Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gay Square Dance Conventions

It's true, square dancing has about taken over my life. This last week, Tim and I attended the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs (IAGSDC) 24th Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado. This is my sixth convention, and I'll be attending as many as I can. This year, my sister also attended, for the first time.

Basically, it's non-stop dancing for about four days, then several days of recovery. This year's convention was a little more challenging because of the altitude. But gay square dancers are nothing if not tough! In addition to the dancing, there are specialty tips (women, bears, redwoods, etc.). The most popular specialty tips are the leather and the "moonshine" tips.

I was going to the leather tip, but my sister walked in and was totally unprepared for the spectacle, which is okay - she's a 62 year-old straight grandmother. So we went to the Mainstream Hall and danced for an hour. I usually make it to the moonshine tip, as well. It's a naked tip, but I didn't go this year, because I was meeting a couple of friends for our own moonshine tip.

I've been going to these conventions long enough that I know a lot of people, and they know me. A lot of the fun is the camaraderie. And, well, I like the cute guys, and the cruising is always fun, too. I propositioned one guy, he said, "Yes," so I had to turn him down. Oh, well....

We had some great callers this year. Of course, I'd go just about anywhere to dance to John Marshall. Deborah Carroll-Jones was a big crowd pleaser. Tim Crawford cracked lots of jokes between calls. The Denver club caller, "Bear" also called quite a bit. I was mainly in the Advanced Hall, and had a great time there. Trevor from Gateway Squares livened up a couple of my squares. Also, Bill and Jim made me prance a little better.

Carr Manor

Sometimes you find a perfect place to spend the night. That's what happened to us at the Carr Manor in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Tim, Grace, and I attended a square dance convention in Denver, and now we're taking a few days, traveling around the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Cripple Creek is an old mining town and new gambling mecca, although the casino we were in last night looked pretty sad. The Carr Manor is an old high school converted into a boutique hotel. It's gorgeous. The rooms are beautiful, the atmosphere is friendly, and the couple who own it want you to have the time of your life. It's really a gem.

You should also take the train trip up the valley. The station is at the museum at the head of Main Street. When we went, it was chilly, so pack a jacket if the wind is blowing. If you are a railroader, you'll enjoy the experience.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Militant Atheism?

I read a review of Christopher Hitchen's new book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The author was a little put off by the militancy of this era's atheists: Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens were all mentioned by name. I'm almost convinced, though, that in today's climate, just being an atheist is considered militant.

I'm not a militant atheist. I consider myself a kinder, gentler atheist, something like Mother Theresa without the orphanage or the Roman catholic church, or Martin Luther King, Jr. without the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. By that, I mean I espouse worthy ideals, work for needed social change, but don't wrap it up in a religious blanket. I'm convinced we can be human without reflecting on the spiritual or religious failings of our fellow brothers and sisters.

Which brings me to the point that the real focus should be on the social failings of a society that accepts flawed religious thinking and teachings about poverty, sexuality, disease, education, guns, sex, minorities, relationships, military security - in short about nearly every public and private part of our lives. We are not served well by these teachings, nor by the politicians who slavishly cultivate the religious right and the religious middle.

The Founding Fathers had a reason for separating church and state. The movement of the religious into the body politic is dangerous. These are the real militants. Secularism is not the threat; it is religiosity that threatens our Constitution and our state.

If you are a calvinist, maybe you believe that poor people are stuck in their situation. God put them there, and there isn't a whole lot that the poor, or you can do about it. It's God's will.

If you are a Southern Baptist, you're probably appalled by homosexuality or transsexuality, and believe that laws should be on the books prohibiting sodomy, or preventing transgendered people from being protected from hate crimes. (Such legislation only encourages transsexuality, and it might interfere with a Christian's "free speech.")

Jerry Falwell once said that AIDS was God's punishment on Gay people. Of course if that argument were extended logically, you could say that birth defects are God's punishment on parents, or some equally offensive, unproven claim.

Of course, if you attend school in Kansas or Dover, PA, you know all about intelligent design cum creationism. Religion does intrude into the classroom, as Judge John E. Jones, III noted in his opinion.

I could go on. But what about the really big issues? Shouldn't we, as a nation, be questioning the morality and the execution of our nation's war in Iraq? Should our nation be supporting Israel because it is a Jewish state, or because it serves some important military and strategic interest in the Middle East? (I hope our support doesn't hinge on the breeding of a red heiffer.) Isn't fixing a broken health insurance system at least as important as the religious right stomping on the marriage rights of millions of gay and lesbian couples? Maybe establishing national priorities that focus on the causes of poverty should have as much room in the national debate as abortion.

