Archive for February, 2012

Leni who? Oh, that one. Eeek!

by Justine Saracen

When I was asked at a talk last year about my work in progress and I replied, “a thriller / love story set around the world of Leni Riefenstahl,” I got two reactions. One, mostly from the under-forty audience, was a complete blank. Evidently, the younger generation does not dwell on the tumults of the 1940s. The other, from the older women with longer memories, was a squint of consternation. Then afterwards, I heard it in words.

“What?! Leni Riefenstahl? That Nazi bitch!”

Leni

Poor Leni. Brilliantly talented, she created the most powerful propaganda documentary of the 20th century, but alas, it was for Adolf Hitler.

Oops.

For my novel Tyger Tyger, Burning Bright, set in Nazi Germany, I read Riefenstahl’s autobiography in her rather elegant German. I expected to find her despicable, but she was not. In fact, she was awesome. Narcissistic, too, but how could she not be. Slender and pretty, she started as a dancer, then in the 1920s discovered the infant film industry. In short order, she reinvented herself as an actress. She made mountain climbing movies before the era of the ‘stunt double’ and climbed her own icy cliffs and pinnacles and slid off her own icebergs. By her own report, she allowed herself to be covered by a small avalanche, merely for a good bit of film footage, and it nearly killed her. Audacity was equaled only by her vanity, and both drove her to success in the Berlin film community.

But what she is both remembered and condemned for is her work on the other side of the camera. With little directorial experience, but an instinct for the visually dramatic, she created two of what the cinematic world uniformly acknowledges as masterpieces.

In Triumph of the Will and later Olympiad she astonished the world with new photo angles, distance shots, mobile cameras, ingenious juxtapositions, and an overall compelling vision. She filmed marching troops as if choreographed in geometrical patterns, Hitler’s plane emerging from clouds and casting a shadow ‘blessing’ over the streets of Nuremburg, red party flags flowing like a river of blood onto a field, the Führer himself with sunlight radiating from his face and hands. In Olympiad, she presented fencers as dancing shadows, long distance runners filming their own feet, high divers swooping like dive bombers — all with manual-wind cameras and 1930s technology. Her talent and genius were recognized internationally, but her time of glory lasted only as long as Hitler’s did. After the war, her friendship with Hitler and her complete silence about the crimes of the Nazi state established her as heartless and ruined her professionally.

Can one iconize someone who is so morally compromised? The answer, I think, is yes-no-maybe. Before we condemn her, we must look at the moral compromises that our own current media – and its consumers — have made. If Riefenstahl was morally indifferent, so are millions of us, to the illegality of US drone missile assassinations, to two wars of aggression, to children starving in Africa, to the near enslavement of people who make our designer clothing and laptops, to waterboarding, to the suffering of the animals we eat.

I do condemn Riefenstahl, the ‘friend of Hitler.’ Most certainly. But I also admit to an extreme fascination with her. For starters, you have to admire the sheer stamina of the woman. Tainted by her association with fascism and unable to work in the industry after the war, she went all on her own – in her sixties – to live with and film the Nuba in Africa.

Leni

Then, at the age of seventy(!), she learned how to scuba dive and started a fourth career as an underwater photographer. With the help of a young male assistant, she was scuba diving into her 90s and was active artistically until her death at the age of 101 (after partying with Siegfried and Roy and their white tigers).

Rest assured, I would never make her the heroine of my novel. She was brilliant but she was not sexy. For all her creativity and genius, she was too tainted by association with an evil that had no glamor. Her appeal is that she makes an excellent foil for those who do resist, and resistance is very sexy.

A few resisted unequivocally; Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, students in the White Rose organization, partisans in the east, German anti-fascists, and the spies of foreign intelligence.  My novel, in fact, is dedicated to three such women spies who died horribly in concentration camps.

In contrast, my novel’s heroines (and its heroes) are not so morally pure. These are Katja Sommer, a “good German” who late in the game discovers honor in treason; Frederica Brandt, active in the highest circles of power; Rudi Lamm, homosexual camp survivor and forced SS killer; and Peter Arnhelm, a half- Jewish terrorist.

