Gentle and cruel, personal and universal — writer / novelist / artist / actor / personality Truman Capote captured the holiday season to a “T”-ruman in his “A Christmas Memory.”
A lifelong bestie of another of my beloved authors, Harper Lee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” renown, Truman grew up queer during times when that wasn’t allowed. Hell, it’s still not allowed, not really despite the two-steps-forward/one-step-back strides that humanity has been making lately.
I happened upon Truman’s “A Christmas Memory” by chance. It’s part of his book, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s: a Short Novel and Three Short Stories,” the whole volume of which is mind-blowing. His print version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is nothing less than enchanting for how it captures the heartbreaking nuances of love and friendship, particularly between a gay man and a straight woman. (Incidentally, another book I adore along those same lines is “The Object of My Affection,” by Stephen McCauley. That novel as well is much more profound in print than in the film.)
Please don’t judge “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by its movie version. It’s stunning because of Audrey Hepburn, her iconic dress by Hubert de Givenchy, and so forth — but its racism toward Asians is deplorable. Moreover, it’s nowhere near as deep as the fabulous book. Unfortunately, Truman seems to have actively prostituted his masterpiece novella to Hollywood. Why? Was it due to his tragic and increasingly alcoholic life?
The story in its p.r.i.n.t.e.d. form reminds me of how this whole pandemic situation has upended our holiday season, yet in some ways “righted” them. This year I’m extra thrilled that my dear ones are in good health. I’m happier for the smaller gestures. Living “sheltered-in-place,” I’m reminded that even though we can feel alone, we never really are.
No matter how poorly we feel and badly we are treated, one kindred face can make all the difference. Here in this vintage video, Truman doesn’t tell us this — his story enables us to feel it…
How are your holidays unique this year?
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“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.” (Believed by some to have been penned by Alain de Lille in 1175.)
Bunches writers of stacks novels borrow and twist that proverb. The way it relates to this dilemma is — have you ever returned home from a trip and waited so long to sort your photos that you no longer remember where you saw what? Worse, did a pandemic come along and toss your blog posting plans to the winds? Those, my friend, are my excuses for this post.
Do you, like me, find yourself measuring time as ‘pre-pandemic,’ ‘early pandemic,’ etc.?
Not all that very long ago, in pre-pandemic Scotland, I was pleasantly reacquainted with a couple of fellow Americans, both of them artists. Remember Cabbage Patch Kids (o-m-g!!! I just Googled them — they’re still manufactured!?)? The dolls, IMHO vomitous as they are, remind me of Duane Hanson’s art, who respect tremendously. He started as overtly political. Later he segued into depictions of sorely neglects folks and subjects, this way and this way. His life-casts here are portrayed as a couple, yet in real life they never met. Incorrigibly Floridian, they stand out in Edinburgh…
“The subject matter that I like best deals with the familiar lower and middle-class American types of today. To me, the resignation, emptiness, and loneliness of their existence capture the true reality of life.” (Artist Duane Hanson)
Rain and more rain; that’s what we got in Scotland. Wetness and all, it was marvelous! The people were kind and down-to-earth, the food was good… a welcome change from the So Cal droughts! There was so much to see that I’m forced to must split Scotland into more than one post. We’d landed in London and had fun at the British Museum here and here and here. Then we drove to Bath, then admired Avebury and a bit of Wales on the route to Stokesay Castle. Later, the Kelpies of Scotland were amazing! Scotland alone had so much wonderfulness that I’m forced to split it into more than one post!
Now this same Edinburgh gallery (or maybe it was at another place, perhaps in Glasgow?) also featured work by my fave modern artist, he of the Campbell’s soup cans and he who may or may not have said that thing about everyone getting fifteen minutes of fame, Andy Warhol…
Here’s Landform by Charles Jencks beyond rainy windows (rain-less view here) of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh…
Have you ever mixed up vacation pix? Or completely lost them? Ulp, I have… And do you, like me, find yourself measuring time as ‘pre-pandemic,’ ‘early pandemic,’ etc.?
