Saturday, July 18, 2009

Please check out the new blog at

Well friends, it's been lovely hanging with you here, but we're striking the tent at Blogspot and building a new civilization at the THERE FROM HERE BLOG at

I began this blog in January because I liked the ease of the blogger software. At the same time, posting here marooned my extensive web site over at

So after some thought, and a lengthy redesign, the old web site has been improved. And it combines the blog stuff I hope you've enjoyed here at blogger with the deeper-album-cut resources that were on the old web site.

This means that this blog HERE will essentially go into mothballs now, which is a shame in a way, but most of the highlights have been moved over to the new site.

All of which means, from here on out, please visit me at; you'll find my resources there as well as the ongoing commentary you've read here, as well as comments from the generous followers and visitors to this site.

Thanks, and see you over there!

Jenny Boylan
July 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Crispy. Salty. Judicious

Editorial Observer

The Lord Justice Hath Ruled: Pringles Are Potato Chips

from the New York Times

Published: May 31, 2009

Britain’s Supreme Court of Judicature has answered a question that has long puzzled late-night dorm-room snackers: What, exactly, is a Pringle? With citations ranging from Baroness Hale of Richmond to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lord Justice Robin Jacob concluded that, legally, it is a potato chip.

The decision is bad news for Procter & Gamble U.K., which now owes $160 million in taxes. It is good news for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs — and for fans of no-nonsense legal opinions. It is also a reminder, as conservatives begin attacking Judge Sonia Sotomayor for not being a “strict constructionist,” of the pointlessness of labels like that.

More on politics and potato chips here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Now what?

What can I tell ya. I LIKE Tobasco.

Be that as it may: what next?

Grades filed, commencement done, boys guided through the Memorial Day parade, fiddle lesson, homework, and heaven knows what else.

Now? Well now, my friend, Professor Boylan spends some serious time chillin'.

Chillin, in my case meaning, writing as constantly as possible on Falcon Quinn Book 2, which I hope to have a rough draft of by summers' end. Book one will return to me in galleys and pages etc throughout the summer on its way to hardcover in 2010.

I'm also maybe writing a screenplay for my old friend Peter.

In the meantime, we'll be heading out to the lake place in a week or two, after Deedie/Grace returns from a week at my mom's house (watching the Devon Horse Show). Today I put Rustoleum on the outdoor furniture. In days ahead I hope to get our boat in the water, and then, oh please oh please, maybe I will just float around and catch some fish.

This summer looks to have our boys off at camp for quite a bit-- Zach is building a kayak and then sailing it, at the Chewonki Foundation in July, and Seanie is doing soccer camp, followed by French Horn camp, which we have promised to call "music camp" because "band camp" sounds bad. Anyhow, there's that.

Mostly I want to come to rest a little bit. Being me, "coming to rest" will mean writing a lot, two author appearances--the next of which is the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, coming up on June 10. But there will be time for the Red-Sox Yankees game the following night, and lots of floating around on the boat. Drinking mojiotos. And yeah: tobasco.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17: Outwit, Outlast, Outplay.

Jenny B., left, at Umass, delivering a short speech after receiving the "Continuing Stonewall's Legacy" award. Note the bright red academic robes, plus the small Aladdin's Lamp (a gift from Mom Boylan) on the dias. The wish is granted!

Well, here we are, back from Northampton and Amherst, grades lodged, hanging out on a summer night waiting for the Survivor finale. Somewhere I will write about the LOST finale of Thursday (although what is there, ever, to say about LOST except, Whoa, you're blowin' my mind, dude!).

The ceremony at Umass was truly lovely, and it was wonderful to see the graduates and the guests, some of which included some of our own JB.netters. I was taken by my hosts for a lovely dinner on Friday, which included pomegranite martinis and squid and gumbo and popovers and Belgian ale. Debuted the story "Trans" at the Pride n Joy bookstore in Northampton next day, including a few more old friends in the audience, and then screamed on home to Maine, where I have now come to rest for 2009 and am starting to look forward to summer.

I DO have a couple of events scheduled for this summer, atypically for me, but I'll be doing some readings for the anthologies I"m in-- the next of which is at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, on June 9. But between here and there is mostly getting the boat in the water and writing Falcon Quinn II and starting the new grown-ups novel and CHILLIN.

I've been thinking a little bit about the thing I do: tell stories, and tell them usually from the first person as a transwoman. There are other people who write in the trans community-- Susan Stryker and Julie Serrano and Helen Boyd being three-- who might be better considered activists, or at the very least theoreticians. I have always been more concerned with Story than with Theory. And the Stories that I know are the ones that have happened to me. So what I tend to write about is my own life, and that of my family. This might make people think I'm narcissistic, or self-centered or something, but truly, my desire is not to talk endlessly about myself; my desire is to tell stories, since that is the only language I know, and my own stories are the only ones I feel confident about telling.

You're damned if you do, or don't, though: if you only write about yourself, people think you're self-centered; if you try to speak for others, well people rightly say, You don't speak for me.

Anyway, I have reached a resting point on this spring evening and will look forward to continuing to appear now and again to talk and to tell stories. And when I do, I hope I"ll run into some of you there. IN the meantime, sending everybody love.

Jenny B.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

JB op/ed in New York Times, 5/11/09

"Is My Marriage Gay?"
© 2009 Jennifer Finney Boylan

Op/Ed, New York Times, May 12, 2009

Belgrade Lakes, Me.

AS many Americans know, last week Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signed a law that made this state the fifth in the nation to legalize gay marriage. It’s worth pointing out, however, that there were some legal same-sex marriages in Maine already, just as there probably are in all 50 states. These are marriages in which at least one member of the couple has changed genders since the wedding.

I’m in such a marriage myself and, quite frankly, my spouse and I forget most of the time that there is anything particularly unique about our family, even if we are — what is the phrase? — “differently married.”

Deirdre Finney and I were wed in 1988 at the National Cathedral in Washington. In 2000, I started the long and complex process of changing from male to female. Deedie stood by me, deciding that her life was better with me than without me. Maybe she was crazy for doing so; lots of people have generously offered her this unsolicited opinion over the years. But what she would tell you, were you to ask, is that the things that she loved in me have mostly remained the same, and that our marriage, in the end, is about a lot more than what genders we are, or were.

Deirdre is far from the only spouse to find herself in this situation; each week we hear from wives and husbands going through similar experiences together. Reliable statistics on transgendered people always prove elusive, but just judging from my e-mail, it seems as if there are a whole lot more transsexuals — and people who love them — in New England than say, Republicans. Or Yankees fans.

I’ve been legally female since 2002, although the definition of what makes someone “legally” male or female is part of what makes this issue so unwieldy. How do we define legal gender? By chromosomes? By genitalia? By spirit? By whether one asks directions when lost?

We accept as a basic truth the idea that everyone has the right to marry somebody. Just as fundamental is the belief that no couple should be divorced against their will.

For our part, Deirdre and I remain legally married, even though we’re both legally female. If we had divorced last month, before Governor Baldacci’s signature, I would have been allowed on the following day to marry a man only. There are states, however, that do not recognize sex changes. If I were to attempt to remarry in Ohio, for instance, I would be allowed to wed a woman only.

Gender involves a lot of gray area. And efforts to legislate a binary truth upon the wide spectrum of gender have proven only how elusive sexual identity can be. The case of J’noel Gardiner, in Kansas, provides a telling example. Ms. Gardiner, a postoperative transsexual woman, married her husband, Marshall Gardiner, in 1998. When he died in 1999, she was denied her half of his $2.5 million estate by the Kansas Supreme Court on the ground that her marriage was invalid. Thus in Kansas, any transgendered person who is anatomically female is now allowed to marry only another woman.

Similar rulings have left couples in similar situations in Florida, Ohio and Texas. A 1999 ruling in San Antonio, in Littleton v. Prange, determined that marriage could be only between people with different chromosomes. The result, of course, was that lesbian couples in that jurisdiction were then allowed to wed as long as one member of the couple had a Y chromosome, which is the case with both transgendered male-to-females and people born with conditions like androgen insensitivity syndrome. This ruling made Texas, paradoxically, one of the first states in which gay marriage was legal.

