Category Archives: Reviews

WC81 – Joel Anastasi’s The Second Coming

Rev81_anastasi
The Second Coming:
The Archangel Gabriel Proclaims a New Age

By Joel D. Anastasi
iUniverse, 340 pages.  $20.95.  ISBN 978-0-595-49405-7
Reviewed by Toby Johnson

What
the Christian, long-anticipated “Second Coming of Christ” really refers
to is not a return of a bodily Jesus descending through the clouds as
portrayed in the myth, but rather the awakening of the soul in all of
humanity so humankind realizes and experiences the “Christ within,”
that is, that we are all incarnations of God.  This is, indeed, one of
the central themes in contemporary, post-Christian, post-mythological,
and (in the very best sense) New Age spiritual thought.

“You are
God. The container you’ve chosen has chosen one fragmentary aspect of
God to experience, one speck in the cosmos, one cell in the universe…
allowing God to experience itself in its infinite complexity.”
This
is how this wisdom is expressed by the Archangel Gabriel, speaking
through a trance channel, in Joel D. Anastasi’s fascinating and
thought-provoking The Second Coming: The Archangel Gabriel Proclaims a
New Age
.

Anastasi is a trained journalist, news reporter and former
magazine editor who applied his professional skills to interview the
entity that is channeled by Reiki Master, counselor and healing
practitioner Robert Baker. Baker has a website about his practice at
ChildrenOfLight.com.

Part of the experience of reading the book is
understanding just what channeling is and how its productions are to be
evaluated. Certainly what is now called “trance channeling” is a
parallel phenomenon to what in Biblical times was called “prophecy” and
in Christian and Muslim tradition is called “revelation.” Through a
human being—especially a human being who has trained him or herself in
meditation practice to allow personal ego to quiet and a deeper voice
from within to speak—trans-human wisdom and information is articulated
as though it were coming from an external personal entity.

Since the
central theme mentioned above holds that God is within each person,
then the entity that speaks from within is always that God. So
contemporary New Age spirituality naturally honors this particular
literary genre of channeled revelation as a manifestation of the
human/divinity unity. Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God
series, Jane Roberts’ Seth Speaks and Esther and Jerry Hicks’ Abraham
books, and in a slightly different way A Course in Miracles are other
examples.

Beyond the actual content of the revelation, what is
probably most important about the phenomenon is the meditation training
in quieting personal ego. And reading the productions and revelations
of trance channels are more important for how they train the reader in
such practice than in details they purport to reveal. That is to say,
at least in the understanding of this reviewer, the medium itself is
more important than the content. It’s the medium, the idea of
channeling itself, that reveals and demonstrates the central wisdom that all human beings are “fragmentary aspects of God.”

Anastasi
began studying with Robert Baker in 2002. He found the experience of
listening so profound and fascinating that he decided to write it down
and to organize and present the wisdom in the literary genre of modern
journalism: the interview. The style makes the material easier to
understand and less “ooo goo boo goo” mystical and more realistic and
down-to-earth. Indeed, since the interviews began in 2002, the
terrorist attack of 9/11 was still very vivid and so Gabriel naturally
comments on this watershed event in human history. As it happens,
Gabriel espouses the conspiracy theory that the World Trade towers were
imploded from within. That may or may not be actually so. My
proposition that the medium is more important than the content holds
that the value of the revelation is not dependent on the factuality of
what’s revealed. The Truth that Gabriel manifests through Robert Baker
wouldn’t be disproved by the evidence that there were no explosives in
the WTC any more than the mythological significance for Christianity of
the Resurrection would be invalidated by the discovery of Jesus’s
bones. The mythical, transcendent Truth stands beyond the metaphors
that are used to express it.

In The Second Coming that Truth is that
God is within us all. Reading the book is a fascinating reminder that
each of us should listen to our deepest selves.

I’m not sure what I
think about 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, though what it certainly true is
that contemporary human consciousness is permeated with conspiracy
theories, and these, at least, point to the reality of collective,
planetary consciousness. We all think something is going on beyond what
we all see; there’s a hidden dimension to human life.

Anastasi, an
openly gay man who occasionally mentions his partner and questions
Gabriel about gay issues, ends his introduction: “I began this journey
as a skeptic. The intuitive truth and rightness of Gabriel’s teachings
have found their way into my ‘deepest heart,’ my ‘deepest being.’ It is
my wish that Gabriel’s teachings find that place in you and that all
mankind may one day join in peace, love, and unity in this new
two-thousand-year age.”

In recommending this book to readers, I am
echoing that sentiment. We really are at the start of a “new age”; a
new religion, a new consciousness of what “God” means is being born in
our time. This book is a wonderful demonstration of that—and evidence,
I think, of how gay people are part of its unfolding.