I trust my readers will be nuanced in their judgment of them and, for that matter, of Leni Riefenstahl too, for who of us, without benefit of hindsight, could resist such temptation. None of us are media stars, and none of us have been offered the chance to have instant fame by signing on with the Pentagon, so we don’t know.

As a fiction writing media mouse, I hope I will be forgiven for my fascination with Leni, and my envy of her talent. I know for sure I would not sell my soul to a malevolent political party (though millions of Americans apparently have). But I do want to wield a virtual pen the way she wielded a camera and create vivid and compelling works that will last in people’s memory. I want to have a third and fourth career when the first two peter out, and be able to afford a facelift when I am seventy. I want to be scuba diving at the age of ninety, and still look good in a wet suit. I want to party with lions and tigers.

Is that too much to ask?

My Problem with Jury Duty

Originally published by The Huffington Post February 16, 2012. Reprinted by permission from the author

by Felice Picano

I was recently called to jury duty at a Federal Court in Los Angeles. Because it is a Federal Court for the Southern California District, I would have had to go to downtown Los Angeles to serve — a distance of over ten miles. As I was without a car at the time, that would have required me getting up very early – I was expected to report at 7.45 am—and traveling in the dark by two busses and a subway. I’ve attended jury selection before in my area, and because there is a State Court in downtown Beverly Hills, a short distance from where I live, easily walked to from where I live, this had never been a problem before. However that would not be a solution this time.

As the weeks toward my proposed service neared, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed. I could, if needed, solve that car problem. I could even bear to take that public transportation and since I’m a senior, complain about the four hour travel time if I was selected and see what happened.

So no, that wasn’t the problem. That wasn’t what was getting me riled up. But something was, and every time I thought about it, I became angrier and angrier. This was very much unlike me: I’m an easy going guy; perhaps too much so for my own good. So what was going on?

Then I happened to read an op-ed piece in the LA. Times. It was about Global Warming, but it began with the writer speaking about her stint at jury duty and how simple that had been because, unlike the many complexities of Global Warming, she and the other jurors had been given a clear cut rule on what the law was they would have to apply to their case by a judge.

That’s when I realized what had been bugging me.

If I were put on a jury I would, like her, be sworn to uphold the law.

This sounds really quite simple, and judges do in fact go out of their way to simplify those laws pretty precisely when a case is to be decided. I know, because. I’ve served on juries before: both criminal and civil ones.

But now that was exactly the problem.

Because I could no longer swear that I would uphold the law. In fact, I couldn’t swear that I believed in the law: or in the American legal system.

This clearly was a problem: I could be faced with being asked to be sworn in, and what, refusing? Being held in contempt?

How has this come about?

Very simply put it’s come about because I’m a gay man and I have been an out gay man since the age of 22: that means since the year 1966. In whatever state, city, or borough across the United States that I have lived in, until the year 2003 and the Supreme Court Decision on Lawrence vs. Texas, I have been a criminal.

Often doubly and triply criminal, by the nature of my everyday contacts with other gay men i.e. other criminals, and by the nature of my relationships with other criminals, i.e. I’ve been sexually criminal. In most places in this country during those thirty-seven years, I could be arrested and successfully prosecuted for having sex with another man in the privacy of my own or his home. In some states I could be jailed for up to twenty years for what I did in private, In some places I could be put to hard labor and in others even executed.

I was a criminal. Got it? I was a criminal for most of my adult life.

Is it so far fetched to think I could have lost my life for being an open gay man? Many men faced exactly that during those thirty-seven years: murdered in their homes, beaten to death in public places, killed while incarcerated from untreated disease or by getting on some other criminal’s bad side. In most of those cases, the deaths of gay men were treated as though they were criminal’s deaths. I.e. seldom was someone brought to justice for their deaths. After all, they, we, were criminals.

And that is the legal system I was being asked to uphold?

Forget about it!

But wait, you say, those are state laws. What about this Federal court I was being asked to serve on? That had nothing to do with it. Or if so, little, right?

Wrong! What about immigration? What about gay men regularly deported because federal marriage laws don’t protect married binational gay couples, long after Bowers vs. Texas — deported back to regimes that will imprison and even execute them. I know several cases where the personal relationships of friends went through years of extreme hell and in some cases they were forced to end those relationships because of those federal laws.

