The week-long media frenzy over the unexpected demise of Whitney Houston continues today with her funeral in Newark, NJ. While I am generally saddened by news of anyone’s untimely passing, this time, uncharacteristically, I seem to be completely unaffected. Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson. Perhaps I’m still in mourning for all the unfortunate celebrities who preceded Whitney Houston in death, or maybe I’ve just got a problem these days, at age 68, with all obituaries and memorial services.
Listen to Paul’s interview.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players… One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. And then the whining school-boy… the lover, sighing… a soldier, full of strange oaths… the justice, in fair round belly… The sixth age shifts into… the pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side… Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Although I’m calling this website “a personal memoir in flux,” it is also my hope that the various sections will be of interest to people, whether they know me or not. “Out on a Lim” shares short observations on day-to-day life. “Limerances” chronicles longer remembrances of things past. “Limoscenes” presents descriptions of the plays I’ve written to date, with production photos. “Images in Limbo” shows pictures of the aging process, of me with family and friends. “Limpets” are the non-human dogs in my life, and “Limitations” are tributes to people who are no longer with us. So here I am, past imperfect, present progressive, future tense. Let me know what you think. — Paul
In her New York Times column today, Maureen Dowd speculates on Callista’s silent adoration of her Newt: “There’s always a chance, of course, that Callista is not staring so intently at Newt to make him feel more Napoleonlic. Maybe she just doesn’t want to let him out of her sight (because) when a man marries his mistress, he creates a job opening.”
Ostensibly because the end-of-the-year holidays starting with Thanksgiving are traditionally stressful times for families trying their best not to be quarrelsome or dysfunctional, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 17-23 “A Week of Reconciliation.” He’s urging “all Kansans to contact and attempt to reconcile with anyone with whom they are estranged by harsh feelings or anger” because, “when past wrongs are admitted and reconciliation is sought, a stronger relationship can be forged for the future.”
This is all quite admirable, so I expect the good governor, who is one of the most unforgiving Republican anti-abortion advocates in the country, to reach out now to all his liberal freedom-loving Democrat pro-choice constituents in Kansas who would like to talk turkey with him if he can only take his mind off all those “buns in the oven.”
(This is the first in a series of entries about visiting writers I’ve encountered at the University of Kansas back in the 1970s, when I was working on my M.A. in English, and was still quite undecided about what to do with the rest of my life, whether to pursue an uncertain future as a writer, or maybe a more traditional career as a teacher engaged in academic research and scholarship.)
Although I had read a great many science fiction novels when I was still in high school in Manila, I did not encounter the work of James Gunn until years later, when I was a student in the English Department at the University of Kansas, where Gunn was actually one of two faculty members who taught creative writing (the other one was Edgar Wolfe). I quickly read most of Gunn’s books, which he preferred to call “speculative fiction” instead of “science fiction.” And, to this day, one of my favorite novels is Kampus, his Kafkaesque novel about what campus unrest would be like in the near future, a novel which I also taught regularly in a class about depictions of life in academia, alongside other, more canonical works like Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Beneath the Wheel by Hermann Hesse, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, Changing Places by David Lodge, etc.
Living amongst many colleagues who were Doubting Thomases, disdainful of anything which smacked of genre writing, in which science fiction was held with the same disregard as historical romances, James Gunn tried his best to bring some respect and legitimacy to the world of speculative fiction. To that end, he brought to the campus some of the hot, young writers who were making names for themselves not just in books, but in the movies as well.
One of the hot, young writers Gunn brought to KU was Harlan Ellison, whose apocalyptic short story “A Boy and His Dog” had just been made into a movie, an underground hit, a cult favorite among the hip and the restless. I was lucky to get a seat in the classroom where Ellison was giving a lecture. When he strode into the room energetically, for some reason I thought he looked like a younger Groucho Marx, minus the hat, the glasses, the moustache, the cigar. Maybe it was just his grin, the gleam in his eye, the promise of unpredictability.
Actually, I don’t remember much about what Harlan Ellison said that day, in the formal part of his presentation. What I remember is what happened afterwards, during the Q&A, when one of undergraduate creative writing majors raised his hand and asked the inevitable question, “Mr. Ellison, can you give us some advice on how to get our stories published?”
“That’s simple,” Ellison smiled. “Where would you like to get published?”
“I don’t know,” the acolyte fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. “Maybe Playboy…or Esquire…or The New Yorker.”
“Well, it makes no difference where you want to get published,” Ellison grinned. “All you need to do is go buy some recent issues of your magazine of choice, read all the stories that are published in them, then sit down and write one just like them.”
“Are you serious?”
“It’s the same editor who has been deciding what stories to publish in the magazine.. Those are the kind of stories he likes. So sit down and write one just like the ones he likes, and chances are he’ll like yours, too. That’s how you’ll get published, sonny.”
“B-b-b-but…isn’t that like…selling out?”
“You didn’t ask me about artistic integrity,” he grinned again, his eyes gleaming. “You asked me for advice on how to get your story published.”