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In high school, a classmate who was as passionate about reading as I was sat near me. Best friendship was in our stars!
Her preferred reading was historical fiction, the ancient sort with mythology and astrology mixed in. Thanks to her, I read a bunch by Mary Renault, an English author who lived much of her life in South Africa. Those books depicted lots of buff gay guys from olden days. Ironically, a) in South Africa Renault could live more peacefully than in the U.K. with her life partner who was also a woman, b) she often portrayed women harshly, and c) she criticized the gay rights movement.
My friend also introduced me to “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.” (Here’s a rare video interview with Goodman.) For me, Goodman was worthy of extra esteem as she was Aries, the same as me. When it came to Aries, all compliments were correct and unflattering attributes were incorrect. Until, that is, at some point in my so-called maturity when I tossed astrology into the same bundle as my Catholic upbringing. Both harbored too many confounding and disturbing aspects, so best not to fret about either.
Not so much later, though, a new friend entered who was into astrology. Charts, she explained, are how astrology becomes scientific. She introduced me to Angela Louise Gallo, a master at charting the stars. Gallo read and taught from her home in Van Nuys, which is just above Hollywood, hence she garnered a sizable entertainment biz crowd of followers.
Gallo’s monthly talks culminated with “hororary” readings, as in “hour-related” since those forecasts tied her psychic powers to the time of night when she would take questions. From slips of paper handed to her, she’d give quickie predictions. I’d parted ways with my parents as soon as I graduated high school with no plan other than survival. By the time I met Gallo those few years later, I’d collected myself enough to realize that I needed to do better. I asked Gallo whether I should sign up for college. She answered, “Wait a couple of semesters. Soon you’ll be taking a long trip.”
That month my grandmother sent me an airplane-paid invitation to visit her in Argentina! During childhood, my grandmothers and I exchanged many letters. They were fantastic in all the ways that mattered to me: they didn’t sugar-coat life, they wanted the best for me, and they helped foster the writer in me who will eventually publish Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat. I loved them dearly, sight unseen. The one in Spain I first met when I was nine. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got to hug my Abuela in Buenos Aires.
After that trip, I hired Gallo to do a detailed chart, yet I can’t remember anything about it, including what happened to it. These days, I’d rather not presuppose anyone based on their birthday, and I prefer to bumble along as best I can when it comes to my future.
Yet I still adore stories about astrology!
In this admittedly roundabout way, I present to you, dear reader, today’s poet/novelist guest, Nina Romano, who writes from Florida and Utah. Originally from New York, she’s a world traveler who’s earned degrees and writing awards galore, plus she’s published a slew of books.
Here she generously recounts the way that Chinese astrology figured into her The Secret Language of Women, the first of her Wayfarer Trilogy. Read to the end for an excerpt from it in addition to links for Nina and her writings.
How Chinese Horoscopes Helped Me Develop a Realistic Protagonist by Nina Romano
For The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding of the protagonist’s psyche for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is a warm and caring being, a healer, courageous and intelligent. When a person born under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change.
Loyalty and honesty are two of this horoscope sign’s characteristics. Lian falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor, and remains faithful to that love, despite the fact that she is forced into a loveless marriage. Her quest is a difficult one, but she chooses to follow her path despite menaces, oppositions, troubles, risks, and dangers. She is fierce in her love and faithful to everything she believes concerning it.
Having visited China several times afforded me unique experiences that enabled me to see in person Hong Kong, Beijing, and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and Lian’s enchanting city of Guilin. I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture, and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had an incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing during the Year of the Horse.
While writing this novel, I pictured what happens during the Chinese New Year: careful cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, Lian cooking on a wok, and serving rice to her beloved.
Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia, is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I describe a pool with carp in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that, there is little doubt.
Excerpt from The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano
The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.
My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshu represent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.
Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to
conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian.我连
Pessimistic about the world? Have you written off activism as a dead end? Think again. Thanks to the courageous efforts of one activist at a time, we’ve come a long way since the hellish first days of AIDS. Once upon a time, being HIV positive meant early death and having to endure enormous bigotry.
