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.

An Asian Appreciation of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout

the-sellout

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is a funny, clever, topical novel, and it’s easy to see why it won the Man Booker Prize (I say that as if I’m fully aware of the criteria when I’m not) and the hearts of critics. It’s so clever that I don’t think my tiny brain, the same one that enjoyed it, might not be able to explain what it’s about, although my brain knows very well that it is satirizing a reality that is completely worthy of a superb novelist’s satirizing. In this case, it’s racism in America by way of a black man bringing segregation back in the fictional, erased-off-the-map town of Dickens.

There are complaints about the supposedly obscure references in the novel, and there are indeed a handful of esoteric pop culture artifacts tossed about, but there are also a lot of highly recognizable ones. Making these references, though, lets the author drive his point across more effectively than if he were just telling the story of a poor black man who suffers slurs and discrimination in his place, in the bus on his way to work or wherever. And if a reference is obscure, it’s funny anyway mostly because of the way it’s such brilliant, funny writing.

Reading the novel is like being told jokes you’ve heard a very funny person tell that you don’t really get but laugh at anyway. There are bits about blacks-inspired software with a word processor that has font called Tumbuktu and Harlem Renaissance. Distressed black women complain about unequal treatment of angry women: “When a white bitch got problems, she’s a damsel in distress! When a black bitch got problems, she’s a welfare cheat and a burden on society… Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your weave!” It throws jabs at Mexicans, Indians, the Chinese. You don’t have to be there to get the joke is what I’m saying, I guess.

Also, no one is safe. Not Dave Eggers, not Hootie and the Blowfish, not the TV show Friends, not Madonna, not ESPN, not the authors of literary classics and the white men who chose them. It’s so clever that at certain points, I thought the author might make a meta-comment about the Caucasian book critics who are fascinated by the author’s undeniable genius, the same ones that appear on the book’s blurb pages. But nope, the author mercifully held back.

Perhaps it’s the Americans who would find this very, very funny because satire about the social reality that is racism will always be great material for comedy and they’re right in the middle of where the action is. But to Asians who might get only some of the more obvious pop culture references, the novel still comes off as hilarious because this is not the first time we find out about discrimination. It’s quite familiar to us, in fact. It also pokes fun at people who frequently use the word “plethora”.

The Sellout is a sharp and funny (it bears repeating) reminder that modern America can’t help but practice its old habits, and our minority-belonging couldn’t help but chuckle even if it’s in a satirical novel about racism in the USA, and more importantly because of this The Great Gatsby that you have to read the novel to understand the context of because I won’t explain it:

“Real talk. When I was young, dumb, and full of cum, my omnipresent, good to my mother, non-stereotypical African-American daddy dropped some knowledge on me that I been trippin’ off ever since.” 

It features funny racism satire things featuring Latinos and Asians, too. The hilariousness in that is universal, and laughing with a novel is a reading experience I will always cherish.

Books, Book-Buying, Reading, Reading Plans 2017

It is unsurprising to find out that as you grow older and less prone to delusions of youthfulness, the number of books you read gradually decreases. I used to average 35 a year, but when I moved to Bangkok, this number shrank to 19 in 2015 and 23 last year. The reason for this is obvious: it’s because I moved to Bangkok where book-buying is not that fun (anything you could think of having, you can have, which is not a thrilling way to obtain books). Here’s a fun fact: Metro Manila is where you want to be if you want to meet reading goals. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Metro Manila is ruled by forces that make commuting such a hellacious daily experience that you’re often left with no choice but to find solace in reading. Bangkok is not ruled by those forces.

The decreased number of books read could mean any of the following: other forms of entertainment enjoyed and a life well-lived outside of a book. It could mean your museums-visited or movies-seen lists have increased. In my case, though, TV took the place of reading time. After a day’s work, I usually find that the only sensible thing to do at home is watch drag queens outsmart fellow drag queens in a race to win $100,000 and a sickening supply of cosmetics.

Because of this, I’ve decided to start reading anything I lay my hands on, in my room, as long as it’s a reading material; enough with sniffing the pages and on to actually reading them. I’ll stop doing what I do which is pick up any of the David Mitchells off the shelf, softly whisper to myself, ‘I’ll read you next’ and then pick up Ciara, my phone, to check Twitter and not tweet, or tweet and decide 10 minutes later that the tweet is stupid and should be deleted.