Wrong! What about immigration? What about gay men regularly deported for being gay men: long after Lawrence vs. Texas: deported back to regimes that will imprison and even execute them. I know several cases where the personal relationships of friends went through years of extreme hell and in some cases they were forced to end those relationships because of those Federal laws.

What about Federal laws about drugs? I don’t believe or condone any of them. Or Federal laws about guns? I don’t believe or condone any of them: no one, including nations, ought to own a gun or any other weapon. Truth is, I’m not sure how many Federal laws I would not uphold in a court of law. There’s probably a half dozen more I haven’t even thought about.

Before you serve on a Federal jury, an application is sent to you asking you if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime? It doesn’t ask if you’ve been a criminal for thirty-seven years until all of a sudden, one day, the law, not you, but the law, changed  — and suddenly you were “not a criminal.”

I’m sixty-eight years old, and I’m as much a criminal now as I was at the age of twenty-two. And, I’m even more of a dissident than I was then.

Because then, I naively believed I was protected by the law and by the American legal system. Today, almost five decades later, I’m far wiser. I know that I’ve merely, cleverly, or luckily, somehow managed to sidestep the laws against me. I know that the only people actually protected by the law, by our legal system, by America, are the same people who have always been protected by it — from the time of George Washington on –rich, white, heterosexual, males.

Not criminals, like me.

©2012 Felice Picano

MY First Blog Ever

by Clara Nipper

Hello, Readers!

This is my first blog ever, so please be gentle. As I continue blogging, I intend to become more polished and to learn what I should and should not post. I hope to inform, to entertain and to engage and never to bore but perhaps it is already too late for that.

A little about me: I am the author of the erotic murder mystery Femme Noir and its sequel,Kiss of Noir, both are available from Bold Strokes Books.

I am currently working on three books: a new murder mystery, tentatively entitled, Murder on the Rocks, a coming of age novel entitled, At My Mother’s Table and a young adult story called, Life Do Get Daily. I may be posting excerpts soon and soliciting your opinions.

 I also have a small artisan candy company called Andy’s Candies. www.andyscandies.org. It is named after a beloved cat companion who died.

Because I am happiest when I am busy enough to disappear up my own backside, I am also a devoted derby skater with the Green Country Roller Girls. www.greencountryrollergirls.com. We had our first practice of the 2012 season last night and I am so sore, the only muscles I can move are in my fingers.

Since I’m both a writer and a derby girl, it’s obvious that I’m in love with both punishment and pain. But as other writers and derby girls know, along with the suffering comes great joy and profound satisfaction.

I thought to close my first blog entry, I would address the question I am most frequently asked, which is, how does one become a writer? And here is my response, as it was given to me: if anything can stop you from writing, let it.

So I look forward to seeing where this e-path will take us! Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading anything and everything. You can reach me at my website: www.claranipper.com, Facebook, Twitter: @mindybendy, and my author’s pages on both Amazon.com and GoodReads.com.

The Amazon Trail

The Promise of Daffodils

Here in Florida, our daffodils are coming up. No blooms yet, but I have high hopes we’ll have a chorus line of yellow dancing in the breeze come Valentine’s Day.

Back in the big bad 1970s, Valentine’s Day was not so popular in my lesbian-feminist crowd. It was another capitalist ploy to get us to spend our money; a patriarchal tradition designed to snare women into enslaving themselves to men; a sexist ritual that excluded lesbians – did Hallmark ever make a card for us?

Now I read in Ms. Magazine that St. Valentine was kind of on our side. Apparently, he got busted by Emperor Claudius II for marrying Christian couples when old Claudius nixed doing so, sometime around 270 A.C. It’s a pretty bloody story. Nevertheless, it’s now cool to celebrate the saint’s day because so many Christians (and other religions) won’t marry another group: us.

I don’t really see St. Valentine doing his bit for gays if he was around today, but I’m a romantic. Nobody can dampen my enthusiasm for the trappings of love. Any excuse will do, even an ancient martyr. Sweetheart doesn’t discourage me. She appreciates the displays of affection I foist on her.