A lawyer for the transgendered plaintiff in the Littleton case noted the absurdity of the country’s gender laws as they pertain to marriage: “Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Tex., is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Tex., and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

Legal scholars can (and have) devoted themselves to the ultimately frustrating task of defining “male” and “female” as entities fixed and unmoving. A better use of their time, however, might be to focus on accepting the elusiveness of gender — and to celebrate it. Whether a marriage like mine is a same-sex marriage or some other kind is hardly the point. What matters is that my spouse and I love each other, and that our legal union has been a good thing — for us, for our children and for our community.

It’s my hope that people who are reluctant to embrace same-sex marriage will see that it has been with us, albeit in this one unusual circumstance, for years. Can we have a future in which we are more concerned with the love a family has than with the sometimes unanswerable questions of gender and identity? As of last week, it no longer seems so unthinkable. As we say in Maine, you can get there from here.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is a professor of English at Colby College and the author of the memoir “I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I love you, Mom.

Here's a picture of my mom, with her family (taken at Christmas, 07, i think, and wow, have the boys grown since then.) My mom, who, upon learning about me, said, "I would never turn my back upon my child. I will always love you. Love will prevail." My mom, who said, "It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know." My mom, who said, "Jenny, you'd look so much better if you just lost five pounds." Mom, whom I love. Happy Day, Mom. I love you!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stonewall, Monsters, Boats, Lobsters.

What next for that Jenny Boylan?

Well, this coming Friday I'm receiving some kind of award at U Mass Amherst, something called "Continuing Stonewall's Legacy". I'll be giving a short talk as part of that-- this is for a pre-graduation celebration for the GLBT students there.

Next day, May 16th, I'm giving a reading at Pride and Joy bookstore in Northampton, at noon.

Then it's home to Maine, and summer. I'm back at work on Falcon Quinn, book 2. And shepherding my family through the final weeks of grades 7 and 9, respectively. And getting ready to put the boat in the water. And thinking about moving into the summer house. And contemplating a dinner of fresh lobster, and fiddleheads, and cold white wine, on the porch.

Next public performance after that's at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge (Our Fair City), on June 9.

Looks like there'll be another op/ed from me in the bloody New York Times this week, too, so, as Bettie Davis used to say, "Fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!" Actually, this ride will be smooth. I am feeling satisfied and happy with the writing, the teaching, the family, you know: the world. "O Earth, you're just too beautiful for anyone to realize you." That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

JB piece in NYT: "Maddy Might Just Work"

My story in the New York Times is up and online. The title they gave it is either, "Maddy Just Might Work," or "The Other Side of My Boyhood." The actual title is "The Sleepwalker." More on this piece is in the post directly below.

In the meantime, here's the beginning of the story as it appears in the "modern love" column, and a jump to follow if you want to read the whole darn thing:

"Maddy Might Just Work"
© Jennifer Finney Boylan
published April 26, 2009

IN the last year of my father’s life, he started to sleepwalk. I was 27, and back in my parents’ house to help with his care. In the middle of the night I’d hear his heavy footsteps coming up to the third floor, where I lived in a room locked with a deadbolt. He’d creep through the hallway and open the door to the spare room, diagonally across the hall from mine, and lie down on the guest bed.

After a while he’d start to snore, and I’d know he was O.K., at least until morning, when he’d wake up, confused and angry. “Where am I? What am I doing here?”

He didn’t know I was transsexual, or if he did, he never said anything about it. I doubt he even knew the words “transsexual,” or “transgender,” and almost surely could not have explained the difference between the two. But that’s O.K. For a long time I couldn’t figure it all out, either.

Once, though, when I was in high school...(to read on, click here)

Friday, April 24, 2009

"The Book of Dads": & JB in NYT this Sunday, 4/26

An excerpt of mine from the forthcoming anthology, "The Book of Dads" appears in this Sunday's New York Times. The Styles section runs a weekly column called "Modern Love," and this week they're running "The Sleepwalker," which is about fathers, sons, daughters, and how being trans affects our families.

It's not the first time a trans person's life has been recorded in the column, but it's one of the first, and it's always good, I hope, to get work out there showing the complexity--and normality--of our lives. I've been especially interested in the relationships between transwomen and their fathers for the last few years--I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU is, in large measure, about my relationship with my dad. Anyway, look for the story this Sunday. It had to be cut by more than half to fit into the space the Times has for the column, but I imagine you'll get the gist.

I'll also put in a good word for the anthology here. The book was edited by Ben George, and is full of interesting work by writers--all men, except for me--you'll either be familiar with, or will want to be. It's a collection of essays "on the joys, perils and humiliations of fatherhood." I think it'd be a good gift for fathers day, and if you're a trans person, or anyone struggling with difference, the wide range of experiences in the book--and, yeah, sure, the Boylan essay--might do well to send out a little bridge between your experience, and that of your own father's.

I'll be reading from the Book of Dads, along with several other of the authors from the anthology, at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square on June 9th. If you're in the Boston area, I hope you'll come check it out.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Us on Oprah

The Boylans appeared on Oprah today, "Most Memorable Guests." You can read the online account of the appearance here.

The main thing is that my kids spoke: they wanted to advocate on behalf of families like ours, and other children like them. They did great-- as did Deedie/Grace, who shone.

You can draw your own conclusions about the context: the other memorable guests included the Texas Polygamist Wives, Ted Haggard, a 500 pound man, and so on.

Mostly, though, I am proud of my family. And yes, they showed the cover of She's Not There, which is a good thing. I'm hoping it's a good thing for there to be images in the public eye of families like ours, even if some the other guests were a little scary.

Zach had the best line of the show, though. Later he asked me, vis a vis the Texas Polygamist Wives: "Maddy, if you're going to have ten wives, shouldn't at least ONE of them be hot?"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

18 Again

I'm back from a swing through Connecticut, which took me to Yale on Thursday, and back to my alma mater, Wesleyan University, on Friday.

The reading at Yale University's Sterling library was a good and interesting event for me. Instead of my standard readings (usually stuff from SNoT or ILTY), I read a new and experimental story entitled "Six Graves for Seven Writers," which is set at the graves of six writers whom I have visited, including Melville, Dickens, Poe, Thurber, and Radclyffe Hall. The piece went over fairly well, although I learned that it's not exactly an easy sell to a crowd-- unlike, say, the thing i did in Seattle for the Richard Hugo house last month. It's a tremendous gift to be able to "road test" new work--the Marx brothers used to do this, back in the days of vaudeville-- and I heard all sorts of new things in the Yale piece that will help me as I go about revision, and possibily performing it again.

On Friday I got up and drove up to Wesleyan, where I was to see some old, dear friends, and also to serve as a guest at a dinner honoring the writer Edward P. Jones, whose "The Known World" won the Pultizer a few years back. There were lots of other writers and friends of the college there, and it was an honor to be part of the occasion.

But the thing I wanted to write about was the experience of being back on campus-- I graduated 1980, and did indeed love it at Wes. It was there that I was first encouraged by both faculty and other students to try to be creative, to consider maybe being a writer in this life. I still think of Wesleyan as a magical, odd, haunted, quirky place, full of eccentrics and geniuses and characters. I don't know of any other college like it in the world; I know that getting to go there, when I went there, was one of the great gifts, and turning points of my life.

Given all that, it was also a tremendously hard place to leave. IT's also true that when I think back of my Wesleyan days, I also think of how haunted I was then, as a young person-- trying so hard to "become" my magical creative boy self, but always held back by my secret self, by my knowledge that the thing I really needed to invent was my own self--and I knew that that invention could never be, or so I was convinced back then.

So when I go back to Wesleyan--which I do every four years or so-- I often encounter the ghost of my younger self, and that leaves me melancholy, feeling sorry for the weight I carried, feeling sad about all the lost time.

But this time it was different. I don't know why. But mostly, i felt grateful and happy to be there. IT was a beautiful day-- people everywhere, kids on the hill playing frisbee. As I first walked onto campus, i ran smack into a group of a dozen young women--were they dance majors?--all cavorting and chasing each other and doing somersaults and cartwheels. They were like a dance of spring joy, and all I could do was smile and watch them, and be glad. I kept that feeling the whole afternoon. I was glad to have come so far, glad to be back, glad for all the gifts of life. Above all, I did not want to be 20 again. I was glad I made it to 50 and that I have lived this life-- and look, here we all still are, dancing the dance of spring.

IN the morning I woke up and went to a diner breakfast with my friend and by noon on Saturday was heading back to maine, and home, and my family.

