I was asked to speak to Alan Hollinghurst in an episode of the BBC World Book Club

 

To Whom Do You Beautifully Belong?

Someone from the BBC World Book Club got wind of my 5-star review of ‘The Line of Beauty’ in Goodreads dot com and asked if I wanted to send in a question (and more) to an episode they’re doing with Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Booker Prize in 2014 and who wrote all those stunning novels about gays (mostly British gays) and more (he’s not just a gay writer; there’s something about British writers, I don’t know what it is, but many of them have it whatever it is! Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Ali Smith, etc.).

And although I don’t really chase after literary prize winners, I’ve always thought the Booker Prize nominees and winners are enjoyable and excellent which are two very important book qualities, in my opinion.

I didn’t really know what to ask AH so I just told him I’m ‘disheartened by the
homophobia that’s pervasive even in supposedly progressive countries.’ I just read some tweets about Australia’s vote on gay marriage and thought, hmm, maybe I should let him know about that, and find a way to work that into a question. I thought it would make me look both ‘socially aware’ (I’m not) homosexual who, incidentally, is unlike the characters in his novel, Nick, Wani, Leo, etc, who are gays in the 80s, gays who are living in a bubble, living like princes within their posh communities.

Funny aside: Karen from the BBC had to ask me what I meant by ‘woke,’ a word which I used in my message and which she had to change to ‘socially aware’ because that’s not a word that adults in the real world use. From now on, no more saying things like ‘woke’ and ‘shook’ and using abbreviations like AF and WTH and WTF and NVM.

I have now gathered my wits about me and await with bated breath the airing of the episode in November. If I had had more time to think about what I really wanted to ask Alan Hollinghurst, I would have asked any of the following questions instead of what I ended up asking:

1. If Nick, Leo, or Wani were living in 2017, what kind of gays would they be? Grindr gays, drag race gays, Britney gays, Gaga gays, or Kylie Minogue gays (the 5 kinds of gays)?

2. Would a gay like Leo have lived longer had he been alive in 2017?

But anyway, I never thought I’d ever speak to a Booker Prize winner.

I’ve been reviewing books for years as a hobby and this is one of those times when I imagined having a conversation with an author I admire (or whose 1 or 2 books I love) and what he/she thinks of what I think of his/her book. AH and I didn’t really have a conversation but what a nice feeling that was to have asked him a question.

It just goes to show that when you write a 5-star review of a novelist’s work, you get invited to a book club radio program to ask a thoughtful, insightful question about homophobia in 2017 or something equally thrilling.

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Singlehood Things That Christopher Isherwood’s ‘A Single Man’ Gets Exactly Right

George is a middle-aged gay whose mornings are made difficult by the daily realization that he is a single man. His lover Jim has just died and it is the most difficult thing, ever. If you can get past the first sentence of this very good, very exquisite novel, ‘Waking up begins with saying am and now,’ which is not what many people say when they wake up, you’ll find plenty to adore maybe especially if you are a single homosexual man.

1. Single men don’t always like to hang out with their girl friends, the Charleys of the world, the females with the boundless supply of energy and loads of food and booze in their fabulous apartments. It takes so much energy and sleeping early is so important.

2. About going to and being at the gym: ‘How delightful it is, to be here! If only one could spend one’s entire life in this state of easy-going physical democracy! Nobody is a bitch here, or ill-tempered or inquisitive. Vanity, including the most outrageous posings in front of the mirrors is taken for granted.’

The belief that a gym is a place where people are showing a kinder version of themselves, and that it’s a place where casual greetings are genuine because everyone’s freshly filled with hormones, which make them happy. The inexplicable desire to entertain the ego’s need to match or exceed what the person on the next bench is benching.

3. It asks the perfect question about loneliness and eating alone. ‘Should we ever feel truly lonely if we never eat alone?

4. The lack of fondness for children and the rackets they make, the hells they create for adults who appreciate nothing more than a peaceful extended morning’s sleep and some quiet time at the shitter.

5. Worrying over your neighbor noticing something queer about you. And being devastated when said neighbor extends a kind gesture, an invitation to have drinks with you that you have to turn down because you’re heading over to Charley’s, the fabulous girlfriend where the drinks are better and the decor is chicer.

