Category Archives: Andrew Ramer

WC71 – Andrew Ramer’s Praxis

Bohemian Splendor

When I read about the subject of this issue I was stumped about what to say. Nothing came to mind at all. I was going to call Bo and Dan and ask them to assign this column to someone else. Then I remembered that some people write by design but I write by happenstance, trusting that the events of my life will give me the ideas I need, with the same random perfection as a tarot spread.

Lately my bedtime reading has been Queer Cowboys: And Other Erotic Male Friendships in Nineteenth Century American Literature, by Chris Packard, which I bought in hopes of grounding my dislike of Brokeback Mountain in an historical context. Several nights ago, toward the end of the book, I read about Irish-born John Boyle O’Reilly, who lived from 1844 to 1890, and founded a private men’s club in Boston based upon the ideals he wrote about in his poem “In Bohemia,” which was, according to Packard, a favorite piece to be recited in Victorian American drawing rooms. That was the first card dealt me by the Cosmic Shuffler. Here’s a bit of the poem.

I’d rather live in Bohemia than in any other land
For only there are values true,
And laurels gathered in all men’s view.

Bohemia? That region of Central Europe which occupies the western and middle thirds of the Czech Republic? No, our Bohemia reflects a false French perception, held since the 15th century, that the gypsies, those free souls, originally came from Bohemia. Hence, Bohemian: outsiders, artists and writers who live apart from conventional society and its restrictions.

The day after I read about John Boyle O’Reilly and his poem I received a postcard in the mail that said on it: “High Tea in Low Drag.” An invitation to a 90th birthday celebration for John Burnside, the four-decade partner of Harry Hay. John in elegant elder profile, is wearing a large-brimmed hat covered with flowers and plumes, a bright pink feather boa around his neck, lifting a delicate blue and white china saucer and teacup to his lips. My next card from the Eternal Tarot Deck.

Lastly, Divine Happenstance provided me with the final elements in my spread, from the book I was reading on a plane to Erie in the state I call Pencilvania, where I was going to visit my oldest friend Irmgard, who is slowly and elegantly dying of cancer. My travel book was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, a fun romp through Comic Book Land full of superheroes, their cute boy wards, and a sad/sweet gay plotline. High above the Rockies I came upon a passage about a private men’s club located in Prague. “Prague you say? Isn’t that the capital of the Czech Republic? And isn’t it located in Bohemia?” Yes, exactly. “And who were the members of that club?” I hear you asking. Well, the club was a gathering place for the performing magicians of Bohemia, in a city that (I quote Chabon) has “produced some of history’s greatest charlatans, conjurors, and fakirs.”

Private club. Bohemian. That sounds like some aspects of gay life. But what made the literary tarot spread even better was a drawing in pen and ink that keeps appearing in the book. Done by a precocious young boy, to illustrate his opera libretto, it’s a picture of Harry Houdini, the great escape artist, wearing a dinner jacket and hurtling down to earth from an airplane, along with a parachute, two chairs, a table, and tea set. Houdini is smiling as he takes his cup of tea in the middle of the sky. 

So what can I say about Bohemian Splendor now? That there’s something artificial about it, with an emphasis on the art. And yet, by right or wrong attribution, it’s also about being vibrantly alive, creative, and counter-cultural. It’s about private clubs and what goes on in them. There’s something magical about it, alienating, that finds us in unlikely situations, doing ordinary things like sipping tea. But what the hell can I offer you by way of a spiritual practice? How can you practice something that by its very definition is supposed to be spontaneous, carefree, and unpremeditated, or at least pretending to be so?

For the first time in this column on spiritual practice – there will be no practice. But our last issue was on charlatans (a club to which you may now include me), and since the issue before that one was on eldering, please consider the following practice as being entirely separate from this issue, hurtling through space in a teacup all by itself, or riding on the back of an opalescent crane.

