If I were a business I’d be rich by now. You don’t last 59 years without learning to do something right; generally it’s called making a profit.
But I’m not a business, I’m a charity—or a charity case, but oh well. I’ve made profits before; for awhile there I was able to support myself and a disabled lover. But that was then, now is now, and I’m 59 years old! Time for a little reflection and some crystal ball-gazing.
My fellow Hoosier David Letterman often pronounces it “bidness” in his comedy routines, and I invariably love it because that’s exactly how my Granddad pronounced it. “Well, son, you goin’ into bidness?” His exact words.
No, Granddad, I’m not. I decided against it when I was 14. I became a social worker, Gay activist, journalist and writer—totally non-profit. And it’s worked, more or less, for jeez, a long time. No complaints here, I’ve had a fantastic time. Met great people, some famous, some not; always felt fulfilled in my work, proud of myself. True, I’m a bit insecure financially these days, but that’s nothing new; I may never get a job again, and I’m three years away from a paltry Social Security check.
So now’s a good time to remember a friend in San Francisco named Charles, who bequeathed me some good money because he liked my writing; he liked me. If it weren’t for him I’d be dead.
But in this post I want to look ahead, not behind, not at Granddad, not at Letterman, not for old time’s sake, none of that. Reminiscing is swell, but I’ve got my eye on the future—two things specifically, my Church job and my next book.
I operate a website called dailyoffice.org, featuring Morning and Evening Prayer according to The Episcopal Church. I started this gig almost six years ago, in thanksgiving for finally being able to buy a house after decades of wandering. I felt a need to pray, but I soon realized how difficult it is to pray consistently, even when I’m full of joy (which I mostly am). The church has a prescribed method for this and it works really well, but it’s clumsy in actual practice; you gotta juggle a Prayer Book and a Bible, and page back and forth, and it’s just a mess. “So,” thought I, “let’s put it all online!”
It’s worked great; I’m closing in on 900,000 page-views and by Advent 1, 2010, I want to hit a million.
I never dreamed of such success; I’ve always operated the site primarily for myself, to thank God for my house. I’ve gotten closer to the Holy One than I ever imagined.
Plenty of times I’ve rather resented the responsibility of it, since other people actually show up to pray too; I never really planned on that. But if I don’t post the prayers of the day for some reason, I get all kinds of e-mails, “Are you okay? Are you dead? What’s wrong with you?”
They don’t understand it was just NIPSCO, the local power company. If the wind blows 5 mph, the electric goes out. Or the webhost goes down, or somethin’.
I have faithfully discharged this responsibility every day for almost six years. Dang, I’m good! And it’s been a joy to me, though anytime we come to rely on computers, hell awaits.
In the past few days, thanks to a push by a vicar in the Diocese of Newark named Bob Solon, Jr., The Daily Office now has a Facebook page. It’s here. Some 350 people have joined just since Saturday; this is Tuesday. I sometimes tell myself I operate one of the largest Episcopal churches in the world (who, me?)—but then I remind myself some of those 900,000 visitors were just looking for a picture of Florence Nightingale without any intention of actually praying. She did, though.
It’s possible, if the site and the blog keep growing, that I may get invited to… I dunno, give a talk somewhere, run a little how-to workshop, even put together a book of original prayers. Might even get a little paycheck someday, or maybe not. It doesn’t ultimately matter. I didn’t become an evangelist/social worker/writer/activist for the payout, but for the satisfaction of living my life like I’m supposed to.
And it’s not like I haven’t screwed it up every chance I got; I’m a sinner, same as you.
But I’m a lover, same as you. It all comes out in the wash.
I’m really proud on my birthday to say, “I made a commitment and kept it.” Almost 900,000 page-views! The prayer sites are by far my most successful projects evah—and I’m divo enough to tell you about every other success I’ve ever had, if there were time. But there isn’t. This brings me to My Other Big Thing, my next novel.
I’ve been working on it for ten years and I’m still not halfway done. It’s a sequel to my first book, in which a Gay reporter (who might that be?) helps a big butch cop catch a serial killer, and by the by just happens to fall in love with his Commander. It’s called Murder at Willow Slough; you can read pros and cons here.
I’ve lived with these two archetypes, the reporter and the cop, since 1994, and only produced one book about them. But yesterday I posted a new chapter, #23, on my novel-in-progress blog. It’s for adults only, because one of the things I’m trying to do is to create a very sexy, spiritual, longterm Gay relationship.
Indeed I feel that’s my vocation, along with the Office, to lift up a new model of Gay Christian romantic hotness for all the world to see.
I might be totally deceiving myself; that’s entirely possible. Artists never really know what they’re about, and that’s assuming I’m an artist. I think I am, but who would know? Not me. It’s the public that decides who’s an artist, and fiction-wise I’m not high on too many lists.
Murder at Willow Slough made it to #1 among Amazon’s Gay mysteries several times, but that was years ago, and who knows whether the sequel will sell. It’s been a long time since I was the hot young thing. Half my readers could be dead by now.
Occasionally I think, “I’m better known than ever before in the Episcopal Church; I blog, I write, I post the prayers.” Six years’ worth of twice-a-day prayers equals 4,380 posts; almost 900,000 page-views, though of course half those folks would be utterly appalled at Gay Christian Men Having Sex.
