Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Living on the Faultline, by Nicholas

          Late that pleasant afternoon, after I’d finished classes, I walked across campus to do some work in the library. On the third floor I found the book I needed and was about to sit down at a table when things began to rumble. It was Oct. 17, 1989 and San Francisco was about to get a shaking like it hadn’t felt in decades. Floors and walls trembled in the familiar motion of a California earthquake. Fixtures rattled a little and swayed. Then the real shaking began. Ceiling lights knocked around and flickered and then went out. Books were flung off their shelves. Filing cabinets toppled over. People dove under tables and I quickly placed my brief case over my head to protect against falling debris. I had been through many earthquakes in San Francisco—felt the building sway, heard the rattling, been waken up in a rippling bed, felt the floor jumping around beneath my feet—but this time, for the first time, I was afraid. “God, I could die here,” I thought.

          Then, it stopped. Fifteen seconds that felt like 15 years. The lights were out but being 5 o’clock in the afternoon, there was enough light for us to thread our dazed way down three flights of stairs and out of the building. There was no panic as hundreds of students climbed over piles of books and papers and dust to leave. Outside, people milled about the campus. I was in probably the worst building in the worst spot for an earthquake. The San Francisco State University campus sits almost exactly atop the San Andreas fault and the soil is mostly sand which tends to magnify the waves of an earthquake. The building I was in was built of concrete slabs, the kind that respond to shock waves by simply collapsing. It’s called “pancaking” in which the floors just slide down onto each other, crushing anything in between. I was glad to be outside.

          Since all power in the city was out, no traffic lights worked, cars just stopped on the street, dazed drivers wondering what to do next. No streetcars could run either. The city just stopped.

          The first reaction to a major earthquake is confusion. Buildings and the ground they’re built on aren’t supposed to move like that. Disorientation is the first shock.

          The campus is in the southwest corner of the city and with traffic totally snarled and no public transit operating, I figured I might as well start walking home which was close to the city center, probably 4-5 miles away. I started walking, heading toward clouds of billowing black smoke. I hoped it wasn’t our house burning down.

          The streets were crowded with walkers and some people had transistor radios to get some news. Remember, this was way before Internet, Facebook, cell phones. No such thing as instant communication.

          One lady stood in front of her house and announced to passersby that “That quake ran right in front of my house.” Had the tremor run right in front in your house, I thought, you wouldn’t be standing here now. The actual shift in tectonic plates was probably miles deep in the earth.

          Somebody said the Bay Bridge collapsed—a part of it, in fact, had. A freeway in Oakland had collapsed, killing 60 people. The Marina District, built on landfill by the bay, took the worst damage and was burning. All highways, bridges and trains were unusable. If you couldn’t walk to where you needed to be, people were told to just stay where they were. I kept walking, stepping around the occasional pile of bricks and stucco that had fallen off buildings.

          Finally, I got home. Everything was OK. We lived on a hill overlooking Golden Gate Park, the most solid geology you could find in San Francisco (the hill, not the park which is sand). Walls cracked and books had wobbled to the edges of shelves, but nothing toppled or collapsed.

          Jamie got home soon after I did. He’d been in a highrise office building downtown and had to walk down ten flights of stairs but managed to drive home taking a circuitous route through neighborhoods to avoid traffic jams. Some of the office towers had actually banged against one another at the height of the shaking—or so we heard.

          Shortly after we arrived home, two friends showed up. They both worked in SF but lived in Oakland and couldn’t get home so they hiked to our place and stayed with us. There was no power in the house, so we built a fire outside in a little hibachi grill and heated up some leftovers. The city was dark except for the glow to the northeast where the Marina District kept burning. We felt oddly safe on our bedrock hillside.

          We did actually perform one rescue that dangerous night. The woman who lived in the flat below ours was stranded in East Bay which meant her cat Darwin needed feeding. He sat mewling at our back door until we invited him in and gave him some food. Next day Darwin repaid the favor by leaving us a dead bird on our doorstep.

          In the days that followed, the city slowly got back to a new normal. Mail delivery was cancelled for three days and many shops remained closed. The World Series between SF and Oakland resumed. Buildings and freeways were inspected and some condemned. BART resumed running trains the next day but the Bay Bridge was to stay closed for at least a month until the collapsed section could be repaired. Ferry boats started running across the bay—actually a nicer way to commute. We walked through the Marina District over the rippled pavement and past the leaning or burnt out flats. Everywhere you went you calculated how safe it was or wasn’t until you realized there was no place safe but you went on anyway. Living on the faultline. 

© 19 April 2015 

About the Author 

Nicholas grew up in Cleveland, then grew up in San Francisco, and is now growing up in Denver. He retired from work with non-profits in 2009 and now bicycles, gardens, cooks, does yoga, writes stories, and loves to go out for coffee.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reputation, by Gillian

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. – William Shakespeare

As most often, I completely agree with you, Will.  A reputation is a dangerous thing; good or bad, yours or someone else's.  I guess the essence of their threat lies in the fact that we all tend to become sucked in by them, rather than by the reality of a person's character. And, again, this is as true of our own as of others'. Being fooled by another person's reputation, or image, is dangerous. Being led astray from your real self by your own, can be disastrous.

Reputations, and the images they create of us, can stay pretty stable throughout a lifetime, but for many of us they are fluid, changing as we grow. Who doesn't know that wild child with the dreadful reputation in high school, who grew up to be a boringly conventional pillar of the community? Nevertheless that past reputation can hang around. Who has completely forgotten Chappaquiddick? It followed Ted Kennedy to his grave and beyond into the history books. The same for Monica Lewinsky, who will forever haunt Clinton's reputation.

