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Not Quite Ready to Wear

I hate clear shopping bags. I hate shopping, really, but clear shopping bags represent all that’s truly annoying about buying stuff. This weekend when the salesgirl handed me my new Levi’s in a clear bag, I rolled it up and stuffed it in my own bag. Why would I want other people to see what I’ve bought? Talk about conspicuous consumption. I prefer that other people think I’ve had something a really long time (“What, this old thing?”) rather than observe my purchases as I walk by on the street. Besides, I could never afford to look trendy, so clear bags only reveal the fact that I’m broke. No, it’s not Diesel, or Helmut Lang, or Prada. It’s Levi’s.

Perhaps in an effort to seduce the fickle young denim crowds, Levi’s has constructed this enormous high-design flagship store on Union Square. Which brings me to my second complaint: who designs fitting rooms? Wanting to try on my pair of jeans, I asked for a fitting room and was led to a corner of the store to something that could only resemble an outdoor shower; I literally drew a rubber curtain around me in a circle. That, a mirror, and a couple of high-design hooks. No place to sit down. I bent over and unlaced my boots, balancing on one foot, hoping I wouldn’t topple over and roll back out on the salesfloor. I hear Levi’s isn’t doing so well.

I can’t remember when I stopped keeping up on trends. I think it was when I met the Ex and began the five-year relationship. Not only was I a struggling artist type, but marriage took the pressure off. It may be a cliché, but it’s true. Besides, one of the advantages of being gay is that you can wear each other’s clothes. Well, I could. He couldn’t really fit into mine. Emerging from the rubble of that relationship, I was suddenly aware that I had fewer clothes, and what I had was very, uh, pedestrian.

People began making less-than-subtle comments about the amount of flannel and plaid in my wardrobe. And this was in a 12-step meeting, not the first place one thinks of when you hear “couture”. What can I say? I’m from the Midwest. I like dogs, Bruce Springsteen, and the idea of one primary relationship. In other words, I’m a lesbian. One friend jokes frequently about giving me a makeover. So I could look like every other fag in the Castro, I assume.

Actually, San Francisco has several types. In fact, I have never seen a city whose gay population sticks so closely to certain uniforms. You got your Leather Guys, of course, with the closely-related Bear and Blue Collar groups rounding out what I think of as the old-guard school. You do, of course, have Drag Queens, but these are mostly weekend affairs. There’s the slim Fashionistas, with expensive clothes and spiky hair. There are the circuit boys decked out in foot-to-toe Aberzombie, and indie waif boys with really small t-shirts. And queer gutter punk types with lots of piercings and baggy jeans. To be fair, though, there are individuals here.

I suppose it’s a challenge in any city to be unique, and I’d question the value of emphasizing the physical look of individuality rather than the internal. I can’t say I’m particularly unique looking. When I was walking around downtown this weekend, surrounded by people dressed better than me, I realized that I would never be able to keep up with trends anymore, financially or emotionally. Which is a relief. I can spend more time now with seashell and macramé projects. Or take up clogging.


A little over six years ago, I was still living in Minneapolis, pining over a player. A recently-out butch man with a buzz cut, an ex-wife, and a four year-old son. We had met at a bar and cruised each other, and within a half an hour were making out, much to my friends’ amusement. We drove in his enormous pick-up through the icy streets to my apartment. Walking to the front door, he drunkenly took my hand and we half-skated the sidewalks together. Inside, in the darkness of my room, his naked, sturdy body felt amazing. He hadn’t done this with very many men. “So that’s what’s it’s supposed to feel like,” he said. I was hooked.

Fool. I learned quick that getting involved with a man just coming out wasn’t wise.
One night we met at the bar, had a drink together, and I watched as he proceeded to make out with another guy. This happened a lot. He wanted sex, I wanted more. Though we slept together a couple more times, each time hotter than the one before, we never became more. I nicknamed him “Trouble” and spent some time feeling all melancholy and unrequited.