Not that they’re lavish. In past years, I’ve made quick visits to dollar stores.  Maybe a Happy Valentine’s Day banner for the front door – or not, given our neighborhood. Maybe some decals scattered around the house – one year it was love bug stickers we later couldn’t get off the mirrors. My sweetheart’s not big on stuffed animals so there’s no collection of red and white teddy bears covering our bed. This year? I’m thinking a few heart-shaped balloons so every room she goes into, she’ll see “Be My Valentine,” “Cloud Nine,” or “#1 FAN” floating overhead, near the ceiling fans.

Our first year presented a logistical problem. We would be on the road, at the Bold Strokes Books Palm Springs LGBTQ Book Festival, for Valentine’s Day. It was a perfect place to celebrate, but how could I decorate our beautiful room at the Casitas Laquita Lesbian Resort Hotel? I found red hearts, a dozen shapes and sizes, the kind that cling to glass surfaces, and I festooned the room with them. I don’t know which of us was more delighted.

Candy-wise, Peeps are out. Other holidays, I’m glad to ply her with yellow chicks or orange pumpkins, but those putrid-pink and regurgitation-red marshmallow hearts ruin the Peeps concept. One year, I sought out the prettiest box of chocolates I could find and was gratified when my sweetheart even saved the empty box. I remember that my mother used one my father had given her as a sewing basket for decades: Aww.

Now, we’re both fighting middle-aged spread – and spread and spread – so the candy is actually minimal, if any. Probably I should consider sending the money to Equality Federation, not Ghirardelli < http://www.equalityfederation.org/>.  The corner Walgreens, however, might have a small tasty treat. More likely, a whole aisle of them. Who can deny her wife a traditional sweet?

I just took a glance at the Walgreen’s web site for Valentine’s Day. One of their categories is “sexual wellness.”  Hmmm, I thought and clicked on it. Up came the header “Queen.” This was getting pretty weird. There was only one product, though, a supplement called Reservatol. It was a buy one/get one free deal (BOGO). Did I even want to know what it was? Turns out, it contains red wine and Polygonum Cuspidatum Root. I drilled down further and found that Polygonum Cuspidatum Root  prevents certain tumor growth. The whole product helps to provide antioxidant protection and helps to promote cardiovascular health. Thank goodness for BOGO – I can give my sweetheart one for Valentine’s Day and one for our anniversary. Hats off to sentimental Walgreens for the romantic suggestion.

One year, I had a Groupon for a nice restaurant, but Groupon has changed. I’m not going to tell my sweetheart that I love her with a Groupon for cosmetic surgery, a Five-Window Car or Truck Tinting Package or a Birthday Party for Up to 16 Kids. None of those quite express why I married her.

I know Ellen likes to shop at Cartier, but that’s out for us. It’s not that I don’t want to bedeck my sweetheart with diamonds and gold, it’s the money thing. Yes, we have daffodils in February, but the mortgage on our home, like almost half of Florida’s home mortgages, is so far underwater we could sell the house as waterfront property.

Harking back to the feminists of yore, I don’t need Cartier, Groupon or Walgreens to show my love on Valentines or any day. I’m planning a homemade card, a funny refrigerator magnet and all my attention. Or maybe the attention and the promise of daffodils are enough.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2012

It’s a dirty job, but…

by Justine Saracen

With some fifty pounds of lead and equipment weighing down my poor body, I leapt from the boat into the sea. Instinctively, I held my breath, then released it and took a long inhalation through the regulator. Bemused, I heard my own exhalation bubbling up over my head toward the surface. All the rest was silence. The only voice was the one in my head, congratulating myself on my first dive in ‘wild waters’ with full scuba gear.

The idea for the novel had come first, and so had the title. Beloved Gomorrah, and a heroine named Joanna. Another ‘ancient artifact’ thriller, in which my brave lesbian would make a shocking discovery that could shake the world. But having my heroine flee the bad guys across desert dunes, war-torn Berlin, or along Venetian canals just wasn’t heating my blood any longer. It had to be Really Dangerous. It had to be where there was no air. In a distant sea, with biblical associations, perhaps. The Red Sea, for example. Egypt, for example. Which would require a research trip. No problem.

