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Obviously I’ve been slipping into a state of creative inertia. See also writer’s block. See also laziness. As someone pointed out to me yesterday; “You’re making lists now. That spells trouble.”

I have nothing to say, certainly nothing illuminating to add to the universe. I’ve even thought, in my lazier moments, of taking a little vacation from writing, but I’m too afraid that I would never return from such a vacation. And if writing is what brings me the most satisfaction and serenity, not writing feels like a living death. And since I equate not writing with the period in which I was snorting a lot of crystal meth and hyperventilating whenever I’d leave the house, I get a tiny bit anxious when the well seems to have run dry. It hasn’t run dry, but I let myself get too tired to haul up the bucket. Or too afraid that a couple of snakes will be swimming around in there. How’s that for a heavy-handed metaphor? That’s just brilliant, Michael.

I need a certain amount of silence to write. If a few days pass without writing, I start becoming afraid of that silence; I fill the void with music, television, movies, anything that will “keep me company” rather than sitting there with all the schizoid voices ricocheting around my head. Honestly, I’m always just a few steps away from winding up in an institution. I don’t mean that as a slight against the mentally ill, for I most certainly belong to that club. I heard someone share at a meeting the other day that when he was in a treatment center, his counselor told him that when he’s spending too much time alone at home, Get out, there’s a KILLER in the house!

Fortunately I’ve suffered through enough of these periods that I am beginning to see them as all part of the process. This morning I again picked up my copy of Art and Fear (which he recommended), which always reminds me that the only way to get art made is to just make it. I hate it when they make it that simple. It takes away all the fun of drowning in my own little sea of neuroses.

Part of the problem is that it’s late September already. Back in the spring and summer it was easy to say “Yeah, I’m going to apply to grad school for next year”. But now, with only three months before application deadlines, the reality is setting in. I have to start organizing a million disparate pieces; essays and transcripts and letters of recommendation, each school with its own set of peculiar instructions. And above all, I must choose 20-30 pages of my very best writing, as 90% of the schools’ decisions are based on the manuscript, no matter how glowing those letters of recommendation may be.

Which reminds me, I’m open to hearing your opinions on what (if any) of my various “pieces” are the strongest. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but I’m not always the best judge of my own writing. I’m also stubborn as hell, so in the end I may just pick a couple of pieces regardless of anyone’s advice. But I’m trying to be a little more open-minded about asking for help. Also, if you or anyone you know has some personal knowledge or experience with the nonfiction departments of various MFA programs, I’d be happy to hear from you. I’m specifically looking at a few schools in/around NYC: The New School, Columbia, and Sarah Lawrence. I got some good advice from Phillip Lopate when I worked with him, but more info is welcome. I feel strangely superstitious about identifying the schools I’m interested in. But there’s so much information that you can’t glean from a school’s catalogue; the kind of information you want when considering investing a chunk of money into your education. As in, does the program suck or not? Is the school a snakepit of insecure, backstabbing bitches? Which professors require bi-weekly blowjobs to get an A? You know, normal questions.

I can’t quite believe that I am setting into motion a chain of events that could result in major changes to my everyday life. Just when things were starting to quiet down. Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe I need a little chaos in my life. I guess there’s one underlying motivation: I don’t want to be an old man, looking back and wondering “what if?” I’m sure that everyone else in the nursing home would get SO tired of me asking that, over and over, driving them all away from my table in the corner of the cafeteria.

I keep taking these trips where I need a vacation when I get back. Just a note to say I’m back, I’m alive, and I’m trying to write a little in between phone calls at work. How the hell does anyone get any writing done when you have to work for a living? Irritable and distracted, all I can think of are a few random pieces of culture I’ve been consuming and enjoying:

-Richard Wright, Black Boy
-Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby
Lost in Translation movie and soundtrack
-honey roasted peanuts
-my own bed
-finding out that my AA sponsee and I both know all the words to Sandra Bernhard’s Without You I’m Nothing on our road trip home from Palm Springs. I wish I had known sooner, like when I was playing volleyball in the pool with a few queers and I shouted “Yeah, SPIKE IT BABE, YEAH, ALL RIGHT!!” and everyone just looked at me.
-late night convenience store runs while on vacation, picking up a carton of water, milk, and a box of Apple Jacks.

