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.