Sunday, August 2, 2015

In Celebration of Friendship Day

This is a expanded repost of a post I've done before about friendship.  True friendship are one of our most treasured gifts, and I am truly blessed to count my readers as friends.  Happy Friendship Day!

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.1 Samuel 18:1-4

Two boys collected a bucket of nuts underneath a great tree inside a cemetery on the outskirts of town. When the bucket was full, they sat down out of sight to divide the spoils.
“One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me,” said one boy, as the other watched intently. Their bucket was so full that some of the nuts had spilled out and rolled toward the fence.
It was dusk, and another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery. He slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”
The boy with the bike knew just what was happening, and his face went ghostly white. “Oh my,” he shuddered. “It’s Satan and the Lord dividing souls at the cemetery!”
He jumped back on his bike and rode off, desperately looking for a friend. Just around the bend he met an old, scowling man who hobbled along with a cane.
“Come with me, quick!” said the boy. “You won’t believe what I heard! Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!”
The man said, “Beat it, kid, can’t you see it’s hard for me to walk?” When the boy insisted, though, the man hobbled to the cemetery. When they arrived at the fence, they heard, “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”
Ready to have a little fun, the old man whispered, “Boy, you’ve been tellin’ the truth. Let’s go inside, and see if we can see the Devil himself!”
The child was horrified, but the old man was already taking his first step toward the gate. Then they heard, “Okay, that’s the last of them. That’s all. Now let’s go get those two nuts by the fence, and we’ll be done.” They say the old guy made it back to town five minutes ahead of the boy! More than likely, he was looking for a friend.

Most people are constantly looking for friends. Some people are desperately looking for friendship. At times we all stand frozen with fear by the cemetery fence, so to speak, when life shakes us to the core. At times the legs don’t support, and a healthy heart nearly breaks. At times we can barely muster a prayer, and when it comes out, it’s a plea for a friend.                 
Friends can be a wonderful blessing. A source of comfort in times good and bad and a source of good counsel when we need advice or a sympathetic ear. It is not always easy to know who our true friends are.  The greatest true friend we will always have is Jesus, and if you are lucky (and I count myself as very lucky), I have a number of true friends who love and care for me.  We’ve all heard that old saying, “You can choose your friends but not your family…”  Maybe that’s why some friendships feel so natural; we choose each other.
It seems pretty important to God that we have good friendships. The Bible is full of examples of this. Think about the amazing friendship of Jonathan and David.  Jonathan warned David that his life was in danger at the hands of Jonathan’s own father, King Saul.  This warning allowed David to take action and avoid harm, and ultimately this act of true friendship allowed David to take the throne, which was God’s plan.
The Bible describes true friendship as when one will be honest even when it hurts. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” This means that a true friend of yours will tell you what you need to hear, even if it hurts, instead of flattering you all of the time. I’ve definitely felt wounded by a friend, but it’s usually because I needed to be set straight about something I had done or planned on doing.  Our friends care for us, and while we all want to make good decisions, sometimes we don’t.  Perhaps that’s why intelligent people in powerful positions tend to surround themselves with trusted friends who can advise them.
Good friends will have a positive influence on you. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that “two are better than one,” and goes on to tell how life is much better when you have a friend.  I can’t even count the times over the years that I have sought to be a better person thanks to the example of trusted friends.  In turn, bad friends will have a negative influence on you. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that “bad company will corrupt someone with good character.” Many people make the mistake of associating with the wrong crowd, and it is one of the warnings parents try and give their children all through their developing years and even into adulthood.  There’s a Spanish proverb that he would use to teach this lesson, “Dime con quién andas, y te dire quién eres. / Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.” 
I can’t help but think how Jesus, who could have chosen to complete His earthly ministry all by himself, instead chose to surround himself with a group of friends.  For three years, they lived together, ate together, celebrated together, and mourned together.  I also really like the fact that when you look at these twelve men Jesus hand-picked to follow Him, they were just real guys.  Jesus could have chosen men of influence, who came with tons of money and education.  Instead he chose fishermen and a tax collector!  Again, Jesus–even in a subtle way–gives us the perfect example of how important it is to choose friendships wisely.
Of course the ultimate example of friendship is that Jesus chose to sacrifice Himself for us. John 15:12-14 says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”  As I sit and enjoy my coffee this morning, I am prayerfully thankful that God has blessed me, over the years, with such good friendships.  Some of these friends are local and some are distant…but I love them and they love me no matter where we are in the world. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Moment of Zen: A Productive Week

