Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

I first read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, oh, I guess, 5 or 6 years ago. Back when I wasn't a whole lot older than the protagonists of the novel, a group of 4 post-college idiots trying to make sense of their lives. Or, more accurately, trying to make sense of their emotions and lustful drives, which fluctuate and change daily.

Art Bechstein, the narrator, is a young man drawn into an intense world of love and sex with both a woman and another man, and does his damnedest to juggle his conflicting emotions and revolving-door of genitalia. It sort of reminds me of a modern update/retelling of Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, except without all the melodrama and there's no gruesome execution at the end.

What I think Mysteries gets right is the sense of wonder, and confusion, at that age, especially regarding sexuality, without claiming to have any answers. For someone who was only 24 (as Chabon was at the time he wrote it), I think it was very wise of him to admit that love and desire are total mysteries, and what you feel is simply what you feel, no matter how much you examine it and turn it over. When you're in the midst of something like a tumultuous relationship, or at the very least a confusing one, the day to day is often all that matters. And the more you think about the future, or the consequences of your actions, the more confused you get.

Considering that the main conflict in Mysteries lies in a young man's inability to choose between a man and a woman, the novel also doesn't deal in a cheap "gay panic." Yes, the main character is conflicted about his budding love for his young gay friend, a feeling he's never particularly felt before, but not because he doesn't want to be gay. He blithely accepts the possibility that he might simply be a homosexual, and that's that; it freaks him out a bit, but no more than I think any 22-year-old gets freaked out about being in love in general.

I've been reading so much non-fiction the last few years that I'd forgotten, I guess, how joyous it can be to just lose yourself in a really great novel. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh broke my heart and made me smile. At a time in my life where I think I take relationships and people's feelings a lot more seriously than I used to, reliving such a carefree time with these characters was a lot of fun, even if it's not a time I would particularly want to revisit in my own life.

I just found out that I guess a movie is being made right now, but judging from the tagline, it appears that it's already been ruined. Too bad. While reading it, I immediately reverted back to my old "filmmaker self" and had wild fantasies about what a great film it would make. Assuming they did it correctly.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Semantics ? Or just the same old libertarian bullshit.

I like Andrew Sullivan - I think he's interesting, insightful, and for the most part, level-headed. But I also think he's somewhat of an opportunist, and suffers from being totally unaware of the benefits he reaps from his upper-class and Oxford-educated social standing, and doesn't understand why everyone doesn't have all the same opportunities and privileges that he does. He's the first to say that gays should have the right to live like everybody else, but that poor people don't deserve health insurance - in other words, a libertarian.

A few days ago, I linked to the Seattle Stranger's Homo History issue, where one of the entries (that at the time I had not yet read) was by Andrew Sullivan. He wrote about the year 1996, in which, apparently, AIDS was no longer a problem, and the world should be in celebration over the "end of the plague."

There are so many things wrong with this on every level that I can't even really begin to dissect all of them. I've addressed this issue before, about whether or not the semantics of still calling AIDS a "plague" is really all that helpful, or just alarmist and overwrought at this point.

Where I think Sullivan's argument falls short from the libertarian perspective is because sure, for wealthy, white, privileged men who can afford the drug cocktails, which I know from personal experience, run into the thousands of dollars every month, maybe AIDS is just an unfortunate, but manageable, disease. But what about the poor, mostly black, inner city prostitutes, drug users, and just people who are unlucky enough to get stricken? Do you suppose they consider AIDS just a slight inconvenience? What about Africa? Or what about the regular middle-class families whose insurance fights tooth and nail against paying for these life-saving drugs, which, even if they work, can create complete havoc on your body?

I suppose the argument is that yes, AIDS is terrible, but it's still a "lifestyle" disease, like lung cancer, or diabetes, and if you happen to get it, well, too bad for you.

Today on his site, Sullivan whines about people picking on him for declaring "the end of AIDS" in 1996, but at least links to their arguments, which I find much more compelling than Sullivan's.

After describing how 1996 could, in fact, have been the beginning of a new, AIDS-free era, Sullivan's detractor goes on to say this:

In other words, for the rising generation of gay men, the AIDS epidemic could have ended, except for the occasional stray infection here and there.

But that's not what happened. The opposite happened.

As the meds came into use, people began celebrating. Opinion leaders -- most notably Andrew Sullivan -- recklessly proclaimed the "end of AIDS" in major venues like The New York Times. Mainstream journalists took their cue and largely dropped the subject.

