something more human, for feeling and connection, in real life and in what they’re reading.

3) WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I like this question. I do it both for myself and for others. My initial motivation for writing was not so very profound; it was just something I thought I’d like to get good at because I loved reading so much and admired how writers could work their magic. I’ve always loved language and grammar, and I was already an editor, so it wasn’t a great leap. I thought writing was something I’d be good at because people liked the way I told stories and encouraged me, and so I started the blog.

The more I wrote, the more I saw a real value in it for myself. It became my way of working things out. I guess that was the case even before I published anything online. I’ve written journals for 30 years, off and on, so I already knew writing could help me. I’d never thought of it as potentially helping other people until I started posting things.

I especially like writing the gay love stories. Because the stories are so close to me and my lived experience, I feel like I can write them with some kind of authority; I’ve lived them, and so I know what I’m talking about. It’s easy for me to understand my characters’ motivations and reactions when I can connect them to real people, myself or others, and real things that have happened. The writing also forces me to see things from others’ points of view, which is immensely valuable and sometimes tough work psychologically. So, that is an added benefit for me.

The more honest I can be emotionally, the more real the stories feel, the easier it will be for readers to connect and see themselves in what I write. One of my motivations is to try and heal the trauma that so many gay men have lived through, both in the struggles of coming out and facing hatred and abuse, physical and psychological, self-hate in many cases; and in having come through the AIDS war, the loss of so many lives, so much potential, friends and lovers gone, having to change our way of loving each other, survival guilt and burnout, issues of trust and intimacy getting overrun by the necessities of safety and survival, all of that.

Gay men are so amazing for the strength we’ve had to develop, but many of us are also deeply wounded by what we’ve been through. I want to begin to point the way toward uncovering and healing some of that and showing how to love. I’m such a big love-pusher. If I had a mission statement, that would be in it.

4) HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I’m pretty messy about it. I don’t know that I even have anything you could call a process, so my answer here won’t be very helpful. You just have to write. I find that my best writing comes out of freewriting, keeping the pen going and not stopping, just getting a whole lot on the page. A lot of times, my journal writing will uncover ideas that I then decide to turn into poems or scenes or blog posts, or sometimes a short piece will inspire a longer piece. Eventually, I accumulate enough bits of things that kind of go together, and I start looking for ways to connect them into something bigger, building that way. That’s the plan, anyhow. We’ll see if it works.

But I don’t have a lot of good advice. Just keep writing. Write a lot. I find that I have to write a lot to get a little that I like. And you have to live, and pay attention to what you’re living so you’ll have things to write about. Keep a notebook handy at all times.

For me, writing is a discipline. I don’t naturally make it a priority. I need projects and deadlines—most of the time fake, self-imposed deadlines—for me to get anything done. That’s why I love taking online writing classes with Minal and meeting with my writing group once a month–those things keep me writing and make me accountable to others. I can’t do it myself. Individualism is such a horrible thing. I know that goes against the writer stereotype.

I also struggle with how to know when something’s done. One of my vices is perfectionism. I worry over things too much. I sand off the rough edges and polish so much sometimes that I like the end product a lot less than what I started out with. So, part of my process is noticing when I’m dallying rather than sending something out into the world where it belongs.

A poem

Tree, Mission PlaygroundAPRIL IS OVER, BUT the poetryfest continues. I’m not at all sure it’s any good, but I have enjoyed writing a poem every day, and so I’ll keep on doing it into May and for as long as it still feels right. It’s also good practice for me, a reminder to write from places other than my head.

I started the month by asking on Facebook if any of my friends wanted me to write a poem about them, and that provided material for the first few days. Since then, other poems—maybe most of them—have also been inspired by individuals, but on a more immediate level, as in, who affected me emotionally today? If you look around, these people are everywhere. You probably don’t need me to tell you that.

This one was inspired by a musician friend of my roommate who stayed with us.