I've had what I would consider a pretty productive week.  I told my mother that I couldn't help out with my granny this week, because I had to get in more job applications (though I did go,stay with her for a few hours yesterday).  I have submitted well over a dozen job applications to museums, historical societies, and colleges.  Please keep your fingers crossed that one of these leads to something.  I wasn't as productive on my novel as I would have liked to have been, but I spent nearly all of my waking hours fine tuning job applications, cover letters, resumes, and CVs.

Shortly after I lost my job, a dear friend of mine and one of my regular readers sent me a very sweet letter and a quote.  I've been wanting to share this quote, and I think now is a good time:
"Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do.  Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong." --Ella Fitzgerald 
When I get discouraged, I look at that quote and remember the words my friend wrote in his note, "Ella knew what she was talking about."  Thanks, TG, you like many of my readers are a true inspiration to me.  You have been there in my time of need, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Return to Maycomb

For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
Isaiah 21:6
The above passage from the Book of Isaiah is where the title for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman comes from. The title itself tells us much about the book. The twenty-first chapter of Isaiah for tells the fall of Babylon because of its wickedness. Babylon had once been a shining city admired by all, but it was filled with wickedness: decadence, liars, manipulators, and all sorts of other evils. For Lee, Babylon symbolizes the South. While the watchman would tell of the fall of Babylon in the Book of Isaiah, the Supreme Court has ruled that the South must change in its decision Brown v. Board of Education. The old South can no longer stand and its old principles of “separate but equal” must end. Thus the South follows the fate of the fall of Babylon. Nothing will ever be the same.
Like Isaiah, who is an outsider in Babylon, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is an outsider to her home in Maycomb, Alabama. The twenty-six year old Scout has been away for eight years, first to college then to New York. When she returns to Maycomb in the summer of 1954 or 1955, at first she thinks Maycomb has changed, but not as drastically as it really has. She merely sees the cosmetic changes of an ice cream parlor where the house she grew up in once stood. Her Aunt Alexandra is the woman of he house, not Calpurnia, the black maid who helped raise her and is now too old to work. As all people who go away and come home again, she thinks she knows more than everyone and is more enlightened, though she feels that her father is as enlightened as she is. Atticus is her idol, as he is for all who ever read To Kill a Mockingbird.
Then her world crashes around her when she discovers that her father is part of Maycomb’s Citizens Council. For those of you unfamiliar with the White Citizen’s Councils of the South, they were social organizations similar to the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, but with the sole purpose of maintaining segregation. They formed throughout the South in the aftermath of the Brown decision. When she sees Atticus and her fiancé Henry sitting idly by listening to a speaker deliver a hate filled speech, she becomes physically ill. She feels betrayed by her father and all she thought she held dear. The first half of the book is introducing us to Maycomb after a decade or so has passed since To Kill a Mockingbird; the second half deals with the fallout of Scout’s discovery.
First let me address the provenance of the book, the official story is that Go Set a Watchman was the original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird submitted to the publisher. According to the story, Lee was told that the editor liked the flashbacks to childhood, and she should rewrite the book and focus only on the childhood. Lee did this and it became To Kill a Mockingbird, while Go Set a Watchman was placed in a safety deposit box and basically forgotten until Lee’s lawyer came across it a year or so ago. Others have speculated that this was a failed sequel, which I do not believe and let me tell you why. First of all, while it may read like a sequel, there are parts of this book in which the passages are nearly identical to those in To Kill a Mockingbird. I can see Lee using passages from a first draft in a rewritten final draft, but I cannot see Lee using passages from a first book in the sequel. That would be far too lazy and completely out