Toby Johnson is a former publisher of White Crane and a contributing editor to the magazine. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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WC81 – Review of Vladimir’s Vladmaster

81_vladmaster
VLADMASTER
By Vladimir
www.vladmaster.com
Reviewed by Bo Young

There aren’t many artists working in the View-Master™ medium, but Vladimir does. As it happens, I visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology last time I was in Los Angeles.  Well worth a trip just for a visit to that magical place. One of the MJT’s more cunning souvenirs is a View-Master™ collection of discs showing four of the exhibits that were there at the time (and may well still be.) So I fortunately happened to have a View-Master™ handy when I discovered Vladmaster. It is possible to buy a View-Master™ at Vladimir’s website, along with other stories she tells in the medium, but when I found the art, the View-Master™ wasn’t offered.

Vladimir, an artist living in Portland Oregon, makes Vladmasters. Vladmasters are handmade View-Master™ reels designed, photographed, and hand-assembled by Vladimir. She makes use of toys, neglected household objects, and odd ephemera to tell 28-picture, 3-D tales of missing earth-moving industrial equipment, disastrous dinner parties, and overly adventurous cockroaches, to name a few.

Vladmaster performances are simultaneous Vladmaster experiences in which every attendee needs a viewer and set of discs and then led through the story by a soundtrack featuring music, narration, sound effects, and ding noises to cue the change from image to image. If you don’t happen to be the lucky person with the lone View-Master™ in the room at your eyes, you can enjoy the accompanying light show that displays on the computer screen. But how fun would it be for everyone in your household to have their own View-Master™?

Bottom line, there is just something charming — a little queer, if you will — about the medium and the message. And isn’t it time someone brought back the View-Master™? Me…I’m a soon-to-be 60-year old, about to move to the wilds of upstate New York, so a View-Master™ seems like just the thing for snowed in winter evening entertainment. And I showed it to my hipster-cool, 20-something nieces and the general comments were in the area of “This guy’s good!” (20-somethings call everyone “guy”).

The Vladmaster I received was The Public Life of Jeremiah Barnes, the above-referenced story of missing heavy earth-moving equipment told in miniature toy medium. Other titles include Franz Kafka Parables, Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities, Lucifugia Thigmotaxis, Actaeon At Home, and Fear & Trembling. Collect them all! Just $20. View-Master™ $5.00 extra + $3.00 shipping. Viewers are ONLY for sale with the purchase of a Vladmaster set. I say: Spring for it.  Visit www.vladmaster.com

Bo Young is White Crane’s publisher.  He lives in Upstate New York.

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WC80 – Dreamtime’s Didgeridoo…a danceable world journey

Rvu_Dreamtime Didgeridoo…
a danceable world journey
Dreamtime,
Etherean Music, Inc. 2000

Reviewed by Bo Young

I admit to a fascination with “World Music.” I still think of myself as a drummer, even though I haven’t sat in a drummer’s circle or played around a sanctuary bonfire with my djembe in a decade. And to this day, if Ladysmith Black Mambazo is playing anywhere, I’m there. Alas, occasionally this music can be more anthropological than danceable.

So it was particularly “attention grabbing” when I was listening to the inimitable Steve Post on WNYC-FM one Sunday morning and he played a didgeridoo piece. There is, of course, something viscerally primal about the deep buzz of the Down Under wind instrument; something between a nature buzz and the chanting of Buddhist monks. The sound is at once primitive, but also other-worldly, of some very earthy place and of deep space and time, too.

The music Post was playing is from a modern group called Dreamtime. Dreamtime has a collection of music available on iTunes or Amazon that I am able to locate: Didgeridoo (Etherean Music, Inc. 2000).
The music combines traditional didgeridoo playing (I’m sure I hear the familiar ringing baritone of a djembe in there) with modern instrumentation and contemporary electronic, as well as interviews and additional liner note information about Australia's aborigines along with indigenous chants.

And while the cut Cave Dance is almost a field recording in its earthy simplicity — just the whir of the didgeridoo and homemade rhythms — the aptly titled Tribal Techno matches the lead instrument to a mixture of organic and electronic percussion. This kind of cultural and musical blending isn't new, and Didgeridoo doesn't take the concept in any direction that so-called World Music hasn't gone before. But it's a nice package, very listenable and earnest in its intention to explore the aboriginal' culture and music. Between tracks of pulsating didgeridoo rhythms and percussion, voices of tribal elders and sounds of wildlife from Australia's Outback, Dreamtime’s Didgeridoo combines to form a world music journey you can move to.

Bo Young is White Crane’s publisher.  He lives in New York City.

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WC80 – Review of Ed Madden’s Signals

RVU_Madden Signals By Ed Madden
The University of South Carolina Press
69 pages, $14.95
ISBN: 1570037507

Reviewed by Dan Vera

Ed Madden teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina.  He’s also a hell of a poet.  The publication of a book like Signals heralds great things for lovers of honest poetry that captures the lyrical beauty of life.  I spent a few hours reading this book, contempling the words and images.  I found them populating my mind.  I found a deep resonance to the questions I hold in my heart as a Gay man in the world and one deeply in love and partnered.