The mistake of the poltically religious is that they wish to impose a moral vision on the rest of us, whether we are part of that vision or not. By grabbing and focusing the national debate on moral issues that rightly are for each citizen to decide for himself or herself, the Christian politicos have hijacked the legislative discourse, and have imperiled the traditional separation of church and state.

Militant atheism sounds like a downright healthy alternative.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

When Your Hometown Hits the National News

I was surfing across CNN this morning when I saw a news link that said, "Police Shot in Shootings." I clicked on it out of morbid curiosity, and the location at the top of the story read MOSCOW, Idaho (AP). That was pretty startling, because nothing ever happens in Moscow. It's a quiet university town in the rolling prairie of northern Idaho.

The story has since been updated, but the original was full of preliminary mystery. A shooter had gained entry into the Presbyterian Church, and was evidently firing a semi-automatic weapon into the county courthouse complex across the street. The shooter fired about 75 rounds over the course of two hours. Two policemen and a passerby were injured. From the accounts, the passerby was in surgery and all the injured were taken to the local (Gritman Memorial) medical center.

Later reports stated that two people had been killed in the church, and the police believe the shooter was one of them. SWAT teams entered the church about 6 a.m. local (Pacific Daylight) time. Neither of the two people in the church have been identified.

I'm reading all of this just before Ron and I take off for the Silver Diner to have breakfast. I'm living in the big city, and I worry about my hometown. I wonder about motive, identity, gun culture. And I wonder if my Mom's neighbor, who is a policeman, is okay. In the big city, I expect people to be a little crazy, and I'm not surprised by reports of muggings or street violence. In my hometown, I expect people to be friendly and caring, and I'm shocked to read about a shooter trying to ambush police from the belltower of the Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Infamous and Capote

I have all the <meta> information I need about In Cold Blood. Toby Jones in Infamous and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote bring to the screen a compelling story of Truman Capote. While neither movie is slapstick, both have a sense of humor and a sharp edge on the Capote character. He isn't the kind of person that you would confide anything to that you wouldn't want printed in the New Yorker or the National Enquirer.

Both movies provide compelling narratives to the writing of In Cold Blood, and each has its own perspective. It's a lot like having two storytellers recounting the same history. Infamous is more about Capote, and Capote is more about In Cold Blood.

I think Capote is the better picture, but Infamous is a better portrait of an artist who ultimately loses his way, sells his soul, and is enormously successful along the way. He never published another important novel, but he certainly became America's Greatest Living Homosexual, which is not a bad thing.

Jerry Falwell

Mr. Falwell died today. I'm not crying a lot of tears. I remember back in 1983. I was in bed on a Sunday morning with my boyfriend. We had just had some wild, hot, homosexual sex. In a post-sex fog, I grabbed the remote and channel surfed, running into Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour. The Reverend was at the pulpit, fulminating about homosexuality, saying "The Moral Majority is saving America from a homosexual menace. We are like the Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike." We nearly fell off the bed laughing. I can't think of a more appropriate metaphor.

Friday, May 4, 2007

I Sent My Quilt Home

Many years ago, I designed a quilt, and my wife (at the time) pieced and quilted the design. We named it the Pythagorean quilt, because the design was based on the Pythagorean theorem. It's basically a Road quilt, particularly so because of the way Susan selected colors, then quilted it - a beautiful quilt.

When Susan and I divorced, I got custody of the quilt. I've had it for twenty-five years. It kept me warm on very cold nights, and I threw it off in the spring, only to retrieve it for winter. It's a very large and heavy quilt, and always reminded me of family, home, and love.

I loved the woman who created that quilt. I loved the two babies conceived underneath that quilt. I loved the boyfriends who slept under that quilt with me. I loved its weight keeping out the cold. It wrapped me in the life I love.

Now I've sent it on to one of the children created under the loving touch of that family blanket. Mary, it's now your quilt, and your loving story to create. I give it to you grateful for my family, and grateful for the bonds, whether tenuous or strong, that still move the human heart.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Way Back Home

Last Thursday I left work an hour early, raced to National Airport, and flew off to Spokane, Washington. I was a little frazzled when I got there, but not so much that I couldn't drive another hour and a half to get "home" to Moscow, Idaho.