To be sure, I had to learn how to scuba dive, get certified, buy a ton of equipment, and join a club that would take me on a scuba diving cruise. Moreover, living in Brussels, I had to do it all in bloody French. No problem.

And OHMYGOD, was it worth it! For there I was, finally, in that amazing blue world. The first thing I did was turn slowly on my own axis like an ice-skater, to get my bearings. The sense of three-dimensionality was so completely different from the horizontal of solid ground where you never need to look overhead or beneath your feet for orientation. Here I was suspended at the center of a sphere, seeing divers above, beside, and below me, all with long column of bubbles rising from their heads. I recognized no one, for all were uniform in wetsuits and masks. And yet, in that warm nutrient-rich water, that eons ago had spawned our most ancient ancestors, every nerve of my body told me I was home.

Then I saw the fish, in such gaudy glowing colors they seemed cartoons. They swam by unfazed, and a few hovered teasingly within reach until the last second, then darted off. A shoal of silvery sweepers engulfed me, like a shower of coins, surrounding but never touching me, as if magnetically repelled, then swept away. It was so awe-inspiring, so – literally — breathtaking, that in twenty-five minutes I was already on my reserve air tank. Oh, Joanna was going to LOVE this.

But if under water was paradise, on-board reality was tough going. The gear was heavy and cumbersome, and being a woman d’un certain age, I dreaded stumbling on the boat deck. Fortunately, the Egyptian team helped us loading and unloading, and at the end of the dive someone was always at the ladder to remove my tank. All I had to drag on board was the leaded weight belt and my own exhausted. derriere. Much harder, though, to remove the wetsuit and attach the vest and regulator to a new tank in preparation for the next dive.  It was tortuous to stand lurching back and forth on the heaving stern while peeling off skintight neoprene as the dive-master took roll call. Then, with teeth chattering from the cold wind blowing along the port side, and without my glasses, I had to squint to thread the regulator screw into the new air tank pipe. This part, obviously, was not going to be in the novel.

While the boat moved on to the second dive site, we went below decks for lunch. Though largely vegetarian, the meal sometimes had little sausages, which the men referred to as “Camel poo.” They weren’t, of course, but I did not inquire further. Joanna was not going to eat those.

After lunch we geared up again and I discovered that the only thing worse than peeling off dripping wet neoprene in cold wind was wrestling it back on again.

But by the second dive, I was becoming adept at snaking, eel-like, over the vast gardens of soft coral. I could not have landed on them anyhow since they were huge spongy growths that, even if they didn’t sting, would swallow me up like gargantuan overcooked cauliflowers. What would Joanna think of them, I wondered. Or should I entrap her in one of them?

Knowing my fast consumption of air, I regularly checked my tank pressure, made the “T” sign for “Half tank” to my monitor and he signaled back “fine.” We explored the terrain, coming across a moray eel, scorpion- and stonefish, both of which are in the “for-godssake-don’t-touch-if-you-want-to-live” category, and a variety of more benign flora and fauna. We were not allowed to dive with gloves, so all of us fastidiously obeyed the No Touchy rules. But after another twenty minutes, I checked my pressure again and had to give the fist on the head sign that meant “I’m on reserve. Get me the hell out of here!”

I got better and went deeper every day, and on the sixth dive went down to the Giannis D, a wrecked cargo vessel that lies about 90 feet below. I was struck first by its size and I felt quite small as our group swarmed around the vast steel hull like so many seagulls in slow motion. My monitor suggested entering the bridge and the engine room, but since I was at my depth limit and had visions of being trapped and DYING A HORRIBLE DEATH, I declined. Watching from outside, I was entranced to see glass fish in the thousands in the interior spaces, and brooded on how to trap poor Joanna inside until her air nearly ran out.

Because we were at 90 feet, nitrogen accumulation in our tissues became a factor. But we had been trained in the dangers of decompression sickness and knew to ascend from the wreck in timed stages, letting the nitrogen dissipate. My wrist computer indicated the required time at each stop, and my monitor also confirmed when it was safe to move on up. Could I torture Joanna in this way too, or should I save it for one of the villains? So much pain. So many characters to spread it over.