Along with his academic bona fides Madden serves as writer in residence at the Riverbanks Botanical Gardens in Columbia, South Carolina.  One sees evidence of this connection to the natural world in Madden’s work.  In poems like “Cabin Near Caesar’s Head” there is a gorgeous attention to the botanical splendor of the countryside.  Again and again one is — I don’t know what other word to use but — blessed by a precise litany of names — the luscious names of trees and flowers.  There is such great attention here and such care taken in creating miniature pictures in the mind.  I have to add that this collection is of importance for those grown thirsty for poems about the love of men, for Madden breaks the drought throughout this book. What’s most refreshing is the exercise doesn’t seem forced or premeditated.  Madden is writing plainly but with intention.
Signals has a number of poems that speak to the peculiar nature of the South’s ever-present racial history.  Others have done this.   But Madden is writing from his perspective as a gay man partnered with another.  This happens best in the poem “Confederates,” a poetic account of a day marching against South Carolina’s confederate-laced flag.  When a woman asks what the two white Gay men are doing at the march, the question has an immediate percussive ring that lays bare the joint allegiances Gay men and people of color should hold at this point in history.  It’s startling and affirming at the same time.  I can’t recall another poet writing of these things so effectively and convincingly.

Last October, after many years of being an admirer of his work, I had the good fortune to read with him at the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival.  Hearing him read from these poems is a memory I will long treasure.

Signals is the resulting book from Madden’s winning the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize.  It is the greatest gift South Carolina has given me.  The gift is yours for the taking.

Dan Vera is White Crane’s managing editor and a poet living in Washington, DC.


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WC80 – Our Caribbean

RVU_OurCaribbean Our Caribbean:
A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles
Edited and with an introduction
by Thomas Glave
Duke University Press $24.95
ISBN-10: 082234226X,  416 pages
Edited by Thomas Glave

Reviewed by Dan Vera

A collection like Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles doesn’t come across too often.  I can pretty much remember all of them.  There’s the two Gay Sunshine anthologies: My Deep Dark Pain Is Love and Now the Volcano. Then there’s Jaime Manrique’s two great anthologies Virgins, Guerrillas and Locas: Gay Latinos Writing About Love, and Besame Mucho.  Both of those came out in 1999 as did Erasmo Guerra’s anthology Latin Lovers.  Anthologies by Gay people of color are rare.  It’s “off the radar screen” at the major (or minor) publishing houses.  This is too bad because anthologies like Our Caribbean reminds us that the breadth of Gay and Lesbian experience is more wide and varied, and richer, then we normally realize.  I need to point out that an anthology like this is also of tremendous help to Gay and Lesbians of Color.  I recall many years ago trying to make my Cuban mother understand what it meant that her child was Gay.  She acted as if it were something I’d “caught” here in the United States.  It wasn’t until we were both able to enjoy Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir Before Night Falls that she “got it” and was able to recover her own memory of the Gay people she knew in Cuba. In her upbringing—like that of many religious people—there were “no gays” around her.  It was an unspoken thing.  But Arenas’ book revealed to her a part of her culture she had forgotten and a perspective that deepened her own understanding of identity and exile.  I can never give enough thanks to those authors and publishers that allowed that healing and acceptance to begin.

Thomas Glave has collected an impressive collection of writings by some of the leading writers from the Antilles.  Arenas’ work is here, as is the work of Virgilio Piñera, Audre Lorde, Andrew Salkey and Assotto Saint.  I believe the inclusion of these now ancestral Gay and Lesbian writers gives the collection its deep roots. In the case of Lorde and Saint—two writers who are considered “American” by many of their fans—their presence in this anthology reminds us that they were deeply Caribbean voices.  Glave, who wrote the brilliant Lammy-winning Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent, has given us a collection that reflects the literary richness of the Caribbean and its diaspora.

It is a rich trove of fiction, memoir, nonfiction and poetry and includes much work translated from the Creole, Dutch and Spanish.  Standouts for me included the descriptive ornamental beauties of Aldo Alvarez’ “Property Values,” Glave’s defiant and call to democracy “Whose Caribbean? An Allegory, In Part”, Juanita Ramos’ narrative autobiography, Rane Arroyo’s “Saturday Night In San Juan With the Right Sailors” and “Almost A Revolution For Two In Bed,” the gorgeous patois of Shani Mootoo’s paean to Indian food, “Out On Main Street.”

One warning though.  You will fall in love with many of the authors in this book.  The iconic ones—Arenas and Lorde for example—their work is widely available. But for the younger ones still living, we can only hope to find more of their work in the future.  For the many writers in non-English languages, access to their work is difficult if not impossible to find (Virgilio Piñera and Pedro De Jesús).  Others just need more publishers to give them the space and opportunity to be read.  Perhaps this book will precipitate that.  These thirty seven authors deserve it and our need for their perspective is dire if we are to know our selves more thoroughly.

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WC79 – Review of Condor 1

Rvu_condor1 Condor One  By John Simpson

Dreamspinner Press, 212 pages, $11.99
ISBN-13: 978-0981737287

Reviewed by Steve Lavigne

Following twelve years of dangerous Republican rule, in the 2012 elections, the nation elects recently outed Democratic candidate David J. Windsor to the Presidency. In a short time following his oath of office, Windsor is under both physical and verbal attacks, so he finds himself under the protection of his Secret Service Agent, Shane Thompson. Attracted to this striking specimen of manhood, Windsor’s in danger of putting his life into even more jeopardy. But there’s a lot more in store than either man has bargained for in Condor One, John Simpson’s sharp, enthralling and sexy political thriller! (The title refers to the Secret Service’ code name for its leading character.)