I'm not sure whether reputations have become more insidious in our modern word, or less.

In the days when most of us lived in small communities where everyone knew everyone else, it was hard for anyone to escape their established reputation and build a new one. You aren't going to employ Bob to put in your new windows. He got caught shop-lifting at the dime store when he was ten. Probably rips off all his glass from some place. And as for letting Mary baby-sit. Remember how she knocked her baby sister off the chair that time? Well, yes, probably was an accident but still ......   

These days, we tend not to know that the woman selling us insurance used to beat her children, or that the man fixing our car is a longtime alcoholic. On the other hand, anything you do or say can swoop around the world in a nanosecond, and if whatever it is goes viral, God help you!

I believe a lot of what Facebook is about is changing reputations, your own and others', which is surely much easier to do these days than back in the small town where you were the town drunk for life no matter that you had been on the wagon for half of your life.

Winston Churchill was a perfect example of changing reputations. Come to that, he still is.  His youthful military escapades were a mixed bag, but, never lacking in ego, by the age of 26 he had published five books about them. His reputation was mixed, but he was made Lord of the Admiralty at the ridiculously young age of 37. Sadly for him, and alas much sadder for the 250,000 casualties, his poorly-conceived Siege of the Dardanelles during WW1 was a total disaster and he was forced to resign, with his reputation in tatters. He immediately redeemed much of it by consigning himself to trench warfare, where he reportedly fought with vigor and valor.

Between the wars, his constant warnings of impending and inevitable war with Germany again diminished his reputation. No-one wanted to hear it. The Boer War was not so long over, and the British were not up for another. But when Germany broke its promises and invaded Poland, Churchill was proven right and his reputation soared. Almost instantaneously he was made Prime Minister and, with his reputation as that British Bulldog thundering around him, proclaimed by most as Britain's savior. His very reputation, along with endless stirring speeches, did much to keep spirits high under desperate conditions, and to keep most Britons determined to go on fighting.

But that reputation, as a supreme fighter who would never give up, lost all appeal the moment the war ended. Churchill's hawkish reputation coupled with his endless warnings over the new threat from the Soviets, were too scary for peace-time. Two months later Winston Churchill was defeated soundly at the polls.

His ego, however, remained undaunted. He had no fear for his reputation.  "History," he pronounced, "Will be kind to me for I intend to write it."  Which he did. Over his lifetime he wrote 43 books in 72 volumes.

But still he was unable completely to preserve a positive reputation.  Although for many years it was considered akin to blasphemy to criticize such a great hero, that is no longer the case. There is much discussion these days as to whether Churchill was, to quote Dr. Andrew Roberts, "Brilliant Statesman or Brutal Demagogue." Just from his own quotations, he was clearly misogynistic and racist, but in his day that was not condemned as it is today. So reputations change not only as a person changes, and events change, but as attitudes change.

And so we re-write history.

It's hard to be sure what one's own reputation is. Probably, in many cases, not exactly what we think it is or would like it to be. I do know that when I was married the first time, to a man, we were considered a really strong, stable couple. I know that because our friends were so utterly shocked when we split up. And, in so many ways, that reputation was valid. Except for one teensy weensy detail which no-one knew.  In one way our reputation as a married couple was true. In another, it was as far off as it could be. But I was the only one who knew that; and I played my part so well.

When I came out, I became a bit confused. I wasn't at all sure what the archetypal lesbian would be; but whatever it was, that's what I would become. I observed carefully in this new world, and acted accordingly to create a new reputation, a new version of myself. Thankfully, this stage did not last long.  

You're doing it again! I said to myself. Your entire life you have created a false reputation for yourself, and now you're finally free, you're doing it again! STOP!

So I did.

And for over 30 years now, I have simply been me. I don't know what kind of reputation I have.  I don't care. A reputation is simply others' visions, versions, of me. It may or may not be anywhere near the truth. It simply doesn't matter.

Free at last!

© October 2014 

About the Author 

I was born and raised in England. After graduation from college there, I moved to the U.S. and, having discovered Colorado, never left. I have lived in the Denver-Boulder area since 1965, working for 30 years at IBM. I married, raised four stepchildren, then got divorced after finally, in my forties, accepting myself as a lesbian. I have now been with my wonderful partner Betsy for 25 years.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gifts from Afar, a Harmony Story, by Carol White

In 1992, 23 years ago now, the State of Colorado voted to pass something called Amendment 2 to the Constitution of our State, which said that gay and lesbian people could have no rights whatsoever, and whatever rights they already had in cities such as Denver and Aspen and Boulder would be canceled or repealed.

The Amendment 2 campaign and battle was vitriolic and pretty nasty.  We worked hard and thought we were going to defeat it, but when it passed, we were all stunned and devastated.  It is very difficult to explain the hurt that hung like a black cloud over our whole community in the wake of that election.

Amendment 2 passed on a Tuesday in November.  That Friday Harmony, a GLBT chorus that I was conducting at the time, went to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park for our usual retreat before an upcoming concert, where we normally rehearse and polish our music for the performance.  But on this occasion we were also crying and telling election stories and trying to support each other after having been knocked off our feet, so to speak, by the people of Colorado.

That same weekend there happened to be another retreat going on at the same YMCA for Methodist youth leaders from our jurisdiction, which covered four states.  One of the ministers who was leading that retreat happened to be the brother of one of the women in Harmony.  The brother and sister got together, and the brother minister through his sister invited Harmony to sing for the convocation of Methodist youth at their Sunday morning meeting.