'This dream is short, but happy."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why the Amazon de-ranking of GLBT books Matters

The online universe is alive this morning with news of's move to remove sales ranks from so called "adult" themed books. This seems to mean gay and lesbian books, specifically. By the time you read this, this may all well be old news; my bunions tell me Amazon is going to fix this issue today, in response to the wild and rightful cries of outrages, particularly on Twitter. (if you Tweet, you can follow the ongoing debacle via the subject #amazonfail, although I also suspect that Twitter and #amazonfail may well crash this morning as the internet fire grows.)

I'm one of the banned authors, and it's probably worth mentioning why this matters. I noticed the change on Saturday, and thought it was just an odd "glitch" (as amazon is now claiming it to be). What happens, though, is that you can't find my books by searching for them by topic; (although this is inconsistent throughout the country, depending on what server you get). If you search for "homosexuality", though, you'll get a half dozen books about how to prevent it; you wont' get a single book by anyone who is actually gay.

She's Not There, as most of you know, was one of the first bestselling books by a trans American; the fact that it had "national bestseller" on the cover helped legitimize it for lots of people who might have been timid about reading it. (Which they shouldn't have been, but that's another story.) That designation as "national bestseller" was in part a result of its amazon ranking. It would not recieve that ranking now, as a result of this policy.

More importantly, readers looking for my book by subject might not be able to find it as a result of this policy.

Amazon should know better. They've de-ranked books by James Baldwin, Rita Mae Brown, Christopher Isherwood. Mein Kampf stays. AMerican Psycho stays. "Heather Has Two Mommies" is out.

As I said, my guess is that we'll see a quick retreat by Amazon on this, but this is another good reason why we should trust our local booksellers instead of mega-corporations.

More soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Us on Oprah, again.

Today the Boylan family will tape, via Skype, a couple of segments for an upcoming Oprah Winfrey Show. This is an "update" show that will air either in May, or the summer. The agreement with Harpo asks that we not particularly talk about the show much at this point, but we're hopeful it will go well; our children will be on camera and are likely to be speaking for the first time about what they would like everyone to know is their good family.

As parents we have our fingers crossed. The Oprah show has been very generous to the Boylans in the past. On the other hand, there is always the possibility we will lose our minds on camera, and the whole thing wind up resembling the short video I post below:

-- 9 AM. Postscript below

PS. 4 PM. Well we're done with the show, and while confidentiality keeps us from being able to yammer all about it, I will say that I am very proud of my two boys, who were as eloquent as can be, not to mention Deedie, who is loving and proud of us all. We did NOT particularly get to talk about my writing, which discourages me a little, although they did show the cover of She's Not There. I'm hoping the show reaches people whom it may help, and as always it's a gift to be spotlighted by Oprah her self.

Will post the air date when we know it; last i heard was maybe May.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Photos from "My Avatar"

Some photos from the My Avatar performance at Town Hall in Seattle. Photos by the sponsor, Richard Hugo House.

Below you will see: Jennifer Finney Boylan with a remote mike; the Maldives playing live; the three writers: Vikram Chandra, Christa Bell, and Jenny B.; a nice one of my old friend Vikram (who also appeared as a character in my performance piece); and a great one of Christa Bell, the High Priestess of Cootchie.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Coronet Blue

In the summer of 1967, I was totally entranced by this show, "Coronet Blue." The plot was about a fella who wakes up after an attempted drowning with no idea who he is. The only thing he remembers is the phrase "Coronet Blue." So he goes about trying to figure out who he is. Maybe you don't need to be Dr. Freud to figure out why this had particular resonance for me.

The thing is though, that CBS--which had filmed the show in 1965, then shelved it, thinking it was too "intellectual"--was essentially dumping the 13 episodes of this show in the summer, when they thought no one would be watching. Instead, it became a hit. But no further episodes were filmed, and the series ended at summer's conclusion, without anyone ever finding out what "Coronet Blue" really was.

Years later, thanks to the ever dependable internet, the full story is revealed-- apparently the hero was a Russian spy who was trying to defect to the US, and the Russians themselves tried to kill him to keep him from going over to "our" side.

So there's that mystery cleared up. In the meantime, here's this totally awesome opening title credit sequence, complete with go-go dancers, and the plaintive refrain, "I'm wondering who am I."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Seattle, 3/20/09: "My Avatar"

Well, the piece rocked. This is going to be a quick summary, as I'm now back on crash deadline for the new book, but the event in Seattle was life-changing for me, and not only because i got to share the stage with two very cool performers and writers, Vikram Chandra and Christa Bell. INtegrating music and story into a single piece was really powerful for me, and the audience really seemed to groove on it. I would like to do more pieces like this in the future; I'm not sure how to go about that, but if I can, I will.

The night was filmed, and so far as I know, Richard Hugo house will be putting the tape up on their website in weeks to come. There will also be a readable version of the story online too. So I'll post links to all that soon. In the meantime, I'll say very briefly that I wound up, to my surprise, feeling very comfortable on stage. There was one moment while I was playing the harp that I just put my head down and kind of disappeared into the instrument for a little while and the audience vanished. in a good way, i mean. A friend sent me a photo of what I think was that actual moment, posted herewith.

More soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Avatar: JB in Seattle, March 20-21

It's off to Seattle for me this week, where I'll be doing two events for the Richard Hugo House, the city's center for the arts and a home for writers and artists of all stripes. Among the houses' many activities is staging various literary stunts from time to time, and this weekend, three writers, including me, will be performing work specially written for this event on the theme of "My Avatar." There will also be a band, the Maldives. The night gets underway on Friday at Seattle's Town Hall.

I will be doing a piece I've never done before, presented in an unusual format for me. Instead of the usual English teacheresque reading from published work, I'll be performing a series of pieces-- singing and playing piano, reading from interconnected stories, and picking autoharp. My own take on "avatars" is to talk about imagined selves, the tension between who we believe ourselves to be and who we actually are. The stories include the account of my own duel with a porcupine, which leads immediately to two days at the National Convention for Ventriloquists. One of the other presenters, novelist Vikram Chandra, also makes an appearance in one of the stories-- since Vik and I knew each other briefly back at Johns Hopkins in the mid 1980s. Put this together with a song written for the occasion, "My Other Self," as well as an old harp ballad, "There is a Reason We Carry Our Lunches," and you have a literary bloodbath of the very best sort in the making.

There will be some sort of party/reception thing after the Friday night performance, and while I'm unlikely to be able to hang out as much as I'd like with my friends on hand, I do hope I"ll get a chance to meet you.

There is also a smaller workshop on Saturday, "Stories that Feel Like Movies," which is a small craft class about how to utilize cinematic technique in story.

Hope to see you all there!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Even Watchmen Get the Blues

So how about that big blue penis? According to a few of my children’s friends, the Watchmen movie gives new meaning to the phrase “weekend gross”.

At issue is the character of Jon Osterman, a physicist who, after a radioactive mishap, becomes a glowing omniscient demigod named Dr. Manhattan, who performs most of his business buck naked. As a result, many moviegoers have found themselves considering a fundamental philosophical question: Is a cinematic penis still obscene if it’s translucent and blue?

Dr. Ted Baehr, media critic at the Christian Film and Television Commission, has, perhaps not surprisingly, come out as anti-blue penis. On the site, Baehr says that the film deserves an X or an NC-17 rating, not the R that it received. “The motion picture industry keeps changing its standards,” he says. “No wonder the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system confuses parents.” And why should the rating be changed? Because, “throughout most of the whole picture, one male character walks around completely naked, with his private parts waving in the breeze.”

True enough, except that the parts in question don’t actually belong to Billy Cruddup, the actor playing the good doctor. Apparently the blue meanie was generated by a team of computer graphics engineers. This raises an even more complex issue for parents to wrestle with: Is a translucent glowing blue penis still obscene if it’s not real?

Opinion, as one might imagine, is split. There was a fission of enthusiasm in the nerd world last October when news of the CGI-penis became official. “Three cheers for atomic blue penises!” began an article over at comicbookmovie.come. Conservative cultural critic Debbie Schlussel, meanwhile, wrote in her blog, “If you see it yourself, you’re also probably a moron and a vapid, indecent human being.” She has a whole host of complaints, but chief among them is Dr. Manhattan’s “swinging computer generated penis frequently in your face on-screen.”
Clearly there hasn’t been this much excitement about a penis in film since Bart Simpson bared all in 2007’s Simpsons Movie.