Windsor, cousin to England’s King William (under the advice of his mother, the Queen, Charles has wisely stepped aside and allowed his charming son the rightful place upon the throne), within the first few months of his administration, many of the policies and laws signed into law by Bush are overturned. Windsor organizes a Peace Summit in the Middle East and the most significant act of treason since the American Revolution is thwarted. There are members of Windsor’s staff who are both faithful to the man and his ideals and against the very things he stands for, and Simpson blends them well in this smoothly written, thought-provoking novel.  That Simpson was himself an award-winning Federal Agent gives Condor One much of its credibility.

Simpson has become something of a wonder in the world of Gay writers, publishing several books already this past year, including the previously reviewed Murder Most Gay as well as its sequel, Task Force. His storytelling style is spellbinding, and while he’s toned down the sexual passages in this book, they still add humanity to both David and Shane, whose romance is both exciting and dangerous.

With the outcome of the 2008 Presidential Race promising unprecedented change, it will be fascinating to see how the next administration comes making things as different as Simpson hints in this wise and enjoyable tome!

This is an excerpt.   Subscribe today and keep the conversation going!  Consider giving a gift subscription to your friends who could use some wisdom!  This is anIf there's an article listed above that was not excerpted online, copies of this issue are available for purchase.  Contact us at editors@gaywisdom.org

WC79 – Hadrian at the British Museum

Hadrian Hadrian at the British Museum

Reviewed by Paul Harmon

When most Americans think of Roman emperors, they think of the first five emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. These emperors, all related to Julius Caesar, are usually referred to as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Collectively, they reigned from 31 BC until 68 CE – some 99 years. In fact, of course, the Roman Empire in the West lasted from the inauguration of Augustus in 31 BCE to the abdication of the emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 CE some 507 years later and was ruled by about 80 emperors from several different dynasties.

The dynasty that has long attracted the interest of historians and Gay readers is the third dynasty, often referred to as the Dynasty of the Adoptive Emperors. Gibbon famously referred to this period as the apex of the Roman Empire and suggested that during this period humankind was as happy and prosperous as it had ever been before or since. The period began in AD 96 when, following the murder of Domitian, a particularly nasty tyrant, the imperium was given to Nerva, an elderly senator with a reputation for fairness and intelligence. Having no sons, and knowing he needed to keep control of the army, Nerva adopted Trajan, the general in charge of the Roman armies of the Rhine. Trajan was officially married, like all Roman aristocrats, but he preferred the company of young men. Thus, Trajan, in turn, had no children, and decided to adopt his nephew, Hadrian, as his successor. Hadrian, in turn, adopted his successor. In fact, Hadrian adopted two generations of successors, first adopting an elderly Antoninus Pius as his son, and then arranging for Antoninus Pius to adopt Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius broke this series of adoptions, preferring the pleasures of married life and having children; he allowed his son, Commodus, to become emperor. Commodus was a nasty piece of work who got himself killed in 192 AD, ending the Adoptive Dynasty. 

Those who have seen the movie Gladiator will recall that the author of the movie script suggested that Marcus Aurelius may have been ready to adopt a military general, Maximus, as his successor, but was killed by Commodus to prevent that. There is no historical data to support that notion. However that may be, for a little over 100 years, Rome was ruled by a succession of intelligent, diligent men who chose their successors rather than simply passing on the imperium to their children. The fact that some were old and without sons and that others were homosexual contributed to the success of this period by avoiding unfit offspring, and giving the imperium, instead, to mature men who had already proved their ability to manage armies and administer a complex civil government. 

Under Trajan the empire grew to include the most territory it ever encompassed. It stretched from Gibraltar to England and the Netherlands, down along the Rhine, and across the Danube to the Black Sea and Turkey. It included every land touching the Mediterranean, all of the Middle East, and all of North Africa. Trajan, just before his death, completed the dream that so many Roman generals had failed to achieve, and conquered Mesopotamia, extending the boundary of the Empire, in the East, to include Babylon and the Persian Gulf. Then Trajan, his health having been damaged by his Mesopotamia campaign, died of a stroke. Hadrian, who had been a general in his own right for many years, was proclaimed Emperor on August 11, 117 CE. Hadrian proceeded to rule for 21 years, dying in July of 138 CE. During those 21 years, he established himself as one of the very great Roman emperors. As a result of his extended love affair with a Greek youth, Antinous, he also established himself as Rome’s most famous “Gay” emperor.