She brought the idea back to the choir, and we accepted.

As Sunday morning came, we lined up outside the Chapel, which is still there but has later been remodeled.  At that time there were no pews.  And since there were over 100 Methodist youth, they sat on the floor in the middle of the chapel, and since there were over 100 Harmony members, there was no place for us to get except to surround them standing up.

So I went to a little stage at one end of the Chapel, and said that I had been a Methodist youth just like them, had received a Master's in Sacred Music from SMU in Dallas, and had served a large church as minister of music for four years before being fired because I was gay.  Then I said that Harmony was a GLBT chorus, and we would just like to sing a couple of songs for them.

I said, "This first song is dedicated to all of you who might be gay, or all of you who are struggling with self esteem for any reason."  I knew that most high school kids struggle with self esteem for a variety of reasons.  The song was:

"How could anyone ever tell you you are anything less than beautiful,
How could anyone ever tell you you are less than whole,
How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle,
How deeply you're connected to my soul.”

Then we sang a Holly Near song and taught it to them and they sang along.  It was:

“We are a gentle loving people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are a gentle loving people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”

Other verses said, “We are gay and straight together,” “We are a land of many colors,” as well as a few others. 

We were about to leave, and some of them said, "No, sing another song."

There was an old organ at the other end of the chapel, and our accompanist cranked it up and started playing the introduction to our theme song, and the choir started singing,

"In this very room there's quite enough love for one like me,
And in this very room there's quite enough joy for one like me.
And there's quite enough hope and quite enough power
To chase away any gloom,
For Spirit, our Spirit, is in this very room."

At the end of the first verse, one of the girls sitting on the floor got up and stood with Harmony in the circle.  They continued singing,

"In this very room there's quite enough love for all of us,
And in this very room there's quite enough joy for all of us.
And there's quite enough hope and quite enough power
To chase away any gloom,
For Spirit, our Spirit, is in this very room."

During the second verse, several youth, in groups of two's and three's, stood up and joined Harmony in the circle.  They kept singing through their tears,

"In this very room there's quite enough love for all the world,
And in this very room there's quite enough joy for all the world,
And there's quite enough hope and quite enough power
To chase away any gloom,
For Spirit, our Spirit, is in this very room."

By the end of the song, there was no-one left sitting on the floor.  They were all standing arm-around-shoulder around arm-around-shoulder.

There was nothing left to say.  We had gone there to sing for them, and they had turned it around and helped us when we needed it most.  Harmony filed out of the Chapel knowing that we had been blessed.  They had given us a Gift from Afar.

A few years later Amendment 2 was repealed by the Supreme Court of the United States.

© 29 May 2015 

About the Author 

I was born in Louisiana in 1939, went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas from 1957 through 1963, with majors in sacred music and choral conducting, was a minister of music for a large Methodist church in Houston for four years, and was fired for being gay in 1967.  After five years of searching, I settled in Denver and spent 30 years here as a freelance court reporter.  From 1980 forward I have been involved with PFLAG Denver, and started and conducted four GLBT choruses:  the PFLAG Festival Chorus, the Denver Women’s Chorus, the Celebration ’90 Festival Chorus for the Gay Games in Vancouver, and Harmony.  I am enjoying my 11-year retirement with my life partner of 32 years, Judith Nelson, riding our bikes, going to concerts, and writing stories for the great SAGE group.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Passion, by Betsy

Passion: an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.
Passion is energy, – feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you. – Oprah Winfrey

I have a passion for a few things:  First, for certain people; namely, my loved ones—my partner, my children and grandchildren.

Second, I have a passion for music--not all music.  Mostly for the classical of the baroque, classical, and romantic styles and a little contemporary.  I am very limited in my ability to perform music.  I do like being a part of a choral group and have been doing this for much of my life.  But listening is stirring and inspiring.  I use my iPod when exercising.  Nothing like a Schubert or Brahms quartet to keep me moving and working hard on the stationary bicycle, elliptical or rowing machine. Some music does excite me and gives me energy. Often fellow exercisers ask me what I’m listening to.  When I tell them, they give me a very strange look as if to say, “Don’t you know about rock!  You poor thing.”

My greatest passion is for sports. That is doing, not watching. I am a mediocre spectator fan—well, that’s probably an exaggeration.   I don’t pay a lot of attention to which teams are winning or losing.  Occasionally I’ll watch a tennis match on TV or even a Broncos game.  But given the opportunity I would a thousand times prefer to play, compete, or do most any activity involving  physical action, motion, skill, and/or a desire for adventure.

I must mention one other passion I have.  Now in my later years, I have become aware that I have a great respect – I think it qualifies as a passionate respect for the truth.  Perhaps that is because I spent a good portion of my adult life living a lie.

I have noticed that what may appear to be a person’s passion turns out to be short lived and it is no time before the individual appears to be passionate about something else.  This is particularly manifested in children and young adults.  They jump from one interest to another, I suppose, exploring different areas of interest until one of those areas becomes their deepest passion.