Healthy fear -- the primary motivator of safe sex -- swiftly declined. Unsafe sex -- a vital part of the 'infectivity' leg of the Triad -- swiftly rose. Sex with multiple partners -- the 'contact rate' leg of the triad -- also rose. Sex clubs and bathhouses that allowed unsafe sex reopened without much controversy, or even notice. The Internet created a new venue for people to have multiple partners, often unsafely. 'Barebacking' became glamorized, even valorized, and the crystal meth epidemic vastly exacerbated the problem.

As the years went by, the truth became horribly clear: The increase in unsafe sex and the increase in the contact rate had swamped the drop in infectiousness due to the meds. Instead of ending, or even slowing, the AIDS epidemic among gay men has continued infecting between 2% and 3% of gay men per year. That's about the same level -- or even higher -- as before the meds were introduced.

I myself am operating largely on a hunch and my own experience, with both AIDS patients and AIDS drugs and federal benefits, and I need more research before I can become truly indignant. But honestly, this feels like a no-brainer, and Sullivan comes across as a truly heartless, self-absorbed, and just plain dumb, jackass.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Babysitter's Club (of one)

Once a week, all the counselors-in-training (CIT's) here at camp get 6 hours of leave time. CIT's are the 15-16-year olds who are too old to be campers, but not yet old enough to be counselors. Thus, they are counselors-in-training. Each week, one lucky staff member gets to be the one to take out the CIT's on their 6-hour leave and do with them whatever the CIT's want to do. There are twelve of them. They are all either fifteen or sixteen years old.

Today, I was selected to be their fearless chaperone.

Just me.

And twelve 15-16-year-old girls. In downtown Asheville.

For the most part it was uneventful. Considering it takes almost an hour to get to downtown Asheville from camp, and an hour to get back, that only leaves 4 hours right there. We ate pizza for lunch. One group of girls said they were going to wait on the benches outside, and of course took off. So I didn't let any of the other girls go anywhere until the 4 renegade girls got back. And I made the remaining 8 girls call the 4 renegade girls on their cell phones and tell them that their insouciant disregard for authority (I was expressley forbidden to let any girls go off by themselves) was ruining the remaining 8 girls' leave time.

Was that a little manipulative? Perhaps. But it was effective.

I've never truly been in a position of authority before. Being put in charge of a group of girls that were half my age (and technically, any one of whom's father I could be) was very weird. On the one hand, it made me feel important, and very grown-up, as they were actually deferring to me, asking my permission for things, and if I said no, they honored it. Also, they did what I told them to do.

On the other hand, it was really awkward, and I can absolutely see now how parents can fall into the roles of the "cool" parent and the "disciplinarian" parent. When I scolded the girls for running off, and they said they were "just over there, across the street," and I said, "Well, that's not in front of the restaurant, is it," and she scoffed at me, I wanted to slap her.

Some things I learned today about girls:

- "Tainted Love" is every girl's favorite song;

- they think Fergie is totally gross, but they like some of her songs, but they don't buy her records because she's gross;

- some of them still listen to the Spice Girls;

- everyone is "retarded," and everything is "ghey." But strangely, people are never ghey, and things are never retarded. Glad we cleared that up;

- or maybe things are just "gay." I'm actually a little unclear on this;

- but lesbians are "cool," and sometimes "hot;"

- Tammy is the most lesbian name imaginable. There was actually, like, a 20-minute conversation about this in the van on the way back;

- girls still love Grease! Their favorite song is "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee," and the part where she says, Elvis, Elvis, let me be. Keep that pelvis far from me, they think is the funniest thing anyone has ever said, ever;

- they all are very sheltered. They still stare at homeless people and think everyone in Asheville is "weird;"

- they all think I'm weird.

They have no clue as to the depths of my weirdness.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Today, Charlotte, Annie and I took 4 girls mountain biking to see a waterfall (and Mills Dog went too).

Heavy Waists

Last night was a camp-wide campout, which means the counselors took all the girls in the whole camp out camping somewhere on the property. I walked out with Annie and her group for a bit until they got lost, then I decided to go back by myself. About five minutes later, I was lost myself, by myself, when I happened upon the spot they were supposed to be. I briefly thought bout being really nice and going back to tell them, but figured they'd have more fun figuring it out for themselves.