All went well until the last dive when perhaps the spirit of Joanna took its revenge. Typically, I hit reserve long before my monitor did, and before he had time to lead us back to the anchor rope, so when we surfaced we were very far from the boat. Bloody hell. With no more air to submerge, I had to surface swim, which is very difficult with a tank and inflated vest. I paddled and crawled and breast-stroked like a crazy woman, but I could make no headway against the current. The boat was still ominously distant, and I was spent. O crap, I thought, momentarily panicking. I’m going to be swept out to sea and they’ll find my shark-shredded remains washed up on the shores of Saudi Arabia!

 

Fortunately both my monitor and dive partner were stalwart men, and when they noticed my helpless thrashing and my fading into the background, they returned and towed me much of the way back. Humiliating, but way better than ignominious death.

Alas, more humiliation was to come, in the initiation ceremony for first-time Red Sea divers. After we repeated a long oath to the sea, in barely comprehensible French, mind you (so I think I may not be legally bound) the veterans smashed eggs on our heads, rubbed flour into it, making a sort of cake mix, and dumped us back into the sea without benefit of wetsuit and fins. All in good fun, of course, and there were no fatalities, but sea water is not optimum for washing egg paste out of one’s hair.  I was pulling tiny shell fragments from my scalp for days.

The heroine of Beloved Gomorrah will not have egg shells in her thick amber hair, nor will she need to be hauled by strapping men back to her boat. She will be pursuing villains, surviving explosions, falling in love with dangerous and impossible women, and discovering truths that will astound the world. It was to bring her to life that I leapt into the sea in the first place.

Greater love hath no author than that she risketh her neck for her characters

I'm at the center, 'on the line' for the decompression stop

The Initiation ceremony. Quel horreur!

WITH A MOUTHFUL OF TOOTHPASTE…

by Karis Walsh

After a short break to celebrate the publication of my second book, Worth the Risk, I’m back to work on Something New. I’m glad to be moving on to a fresh project, but I am still struggling to adapt to the writing process. My control freak side believes I’ll be successful if I sit at my computer for a specific amount of time and aim for a specific word count every day. And that side of me is partially right – writing requires self-discipline, persistence, consistency. But I’m discovering that my real flashes of inspiration choose to completely disregard my attempts to schedule them. Those bits of dialogue that ring true, the personality traits that suddenly give life to a character, the strings that connect scenes so they form a coherent story – these ideas usually strike at inconvenient and unexpected moments. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to turn off the shower or treadmill or Sonicare so I could scramble around (soapy or sweaty or trying not to swallow toothpaste) for a piece of paper and pen. Often, my regular writing time is devoted more to deciphering and transcribing what I’ve scribbled on the back of receipts or junk-mail envelopes than to coming up with anything new.

I’ve found this same dichotomy to be true in other areas as well. I’ve recently returned to music lessons after a year-long hiatus, and the transition back to regular playing has been painful. Partly in a physical sense because my muscles are out of shape and I’ve lost the tiny calluses on the tips of my fingers that protect them from the viola strings. But I also mean painful in an aesthetic sense. What skills I once had are rusty, so my flaws come shining through. (While not exactly tone-deaf, I certainly qualify as tone-hard-of-hearing. And – something you might witness if you ever have the dubious opportunity to watch me dance – I am rhythmically challenged.) I’ve been trying to tackle these problems by spending an allotted time each day on etudes and scales and shifting exercises; but, while the routine of practice will help, I know it won’t make me a musician. Real musicality – beyond mere technical proficiency – will only come if I am open to the moments outside of my practice time when I have some little epiphany about the meaning of the music. The connections to a piece that are only allowed in when I’m relaxed and simply listening – not frantically trying to get my posture and fingering correct. The unplanned realizations that hit while I’m walking outside or lost in thoughts of love and suddenly some nuance behind the composer’s notes becomes clear.

Writing, music, life. We try and try to plan them. To schedule and organize and control every detail so we can make progress or meet goals or simply get through the day. But the real magic happens in the between times, when a jolt of meaning slips through the cracks and refuses to be ignored. And then we find ourselves turning off the shower and leaving a trail of soapy, soggy footprints as we go in search of a pen or a paintbrush or an instrument or a lover so we can express the inspiration that has grabbed hold of us. Because if we ignore it in the moment, its power fades away.


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