of character for Lee. I don't think the question should be “Is this books first draft or a failed sequel?” but should be, “Did Lee's lawyer manipulate the then 88 year old Lee into publishing a book that she had not wanted to be published?” Alice Lee, Harper Lee's longtime lawyer, protector, and and sister, is dead, and her young partner is now Lee's lawyer. Alice, who died in November 2014, wrote in 2011, that Lee "can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence." In February 2015, the State of Alabama, through its Human Resources Department, launched an investigation into whether Lee was competent enough to consent to the publishing of Go Set a Watchman. The investigation found that the claims of coercion and elder abuse were unfounded, and, according to Lee's lawyer, Lee is "happy as hell" with the publication. I not so sure that Lee wasn't coerced or tricked into publishing the book, but we have to hope it wasn't against her wishes. There will always be questions surrounding the publication of Go Set a Watchman, and I doubt we will ever know the truth.image
Second, let me address the nuances and changes of racial attitudes in the book. This has been one of the major criticisms of Go Set a Watchman, that Atticus is a racist in the book but was a champion of black people in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus was a champion of fairness and the law, but there is no doubt he had prejudices. He was a rural white southerner and a product of his times. Remember that Atticus was a legislator during To Kill a Mockingbird. In Alabama in the 1920s, few politicians were elected who were not members of the Klan. I'm not saying it was right, but most of the people in the Klan of the 1920s thought of it as being members of a social club or civic organization, much like the Masons, the Kiwanis, and Civitans. Hugo Black, a Supreme Court justice and champion of civil rights on the bench had been a member of the Klan. Furthermore, most white southerners felt a paternalistic relationship with blacks during the early 20th century, but southerners have always been conservative which means they don't like change to come quickly. Southern men like Atticus Finch would have felt that southern blacks were not ready for full equality or for desegregation. He would have felt they needed more time. One of my pet peeves is for people to place modern beliefs and ideas on their interpretation of the past. We can look back and say something is wrong and backwards by our way of thinking, but we also must put ourselves in their mindset. To Kill a Mockingbird is very frank about racial attitudes of the South, and the good guys are champions for southern blacks, but Go Set a Watchman is a far more complex and insightful book on the realities of race in the 1950s. Not everything is cut and dry like in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Go Set a Watchman may never be seen as the masterpiece that To Kill a Mockingbird was, but it has a historical significance far greater than its literary significance. Go Set a Watchman allows us to see the nuances of racial attitudes in Alabama in the 1950s. Whether that is how Calpurnia is portrayed, how Atticus is portrayed, or how Jean Louise is portrayed, the realities and subtleties are portrayed quite vividly. In Go Set a Watchman we get an almost firsthand account of what it was like for Harper Lee to return to Alabama after living in New York City. Jean Louise thinks she has become enlightened through her education and her time in New York City, but the big question is: has she? We get to see her real attitude, and we are fortunate to have Uncle Jack Finch guide us through the subtleties of southern racial attitudes. We like things to be in black and white, but in reality they never are. And that's what makes Go Set a Watchman a true masterpiece.
I had planned on discussing the parallels of race in the 1950s to gay rights in the 2010s but I'm not up for writing that right now. Hopefully, that will be a post for next week. In the meantime, go out and buy Go Set a Watchman if you haven't, and give it a chance. I think if you read it objectively and with an open mind, you'll enjoy it as much as I did. I look forward to a day when someone collects the writings of Harper Lee from the newspapers and journals she contributed to as a student at Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. I'm not sure that will be anything soon because of copyright and legal issues, but maybe some day. And there has always been the rumor that there really was a second book, Harper Lee’s great race novel, that Lee has refused to allow anyone to see because she was afraid she could never live up to To Kill a Mockingbird again.