Harry Hay, a father of the Mattachine Society in one generation and of the Radical Faeries in the next, shared his life with a man whose Bohemian Splendor continues to inspire us.  And it is our job as their spiritual sons to see that John Burnside, in feathers and laurels, is well taken care of. Beyond his own limited resources, an additional $12,000 a year is needed to care for John.   So:

1. Get out your checkbook

2. Write a check to the “Harry Hay Fund” for  whatever amount feels right to you

3. Mail it to:
      Chas Nol
      816 Waller Street
      San Francisco, CA  94117

4. Along with a short note wishing John a happy birthday and thanking him for all of his gifts to our tribe.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are Letheramerbookreader-supported and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer lives in San Francisco.
He is the author of the gay classic  Two Flutes Playing
(available from
Praxis is a regular feature in each issue of White Crane.

White Crane #70 – Andrew Ramer’s PRAXIS

Airfreshener PRAXIS
Air Freshener for the Soul

by Andrew Ramer

I believe it was Jesus who said, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”

This is very good advice.

Too many of us walk around with genius inside, which we hide from the world as if it were something to be ashamed of, or keep from the world because we don’t even know it’s there, forgetting that our gifts aren’t ours alone but belong to everyone.

Only sometimes we go too far with this advice. We shine our light in every corner, broadcasting our supposed enlightenment to the world. When we do that or see other’s doing it, it may be useful to recall these words, which I found in a book of sayings by  Hasidic masters: “The greater the light, the greater the shadow.” This explains to me what happens to spiritual teachers whose actions turn out to be the opposite of what they’ve been preaching. I’m not talking about those gurus who were charlatans, frauds, con artists, all along, but the genuine spiritual guides who were overwhelmed by internal issues they hadn’t dealt with or healed, who plunged into denial, deceit, megalomania, and abuse.

Maybe it was different in Jesus’ time, when a large percentage of the world was still enslaved, but our culture pushes us toward accomplishment and achievement. We all want our fifteen minutes of fame, and then some more. Talk shows and reality shows turn ordinary people in celebrities, so no wonder gurus of all kinds get into trouble.

Recently my co-workers and I had to attend a two-day training called, “Excellence in Programming.” We thought we were doing a good job, but lots of flip charts, power-point displays, and indoctrination on the importance of using words like “output” and “outcome”, came at us with a very unsubtle subtext — “You could do better. You should do better. You will, in fact you must do better!” But it seems to me that the rewards for good work and living a good life should be found in the work itself and the way it makes the world a better place, not in the adulation our culture tells us we deserve and should strive for. And if we don’t achieve, if we don’t live up to our potential, we can plunge into despair and question our very existence, especially we queer folk, who are vilified by the dominant culture simply for existing.

So the question is: how do we live meaningful lives? Lives in which we don’t hide our light under a bushel, nor fan the flames of our egos so strongly that we commit the opposite mistake, increasing our light and thereby our shadows?

How do we know when we have enough light? How do we look in the mirror each day and know that we are created in the image of God, at the same time remember that we are made from clay that we will crumble back into? How do become transformative global citizens, who are grounded and humble as well?

Gay American writer and editor Donald Windham was a friend of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and pen pal to E. M. Forster and Alice Toklas, among others. He wrote these words in his openly gay novel, Two People, first published in 1965— “It is ordinary to love the marvelous. It is marvelous to love the ordinary.” If you haven’t read Windham, seek out his work, both fiction and non-fiction. He’s a forgotten master of language and explorer of the creative process. And think about his words. “It is ordinary to love the marvelous.”

Everyone does that.

Turn around to look at the Greek god sauntering past, the Mogul prince standing regal on the cross-town bus. But Windham went on to write: “It is marvelous to love the ordinary.” The down-to-Earth. The real. The weary office worker sitting across from you on the subway, in crumpled jacket and pulled down tie, magazine open but unread on his lap, whose bloodshot eyes still sparkle. The multiply-pierced fellow with chipped black nail polish, hunched over the counter at your favorite health food store, who never makes eye contact with you but always puts the fragile tomatoes and delicate cilantro on top of your grocery bag.
Windham’s prescription is a key, as far as I can tell, to walking the path between “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” and “The greater the light, the greater the shadow.”