6. The desire to return every item in your grocery cart back to their respective shelves because you can’t decide whether grocery shopping is the right thing for you to do at this moment. What you end up doing: commit to the grocery shopping and pay for the items because the staff who would have to deal with your grocery mess is cute and you don’t want to cause attractive persons any trouble.

7. The suspicion that you’re trying to dress young because you have no sense of age anymore. Even though a lot of time passed, it did so without you having to act mature, so your wardrobe is filled with maroon garments and green pants.

8. The daily dread that comes with having a recently deceased lover. Very few life events can match that because relationships are so hard and when our lovers die, it results to a deep, deep gash that burns like a motherfucker. I’ve seen it happen to countless formerly single-turned-coupled-turned-widowed single gays and it’s awful.

9. The goodness of drunkenness and there being two kinds: the good kind – the one you seldom achieve – and the bad kind, which we always regret the morning after the binge because it affects our health goals that seem hollow without a lover by our side.

10. The distinct possibility that we will die alone in our sleep, and become ‘cousin to the garbage in the container on the back porch.’ We are very responsible so we’d most likely have everything taken care of when the time comes. Our designated Charley would have nothing to worry about.

Britney Spears Lip Syncs Because Humans Are Not Worthy

Britney Spears is not the first artist to lip sync on her world tour and she won’t be the last. Beyoncé will lip sync in her upcoming world tours, but her people will be smart enough to know that she has a reputation to uphold. That means she will lip sync but will perfect her craft: acting like she’s running out of breath for flawlessly dancing and singing. And people will eat up the deceit.

Britney and her people couldn’t be bothered to record ‘live’ vocals because she has had it. She can sing but her priorities now lie not in showcasing her stellar pipes, but in putting on a show. People will keep complaining like live vocals are super important, as if it’s the year 1997 or 1998 when artists must be able to both belt and bop or perish.

Britney is on a world tour, carrying around her 10 and 20 year old babies… her songs. She hasn’t been performing songs from ‘Glory,’ her last album. It’s an excellent album that’s considered a flop because it was hitless. I blame ‘Britney Jean.’

Britney Jean is one of the very few remnants from my childhood that I can fully enjoy (and have people know about such enjoyment) without coming off like an old man. The other remnants are Megaman and Archie.

Some Films I’ve Seen

Manchester by the Sea

It took me a while to see ‘Manchester by the Sea’ because Oscar-nominated films are so heavy and require you to sit down and pay attention, which is just a huge imposition. I predicted they were all going to be serious films with insanely long running times, and I wasn’t wrong.

I feel like these movies are not necessarily the best of the year nor are the acting performances, but I sit through them and get what I can. I did get a few things from ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘Loving,’ which I thought was slow and very, very restrained, subtle, and super somber.

I liked ‘Manchester by the Sea’ because Jessica Zafra liked it. There, I’ve said it! I’ve become incapable of forming my own opinion because who cares about fresh opinion when everyone else has one. Actually, I liked it because it made me think about death, its imminence and the tremendous hassle it brings to absolutely everyone, especially the living.

There’s a lot of deaths in this movie, some unexpected, some inevitable. The ones who stay alive deal with their losses in unusual but not entirely original ways. Lee (Casey Affleck) wanted to end his own life when his daughters died in a fire he had accidentally caused, while his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) deals with the death of his father by being as disrespectful as he possibly can towards everyone else who’s grieving. He deceives the parents of his two girlfriends whose panties he is forever trying to conquer, and he acts like his dad’s death is a non-event (I like that the movie gets that losing a mother is, in fact, much worse). His uncle Lee, who he calls an asshole to his face, doesn’t flinch much when receiving his blows. These, I thought, are natural ways in which some people deal with death. People don’t always go into hysterics; they allow their insides to freeze so that what’s seen outside is grief but also a lot of other things, but still very much grief.

 

Loving

I declared it ‘very boring’ when I watched and, again, I’m not wrong. It’s just not a fun film to watch, and I only watched it because I wanted to see all Oscar best actress nominees before they were announced. I found it dreadfully boring that I had to take a 12-hour break to finish it.