As I was giving this subject further consideration, I came to the conclusion that passion and obsession are very closely related.  I had this thought when I realized that I had made a glaring grammatical error in last week’s writing and I actually read it using the wrong part of speech and didn’t even notice.  The realization hit me in the middle of the night the next night as I lay in bed. I thought, “Surely I didn’t write it that way.”  So I jumped out of bed at 3:00Am and checked my paper.  Yes, I had written it that way and read it that way.  Very upset with myself, I had to wake Gill up and tell her.  “I can’t believe I did that,” I said.  At that moment I realized I have a passion for the correct usage of the English language and its rules of grammar. Understand.  I DO NOT have a passion for writing, but the use of the language definitely intrigues me. This goes back to my high school days when my English teacher, who taught me for all 3 years of high school English, exposed us to very little literature.  Mostly we studied grammar and a little writing.  Most in the class thought the grammar was rather boring, but I loved it.  I guess I have the kind of mind which loves to analyze and that’s what we did.  We analyzed sentences most of the time and learned rules of grammar and word usage. So…..When does passion become obsession?  At 3:00AM.  Ask Gill. Passion becomes obsession when one becomes dis-eased over what she thinks she has a passion for.  (Oh, oh, there I go, ending a sentence with a preposition.) 

© 22 April 2015 

About the Author 

Betsy has been active in the GLBT community including PFLAG, the Denver women’s chorus, OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change).  She has been retired from the Human Services field for about 15 years.  Since her retirement, her major activities include tennis, camping, traveling, teaching skiing as a volunteer instructor with National Sports Center for the Disabled, and learning.  Betsy came out as a lesbian after 25 years of marriage. She has a close relationship with her three children and enjoys spending time with her four grandchildren.  Betsy says her greatest and most meaningful enjoyment comes from sharing her life with her partner of 25 years, Gillian Edwards.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bumper Stickers, by Will Stanton

Bumper stickers.  We all have seen hundreds of them, many on car bumpers, some stuck on car or truck windows.  A search on Google images brings up lots of them, but I have to say that I'm not impressed with many of them.   The vast majority of those stickers I would prefer never to have stuck onto my own bumpers.  Many of them appear to have been concocted by mindless idiots who think that they have been so clever.  The stickers neither convey any message worth reading nor spark constructive thinking.  Too many of them are simply profane, substituting profanity for wit. 

And, far too many of them express hate, something that I have grown very tired of.  I actually saw a battered old pickup truck with a sticker on the cab's rear window that read, “Save America.  Shoot all Muslims and Democrats.”  What added to the irony was that the stereotypical looking cretin behind the wheel also had placed a “I love Jesus” sticker next to the other one.  It reminded me of a satirical bumper sticker that I once saw that asked, “What gun would Jesus buy?”  Or, there was one I saw that said, “Nuc a gay whale for Christ.”

I have become weary of seeing religious messages on bumper stickers.  Of course, those people who place them there have the right to do so; however, I think that there are so many that they become tiresome.  Or worse, the statements shout intolerance, proudly inferring that their religion is the only true religion, and all others are false, sure to send the adherents to hell.  The acerbic-tongued, British actress Maggie Smith sums it up quite nicely: “My dear, religion is like a penis.  It's a perfectly fine thing for one to have and to take pride in; but when one takes it out and waves it in my face, we have a problem.”

I can think of a lot of messages that I could share with others, but I feel that most people would think them too tame, too “goody-two-shoes.”   Here are a few.  “Have you treated everyone kindly today?”  “Have you been honest in all of your business dealings today?”  “Are all your political statements honest and constructive?”  “Do you strive each day to make society a better place?”  I feel that such messages should be seen by everyone; however, most likely, many people, viewing such positive messages, might choose to become irritated or even angry.  The messages convey modes of behavior too foreign to their own experience and desires.

Of course, most people select bumper stickers that concern them personally, often omitting messages of general interest.  I, too, can think of various messages based upon my personal preferences, such as good music and its remarkable influence upon emotional health and even physical well-being.  How about a bumper sticker that says “Build fresh brain cells.-- Listen to classical music.”  Or, “Go for Baroque.” 

Or, people might prefer something a little more catchy.  At one time a few years ago, I met a young waiter whose father was an opera-tenor.  The father and his favorite historical figure was the superlative singer Carlo Broschi, known on stage as “Farinelli.”  The waiter asked me to find a good portrait of Farinelli and to assist in preparing the digital data to make a series of good-quality T-shirts, some for his dad and himself, and others for friends.  An acquaintance of mine who was supposed to print them never bothered to do so, but the slogan still could work on a bumper sticker.  Print a picture of Farinelli along with the statement, “It takes balls to be a castrato.”  That bumper sticker might raise an eyebrow or two.

© 19 November 2014 

About the Author  

 I have had a life-long fascination with people and their life stories.  I also realize that, although my own life has not brought me particular fame or fortune, I too have had some noteworthy experiences and, at times, unusual ones.  Since I joined this Story Time group, I have derived pleasure and satisfaction participating in the group.  I do put some thought and effort into my stories, and I hope that you find them interesting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Competition, by Ricky

        I am not a “competitive” person.  When I was a child, I enjoyed playing games where there was a winner and one or more not the winners, but I didn’t care which category I was in ultimately.  I just played any game for fun.

        When I was old enough to play Little League baseball, I was nearly competitive by doing my best to help the team “win”.  But when we would not win, I did feel a bit down, if I had made mistakes that contributed to our failing to win.  However, I did not castigate myself because I knew that in spite of making (or not making) mistakes, I had done my best for the team and I knew not winning did not reduce the amount of fun I experienced playing the game with other boys.

        Just playing a team game for fun still taught me sportsmanship, cooperation, working together for a common goal, and helped to build my character.  I did not need parents or coaches who believed in “winning is everything” to motivate me.  If they had, I am sure I would now have more character flaws than positive attributes.

        In high school, I never played on the school sports teams.  They were all about winning and I only liked to play for fun.  The fact that I wasn’t all that good at any of the sports also contributed to me not even trying out for a team.  I did play friendly team games during PE class.  Besides the seasonal games of softball, flag football, basketball we would also play other games for a week or two.  One of my most memorable games was badminton.