In a way, I blame Hanya Yanagihara for last year’s short list. ‘A Little Life’ was a two-month read and it demanded all the attention I could give a novel, which made reading another novel seem impractical. I blame Jude. But if you can find the time to read it, I highly recommend it.

I’ve only read 21 books in 2016 despite having many off periods – periods when big novels could have reasonably been accommodated. During one of these periods, I dived into Anne Rice’s ‘Prince Lestat’ and expected it to be a quickish read, but its character-dumping prevented me from finishing fast. I heard the sequel is even more insane and more infuriating, if the GoodReads reviewers are to be trusted (they are not to be trusted). I can’t wait.

I might read even fewer books this year and that would be alright. Maybe that won’t be alright. To read as much as I can used to be such a powerful goal of mine. It’s not anymore. Life feels shorter and shorter each reading year. For me, in my life, that means no more Guillermo Del Toro vampire novels.

prince-lestat

When Anne Rice announced on Facebook sometime in 2013-14 that Lestat was talking to her again, we the Peoples of the Page went into raptures because we like Lestat, and we like it very much when Lestat takes over her Facebook page. Lestat of course chooses Facebook because in social media, he writes novellas, not status updates. Status updates are for mortals like Anne Rice.

In 2014, Chronicle #11 was released, almost a decade after Anne swore off writing about the Vampire Chronicles vampires again. But here we are, back in the ‘savage garden’, thanks to Lestat’s refusal to not ever be in the spotlight. Anyone who has read at least 1 or 11 Vampire Chronicles knows one undeniable fact: A brat gets what a brat wants.

In Prince Lestat she readies the world for this new era where vampires have inhabited the world in their own terms; that means no more silly Ten Commandments-style rules (see: The Vampire Armand). She offers an explanation for what has happened thus far and a mini-reference guide to vampire jargon. The way to let everyone in to this new vampire, it seems, is to over-explain. This goes well with Lestat’s newfound swagger of being current and his intention to leave the doors to the vampire world wide open.

Despite his preference for fashion that kids today would find daffy, Lestat is nothing but open to new experiences. Such experiences include using an iPhone, emailing, listening to podcasts, becoming a baby daddy, and leading a pack of bloodsuckers whose combined strength, knowledge, and mind and fire gifts could not hold a candle to his magnetism, impulsiveness, and questionable but indispensable leadership. There is not a thing in Prince Lestat that I find hard to believe.

There is also a sense of vampires having become citizens of the world, peacefully coexisting with humans who still believe them to be a figment of their fevered imagination (despite Benji’s very convincing vampire broadcasts). Humans who drop dead in alleys are still believed to be victims of cardiac arrest rather than of vampires’ insatiable appetite. The world is at peace where the undead are alive and well but staying low-key.

But all is truly not well in the vampire world. A capital M mysterious voice is sowing fear in the non-beating hearts of immortals, and to calm their inactive nerves they summon the one immortal who can save them from themselves. “The Voice” is whispering to vampire ears everywhere – and they are not sweet nothings – with the weak ones falling prey to the seemingly motiveless voice that admonishes mass murder among their kind. Because the book is not called ‘Prince Louis’ or ‘King Armand’, it’s the brat prince himself who takes over vampires-saving duties. Whether he would do so competently is open to discussion.

Anne Rice wasn’t going to return to The Vampire Chronicles half-heartedly. Here, she brings every character that has ever appeared in all 10 books and their ghosts. Quinn Blackwood, Merrick, and the Mayfairs were, sadly, no-shows.

As with any book from TVC, Prince Lestat was not spared some biting criticisms, one of which is the inclusion of characters that don’t serve any purpose but to prolong the vampiric conversations. As a person of the page, ie, long-time reader/Lestat groupie, I expect these supposed failings, but I can’t say that I enjoyed reading about vampires sit around describing each other’s extraordinary beauty. I already know that Louis, Armand, Jesse, David, et al beat the entire vampire and human race in beauty, thanks Ms. Anne.