According to the MPAA, an R-rated movie “contains some adult material,” and may “include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.” An NC-17, meanwhile, “simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience. An NC-17 rating, meanwhile, can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.” The MPAA does note, however, that the rating “does not mean ‘obscene’ or ‘pornographic.’”

By my reading, the key concept separating the two ratings is the concept of “aberrational.” By that measure, a giant translucent demigod’s penis may be many things, but one thing it is not is an aberration, at least not on Mars.

Before taking my children—ages 15 and 12—to the Watchmen last weekend, the only R-rated movie they’d ever seen was Slumdog Millionaire. We had a good talk in the car about the violence in Slumdog, both the physical kind done to the protagonists as well as the spiritual kind caused by the jaw-dropping poverty of Mumbai. My boys were moved, and entertained by Slumdog, not least because it gave them occasion to think about their own relationship as brothers, and exactly what sorts of risks and sacrifices they’d be willing to make for one another.

They’d been looking forward to Watchmen for a long time, and had read Alan Moore’s original novel a year or two ago. That novel is every bit as violent as the film, and yes, includes Dr. Manhattan’s penis. I warned them that the film was rumored to be, a-hem, “loyal” to the book in this regard, but this didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. (This was something of a surprise, coming from two young men who on one occasion refused to go to the Guggenheim several years ago because “there might be paintings of naked people.” Score: DC Comics 1, Picasso 0.)
After the film, my boys admitted that a lot of the images in Watchmen had been a little much for them. But it wasn’t Dr. Manhattan that made them uneasy—it was the scenes of heads being whacked with meat cleavers, guys arms being bisected with circular saws; and, oh yes, the obliteration of most of Manhattan by some sort of thermonuclear device. My older son, who claims to be a pacifist, found that deeply disturbing, “even if it is based on a cartoon.”
As for Dr. Manhattan? My sons said, “Well, he’s slowly becoming less and less human, so clothes have just become kind of strange for him. You can sympathize with that.” And the blue penis that has caused all the trouble? “Normally, it would bother me, but with Dr. Manhattan, you know, it just seems kind of natural.”

There was also some surprise—I have to put this delicately—that the Doctor’s unit itself was of a size somewhat less than cosmic. After all, this is a guy who can change the pigmentation of his skin, teleport himself to Mars, and see the future. Is Watchmen really trying to tell us that size doesn’t matter? One of my boys wondered whether in days to come we might see one of those “Natural Male Enhancement” commercials on television, except that instead of “Whistling Bob” we’ll see a very satisfied looking Dr. Manhattan.

They also liked the sound track of the film, which features lots of Bob Dylan. The use of “The Times They Are a Changin’” as background to the opening montage struck all of us as particularly moving.

Whether the times actually are changing, and we’re now about to enter a new era of translucent penises in movies remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’m hoping that any Watchmen sequel might consider, in addition to Dylan, adding the music of Miles Davis to the soundtrack. Starting with “Kind of Blue.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

JB, The Opera: Part 2. "When I was a lad...."

My life as Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta, part 2; part 1 is a few posts down...

When I was a lad I stole a bra
From my sisters drawer and I went Ta-Da!
I pranced all around and I went Boo-Hoo
And I stuck my giant foot into a size six shoe!

(chorus: )
She stuck her giant foot into a size six shoe!

I stuck my foot where it should not go
And now I am an author on the Oprah Show!

(chorus: )
She stuck her foot where it should not go
And now she is an author on the Oprah Show!

I went to college and became such a dork
That I got a degree and moved up to New York
I worked in an office and I swole up my glands
and I got the authors coffee when they clapped their hands!

(chorus: )
She got the authors coffee when they clapped their hands!

I drank so much coffee that I made some dough
and now I am an author on the Oprah Show!

(chorus: )
She drank so much coffee that she made some dough
and now she is an author on the Oprah Show.

I went to Dr. O for to shave off my ridge
Using all that cash from my male privilege,
I wrecked my family and I went all glam
And I wrote a little book about how sad I am!

(chorus: )
She wrote a little book about how sad she am!

Narcissstic? Me? Oh I just don't know.
Did I mention I'm an author on the Oprah Show?

(chorus: )
She's so narrcissistic that we just don't know
Why she mentions she's an author on the Oprah Show!

Now drag queens all, whoever you may be
If you want to rise to the top of the tree
If you want to know what I'd teach in school,
Just be careful to be guided by this golden rule:

(chorus: )
Be careful to be guided by her golden rule.

Please don't write a book! And never lift a toe.
And you may all be authors on the Oprah Show!

(chorus: )
Please don't write a book! And never lift a toe
And you may all be authors on the Oprah Show!

Monday, March 9, 2009

You Will Not Die; It's Not Poison

A re-tweet (sic) from MHB and Helen B.'s Transgroup Blog. Worth repeating. This was in response to adiscussion of "What have you lost during gender transition?" The folks over there have a variety of experiences-- some of them appear to have lost nothing and improved their lives; others have lost family, jobs, homes, the Full Monty. My thoughts follow:

• Most people I know have lost something in transition.

• in my case, among other things, I lost a sister and a good friend.

• Although I do not know if that loss is forever.

• And the nature of my relationship with the woman I love has been altered. In some ways for better, in other ways, not.

• Trans people are often told they should EXPECT to lose many precious things.
Sometimes this happens.

• But it doesn't always happen. Often, the things that are lost--like the things you keep-- are not what you expect.

• But I get tired of the focus so often being on the bucket of blood which is loss of family, loss of jobs, loss of house, water on the knee, lockjaw and arthritis. It's not always that.

• To some degree, what you lose--or keep-- is a direct result of HOW you transition, and WHAT your expectations are. This is a fact that many trans people refuse to own up to. Here are some things that have been done by people I know who tend to have suffered the most losses: 1) starting a transition without consulting loved ones; 2) secretly sucking down hormones off the web; 3) expecting loved ones to be happy for you; 4) issuing ultimatums; 5) refusing to accept how hard a transition can be on those that love us; 6) being blind in so many ways.

• To some degree this is true at work as well. People that I know who have lost their jobs have done some of these things: 1) started surreptiously x-dressing at work on some level-- wearin' scanty underthings; wearing makeup or piercing the unexpected== all of this without a clear transition plan; 2) expecting people at work to be thrilled about it all for you. 3) Using the "new" restroom and being blind to how this might even give open minded people the creeps. In some circumstances. And so on.

• I think people frequently lose control of their transitions, and thus their stories, through their own indiscretions-- like "telling just one person" who winds up being a person who does not keep that secret for you. Next thing you know, the story is out all over town, and you're toast. Ask Susan Stanton about this. Better yet, don't.

• Having said that, the OPPOSITE is true as well: I know people who have lost their families and jobs no matter how carefully they planned; no matter how kindly, patiently, and competently they tried to share the news, spill the beans, bring people along. I know wise, sweet people who have bent over backwards in every way only to wind up flat on their faces, abandoned by exactly the people they reached way out for; fired by their so-called open minded bosses for reason oh-so-supposedly unrelated to trans stuff.

• And the opposite of the opposite is also true: People who have behaved like complete, thoughtless imbeciles at times have Done Very Well Anyhow. (And I would describe myself, and almost every trans person I know as at least occasionally falling into this category.) Sometimes this is dumb luck; sometimes this is because it's all actually less of a big deal sometimes, and in some situations, that we think; sometimes it's because people are given the opportunity, over time, to be forgiving. Sometimes it's because people's love turns out to be unconditional; or nearly so. Sometimes it's because It's Never Really Over; and life itself provides plenty of mulligans. Or, if you like, do-overs. And being Trans is not the most shocking mulligan that there is.

• the people who may have been most supportive of my transition are my nonagenarian conservative Christian mother and my then-tiny children; some of the people who have been least supportive have been politically liberal; some of the people grasping the issues least succintly are gay and lesbian.

• It is fair to want to wonder "are the losses worth it all?" And this is a Very Good Question to Ask. Too often, Trans People don't think about the consequences of their actions; they hurtle along like asteroids on fire, and as they fall they scream out, "Hey, I'm becomin' my true self! Be happy for me!"

• And yet at the same time, it's like asking, "if you'd known how much dialysis was going to suck, would you have CHOSEN kidney disease?"

• I can't make sense of all this but if there is any one thing I believe in,--and not only in trans matters-- it's "Be The Change You Wish To See."