The first challenge Hadrian faced, following his accession, was the problem of managing the recently expanded empire that he inherited from Trajan. Hadrian decided that the Roman Empire was overextended, and he proceeded to withdraw from territories that would be hard to defend. He gave up, for example, all of Mesopotamia and reestablished the Eastern border of the empire in Syria. Within the area he chose to keep – which was most of the empire – he established forts and walls to make defense easier. Thus, Hadrian’s famous wall across northern England came to define the boundary between England and the wilds of Scotland. In a similar way he built walls and forts along the Rhine and the Danube in an effort to exclude the Germanic tribes from the Roman Empire. 

To accomplish this refinement of Rome’s borders, Hadrian personally traveled throughout most of his reign. In essence, his court traveled with him, setting up camp with the army, wherever Hadrian spent time. This is not to suggest that Hadrian moved quickly. His life was a slow progression from one Roman province to another. At each stop he would analyze the strategic position of the province and adjust and fortify the borders as needed. At the same time Hadrian loved architecture and built roads and commissioned civic and religious buildings throughout the empire.  

This same pattern was followed by his successor, Marcus Aurelius, who apparently built a large Roman bathhouse in a town in Southern Turkey that was subsequently destroyed by an earthquake around 580 CE. Recently, Belgium archaeologists have been excavating the site, and have unearthed the bathhouse in which they have found several large statues of the various emperors and empresses of the Adoptive Dynasty. Along with a statue of Marcus Aurelius and his wife, they have also discovered statues of Hadrian and his wife. This discovery stimulated the British Museum to mount a major exhibit on Hadrian. The exhibit ran from July 24 to October 26 of this year and provided what was probably the most complete display of Hadrian artifacts ever shown in one location. 

For those who know the British Museum, the Hadrian exhibit was in the library at the center of the Great Court. The original museum had been a square building with a large hollow courtyard in the center. When the museum was updated a few years ago, a round library a great dome that was build in the center of the building’s courtyard. A glass roof was then erected to cover all of the space from the top of the library dome to the walls of the original building, creating a large covered courtyard. The Hadrian exhibit was housed in the library. As one entered the Great Court, right in front of the library, on a raised platform, was the larger than life statue of Antinous, in the guise of the Egyptian god Osiris. This statue, which normally resides in the Vatican Museum, is probably the most exciting piece of soft-core porn created in the ancient world. The standing youth is wearing an Egyptian headdress and an Egyptian linen kilt. His strong masculine chest and legs are nude. Unlike other Egyptian figures, however, it is nearly impossible not to focus on how the tip of Antinous penis pushes forward his kilt, creating an unmistakable bulge. His head is upright, but his upper body is thrust backward, emphasizing not only his back muscles, but a powerful and very shapely ass. This wonderfully erotic statue, made for the grieving Hadrian after the youth’s death, was clearly designed to remind Hadrian of just how exciting the young man had been. So much for setting the tone for the exhibit.

The exhibit was organized to move viewers around the inside of the circular library. Curved canvas panels had been erected on the inside of the library to cover the book-lined walls. The exhibit took advantage of these panels to project color slides. Thus, the exhibit combined objects, narrative in the form of either textual posters or recordings one could listen to with headphones, and projected images. The three were combined about as effectively as I have ever seen it done.

The first pie shaped section of the exhibit focused on Roman society during the age of Trajan and Hadrian. The second focused on the size and scope of the empire, the military forces used to create and enforce the Roman peace, and the role of Trajan in creating, and Hadrian in bounding the empire together, at its height. There was also a collection of statues of the various emperors and their wives. Hadrian was variously portrayed via busts and statues as an adolescent, a young man, and as emperor. There, among the other statues, was the five-foot high marble head of the statue of Hadrian that had recently been excavated from the Roman bathhouse in southern Turkey.

The next stage of the exhibit focused on Hadrian’s various building projects. It being England, there were many pictures and artifacts of Hadrian’s wall that divided England from Scotland, but there were also models and wonderful photos of the Pantheon, the Forum of Trajan that Hadrian built in Rome, and Hadrian’s mausoleum. The Pantheon is, perhaps, the most famous and powerful example of monumental Roman architecture still in existence. The building was designed as a drum covered by a dome – much like the library in which the exhibit was located. The interior space is defined to encase a complete sphere. Thus, the dome is a hemisphere, and the drum is the same height, so that the dome could be reversed and sit within the drum. This created a very large space, and the concrete dome of the Pantheon emphasizes the skill of the Roman engineers who could assemble such a huge, open space. The building was created as a temple where all the gods of the empire could be worshipped equally – each having his or her niche in the circular wall. Hadrian’s mausoleum and the bridge approaching it, the Pons Aelius, were later desecrated by the popes who converted it into a fortress, the Castel Sant’Angelo.

The exhibit also provided good examples of buildings Hadrian built elsewhere. Hadrian was especially fond of Greek culture and adorned Athens with a library and a monumental temple to Zeus. The most extensive work of architecture undertaken by Hadrian, however, was his villa in Tivoli. He began working on the country villa, which was located about 20 miles outside Rome, soon after he became emperor, and continued to expand it all throughout his life. The scale was staggering, and it was said to ultimately contain some 900 rooms. More to the point, it contained whole areas in which Hadrian recreated scenes from countries he visited and enjoyed. Thus, there were Greek areas and Egyptian areas, canals and pools, baths, lakes, and vast Greek and Latin libraries. A wonderful scale model of the extensive grounds of the villa grounds covered the 8 x 10 surface of a table. Examples of wall carvings and pillars illustrated the quality of workmanship that a Roman emperor could command. These was complemented by pictures of the ruins of the villa, as it is today, projected on the round wall behind the architectural model.