Another gripe against Prince Lestat is its wordiness – as if a Vampire Chronicle devoted to the magnificence of Lestat would be made in less than 200 pages? The prose is as indulgent as it has ever been, and I myself find this supposed crime indefensible. The thing is, this isn’t Anne Rice’s first, second or 22nd book. If you’ve read the entire Chronicles and everything else in her bibliography, then this is something you could smell from a mile away. If you want taut and quick-paced, re-read The Tale of the Body Thief. No sane reader of TVC, new or old, should pick up an Anne Rice novel and expect littleness, whether in theme, scope, or characterization.

The thrill I got from reading Lestat, though, came mostly from the meta-commentaries on the author’s previous work, specifically the ‘deep current psychological observation that united these works’. Also thrilling is vampires dabbling into science. It’s amazing they haven’t tried going into space to become the greatest astronauts the earth has ever known. One thing that stood out, in the worst possible way was the prince’s sudden change of heart for The Voice. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that the way he embraces it after everything is such silly bullshit. Everyone knows Lestat is a brat and he’ll do and love as he pleases, but that sudden change of heart made the lead-up to the semi-thrilling confrontation seem inconsequential.

Unlike other readers who feel personally betrayed by Lestat’s lunatic decisions (actual responsible person: Lestat’s ghost author Anne Rice) who swear off reading any more future vampire tales, I’ll stay hooked. With this renewed interest in Lestat, there will be no end in sight for vampires and their vivid, hyper-indulgent chronicles. They may be using iPhones now, but they’re still the same old brood of blood-hungry beauties who like to sleep in the dirt. Like the series they belong to, they know their place in the world and they’ll live in it as they please.

Books 2014

Don’t be fooled by the lack of book posts in here. I’ve read really good books this year and at some point in this tumultuous year in this Tumultuous Life I thought I would never read a book I wouldn’t love. This year was marked by ‘best book ever’ feelings and proclamations which usually last for a week. That is until I came to book #8 which was Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game and book #12 which was Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It wasn’t really their fault. In Patricia’s case, I may have started on the wrong Ripley book which left my insides unstirred (which rarely happens with her!), while for Virgie, it was the fault of the faulty, mis-scanned e-book, and myself, for not having the foresight to switch to a better version of the e-book rather than slogging through a shitty e-copy obtained from a source of disrepute, which, I realize now, I have no right to complain about. But as the great (young) Heather Mooney would say about the cigarettes she never gets to finish, what a waste!

This is How

Not that it matters but, should I die the next day, I would like the world to know that the last book I read and loved was This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. Of course I’m not going to die tomorrow because all my enemies are nowhere near me, and like Yunior, I’m not the killing-self type of guy, maybe.

I can barely remember what Drown was about, all I can remember is that it’s also structured like TIHYLH, with Yunior as the narrator/star. This is why it is very important to write down exactly what you love about a Junot Diaz because someday you might find yourself reading him again, very certain of your enjoyment of his work and not know exactly why and feeling like a true fool and an unreliable professor of love.

In This, hogging the spotlight is his brother Rafa who uses cancer to his great advantage. I can’t get through cancer stories without getting really very emotional which is why I decided that after season 1 of Breaking Bad, I’m done, why even though I have some sardonic feelings for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars I still found it in my heart to appreciate its highly self-aware, ultra-witty teens who are all almost unbearably witty and articulate, for acting like Seth Cohen and think no one will notice, and getting back to the sardonic feelings and thinking that the feelings were not incorrect. In here, the becancered Rafa knocks Yunior out and it is a cause for hilarity. Best cancer story ever.

It may sometimes feel as if Yunior spends a lot of time navigating the legs of his girlfriends and side-bitches, but all of that are essential to the stories; all that sexing and side-bitching are sure to put an end to even the most hardcore relationships and Yunior is one horny, passionate motherfucker. This is a book about losing through the inescapable necessities and peculiarities of life. Stories about loses are, or should be, rife with sadness and drama, but Junot Diaz is not that kind of guy.