• some of the people most annoying or draining or least insightful about the issues are other trans people.

Like me.

Respectfully submitted,

Jenny B.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Am the Very Model of an M to F Transsexual

I am the very model of an M to F Transsexual
I've changed my sex in Canada and Belgium and in Mex-u-al
Each day I read my Vouge and Cosmo and my Glamour-y
I've silicone and saline in my most expensive mammary.

I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters theoretical
I find J. Michael Bailey and his ilk so damned heretical
Just like Judith Butler, Helen Boyd and Betty I''ve a lot o' news
With many cheerful facts about my hypothalmuse.

She's many cheerful facts about the transgal hypothalmuse!
She's many cheerful facts about the transgal hypothalmuse!
She's many cheerful facts about the transgal hypothalmuse!

I had my forehead bonked and shaved and shaped by Dr. Oesterhut
I drink my whiskeys neet and up on pink and girly coasters but
I've been to Neenah, Scottsdale, but my wife she still suspects you all
I am the very model of an M to F Transsexual!

She's been to Neenah, Scottsdale but her wife she still suspects us all!
She is the very model of an M to f Transsexual!

I drive a hybrid, 'lectrocar that thrives on zero octane
I take Premarin and Estrace, Asprin, gin and Spirolactane,
I like arguing on line with wackos, wimps and get analysis
I paint my toenails pink for electo-rolysis.

I told my wife I loved her then I got myself a double D,
I'm still the same except my narccissitic personality,
I shop at Target, T.J Maxx and steal my skirts from Hit or Miss,
And I spent my children's college fund on spongecake and a clitoris.

She blew her children's college fund on spongecake and a clitoris!
She blew her children's college fund on spongecake and a clitoris!
She blew her children's college fund on spongecake and a clitoris!

I'm just the same as other women cept when I decide I'm not,
I'm half a Jezebel and half a not-forgotten Hotentot,
I've been on Larry King but Larry says he just rejects you all
I am the very model of an M to F Transsexual!

I spend my time with Helen, Betty, Chloe and with Sarah Lake
I love Lyn Conway just for her I baked myself a Tasty-cake
I yelled at Pregnant Man and unwise online-ordered hormone use
Did I say I'm well acquainted with the transgal hypothalamuse?

Yes, you said you're well acquainted with the transgal hypothalmuse!
Yes, you said you're well acquainted with the transgal hypothalmuse!
Yes, you said you're well acquainted with the transgal hypothalmuse!

I wrote She's Not There I read My Husband Betty I read Second Serve,
Connundrum, Wrapped in Blue, I love Calpernia and her bosom's curve,
(suddenly bursts out with: )
I--uh--had sex with Donna Rose!!!
(looks mortified!)
Do I detect a pall?
(proudly: )
I am the very model of an M to F transsexual!

She is the very model of an M to F transsexual!
She is the very model of an M to F transsexual!
She is the very model of an M to F transsexual!

(she bows)
Thank you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shillington's Favorite Son

A fond, short remembrance of John Updike by Charles Osgoode.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The After and the Before Pictures, Venetian Edition

High above the Pallazo San Marco, Venice, Italy, spring of 2004, on assignment for Conde Nast Traveler magazine. The Italians thought I was German. Two different fellas greeted me with, Buona sera, Fraulein, which is a mouthful.

Venice is probably my favorite city in the world, and I am spending all my days and nights trying to figure out a way of spending the rest of my life there. Nothing's come to mind yet, but I'll keep you in the loop.

Interested observers of these phenomena can contrast this with Picture B, taken in the same spot five years earlier. That's himself looking at the world through his John Lennon glasses, once more above the Palazzo drenched in sunlight, and feeling, as Evelyn Waugh wrote of Venice, like I was "drowning in honey," which is not at all a bad feeling if you are in love. I hope to drown in it again some day.

Anyway, found these while cleaning up the ol' hard drive and thought they'd be interesting to share. I'm reminded of Groucho Marx's observation: "Outside of the improvement you'd never notice the difference."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Two Women of Vastly Differing Sizes

Herself and Barbara Walters. December 2008.

Of all the media stuff I've done, nobody came to an interview having done more homework than BW. She treated me with respect and intelligence. Way cool.

Alas the only photographic record of the encounter, outside of the 20/20 episode itself (largely consumed by the insatiable and ever-ravenous Pregnant Man ©) is this snapshot hurriedly taken on someone's cheesey cell phone. All the retouching tricks in all of iPhoto's great empire can't transform this into a portrait that is flattering to either one of us, alas. Still, you know how it goes. We'll always have Paris.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


This is fairly self explanatory.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Richard Hugo House interviews Jenny Boylan

JB to perform at Richard Hugo House in Seattle on March 20 & 21st; here's an interview Hugo House did with me in advance of the performance, which will be at Seattle Town Hall, and which is on the subject, "My Avatar."


Hugo House: In a couple of months you will debut a brand-new piece at Hugo House; have you started working on it yet?

Jennifer Finney Boylan: Yes, I’m right in the thick of it. I have lots of ideas for this, and the hard part is keeping the whole thing short, and making the parts fit together. I’m not going to write about “avatars” as computer-world images; and I don’t know anything about the sense of the word as Hindu “incarnation.” What interests me is the difference between the face we show to the world and the face we have in our private hearts. For transgender people the division between public and private selves can be profound, although I’ll also say that you don’t have to be trans to feel a conflict between your secret self and the face, as Eliot wrote, that you prepare “to meet the faces that you meet.” It’s that conflict between inner and outer selves that interests me, so that’s what I'm working on.

A long time ago, when I was a boy, I went as a journalist to do a story on the National Ventriloquists’ Convention, which was in Kentucky, of all places. At first I thought this was the most ridiculous story I’d ever tried to do—the place was literally overflowing with dorky guys and their dummies. But as time went by it was hard not to find something touching—and occasionally heartbreaking—about the ventriloquists and their figures. Some of these guys, maybe it goes without saying, had dummies that looked almost exactly like themselves.

And then, amazingly, I went back to the ventriloquists’ convention as a woman, 25 years later. The ventriloquists all seemed the same to me, but I had sure changed. And it occurred to me that back in the day, when I was walking around as a guy, and no one knew my secret heart, that I’d kind of been my own dummy.

Again, maybe this seems too idiotic or bizarre for most people to connect to, but I guess that’s what I’m thinking about as I write “My Avatar.” All of us are our own dummies.

HH: What were your first thoughts on receiving an invitation to write on an assigned theme? Any regrets on having said yes?

JFB: I have to admit that the theme of My Avatar gave me trouble, since (as I said above), I don’t really have any interest in the online world and I don’t know much about the Hindu religion. So I’ve had to find a corner of this avatar business—the negotiation between public and private selves—that I can feel comfortable talking about.

HH: Could you tell us a little bit about your process—how you approach writing something new?

JFB: In this case, I have about a dozen different stories; I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to weave them all together. I guess it’s sort of like making a stew with a slow cooker. I’m just going to throw everything in there and leave it on low for a couple months, and see what it turns into.

HH: If you could create an avatar for your work as a writer, what would it look like?

I’d look just like me, only younger and more beautiful.

HH: In “Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson writes of the “metaverse,” a user-defined world that was the inspiration for “Second Life.” Describe your metaverse for us.

JFB: It’s not the metaverse I have trouble imagining, it’s reality. My friend Richard Russo once read something I’d written and he said it was “wonderfully strange”; I just looked at him blankly and said, but this is the world I live in. He just laughed and said, “Boylan, the thing is, you write in this surreal, fantastical mode. You only think it’s realism.” Whether this is my great failing as a writer, or my great strength, I guess I’ll leave it up to readers to decide.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Loss & Love

Two different events are in my heart today, one happy, one sad. The sad news is that the economic worldwide meltdown has hit very close to home-- yesterday, HarperCollins publishers fired 100 people, including the editor of my new book, Brenda Bowen, and everyone who works at her imprint, Bowen Books. It was a truly horrible slaying, a kind of "get your stuff and leave the office by five" thing.

I'll quickly add that my new book, Falcon Quinn, will be reassigned to a different editor and will probably be published right on schedule, so fans of my writing need not immediately drape themselves in black.