The rest of the staff, about 6 of us, drove into town to have dinner. We ended up at Pizza Hut, because no one wanted to take the time to find a real, local restaurant, which was mostly okay by me. We ate at the buffet, and I gorged myself almost sick. I think we all did. Which is funny, because there's a pretty common consensus that camp food is shockingly not bad, just disproportianatley (I have completely lost my ability to spell since I got here!) greasy and sugary, and veggies are mostly non-existent. Afterwards we killed some time at Wal-Mart (ah, small-town life!), then came back and watched Heavyweights, starring Ben Stiller and written by Judd Apatow, because it was filmed here in 1995. The camp owns a copy of it. It was kind of cool seeing camp everywhere, but the movie wasn't much good.

Yesterday I also learned how to kayak, and was the first time I've swam since I got here. Next time I kayak I'll try to get some pics; they also put up the "high ropes" course yesterday, and I guess they're going to start putting girls up on it tomorrow. I'm going to tackle that, too, because it looks awesome. And scary.

Yesterday in the gym I found an old, dusty copy of the first McSweeney's book, so I took it. That was exciting.

Yesterday, the Stranger in Seattle ran a feature on Homo History, featuring a short paragraph or two highlighting something significant from every year since the Stonewall riots in 1969. It features writers like Edmund White, Dan Savage, Andrew Sullivan, and others. It's pretty interesting, and features history just like I like it: in bite-size morsels.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Down in the country, amongst the pines

I've been really feeling the need lately to really sit at this thing and write something, as opposed to just posting pictures. It's hard to do here, partly because I don't really have anywhere that's actually private in which to do it, and I'm very shy about anyone being able to see what I'm doing if I'm doing something like writing in this stupid blog. Matt & Angela's house is always nice for writing, but it takes away from my socializing.

Speaking of them, I had, of course, a lovely time at their place again last Saturday. Matt's parents were there as well, so I got to have dinner with all of them Saturday night before I headed back to camp. His father has recently gotten into counseling (he does the counseling; he's also an M.D.), so I talked to him for a long time about that, and about different theories and ideas. It was great; I could have talked to him all night.

Sunday evening I drove back to Asheville yet again to see my parents. They're attending a church conference in Chattanooga this week, so hopped over here to see me. On Monday we toured the Biltmore, which was fucking incredible, if a bit overstimulating. And we were there for, like, 5 hours, touring the house, touring the grounds and gardens, eating lunch, shopping. Monday night we went to downtown Asheville and walked around a bit (I still can't get over how much I love downtown Asheville, and how awesome I think it is), and went to a really cool little pizza place that Matt recommended. They just so happened to be having a little trivia game that night, so my family and I jumped in and ended up coming in second! We were very impressed with ourselves. So we won a $15 gift certificate that I'm going to give to Matt. The third place team left and didn't claim their prize, so the guy heading up the trivia came over and gave us their prize too, which was a set of 4 bar-glasses with their logo on them. They're cute. I stole one, so my parents won't have a complete set, but whatever. I wanted one.

At 6:30 Tuesday morning, we left Asheville, and my parents drove me back to camp. It was hard to come back; I still don't really feel very settled here, but once I'm actually back, it's easier. It's the coming back that's hard. Being somewhere like this sort of drives home to me how disconnected I seem to feel so much of the time from other people. Granted, almost everyone here is quite a bit younger than I am, and the people that are my age have all known each other for years. But Charlotte is great. At dinner last night I asked if anyone would have any desire whatsoever to go see Hostel 2 with me, and everyone wrinkled their noses except Charlotte, who got excited and said she would "love to." So I think we're gonna try to sneak out one of these nights and go see it. (Which isn't why I think she's great, that's just one thing that makes me happy.) A couple other people here, too, are really cool, but I don't talk with them much. My professor's niece, Annie, that's a counselor is awesome, too. She just turned 19, but acts like she's 30, and she's super sweet. Which doesn't surprise me. Unfortunately, she's leaving this Saturday for good because something came up that she has to attend to.

Some pictures Charlotte took of me and Annie when we went mountain biking together the other day:

I have no idea what I'm doing in this picture.

Anyway, things are okay. I've really been wanting to write a big entry about Flannery O'Connor lately, but I just can't seem to collect my thoughts enough to do it. But being in the mountains, in her part of the country (sort of) and reading a lot of her in one sitting is weird. She gets me thinking like few writers do. Which is why I think I'm having a hard time writing about her: I have no idea what I actually think of her. I'm interested, and her writing alternately fascinates and totally creeps me out. Anyway, more on this later.