Bodhisattva on the Couch

I’m starting to get it, my kind teacher,
Bodhisattva sleeping on my couch
A lesson learned only once you’d gone
Drumming, drumming, the beating of hearts
Riding the wave of it, I drop something heavy
Crack open from the inside out
The peacefulness of it floods me
Washing away imperfections, stains,
Insecurity, doubt, loneliness, pain

I am left with my open-wideness
Ready to head into the world without fear
And try it out on someone
Going right up to some boy I’ve only just met
And saying, “You are beautiful,
Not just outside, inside too
I love you. I see you”
Because it’s true
He looks into my eyes, knows I mean it

Wishing happiness and nothing more
No obligation, no expectation
No agenda, no hiding, no sleaze. I smile
For this is true love
It demands nothing at all
Though if he were to offer something
Like love for me in return
I would gladly accept
Such a generous gift

 

Poetry is like jazz

Grateful Dead: Skeletons from the ClosetTHERE ARE THREE things top of mind these days that I could talk about: my poetry month challenge, my fiction and how it messes with my head, and how sexual attraction works and if we have the power to change it. Three good topics. Let’s start with poetry. I can tell you about the other two things another time, if you want. Remind me.

I like these challenges that are all over social media nowadays, where you’re supposed to do something every day for a month. As April drew near, I was faced with two choices: write a poem a day for National Poetry Month or do the 30-day Rewild Your Life challenge. They each sounded like good ideas, but I knew I couldn’t do them both. And I wasn’t sure I could actually spend 30 minutes every day out in nature, much as I’d like to try. I decided to do the poems.

I guess I could post some samples, but the truth is, I’m afraid to. Poetry seems even more personal and revealing than fiction. At least my poetry does. And if you’ve read my fiction, that’s saying something. Most days, I’ve written about whatever had the strongest emotional pull on me that day. Some of it’s pretty raw, diary-like stuff, including one poem that references Bread’s “Diary,” come to think of it. Does that make me a bad poet?

Which brings me to the other reason I hesitate to post my poems: I am not at all sure they’re any good. When it comes to poetry, I have to admit I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s even a good thing. Or maybe my poems are just not so hot.

Why the self-doubt? It’s not like me, I know. Truth is, I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with poetry. For many years, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t like it, quite honestly. It always seemed a little loosey-goosey, like you could make mistakes and say “I meant to do that,” kind of like jazz.

I was young and stupid. My ideas about poetry (and jazz) have changed. Lately, I’ve heard some very, very good poetry, and I am frankly mystified at how it’s done. Great poets amaze and intimidate me. I aspire to learn what these geniuses are doing.

I will admit I like some of what I’ve written. I went back and reread it all, 27 poems so far, and there are moments. I don’t know if there are whole poems that work, but they almost all have something going for them. Isn’t that what writing is so often about? Finding the gems.

I’ve shared a few poems with people for whom they were written, and their reactions have been good. That could just be gratitude at having had a poem written for them. Maybe they’re just being nice. Or the poems could be good.

Diary by BreadAs with any kind of writing, it takes skill honed through a lot of practice to get good at it. I know this. It doesn’t just happen. And maybe that’s where my doubt comes in. When I write poetry, it’s kind of like freewriting, where it flows out of me and onto the page uncensored. It does just happen, in other words. There can often be something very special in that kind of writing, I know. I just don’t always trust it.

When I write that way, sometimes I feel like I’m in a trance. Does it sound any good to someone who’s not also in a trance? This might be one of those things like the Grateful Dead, who—no offense—sound extremely awesome to stoned people and just all right to the rest of us. But then, does any group have more dedicated fans?

It is always going to come down to connecting with some people and not with others. If I write honestly from the heart, it’s likely someone will read what I’ve written and feel a resonance. What is good writing anyway? To me, it’s writing that makes people feel something. It happens or it doesn’t. When you know you’ve connected as a writer, there’s no better feeling.

So, yeah, maybe I’ll post a few things once the month is over. I’ll sift through it all again, find the gems, and polish them up. Just so long as I don’t smooth out all the rough edges.

 

 

 

 

Free your voice

Gary Wright: Light of SmilesMY PLAN TO POST each week of my Writing from the Chakras course hasn’t panned out, for all the reasons I talked about last week. I have good things to say about every week’s lessons—the Jewel and Heart chakras have a lot to teach me, and I’ll do a future post on each of them if I get a chance—but this week’s exploration of Vishuddha, the Throat Chakra, was particularly profound.

I don’t know if it’s a common pattern or just a coincidence, but I’ve noticed that so far, I seem to operate with confidence from the even-numbered chakras (Sexy, Heart) and get blocked with the odd ones (Root, Jewel, Thoat). It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues through the remaining chakras.