P.S. I personally think she already did live up to it with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I believe she wrote as she had the talent for it and Capote did not. It was well known that Capote, a childhood friend (Dill in TKM and GSW) was jealous of the success of TKM, and I've always suspected that Lee actually wrote most if not all of the book but let Capote put his name on it because she had already decided she wanted out of the limelight.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Hunt Is On

About a week ago, a friend of mine told me that he had been watching this great little web series, and he thought I'd like it. The show is called Hunting Season and he described the show as a gay version of Sex and The City. In many ways that is exactly what it is, but it’s also a whole lot more. As he was talking about it, I googled the show to see what it was all about, and I was shocked at what I found. Hunting Season was inspired and largely based on the popular blog “The Great Cock Hunt” by “Alex” and the novel of the same name published by Kensington Books.
Alex chronicled his sex life in the blog “The Great Cock Hunt” from 2005 to 2008. I loved reading the blog and even read the book. I have missed Alex, and once I read that Hunting Season was based on his blog, I couldn't wait to watch the series. I watched all of the first season in one day, almost in one setting, and then watched season two with the friend who introduced me to the series.
The basic premise of the series is that “Hunting Season” tells the story of Alex (played by the engaging and incredibly sexy Ben Baur ), who has been keeping a secret sex blog and enjoying all the benefits of being young and single in New York – where take out, dry cleaning and sex can be at your door in 15 minutes. The series also involves his best friends are Tommy (Mark Sinoway) and TJ (Jake Manabat) – both also grappling with their own ups and downs.
Written and directed by Jon Marcus, Hunting Season started out in 2013 as a censored version airing on LogoTV and an uncensored version available for purchase on Vimeo. The first seasons episodes ran for about 12 minutes each. The second season, which premiered in 2015, has notably abandoned its short web series format for a longer, cable TV –like “half-hour” length, consists of four episodes, and will cost $4.99 each to purchase and $2.99 to rent. Unlike Season 1, there is not a “censored” version. Both seasons have a slick, professional feel, with sharp, snappy dialogue, and grown-up gay sensibilities.
These are characters that may seem a little unlikeable at first but once you start to get under their skin a little it’s fascinating to see what makes them tick – a lot like real life to be honest.
As well as talking a lot about sex, and showing its characters having lots of sex, Hunting Season embraces the bodies of its characters – taking a realistic approach to how the world works and not shying away from full-frontal nudity when it makes sense within the context of the narrative.
I don’t live in New York City, and my life and experiences are a long way from those of these characters, but the questions, the conversations, the doubts, hopes, fears, and aspirations that all form part of these stories have a universality that most gay men will be able to identify with in some way.
Hunting Season is a grown-up gay series for grown-up gay men. Well worth watching. I hope they will have a season 3, and hopefully it will not take two more years.  It needs support though, so please go watch it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Being Unemployed Is So Much Work

For the first time in nearly a week, I was home and able to work on job applications.  For nearly fourteen straight hours, I worked on retooling my résumé and CV to best showcase my skills and crafting different cover letters for each different job.  It's a much longer process than most people realize.

The academic jobs are the easiest because the CV and basic cover letter remain the same with a few changes here and there, but the kicker is the electronic submission of applications. Nearly all colleges use the same system, and those who don't still ask for the same information, but none of the systems talk to each other.  They should have one place to enter the job application information, but no, it has to be made more difficult so with each application you have to enter the same information over and over again.  The thing is, all of that information is already on my CV.  One college was actually smart and had you uploaded your CV first, and the program culled it for information and filled in the blanks.  Then it allowed you to edit it or add anything that was missing.  Sadly, it was the exception to the rule.  Most require you to type in all the information over again.

Then there are the non-academic jobs.  Because the jobs at museums, archives, and historical societies are so different, the cover letters have to be almost completely different.  I may be going about this all wrong, but I've read all the articles I can stand to read on how to create a better résumé, how to tailor your CV, and how to write a cover letter that will grab a potential employers attention and showcase all the skills I have and how they are relavent to the position.  Oh and don't forget the longer the CV the better, but a résumé shouldn't be no more than three pages max, and of course, the cover letter needs to be one page (It can be two but no one's gonna read it if they think it's too long).  All the rules just makes you want to scream.  If someone has any advice on how to make this process less painful, I'm all ears.