Yesterday I stepped on a snake, but we both escaped unharmed. And then today, on the Pigeon River, I was barefoot, stepping over rocks, and almost put my foot down right on top of a snake with his head sticking out of the water. That freaked me out a little.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mills the Dog

My new best friend at camp is a silly little dog named Mills. (His mommy, Charlotte, is pretty cool too.) Everytime Mills sees me, he comes bounding up to greet me, then walks along next to me. He's also fond of crawling up into my lap and curling up, whether I'm working or just sitting on the couch or something. I love him. He's no Ruby the Dog, or Ada the Dog; I mean, they're family. But he's pretty great.
Mills the Dog relaxing on the couch.
Mills and Charlotte having a serious conversation.
They worked everything out.
Here he is, having crawled up into my lap while I was trying to work.
Charlotte doesn't know how to focus the camera.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Leave

So, I'm on leave today, once again enjoying the peace and tranquility of Matt and Angela's lovely abode. I actually have some homework I need to be doing for my internship class, which of course I'm procrastinating on. There is so much I could, and want, to say about camp...but I can't. Not until I leave. I have to use public computers there, and I know for a fact that at least one staff member has alredy found this thing. So, tight-lips until then. Not that I really want to say anything negative, because overall, I'm having a great time. But, I just feel like I shouldn't say anything.


If no one's been keeping up with the Andrew Sullivan's blogging of the opera singer guy from "Britain's Got Talent," you really should start. The first video is below, and if it doesn't at least give you chills, you're not human (though I could do without the Aerosmith garbage at the end. Just watch it; you'll know what I mean). This guy even left that wretched Simon guy speechless.

And here he is at the semi-finals:

People finally discovering their potential and being able, after years of struggling, to admit that they have something to offer, always gets me all weepy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Baby Raccoons

This morning down by the water, we found some baby raccoons. To give you an idea of how tiny they were, that is a normal step they're underneath; they were about 6 inches long. They made the cutest little purring, squeaky noises, even though it probably meant that they were terrified. I hope their mommy came back to get them. I'm gonna check on them again here in a minute.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Today I learned to shoot a .22 rifle and a bow & arrow. I enjoyed them both immensely, but I was much better and more accurate with the rifle.

A skeleton I found in the woods. I think it was a fox or something.

Tonight I was inducted into the Scarlet Tribe (as opposed to the Grey Tribe). Now I can't wear grey for the rest of my time at camp. These are pictures from my induction ceremony. It was totally spontaneous.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Even though I didn't actually get to go rafting, I got some nice pictures.

I went on the trip. But only the campers and counselors got to go in boats. I took pictures. Here are some extras (i.e., not of campers). I like North Carolina. Also, everyone here makes fun of me for always being cold. But it was 60 degrees this morning! Until, like, noon! That's winter where I come from. It only got to the 70's today.

This picture was actually an accident, but that guide was hella cute, so I saved it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I can't believe I didn't notice this when I loaded the pictures!!

Thank goodness Kurt was kind enough to point it out to me. I'll know to watch my back in the future. I guess camp is more dangerous than I thought.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Me in a Canoe

I was pushed out into the lake with no paddle, and had to use my hands to steer my way back to shore. Which I wasn't very good at doing. But I did it.

Today was the first day of camp, the day all the little girls arrived. It was exhausting, but the day has been fun. More fun than I expected. Which is good. I think once I get into the swing of things, it will be great.

Yesterday, all the male staff members had to have a meeting with the boss about what is and what is not appropriate during girls camp. Stuff like, don't ever, ever walk among the cabins. Ever. There are very clear parameters where we're supposed to be. Don't ever be alone with a camper, ever, no matter how innocently or accidentally it may be. We even went over really obvious stuff, like, don't have sex with the campers, and ways to protect ourselves so as to never be in a precarious situation. The boss talked about how a lot of the stuff, both males and females, get really depressed when girls camp ends and boys camp starts. He said he's even lost really good staff members in the past who just couldn't make the transition. It's weird. I guess they are two completely different ballgames. Frankly, I can't wait for boys camp. I'm glad it's second and not first.

I took over 100 pictures today, and we've been having a lot of problems with our picture-loading software. That's frustrating. Anyway, my new friend Charlotte (who, incidentally, pushed me out into the water on the canoe) snapped these of me. Just thought I'd share!