Even though I generally find his humor sublime despite not really getting all the pop culture, comics references and not understanding the Spanish slang (which he never bothers to translate, and why should he), I can’t help but think that if this were my first time to read him, I’d find characters who say things like ‘Bitch made Iggy Pop look chub’ a very poor attempt at either coolness or funniness. A line like that is in itself not funny, but the funniness here necessitates presence aka you have to be there. And so, Junot Diaz, is still for me a very funny person.

In George Orwell’s lengthy scrutiny of Charles Dickens, he says something about putting/imagining a writer’s face:

‘When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer… What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have… Well in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens’s photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity.’

If I were to give a face to Junot Diaz, it would have to be a sexy, mischievous face. It is a face attached to a desirable head, perched atop a towering, impressively built body with hills for chest and buns for days. Having heard about the author’s bad back, I know this imagining to be inaccurate, but that is the author I choose to have imprinted on my mind forever and I am not willing to entertain retaliations. When you feel like putting a face on an author you love, know that you’re entitled to it, the emblazoning of a face, in the same way that Michiko Kakutani is entitled to calling certain voices in fiction ‘limber, streetwise, CAFFEINATED, and wonderfully eclectic’.

This is How You Lose Her is my year’s second highest point because #1 is George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. Congrats, This is How You Lose Her.

I Have a New Catcher in the Rye

BarrelFever_hires

It is with so much delight that I’m announcing David Sedaris’s Barrel Fever as my new Catcher in the Rye. This is great news for me, for you, and for my very, very few friends. Congratulations, everyone, we no longer have to suffer the Holden Caulfield affectation, a spectacular achievement in execution failure though it may have been. I’ve also just finished David Shields and Shane Salerno’s ‘Salinger’ and read with great interest the Assassination section, specifically Mark David Chapman’s, and I’m symbolically cowering in shame for being guilty of the same crime as him: overlooking the humanity behind Holden’s profanity-laden but sobering view of humankind. My misreading, though, is not as total as MDC’s. My love for Holden stemmed (yes, stemmed) from his unfamiliarity with his own person (yes, person) the loveliness of which I feel strapped itself to my very own unfamiliarity with mine. We didn’t/don’t know the world, our place in it, and that was lovely in a movie, literary setting kind of way, but in your late 20s, not knowing your place in the world is just infuriating. Yes, I’ve already proclaimed freedom from the clutches of JD Salinger’s penetrating worldview, but if Mariah Carey can proclaim emancipation three times, why shouldn’t I?

When JD Salinger died, I rushed to Fully Booked and bought a hardcover Catcher in the Rye because I’m not the kind who idolize properly and sensibly. I might be sick with a disease characterized by uncontrollable urges to spend on things as a sad gesture of undying admiration. I might be suffering from a kind of psychological disorder that does not let me rest until I physically own something of the worship-figure. The easiest, most obvious explanation would be that I am a goddamned fool.

With Barrel Fever, there can never be a misreading, a misinterpretation, not even a silly attempt to embody a persona of an esteemed literary character. Maybe one: Adolph Heck, named after history’s most vicious imposer of viciousness, in the collection’s funniest story, Barrel Fever. A mother naming her son Adolph is guaranteed a slayer of me. I love Adolph and his mother. I love that Adolph’s sisters are named Faith, Hope, Joy and Charity. I love how he mocks his friend who once was his closest ally in mocking the mockable but who now has clung to nice persons.

Barrel Fever has become essential reading, a warder of the blues, a pair of shades in a dessert storm, a pair of truly dependable earbuds for Metro Manila life, a pair of balls in your ballsless days, etc. A Barrel Fever is a best friend.

Each reading of Barrel Fever for me is fresh. Sometimes I want to live in it and lap up the freshness.

If one day you find yourself in the pages of a Barrel Fever-like publication authored by myself, and you feel like pressing charges for character defamation because you Feel like I have cruelly borrowed and repackaged one of your least attractive characteristics and turned it into a bestseller, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. If you decide to press charges, sue me for libel, you will find me in court carrying a tattered copy of Barrel Fever, with the words, ‘This is my statement!’ scribbled beside blurbs that proclaim it as ‘breathtakingly irreverent’. ‘This is my statement!’ — the very words written in Mark David Chapman’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, a piece of woeful evidence that was brought to court for the trial of the crime of gunning down one of the world’s most famous Beatle, 1/4 of Mariah Carey’s Billboard Hot 100 nemesis, John Lennon. I do not ever wish to reach the same level of insanity but there is a need for me to make friends with things whose reason for existing is to supply me with joy.

