Wednesday, July 23, 2008

June diary entry


Earplugs are silver-tipped, just as the street listener said my violin bow should be.
Familiarity, that overactive gland, is reliably embarrassing.
I get caught staring – I utter transparent pick-up lines, am wrong about what they mean.
Our paradox: loneliness propels us into the void.
Sound bounces from the single wall of the blindness chamber and makes such a racket you see images, films, a diaspora of big-screen television sets, a civilization of mongrel and bastard illusions, some familiar to Orlando under her oak tree.
As for the others - how do we endure them?
“You look so familiar – did you go to Yale with Heather?”
That woman looks like she stepped out of Women’s Wear Daily fashion ad, circa 1958. She overshares with her beautician. Her clothes match the purple of her color-coded LIFE section header in USA Today. She looks like she just smelled shit. She always does. Age has such a sly sense of humor.
“Not if you moisturize,” as Eric Glaser would say, or did.
Miss Kansas 1951 doesn’t realize I’ve been staring at her the last several minutes. Am I invisible? If I were invisible, what would I look like? “The people are my people” said the Duke.
Who are my people? Not Miss Kansas, not the gruff looking fallen hippie scrawling intently in his own notebook (a kindred spirit among the not-my-people), not the hyperactive Filipino kids, not anyone reading USA Today, not the cute guy whose sleeping head is lolling around in a calm surf, not any of these people chained to their laptops, tuning out the void –
My sense of humor: a flashpoint tonight, earlier, a spur of insecurity. I tell myself: you honor your instincts by taming them. I respond: what a risible lie!
My flight is delayed; the silver has fallen from my ears.


A marching band infiltrates the house party. In the kitchen, I dance with my fingers in my ears while the neighbors call the cops.

Itamar, Portia, Hysterika, Suzan Revah, Michael Smith, Joanna, Metal Patricia, Sister Mae Joy B. in full regalia, Bryan Harrelson. Are these my people? I have Williams Syndrome, I am always happy to see everyone. Jupiter fixes me with a cold correction – the evil eye! I like being popular but I’ve learned to live with this other thing. At 38 I have so much experience – with drunkenness and sobriety, freedom and captivity, love and the void. James urges moderation. Aretha advises: “Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.” Celebrating the vaudevillian, e.e.c. extolled that imprecision that creates movement. Mr. In-Between dozes in an airport lounge: his head bobs and jerks in slow-motion. He is the only fuckable person in Terminal 1.

Jason Fleetwood-Bolt, Jon Bentley – Boy Bar. Dolores Park at 4 a.m. – my congeniality falters when I make a nasty remark about the Bar on Castro. My parting shot, directed at Itamar, comes off wrong - one too many jokes about catching his cold. My sense of humor is a cause for concern. A friend gets laid with a 19 year-old Puerto Rican boy (“Is this going to hurt?”) and has no complaints about the evening. I make some vaguely off-color jokes to middle-aged Midwestern ladies and they seem to love me. Am I endearing only to them and offensive and obscure to everyone else? Women’s Wear Daily is waiting for her row to be called. My row is next. I smell shit.


Deterioration, wear & tear. Weird weather and the relief we get from disasters. A Politico blogger thanks me for pointing out his loath/loathe confusion. Colors of the Celestial City. Honey, that’s really colorful – paint hits the canvas as though applied with the tip of a lightning bolt. Is color more like God or orgasm? From the invisible island we watched the planes line up to land - three slowly falling planets, ablaze, endless renewal.

I could not rouse my sense of humor (that problem child) to defend against the depredations of the talkative New Age Faerie, his endless assault on Big Topics with the weaponry of small thoughts. Now I know that the sun needs our love, needs to be loved and – oh, let that stand for the whole depressing gospel, told in European accents and punctuated by trills of the tongue and other sound effects and frequent references to Buddhism, or Hinduism – wait, which is which? Either one will do, just remember that the sun is counting on your saving it a space in the void, where we can all wait holding hands until it inhales, puffs out its belly and fries us to a nice ghost of ash. My coordinates: row 11, seat F. Will anyone watch this planet rise? I ring the call button. Bring me trombones, the bass drum, the exotic dancer.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best Sex Writing 2008 interview (and diary)

Best Sex Writing 2008 is out, and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel is posting interviews with those of us in the anthology. Here's mine, about my Nerve story on volunteering for a study to determine how much sensation men lose after circumcision.