Have resources ready -> Again, going back to my comment about the use of technology, I would say keep some LGBT-friendly movies, newspaper articles, novels, stories of successful personalities, etc., handy. Make sure to say this to your peers and family “Take as much time as you need. Once you are ready, ask me as many questions as you want to. I can share some very helpful resources with you so you can understand more about the LGBTQ+ community.”
Be prepared for aftereffects of the storm -> Coming out can be a SHOCK for some people (who are we kidding, it’s a shock for the majority of people!!). From the person who comes out to the people whom he/she/they come out to, everyone gets affected for a variable period of time. Aftereffects can range from minor behavioral changes to crazy fights (to the point of people being thrown out of their own homes, sadly!). So here comes the con of coming out on video calling – although you aren’t physically there to face those aftereffects every single second, you might feel guilty of not being there to support your peers (or at least I was made to feel extremely guilty for not being there and making a wrong decision of using FaceTIme). Whatever, I have no regrets of how I came out to my parents, and I think it was the right time!). Even the duration of these aftereffects can vary from a few hours to days (in my case) to few months or even years (Nick’s case and most people’s case too), which brings me to my next commandment.
Be patient -> As I mentioned before, it can take up to 5-10 years (or maybe a lifetime) for your family to come to terms with your sexuality. Unfortunately, I know of some of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community whose families have not accepted them yet, despite it being >20 years. But don’t lose hope and be strong….
Be strong -> As I mentioned previously that you must be 100% comfortable with yourself before coming out to people. Being comfortable with one’s self also helps to have that courage to face the world. It is NOT an easy process (but neither is life!). When I say that be strong, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the lone warrior on the battlefield. You have tons of resources at your disposal which you MUST use – movies, music (my coming out song to inspire me was Let it go from Frozen), stories of successful people (Ellen DeGeneres, being one of my inspirations), your partner(s) 😉 , best friends, etc.
Hope for the best and have faith – Eventually, it will work out!! Don’t lose hope, think positive, and try to keep yourself occupied (especially in the immediate coming out period) to destress. Coming out is a tough step (in fact, a MILESTONE for every LGBTQ+ community member), so be PROUD of yourself and everything you have achieved.
I wish you all the very best for the next big step in life.
A bit about Rhys in his own words: Rhys: A simple guy, who was oblivious of the gay world, fell in love with the most unexpected person… Now wants to share what it feels like to be in love and the experiences of being gay….!!!
A significant character in my soon-to-be-finished novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” is an American/South Asian gay man. While researching his identity, I encountered Rys’ excellent site! Indian by birth and now working as a physician in the U.S., Rhys shares some of his wisdom with us here…
“Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys
As I had promised in my post about coming out to my parents, here are a few tips/tricks on how to come out, if you are very nervous and not able to decide what to do (as I was initially).
The answer to the big question, “how to come out?” is ………… “There is NO one way or magic trick to do it!”
Everyone is different, with different family structures, different backgrounds, and people they grew up with. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing I can tell you to guide you for your coming out process. So, here are the 10 commandments of coming out. I compiled these from mine and Nick’s experience. The list is in NO way exhaustive, but does highlight the most important points:
There is NO need to rush to come out. EVER!! The best time to come out is when you feel like you are prepared – be it 10 weeks, 10 months, or 10 years!
You have to be 100% comfortable with yourself FIRST before coming out to your family, peers, or any random Tom, Dick, or Harry (pun intended) 🙂 If you aren’t comfortable with yourself (physically, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and every way you can think of), it becomes hard to stay strong in such a stressful situation.
It’s 2019 -> Make use of technology. FaceTime, etc., aren’t the most ideal way to come out, but I have realized that having the physical distance can help in decompressing some of the tension and harsh situations, which is VERY common during coming out. I used video calling to come out to my whole family. Since I had no plans of meeting my family for an extended period of time, and I was ready to come out. So, I thought video calling was the answer. Believe me, the physical distance was super helpful, especially to decompress the situation in the first few days (but video calling has its cons as well like not being there to actually encounter the aftereffects, which might make some of us feel guilty – read further below).