I may have already confessed an attachment for this Sedaris book, and even though the retelling of this attachment seems to go against what Adolph Heck feels about saying the same thing twice: ‘…nothing gets on my nerves more than someone repeating the same phrase twice. I think it’s something people have picked up from television, this emotional stutter. Rather than say something interesting once, they repeat a cliche twice and hope for the same effect,’ I feel it’s a necessary retelling. This is my statement!

Gays of our lives

exile in guyville

Dave White, author of Exile in Guyville: How a Punk Rock Redneck Faggot Texan Moved to West Hollywood and Refused to be Shiny and Happy, is the kind of gay who thinks he’s a special kind of gay, who thinks that by frequently silently judging gays he despises, which he claims he would hate too had they been straight, he’s exempt from being the kind of gay other gays would also find despicable. Except that the world he lives in (Los Angeles) and the world in general has no shortage of haters and haterades. We each and everyone of us fill the world’s quota of someone’s hate. And this is true even or especially within “The Gay Community” (“Gay Community”, to me, will always and forever evoke an image of a subdivision filled with gays with really excellent gardens and exclusively non-tacky decors, with the exception of only a very few tacky, unaware gays who will of course be treated as anomalies by their super classy gay neighbors).

In DW’s community there are these types of gays:

1. Entitlement queens

2. Disco faggot douchebags (‘I’m not saying that house music is the internationally recognized sound-signifier of the faggot douchebag, but there’s a very specific type of faggot douchebag who only listens to house music, and so as a genre it’s a little guilty by association’)

3. Gays who kick your car

4. Dress-all-stupid queens

5. Gay bears

6. Gays who are like the gays in Will & Grace

7. Crystal meth queens

There are so many, but in other worlds there are these other types of gays:

1. Big word gays – gays that use multisyllabic nonsense because it makes them feel like they are wise gays.

2. Spiteful gays

3. Gays who hate Anne Hathaway

4. Gays who hate the Catholic Church

And there are many more. Feel free to create your own list.

Dave White is a film critic whose boyfriend is MSNBC’s Alonso Duralde who I like because in his review of Precious, he praises Mariah. As he should! Because of an all-consuming, mad love for his lover, Dave tries to overcome all odds and transfers to Los Angeles, leaving his beloved Texas. Among LA’s great barriers to Dave’s achievement of happiness and contentment are the aforementioned entitlement queens, reckless drivers, shouty neighborhood gays, and rude bookstore clerks. Such are his LA life’s difficulties that you can’t help but think, ‘You are so brave, Dave.’ In between battling these great obstacles, he goes from one temp job to another because he will not suffer the oppressiveness of a permanent job.

Clearly, he’s a bit of an entitlement queen himself. His real problem is that instead of 14 hours of couch-surfing and snacking, he gets only 12.

Actually, Dave White is a fun person who is not a typical gay. He calls gays faggots, which is a slur, and you get the feeling he gets away with it every time he uses it with/to his boyfriend and friends. He’s ruthless with the gays — you know how when someone who’s also a flaming homosexual refers to his fellow gays in a hissy, spiteful way because he feels like it? He’s like that with gays he dislikes and to chubbies and bimbos, too, because he’s fair. With seemingly little regard for human feelings, he talks about them in his diaries scathingly and hilariously, whether they’re directly harming him as to warrant the hissiness or they’re just existing near him. He doesn’t care for euphemisms. He will call a fat person a fattie and he’ll tell funny anecdotes about them abandonedly. In short, Dave White is a precise, funny and beautiful describer of people.

My favorite chapter is ‘Motherfucker’ because it contains one of the most breathtaking paragraphs I’ve ever read in a memoir:

‘Yes, I watch crotches. I’m a faggot. I was put on this earth to do a whole lot of that and I don’t want to shirk my responsibility to humanity… I have a soft spot for sex workers.’

Dave White is real.

If Queens Burroughs and Sedaris could kindly step aside, please. There’s a new queen in my community.