I thought about him when I read this. Around the time I first met Trouble, TLC had come out with Crazy Sexy Cool, which I bought solely for the single, “Creep”. I wore that tune out over the next few months. Her tale of cheating, the down-beat, the trumpet’s notes got under my skin and said it all for me. Though I didn’t care much for the rest of the album, and hated the preaching on “Waterfalls”, “Creep” stuck in me and with me. I still have the CD.

He slept with a lot of men. (Listen to me. A slut is anyone who’s had more sex than me.) Over the course of time, his mannerisms began to, uh, change. The “girl” speak, the tearing down of other boys, the all-gay-men-act-the-same-way view of life. Each time I’d see him, I’d ask about his son, to whom he was devoted. Over time, he became less animated when discussing the boy, hinting the ex-wife was becoming increasingly impatient with him. The last time I saw him, he hadn’t seen the boy in awhile.

I met the man who would become the Ex, and fell for him. The Ex had jealousy issues, to say the least, and he always hated Trouble, the last guy I slept with after I met the Ex. They once had words in front of me. I should have taken heed of that jealousy, but that’s another tale. We moved to San Francisco.

We visited Minneapolis over Christmas of 1999. I was trying to quit speed, hiding the majority of my usage from the Ex, but failing miserably. We ended up at a party with some friends, where I could see that Tina was fast making friends in the Midwest. Three boys stood around a fourth boy sitting at a computer looking at porn. My dealer was in the bathroom, making out with another boy. The Ex and I made small talk with others in the living room. I was too high; jittery, fucked-up. After a couple of hours of teeth-gritting conversation, we got up to leave. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. The front door opened and Trouble walked in with this young blonde boy. The kid was wearing nothing but a frilly pink apron, carting a vacuum cleaner in one hand and an enormous dildo in the other. Trouble stood to the side, smiling weakly, as his boyfriend pretended to vacuum the floor. Everyone laughed. All I could think was that it was winter, incredibly cold, and we were in a very quiet residential neighborhood. My friend who owned the house disappeared into the basement, leaving his boyfriend to deal with the party-goers.

What did Trouble say, that last time? “You were always the biggest sweetheart. I wasn’t ready when I met you.”

Neither was I, apparently.

Making it Personal

(Author’s note: Lest you think I’ve been taking lots of naps, watching television bloopers, or making my own granola or something, I wanted to include my first assignment from my writing class; a personal statement of sorts. If you’re a repeat offender here, I apologize for all the overlap. There will be no quizzes, but you may be able to sleep with me for extra credit.)

In the third grade I wrote a poem titled “The Sympathetic Rose” which was full of big words that didn’t make much sense when strung together. But it sounded really pretty. My teacher had it published in the school newsletter, and with modest fanfare my writing career was born.

When my mother died in February, I came across the poem in a stack of clippings and photos that she had saved. It was copied from the newsletter and glued on layers of red and yellow construction paper; the center of a sunset. I must have given it to her, and it both delighted me and broke my heart to see it again. She had been unpredictable in her encouragement of me, and I never really knew how she felt about my writing. But that stack of papers contained every high school literary magazine, every published poem, every award, every news clipping that even mentioned my name.

Following the success of “The Sympathetic Rose”, I wrote poetry all through my grade school and high school years, winning “Young Writers” awards and the hearts of English teachers along the way. I read and read; a book a day wasn’t uncommon. I read several grade levels beyond my age. And though in the rest of my life I was shy and quiet, I excelled in school, filling out my afternoons with after-school activities and writing. Encouragement from teachers came easy. It seemed I was destined for poetic stardom.

Fear, however, derailed my writing education in college. Worried that I would never make a living as a poet, I looked around for a more practical major, naturally choosing sociology as a rock-solid, financially secure career path. While my education lacked the study of literature, sociology provided me a prism through which to view society. I learned to deconstruct group customs and behavior, focusing my attention on gay culture. There was a lot to deconstruct.