By the way, I feel I owe the readers of this blog (whoever's left) an apology. I've been under one of the nastiest deadlines of my life trying to complete the Messiaen book in time for January screenings, tentatively scheduled to begin in LA Jan 19th! I spent the week of Thanksgiving preparing the transcript, the subsequent weeks pulling stills from the movie (watching much of the film frame by frame, and that's 30 per second for 52 minutes), another week arranging text and image in Photoshop, which I sized improperly so it all has to be done over once I have the director's commentary finished, and that's what I've been doing nonstop for the past eight days. Meanwhile I also ordered a 15-page proof so I can see how colors and layouts look on the page. So I've been busy! And stressed out! Behind in email and other commitments! I have managed to get to a couple of holiday parties, however, including an elk feast prepared by Martin's brother Friday night and the Underworld Party at Space 550 last night. Remember that public-speaking strategy for not getting nervous, to imagine everyone in their underwear? I wasn't nervous all night.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hypnagogy report 20071015

let me borrow a pile of rubble
Florida? Go!
there were all these arms that came out
they kicked sand in his face too--I want to hear
it makes me so upset I want to cry
It's People Magazine so you can't expect a reply to email. Don't believe what you hear at the farmer's market. Sit down.
In pictures is she all goofy? No, they all look like him.
We're all chasing the earth's shadow. What else are we doing up here?
What would you do if I wore this outside?
Everything looks OK, as long as you're 15.
Why else would you have water patience?

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

diary: Wyoming bloodbath

Paul Festa
to linda
Jul 16

hi mamma--

I just arrived in Jentel after a traumatic trip. Last night at 10:30 coming over a mountain pass on 90 between Idaho and Montana I broadsided a deer. It was scary and then it was gruesome and then it was sad. At some point I'll post the details in a blog entry but for now I'm just too exhausted and talked out about it.

Jentel is surprisingly beautiful and deluxe. They emphasize the rustic and the rugged in their promotional materials but I'm reminded of the [...] summer digs. High style with a southwestern flair. the other 4 residents now here seem very nice--a fifth, also from San Francisco, is also late.

more soon--about Oregon etc--and [...]


Paul Festa
Tue, Jul 17, 2007 at 7:58 PM
To: James

Hello my dear,

I am in the little computer room/library on the second floor of this swank house where the residents all sleep and take their meals. This place is cush! I was expecting something on the rustic side but it more resembles a $500/night Santa Fe bed & breakfast. Only they don't feed you breakfast--we're on our own for all meals. It's a nice big kitchen overlooking a nice big dining area, living room (with conversation pit) and vast windows overlooking the paved back porch area and the green meadow beyond. They've been getting a lot of rain up here and the landscape is surprisingly green. Rocky hills are behind us, a creek (which visual artist Mike and painter Kristen and I inner-tubed down this afternoon before dinner) wends its way through the valley and right by the retreat, and a short bike ride away there's a lake good for swimming. I haven't been there yet. I've spent a lot of time sleeping so far, not surprising considering how I got here and the caffeine withdrawal and the version of Mendocino sleepies that's common to all artist residencies and lasts at least three days. I barely got any work done today.

Thanks for being there for me when I called the other night so distraught about the accident. In the bright light of day it's hard to even conjure the horror of that experience, and the sadness that overwhelmed me afterward. I really do have the heart of a vegetarian! Meanwhile I passed (and actually hit) the corpse of another deer some hours later, and after that saw a dead dog on the side of the road, and several other smaller roadkill. A couple of the artists here collect these specimins and paint them. I'm very glad Ziggy's not here! They all went for a walk this morning and saw a four-foot rattlesnake. So far all I've seen is a little garter snake and a bunny rabbit.


Paul Festa to Jim
Jul 17

Hi Jim--

I've been on the road almost continuously since I saw you last and have finally landed in a place where I will stay put for a month, the artist retreat in Wyoming. It's heavenly--landscape, campus, residents and staff. I had a somewhat traumatic drive here, via the Oregon Country Fair (a giant hippie outdoor mall)--the drive was endless, half again as long as Google Maps suggested, and crossing the stateline between Idaho and Montana on a mountain pass in the middle of the night I broadsided a deer. It was scary, gruesome, and sad, and having been on the road for the previous 12 hours I was not in a particularly stable frame of mind to begin with. I didn't manage to kill the deer, which was the very worst thing about it, and then there is the condition of my car, which I might have totaled though I did manage to drive it the rest of the way to Banner, Wyoming, going 60 miles an hour while everyone was passing me at 85.


New York, Israel and Paris were all overstimulating. How has your last month and a half been?


Paul Festa
Wed, Jul 18, 2007 at 2:11 PM
To: Holcombe

so great to get your message--it was on my list of things to do online to look you up on tribe and say hi and thanks for all the fun hours at OCF. I have an idea to be a vendor next year. No more of this tourist-without-a-wristband bullshit!

wyoming is amazing so far--this place, the jentel artist residency program, is really swank, a big surprise--I was expecting rustic. A river wends its way around our little campus (6 residents, 3 of us queer) and a lake is said to be a short bike ride away. rocky hills above us past the river and the Bighorn Mtns. in the distance. the weather has been pretty mild, with a few thunderstorms. lots of snakes and rabbits out here, and I'm keeping my eyes open for antelope, which are common as deer out here.