The following morning, when I continued watching the remaining 30 minutes, I realized that its highly restrained nature, understated performances, and straightforward storytelling are the real shockers. It’s a race movie with absolutely no big dramatic moments. Instead of people talking over each other all the time or having tearful confrontations in the street, Richard Loving and his wife Mildred, some of the simplest folks to have ever been victimized by silly persons in the state of Virginia who, in the olden times, made interracial marriage a crime punishable by imprisonment and severe misery, mourn and fight very quietly. The people who help the Loving couple are not painted as saints who have big moments, but simple folks who do good and bad just because. In this film, no one gets to have a big moment, especially not the leads played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who play their parts with brilliant and infuriating restraint. It’s 2 hours of sadness and around 5 minutes of triumph and joy.

Coldplay, the Crowd Pleaser

Chris Martin Mug

I’ve always thought of Coldplay as a band that everyone likes, but is no one’s favorite. They seem to be universally loved because their singles are radio- and stadium sing-along-friendly (‘Fix You,’ ‘Paradise,’ even the mellow ‘Everglow’). They’ve collaborated with the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and The Chainsmokers. Almost every album of theirs tops the Billboard album chart, supposedly the most important musical chart in the universe. They and their songs inspire many things and one of those things is think-pieces by music critics that were, at some point in their life, have been ashamed to be a Coldplay fan. They’ve also inspired hate (the if-you-have-nothing-nice-to-say-about-Coldplay-by-all-means-say-it variety) and they probably will continue to do so, just as they will continue being popular and rich.

Pleasing crowds is most bands’ job, but Coldplay does it much better than the Lifehouses and The Callings of the world. Christ Martin comes off as an affable lead vocalist, the kind of international superstar who would fart and sneeze and act like a normal person around you to prove that he’s capable of normal person activities like farting. Just the thought of that helps with the crowd-pleasing aspect of their job.

I’ve also thought of Coldplay as the kind of band that even people who don’t like music would fly thousands of miles to see live because they want to experience a Coldplay concert because they heard they’re great, and they are. I have one Facebook friend who was ecstatic about them even though her Coldplay anecdote was mostly about how there’s a Coldplay song that soundtracked some of the most significant events in her life. So that’s one person whose actual favorite band is Coldplay, I guess.

Coldplay is disliked for several reasons, both by serious music critics and the garden variety hater. They’ve been accused of peddling corny sentiments in very melodic songs. The dislike may also partly be due to the fact that Chris Martin is super charming. And, maybe, some people maybe find liking charming people basic? I really don’t know!

Remember when it was announced they were going to tour in Asia and some people were super excited, while others were snarky toward those who were excited? Some people were irked that some people were getting so excited about Coldplay coming to Asia. This is how the irked persons’ saw it: ‘Don’t be excited about Coldplay because you’re not a fan!’ Those who were irked probably don’t care about Coldplay, or are super fans. It was hard to tell. But, it kinda supports my suspicion that Coldplay is generally liked but is no one’s favorite. I mean, I know where the Madonna fans, the Rihanna Navies, the Britney Army, and the Lambs are at. The Coldplayers, where are they?

The Head Full of Dreams Tour in Bangkok had all the concert tropes – grand sing-alongs, the lying down and emoting on the rain-soaked platform, the soaring anthems about fixing yourself, and the boy band joke. You can totally feel the pressure of having to participate in all the tropes, but you don’t mind. You can totally sense the corniness of having to wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, but… you really don’t care because you feel like this band earns your participation, and it wouldn’t be so corny if it’s to a song you like (it’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ for me), because they’re really good live. So I realized, Coldplay is a band that gives the people what they want and the people take it… because they want it. And that’s nice. As nice as Coldplay.

Lola Gigi has died

I probably won’t be going home to attend the funeral, to pay my respects, because I haven’t been in the company long enough to be allowed 5 consecutive days’ vacation and because the financial situation is not ideal. The thought of going to Manila to be with the family occurred to me for approximately 30 minutes, but I immediately ruled it out.

It’s very sad, but especially for daddy because that was his mother.

I thought it wise to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 2 after hearing the news of Lola Gigi’s passing because nothing takes away the sadness out of any situation more than an episode of RDR All Stars season 2 (and other seasons, too). The episode was the one where the remaining top 5 queens were reunited with their family – sister, mother, grandmother – in a challenge that required them to drag up their family to look like part of their drag family. Detox won.

The episode featured Roxxxy’s story of abandonment, Detox’s daddy issues, and Alyssa Edwards’ mother’s 1st year death anniversary. Sob stories were all over this episode.