        The PE teachers decided to set up two badminton courts/nets inside one half of our gym.  They then organized the girls and boys into teams of two players and held a tournament.  Eventually, the boys’ champions played the girls’ champions.

        My teammate, Ray Hoff, was one of my two friends in high school.  We first met in 6th grade and continued as friends throughout our school years.  Winning was nice but we played for fun.  We would constantly talk to each other during the game, giving encouragement, criticizing our play, and telling jokes all while batting the shuttlecock over the net.  Sometimes we were laughing so hard that the other team would score.  In the end, we were the boys’ champions and got to play the girls’ championship team for our class period.  Ray and I continued our antics and had lots of fun.  The girls would often laugh with us.  Ultimately, the girls won with 4 sets to 3 but those 7-games took two class periods to play.  I don’t think anyone else ever watched our games against the girls.  The other boys were busy playing basketball and I don’t know what the other girls were doing.  All I know is that Ray and I had tons of fun playing a non-macho game.

        For the years following high school, I still would rather play a game rather than watch one.  To me, just sitting watching a baseball, football, or basketball game is rather boring and many people take those games way too seriously and kill all the fun.  Even when I play a board game like Risk or Monopoly, I play for fun.  When it becomes evident that another player is getting too emotional and is too personally involved in the game, it kills the fun of playing and I’m ready to stop.

        I have given up watching team sports that are not sports anymore.  They have become big business and I find no fun in business.

© 3 March 2014 

About the Author  

 I was born in June of 1948 in Los Angeles, living first in Lawndale and then in Redondo Beach. Just prior to turning 8 years old in 1956, I began living with my grandparents on their farm in Isanti County, Minnesota for two years during which time my parents divorced.

When united with my mother and stepfather two years later in 1958, I lived first at Emerald Bay and then at South Lake Tahoe, California, graduating from South Tahoe High School in 1966.  After three tours of duty with the Air Force, I moved to Denver, Colorado where I lived with my wife and four children until her passing away from complications of breast cancer four days after the 9-11-2001 terrorist attack.

I came out as a gay man in the summer of 2010.   I find writing these memories to be therapeutic.

My story blog is, TheTahoeBoy.blogspot.com

Monday, June 22, 2015

Revelation, by Phillip Hoyle

Some biblical and artistic revelations combined for me in a most important way, one that helped me realize the ultimate revelation of God’s love. I begin with the image of a boy drawing illustrations of several visionary creatures in the Bible. These word monsters had origins in the apocalyptic literature of the Hebrew prophets, especially Daniel and several others whose writings were deemed apocryphal or became part of the extra-biblical collection known as the Pseudepigrapha. Jesus as a prophet was credited with some such images related to the destruction of Jerusalem, and due to a fourth century CE decision, the New Testament ends with one such: the memorable book, The Revelation to John. We didn’t hear much about these writings in our church until Stan Lecher preached a meeting one spring. He specialized in prophetic speculation in order to raise a crowd. The magical world of knowing the future held great appeal and Lecher knew how to use it. Although in my childhood I was too scared to be interested in monster movies, I did find these images in the Bible quite intriguing, not so much for their meanings about the future but simply for their inclusion in the sacred book. For me, the phenomenon seemed much the same as when I later discovered the Goodspeed translation of the Bible that used such clear words as ‘rape’ or the erotic images in the Song of Solomon, or the image of God’s love for Israel compared with the hopeless commitment of the prophet Hosea to his prostituting wife. I was fascinated by the unacceptable being found within the content of the holy. I still am.

So when sermons got boring I paged through the Revelation and entertained myself by drawing these wild monsters: for instance, in Revelation 12 a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and ten crowns on his heads and a tail that swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them on the earth and whom Michael and his angels fought; or in Revelation 13 a creature that rose from the sea and looked like a leopard with feet like a bear’s and a mouth like a lion’s and with horns and ten crowns; or in the same chapter another beast that rose out of the earth and featured two horns like a lamb and the voice of a dragon. I knew nothing of metaphor and symbol for I was a child as literal as he could be. I didn’t know what else to do with these visions except to draw them.

Mom was interested in my drawings, at least enough to put them in her purse. I don’t know what became of those scratchings, but I do remember not knowing how to distribute horns and crowns among the various heads of the angry monsters. Such is the life of even the most literal of illustrators. Too many decisions, too much specificity, and the revelations became a problem of literality and meaning. But my memory of the experience is one of artistic decision making not unlike what I face now when I am making paintings of centuries-old visions of the Ute artists of Shavano Valley in western Colorado or of Cherokee interpreters at Judaculla Rock on the Tennessee River in western North Carolina. I was making such artistic decisions as a youngster. All those years ago I was an artist and, of course, a frustrated one just like my son Michael years later when in disgust he threw away some of this drawings because he couldn’t get them perfect. I told him then what I wish someone had told the young me, that the art arises from incorporating your mistakes, trusting that they may be as important to your work as what you deem ideal. And to imagine that I was thinking somewhat that way even as a youngster trying to fathom the images and truths of the wildest symbols in the Bible.

The art is in the process. For me, the art of living religiously grew to mean being able to incorporate the common with the holy not to accommodate the sins of my own life within a vision of a perfect God but rather because the authoritative book of my religious upbringing declares that the murdering King David was in fact a man after God’s own heart. My deeply artistic and deeply gay heart knew life must recognize the good in all, in me. What a revelation!

As I mentioned before, I still feel that way.