Be direct -> If there is any situation in life where you don’t wanna beat around the bush, this is one of those times. The more you talk about random BS and take 30-45 mins to come to the point, your audience would have been exhausted already. (Remember, the average attention span for humans is 25-45 minutes.) I admit of being guilty at this myself too. I talk a lot (if in case you haven’t noticed yet :P), and sometimes, the main point is lost in my jargon. It took me 5 attempts (6 video calls in 3 days) to eventually gather the right words just to say it bluntly “I have a boyfriend, and I am gay!” Boom – silence follows (as if you weren’t expecting that – haha!).
Divide and conquer -> This isn’t ethically the most appropriate title, but it was REALLY helpful. When I started coming out in my med school, I came out one by one to my close friends first. Using the same technique, I first came out to my brother and sister-in-law, and 6 months later to my parents. It serves a dual purpose: not having the added stress from everyone at once and also, the people you came out to already can help others come to terms with the “shock.” My brother and sister-in-law were a HUGE support for my parents at the time when I came out to them over FaceTime.
A little about Rhys in his own words: I am a physician from the East Coast of the USA, who grew up and spent 25 years of his life in India, before moving to the west! Currently living with my boyfriend, Nick, I often post on our joint blog, which we created in 2012 when we started dating. He is also a physician, and we love to travel, are big-time foodies (absolutely love brunches!), and are happy to make new friends always!
How many lives have you lived? Valeska Réon, a German writer who often models with her adorable furry friends, takes creativity to so many levels! Read on for a hint at her fascinating multiple professional and personal personas…
* * The Multiple Lives of Author Valeska Réon * *
When I started writing back in 1997, the world of literature was not like it is today. Self-publishing wasn’t yet invented, so you first had to find a publisher before the book could see the light of day. The Internet was still in its infancy in Germany, so you had to resort to traditional marketing strategies.
In 2012, after three non-fiction books on health and beauty, I took all my courage and wrote my autobiography, “Flowers for a Chameleon.” What happened next — I hadn’t expected that! Perhaps I should tell you that I was not born a woman, but had already worked as a model in Paris before the sex reassignment surgery. Always I was careful that nobody learned of my secret. 1985 was another time, and models like Andrej(a) Pejic and Lea T. did not exist. The reactions to my book were overwhelming, it sold very well, and a filmmaker contacted me to film it (shooting starts in 2020).
But above all, I became aware of one thing – as an author, you market yourself best when you are authentic. Due to my life story, I was suddenly in the focus of the German LBGT community, which I first had to deal with. Countless letters from my readers all had the same core message: “Thank you for giving us such courage with your book!”
Today #beyoubetrue is my favorite hashtag, and I use it not only on Instagram but also on my author portraits.
After that, I changed my genre to now writing thrillers – and that’s when I had a new marketing idea. In my book, “Double Sacrifice,” the song, “J’aime tellement,” plays such an essential role that once I wrote the lyrics, I then found a singer/composer to set them to music. Finally, it was remixed and is now available for download –- a great compliment to the book.
My new thriller, “Walking on Sand,” is currently being rewritten into a stage play that will premiere in Düsseldorf, December 2019. Another autobiographical story, this one is about the transsexual children’s book author Lea. After many years, she returns to her hometown to avenge the terrible things her classmates did to her. The children’s book mentioned within it, “Charlotte Inside,” is taken out of the crime plot and made into a book of its own. It is the first children‘s book ever to tell young readers about therapy with the inner child.
My greatest wish is for “Charlotte Inside” to appear internationally so it can bring joy and courage to children everywhere.