speaking of deer, I had a traumatic drive from OCF after broadsiding one on the mountain pass at the Idaho-Montana stateline, in the middle of the night, after 12 hours of driving. Unfortunately, I just wounded the animal--heartbreaking! I was running back up Highway 90 with a flare in my hand to warn other cars when I saw the flashing lights of a state trooper, and stopped running (and burst into tears) a minute later when his gun fired, twice. I have to get going now because I'm taking my car into Buffalo to a body shop. It's pretty smashed up--kind of a miracle that the airbags didn't inflate and that the car was drivable the rest of the way here (15 mph under the speed limit until the sun came up--boy was I spooked, esp. after the (cute) trooper warned me that elk were also on the roads...)

thank you for the portland invitation! i would love to visit and spend more time with you. I don't think this is going to be the time to do it, because I want to spend time in Yellowstone on my way out of here, and then visit friends in Nevada, and my next destination is Camp Kunst-Stoff in Willits if I can work the event, Aug 17-19. I'm anxious to hear your music! Thanks for the link--and for looking at my essays. Hopefully I'll have a novel to show you one of these, um, years.


Paul Festa to Cory
Jul 19

Hi Cory! The rest of my OCF experience was brief. I hung out with Holcombe and some of his buddies at the campground, ate some dinner, passed out, packed up, and drove to wyoming. I almost made it here safely, but crossing the Idaho-Montana stateline, in the middle of the night after driving 12 hours, I broadsided a deer. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that I'm grateful not to have been injured,and sorry about what happened to that poor animal and my poor car.

I'm here at an artist retreat and like it very much--there are five other residents and we're all watching the sky wondering what the hell we're going to do if Mother Nature makes good on the tornado warning that was just broadcast on the radio. The area (near Banner) is spectacularly beautiful--surprisingly green, hilly, with the bighorn mountains in the distance to the southeast, antelope and deer, rabbits, bullsnakes, rattlers all spotted just in the first few days here. I have my work cut out for me--I'm aiming to write the third draft of a novel. My computer just arrived--Apple just replaced the optical drive for the second time.



Paul Festa
Sat, Jul 21, 2007
To: James


I'm doing OK about the novel. I've ramped up very quickly to my 6 hours/day routine, and they've been productive if painful hours. Yes, I'm excited about where the novel is going, but before you get excited you have to be demoralized about how bad the previous work is,especially work that was revised ad nauseum--you have to grieve the deaths of all those little darlings, which took so much time and effort, revision and residencies and reading aloud, to produce. I swore Wyoming would be a bloodbath--and this was before I knew I would hit a deer--and I'm going to make good on that. I'm just not going to enjoy very much of it.

It helped to finally start writing the third draft, this new document into which I've forbidden myself to cut and paste. So far it's a really good discipline, and a lot of things that would have seemed impossible to delete are, in fact, not getting typed in. I've radically rewritten the opening chapter--not revised, rewritten--so that will take a lot of tinkering and reading aloud, etc., before it's settled, but I think it's a better foundation. That thought does battle for my mood with the dread of how much similar rewriting remains, and that dread is a powerful motivator to produce a much shorter draft this time.

I'm just facing up to the hard lesson any writer has to face, which is that this is a necessarily destructive process, and you're not destroying some external object, you're destroying something that came out of you, something you flattered yourself at one point to not consider shit. I have to keep reminding myself of the blithe energy with which Picasso painted over his bulls and turned them into women and flowers, though it's worth noting that his objects rose and fell and were finally born in a matter of hours, while I (we novelists) have to endure this process over years.



Paul Festa
Sun, Jul 22, 2007 at 12:41 PM
To: linda

Hi Mamma--

Unless USAA throws me a curveball, it looks like Ed should just repair the car. I think he took pity on me and deliberately skewed the estimate low so that the car wouldn't get totaled out. If it were totaled out (for example if USAA quibbled with the pre-accident worth of the car), then USAA would offer me a check for that value and the company would own the car. I would have first right of purchasing it back from them for the salvage value. This is how both Ed and the USAA agent described the situation to me. Ed, meanwhile, said if I did buy it back, he would buy it from me in turn and for a few more hundred dollars--he seemed very interested in the car. So I think he overrode some personal interest in lowballing the estimate.

Things here are going very well after some brutal days staring at the novel and the harsh comments of my readers. I appreciate and ask for unvarnished honesty but it's still very painful to read, re-read, come to grips with, synthesize along with my own judgment. Plus I was still upset for much of the week about the nightmarish experience of hitting the deer and the consequences for it and for my car. But after two or three depressive days, the work is going really well. I'm rewriting the novel from the ground up, in a new Word document. This revision technique was recommended to me by a MacDowell writer and it's really proving its worth. The standard method is to delete things from the existing draft, perhaps write over them, but that is a destructive, painful process. Now it's just a passive matter of unworthy leaving things behind, with the option of adding them later, and so I'm anticipating a much leaner novel when I finish. That will certainly not be by the time I leave here--with three weeks left I'm only ten pages into the new draft.