© Denver, 2014  

About the Author 

Phillip Hoyle lives in Denver and spends his time writing, painting, and socializing. In general he keeps busy with groups of writers and artists. Following thirty-two years in church work and fifteen in a therapeutic massage practice, he now focuses on creating beauty. He volunteers at The Center leading the SAGE program “Telling Your Story.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

Aw Shucks: The Politics of Pizza and Wombs, by Pat Gourley

The phrase “aw shucks” implies to me a bit of ‘good ole boy’ perhaps false naiveté with a layer of self-consciousness around something or the other. That is a phrase I really do not relate too. I am much more likely to be heard exclaiming: ‘aw shit’.

The past week has provided me with ample opportunity to be heard uttering, “aw shit”. Much but not all of this angst has centered on the kerfuffle around the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and all the dust stirred around that. Besides having a strong queer political interest in this I was also further drawn to the story by the fact that I grew up a few short miles from Walkerton, Indiana on the banks of the Kankakee River. Walkerton is of course the home of Memories Pizza and the owners of said establishment who plopped themselves into the middle of the storm by saying they would never provide pizza for a gay wedding. As has been pointed out countless times over the past ten days queers are capable of great weddings but these events rarely if ever include serving pizza.

The indignation directed at these pizza merchants though understandable really did just create martyrs for the cause of intolerance. They are basking in the glow of many tens of thousands of dollars sent their way mostly in small donations by like-minded very fearful folks who, for reasons that are really inexplicable, feel their world is actually threatened by gay marriage.

Rather than posting and commenting on the sad ignorance of Indiana pizza proprietors and giving them an undeserved platform, we need to perhaps re-focus on what got us to this wedding in the first place. That would be the millions of us all across the country who have come out as queer and the profound rippling, change creating effect that has had on society. The coming out process repeated over and over again is the fuel for the really remarkable change in attitude towards the LGBTQ community in the past few decades.

The changes in social attitudes well underway even in rural Indiana can only be further fueled by the coming out process by those folks known as son, daughter, brother, sister, mother or father to these pizza shop owners. The personal knowledge of queer loved ones almost always trumps the Bible, or at least gives one pause before withholding the pizza dough. I hope and actually know for a fact that my personal coming out has had an impact on at least some of the folks I grew up with near Walkerton, Indiana some of whom still live near there.

My real “aw shit” for the week though focused on another sad tragedy that occurred in Indiana last week and that was the sentencing of a woman named Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison. This is a complex story and I am providing a link to one of the better stories on it I read on-line from Common Dreams which I would encourage all to read: 

The long and short of it is that this woman was convicted under an Indiana fetal homicide mandate along with a charge of neglect on her part around the pregnancy. So this woman is facing twenty years in prison for what seems most likely to be a late-term miscarriage or stillbirth. The actual facts in the case remain somewhat murky however the larger issue does not and that involves reproductive freedom and the control women should have over their own bodies.

The right-wing assault on a woman’s right to have control over what goes on in her own womb the past few years in particular is absolutely stunning and breathtaking in scope. The closing of Planned Parenthood clinics and abortion facilities in many states is only the tip of this insidious iceberg. I think it very sad that these issues do not seem to have received the attention or focused outrage that the denials of cake and pizza have for us queers.

I realize we are fighting for more than cake but it really is not the only issue that deserves much more of our attention. Obviously many lesbians in particular are all over these encroachments into the womb by most often white, right wing, male zealots and the spineless politicians who pander to them. I do think though, speaking to my queer brothers here, we need to be a bit more vocal and involved in what is truly a war on women and their inalienable right to control their own bodies and reproductive choices. It is all the same struggle whether it involves cake, pizza or someone’s womb.

© 6 April 2015 

About the Author 

I was born in La Porte Indiana in 1949, raised on a farm and schooled by Holy Cross nuns. The bulk of my adult life, some 40 plus years, was spent in Denver, Colorado as a nurse, gardener and gay/AIDS activist. I have currently returned to Denver after an extended sabbatical in San Francisco, California.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Plumage, by Nicholas

          I like scarves. I like to wear them and I like seeing them worn by other people. Scarves are both fashionable and practical. They can provide warmth and protection against the elements on a cold, blustery day. They can also provide an elegant touch of color, a bit of flair with a swath of fabric flung around your neck and over a shoulder. And they can make statements about who you are and even what side you take.

          I’m always surprised how much warmth a scarf can provide when wrapped around my neck on a winter’s day. It’s an extra layer of protection against the wind. It feels cozy and snuggly and shelters some exposed skin. The winter scarves I have are light wool and are burgundy and purple. They’re long enough to completely wrap them around me. I have another yellow scarf that my mother knitted for me years ago but I rarely wear it because I keep it more as a memento of her.

          Scarves can also make statements—fashion statements and political statements. Scarves can be gay when a man wears one that is colorful and elegant. It can bring a feminine touch to your wardrobe. I wear a blue and gold silk scarf sometimes and I have a fuchsia and black scarf that I wear just for decoration. The secret to always being fashionable, they say, is to accessorize. Scarves can be so gay.

          Political statements are also made through scarves. Certain scarves in certain colors on certain days often convey symbolic political sentiments. I own a scarf that is checkered red and black which might be taken for a Middle Eastern keffiyeh, the checkered headdress worn by many Palestinians and adopted by some non-Palestinians as a gesture of solidarity. I didn’t buy it for that. In fact, the resemblance didn’t occur to me until much later when I realized there could be political overtones to my new fashion accessory. But then I doubt a Palestinian warrior would wear my pinkish-red scarf anywhere. It’s not their style.

