Same Question, Answers Galore

Life  does indeed go on, as proved by the fact that I yet again woke up this morning and here I am, blogging.

I’m happy about that, and all.  But one of those situations that began rearing its little head on Friday remains. But it does not flower and bloom into niceness. Rather, it looks increasingly like it goes down that dark alley that leads to a door with a lawyer’s name on it.

And I hate having to do that.

However, it did give me a great reason to call Gus Van Sant, Sr. on the telephone last evening, and since he is one of the nicest men on planet Earth, it changed the energy of my whole evening.

It was actually late at night (my time, anyway; he’s on the West Coast) and I was outside, under the stars, leaning against my car while I spoke to him on the phone.

I think that’s the best way to speak on the phone to men who are amazing and great.  It brings together all sorts of elements that are hard to define but that are nonetheless breathtaking. Meaning: stars, the universe, nights in summer, a voice on the telephone.

It creates an indelible memory; captures a person in your mind for all time.

And when we were done talking business stuff, he told me about a friend of his who was killed the other day. And then he said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you about all this, Marilyn. But life flies by; it goes so fast.”

I loved, loved, loved working for that man. I worked for him for 5 years, until his wife died and he moved back to the West Coast to be near his daughter and his son (the filmmaker, Gus Van Sant, Jr).  (He was his son’s business manager.) I learned a lot about the back end of making movies by working for him at the production company, which was a good thing to learn, but the thing I remember most is that we always listened to the old Big Band music while we worked.  In particular, he loved Ella Fitzgerald.

I love that kind of music anyway, and I love Ella Fitzgerald too, but it broke my heart when he moved away and now one song that I had always loved before became completely saturated with his personality – “Skylark.”  Because of the stories he used to tell me about his life,  I hear this song and think that those memories of his are actually mine now, too. In a way.

Another thing that happened yesterday is that I was looking for an old CD – the 5th Dimensions Age of Aquarius. I really wanted to hear their version of the song, “Blowin’ Away.”  A song written by that amazing & sort of underrated songwriter, Laura Nyro.

I never did find the CD, but while I was down on the floor, looking at the very bottom row of the CD rack, my attention was of course drawn to the bottom row of the bookshelf that was right next to it because I have some Nick Cave-related books down there (collected interviews with him & such) and so why wouldn’t my attention be magnetically drawn there?

But then my eye was drawn to a slim volume of poetry, The Beautifully Worthless, from 2005 by Ali Liebegott. She has since become a well-known writer. But the book won a Lambda Award for Best Lesbian Debut Fiction, back when my friends at Suspect Thoughts Press had published it. (Even though I think it’s still really more poetry than fiction.) (It has long-since been re-issued with City Lights Press, fyi.)

And I thought, man, that was such a good book. And I pulled it out and started flipping through it, and then became so immersed in its beautiful, plaintive voice again that I went back and I started from the beginning, while still sitting there on the floor.

And I read books like this, and I’ve been in the LGBTQA community my entire professional life, so I know the answers to my own question, and I understand the answers to my own question, but my own question still remains and that is: Why do we have to call it “Lesbian” poetry?

Why can’t it just be POETRY? (Yes, I know the “marketing” answer, and the political answer and it has become cultural.) But it still sort of bothers me – these constant, never-ending pigeonholes.  This endless drive toward “diversity” that fractures the unity of Spirit.

I don’t read a book like The Beautifully Worthless and think to myself, Wow, these are such great lesbian poems. No, what I think is: Wow, this book is so good.

I understand that if you placed me against some sort of scale, I would perhaps be way closer to the “lesbian” side of things than maybe you are (I don’t actually know you, so I don’t know for sure); but still.  You know? Can’t an amazing book about an experience of life just be an amazing book about an experience of life?

(When my agent was trying to shop my novel Twilight of the Immortal, publisher after publisher bridled at how many lesbians were in the novel – and these were actual historical figures, known to be lesbians, who surrounded the public & private life of the movie star, Rudolph Valentino. And the publishers said, “How are we gonna market a book that has all these lesbians in it?” It was dumbfounding. And it wound up on the smallest press imaginable because of that, and I eventually pulled it from that publisher and published it myself. It was crazy.  Most readers who’ve read that book, loved it. The few who didn’t love it, took issue with my view on Valentino’s private sex life. But none of them ever said they had trouble reading it because lesbians were in the book.)

Well, whatever. I sure know that you can’t even attempt to fight City Hall unless you want to be gunned down on the steps of it. So on we go with our labels and our pigeonholes.

In fact, when I had to write a recent press release re: Tell My Bones, I was told to focus on the “diversity” aspect of all of it because of Sandra Caldwell’s transgender stuff, which just feels so foreign to me.

I’ve been friends with Sandra since 1992 and now I have to speak about her as a “transgender actor” instead of as, you know, my friend Sandra, who’s been in a ton of films & TV shows & plays.

Plus, I had to speak of myself as a “bisexual playwright.” To me, that is so weird. To label myself as specifically “bisexual” anything. If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you can come to that understanding pretty quickly.  Or if you date me, or marry me, or whatever. I guess, if you just have a simple conversation with me, it might never come up. But the idea that it’s part of the approach to press materials now is so strange to me. If I’m bisexual, does it make you want to see a play I’ve written more, or less?

I would hope it doesn’t matter at all.

However, I do live in reality and I also live in the middle of fucking nowhere because people nowadays make me a little nuts…

Anyway, The Beautifully Worthless is a really beautiful book. (I’m not sure, but I think a lesbian wrote it.)

(Wild Animals I Have Known : Polk Street Diaries is also a really good book, that is also in my bookcase, on the same shelf – and has also recently been reissued. But it’s written by a gay guy – Kevin Bentley.  And it’s all about life and sex and amazing men and the human heart. But you know…it’s written by a gay guy.)

Okay.  I’m gonna scoot and get my Sunday morning started!

And I leave you, oddly enough, with a song called “Thursday” by Morphine. It was my curious choice for breakfast-listening music today!  But anyway. Isn’t everything just a little bit curious? Okay. Thanks for visiting, gang. I love you guys. See ya.

“Thursday”

We used to meet every Thursday
Thursday
Thursday in the afternoon
For a couple a beers
And a game of pool

We used to go to a motel
A motel
A motel across the street
And the name of the motel
Was the “Wagon Wheel”

OH!

One day she said
C’mon C’mon
She said why don’t you come back to my house
She said my husbands out of town
You know he’s gone till the end of the month

Well I was just so nervous, so nervous
You know I couldn’t really quite relax
‘Cause I was really never quite sure
When her husband was coming back

It turned out it was one of the neighbours
One of the neighbours, one of the neighbours that saw my car
And they told her, yeah they told her
They think they know who you are

Well her husband is a violent man
A very violent and jealous man
Now I have to leave this town
I gotta leave while I still can

We should have kept it every Thursday
Thursday
Thursday in the afternoon
For a couple of beers
And a game of pool

She was pretty cool too!

c – 1993 Mark Sandman

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