There's one other San Franciscan here, a painter, and she and I are the stay-at-home workaholics. The others went to the movies last night; they just took off to go see show trials. [...] I like most of my fellow residents well enough and we have pleasant interactions but nobody likes a workaholic and that would describe me for the duration of this residency. I get out on my bike every evening for an hour at sunset, when it's cool, and the surrounding landscape is breathtaking, rocky hills on either side of our flat green valley, and the Bighorn mountains in the distance, the sky full of magnificent cloud formations and electrical storms throwing around distant, oddly silent lightning bolts. it feels like we're on a nature preserve--deer and antelope by the dozens, wild turkey, bull snakes and rattlers (I haven't seen one of these yet but the others have), rabbits and of course a menagerie of insects. I vacuum my studio for box elder bugs, living and dead, four or five times a day, and the day I read about the first West Nile cases in Wyoming I got three mosquito bites. In any case these bike rides and my three meals are my only leisure time. I carve out two hours a day for reading, and while I'm enjoying (fellow MacDowell fellow) Mary Gaitskill's Veronica a lot, I'm struggling with [...]. I have to look up two to four words on every page! And they're not big pages! In any case I will leave Jentel with a bigger vocabulary, but not a bigger circle of friends. Also, hopefully, the first half of a much smaller novel.



Paul Festa to Tom
Jul 24

Hiya Tom--

I just logged into friendster when I realized that I don't have your email address! how could that be? email me at

I picked up your message in the middle of a long and extremely difficult road trip, from Eugene OR (oregon country fair) to Wyoming where I'm at an artist retreat for another 3 weeks. the night you called I broadsided a deer on the Hwy. 90 mountain pass at the Idaho-Montana stateline. Horrible! middle of the night, no shoulder, no cell reception, car just about totaled (but operational), the animal not quite dead. truly one of the worst experiences and, if I may say so, a grand excuse to be late in getting back to you. I've been a little scatterbrained since then.

In Wyoming is this small artist's retreat in the micro town of Banner called Jentel ( I'm here with five others for a month and I'm beginning the third draft of my novel. I'm also trying to learn a hideously difficult violin part for a Messiaen quartet I'm supposed to play in the spring. It will take me exactly that long to learn it.

Meanwhile it's great to hear from you and do email me at gmail so we can be in touch more easily.


Paul Festa
Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 1:51 PM
To: Greg

Dear Greg--

I write from Wyoming, where I've been rewriting my book at a residency here for the last two weeks. I had a fantasy about finishing the third draft here, but it's very slow going and with only two weeks left I'm going to have to content myself with getting through about a third of it. Still, this place is beautiful, in a green valley filled with wildlife--we see antelope and deer, porcupines, wild turkeys, bull snakes and rattlers. I'm the stay-at-home workaholic of the group but did join the 5 others to catch a production of The Laramie Project in town the other night. College and high school kids put it together and what they lacked in acting skill and experience they made up for in passion for the play.



Paul Festa
To: Suzan
July 28

Sorry you won't be able to join us--do wish john a happy birthday for me and break a leg performing! Yes, brunch on the deck was the last gathering, and I have your crepe-maker to prove it.

My summer has been a little nuts. Getting out of town was nuts, New York was nuts, Israel was nuts twice, first visiting my sister in Tsfat and then faeries in Tel Aviv who took me to a celebration of [...] in the Negev for the summer solstice; then Paris was really nuts especially after Air France lost my valise. It arrived in San Francisco just as James was leaving to pick me up at the airport.

I had a brief stay in SF and then drove to the Oregon Country Fair, a big outdoor hippie shopping mall and then drove to Wyoming, where, crossing from Idaho into Montana in the middle of teh night after driving all day, with no shoulder and no cell coverage, I struck a deer, didn't manage to kill it, and totaled my car.

So now I'm stranded in Wyoming. The plan is for James to pick me up and then we'll do the drive together, a few nights in Yellowstone. A woman at the Berkeley Rep school of theater wants me to play fiddle in her production of 12th night, along with a couple of tiny roles, and I'll have about five minutes to learn my lines and rehearse between getting back and the start of previews.

I'm very flattered and gratified you're looking at my blog and I look forward to looking at yours. Mine appears to be a complete ghost town. Write some comments goddamn it!

LOVE (and hi to Lizzi)

Paul Festa
Sat, Jul 28, 2007 at 2:38 PM
To: Robin

Hi Robin! I write from the Gentile Artist Residency Program ( which is very near Ucross but is smaller, just six of us here for a month in swank southwestern-style house in a lush valley that resembles an animal preserve. they do have bikes here but I brought my own and have been riding it every evening there isn't lightning in the sky.