My alma matter, New College of Florida, placed a high premium on writing. In fact, paper writing was the major factor in grading, and it was one of few undergraduate schools that required a thesis for B.A. completion. It’s funny, I hadn’t made that connection until just now; all of that college writing and my current interest in non-fiction, but there you have it. My thesis was titled “The Sociological Effects of AIDS on Gay Men”, and though it may not have contained the most solid of academic arguments, my advisor uses it as an example of how to write a thesis. I’ll take what I can get.

Following graduation, I moved back home to Minneapolis where I continued writing poetry. It was there that I met some writers visiting from the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in NYC, and through them was exposed to a poetry slam. I never considered myself particularly aggressive or competitive, but I won that first slam, tasted blood, and proceeded to kick poetic butt at any available slam for the next two years. It was the 90’s.

Eventually, though, it was clear to me that the best poems didn’t always translate into stage winners. Subtlety was often sacrificed for the spectacular. Did I really want to contribute to an atmosphere of competition among writers, an atmosphere already saturated with jealousy of one another’s success? As if it meant less for me. The poets I was reading; Mark Doty, Lynda Hull, Carolyn Forche; their work would not have won a slam. You had to sit with their poems for a bit, and let their skill and imagery settle in you like leaves falling from a tree. I became a bit disillusioned. I was also getting too old for the “Young Writer” status. I had to compete with older writers, with their wealth of experience, in contests and publishing opportunities. For someone used to winning, it was a bitter cup of reality.

Fear of failure kept me from the blank page, though I was busy pursuing another passion; acting. I loved having a small part in bringing a work of art to life; inhabiting a character and staying true to the playwright’s words and intentions. The same dialogue over and over, yet each night like a revision of a rough draft; each performance providing an opportunity to discover nuances that would strengthen the character. Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, John Guare, Tennessee Williams, Nicky Silver, (where were the women?) were all writers I admired.

I met a man and fell in love. We moved to San Francisco. I had a few journals with promising beginnings, nothing more. A few months turned to a year, then several years. The longer I went without writing, the harder it was to call myself a writer.

In November of 1999, my mother was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS seemed to me like someone’s idea of a very cruel joke. It gradually kills the neurons that command the body’s movements. Over time, limb by limb, the entire body shuts down. Within six months her speech and swallowing muscles failed. I heard her speak for the last time. She needed a stomach tube to eat and a tracheostomy to breathe.

For me, her diagnosis triggered a hard look at my life. At that time my days were dark and small; I was addicted to alcohol and crystal methamphetamine, hiding it from my partner, adrift in a life that I hadn’t visualized for myself. I returned to Minneapolis for six months to spend time with her. I rented a small studio apartment near her house without a TV or a computer. I got a library card and in my free time read voraciously: short story anthologies, horror books, Virginia Woolf, George Saunders, Martin Amis. Anything to take me out of my skin for awhile. But it was nonfiction that mattered the most. Rick Bass’ “Brown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism” showed me that writing could serve a greater need than the personal; Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies” soothed my troubled soul; David Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day” made me laugh out loud. In the midst of real pain, real stories did it best.

I returned to San Francisco; my mother wanted me to live my life. In October of 2000, with a lot of help, I stopped drinking and using drugs. My five-year relationship ended; I moved out. I started a new job. Last summer I tested HIV-positive. I say these things not to garner pity, only to sketch for you the outline of the writer I was becoming.

As I began to emerge from crises mode, I stumbled upon this strange form of writing called a weblog. A weblog is essentially a personal journal posted on the Internet for anyone to see. What each weblog (or “blog”, for short) contains is particular to each author. Some (like mine) are straight-forward journals, some contain links to interesting articles or other sites on the Internet, some are photo journals or news-gathering portals. I began a weblog in December of 2001, and since then have attempted to shape and hone my skills at non-fiction, with mixed results. What I love about blogging, what has kept me diligent in writing, is the real and imaginary audience. Writing is a form of communication; I don’t pretend to write just for myself. People around the world email me to say they’ve connected with something I’ve written. They encourage me and engage me in dialogue. That immediate feedback is so rare in writing. The freedom to publish individually, without the authorization of an editor, publisher, or megamedia conglomerate, is liberating. Of course there are blogs out there that could use an editor. But there are also the occasional jewels, and these make the reading worthwhile.