Proceeding from the display of Hadrian’s architectural efforts, one finally arrived at a room that focused on the emperor’s famous love affair with Antinous. Love affairs between men were not unusual in Rome, but the intensity of the relationship between the emperor and Antinous was without precedent. Hadrian apparently met Antinous when he toured Turkey in 123 BCE. Thereafter, Antinous traveled with the Imperial court until the boy died in 130 CE in his early Twenties. 

Antinous drowned in Egypt under circumstances which will never be known. It may have been an accident or a suicide, or it may have involved participation in some ritual. Both Hadrian and Antinous were fascinated by occult mysteries and participated in various rituals throughout their travels. Whatever the cause, the emperor was stricken. He arranged to have Antinous declared a god in Egypt, renamed a town after him, and erected a major temple to the divine Antinous. He later created a copy of that temple at his villa at Tivoli, which is where the standing statue of Antinous as Osiris was discovered. But it didn’t stop there; to please Hadrian, statues of Antinous were erected throughout the ancient world. It’s still unclear whether there are more existent sculptures of the emperor Augustus or of Antinous. My personal favorite is a standing sculpture of the youth in the museum at Delphi – that wasn’t included in this exhibit – but there are many others, and the Hadrian exhibit had a number of the best. Most stress that Antinous was a strong, masculine young man, with a classically beautiful Greek face, who could easily have been taken to be a young Roman legionnaire or a Greek athlete. Other statues, like the one at Delphi, however, show him as a youth with a more wistful or melancholy look. As you might imagine, the Egyptian Christians found the whole thing quite offensive, and did what they could, when they eventually came to power, to suppress knowledge of the existence of the love affair between the youth and the great emperor. Luckily for us, the beauty of the Antinous sculptures were such that Roman cardinals competed to preserve each bust and statue of Antinous as they were uncovered during the Renaissance. 

The last area of the exhibit focused on Hadrian’s last years and his arrangements for his successors. The age of Augustus is usually referred to as Rome’s Golden Age. It was the age of Seneca, Ovid, Virgil, Juvenal, Horace, and Plutarch. The age of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius is often referred to as Rome’s Silver Age. The writers of this period included Juvenal, Tacitus, and Apuleius. In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius defined the stoicism of the age. Hadrian wrote an autobiography that was praised in the ancient world, but did not survive. He also wrote Greek and Latin poetry that is also mostly lost.  His famous death poem, Animula Vagula, Blandula… survives, and was, fittingly, written in large letters on the final wall of the exhibit so that it was the last thing one saw, just as one left the exhibit area and returned to the Great Court.

The catalog of the exhibit, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, is very well done and available from the British Museum or Amazon.com. Its 256 lavishly illustrated pages provide an excellent introduction to Hadrian’s life and times.    

The most important ancient source of information on Hadrian is the Historiae Augustae, a book written in the reign of the emperor Diocletian, who ruled from 284 to 305 CE. The Historiae Augustae is modeled on Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, which described the Julio-Claudian emperors. The Histroiae Augustae is said to be written by Aelius Spartianus and others, although everything about this book is disputed. The author or authors probably had access to Hadrian’s autobiography, but they also allowed themselves to include rumors and fantasies, bringing everything into question and providing an occupation for several generations of scholars. 

There are several modern biographies of Hadrian, none completely satisfactory. My current preferred history is Anthony R. Birley’s Hadrian: The Restless Emperor. Similarly, there are many specialized books on Hadrian. There are books on Hadrian’s architectural accomplishments, his wall in England, and on the places he visited while emperor.

The most famous modern novel on Hadrian is the monumental recreation of his memoirs by Marguerite Yourcenar. Mme Yourcenar, a French Lesbian, started her project in 1924 and published the French version of the Memoirs of Hadrian in 1951. She began by acquiring and studying all the books that Hadrian might have had in his library. Then she visited the places he had enjoyed, and proceed to try to imagine his life. As she explained it: “I fell to making, and re-making, this portrait of a man who was almost wise.” In 1981 Mme Yourcenar became the first women to be elected to the French Academy, a reflection of both the quality of her writing and the special place that the Memoirs of Hadrian occupies in modern literature.

If you would like to read a more recent novel, you might enjoy Ben Pastor’s The Water Thief. This amusing novel purports to be written by Aelius Spartianus, a young army officer who has been assigned by the emperor Diocletian to compile the Historiae Augustae. In essence, it is a murder mystery that describes Spartianus’s efforts to unravel just what happened to Antinous during his fateful visit to the Nile.  To remind you of the duration of the Roman Empire, Pastor has Spartianus complain, on several occasions, that it is nearly impossible for him to figure out what happen to Antinous, given that it all happened some 160 years before he got his commission. 

