201/ Bel Canto

There was a regular education to be had from eavesdropping. So much of what was learned was accidentally overheard, just half a sentence caught when walking through the door.

On the surface, Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” reads like a silly romanticization of terrorism. I’m hard put imagining the al-Qaeda being so moved by little Cesar’s angelic rendition of Vissi D’arte, vissi d’amore, non feci mai that they change their mind about collapsing the World Trade Center. Nor do I see the ISIS getting tearfully remorseful about beheading their captives after hearing Roxanne Coss render a heavenly number of Nessun dorma.

But who knows? Terrorists are still human beings. They must still have emotion. Surely they feel they hurt they love—just like all the rest of us tree-hugging mortals.

I don’t get how they think, how it seems easy for them to kill—and not just kill, but kill in numbers, in a sadistic way, with pride and conviction. But opera might just be the way to get to them, to make them respect humanity again, to be kind to another breathing soul. Numbers lust power aside, I think music is one other language that man of any color sex belief understands and speaks by heart.

Meanwhile, on a totally unrelated note, here’s a thought from “Bel Canto” that I hope will give our Overbearing Binay an accurate and truthful perspective of where he stands in our political landscape: “Vice presidents were merely calling cards, things sent in lieu of things desired. They were replaceable, exchangeable. No war was fought or won over the inspiring words of a vice president….”

200/ Cat’s Eye

Hatred would have been easier. With hatred, I would have known what to do. Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love.

Of Margaret Atwood: she leads you inside her own world, allows you to get lost in it, gives you the best time of your life; then you step out and you don’t know how to feel about the whole ride. All you know is that you feel good. Or heavy, soppy even, but in a cathartic way.

It’s how I feel about “Cat’s Eye”. I find it beautiful, in a way that it makes me dig up my ugly pathetic sad past. I keep thinking about my own Cordelia. Who was it I followed around unthinkingly, like a poodle to his master? Who was it I both adored and abhorred? That closest friend who was also my most feared and hated enemy?

I realize I did not have just one Cordelia, but several Cordelias. In grade school, in high school, at the seminary, in law school, at the work places—there’s always that someone I admire and detest, love and fear, that Cordelia I am drawn to but at the same time can’t wait to get away from. That Cordelia that gives me an electric violent much-needed jolt to shake me out of complacency and mediocrity.

That Cordelia I can’t quite explain.

199/ Author, Author

Consciousness is my religion, human consciousness. Refining it, intensifying it—and preserving it.

“Author, Author” is a complete surprise, at least for me who has always thought Henry James is the definition of cool composure faultlessness. But David Lodge uncovers an HJ who I just don’t recognize, not one bit—an artist who is insecure devious bitter resentful glum. A failed playwright.

HJ was just mean to his biggest fan, Constance Fenimore Woolson—who, I suspect, he regarded as mediocre. He was condescending to his dearest friend, George Du Maurier—whose manuscripts he, I think, intentionally did not thoroughly review. He was sanctimonious about Oscar Wilde—who, I believe, he found trashy.

This observation about HJ is so spot on: “It was his misfortune to consort with, and often befriend, writers far more popular than himself whose success only aggravated his own sense of failure, but time has rectified the balance….[Henry James] contributed one word to the English language…but it’s one to be proud of: ‘Jamesian’.”

Yes, time has been kind, very very very kind, to Henry James. His works are now the standards against which contemporary writings are measured and weighed and considered. He proves to be the Master that Fenimore and Du Maurier, perhaps Edith Wharton and Oscar Wilde even, rightfully considered him to be. Time has avenged him, mightily avenged him.

198/ Stories I Only Tell My Friends

The effect famous people can have on other people’s lives is not to be underestimated. They can inspire us with their talent; make us feel like kings with their kindness, with a hello, a handshake, or an autograph. They seem like creatures from another race with supernatural abilities.

One look at Rob Lowe and, right away, one sees a charmer and a winner. But it’s commendably not enough to just look at the guy, his perfect hair and all. One must also read him. Because “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” reveals a pretty face taking the form and shape of wit, humor, naiveté, and sarcasm.

His little anecdotes about Hollywood are amusing and disturbing. There’s his first encounter with Martin Sheen leaping at him from a bush dressed in army fatigues from head to toe and wielding a gigantic baseball bat. There’s the parvenu Tom Cruise alarmed by the suggestion that he has to share rooms with a co-star. There’s Matt Dillon from whom he learned how to pick up a girl with just a smirk and a wink. And then there’s Francis Ford Coppola for whom he willingly shed blood sweat tears for a role in The Outsiders.