On February 1st, two years and three months after her diagnosis, my mother died while I was on the plane to Minneapolis, surrounded by her friends and family. Writing held me together, gave me hope that I could call myself a writer again. My only goal was honesty; what was it like to lose her?

I’m thirty-one and I’m not sure the world needs my memoir. At least, not yet. I guess you could say I’m starting out small; daily entries in my weblog could provide rough drafts for further exploration. Life has proven to me that the best-laid plans are easily rendered inconsequential. Something more amazing could be coming. I just want to write. Even more, I want to learn. I want to read good work, I want to see my flaws. I want to make people laugh, I want them to feel less alone. I want to write better.

Reading this over, I can see that I’ve written more about life events than the authors I’ve read. I wanted to explain how I came into nonfiction from poetry, and why at this time I want to write about real life. I am a product both of literature and pop culture. The latter requires an extensive filtering process. But Krzysztof Kieslowski’s movie,”Blue”; Stockard Channing’s performance in “Six Degrees of Separation”, the lyrics to “Hegwig and the Angry Inch”; these works of art have all influenced me, have led me to aim high.

In her essay, “One Nation, Under the Weather”, Lauren Slater wrote about reading an unfavorable review of her recent book by The New York Times. The reviewer dismissed her memories and writing, reducing her book into a simple category; The Illness Memoir. I worry, of course, that my writing could be that easily categorized, that it could be seen as self-indulgent, inconsequential. I’m sure I’m the only writer who has ever worried about this. Experience shows me that if you listen to enough people, you’ll never do anything your entire life. Listen for awhile, then write. What else can we do?

When Search Results Attack

I owe some of you an apology. After “l(i)sbian” (my intentional alteration of a ridiculously common misspelling of the word for women who dig other women), the most common words entered into search engines that in turn list my site are, in tandem, “HIV” and “dating”.

Now, each time one of you stumbles upon the Campfire in hopes of, I don’t know, personals, advice, testimonials, etc, I feel like a gay boy version of Linda Hunt. You see, I haven’t really been dating. I think I may have entered “dating” as a keyword for Yahoo or Google when describing my site, but you have to understand that I imagined my newly-single life would be peppered with various social invitations, parting glances, dance card vacancies, and back-seat fumblings. A self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. But you won’t.

I’m not ugly. I can carry on a conversation. I’m on somewhat familiar terms with midweight dumbbells (hah! aren’t we all?). I have a job, a dog, a checking account, deodorant, new shoes, and a quiet yet charming personality. I can drive a stick shift. I don’t dance like a white boy.

I tested positive a little less than a year ago. I’ve been on three dates since then; the most recent was two months ago. All lacked a certain spark. And given the year I’ve had, my Members Only baggage may have seemed a bit cumbersome to the casual observer. Not that I called them again, either.

I’ve had some challenging times lately. Because there were many mornings when I preferred a dark bedroom and Tomb Raider 3 over getting up and taking a shower, my health care professional seemed to think I needed a little, shall we say, assistance. Other people call them drugs. Little pills that, after weeks (and weeks) of patience, whipped the grey veil from my head so that I could see the world a little more clearly. I’ve tried many varieties, alone and in combination: Prozac, Paxil, Serzone, Wellbutrin, Remeron. I’ve discovered that the most effective pills also chip away at my poor libido. During Major Life Changes, this wasn’t really a bad thing. Putting “horny” on the back burners was liberating. That way I didn’t wind up in disgraceful situations with questionable characters. At least, not as often. Don’t get me wrong; when those three boys got naked (individually, of course), I quickly got naked too. Everything functioned just fine.