Anyway, I have tomorrow mostly at home too, so I'll be continuing to keep churning out applications.  I work all day and at the end of the day, it still seems like not much has been accomplished.  But I will keep plugging away at it, until I've applied for all the jobs for which I'm qualified.  Some of these jobs would put me in some pretty cool places: Richmond, Charleston, Austin, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, etc.  and y'all already know I'm ready for a move.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are You Going to Stay?

Are You Going to Stay?
Thomas Meyer

What was it I was going to say?
Slipped away probably because
it needn’t be said. At that edge
almost not knowing but second
guessing the gain, loss, or effect
of an otherwise hesitant remark.
Slant of light on a brass box. The way
a passing thought knots the heart.
There’s nothing, nothing to say.

About This Poem
“Why not take a reflective, little lyric moment, a sort of ‘negative capability’ sigh, and ignite it with a title (question) that demands a yes or no, not a maybe. The result struck me as oddly erotic.”
Thomas Meyer

Thomas Meyer is the author of Essay Stanzas (Song Cave, 2014). He lives in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Monday, July 27, 2015


Today was the absolutely worst day ever
And don't try to convince me that
There's something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don't last.
And it's not true that 
It's all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be obtained
Only if ones surroundings are good 
It's not true that good exists
I'm sure you can agree that
The reality 
My attitude 
It's all beyond my control
And you'll never in a million years hear me say that 
Today was a good day

Now read from bottom to top.

Optimism versus pessimism, it's all about perspective, but science has proven that optimism has real benefits to our lives.  “Think happy thoughts” is common wisdom that many people rely on for getting through feelings of depression, and painful or difficult situations. Often, people try to be happy when they're not; hoping that they will become the happy person they're impersonating.

Much of our behavior depends on our attitudes. If our attitudes are negative, we can expect to be vulnerable to addictions and depression, and the resulting lack of focus and concentration may degrade every area of your life. A positive attitude can be developed by monitoring and disciplining your thoughts on a moment-by-moment basis.

If you are like me, however, this is hard.  Yesterday, was actually a bad day for me.  My cluster headache shave come back, and I've only had brief moments without pain for the past week or so.  Furthermore, I'm frustrated with my job hunt.  I'm worried about what I will do when the money runs out.  To say the least, I'm scared, very scared.  I'm also depressed because it looks increasingly like I will end up with a job that once again will it put my education to full use and might not even need me to use it at all.  I worked too hard to let it go to waste.

So yesterday I was feeling very depressed.  Even on antidepressants, there are days like yesterday.  So when my mother called asking me to do something else that would keep me away from putting out more job applications, I got angry, and we had a fight.  I always end up being the one to apologize because as many of us know, mothers are very good at guilting their children.  I admit that I was unfair to my mother.  She has a lot on her mind right now.  

She's getting her mother ready to move into an assisted living home, and she's packing up the house I grew up in because they are finally selling it (they built their other house several years ago as a vacation home but decided to move their full-time).  She also suffers from fibromyalgia.  So I know she's under a lot of stress, and she's on constant pain.  But am I just selfish because I want her to remember that I am unemployed and looking for a job and I need time to be able to look for that job?  Maybe I am, but I already feel like I'm being pulled in a dozen directions when there are other family members who could help, but because I am unemployed and childless, I am the one expected to do it all.

Also, I have a problem with saying no.  I hate to disappoint, and I often care too much what others think of me.  So on most days I “put on a happy face” and “think happy thoughts” even though I feel like I'm dying inside.  I tried very hard to keep a positive outlook on things, but right now, it's looking very bleak.

A friend sent me the words above, and at first, I thought, “Well, they kind of summed up my day.”  But hen I got to the end and red it from the bottom to the top.  The words were the same but the message was the complete opposite.  So, I am going to try to put on a happy face.  I do have wonderful friends who help me when I'm down.  But while I keep a happy face to the public, no one really knows (except those who are reading this), that I sometimes cry myself to sleep at night because I scared of what the future holds.  Yet, I keep praying and hoping at hat God will help alleviate those fears and things will be for the better when all the dust settles and I find a job.