The Throat Chakra is where I have been most blocked for most of my life. Vishuddha is, of course, all about communication, our voice and all that goes with it. Its element is the sky. (Meditating on this chakra, I couldn’t get Gary Wright’s “I Am the Sky” [from his Light of Smiles album, 1977] out of my head.) It’s not unusual for writers to have strong issues going on here. I found that, in my case, writing acts as an alternative to speaking.

It’s a control issue. Writing allows me to organize my thoughts in an orderly way, making sure I’ve made myself clear before releasing the words into the world. There is a safety in this. There is also a dark side. When I use writing as an alternative to conversation, it becomes one-sided. It’s censored and impure. There is an inherent unfairness to it, a cutting off of oneself from criticism. What should be dialogue becomes monologue.

Set Your Voice Free by Roger LoveWhy is speaking so hard? Why does my throat close up, seized with terror at the thought of speech, of telling a hard truth, of expressing feelings, of rocking the boat? I know in my head that the hard conversations are worth it. I know it from experience, from those few times I’ve ventured there.

The words stack up inside of me, whole edifices constructed of words and sentences, clever phrases, skyscrapers of words rehearsed and not, born of emotion, reaching toward my throat, pushing the air out, and they get stuck. It closes up. The words, trapped on the other side, the in-side, with no way out, fall back down, far down inside me, deeper, making it harder each time to dredge them back up. Where is the hook that will lift this part of me up and out?

Why does it emerge only when I no longer care, when there is nothing left to lose? Then it’s easy. “I don’t think this is working out.” “I’ve made up my mind.” “I don’t want to talk about it, no.” Never “Let’s talk about this.” Never “I want to try to work this out.” (I want to say, “Never ‘I love you'” because it sounds so dramatic, but it would be untrue.)  Never a fight.

The words come spilling out sometimes, as inevitably they must, but in writing. Cutting, snide, begging to be read between-lines—it’s so easy, I’ve set it up so well. My words hurt, intentionally if not fully consciously; but yes, still intentionally inflicting harm, telling the things I was too afraid or stubborn or lazy or paralyzed or just unable for whatever reason to have a conversation about.

Dave X Robb and MonaI made a promise to myself after that, a manifesto of sorts. I would never use my writing in that way again, as a weapon to hurt, to humiliate, to say indirectly what I was too cowardly to tell you to your face, allowing you a comeback, a conversation for once. Live and learn.

My manifesto contains not just this prohibition, but a call to action, a call to love. My writing, my voice, my expression, my being is about love, nothing more and nothing less, for there is nothing more in this world.

You sexy thing

Where You From You Sexy ThingWEEK 2 OF THE Writing from the Chakras workshop is over, and it was another good one. I am sure it will come as a real shock to most of you, but I do love writing about sex. The second chakra, Swadhisthana, is about sex, yes, but more than that. Of course, sex is never just sex, anyway (if it’s any good).

(This reminds me of a dumb question on okcupid.com: Do you enjoy meaningless sex? I mean, if you’re enjoying sex, it’s not really meaningless, is it?)

This is the chakra where intensity, vulnerability, intimacy, and motivation reside. As happened with last week’s Root chakra exploration, I felt myself tapping into a whole new energy in my writing after meditating on the Sexy chakra, freewriting—that is, writing non-stop, without editing, without going back—in waves that kept, uh, coming…kind of like good sex. Yeah.

Oh sorry, where was I?

As you may know, I’ve been experimenting with writing sexy fiction for some time now. Writing about sex really is like sex in so many ways, and I don’t just mean the imaginary boyfriends thing. In writing, as in real life, if there’s no emotion involved, no intimate connection, no vulnerability, no identification with the characters having sex, then it’s really no good. It’s just bad porn.

Dave X Robb fictionThis week, I found myself going deeper, exploring my characters’ motivations and fears, their miscommunications and words unspoken, ambivalence, love, fear, connecting and not connecting…all those things that make life so complex and difficult and wonderful and sexy at times.

And I think the writing is getting better, maybe. If you’re an adult and you don’t mind reading about gay people having sex, you’re welcome to check out a new sample here. I’d love to hear your feedback.