I have moments, though, where from this vantage point I can look around me, and see how sex makes the rest of the world go ’round. And sometimes I feel left out. And I wonder if I’m out of the game. But then I’ll be ordering dinner at a restaurant with some friends and a studly shaved-head boy with big dark eyes and a Harley t-shirt will walk by and look at me for a second longer than necessary, and it quickens my pulse, stops my breath, stirs the nerves south of my stomach.

It’s actually pretty refreshing. My libido doesn’t demand more than it’s fair share of time and energy. When I see a hottie, I know he’s a hottie, not a Plastic Boy disguised as a hottie. I have patience. I’m walking around with this faith. Can you believe it? I just know I’ll be all right. It’ll happen again. I don’t develop bloodshot eyes and carpal tunnel syndrome from “five more minutes” chat room visits anymore. I don’t waste away in a club with an overpriced cover, and I don’t have fleeting encounters that leave me vaguely disapponted. I have this crazy idea that if I just continue living my life, I might run into someone interesting.

Which doesn’t bode well for those of you thinking I have something to say (or show) about dating. No gratuitous nudity here. I have a simple life; adjusting to loss, cleaning up the past, forging friendships. I don’t know if I have enough to give someone else yet, but I’m not worried. It’s coming. Or he is. So to speak.

That Night

There’s that stretch of street downtown, near the water, lined with warehouses sitting big and curious in the dark. A street broken by train tracks and brick, dim lights humming in the night. People curled in doorways, forts built of carts and sheets, cardboard and plastic bags.

It was a thrill to creep along the street that led the way, wonder thrumming in your blood, your hands beating the steering wheel to the bass pulsing from the speakers. Here we go said your blood, the car skimming the wet surface of that street.

The world opened up down there. You walked under a streetlight, the yellow glow holding you still. It was perfect there, in that circle. Didn’t you taste it, Didn’t you yearn? Wasn’t it going to be good? That street took you young and jacked, brought you hot to the edge of a world. One warehouse throbbed and your name opened a door. The heat hit like a wall, the sweat pulled up and covered your skin. Bodies spun above, under lights that flickered fast and red. They swooped, skin and shadows playing in a pattern that settled hot in your gut.

Didn’t it hurt but good? Didn’t you want it to go on? Didn’t you need more? Didn’t you cry when it struck like that, didn’t you close your eyes? Weren’t you scared it would end, didn’t you hold your breath? Didn’t you spin and stare, weren’t they all around?

I need it again, I got it bad. Take me there, drop your name, open up. Get me wet, get me hot. Crack the clock, crank it up. Push me in, spin around. Hold it up, hold it high. Say it loud, push me down. Sweet night, you make it sound good. Tell me again. Your teeth shine. You’re on, you’re rock, you’re liquid fuck. You break my heart.

No More Excuses

There’s somethingin theair. Time to get stuff done.

I put so many things off while my mother was sick; school, acting, career decisions, financial decisions, travel, etc. I felt I needed to stay flexible should I need to go back suddenly, so I kept myself in a suspended state of daily survival, a state not unlike holding my breath for a very long time.

Now she’s gone, and I’m left with the fact that the only thing standing between me and my future is myself. I find myself lately in long moments of paralysis, unable to act upon the world. So I get acted upon; the undesireable elements (home, work, health) of my life continue, and I haven’t taken the steps to change them.

The Studly Couple returned from Hawaii last night, flying into a dark and windy city. Louie and I are back home, our Week of Peace officially over. No more excuses. It’s time to find a new place to live.

I’ve had difficulty imagining where to take my writing. (To the nearest landfill, says the Inner Critic) Although I hate making definitive statements about my talents (or lack thereof), I know it’s what I do best. Dogpoet has helped me start, but I can’t make a living blogging. And I do want to make a living writing. I want to stop settling for low-level non-profit administrative jobs that fulfill my yearning to contribute to the Greater Good, but that leave me uninspired and resentful after a year because they take up all of my time.