Avoid at all costs: Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, even if you just want to escape for a little bit. It’s bad. And no, not Showgirls bad. Two hours of my life that I will never get back.

Keep it real, people.

33 Days in New York

Once, when I was much younger, I brought home an English paper that I had written. Across the top my teacher had scrawled, in red pen, the score of 97. I showed it to my mother.

“What happened to the other three points?” she asked me.

The student life is ridiculous, and I was born for it. I was born to read four hundred pages a week, to read authors whose work I missed by majoring in – of all things – sociology in college. I was born to haunt libraries with my laptop, wringing meaning from past experience, gazing for hours, one could argue, at my own navel. To stay after class and listen, with hunger, to the professor tell me anecdotes about working at the kind of New Yorker that no longer exists. To sit at the edge of a party with a plastic plate of cold chicken in my lap while I argue with a fellow student about what makes good writing. To hit the campus gym at night and to wander back, past the hot dog vendor dozing in his booth, to my apartment where more books await.

Heavenly, but also hellish. Learning is not some pink-hued abstraction. Maybe small children learn without pain. But at thirty-three learning is the process of destruction, tearing down earlier assumptions, welding together with white-hot flame ideas which once stood separate, excavating a hole in the self you’ve built up, painstakingly and sometimes haphazardly, over the years. A self you’ve leaned on, though you knew its precarious structure. And if I’m self-indulgent tonight it’s because that self is under fire, it’s disintegrating, and I’m confused.

Confused in New York, which contains everything save comfort. I have no routine, everything and everyone is fresh, and I greet them with humming, crackling nerves. The only comfort I’ve found is the solitude waiting in the room with the closed door, the hum of the air conditioner in the window drowning out the harsh sounds. A pile of books on the table.

Three cups of coffee and my eye hasn’t stopped twitching all week. Twelve essays by Edmund Wilson to read, or rather to study since reading sounds more passive than the work expected of me, the work that Wilson himself put into his writing; the ideas and the structure built around them, a piece of art that both inspires and depresses, for the cold light it casts across my own writing.

I don’t understand the confident man. At moments I respect, then deplore him. Above all I envy him, and I study him for the hairline crack, and when I find none I try to imagine, without much success, what it feels like to be such a man. I’m always three points shy.

I’m my own arch villian. For too many years I let the insecurities keep me from passion. Even now, in the dream come true, they wrestle me from confidence. And I let them. By now they’re old friends; I curse them while silently praising them for “keeping me humble”. I hold on to them to ward off arrogance. I hold on to them to clothe the emperor.

And speaking of confidence: here they come, pouring from the depths of the 116th St. station, pushing through the doors of Butler Library, clambering down the steps of Avery Hall. They’re pulling bags over their shoulders, brushing hair from their eyes, clutching cell phones to their ears. They’re bending over omelets at the Deluxe, clustering on the steps of Low Library, sweating on the treadmills at Dodge. They’re swinging bags of toothpaste and toilet paper from Duane Reade, avoiding the clipboards of Democrats for Kerry on Broadway, tossing footballs on the South Lawn. They chatter, they mill, they rest, sunbathing on the squares of grass lining College Walk. They’re everywhere; the fresh-faced undergraduates of Columbia, their youthful confidence a personal affront to me, who cannot imagine the balls it takes moving to New York at the age of eighteen.

I’ve always surrounded myself with older people. I’ve told myself I did so because of the shared maturity and wisdom. Nitwits my age, I reasoned, could never understand my struggles, my elaborate battle scars. But I’ve come to realize in the past few weeks that there was a more defensive reason. With older companions I could perpetuate my self-image as a young man. And as this young man I could pretend that I still had all the time in the world; time left to accomplish the ambitious goals that I set out for myself, that I fantasized over, that lingered always on the fringe of the future. In the company of undergraduates the fantasies fade.

I know that I’m still young. Enough. These fears, of falling behind, of never catching up. They’re old friends, too. They’re comfort, they’re familiar.