I am rewriting the novel from the ground up, a method of revision suggested to me by someone (you?) at MacDowell. It is very slow going, but I'm pleased with early results.

congrats on the jaffe! I got a small grant recently, on my way here, in the form of a collision with a deer that (sickeningly) didn't quite kill the animal but totaled my car. I wasn't quite prepared to be carless but it will certainly save some moola and tide me over to some income-generating spring screenings of my movie.

Yes let's get together in September! Brunch on my north-facing deck, while there's still sun.


Paul Festa
To: Barry


How was Sea Ranch? I just farted thinking about Luca.

Wyoming is, in your phrase, spectacular nature. The real spectacles are off in the distance--the bighorn mountains. We have a small green valley and rolling rocky hills, but the profusion of wildlife is astonishing. I spend ten hours a day in my studio and most of the rest of it in the house preparing meals and sleeping, but just in my ritual sunset bike rides I've seen dozens of antelope and deer including lots of bucks and spotted fauns, two porcupines (the only two I've ever seen outside of a zoo), a rattlesnake, on the path five feet from the front door, two bull snakes on the road, and no end of cute little rabbits, everywhere. Adam, a Pittsburgh painter, saw a golden eagle a few mornings in a row, but everyone's jealous of me because of my porcupine sighting (there's a picture on a recent entry of my blog).

The other five artists are very friendly but I'm the workaholic recluse of the group. I don't take my meals with them because it just takes too long, and I decline invitations to town, to the county fair (that hurt), to hike in the hills, to tube down the river. I feel the cost of this trip, mostly to James who is chained to the house with full dog responsibilities, and I feel a tremendous impatience to get this draft finished. I had a fantasy about finishing by the time I left, but the pace of the rewrite is making December/January a more likely completion date. Your comments continue to goad me to clarity and directness in my prose--and I would like to have said brevity too but the new draft is shaping up (at p. 50) to be exactly as long as the last one. Still, I think it moves faster--and dirtier, as Daniel Handler put it in the prior crit.

Love to Dan!


Paul Festa to David
Aug 1

Hi David--

I'm still here--the Jentel sessions run for a month from the 15th to the 13th. I've been an incredible workaholic here, at it seven hours a day for 15 days straight now. The idea of taking a vacation day seems terrifying! The going is slow--I'm rewriting the book from the ground up, retyping it into a new document. Some parts from the second draft are going in almost verbatim, but not before going through the very fine-toothed comb of my having to type each word.

Forgive me if this is repeat from my Tribe email, but i inaugurated the trip with a car accident, broadsiding a deer on a mountain pass just over the Montana border on 90, middle of the night, no shoulder, no cell coverage, wounded animal, hysterical queen. Twenty minute later, gunshots from a state trooper, tears. Since then, autobody shop, insurance, parents, etc. None of this counts toward my seven hours.

How's by you?


Paul Festa to Mike
Aug 3


I've had a crazy summer since I last saw you. Israel was nuts, Paris, nuts, Oregon Country Fair and the drive to Wyoming, nuts (I totaled my car colliding with a deer, mountain pass, middle of the night, no shoulder, no cell coverage, dear not quite dead until a state trooper came along and put a few bullets in her). I've been a complete workaholic since I've been here, taking only one night off so far to catch a production of the Laramie Project in the nearest town. I've written about 60 pages of a ground-up rewrite, which incorporates a lot of the old draft but I'm writing it in a new document. On my evening bike rides I'm seeing a ton of wildlife--a couple of porcupines, wild turkeys, deer and antelope, rattlesnakes and bull snakes. the other 5 residents are more social, the eat together and hang out every evening, so I'm the oddball recluse, but I knows what I came here to do and it wasn't to spend 3 hours around the grill every night with wine! Today's my one day off from the novel and so am happy to catch up with you a bit.

Will I see you en route to or from BLC? I got a gig playing violin and some very tiny parts in a production of 12th night in the north bay every weekend in September, so I will be busy but daytimes will be good.


Paul Festa to Christopher
Aug 8 (4 days ago)


How are things with you? I'm in Wyoming where I have been working my brains out on the novel, preparing to play violin and a few small parts in 12th Night, and recovering (emotionally) from totaling my car on my way here. I struck a deer on 90 coming over the Montana state line, mountain pass, middle of the night, no shoulder, no cell coverage. Cute cop though. When he shot the poor wounded animal I burst into tears.


Paul Festa to Christopher
Aug 9 (3 days ago)

Yeah, the deer thing was pretty awful, made worse by the fact that I'd been on the road for 13 or 14 hours at that point jacked on caffeine. Fortunately the accident wasn't through my own error--I was driving under the speed limit--she was just right there when i came over the hill around a curve and when I honked and slammed on my brakes she just stood there and stared at me like a...well, you know the rest.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

diary: Tsfat

Flying on El Al is perfectly safe because they put people like me through the fucking ringer. I enjoy these interrogations because I have absolutely nothing to hide and because it’s so fun to watch these sexy young Israelis drill down rapid-fire trying to catch me in a lie or inconsistency. Sometimes they pursue details with such relish that they forget what they’d originally asked me; I oblige them with a gentle reminder. It’s like playing a high-stakes, highly caffeinated game of Chinese ping-pong knowing I’ll win despite any skill but frankness. Even after I’d passed this game of 20,000 questions, I was treated like a celebrity criminal, with a personal escort everywhere from security to the toilet to the front of the long line of passengers waiting to get on the plane.