I’ve thought about pursuing an MFA, but I haven’t made up my mind. Most schools want you to pursue fiction or poetry, but I keep coming back to this creative non-fiction thing, so that narrows the field. (Then I read articles like this, and I feel stupid for wanting to write about real life. I swear, listen to enough people and you’ll never do anything your entire life.) Besides, I’m not sure if an MFA is the end or the means. I suppose it would help if I had a clearer idea of Who I Wanted to Be. Then when it comes time to actually apply to a program, I’ll need some recommendations, and since I’ve been out of school for almost ten years, I’ll need people familiar with my current work, which means I need to meet some other writing professionals, and have sex make friends with them. And I need more current work.

Which brought me to the next logical step: take a class. It took awhile, but I can finally afford one, so today I signed up for an online creative nonfiction workshop through UC-Berkeley Extension. I’d prefer a real-life course with classroom discussion/dialogue, etc, but there was a time conflict so I thought I’d give this online class thing a try. So. Little baby steps. You thought I made everything look easy, didn’t you? Someday you’ll learn.

Buddha Be Damned

Bearbait recently described to me the AutoCad software he’s been tinkering with at work: one can create three-dimensional digital representations of a building and then take a simulated helicopter tour around it, to better visualize the layout. The software adds digital people who walk around and within the building, further clarifying the dimensions. His tour was cut short, however, when he crashed his helicopter into the house. I asked if any of the people were hurt. A moment of unbridled tearful laughter on Market Street, groomed gay boys giving us a wide berth.

What’s the absolute best part of my Week of Peace, dog and house-sitting for the Studly Couple? Is it cute little Seamus sleeping in my lap at work? Is it meditating in the morning after drinking coffee in their peacefully quiet and sunny living room? Is it having Movie Night watching Amadeus on DVD with Bearbait and Handsome? Hell, no. It’s driving in their car, the windows down, blasting Basement Jaxx, a new pair of boots in their box on the passenger seat. I feel so much better.

Primo, Mais Oui

The search result-oriented referral logs are becoming more and more disturbing. I can’t post them here because they’ll upset those of you with delicate constitutions and frankly, I need a lot of readers to make me feel good about myself. Well, not really. But I don’t want to encourage more people looking for, well, the things they’re looking for. I can’t believe they want to do that to those poor Campfire Girls. Oops. There I go.

In my futile, never-ending efforts to make everything about ME, I’m convinced now that I’ve said something wrong. Well, not really. But I don’t have the best memory, so I might be projecting. And I excel at projecting. Really. I’m quite good. And I know you know that already.

My first long-term relationship was with a man (let’s call him Primo) who had a partner. And that partner had another partner. Relax, the shampoo commercial ends there. Granted, at the time my boyfriend was living thousands of miles away from his original partner, but at nineteen I absolutely loved the freedom of loving a man who didn’t mind if I fucked other guys. Primo was also, what, seventeen years older than me? What can I say, I’ve always been mature for my age.

Though the freedom to fuck sated the desire for other men, my on-the-side escapades inevitably left me with a greater appreciation for Primo, a man who knew and loved me, who spoiled me and treasured me. Coming home to him was the reward. I believe he realized, too, that there was a big ol’ Romantic in me, and because he wasn’t (at least at the time), he knew that my searching would someday lead me elsewhere.

Our relationship as such lasted several years. I’d go away for school, date other guys, and come back to him during the summers. I fell in love with another man and had my heart broken for the first time. Primo remained a constant presence.

I suppose the most difficult aspect of loving Primo was dealing with Others, especially in Minnesota. Friends and strangers were more than happy to share with me their opinions of our relationship. Tricks or potential dates, in particular, would be the most confused or pious. My mother and her partner were clearly uncomfortable with the open relationship and the age difference. Over time, I’d often leave out details or blur the truth when discussing Primo. It was just easier.

Eventually the relationship changed. Though I didn’t handle Primo’s feelings as delicately as I should have (blame my dumb youth), with time we’ve become good friends, and he’s still an important man in my life.