And the casual cruelty of the young, who refuse to flatter my ego by acknowledging my presence. Pipsqueaks. My vanity, bruised, finds refuge in the required reading of the fall semester. Back to Edmund Wilson, that arrogant son of a bitch. Wish I had read every single book ever published. Maybe then the three points…no matter.

So it’s only in the periods of transit, from home to campus, from class to class, from lunch to library, that I engage with the throbbing mass of undergraduates. As my anchors to Columbia increase and strengthen I’m bothered less often by the invisibility I had felt settle over me after my move. The lack of eye contact, the absence of – say it – boys cruising me fed my self-pity. When you’re new to New York, I reasoned, you do not yet exist. I had not realized the importance of people acknowledging my presence, had underestimated its effects; my life, my body, my face noted, acknowledged, seen.

I’ve been thinking about this absence of eye contact. It’s not about rudeness; it’s self-preservation. There are millions of people in New York. I don’t think I ever really grasped how much larger New York was than San Francisco until I walked its streets, felt the relentless march of crowds passing, the ubiquitous couple wandering in front of me, blocking the sidewalk, the angry young man stepping on my heels.

It’s self-preservation not in the sense of safety, but of sanity. One must learn to filter out some of these people. It’s a denial of reality. With blinders on we carve out our niche; our lives gain more meaning and significance, we matter more.

I had promised myself that, on some profound levels, I wouldn’t change. I swore to keep the sweetness, the Midwestern integrity, the relaxed air of the West Coast. I had resolved to keep my eyes open, to see everything, to take it all in. It seemed vital to being a so-called writer.

Why then do I walk down Broadway, realizing several blocks later that I’ve ignored nearly everyone I’ve passed? Why, for the first time in years, have I started wearing headphones? Didn’t I swear I wouldn’t? Didn’t I resolve to listen to my surroundings, to observe, through all five senses, my new city?

But with my headphones, with my music, I can retain some sense, if only a fraction, of my inner life. I can narrow my focus. I can ignore the clipboards of the Democrats for Kerry, the pleas of the homeless on the train. I can keep myself sane. I can return to my room intact.

But then an email with a photo, or a phone call. And homesickness descends, a heaviness settling behind my eyes. And it’s not some rigid sense of masculinity that prevents me from crying; it’s not the tough guy within. I just haven’t found the private switch. And so, every couple of days, I feel myself pulled down, into the small comfort of my bed. And I fight against it. I do the one thing that seems to work. I leave my room, I put on the headphones, and I walk.

I head downtown, along Broadway, my pace at a steady clip, passing nearly every other pedestrian not because I’m in a hurry but because speed pushes me forth from the crowd, out front, where I’m a little more alone. And the music, an old mix by Deep Dish, pumps lightning through my sluggish blood, adrenaline fueling emotion, neurons firing, serotonin flooding over the sadness, and I’m twenty, thirty, forty blocks from home. I pass Lincoln Center and veer right, where Columbus Avenue becomes Ninth, and I push along the edge of the Theater District, heading for an AA meeting on West 45th, if only to give myself a destination. And I pass a bar, glancing through the picture window, noting in an instant the all-male clientele, the rainbow flag tacked up over the bar, the man near the window who locks eyes with me. And he nudges the man next to him, never looking away from me, nudging once, then twice, then pulling hard on the man’s shoulder, to spin him around, to make him look out on the street just as I pass from view.

This cheered me up in a way no book could. I will admit that this is the thing that brings me out of the college town of my neighborhood, down to Chelsea or the West Village or Union Square, feeling less ghostly once I’ve been seen.

There are two or three times I have felt at home in New York. They were moments when I stood with a friend on the sidewalk, on Broadway or downtown on 14th St, moments from descending into the subway, still talking, still things to say, the night quickening, warm fading twilight. And the crowds push past us but we hold our ground, and in that second, words rushing between us, I felt I belonged. I felt that in some ways I had always been here, standing on the corner with a friend, a home waiting for me uptown.

One of those nights my friend and I were on Christopher Street, the night before Labor Day, an electricity coursing through the air, the sidewalks choked with people, awake, expectant. And as we neared Seventh Avenue I saw a man emerge from the crowd, walking towards us with deliberation, his feet unsteady, his gaze unfocused. As we passed he leaned in to my friend, whispered something in his ear, then continued on, weaving back into the crowd.