          My favorite scarves are not actually scarves at all but can be worn as such. They are these bright pieces of plumage from Renaissance Italy. These are actually flags or banners representing the different neighborhoods of Siena. Each banner—with different colors, animals (both mythical and real), wild patterns of stripes and daggers of color, and patron saints displayed—symbolically represents one of the 17 districts of the old medieval city.

These banners are used by neighborhood teams competing in the annual horse race, called the Palio, held since the 15th century (and still held) each summer in the huge piazza in the center of town. Of course, the three-day event is more than one horse race. Much pageantry and pomp goes along with it, including parades with these banners carried by people in equally flamboyant Renaissance costumes of tight leotards, puffy sleeves and very bright colors.

So, wearing a scarf can be more than putting on an accessory to highlight a color, more than showing your support for a sports team, and more than just bundling up against the cold. Scarves have become yet another way humans have concocted to say something in a world that might not be paying much attention anyway. A scarf is a flag to wave.

©  March 2015 

About the Author 

Nicholas grew up in Cleveland, then grew up in San Francisco, and is now growing up in Denver. He retired from work with non-profits in 2009 and now bicycles, gardens, cooks, does yoga, writes stories, and loves to go out for coffee.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Getting Caught, by Lewis

As a boy, I was not afraid of heights. By the age of four, I was jumping off the roof of the garage. I could climb almost anything. My mother—never too watchful—soon learned to find me not by looking “around” but by looking “up”.

Our house was a one-story bungalow. Next door lived an elderly widow whose house towered over ours. One day, I was playing outside, between our houses, and I heard a strange and frightening cry from an upstairs window. I could see her face. She appeared to be talking to me. She hadn’t done that before. What did she want, if anything? How could I help? She appeared OK to me. I walked away. She scared me. I had never known my grandmothers.

Soon, I learned, to my horror, that she had been doing laundry and caught her hand in the rollers of her Maytag dryer. I wasn’t punished; she was the one who “got caught”. But I sure learned something about the hazards of daily living and the need to be more responsive.

Around that time—the years have grown somewhat fungible with their passage—I noticed that a very long ladder had been placed against the side of her house. It reached all the way from the ground to her roof at the exact location of her brick chimney, from which, I was certain, an excellent panorama of our entire neighborhood could be enjoyed.

The opportunity was a prime example of what in the liability law profession is known as an “attractive nuisance”—especially for a boy who loves to climb.

So, I climbed, hand-over-hand, to the rain gutter 25 feet or so above the sidewalk upon which rested the ladder. The roof was fairly steep but negotiable, so I soon found myself perched on top of her chimney thoroughly enjoying the spectacular view.

Before long, my reverie was shattered by my mother’s voice somewhat exasperatedly calling out my name in a context that suggested some kind of a response was in order. She clearly did not see me. I waited until I thought she might have the police out looking for me.

“Up here, Mom,” I said, hoping-against-hope that she would be impressed.

“Lewis, you get down here this instant!”

Mother had made similar demands in the past but I was pretty sure this time she didn’t mean to be taken literally.

Anyone who climbs at all knows that climbing down is far scarier and more risky than climbing up, if for no other reason than you’re looking at hard objects rather than clouds and the sky. Nevertheless, I managed to make it safely down to the ground without so much as a scratch. I imagined my mother rushing over to me, sweeping me up in her grateful arms and showering my cheeks with kisses, as I’m sure I had seen done in Lassie Come Home. Instead, I got a firm thumb and forefinger on either side of my right ear lobe and a brusque shepherding through our side door and into the kitchen, where my mother posed to me the type of question designed to instill shame and guilt in the heart of a 4-year-old, naïve, novitiate Christian.

“What would you do if you had a little boy who pulled a stunt like that?”

Now, I immediately recognized her query as a “trick question”, the answer to which might very well seal my fate. Rejecting rejoinders such as “give him a spanking”, “ground him”, or “send him to bed without his dinner”, I happened upon a response that might just turn a lemon into lemonade.

“I guess I would simply ask God to watch out for him”.

I never knew whether she actually did make such an appeal. I just knew that I had had a very close brush with disaster. I also learned that religion can easily be used to manipulate.

© 4 February 2013

About the Author

I came to the beautiful state of Colorado out of my native Kansas by way of Michigan, the state where I married and I came to the beautiful state of Colorado out of my native Kansas by way of Michigan, the state where I married and had two children while working as an engineer for the Ford Motor Company. I was married to a wonderful woman for 26 happy years and suddenly realized that life was passing me by. I figured that I should make a change, as our offspring were basically on their own and I wasn't getting any younger. Luckily, a very attractive and personable man just happened to be crossing my path at that time, so the change-over was both fortuitous and smooth. Soon after, I retired and we moved to Denver, my husband's home town. He passed away after 13 blissful years together in October of 2012. I am left to find a new path to fulfillment. One possibility is through writing. Thank goodness, the SAGE Creative Writing Group was there to light the way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Clothes: Strange Symbols of Freedom, by Gillian

I simply do not like baseball caps. Maybe it's no more than the fact that I grew up in a land without them; maybe it's simply that they are, to me, and I apologize to the many of you, including my beautiful Betsy, who wear the things, the least flattering of headgear - though I can think of some very close seconds, like the British flat cap, or those German and Russian military caps of WW11 with the exaggeratedly high fronts. But really, baseball caps are everywhere. If some variety of hat had to go viral ..... no, that's the wrong term: I occasionally become over-excited by modern idiom! ... had to become universal, why not, say, the cowboy hat? Most people are enhanced by a jaunty Stetson. Or a variation on one of many military caps such as the Aussie Slouch or the U.S. army cap with that sexy curved bill? No! The entire world, or the greatest part of it, had to go for the baseball cap, or, even worse, its offspring the trucker hat with that flat bill, high foam front panel, and adjustable mesh in the back. Those are the ones I really dislike; mostly worn by Bubba and guaranteed to make the most modest, most harmless, of men, look like a rapist/mugger and a woman (why would a woman wear one? But they do!) resemble an escapee from the nearest Dickensian madhouse. 