About the time Primo moved away, I met the man who would eventually become my Ex, and thus began a five-year relationship that explored all the emotional limits life offers. In contrast, the Ex was not comfortable sharing me. I thought I could handle that. I thought I could change. But I couldn’t. Or didn’t. My first relationship with another man questioned the conventions of love. And instead of honoring the Ex’s more practical limits and acting accordingly, I engaged in drama and subterfuge. (“Smoke and mirrors”, he called it).

You know, I wouldn’t do that now. Through sobriety I’ve learned how to live an easier life. I don’t lie, and if I do, I make amends. I have one life, not a multitude of half-lives. Sybil has left the building.

But when the time comes again, what will I want? Monogamy? Ployamory? I don’t know. I really don’t. My instinct lately has been to simplify my life. I’m happy with a small group of friends, so it would seem I’d be most comfortable with one partner. Besides, over time I’ve reached the conclusion that anonymous sex really isn’t much fun. For me. Or one-night stands for that matter. But I could change. And I know how time and routine tarnish the shine of long-term bliss. Cute, fascinating boys polka dance into our lives when we’re paying bills with the husband and wow, do they look like fun. And if the husband doesn’t mind, well then, now you’re onto something interesting.

Which is my way of saying: What the hell do I know? If you find love, whatever the form, go wild. Tell me the juicy details. Flaunt in the face of the pious, hateful and devout. It doesn’t mean less for me.

Normally I hate writing projects. You know, write about a favorite childhood memory. Gag. Would that be the nightly occurrence of pouring my mother a glass or two of wine when I was, like, eight? Or the times I portrayed both Jason AND every stupid teenage victim from Friday the 13th in my backyard, alone? (Tools in the garage provided endless hours of gruesome imagination). Not that I’m asking for pity. I’m just saying. I’ve bought a lot of books on writing and I’ve skipped a hell of a lot of end-of-chapter writing exercises.

But this project I’ll do, if only because I’ve wrestled with the same questions since I built the Campfire in December. Anx’s I’m a writer paragraph pretty much sums it up for me, too.

1. What is too private for you to write about in a public forum?

Writing about real life stuff is strange. When I tell people I’m writing again after a six-year dry spell, they always want to know what I’m writing, and when I say “non-fiction”, their eyes glaze over. They’d much rather hear I was writing a novel. There’s a difference between blogging and keeping a journal. I know people read this, and the audience both limits my expression and raises the creative bar.

After starting DogPoet, it was only a matter of a month or two before real-life friends began to read me. Before that I could safely assume that the four or five daily readers were strangers, save for a couple of other bloggers I knew only online. The readership has grown, and I suppose if I didn’t want friends and acquaintances reading this, I wouldn’t have casually dropped DogPoet in conversation.

I had started out using initials when discussing others, but after writing about an encounter I had with a friend (see question #2), I got paranoid about hurting feelings or using other people’s lives as creative fodder without permission, and so I went one baby step further and created nicknames. If you’re a friend of mine, though, you know who Ski, the Tattooed Monk, Bearbait, the Studly Couple, etc are. So.

So I don’t talk trash about friends. Not that I would, normally. I’m careful with my friendships, and I value them tremendously. Consequently, there’s usually no trash to tell. When I mention them it’s usually about what we did one day, or something insightful they said that caused me to think about life differently.

Co-workers or roommates are another matter, if only because I’m fairly certain they don’t know about Dogpoet. I still won’t name names, but those are the two groups most likely to annoy me (see previous posts). Hence, rants. Although I’d rather avoid confrontation when there’s an easier out, I don’t write something I wouldn’t say, if push came to shove.

Readers often remark on my willingness to reveal my interior life, flaws and all. In fact, I hear it so often that I worry I’m being foolish. But I don’t do so recklessly. I do think of the consequences, and you know what? I just don’t give a shit. Talking about my fuck-ups, the addictions and the infidelities, the sadness or my loneliness, it doesn’t bother me. If someone were to be repulsed (or bored) by such details, I wouldn’t miss their company. Life’s too short.