“Did you know him?” I asked.


“What did he say?”

“He said, I care about you.”

On the uptown train I couldn’t stop thinking about the man, his story, where he had been drinking, the person he’d been thinking of as he stumbled past us. Feeling something so strongly that he had to whisper into a stranger’s ear, to make contact. And I was jealous of my friend. I wanted, unreasonably, to hear such an intimacy whispered in my ear. A drunken man, a city, murmuring something pathetic and sweet to me, something to puzzle over as I made my way home.

What’s Your Orientation

Then there are the conversations you wished wouldn’t last so long. At one point during the marathon two-day orientation session the woman sitting next to me, another Writing division student, muttered, “If I have to go to one more fucking Q and A session I’m going to kill someone.”

If memory serves, this was the orientation for the School of the Arts. The Writing division is one of four divisions in the SOA: the other three are Visual Arts, Theater, and Film. Each division is often sub-divided. (The Writing division is comprised of students concentrating in either fiction, poetry, or nonfiction).

All of us first-year students in the SOA (several hundred altogether) had gathered in Miller Theater, on the first floor of Dodge Hall, for the school-wide welcome and announcements. It was also the week of the GOP convention, and several political quips of liberal persuasion were made from the podium. The Dean himself made a rather ballsy anti-Bush joke which, in almost any other context, I would have enjoyed. Certainly it’s safe to assume that in an arts program in New York City the vast majority, if not all, of the students would be against Bush. But I couldn’t help thinking that there was one lonely Republican who had just forked over a shitload of cash to attend an Ivy League school and who now felt side-swiped. But sometimes I’m naive like that, worrying about Republicans when they can clearly take care of themselves.

Although the School of the Arts is based in one shared building, there has historically been little socialization among the divisions. Second-year students were quick to point out that once classes started your life essentially becomes the Writing Program and little else. There must have been a few complaints by former students about this narrow focus, so in an effort to, I don’t know, plant the seeds of collaboration, every new student after the orientation was assigned to small groups of ten students each, with two or three students from each division.

Each group was assigned a “mentor”; a second-year student who had volunteered to answer any questions we may have about life at Columbia and in the SOA. The idea being we could get the unofficial “real deal” from a fellow student who had crawled before us through the trenches.

My group’s mentor was an actor in the Theater Division. Unlike most of the other students who, despite the heat, kept up a decidedly East Coast appearance, Our Mentor was dressed in shorts, a tank top, and Birkenstocks. He was also wearing a straw hat.

Maybe it was the hat. Seeing it brought me right back to my first days as an undergraduate; I’m positive that my orientation leader at New College also wore a straw hat. In Florida it made some sense. But here in New York Our Mentor’s outfit struck me as just that: an “outfit”, the kind of gesture that lends credence to “Theater People” stereotypes. Despite my acting experience, I took an instant dislike to him.

Each of the little “break-out groups” was free to gather anywhere on campus. We followed the bobbing straw hat on a circuitous route across College Walk, the pedestrian mall that bisects the campus, where we sat in the grass near Hamilton Hall. And that’s when the getting-to-know you exercise took place.

Earlier, the same woman who cursed the Q and A sessions told me that if there were going to be “trust exercises” in our “break-out groups” then more people would get killed. She said all of this in a pleasant enough tone, and I found myself agreeing with everything she said.

Fortunately we were not asked to fall backwards into each other’s arms. Instead, Our Mentor wanted us to go around the circle and tell three things about ourselves; two truths and a lie. The rest of the break-out group was to figure out the lie.

I was immediately resentful. It was bad enough that I was several years older than most of the other students in the SOA, and therefore slightly self-conscious. Adding small talk (which I’m terrible at) and ice-breaker exercises is guaranteed to induce nausea and exhaustion in me.

Nobody seemed particularly excited by the Two Truths and a Lie exercise, but everyone gamely offered up three things and we were left to figure out, for example, if the aspiring Stage Manager from Portland was lying about enjoying golf, making homemade wine, or sustaining a childhood head injury. (The wine was a lie.)

Most people in the group were non-actor artist types, so everyone was on the soft-spoken side (no Type A Business School students here). We’d all lean forward to hear each person’s Three Things, after which a chorus of “What was that’s?” could be heard.