There was dead silence in the room. The students felt betrayed. Now they have to look elsewhere for another Moses to lead them out of the wilderness of creative writing classes. To this day, one hears the same arguments being tossed around by MFA students—Isn’t this writer too commercial? Hasn’t that writer sold out? Aren’t we all just better off writing things which we can admire and discuss endlessly in our workshops, never mind if our stories never get published in any magazine anyone recognizes?
But, back to Harlan Ellison. I thought it then, and I think it now. He told it like it is, and for that I admire him. He’s been laughing all the way to the bank, right from the very beginning, when he was writing for such TV shows as The Loretta Young Show, Ripcord, Burke’s Law, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Outer Limits, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek, The Flying Nun, etc. And now, it’s my understanding that, after nearly four decades of being an underground cult favorite, A Boy and His Dog is finally going big-time. It’s in pre-production, being remade as an animated feature, due out in major theaters in 2012.
Quite fortuitously, James Gunn is also still around. Although he retired many years ago, Gunn still shows up daily in his English Department office in Wescoe Hall at the University of Kansas, as hale and hearty as one can expect for a gentleman his age. Maybe it’s time Gunn invites Harlan Ellison back for another campus visit, once more to share his craft and craftiness with our MFA students.
In downtown Lawrence yesterday, a woman dressed as a condom was promoting the virtues of having pets spayed or neutered. She was carrying a sign which said: “Condoms won’t work. Fix your cat!” This rendered me speechless, reducing me to near catatonia. I had no idea that feline lovers were gratifying themselves so furtively.
In related news, last night the mayor of the capital city of Topeka also repealed the city’s domestic abuse law, a move designed to ensure the city wouldn’t be stuck with the bill for prosecuting such cases. What’s a cat to do in Kansas?
Every week, I am pleasantly surprised and filled with inexplicable nostalgia when FACEBOOK sends me a message reminding me of upcoming birthdays of friends, many of whom I haven’t seen or heard from in years. Usually, because it costs nothing to do it, I send these aging friends an e-greeting of one sort or another; and I don’t really expect them to respond because, even though these e-greetings are often fun and clever, they also seem like a lazy way to maintain friendships which now mostly belong in the past.
But, occasionally, FACEBOOK reminds me of birthdays of friends who are still near and dear to me, even though I don’t see them as often as I should or would like to. For these friends, I do go out of my way to do something special. Most recently, to someone who has worked closely with me in theatre, at a surprise party being thrown for his 40th birthday, I contributed 40 specialty cupcakes, and also gifted him with all three seasons of BREAKING BAD. Before that, to another friend and colleague in theatre whom I’ve known since 1975, whose wit and wisdom I continue to admire, I surprised him with a bottle of imported Scotch whiskey costing nearly $150, and also took him out to a nice Japanese lunch in Kansas City.
I could list more, but the point I’m trying to make is this—in none of these occasions, when I had gone out of my way to do something special for a friend’s birthday, did I get a follow-up “Thank You” by way of a phone call, a note, or even just an e-mail. So, if our friends and neighbors just don’t do it anymore, why should we expect our elected leaders, the contentious Republicans and Democrats in Congress, to even be civil to one another?
Okay, I admit that I continue to look at the incoming FACEBOOK messages about friends with upcoming birthdays, even though I now also delete them almost immediately. I don’t feel badly about this, because I do not want to feel worse later, about feeling badly that I haven’t been thanked properly for having gone out of my way to buy expensive gifts for these once and future friends, my friends without benefits.
I wonder if it’s significant that, even when I was young, one of my favorite songs was “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. I still remember some of the lyrics—
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
I also wonder if Paul Simon ever misses Art Garfunkel. Are they “friends” on FACEBOOK? Do they need FACEBOOK to send them reminders of each other’s birthdays, or have they committed the dates to memory? Do they give each other gifts, send each other cards via snail-mail, perhaps even just short notes via e-mail? Can they bear to listen to “The Sound of Silence” now?
Okay, okay. I confess. I’m lying. I’m eagerly anticipating the next FACEBOOK reminder about which friend is having another birthday…and the next one…and the next one. And now, not just for birthdays either. I wish there were some way FACEBOOK could also alert us regularly about friends who’ve been sick, at home or in the hospital…friends who’ve lost loved ones, including pets…friends who’ve lost their jobs or their homes…friends who need friends.
Anita Perry, wife of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is now telling the whole world that “the other night was not his best performance,” that “a 30-second rebuttal doesn’t give you much time,” and that “he is only going to get better.” While some people might think it is fine for a wife to endorse her husband’s performance in this manner, others might argue that privileged information like this should best be confined to the bedroom.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole is the first Kansan to be singled out for the new Kansas Walk of Honor. Ceremonies on Friday in Topeka will include the unveiling of a bronze plaque at the southeast corner of the Kansas Statehouse lawn. According to an editorial in The Lawrence Journal-World, “Plans call for the state to add up to three plaques a year to the Walk of Honor, which is intended to recognize people with significant connections to Kansas who have made notable contributions at the state and national level.”