I was seated directly behind a woman with two children and a screaming infant, and next to her father. I figured this would be like boot-camp preparation for my week with my sister and her five kids, but in fact it was mostly pleasant. Call me shallow but this little girl was so beautiful I couldn't resent her even when she was kicking and clawing at me. Pharmaceutical aides didn’t hurt.

The journey from shiny new Ben Gurion to Tsfat was a little confusing and didn't go according to plan and wound up costing me about $45 more than it should have, but I got here in one piece and found the place and as soon as I saw Tsofia's glorious smiling face greeting me in their courtyard all the irritation became a distant memory. We had a wonderful first day--they're all angels. Angels! Mamma arrived in a bit of a dark cloud, irritated that Chava and Yoseph hadn’t arranged a car for her at the airport, guilt-tripping me about wanting to go to the desert a week from now. In addition to being a harmonium pack-mule and a jungle gym for the kids that first day, I was a Merry Maid--I washed dishes and cleaned the stove for about 90 minutes, until sweat was dripping from my brow. I had to break every so often to apply Skintastic—I would say that without the slightest exaggeration there were about 25 million mosquitoes in my sister’s house. My first order of business when I arrived was putting up my mosquito nettinng and my first order of business when Mom arrived was putting up hers. Israeli mosquitoes are far too smart for such devices—they find their way right in. If I leave Israel without malaria and West Nile, I will praise G-d.

I love Tsfat, because it is one of the few places I know (San Francisco is another) that is equally charming and spectacular. The cobblestone streets and white stone archways and passageways through which stroll Black Hats and shawls here, and there, past the cemetery where important Kabbalists lie (and where, it occurred to me as I walked through it, my sister will one day lie) and across the valley, the imposing monument of the Meron mountains. Also, because it is so high, Tsfat is comparatively cool in the summer—you’d never know you were in a Middle East summer. What I love most about Tsfat are my five nieces and nephews, growing up without television or Internet, speaking accented English at home and Hebrew at school, wandering around their charming stone hilltop town in a state of rare innocence with that odd blot on it, that a year ago they all fled to Jerusalem as shells blew out their windows and demolished half of the house across the street.

Rockets landed some miles north of us on Sunday, causing some damage but seriously injuring nobody in Kiryat Shemona. Hezbollah disclaimed responsibility and Israel didn’t retaliate. I’ve dreamed of nuclear bombs going off on the other side of the mountain, of little boys throwing rockets that lodge in the dirt before me. Here at the resort on the other side of the lake from Tiberias, we heard explosions booming over the water and my sister spent a day in PTSD hell, but it turned out to be IDF exercises. A convoy of Jeeps pulled up in front of the resort and for a horrible moment my guts went cold as I imagined militiamen jumping out and massacring my family. But instead it was dozens of middle-aged Orthodox women with their suitcases and strollers and turbans. There are more turbans per square foot in this resort than a meeting of OPEC ministers.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The last day in Tsfat was the weirdest. I woke up the previous day at 4 a.m. with mosquitoes in my netting and walked to the cemetery, following its paths all the way down the hill to the floor of the valley. I got back to the house in time to walk the girls to their bus stop for school, then spent the day with the boys and the baby and Mom and Chava. I did some shopping in the afternoon, then got lost in the artist quarter and found the utterly enchanted narrow pedestrian streets and archways and tunnels that I remembered from my first visit here. When I got back to the house, Tirtza had prepared an elaborate guilt trip for my having been away for so long, but the kids were soon too distracted by their presents for her to pursue it.

After the kids were in bed and night had fallen, my sister commenced the screening she'd long planned of my movie, in the courtyard. Two people came in addition to Mom and Yosef, which made it a fuller house than at the second Denmark screening, at least. The guests were Daniel, the other gay guy in Tsfat, and his pregnant sister. I absented myself from the screening after I had a reality check with myself about how little I cared to sit there monitoring how each clip played with this particular audience, and took someone else’s novel to a tiny square at the hairpin turn of my sister's street. I sat on a bench under a street lamp and tried to read, but was soon approached by a young religious guy making anodyne inquiries and then asking if I were Jewish. I was as polite as one can be in monosyllables and as dishonest, because he was only there to proselytize, and about three minutes after he left a nasty old man came over spitting incoherent English and--this was so abrupt and shocking I'm not exactly sure how to phrase it--laid both hands on me and basically scooped me up off the bench. He was so repulsive, Ancient Mariner as late-stage syphilitic, that I moved as quickly as I could away from him and walked down the street and sat on a step to read, but the incident lingered with me and I had a not insubstantial dispute with myself over what the confrontation meant and how I should have handled it. When I put the two encounters together and became convinced I'd been evicted from a town square for having claimed to be gentile--something I've never done in my life--I felt that I should have stood my ground, which probably would have meant shoving the old man into the street. How is it that I could be so pliant about being physically removed from a park bench? Then I reflected that what the region needs is probably not more violence, and further that the violence endemic to this place is somewhat less mysterious to me after the encounter just described.