In my most believable, put-upon voice I shared that I was “apparently, the only Republican in the School of the Arts” which silenced the group until Our Mentor said “Dude, you’re from San Francisco.” Obviously I made the right choice in applying for the writing, and not the acting program.

Our Mentor said “dude” a lot. He also said “awesome” and “amazing” and other words that I associate with scores of people I knew in California. I had hoped to escape people like that by moving to New York.

His mentoring capacity was also questionable. “Go ahead, ask me, like, any question.” Every time he said this (about fifteen times) a short silence would follow. We were probably all burned out on Q and A’s. Just to make him feel better I asked when the campus gym was busiest. “Oh. Hmm. I don’t really know. But, like, if you’re like me, I’m all about the elliptical machine and they only have, like two of them, so sign up for them as soon as you get there.”

My attention naturally wandered to the other students and occasional parent walking past, touring the campus. Having gone to an undergraduate school of six hundred students, I was having some difficulty adjusting to a university of twenty-four thousand. I was also unnerved by the idea that I was going to a school with frats and a football team. In fact at that moment the team was wandering past; young, enormous boys sweating in the heat, obviously returning from practice. I’m not particularly turned-on by undergraduates, but it was hard not to stare at the collective size and, I have to say it, beauty of these athletes. I watched them with a combination of quiet lust and condescension, the same condescension with which they looked at our little group of wimpy artists sitting on the grass in a therapeutic circle.

“Yeah, well, who’s ever heard of Columbia’s football team?” I asked myself.

My attention returned to Our Mentor. An awkward silence had fallen, again, over the group. “Serious, you guys can ask me anything you want. Like, where’s the best pizza, and where to get groceries… even, like, where to get your shoes fixed if you want.”

One shy poet spoke up. “Actually I do need to get my shoes re-soled.”

“Oh, hmm,” Our Mentor said. “I was actually like kidding about the shoes. I don’t know where to get your shoes re-soled. But if you want to know, like, which restaurant around here is the best for like dates, I can tell you. I went on an awesome date last night.” Silence. “It’s all good.”

No, I wanted to say, it’s not.

I was pretty sure by now that Our Mentor was gay, not that I really cared. I wanted to trade him to the other side. Instead I told the shy poet about the shoe repair shop around the corner from my apartment, on Broadway and 112th.

The rest of the hour continued like this. When Our Mentor volunteered to, like, take us on a tour of the campus I bailed, heading to Philosophy Hall for yet another Q and A session, this one about student health insurance. As I left I glanced over my shoulder. The straw hat was bobbing away towards Low Library, the diminished group of art students following like a line of ducklings.

Old for This

At the end of my first week of classes, I am calculating the theorem that will enable me to complete the following weekly tasks:

– Roughly 400 pages of reading
– Respond with intelligence, in writing and in person, to the writing turned in by three fellow students
– The four to six hours required of one of the literary magazine’s Assistant Nonfiction Editor positions, for which I am applying
– Attend at least two regular AA meetings for sanity and diversion
– Go to the gym 3-4 times
– Go to, on average, about 2 readings on campus and in the greater NYC area
– Sleep eight hours a night
– Eat at least three times a day
– Maintain this website
– Answer emails
– Have friends
– See a bit of New York
– Do freelance editing and other jobs for cash
– And get my own writing done, which honestly should be at the top of the list

Since math was not my greatest subject, this calculation may take awhile. There is a reason most people pursue education when they are young.

Considering the matter of perspective, however, I want to send out a special message of love and healthy sarcasm to Paul, my first boyfriend and my always friend, who is carrying a larger burden than would seem fair.