Paul Harmon is a writer living in San Francisco and working, on and off, on a novel about the famous Thebian general, Epaminondas.

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WC79 – Dan Vera’s The Space Between Our Danger & Delight

Rvu_VERA The Space Between
Our Danger and Delight

By Dan Vera

Beothuk Books $15.00
ISBN 97806152538

Reviewed by Collin Kelley

Dan Vera’s debut collection, The Space Between Our Danger and Delight is just like the cover image — full of sparks. And also like the sparkler, the 37 poems crackle and burn long after you close the covers on this slim volume. Vera embraces an economy of words, wasting none of his lines or fussing with complicated metaphors. This is a straightforward collection that reminded me of Ted Kooser, but also the whimsy often found in the work of our poetry grandfather, Walt Whitman.

Pop culture and Bush/Iraq-era politics are on display, and the Whitmanesque vibe clearly shows through as Vera writes about Washington D.C. with both exaltation for its beauty and despair for the president who has ruled as a despot for the last eight years behind the beautiful walls of the White House.

Perhaps the strongest section is the set of poems about growing up Gay and Latino in South Texas: Finding his emotions as a young barrio boy watching Disney’s Old Yeller, his family’s assimilation into American life, his brother’s reaction to his coming out as a Gay man. While those subjects might seem specific, these poems contain multitudes.

There is a folksiness in the opening poems, full of romping dogs, cuddling up to a loving partner and playful curiosities about the “chemical” and “elemental principles” of delight and how we as humans measure it. Perhaps the collection’s strongest piece — although it’s a tough call with all the delights on offer here — is Emily Dickinson at the Poetry Slam, a fantasia about the poet leaving her Amherst attic, catching a train to Boston and laying down three minutes so perfect that it cures illnesses, causes power outages and turns hair white on those who witness it. That one poem is worth the price of admission alone, but I decided to choose another piece that spoke to me just as strongly.

Father’s Day for Gay Boys by Dan Vera

One beside another – brothers

Seven diviners

of what lies beyond the truths we have uncovered.

One make three, then four, then more

until we move beyond mere numbers.

There is thunder over the city tonight

and of the million hearts we may never see

here in the circle we make commitments

we push the limits of earthly loving.

Electricity visits again

and the black skies pulse with light –

currents of power by some capillary action.

Sons kiss their fathers.

Sons kiss their fathers to sleep

and the rose-eyed boy remembers himself again.

We are not the sons they ordered

with their patriotic dreaming.

We are not the sons they expected to come down the line.

But we unfold

beyond such kind paternal ignorance.

We unfold within the measure of our time.

And we make peace with the fathers inside of us.

And we give birth to a hidden, long-carried joy within.

 

Collin Kelley is a poet, author, editor, community organizer and advocate for the arts. 
He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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WC79 – Matt Bernstein Sycamore’s So Many Ways to Sleep Badly

Rvu_sycamore So Many Ways
to Sleep Badly

By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
City Lights Publishers $15.95
ISBN-10: 0872864685,  256 pages

Reviewed by Steve Susoyev

A number of popular artists have fashioned their personal brands of neurosis into lucrative art forms. No matter how fucked up you feel on a given day, you may derive a certain comfort from the scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen rips up his driver’s license while explaining to a Los Angeles cop, “I have a terrific problem with authority, you know.”

In the realm of literary memoir, Anne Lamott’s agonizing descriptions of the drunken behavior with which she routinely alienated everyone in her early life who was worth caring about, and of her sometimes tortured relationship with her son Sam, now in his late teens, make me laugh so hard I have to pull off the road when I listen to her audio books in the car.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, who appears here for the first time without the now-familiar “aka Matt” designation in her name, has catapulted the whore’s memoir into the neurosis genre. No Moll Flanders-style stories of deprivation or exploitation introduce So Many Ways to Sleep Badly. The paternal incest that has been thoroughly explored in Pulling Taffy and Dangerous Families makes brief, oblique appearances here: “When my mother says you need to go to the root of your problems — get me a shovel! Lilie says: I like when you talk about incest because you can laugh about it.” And, “Why am I so fucking fragile? I’ll give you three choices: “(a) Incest. (b) Incest. (c) Incest.”

In what often feels like free-association but is in fact cleverly crafted narrative, this very savvy writer and social commentator manages, both in her novels and essay collections, to sound utterly clueless while skewering hypocrites and herself. We get earfuls about unsafe sex, sexual compulsion and meth addiction, Gay marriage and other symptoms of self-annihilating Gay assimilation, police brutality, and the outrageous prices of organic produce offered at designer supermarkets.

And so much more.

Readers who have not encountered Mattilda at her readings or read her other work may be surprised to find her unique even among gender-bending writers, displaying none of the indignation with which many M‑F trannies approach the subject of other people’s confusion concerning their sexual identities. Mattilda prefers to be called “She,” but in this volume we find frequent references to her penis, one of the chief tools of her trade as a whore: “I like the way this trick’s whole body clenches then releases every time my dick goes in and out of his ass.” Scenes from Mattilda’s sex career appear and retreat mid-paragraph, leaving the reader with the impression that tricks go and come in the slapdash way that wrestling competitions and Brazilian soap operas appear on the television screens of the late-night channel-surfer, between bites from slices of stale pizza and calls to the phone-sex lines.