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I admit it. I’m a terrible friend to you. I’m sharing the following sample of London-based blogger Jean-Paul so that you’ll be snared like I am. Experience the same one-two-punch love-hate I have with his site. #1) I love that he’s so talented!!! (though I am jealous!), and #2) I hate that every time I visit, I can’t resist spending way more time there than I plan for — even his friends who comment are clever!! Read on, my forewarned friend…
“Who are you calling stupid?” by Jean-Paul
When it comes to math, I’ll admit I’m a complete dummy. At school, I understood a lot, but arithmetic? It was all mental to me. My husband, on the other hand, has a brain like a push button calculator.
“You’re not stupid,” said Guido after dinner last night, “you just need some math practice with imagination. I have an idea,” he said, “sit back right this second and imagine yourself in a farmyard.”
As you can see, we really do need to get out more.
This was worrying. I had a sneaking feeling I was going to be asked to talk algebra to a chicken. I’ve only ever visited a farm once in my entire life, and I seem to recall a pungent odour. It was strong enough to make me squeeze my nostrils all day long.
“Okay,” I said involuntarily pinching my nose, “what’s next?”
There was a pause.
“What are you doing?” Guido asked, eyebrow raised.
“I just think it’s important that I embrace this part of the exercise before we move on to any complex multiplications or differential equations. Though I’ll admit, I’m becoming anxious about whether I should go put on rubber boots?”
Take it from me, this was a totally bona fide concern. If you’ve ever walked around a farmyard, then you’ll know there are some big brown stinky things you really don’t want to stand in. Did I mention the flies?
“Don’t worry about that. This is the cleanest farm ever.”
This was reassuring, but I held onto my nostrils just in case of an unexpected whiff of ammonia. I couldn’t see any flies though. Which was even more re-assuring on account of my limited one arm swatting abilities.
“Now imagine there are 13 animal heads and 40 legs in front of you,” said Guido.
One moment I’m in a loft apartment eating a perfectly adequate mid-week lasagna and the next I’ve suddenly been put out to pasture herding a bunch of unidentifiable livestock. As you can tell, I like to take my visualisation pretty seriously. Which is more than I can say about the math. I mean, where was the straw?
“Now tell me,” said Guido, “how many sheep and how many ducks can you count?”
I closed my eyes. I could actually see the sheep just standing there staring at me. They seemed pretty friendly with only the occasional baa. The ducks, on the other hand, were all over the place quack quack quacking and waving their wings about. Anyone would think they’d just been told the hunting season had started.
There was another short pause.
“Well?” asked Guido.
“Hang on,” I said, “I’ve counted the sheep, but the ducks are proving problematic. Have you got any stale bread I could feed them?”
It was, I think, at that point, Guido began to understand the challenges my teachers had all those years ago.
“Hmm, I think we’ll leave this lesson for now,” said Guido wisely pouring me a glass of wine.
Back from the country, safely at our kitchen table, I let go of my nose. In the end, I couldn’t teach Guido that much about the sheep but what I did tell him was if something walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it’s usually a duck. And there’s nothing stupid about that.
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Most of the week, fellow blogger Roijoyeux blogs on heroic people bullied for being gay or bisexual. Sundays he reserves to torture us with photos and recipes from his latest mouthwatering healthy/delicious yummy. Another awesomeness about his site is that if you don’t read French, he’s installed a google translate widget…
Pour mon cher ami Tauche et son mari, je réalise presque chaque semaine des gâteaux à la fois sains et gourmands et j’ai décidé de vous faire profiter, joyeux visiteurs, de mes plus belles réussites…
Cette semaine, j’ai eu envie de tester la recette de muffins aux pépites de chocolat inscrite au dos des paquets de pépites de chocolat “Vahiné”, en l’adaptant pour mes amis; Tauche souhaitait un gâteau à la banane, il me restait un sachet de noisettes en poudre, voici donc les :
Ingrédients : (pour 9 muffins de diamètre 6 cm)
125 g de farine de riz + 50 g de farine de sarrasin + 75 g de poudre de noisettes (au lieu de 250 g de farine)
1/2 c à c bicarbonate (au lieu de 1 sachet de levure chimique)