But still, I think, no one has had it worse than the four of us who lost our mother at a very young age. My brother at 13, me at 11, and my poor sisters who were way younger. It’s probably wrong, but that’s what I would always think about every time I hear of someone’s mother’s passing. That includes Alyssa Edwards’ and my daddy’s.

We don’t have the monopoly on motherlessness, but we know that life so well having experienced it for so long. We started living that life at an age when it just isn’t right to not have a mother.

I know that nothing will ever come out of reliving a painful memory and thinking the world owes us a mother. But you can’t shake off these feelings and these awful, vivid memories when they strike you.

When I think of our life’s greatest hurt, I think about what ‘great hurt’ other people have experienced. To me, my brother, my sisters, life turned for the absolute worst on 24 June 1994, the day after my 11th birthday, when mommy passed away. People lived through horrors much worse than what we’ve been dealt with, but that is our horror and we will never stop living through it.

I need to talk about ‘Elle’

elle

Michele LeBlanc sweeps the floor of her pristine living room after being raped by a masked intruder. She doesn’t spend more than a few minutes thinking about the horror she just experienced. She cleans up as if nothing could be more urgent on the day of her rape than putting a few pieces of broken porcelain on the trash. She has things to do and video games to produce and launch. The emoting and the strategizing can wait.

‘Elle’ keeps you riveted from beginning, when it opens with screams of a woman being raped. After the initial shock of seeing this middle-aged woman ravaged in her own home, naturally, you’d want to know the who, the what and the why. But the film chooses to show who Michele is as a “regular”, video game company-owning bad bitch. She is a divorcee with one son (who’s gorgeous but dim), and she has complicated relationships with men.

She also has a disturbing past involving a psychopathic father and an immortalized photo of her young self that suggests she may have been an unwitting participant in her father’s slaughter of an entire neighborhood. This complicates the hunt for her violator because her history might have played a role. It could be someone from any of the families of her father’s victims. It could be Kurt, the outwardly hostile game designer in her own company, or the innocent-looking, baby-fats having Kevin who openly admires her kind of feist. You couldn’t even be faulted for thinking it might be her son because in her world, the men are as sick as they come. There really is no telling.

Michele is the kind of person who is a joy to talk about, so here I am knocking myself out. And the film agrees. Instead of lingering on her pain (is she even pained?!), the film peels off the layers of her icy exterior. When she pauses to think about her rape, it’s not an occasion to break down in tears; it’s to fantasize about smashing the face of her rapist. Then she goes on with her life.

When she tells her best friend, Anna, whose husband she’s fucking, that her specialty is handling psychos, you believe her. So you know that even without having read any spoilers, she’s going to have her face-smash moment. She wants revenge, but she doesn’t let thoughts of it consume her. But, she shops for a hammer and a pepper spray because she’s practical and cautious.

Michele is obviously twisted not just because of her past, or the things she does, but also because of the things she does with the people she surrounds herself with. When she finds out the identity of the scum who leaves cum stains on her bed, she matter-of-factly tells him she’s going to report him to the police… while riding in his car coming from a party in which she’s invited him to, days or weeks after finding out his identity, and after they’ve had another round of violent, rape-fantasy romp in the rapist’s basement, which she may or may not have consented.

Her best friend, Anna, tells her about Richard’s underwear that definitely smells of cheating. Anna is shamed to the bone for her discovery. “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us from doing anything at all,” is Michele’s chilly response, and it’s wrong kind of right. She tells her this not to comfort her but as an FYI, because, apparently, Anna forgot the ways of the world, and Elle is just that kind of best friend that keeps you informed.

Upon realizing the problematic relationship she begins to have with her rapist, Michele appears to welcome it even more. It legitimizes the suspicion that she may possibly be a sociopath. But I can’t be sure! It’s the kind of acting that refuses to give anything away. And that’s possibly because Isabelle Huppert wasn’t ‘trying to find answers’ for the character; she ‘didn’t have the questions, even,’ and it made for an engrossing performance. You can’t take your eyes from her, not even when she’s being raped – it’s not because you’re a perv but, perhaps, because a glint in her eye could give something away and you’re afraid you’re going to miss it. Director Paul Verhoeven and Huppert just ‘let it burn all the way through.’ And the result is fire.