If someone else connects with the crap I’ve done, it’s worth it. It may be a cliché, but if I can help someone else through my writing, I’ve reached my only true professional goal (that, and writing a Lifetime screenplay starring Markie Post). Blogging may be just the next step in reality television and obnoxious public cell phone conversations; the relentless ME-ing of our culture, but if it’s done with thoughtfulness, it can reach higher.

The blogs I read daily (see sidebar) teach me things I don’t know; about music, art, politics, humor, writing. They do so without the filter of an editor, a publisher, or a mega-media conglomerate. Yeah, there’s a lot of really crappy blogs out there, but when we stumble upon and link to the good ones, we share with others the stuff that makes the Internet an amazing place.

2. Have you ever published something too private and regretted it?

I wrote once about my friend the Tattooed Monk, with whom there’s been a long-standing mutual attraction complicated by external factors. We’ve become, instead, very close friends. I wrote about getting take-out and going back to his place to watch tv. As he undressed to his boxers and t-shirt, he said, “You know, there’s been several times when I’ve thought about seducing you.”

Now, he said this after he had made the decision to become celibate, and I used it to illustrate my frustration, confusion, and irrational love of men. After I posted it, I thought that if he were to read it, he’d protest, saying it depicted him badly. But a friend said I was simply holding a mirror up to his actions, and so there was nothing to regret. And though I have left it in my blog, I often think he’d rather I delete it (I don’t even know if he reads this). Now that I’ve written about it twice, I’ve probably made it worse. Heh.

Other regrets? Sometimes I think I’m self-indulgent in my posts, and I’ll often avoid posting when I’m depressed. But somewhere along the way I made a little rule not to edit past posts, save for typos, as a way of staying true to the moment, of honoring the occasional ugly moods that I’ve experienced. I wanted to write about many things, like what it was like to lose my mother, and changing the past would be a lie. Sometimes it’s not so pretty, sometimes I’m very sad or hopeless, sometimes (like now) I’m restless, irritable, and discontent. Which is why I need this.

3. Do you think you could be more risky with what you self-disclose, or is that kind of risk-taking too much of a slippery slope for you?

I think self-disclose is the key word in that sentence. To keep my friendships intact, to continue to blog, I need to keep the focus on myself. For better or worse. I try not to write about other people’s interior lives (not that I could, really) or disclose details of their emotional challenges. If I do, I won’t name names, and it’s usually only done as a springboard into my own REALLY FASCINATING crap.

If I’m going to write about someone in a questionable manner, I do try to ask myself, what’s the pay-off, is it worth using this person as a foil for my writing? I try not to be capricious.

I wonder sometimes what I’ll do if I start dating someone seriously. That’s when self-disclosure really gets complicated. Don’t get me wrong, the thought doesn’t keep me up at night (especially cuz there ain’t nothin’ on the horizon). If it isn’t obvious by now, I make the rules up as I go along.

4. What is public and what is private?

For all I bare here, I reveal so little out there in the real world. There’s a handful of people who know me, who know my shit. I’ve been through more casual periods, where new acquaintances quickly got a dose of my soap opera poison, where co-workers knew my dreams, where roommates knew my sex life. With the constant barrage of Major Life Changes the past couple of years, however, my instinct has been to withdraw.

And yet. There’s this blog, this strange and wonderful form of writing that’s led me to disclose intimate details to an unsuspecting public. I’m writing again. I’m meeting great people from around the country (and abroad), who have so much to teach me. I love that life is so unpredictable.

There are some things I won’t reveal online, if only because I need a little something for myself. And no, I can’t tell you.

Writing with honesty is like diving from the high board: if I think about it too long, I’ll never move. So I close my eyes. I just jump.

Thanks to all of those who sent me birthday wishes today; I count myself lucky to have such friends and strangers in my life. What an unexpected gift of blogging; fellow travelers and worldly companions. Peace and love to you all. xoxo