Hollywood made and broke Rob Lowe, brought him fame and shame, gave him stardom and doom—a thousand times, in an almost repetitive vicious pattern. The Brat Pack made him a superstar, but in one blink, a Sex Tape Scandal turned him into an instant pariah.

Yes, pretty boys have bad hair days too. But they bounce back, their perfect hair just as fluffy and bouncy.

197/ Androphilia: A Manifesto

Men should be defined by what they do, not who they screw.

In a landmark decision issued on 26 June 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the validity and legality of same-sex marriage in all American States with these poetic words from the ponencia (which reads almost like a love letter) of Justice Anthony Kennedy: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” (Obergefell v. Hodges)

Quite expectedly, not everyone’s happy. Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion, characterized the Supreme Court decision as “a threat to American democracy” and a “judicial Putsch”.

Jack Malebranche will probably agree with Justice Scalia. He does not believe in same-sex marriage, just because it’s a gay thing.

Malebranche insists he’s not gay. He’s just a man, a regular guy if you will, who happens to love fucking another man. He’s not gay because, according to him, the word gay connotes effeminacy, weakness, incompleteness. And he maintains that there’s nothing effeminate weak incomplete about him. He’s masculine. All man. An androphile.

Malebranche does make valid observations. Such as this: “The idea that same-sex oriented men are not true men is perhaps the most deeply ingrained and most limiting prejudice they face.”

But his arguments suck, straddling naiveté and bigotry. Such as this: “If a man chooses the masculine path, his innate maleness is nurtured; he develops a masculine character. By choosing the gay path, he never fully develops into a man.”

Put simply, according to Malebranche: androphiles are superior, gays inferior.

Malebranche has all the right to classify himself as an androphile, if he and his ilk believe that’s what masculine men who screw masculine men should be called. But really there’s no need to put women and effeminates down to point out that masculine men are responsible self-reliant independent. Why make these values exclusive to masculine men? Effeminates and gays and women can be just as responsible self-reliant morally strong independent as masculines, or for that matter, as anybody else.

If Malebranche wants to fuck masculine men and keep his masculinity unchallenged, by all means he can go ahead. But he doesn’t have to be so self-righteous about it. His binary opposition between masculinity and effeminacy only makes his “Androphilia: A Manifesto” nothing more than a platform for a little girl who wants to whine a lot.

196/ The Sandman Endless Nights

If you have nothing left to want, then you just wait until there’s nothing left to wait for, don’t you?

“The Sandman Endless Nights” is like an art museum: right off the door, the visitor is treated to a masterpiece, then to another masterpiece, and on to yet another masterpiece. Every frame is perfection. It’s a parade of endless beauty.

Neil Gaiman tells the stories of the seven Endless, each with dry humor, odd insight, and offbeat twist. Each a compelling read. Delirium fucks the mind with this: “I have heard the languages of apocalypse, and now I shall embrace the silence” as a rainbow arches out (or in?) of a window.

And what makes every Endless a very special read are the artworks of P. Craig Russel for Death, Milo Manara for Desire, Miguelanxo Prado for Dream, Barron Storey for Despair (I want to frame every one of the fifteen portraits and hang them in my flat), Bill Sienkiewicz for Delirium, Glenn Fabry for Destruction and Frank Quitely for Destiny.

195/ A Perfect Peace

Time devours all. And yet all the while human wisdom goes on trying to distinguish the good from the bad, the true from the false though it too must crumble before the onslaught, which grinds to smithereens the good, bad, right, wrong, beautiful, ugly labels that we seek to pin on things.

It’s unsettling how Amos Oz’s “A Perfect Peace” resonates well with my seminary life. I hear Yonatan’s thoughts exactly the way I think or would think them.

When Yonatan decides to leave his wife and the kibbutz in which he had been born and raised, I remember Claret. I remember wanting to leave to start a new life. Yonatan does not want any more impositions on what is right and what is wrong. I didn’t want any more of the unbending structures on which our community ran.

Yonatan wants to be free, be able to do what he wants. I wanted to work, earn, and be whatever I wanted to be. He does not want to have any thing more to do with his family, his friends, his Rimona. I did not want to hear any more masses, say the rosaries and the vespers, clean eat study sleep with my brothers.

So Yonatan left. I left. Just like that.