The Failure of Small Talk

On Sunday I helped Prometheus move some new furniture into his house, and afterwards he took me to lunch around the corner at La Mediterranee in the Castro. We found a shaded table out on the sidewalk. The restaurant was employing a bizarre, tag-team style of waiting tables; every time we looked up, a different waitress was giving us menus, taking our order, pouring our coffee, leaving the check. It was a bright, warm day; the fog had burned off by noon. Across the street, among the lush greenery of Café Flore, there were new outdoor tables with bright red parasols. When the waitress overfilled my glass, I let the spilled water on my forearm dry. I heard not the words but the confiding tone between the two women seated nearby. They were my mother’s age, dressed in layers of lycra and sweatshirts, meeting for lunch after the gym. When Prometheus sneezed one of the women blessed him. I had my back to Market Street, but every now and then I’d glance over my shoulder at the streaming mass of people. I watched an acquaintance emerge from his apartment with another new boy at his side, both of them blinking into the sunlight. I watched cars compete for a valuable parking spot, secretly rooting for the boy with a basket of laundry in the passenger seat. I saw, with a pang of regret, a couple who were once better friends of mine, back when they were both still sober. I watched with envy as they strolled arm-in-arm with other handsome men. I pictured the fun and release awaiting should I ever need to be a boy again, forgetting the cost I paid, if only for a moment. We sat there for an hour, talking. It seemed that all the people walking by were holding hands.


Last week I was invited to a screening of a rough-cut version of the film I worked on this past spring. I went alone to Dolby Studios down on Potrero Street, and took a slow elevator to the third floor. The doors opened and everyone was gathered in the lobby, munching on hor d’oeuvres and sipping from bottles of water. There were about fifty people there, many of whom I knew from working on the film. But a curious sort of social physics occurred in which all of my conversations took about thirty seconds, and everyone moved on to other conversations with other people. I let my social awkwardness take over and spent the better part of twenty minutes leaning against a table in the corner, watching everyone talk, staring out the window at a slice of the downtown skyline and the Bay Bridge stretching across the water. Thursday is the only night of the week that I usually have to myself, and I was a bit resentful, showing up out of obligation to the director, not especially looking forward to seeing myself on the big screen. My introversion needed its batteries recharged, and later as I watched the film I felt even more the sense of being spread thin, flayed open for public consumption.

Sometimes acting satisfies me in a way that writing can’t. I’ve been lucky enough to work with talented directors and actors in well-written plays, when the energy from the audience swelled within the theater, carrying us along in its buoyant stream. There’s nothing quite like it; the immediate, addictive quality of applause and excitement. Unlike writing, acting is almost always part of a group effort. Because of that collaborative nature, there’s always the danger of putting yourself in the wrong hands. I once appeared in a horrible production in Minneapolis where it was misery forcing myself on stage each evening. After that experience I vowed I would rather not act than act in something I didn’t enjoy.

So I was a bit wary when I first read the script for this film. It wasn’t badly written, but the story itself didn’t quite move me. It was a simple matter of taste. There was a surreal, Cocteau-esque quality to the story, and I’m usually drawn to more straightforward narratives. There was one scene that I particularly disliked, which involved my character, David, sitting on a toilet while the main character, as a ghost, delivers a monologue that David can’t hear. I’m rather squeamish about bodily functions; even bathroom humor makes me a little anxious. So the thought of being captured on film (or, rather, digital video) taking a crap was less than thrilling. But I didn’t want to disappoint the director, who wanted me for David, and I wanted the experience of film acting, so I took the part. I held out hope that the scene would eventually be cut.

Filming the scene itself was torturous. We had been working all day, at the end of a long week, and I was worn out. I sat on the toilet with bright lights focused on me, trying to look lost in thought. “Mikey, can you try not to blink so much?” the director asked. But asking me not to blink is like asking me not to think of a white elephant. I was trying so hard not to blink that all I could do was blink, my eyelids fluttering in protest against the lighting and my exhaustion.

Last week, as I watched the scene playing on the big screen, I couldn’t get past the hard, mean look on my face, as well as the mole on the side of my nose, which I normally forget is even there. There were funny jumps in editing, and the main character’s monologue sounded so trite; the epitome of expository dialogue. It had been hard enough watching the sex scene, which I did shirtless. That was several months ago, and in the intervening time I’ve put in many more hours at the gym, but those hours aren’t committed for all time on film. I was failing miserably at watching with a detached eye, focusing entirely on my insecurities. I made it all about me. I slid down in my chair, wincing at the sound of my own voice.