When I got back to the house, the movie was just finishing. Q&A was brief and surprisingly technical--how did you light it?--and I found myself refreshingly disengaged from the question of whether or not people had liked the movie and was content to let the conversation die a quick and natural death. When I get to that point with the novel, I'll know I'm ready to send it out into the world.

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diary: New York wrap-up

I write from Israel, where I’ve spent the last week with my sister, her husband and their five kids, ages seven months to eight years. I’ve been far too busy with life to blog about it, but this morning backslid into my jetlag, waking at six in the morning and so I have a quiet hour in the resort lobby before the next horde of yarmulked Mexican boys or turbaned Sephardic women is disgorged from a tour bus or, more distractingly, my nieces and nephews awaken. Because an hour is a short period of time, and because I am lazy, this blog will consist mostly of excerpts from email I’ve sent to James and other loved ones over the past ten days, redacted here and elaborated there.

I spent much of my time in New York at the 5th Avenue Apple Store, having acquired the following technology problems:

1. my optical drive failed
2. was hacked by a porn site I don't even like to look at
3. my new Pumas with the suede and rubber mace-textured toes got big gashes on both feet by my pinkie toes

Apple Geniuses failed to solve any of these problems, but I left comforted. They could call it the Psychotherapist Bar with greater accuracy.

Two days before my Wednesday afternoon departure I went to see Mano’s workshop production of “I Just Stopped By To See the Man,” an English play imagining, as exploitative English musical interloper, African-American intellectual activist murder accomplice on the lam, and her foundationally important blues musician father, analogues of Eric Clapton, Angela Davis and a foundationally important blues musician I’d never heard of whose name escapes me. Mano had performed this play in San Diego and wants to produce it in New York, so he organized this staged reading, in a black-box theater in the 54th Street building where all the fancy violin shops are, in order to attract other producers. I enjoyed the play, and not just because it starred Mano and Eisa, but because it also starred the guy (name also irretrievable at the moment) who won a Tony for his role in Caroline or Change, who sings and plays harmonica well enough to carry off the role of a foundationally important blues musician. And Mano, of course, sings and plays guitar better than Eric Clapton. My only reservation is that Eisa didn’t get to sing or play anything but her part.

The less said about the rest of the trip, the better.

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

diary: New York stopover

When you fly to Israel from San Francisco, they typically make you cool your heels at JFK for five hours. This makes no sense. Stay a week! So I did, and used the same argument to justify ten days in Paris on the way home. I'm getting three cities for barely more than the carbon emissions of one. The paradox of unemployment is that you have the time for this sort of scheduling, but not the money. Bewilderingly, I'm still considered housebroken by a handful of gullible New Yorkers so I don't have to pay for lodgings.

On Wednesday we landed around 4:30 in the afternoon, we being me and the harmonium my sister is having me bring to Israel. This musical instrument is just petite enough to fit in the overhead bins and though I can't play it, I am never unaware of its charisma. Some of my favorite chamber music from the 19th century are the five bagatelles Dvorak wrote for harmonium, two violins and cello (this recording is the one I know and love) and I heard them in my head the entire fifteen minutes I was conscious on the plane.

By the time I got my checked luggage and got the witchy little eastern european organ to Martin's place on the fourth Brooklyn L train stop and then took the 2 up to 135th St. and Malcolm X Blvd, it was precisely eight o'clock, which was when the memorial for Janet McDonald was scheduled to end. Dinner afterward allowed me to catch up with friends and be seated at a table of powerdykes in publishing whose gossip about Hillary and Condi was spicier than the Louisiana hot sauce that stained our deep-fried catfish.

Several of us piled into a gypsy cab to head downtown and in the East Village I met Stephen Pelton and his lover Ben. The bar was fronted by a wall of corrugated obscured glass and inside homosexuals were drinking rosé. Good to catch up with Stephen especially since he has cancelled his plans to be in Paris when I'm there. Of course I'm taking it personally. After we left the bar a pungent odor, like that of a burning weed, made its presence known on 1st Avenue and shortly thereafter Stephen and Ben called it a night. I walked downtown to The Cock, and was moments away from arriving there when Kevin Hoskins, a.k.a. Downey, and Apparition of the Eternal Church contributor Ned Stresen-Reuter came out of the bar. I fell in with them and with their charming friend Tyler, who's destined for a PhD program in architecture at the New College, so clearly our paths will cross again. We went to a succession of bars and Kevin entranced me with his brilliance and his idea for a Rudy Giuliani fundraiser: "9/11 in July." Tyler gave me a ride back to Brooklyn and let me kiss him despite turning down my invitation for a 4 a.m. beer. Excuse me, I thought it was beer o'clock. It occurred to me as I fell asleep on Martin's airbed that since arriving in New York that late afternoon I had caught up with three circles of friends. At home in San Francisco I'm not even sure I have three circles of friends.