Mattilda’s essays, and her introductions to the essay collections that she has edited, are incisive and focused. Her Foreword to the 2007 Lammy-nominated Nobody Passes hisses with outrage at GUPPYS in Bermuda shorts whose greatest aspiration — whose only apparent aspiration — is to assimilate utterly with their straight neighbors, preferably through the patriarchal institution of marriage. No matter where you stand on the marriage issue, this glitter-eyed, gender-bent, metallic-mesh-encased kid with the feathers in his/her hair will make you think.

If you’ve ever paid for sex, and wondered what sex workers think of their clients, after reading one of Mattilda’s novels you’ll remind yourself to be careful what you ask for:

This trick could be fun, except he’s so nervous I can’t stay hard, and his crotch smells like rotten eggs…. He’s one of those tricks who thought I was shorter, from the one-column-inch photo in the paper…. He pays me one-forty-eight plus two dollars in quarters…. Funny how the guy won’t kiss me afterwards, honey it’s your come…. It’s a good thing this guy’s dick is beautiful, because he’s — well, you know….

And so a fan of Mattilda’s politically charged essays could think we’re in some unfamiliar territory here. But politics is never far under the surface:

On my way home, the 7th and Market 24-hour check-cashing place is jammed and the cops drive up and arrest two black guys who are just standing there. The cop car drives off and then this one white guy chases after the only other white guy there with a baseball bat — racial profiling is so effective!

Despite the free-associative impression, the book has a plot, a theme, and a message. Of course it would be easy to read So Many Ways… as pure autobiography, particularly because our fictional narrator calls herself “Mattilda,” works as a whore, and has strong opinions. But in the temporally disoriented, casino-like world in which our narrator meets and dismisses tricks, haunts sex clubs, cruises parks, falls in love, tosses in bed until daybreak, frets about her digestion and other health issues, suffers heartbreak and disses hypocrites, the one thing she does not do is write. Unlike this fictional narrator, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is a prolific writer. And so, to whatever extent these vignettes from the fictional life of a neurotic, politically savvy whore are taken from the experience of the neurotic, politically savvy whore whose name appears on the title page, the thing the narrator does not share with us is her experiences as a writer and performance artist.

If City Lights Books ever releases Mattilda’s work in audio form, they surely will have the sense to make sure she reads it herself. In the meantime, catch her reading live whenever you can. She has learned much as a performer — with some tips, I think, from her friend the performance artist and whore Kirk Read. Her comic timing and the crackling intelligence of her ironic phrasing will bring you to your knees.

Steve Susoyev lives in San Francisco.

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WC79 – Spirit Dancing: Radical Faerie Ritual Chants

Spirit Dancing:
Radical Faerie Ritual Chants

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Shane Hill and Heron Saline, two enterprising musicians in Santa Cruz, California, have done the Gay men’s spiritual community and audiophiles the world over an enormous favor by recording this collection of Radical Faerie songs and chants, Spirit Dancing: Radical Faerie Ritual Chants. Some of these fourteen tracks were originally composed and heard during early Faerie gatherings in the 1980s. Others in this lively compilation have been spiritual standards for years within previous pagan and earth-centered faith traditions.

According to lead vocalist Shane Hill, “the chants are sung to invoke specific openings into ourselves, to each other and to the realms beyond our everyday experience.” The chants are arranged to match the structure of a Radical Faerie gathering or large ritual, from the opening circle to the invocation of elements and deities. Adds Heron Saline, who supplies guitar, percussion instruments, and supporting vocals, making the album was “a love gift for our communities.” That nurturing spirit resonates throughout Spirit Dancing, which has been recorded with obvious professional care as well.

A few of my favorite tracks are “Wearing Our Long Green Feathers,” adapted from an Arapaho song, “We Are an Old People,” composed by Will Shepardson,” and the tender tribal hymn, “Dear Friends,” adapted from a traditional English round. But anyone who has stood in a Radical Faerie circle, whether thirty years ago or today, will be sure to have treasured personal memories stirred and confirmed — as did I — by Spirit Dancing. Students, in general, of alternative spirituality and culture will also find this album equally valuable.

My only complaint in an otherwise wholesale praise of this project is that nowhere on the CD or its packaging is an address or other contact information given. Spirit Dancing would make a beautiful gift to a friend and useful addition to any Faerie library. But I guess prospective listeners will just have to rely on community word of mouth or on those spirits who come via the wind — as welcomed and entrancing as the songs thankfully recorded for posterity here.

To obtain the Spirit Dancing CD, please contact Shaynala or Heron. Heron Saline: 415-706-9740 heron3@mindspring.com with“chant cd” in the subject line) Shane Hill (Shaynala): 831-345-2412 foresthill77@yahoo.com

Mark Thompson lives in Los Angeles.

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