But Brenda Bowen-- a graduate of Colby College, 1980!--an English major!-- was the one who called me on the phone on Halloween 2007, after seeing a piece of mine in the New York Times, and who asked, have you ever considered writing for young readers? Together we worked out the plot and the plan for Falcon Quinn, which just last week went in its new draft to HarperCollins, and this week we have been looking at covers together. Brenda is a legendary editor, and a lovely person. And is now the latest casualty of the ongoing financial bloodbath.

I've had, so far, a dear friend lose her job at AT&T (to be saved by her union at the last second, thank goodness), and another have to take on a second job to stay afloat. Our children's college funds, carefully tended these last dozen years are worth almost half of what they were worth last year. All around me now I see the fires spreading.

Tempermentally I like to think I am full of devotion and love and compassion, but the rising tide increasingly fills me with fear and sadness. I do not know what the future holds, but the clouds keep gathering. The end is nowhere in sight.

Last night my younger boy said something that made my throat close up. I told him about Brenda losing her job, and he, being a big fan of "the monster book" said, thoughtfully, "Well, maybe if the monster book does really well, we could maybe-- do something for her?"

I nodded. Yes, I said. That'd be nice.

Unbelievable, I thought, the generosity and love of children. Would that this were enough to roll back the darkness of the world.

Speaking of children-- that's the other thing. Today, this very day, my older boy, Zachary Owen Boylan, is fifteen years old.

One and a half decades ago, on a cold February night, Deedie and I were watching "Brideshead REvisited" on VHS. There's a scene with Charles and Sebastian and all their friends at Oxford having a feast. Charles reached forward to taste "the egg of a wild plover." Deedie said, "I think we have to go to the hospital now." I put the VCR on "pause," and the image of Charles' hand reaching for the plover egg was frozen, forever. And the life that we had known came to an end, and a new one began. The next day-- February 11, 1994, a baby cried out loud in a room filled with light and Deedie's face opened up like the sun and she said, "That's--- amazing!"

It has been amazing, these last 15 years. Now Zach is the lead in his 9th grade play, is learning how to fence with foils; has a big head of curly blonde hair; likes incomprehensible 'death metal'; plays Irish fiddle tunes on his violin; loves his brother and his mother and his maddy and his two goofy black dogs.

The light which began to shine from Deedie fifteen years ago today is brighter than ever.

This light is not strong enough to roll back the darkness of the world, from all the terrible things that seem to keep accumulating. But it's enough to cast a warm glow on the members of this family, these boys and women and dogs, and for this I give thanks.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

JB at Ursinus College: February 13th, 2009, 7 PM

Hey everybody. I wanted to note I’ll be doing three readings this spring, the first of which is this coming Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, at Ursinus College, in Collegeville, PA, which is just over the city limits of Philadelphia, I believe. Their web site is here, and I presume contains information on how to get there.

The reading is at 7 PM, in something called Bomberger Auditorium. The presentation will be akin to my standard reading, which means about an hour of excerpts split about equally between I’m Looking Through You, She’s Not There, as well as a little Trans 101 to start the evening off with (briefly), and some tired old jokes, some of which I have been using since mid 2003. I will also, I think, be unveiling at this reading, for the first time, some of the material for the new and upcoming FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR, which will be published about one year from right now, a young adult series about “monsters.” This sneak-peek will just be a quickie, though, and might not involve anything more than my singing a song entitled “I Wish They All Could Be Zombie Mutant Girls.” and possibly reading a poem written by a teenage Frankenstein called “Monster a Person,” the first 2 lines of which are,

Monster a person though monster not human.
Monster like music. Like Wagner! Like Schumann!

Following this, there’ll be Q’s and A’s and then a book signing. I think there is a reception after THAT, but we’ll just have to see won’t we.

I probably will NOT be able to hang out with people after the reception, because I expect to be tired and enfeebled, but I do hope anybody interested in my stuff in the Philly area will feel invited.

There will be two other readings this spring (I’m trying to keep appearances to a minimum after last year’s all-book-tour–all-the-time experience). In mid March I”ll be at the Town Hall in Seattle; and in mid-April I”ll be at the Yale University LIbrary. HOpe to see you there.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Day the Gazungas Died: True Story of Boylan, Buddy Holly, Don McLean, and Rick Russo

A true story about a party at Don McLean's house this fall. I was there with a bunch of other Maine writers; Don and his wife were hosting a benefit for the Maine Writers & Publishers' Alliance. I made smalltalk with our host and he was generous and pleasant in every way. At the end of the evening, I went inside (it was a garden party) to use the bathroom, and en route snooped around the incredibly beautiful house. (The McLeans live on top of a mountain near Camden, Maine, one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous places I have ever been.) Anyhow, there in the living room, among other cool objects d'art, was a bust of the songwriter himself.

Later, Deedie and I went out to dinner with our friend Rick Russo. I told him about what I'd seen in the parlor, and started giving Rick a hard time about how he ought to have a statue of himself in his house. "Maybe not today, Russo," I said, "But one of these days, you're going to turn to yourself and say, 'Man, I just GOTTA get a BUST!"

Without missing a beat, Russo just smiled and said, "Well, Boylan. You did."

Anyhow: R.I.P, Buddy Holly, whose plane crashed 50 years ago today.

That'll be the day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jenny Boylan nominates Randy Newman, American composer, for Man of the Hour

Jenny Boylan's Man of the Hour for February 2nd, 2009 is American composer Randy Newman. Born on November 28, 1943, Newman has written great rock and roll tunes, not to mention providing the scores for dozens of films.

My favorite aspect of Newman's work is the way he assumes a persona other than his own in so many of his songs. Once, when asked what he was most proud of about his songs, Newman replied, "All the lies." This makes his songs particularly elusive; some times it's a safe bet to assume that Newman believes exactly the opposite of the thing he's actually singing.

I love that manipulation of the truth; it makes me think of the lovely quote by Oscar Wilde, "Sometimes we tell the truth best when we wear a mask."

And then, in the scores for movies, especially, say, Ragtime, or Toy Story, the songs seem so close to the heart, so honest and vulnerable, that I always assume that these are the "real" Randy Newman. But I know better.

A youtube in which Randy Newman talks about his writing style:

and one of my favorites, Louisiana 1927:

Randy Newman, American composer, is Man of the Hour!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

R.I.P., John Updike

From his expression and the pitch of his voice, the boy is shouting into a fierce wind blowing from his father’s direction. “Don’t die, Dad, don’t!” he cries, then sits back with that question still on his face, and his dark wet eyes shining like stars of a sort. Harry shouldn’t leave the question hanging like that, the boy depends on him.

“Well, son,” he says, “all I can tell you is, it isn’t so bad.” Rabbit thinks he should maybe say more, the kid looks wildly expectant, but enough. Maybe. Enough.

--Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tim Kreider, Funniest Man Alive, presents "All Yours": Bush to Obama

Artist's Statement by Timothy Kreider

(The reduced image at left hardly does Tim's work justice; and you surely should click here to see the piece in all its glory.)

If all goes according to plan like it never does, this will be my last overtly political cartoon.

I just got back from Inauguration last night. That crowd you saw on TV, filling the Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument? That was me! Through her unparalleled interpersonal and bartending skills my friend Melissa scored tickets to the inauguration for our whole group of friends. We left our HQ in Maclean, Virginia (thanks, Kristie and T.L., for your extravagant hospitality) at 5:15 A.M. to get the Metro into the District, and it was a good thing we did--we later ran into people who’d gotten into D.C. at 5 AM and still didn’t get into the inauguration. We spent several hours trapped in a vast, immobile crowd, waiting to get into the designated gate for purple tickets. At one point we saw Jesse Jackson and his entourage up ahead of us, trying to make their way through the crowd, on foot and just as fucked as the rest of us. I remembered then how he’d been overheard saying he was going to “cut [Obama’s] balls off” during the campaign, and I thought, Well, that’s what you get for talking shit about Obama—the same color ticket as Tim Kreider. (I read later that Jackson never got into the inauguration at all. Neither did Mariah Carey.)