So, now that we have this wonderful Kansas Walk of Honor, how about establishing a parallel Kansas Walk of Shame? Alongside those bronze plaques at the southeast corner of the Kansas Statehouse lawn, how about putting up some cheap miniature plastic fire hydrants for dogs to pay homage to those Kansans who have brought us nothing but ridicule and shame? My first nominee for a hellfire-red hydrant is, of course, our very own Pastor of Hate, the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka’s Westboro Church.
Who’s your nominee?
I just watched GLEE’s entire second season. I continue to like the way the writers of the show tackle all the important issues of our day by showing us what goes on in the lives of its high-school characters as they sing and dance their way through their day-to-day problems, including how many of them are dealing with their sexuality—how Kurt and Blaine are both out-of-the-closet and are now a happy couple; how Santana and Brittany are still going through a lot of angst while struggling with their secret lesbian relationship; and how Karofsky, the hateful homophobic football-playing bully, is himself actually gay, having forced himself on Kurt sometime ago by kissing him in the locker room, and who now lives in fear of Kurt not keeping his lips sealed.
Given GLEE’s seeming advocacy of topical gay and lesbian issues, I am greatly puzzled by the song which Rachel sings in the episode about whether or not she should improve her looks by submitting to plastic surgery after her nose is accidentally punched and broken by her boyfriend Finn. For those who don’t watch GLEE and don’t know, Rachel is Jewish. She admires Barbra Streisand for not getting her nose fixed. She herself has never thought about getting the procedure done, until now, when the plastic surgeon tells her that he can make her look more like Quinn, the school’s reigning cheerleading Aryan blond beauty queen.
In the end, Rachel does the right thing and decides to keep her schnoz. She starts to sing “I Feel Pretty,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song which the Asian-American Nancy Kwan sang so fetchingly in the movie adaptation of FLOWER DRUM SONG. The lyrics to the song are fairly well-known: “I feel pretty/Oh so pretty/I feel pretty and witty and gay…” But when Rachel sings the song, she changes the lyrics to: “I feel pretty/Oh so pretty/I feel pretty and witty and bright…”
So what’s going on here? Is the heterosexual Rachel afraid to use the word “gay” for fear that her peers might not know that the word also means merry and happy? And since when did gay become synonymous with bright anyway? Or is this Rachel’s way of admitting how dumb she is for not singing the song the way it was written? In any case, did the writers and producers of GLEE clear this word revision with the Rogers and Hammerstein estate?
Last night, at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, GLEE won none of the awards, and MODERN FAMILY won five, including the Best Comedy Award, which it also won last year. I used to like both GLEE and MODERN FAMILY equally; but now, if I have to decide which of the two shows is braver in its depiction of gay and interracial issues in America today, like the Emmy judges, I too would have to go with MODERN FAMILY.
For me, GLEE lost some of its luster when it substituted the word “bright” for “gay.” And, for all her gay agenda last night as host of the Emmy Awards, I thought the GLEE-ful Jane Lynch should have just worn her usual Sue Sylvester polyester gym sweats for the show, instead of all those ugly gowns which made her look like Ichabod Crane in drag. Not a bright choice for someone’s who’s gay. That’s how Sue would have called it.
Kansas First Lady Mary Brownback says it’s important to promote literacy. “If you can’t read, it’s awfully hard to get a job, and you can’t develop to your full potential,” she opined wisely in an interview which appears in today’s Lawrence Journal-World.
And so the governor’s wife is launching the Kansas Book Festival, an annual event which will open next Saturday at the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka. In attendance will be more than 30 writers from Kansas or who have strong Kansas connections.
It isn’t clear who’s going to pay for all this. According to the Journal-World, Mrs. Brownback established the festival as a nonprofit organization, with the goal of it becoming a self-sufficient organization within a few years. She believes it will also enable the organization to give out grants to school and public libraries around the state.
And what does her husband think of all this? That isn’t clear either, but here’s a quick look at how Kansas Governor Sam Brownback voted in Congress on various matters with regard to education.
Gov. Brownback voted NO on spending $338B of tax cut on education & debt reduction (4 April 2001).
Gov. Brownback voted NO on funding smaller classes instead of private tutors (15 May 2001).
Gov. Brownback voted NO on shifting $11B from corporate tax loopholes to education (17 March 2005).
Gov. Brownback voted NO on $5B for grants to local educational agencies (26 October 2005).
Gov. Brownback voted NO on $52M for “21st century community learning centers (27 October 2005).
Gov. Brownback voted NO on additional $10.2B for federal education & HHS projects (23 October 2006).
Gov. Brownback voted NO on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (27 September 2007).
And, of course, Gov. Brownback does not believe in evolution, nor in global warming.
I think Mary Brownback has her job cut out for her. If she wants the Kansas Book Festival to be properly funded, she’ll need Sam’s support. She needs to get him to read her lips. To that end, she should herself begin by reading Lysistrata, the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, which shows women how best to get their husbands to give them what they want, by getting off their backs.
Good luck, and good night.