Thursday Stephen Pelton and Jim Roe and I met at Lincoln Center after Jim's rehearsal at the State Theater, where he's playing in the ballet pit a lot these days. Gone are his Broadway pit days, when he played the whole of Elton John's Aida, six times a week, from muscle memory with plugs in his ears and the Atlantic Monthly on his music stand. We got sandwiches on Broadway and took them under a tree in the Sheep Meadow, where children roughly the age of my Israeli nieces and nephews were trying to pull a fat low bough down on us. I wanted Jim and Stephen to meet because they remind me so much of one another, particularly in their goofy staccato cackle. But you know how those expectations can sabotage an introduction, and the full lunch hour elapsed without a single instance of cackling.

Jim and I went back to the State Theater after lunch and he let me see the theater from the pit, a first. I love that theater! It's glitzy and romantic and I saw Moses & Aron and Busoni's Faust there. Good times, good times, and how often do you say that about Schoenberg? I was awestruck, an aged Eve Harrington looking up at the theater from the pit, but Jim should not worry--his oboe is safe from me. The most thrilling part of my afternoon in and near Lincoln Center was seeing the Juilliard School with its face ripped off. I mean no disrespect to my alma mater. Like everybody else who went there I had a love-hate relationship with the school, and much of the hate was directed at the spectacularly oppressive brutality of its architecture. A little glass, a realignment with Broadway, and a better attitude should improve the situation dramatically.

Jim and I hung out at Albert's place for a while. Albert had gone to Newark that morning, en route to celebrate Hugues Cuenod's one hundred and fifth birthday in Switzerland, but had returned to West 67th Street when he realized he had left his briefcase (tickets, passport) at home. We decided it was for the best because it meant he was free to have dinner with me, so after falling asleep in the Ramble in Central Park for an hour I returned to Albert's bar to watch the news at 6 and then spend the next five hours lighting Albert's various cigarettes and talking various blue streaks. Jim was getting a Helicon Foundation mailing out so he wasn't able to join us until we were finishing dinner at Nick & Tony's down the street.

After wheeling Albert home I walked to Hell's Kitchen where I met up with Julian DeLeon, whom I met in San Francisco as he was on his way to New York to dance with Stephen Petronio. He and I had expensive cocktails at an overly designed bar and then repaired to his tenement, where I have spent much of the last few days marvelling at its doorways, which are all deeply skewed parallelograms.

Friday I killed some hours with Julian wandering around that liminal area between Flatiron and Union Square and the West Village and Chelsea. At the Strand I had a mild anxiety attack sitting among all the Jesus books. I became certain that I was responsible for reading all of them before I write another word of my novel, and so I didn't buy any of them. I also put down what looked like a crucially relevant book by a Nobel laureate about the physical underpinnings of memory.

Nol Simonse, who played Oren, boyfriend of my Jeb in the Stephen Pelton Dance Theater spring workshop "The Hill," met us at the Strand and we went for excellent falafel on 14th Street. I kept saying I was going to head back to Williamsburg but I never made it, just frittered away time with modern dancers until it was time to meet Manoel at the Public Theater. How thrilling to see a friend who has gotten so chubby on purpose. I wrote down the numbers somewhere but I think he went from 155 to 192 and is back down to 185. He gained the weight for a Todd Solondz flick but then Emma Thompson pulled out and now the studio has hired a trainer whom Mano had to meet in Central Park this morning at 9AM so he can resume life as the skinny heartthrob with which he gained his legions of disorderly young female fans.

Mano and I ate a tiny Japanese dinner and then saw Eisa play the mother in Passing Strange at the Public. It was my second time, Mano's third. Mano and I talked each other's ears off about the play all night, but the only salient point is that Eisa is a dazzling performer and so was every other person onstage, including Stew in his too-cool-for-school way. After the show, Eisa, Mano, the absurdly good-looking Chad Goodridge (see pic below of the Passing Strange cast minus Eisa--he's at center) and I went to Cafe Orlin and had surprisingly good food. Mano left early because he had to get up early and lose weight.

I spent the rest of the night with my dissolute modern dancers, ending up on a rooftop with beers. Two pieces of good news worth recording: Mano roped Eisa into a play he's producing and I'll be here for the preliminary performances Monday and Tuesday. And Eisa was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.