Later an ambulance needed to get through the intersection, and the crowd, already packed as densely as a New York subway at rush hour, was pressed even more tightly against the barricades that hemmed us in. This was the only point at which we felt there might be even the slightest possibility of being maybe a little bit crushed to death. It was then that Melissa, who was raised to believe that there is always a way to sneak around the rules and avoid getting screwed along with the rubes, struck out away from the crowd and led us all to another approach to the gate, one where the crowd, though just as dense, was indeed shuffling slowly, intermittently forward. Despite the interminable wait, the frustrating absence of any communication or direction from anyone in charge, the agoraphobic closeness and toe-numbing cold, the people in D.C. that day were (a little halfhearted and desultory chanting aside) not ill-tempered or impatient but calm and friendly and humorous, joined together in a spirit of commiseration and fellow-feeling. I heard later that even with a crowd of almost two million people—the largest assembly in the history of Washington, D.C.—there was not one arrest. Melissa gave our extra ticket to a guy hawking Presidential T-shirts.

We did finally get into the Inaugural area, where every monument was coated and dripping with people. [Photos of the event, courtesy of Sarah Glidden, are posted on our photos page.] The trees were full of people, too, at whom the cops would periodically yell to get down. And the tree people would sullenly clamber down only to be replaced by more climbers five minutes later. I was reminded of Zacchæus, the short tax collector who climbed a sycamore to see Jesus preach. Never in my lifetime have I seen so many people strain with such intensity and passion to see a single man. (And when have you ever seen sportswear emblazoned with the name and face of a U.S. President?) It was a racially mixed, polyglot crowd, like a New York City street scene, strikingly unlike the homogenous mob of cruel-faced, desiccated coots in cowboy boots and their powdered, mink-enshrouded wives I saw at Bush’s first inaugural. Older black women were weeping openly, their faces embarrassingly beautiful to see; happy Asian couples were taking photos of themselves against the background of the crowd. All our trials were worth it to me to know that one of the millions of boos George Bush heard when his name was announced was my own. The most air-stillingly beautiful moment of the day was Aretha Franklin’s “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” When she sang the line, “Land where our fathers died” a voice behind me shouted, “Yes, they did!” in churchly call-and response. Melissa and Sarah were weeping. I kept laughing for happiness. Obama’s speech was the only one we could hear well, so clear and resonant was his voice. I uttered a feeble “h’raay” when he mentioned “non-believers” (despite the incorrect nomenclature—we prefer to be called “The Damned”). It was a gesture of inclusion as unexpected and as moving, in its way, as his speaking the word “gay” in his acceptance speech. In the pause after an especially welcome or inspiring line, because of the sheer expanse of the crowd and the slow travel time of sound, you could hear the roar of cheers and applause rolling in oceanic waves two miles down the mall, like thunder or the sea.

After the inauguration I retreated to a mobbed and raucous Irish bar catty-wampus from Union Station where Van Halen was playing real loud and I scarfed down a plate of chicken wings and drank Jack Daniels out of a plastic cup for the first time in many years. It was there that I watched George W. Bush leave Washington, D.C. in disgrace. When he ascended the stairway to his plane the whole bar erupted with jeers and hurrahs. Everyone waved Good riddance, fuckboy, and raised their beers in ferocious toast. I gave the finger to the screen.

That night my friends and I retired to my Undisclosed Location on the Chesapeake Bay, well north of D.C. I built a fire in the woodstove and we all drank wine and made baked brie and salad and mushroom risotto. Late that night I put an episode of The Shadow on the turntable and we all passed out within minutes. The next morning, after breakfast, we all went for a walk on the beach, where we saw a couple of bald eagles flapping over the frozen cove. I played the Star-Spangled Banner on my pump organ before we left the cabin and headed back up 95 to New York City and home.

This morning I overcame my post-election indifference to politics, which borders on an active antipathy, and forced myself to read the Times, figuring that after eight years of relentlessly ghastly and depressing affronts to human decency I owed myself a little good news. I almost couldn’t take it. Already President Obama has signed executive orders closing down Guantanamo and the CIA’s secret prisons and overturning Bush’s efforts to block access to government records. Dennis Blair, Obama’s appointee for national director of intelligence, called for oversight and transparency in intelligence and said that counterterrorism must be consistent with American law and the Geneva conventions. He actually used the phrase “speak truth to power.” It is such a profound and pathetic relief just to hear anyone in the government say anything sane or reasonable or obviously true. Can it all really be this easy? As my cartoon illustrates, I know that the Bush administration has left the country a shambles, and it’s not just a matter of repair but of rebuilding, from the ground up, and it’ll take a long time. But it means so much just to know that the people in charge are smart and responsible and in touch with reality, listening to their soldiers and their spies and their scientists instead of plugging their ears and praying, that they respect the law and believe in democracy. It feels like the Dark Tower toppling, the statue of the Emperor pulled down, the snow melting and rumors of Aslan returned.

Most amazing of all, in a way, was the simple photo of President Obama sitting at the desk in the Oval Office. I looked at it for a long time.

You can see all of Tim's many perverse and wonderful cartoons, and/or make a donation to The Pain comics by clicking here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hot Pockets!

After last nights' season premiere of LOST, I was put in mind of Jim Gaffigan's classic bit:

Hope and Change: "LOST" Season five

This week has been a dramatic and historic moment in the life of our country, with change and hope at large in the land. I refer of course to the Season 5 premiere of LOST last night.

My favorite blogger on all things TV is Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star Ledger-- who got his big break as the go-to guy in the press for The Sopranos. Here's his review of the two hour season opener last night, and a link to his blog, which contains all sorts of smart things.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lost, "Because You Left" & "The Lie": Uh-oh, Zoot skipped a groove again! by Alan Sepinwall

Spoilers for the "Lost" season five premiere coming up just as soon as I heat up a Hot Pocket...

"Everyone I care about just blew up on your damn boat. I know what I can't change!" -Sawyer

"Look, everything's going to make sense. I promise." -Hurley
"It better!" -Hurley's mom

If, as with "The Wire," the opening scene of each season tells you all you need to know about what's to come, then the series' pentultimate season is going to be about time travel, and about what happens when a beloved old record starts skipping a few grooves.

When Daniel Faraday invokes that old-fashioned needle-skip phenomenon, he explains what's happening on the island in layman's terms, as well as providing greater symbolic weight to the way three season (including this one) opened with characters listening to their favorite vinyl selections. In this case, what Dr. Chang (aka Marvin Candle / aka Mark Wickmund / aka Edgar Halliwax) is playing Willie Nelson's "Shotgun Willie," but these episodes as a whole play a little like "Lost's Greatest Hits."

Not only does the time-travel phenomenon lead to return appearances by Ethan, Yemi's plane (and its cargo of dope-filled Virgin Mary figurines) and a younger version of Desmond still waiting for his replacement to arrive ("Are you him?"), and not only does the second episode feature a ghostly (or hallucinatory) appearance by Ana-Lucia and the return of Desmond's time-travel guru Ms. Hawking, but the two episodes are filled with all of the things that can make "Lost" so addictive -- and, depending on your tastes, maddening.

These episodes offered up cool action, like Sayid having a brawl involving pots, pans and a rogue dishwasher, as well as the harrowing sequence of Sawyer, Juliet and the remaining Lostaways trying to survive a flaming arrow attack. They offered strong character moments, like Sawyer's confession of just how much he's hurting, or Hurley finally coming clean to someone about the island. (Much more on both of those in a bit.) It offered more clues -- and, in some cases, plain answers -- about what's going on on this bizarre island, as well as tantalizing new questions like... soldiers? With flaming arrows? And British accents?

But back to that opening sequence, set in the glory days of the Dharma Initiative, before The Others took over, before Chang/Candle/Wickmund/Halliwax lost his arm, before all that unpleasantness -- what is Faraday doing there, and how did he get there? Is this another instance of the current time-skipping problem, and he just happened to wind up temporarily stuck in the island's Dharma era, or does this tie back into his own time travel experiments and the fact that Desmond is supposed to be his Constant?

Whatever he's doing there, it's clear that twitchy Dan is going to be a crucial part of this season, and that Desmond (who really only appears for a few minutes in both these episodes combined) could be almost as important, as the show finally makes explicit what's been speculated on for years: among the unique properties of the island is an ability to bend the laws of physics to send people, things, and even the island back and forth through time. If that's really happening, then not only will the Lostaways need a quantum physicist and an unstuck-in-time Scotsman to save them, but we'll need Dan just to put things in layman's terms, which he does quite nicely with the record analogy.