But I do feel that writing that story is what I’m called to, what I’m uniquely here for. I even believe (let humility rise and rise and rise) that GOD is the one who calls me to this, because GOD is the source of human love.
I’m uniquely positioned to do this work, whether I do it well or ill, precisely because of my earlier career in Gay journalism. I met thousands of LGBT people, coast to coast, big cities and small towns, north and south, butch and fey, smart and dumb, criminal and law-abiding, male and female and somewhere in between—and I became impressed over time by the things they had (we have) in common. They were, we are, a gentle, loving people.
Some were really screwed up; some were really together. Some were selfish; more were selfless. I learned that an activist meeting in Marietta, Ohio was no different from one in Cincinnati, San Francisco or New York; people put themselves out, took risks, made themselves vulnerable, to liberate the next generation, plus guys and gals in Malawi, Iran and hate-filled Russia.
I hope that my books reflect the things I learned. I also hope they do it with a sense of humor—though I cannot do bitchy dialogue to save my soul. That’s someone else’s specialty, and I have to admit it’s not a skill I aspire to.
I’m a lot more impressed by longterm lovers than I am by porn stars who stick a baseball bat up some guy’s ass for money.
So my characters reflect my biases; I love my guys and make them archetypes because of what I believe about you, Gay or Straight, woman or man.
With Anne Frank, I think most people are basically good; but remember, she was a victim of the Holocaust.
That has figured into my writing as well. I wouldn’t give you a dime for the serial murder exploitation industry, but it happens that as a reporter, I broke a story and was haunted by it for years.
One needn’t look far for tragedy when it comes to Gay people. Two lovers in Malawi are now sentenced to 14 years in a hellhole prison for daring to celebrate their engagement.
I write about Americans; Hoosiers of course, write what you know. My characters are physically beautiful because A) some people are; B) I was once halfway cute, and it’s not as easy as you think; and C) I want you to fantasize about them. But they are far more beautiful inside than out, because that’s how I’ve found you to be.
I made my guys rich, though I am poor; I wanted to know what it’s like to be rich, like I am, like you are. For some people that’s income, for most people that’s grace.
Chapter 24, when it happens in the next few days, will introduce the murder plot; I’m still writing within the Gay mystery genre. Waiting 24 chapters is a long time for a murder mystery, but I had too much to say to get there faster. Like Thomas Wolfe, my problem is “too much to say.”
I’ve lived 59 years, I’ve seen a lot, and novels are hard to write so that everything that must be in actually is, and everything that needn’t be gets cut. It’s a novel in progress—and I must say I love the rewrites. I love the cuts, I love the additions.
I’ve constructed a rock-solid loving relationship; and some very hot sex, according to my turnons. A few chapters might approach pornography, but unlike ubiquitous videos, they’re not designed to get you off; maybe you will, maybe not. They’re designed to show who these characters are, and to bless even the hottest sexuality just like the Song of Solomon does.
If God approves of same-sex love, and I know she does, her approval includes every act under the sun, same for Gay marrieds as for Straight marrieds. God created our bodies; do you think she did not know what we would do with them?
Do you think she did not smile when she made us?
Even plants have sex lives; let’s get real, people. God loves it when we love. She reveals herself when we love.
So here I am, Kent and Jamie on the beach, looking studly in their Speedos, trying to figure out their ethics and their relationship, their wealth and their poverty, their responsibilities and their fun, and none of the answers are givens. They have to invent themselves, but they have role-models if they look.
Kent’s parents loved each other; Jamie’s were more conflcted. Kent is universally popular; Jamie is more talented but more polarizing. Life is not just a bowl of Jell-O, Mary Martin, though you seem very wonderful and smart.
I hope to do my guys justice, that’s all; it’s very, very hard to write a novel. There are all these literary overlays (“Metaphor, Symbolism!”), but we also have some examples of “just tell a story, don’t worry about the analysts and critics.” I wish I were a great writer, one of the immortal ones, but I’m just trying to crank out a book here. I do believe with Rita Mae Brown that a novel is the most intimate art form ever invented, just you and me, alone at night, in bed. Read my books and you will know my soul, good or bad; I will show you who I am and then take my lumps.
When I met those activists and barflies in San Francisco, Washington and Marietta, I invariably met people who love.
That’s why I’m not much impressed with the bitchy queen purveyors. Yes, they exist, and at times they’re incredibly witty, but when they’re not, they’re just destructive, as in self-destructive. Internalized homophobia is the greatest threat we face.
The one thing I like in my slow-moving novel-in-progress, is that occasionally it’s halfway funny—not at anyone’s expense; it doesn’t have to be. Life is funny all on its own, we need not attack people.
I’m very proud of what I’ve written lately, and I’m even prouder of the rewrites. Non-pros don’t realize, rewrites make the song sing. Cut the crap, sharpen the dialogue, introduce a surprise; keep working.
I’m 59 today; not perfected yet. I try to write about Great Men without really feeling myself one of them. But that’s a key to fiction, imagining how things could be, or should be, or might be, or will never be—or really are, if only the rest of the world knew.
I like my life, Granddad; I know I’m not what you planned, but it’s worked out okay so far, and if I can see these projects through to completion, I will rest in peace.
No one questions sizzling and committed heterosexual marriage; I plan to offer the hottest Gay marriage in history.++
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