I really miss home, but I think it's gonna be a great summer.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Place of One's Own

The good news is that I have my own cabin and bathroom, all to myself. The bad news, at least for tonight, is that it's in a fairly remote area of the camp. Where no one is staying but me. And it's dark. And camp is mostly empty. And it's really, really creepy. But I'm very happy to have my own room. Apparently tomorrow I'll have a neighbor.

Today went well. I didn't have much to do. Everyone here today with the exception of myself all know each other, from years and years of coming here, first as campers, then as counselors. So that speaks well of the camp, I'd say. But since everyone knows each other, and they haven't seen each other in a year until today, that made for a lot of people "catching up," and me talking to no one. But that's all right. I'm sure in a week or two I'll be fitting right in.

Tomorrow all the "new" people arrive (I'm still not quite sure why they wanted me here today and not tomorrow, but no matter), then all the "old" staff on Friday, then Saturday's a "set up" day, then campers start arriving on Sunday.

Of course right now it feels really lonely, and everything is incredibly dusty, and I've already killed about 27 spiders in my cabin so they won't crawl in my mouth while I sleep, but I'm staying positive. It's always hard at first, and easy to say, "I wish I'd just stayed home this summer and worked a lot and made some extra money to carry me into next semester instead of coming here," but I hope that by the end of the summer I'll laugh at my old self for having ever thought of trading the experience for a little extra money.

I've been hanging out with the other "media" guy, the videographer. He's currently getting his MFA in Film at UNC Greenboro, and he's really nice. He's been here before, but it's been a few years, so once he got here this afternoon we kind of latched onto each other.

My phone gets a strong signal, but for some reason they want to charge me a roaming fee for using it, which is incredibly annoying. Apparently Verizon customers are the only ones who can use their phones up here. The trees here are incredibly tall.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I couldn't even tell you the last time I was awakened in the morning by being furiously licked in the face, but it certainly makes one feel welcome!

Well here I am in Asheville. It's a charm factory; I think I'm already in love. I haven't made it camp yet (that's tomorrow), but I've been hanging out with Matt and Angela, which has been totally lovely. Yesterday we went mountain biking with their dog, Ada (who incidentally, is also who licked my face awake this morning; not Matt). Ada is an Australian sheepherder dog, so it was really fun to watch her run up ahead and check everything out on the trail, then run back to the three of us and make sure we were all corralled together and heading the right way. She would run alongside the bikes for a bit, then get bored and run ahead again, then run back. Man, she had a great time. As did I.

After that, we came home and showered, and Matt and Angela gave me the official Asheville downtown tour. It's so cute, I can't stand it. We visited some galleries and thrift store/flea market type places, went to a "sustainable clothing" store with really cute stuff that also has bins in the back of irregular American Apparel shirts for super cheap, but I didn't end up buying any of them, and then a musty old used bookstore that was everything a musty old used bookstore should be. We had dinner at a really hip vegetarian restaurant where I had a spring salad with grilled tofu that was divine. There was a hippy/street urchin/gutter punk couple at the table next to us with a box of RID, and one of whom I saw actually lick the top of the sugar dispenser. I was totally grossed out and then irrationally angry about it, and then I wondered if I was going to be a Republican when I grew up.

Today Matt and Angela are both at work, so I have the house to myself. There's no air conditioning, and their windows are all open and pouring in light and cool breezes and bird songs, and their home is surrounded by trees, and it's the most tranquil I've been in forever. Ada is sleeping at my feet as I type, and I'm drinking delicious coffee. In a bit I'm going to take her for a walk. When Angela gets home I think we're going to go shopping for me to get some last minute things for camp. They have been gracious and hospitable hosts, and their home is truly lovely.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Heading Out

Dear Friends, Acquaintances and Countrymen,

The time has come for me to depart on my summer camp adventure. I have no idea what to expect, and charge headfirst into the unknown wilds of the Blue Ridge Mountain range and lots of little kids.

I have no idea how much internet time I will get there, if any, really, but please, loyal readers, don't abandon ship. I will update, but I don't know how often I'll get the chance. I know at least once a week. Who knows, maybe more.

All I request is that you wait for me while I go and seek my knowledge, wisdom and fulfillment. While I slay lions, challenge heads of state, confer with Buddha, but most importantly, while I seek Myself. I may not immediately return with answers, but someday, when I least expect it, those answers will make themselves known.

I love you all, and those that I am fortunate enough to see on a regular basis and don't already miss terribly, I will miss you terribly.

Good day, and have a happy summer.