O.K. So the world is, for whatever incomprehensible reason, obsessed with variations of the American baseball cap. But why do they proudly wear them complete with American logo; almost invariably a sports team. Young Russians, Brits, Australians, now even Chinese, strut their stuff under caps proudly proclaiming Red Sox or White Sox or New Orleans Saints, most often accompanied by a t-shirt emblazoned with Notre Dame or S.M.U. If you must adopt American clothes, why not, at least, proclaim the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory, or the Tsinghua University of Beijing?

I suppose, when it comes down to it, it's all about marketing; the U.S probably takes Best of Breed. But I do get angry when people in other countries sigh, shake their heads, and regret 'the Americanization of everything,' placing the blame firmly on the doorstep of the United States.

I hold our country responsible for many things of which I am not proud, but, please! We don't force anyone to wear these clothes any more than we forced the world to install over 33,000 McDonalds, and frequently in the most inappropriate places. No, we did not invade Poland and force them to put a McDonalds in a historic medieval vault in Krakow, or Russia to impose what claimed to be, at the time I visited it, anyway, the most exotic McDonalds in the world. It's in the St. Petersburg railway station in a cavernous space with polished marble floors, exquisite woodwork, and beautiful chandeliers hanging from a high, arched, beamed, ceiling.

People tut-tut over the amount of 'American rubbish' on T.V. across the world, but we don't hold a gun to the BBC producer's head, and most certainly not to the head of Russian-controlled TV.  Yet, in the early 1990's when I was there, they were glued to already outdated productions of 'Dallas' and 'The Young and the Restless,' and 'Dynasty.' Gazing obsessively at the imaginary American way of life, or at least one experienced by very few of us, they proudly wore their New York Jets ball caps and their University of Michigan tees. I suppose it was all part of the dream. Free at last, they could be anything: anybody.

One universality which puzzles me is the world-wide use of the word fuck. You see it scrawled on walls everywhere, or at least in every country I have been in, and hear it used by people who, apparently, speak not one more word of English. You hear an endless stream of conversation in another language, and it is almost invariably punctuated with the only words you can understand; an occasional fuck or fucking. Why in the world this particular word has become so wide-spread, I haven't a clue though probably some linguist somewhere is, even as I write this, doing his or her Ph.D. on this very subject.

Yeah, yeah, call me old fashioned. but I do have a certain yearning for the days when clothes told a story. (And of course, come to that, when the F word was not so prevalent!) “Clothes and manners do not make the man,” said Henry Ward Beecher. But clothes did make the man, at least in the eye of the beholder. Days gone by, you could tell your bank manager from your milkman from your doctor by his clothes. In that sense, they did indeed make the man. I don't mean only when he was at work, but when he was not. Now, if your plumber, financial advisor, and grocery clerk walk their dog in the park, they probably all wear blue jeans with tees proclaiming Rice University and ball caps bearing the Florida Gators' logo.

Perhaps, I muse, if we all dress alike we will find it harder to go to war against each other, though I confess I have seen little evidence of this so far. And I do regret the individuality.

When I was in school we used to watch, once in a while as a special treat in geography class, an old grainy jerky black and white film released from an 18" diameter reel. It showed workers collecting rubber in Brazil, or farming pineapples in Hawaii, or cutting sugar cane in Jamaica. They dressed very differently depending on their country. If we see a cable documentary about such activities today, chances are the majority will be sporting Cardinals or Dodgers caps and Harvard or M.I.T. tee-shirts.

I have to hand it to the countries of the Islamic world. They are almost alone in refusing to change their traditional dress, for which I admire them. On the other hand, I abhor the way women are, for the most part, treated, and forced to dress. I find myself wishing and hoping that somehow some of these women are concealing a Baltimore Colts cap and bright orange Denver Broncos tee-shirt beneath the burqa - well, it would be a beginning, a tiny hint of freedom, wouldn't it? - but somehow cannot imagine it.

You know what?

In writing this, I have talked myself round! Maybe the universal Atlanta Braves cap and Ann Arbor tee is not so bad. We can all, in many countries and in these times, dress more or less however we please, and after all, knowing a person's social status by the clothes they wear is in fact nothing desirable or positive at all. And being able to identify a person's nationality in the same manner means little individual choice is available. So, now I think it all through, baseball caps don't look so bad after all. If they cover the world it is because individuals have chosen them. I fear I shall never be able to find them aesthetically appealing, but perhaps they can be, to me, a rather unattractive symbol of freedom.


Reading through this I was overcome by the most horrific of visions!
What if the universal love for ball caps and that tiresome F word had collided? The world would be covered in caps saying, simply, and with great lack of originality, FUCK.

© September 2014  
About the Author 
I was born and raised in England. After graduation from college there, I moved to the U.S. and, having discovered Colorado, never left. I have lived in the Denver-Boulder area since 1965, working for 30 years at IBM. I married, raised four stepchildren, then got divorced after finally, in my forties, accepting myself as a lesbian. I have now been with my wonderful partner Betsy for 25 years.