I cheered silently when one of the audience members, in the post-film feedback session, said the monologue in the bathroom seemed extraneous, and suggested cutting it. Naturally somebody else said they loved the monologue. The entire feedback session played out like that, each opinion canceling out the others. I kept my mouth shut, feeling too raw. And biased. Afterwards I left quickly. I wanted, as I often do after acting, to go home and hide for a while.

Maybe that’s why I’ve refocused my efforts on writing in the last couple of years. Alone with the page, I am free to create my own little world. I do not work for another person’s vision, merely my own. When my work is less than successful, however, I have nobody else to blame. But apart from issues of control, writing is just more natural, for lack of a better word. Writing, as opposed to acting, complements my introversion. I’ve been writing several years longer than I’ve been acting. Long enough that it’s an inseparable element of my character, like a virus, flowing through my blood, resistant to all cures or forms of medication.

I don’t think I will ever officially quit acting. I will probably always hold out hope that some marvelous little project will fall in my lap. I was reminded of the power and beauty of live performance when I was in New York City in June. I went with him to see De La Guarda, a sort of downtown circus act, as if the cast from Rent took over Cirque du Solei. The show had been running for a long time, and even I could tell that its heyday had passed, and it was now attracting a bridge-and-tunnel crowd. But the show was new to me. I was tired, having worked all week at the writer’s workshop, and then coming to New York City to try and decompress amid the chaos of Gay Pride weekend. And when I’m tired my emotions boil just below the surface. For the show everyone was horded like cattle into a large, dark room without seats. Then the show began. Above us there was a low ceiling made of paper, and lights flickered above it while shadows of people flew overhead. Ethereal, pygmy-like music played, as tiny balls poured in rivers above the surface of the paper. The shadows of people flying above multiplied and they spun faster and faster, and then little by little the performers began to tear their way through the paper, teasing the crowd, showers of foam balls falling around them. Suddenly the entire sheet of paper was torn away, and the impossibly tall ceiling of the hall was revealed. And there were performers strapped in harnesses and cables, flying above us. The music shifted, and a pounding, throbbing, tribal beat filled the hall, and then suddenly there were two girls, each strapped in a harness, and they were literally running up the side of the wall, in tandem, their footsteps synchronized to the frantic beat. They flew up and down the wall, zigzagging across and back and somehow never getting caught up in the cables. The music thundered and I suddenly got choked up. I started crying; I couldn’t stop. That happens to me sometimes. It started when my mother died. It has something to do with loss, of wishing so fiercely that she was still alive, so that she could see such beautiful things. But it’s also about passion and excitement; seeing young people doing what they love, creating something physical and crazy and wonderful, there in New York City. I cried and cried, watching those girls race up the wall.

I left the theater exhilarated and even more exhausted. He wasn’t as impressed with the show. But I’ve always been a little sensitive to these kinds of things.

Like everyone else I get older, and each decision takes me farther away from other paths. It saddens me a little to think that I may never do something like that; fly above a crowd to thundering music. I’m not twenty-five anymore. I don’t like having to choose between two passions. That’s the tyranny of choice; all those possibilities of youth, each demanding to be lived. For a while I wanted to be a famous film actor, with several edgy independent films under my belt. But sometime in the past year I’ve come to realize that whatever talent for acting I might possess, I would probably always be a more natural writer.

Last week at the screening I sat at the back of the theater, listening to the audience members voice their opinions. I was struck again and again by their intelligence and articulation. Words spoken by people who were clearly in their element. People who obviously lived for film, who understood good filmmaking and the art of telling a story through images. I was impressed, and a little intimidated. Then I realized that I, too, have my element: I come alive in writing classes and workshops. I felt a little better about my decision.


In the summer in San Francisco the fog begins to roll in from the ocean every afternoon. It moves in over the Richmond and the Sunset neighborhoods, and then crawls slowly over the crest of Twin Peaks. If you’re standing in the Castro and look west, you can see the white cloud of fog pour along either side of the valley. I never tire of the sight, even after six years. Like writing, like introversion, it fits my temperament.

Last night the fog lingered into the night. I parked my car at the end of the street and walked up past the eucalyptus trees, their leaves dripping. I took my time, the mist cool against my sunburned face. I think of you when I walk up the street at night, as I do when I see the things I want to show you.