Now, are the Lostaways moving through time (and possibly space) or is the island? That may be an issue of semantics, or it may be the key to all of this. To get my full comic book geek on, I think of Guardian from Alpha Flight, who had the ability to make himself immune to the Earth's rotation. The planet would keep moving, and Guardian would stay in the same place, but to the observer (who was, in fact, moving right along with Earth), it looked like he had flown away at an astonishing speed. We know that it looked, from the Oceanic Six's perspective, like the island blinked out of existence, and maybe it did. Maybe it goes from place to place, time period to time period, and that's how Yemi's small plane made it all the way from Africa to the South Pacific (and seems remarkably well-preserved years later), how the Black Rock wound up at the center of the island (and how the ship's first mate's journal wound up in Madagascar, how the polar bears wound up in Tunisia, etc. Maybe, in fact, none of these things would have wound up on (or off) the island if Ben hadn't moved the frozen donkey wheel and made the record start skipping. Maybe Locke didn't travel back in time to witness the moment when Yemi's plane crashed, but rather was there at the moment (in relative island time) when it originally happened.

And now as I re-read that paragraph, I wonder if I'm just writing in circles, which is always the danger of time travel stories: even when they make sense to the quantum physicists like Faraday, or the comic book nerds like me, they can still make your head hurt. And to someone without a PhD or a bookshelf full of sci-fi paperbacks, it can be a complete turn-off.

But what made all the time-bending of "The Constant" work so brilliantly, and what makes these two episodes work almost as well (they're trying to move forward a lot more plot than "The Constant" had to deal with, so the focus is by nature not as tight) is that they never lose sight of the human element. Yes, insane things are happening, some of which make sense if you stop to explain them, many of which don't make any sense at all, but there are recognizable characters at the center of them, reacting in a way that seems right to them, and that's moving in some way.

Sawyer's stuck on the island as it skips from era to era (or as he skips from era to era, or however you want to parse it), but he's also trying to process what he thinks is the death of Kate and Hurley and his other friends -- and maybe, though it's never said outright, the guilt that if he hadn't jumped out of the helicopter ("for her"), it might have gone in the ocean (where they could have swam away) instead of landing on the soon-to-explode freighter. Sawyer was pretty marginalized last season, but as Sawyer tries to deal with all the time jumps and his own grief, Josh Holloway does an outstanding job of reminding us why he was such a vital character from the start, and of making Sawyer's anguish clear well before he comes right out and says it to Dan.

Hurley, meanwhile, is on the run from the cops, and Ben, and whomever's been following him and Sayid, and maybe from ghosts (or else just more examples of his own mental problems). As the alliances in the real world ebb and flow and threaten to become as cryptic as the time mess on the island -- What did Ben do to make Sayid break away from him? Does Sun really only blame Ben for Jin's death, or is she plotting some righteous vengeance on Kate and Jack as well? -- Hurley, as he so often, blessedly does, brings it all back down to earth.

Despite his mental problems, Hurley has always been one of the most rational characters "Lost" has. (Ditto Sawyer, which makes them appropriate centerpieces for these first two episodes.) Hurley's the only one who sees from the start that the Oceanic Six lie is going to be more trouble than it's worth, and as we saw when he charged through a mine field to ask Rousseau about the numbers, it matters an awful lot when he can find people who believe him when he speaks the truth. So the scene where he finally comes clean to his mom and gives her a summary about what happened on the island -- sounding totally insane even to those of us who watched all this stuff go down -- and she believes him because he's her son and he wouldn't lie to her... well, that provided more than enough emotional ballast to the rest of it. It can never be said enough how wonderful Jorge Garcia is at showing Hurley's vulnerability, and how valuable Hurley's perspective on things is to keeping this whole bizarre enterprise from flying off the rails.

With these episodes -- really, going back to last year's three-hour finale -- the show has changed up its narrative format once again. Rather than the simple structure of intercutting events on the island with one character's flashback, or flashforward, we now have two parallel narratives -- one on the island at the end of 2004 (or did the new year begin before the freighter blew up?), the other in the real world in 2007 -- that are both constantly moving forward. This late in the series, this kind of global plotting is necessary, as it allows all of the stories to advance each week, rather than waiting for, say, Kate's spotlight episode to fill us in on what's happening with her and Aaron and these shady lawyers (working for Claire's mom, maybe?) who want a blood test to prove maternity. Yet despite having much more forward momentum than all but a handful of episodes from previous seasons, both "Because You Left" and "The Lie" still manage to find an emotional anchor (first Sawyer, then Hurley) so that they can feel like original-recipe "Lost" while dabbling in time travel, espionage, mergers and acquisitions, and all these other new elements.

Needless to say, I am very, very happy with where we're at with the new season. And next week's episode, which I got to see on a big screen back at press tour, may actually be the best of the three so far.

Some other thoughts and questions to ponder:

• In case you missed it yesterday, I did a long interview with Damon Lindelof when I was in California last week. In it, we discuss not only the new time travel theme, but key elements from season four and from the series as a whole. If you don't have time for the whole thing, I'd suggest scrolling down to the parts about "Stranger in a Strange Land" inadvertently saving the series, and about how the master plan relates to Michael Emerson being promoted from day player to central character.

• Another link you might have missed: Isaac Spaceman's recap of the previous four seasons. It's a bit longer than Hurley's, and doesn't have the pathos, but it's wicked, wicked funny.

• Interesting that, in the end, Hurley takes Sayid's advice (no matter what, do the opposite of whatever Ben suggests) over Ana-Lucia's (no matter what, don't let the cops catch you). Given what we know about Ben, Sayid's was probably the wiser piece of advice, and it's rare to see Ben as thoroughly foiled as he is in that moment -- which only made my Hurley love grow more.

• What exactly is going on with the pendulum in Ms. Hawking's office? And why does she have a computer that looks to be the same vintage as the one from the hatch?

• In addition to the Willie Nelson song, the most notable tune playing over these two episodes was Cheap Trick's "Dream Police," which was the Muzak playing as Hurley bought a t-shirt at the gas station.

• One more thing to ponder about what's moving and why on the island: The Others -- at least, the native Others (as opposed to an immigrant like Juliet) -- don't seem to be traveling when the Lostaways do. One minute, Locke's in the jungle with his flock, and the next he's in the pouring rain by himself.

• And speaking of The Others, one of the benefits of the deal to end the series after next season was it gave Cuse and Lindelof the ability to sign people like Nestor Carbonell to firmer deals. We don't need to worry anymore about Richard disappearing again from the narrative because Carbonell (who apparently is not wearing eyeliner) got cast in another series.

• The compass Richard gives to Locke -- to give back to him at their next meeting in Locke's future and Richard's past -- would seem to answer the question of which item the young Locke was supposed to recognize that he already owned during the '60s flashbacks from "Cabin Fever," right?

• While Dan has jumped to the center of the narrative, the other surviving freighter folk are still around to varying degrees. I'm not sure if we'll be seeing Frank again past the flashback to the origin of the Oceanic Six lie (which was hatched while he was still hanging with them and Desmond and Penny), but Miles gets to prove that Locke isn't the only guy on the island who can catch boar (though, admittedly, John had the tougher task of doing it with living ones, where Miles just uses his psychic powers to find already dead ones), and Charlotte appears to be more profoundly affected by the time travel than the rest of the gang, judging by her nosebleeds, memory loss and Dan's obvious concern for her.

• Carlton Cuse has brought in a bunch of supporting players from his "Nash Bridges" over the years, whether it's Cheech as Hurley's dad, Daniel Roebuck as the amazing exploding Arzt, and now Mary Mara as Jill, Ben's contact at the Others-run butcher shop. (Those Others, always diversifying: they run a butcher shop, and a biotech firm, and a time-traveling island, and...)

• Like father, like son: Cheech also enjoys the occasional episode of "Expose."

• Between Keamy's assault force, the explosion of the freighter and now the fire arrow attack, Cuse and Lindelof have now gotten rid of most of the anonymous remaining passengers (or, as the producers call them, The Socks) of Oceanic 815. As Lindelof put it, half tongue-in-cheek, at a press conference last week:
The last character that anyone ever asked us about was Frogurt, and you saw how we dealt with his reintroduction. The show is now moving into a phase where the presence of The Socks was no longer directly necessary. So we killed them with arrows. And that’s just what you do.
• Getting back to the rules about time travel, how do you feel about Dan's assertion that Desmond is "special," and therefore immune to all the rules? Interesting idea that makes one of the show's most popular characters even more important, or a magical get-out-of-jail-free card for whenever the writers paint themselves into a corner over these last two seasons?

What did everybody else think?