Here are his words again:

“It is ordinary to love the marvelous. It is marvelous to love the ordinary.”

It’s easy to be seduced by excellence. But Windham is inviting us to live in the world in a different way, grounded in the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane, the real.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are reader-supported and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. LetheramerbookThanks!

Andrew Ramer lives in San Francisco.
He is the author of the gay classic  Two Flutes Playing
(available from
Praxis is a regular feature in each issue of White Crane.

White Crane #69 – Praxis by Andrew Ramer “Elderlicious”

An Excerpt from the Summer 2006 Issue of White Crane



You’re not happy about your appearance, and are considering plastic surgery. Some of your friends are for it, others against. Finally you decide that you don’t believe in reincarnation, you only have one life to live, and you want your outside to match your inside. Anxious, eager, you go under the knife during the long Labor Day weekend, and take a week off on the other side. “Oh my God!” your coworkers say when you get back. “You look fantastic. At least ten years older.” You’ve been coloring your hair gray for a while, but the new wrinkles around your eyes, the added creases in your cheeks, and the enhanced wattle beneath your chin are so sexy that you get cruised on the street like you’ve never been cruised before. “It was worth it,” you tell your smiling best friends over dinner. “I wish I’d done this a long time ago.”

Whatever age you are right now, take off all your clothes, and look into a mirror – in a world where Age = Beauty. Frankly, a hard stomach is only half-formed. Your pecs won’t be ripe for anyone to sink their teeth into until they’ve drooped. And if the flesh on the bottom of your arms doesn’t sway when you swing them, your beautiful elderhood will have to be grown into. Get used to being ignored when you enter rooms filled with handsome older men, bald and gray and magnificent. Accept the fact that you’ll be walking down the street feeling invisible for a while longer. You’re going to age like fine wine, slowly, but doing the following things may augment your inner fermentation and prepare you for your own luscious future. 

An elder is like a mighty tree, with a ring for every year of his life contained within his gorgeous aging body. As you move through the world, pay increasing attention to older men, and allow yourself to feel and know that you are part of a tribal chain, going back through history, linking elders and youngers, a chain which helps to hold the world together.

Whatever your age is, find a mentor, a man at least ten years older than you are. Spend time with your mentor on a regular basis. Take him out to lunch in lovely places, buy him small things that will enhance his physicality, and treat him the way that you would like to be treated when you’re his age. Bask in his beauty and wisdom, and be open to his guidance.

If your mentor has no heirs, no children, show him by your integrity and devotion that you are a worthy recipient of anything that documents his life as a man who loves men, such as photo albums and old love letters. These you will cherish, learn from, and one day pass on to your own spiritual son or sons, along with material from your own life, so that the tribe of men who love men doesn’t have to reinvent itself, over and over again, in each generation.

If you laughed your way through this piece, because you don’t believe a word of it, look at yourself in the mirror again. Stare into your eyes and know that if you’re lucky and live long enough, your butt will droop, your belly will hang, hair will vanish from some places and appear in others – all of which will herald your mature perfection in physical form. And if you think or know that you will not live to have an older body, remember that anyone who stands near the doorway out of this world ages and ripens into wisdom and grace no matter what his age is, and becomes an elder for all the world to honor.

And if you still don’t believe that when you are older you will be beautiful, cherished, admired, and turned to for guidance, ask yourself why not, and ask yourself what it will mean to you to cultivate these ideas, and invite your own inner elderhood to blossom within you, day by day.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this
excerpt from White Crane.
We are a reader-supported publication. To read more from
this wonderful issue we invite you to SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Andrew Ramer lives in San Francisco.
He is the author of the gay classic Two Flutes Playing (now available from  Praxis is a regular feature in each issue of White Crane.