The guys at the rental counter set me up in a Chrysler 300 ("you've earned a free upgrade!"). It looks like a Grandpa car, which maybe fits, although I hope not. In any case, it's a very comfy car, but I couldn't see all of its more useful features in the dark at the car lot. I didn't find the cruise control until the next day. The really nice thing about the car was that when I had to squire people around, it was very easy to get in and out of.

So I'm heading down the road (fast, but not criminally so), and start flipping through the radio stations. I finally settled on a contemporary country station (it was better than the preacher). I've decided I like country, because I can hear the words, and the lyrics are priceless, full of "I'm a mean, clean love machine," and "I'm wrapped around her pretty little finger." I never changed the station after that.

Friday, I headed up to campus because I wanted to visit the Women's Center, and if possible, talk with the staff. Over the years, I've contributed I'd guess about $20,000 to its programs. I caught the director just as she was leaving. She stayed and talked with me for about 15 minutes. We had a good chat, and once again, I'm assured that I'm doing the right thing at the University of Idaho. The Center is doing a lot of innovative work for the queer people on campus, and I'm glad to be part of that. The Director invited me back for National Coming Out Day, and I'm seriously thinking about it.

On my way home from campus, I stopped at the local computer store and purchased a laptop for my sister, Kat. She really needed one for herself. It was far more than I intended to spend, but it goes for a very good cause, and I think she'll be very happy with it.

In the late afternoon, Mom and I went to a show opening that had some of my sister's watercolors. One of her pictures was a bridge in north London, and it has a real romantic quality to it. I can imagine myself being there. The show featured the local watercolor society and pottery guild. There's a lot of talent in the Palouse Hills.

After supper, Kat came over, and I gave her the computer. She immediately burst into tears. I think that's okay. She'd actually had a pretty difficult day. It was her boss' farewell party, and she hadn't cried there, so I guess she had to for me. Believe me, Sis, I appreciate it, 'cause I think you're special!

Saturday, Mom and I got to Walmart early to buy some energy-efficient light bulbs. I warned Mom that it might make her and her guests look all washed out, but she said at her age, that didn't matter. On that note, we started replacing bulbs throughout her whole house, and twenty-three bulbs later, we were through. She gathered all the old bulbs up, and so we could take them up to Uncle Harry and Aunt Virgie Lee for his yard sale.

Around 4 p.m., my brother, Frank and his wife, Wendy showed up. They live in Boise and drove up to Moscow. Frank and I had a conversation about how to organize and distribute all of Dad's slide collection. We decided that he'll get them digitally scanned in Boise, then send me the files. I'll go and put them up on PicasaWeb. It is a web-based photo program that lets you organize, caption, and tag each image. It's a very powerful program that should solve our problem. The other project that Frank has is that he wants to transcribe Dad's sermons. He has a large box of them. We haven't quite figured out what to do about them.

Saturday night, Kat had all of us over for dinner. She lives in the same "land-lease community" that Mom lives in, but Kat lives in one of the newest additions. She has a reconditioned manufactured home (single-wide), and it's really nifty. She has a great view, and she loves it. It fits her budget, it's paid for, and it's home for her and her cats. She has lots of original art hanging on the walls, some really beautiful paintings from friends, teachers, and her own.

Dinner was chicken piccata, pasta, a green salad, some great bread, beer, wine, and German Chocolate Upside Down Cake for dessert. You can't really go wrong with that at all! We stuffed ourselves, than sat in the living room and talked for a couple of hours. What a delightful evening.

So Sunday was my last full day in Moscow. First thing in the morning, I snuck off to Walmart to pick up yet another pack of light bulbs. We had found an additional five bulbs to change out. Around noon, all of us headed up to St. Maries for an afternoon meal with Uncle Harry, Aunt Virgie Lee, Jeanne, John, and Susie. I hadn't seen Susie for many years. Uncle Harry had a cast on because he had just had knee surgery and had to keep it stretched out. Jeanne had a stroke several years ago, so she has some difficulty walking. Her speech is much improved, but she's definitely having a difficult time.

These family gatherings require consummate storytelling skill. Uncle Harry has it in spades. Mom is not far behind, and Aunt Virgie Lee has a few tales of her own. Jeanne was telling stories about her daughter Susie, and I remember being a kid and having my parents tell stories about me. As it was, Frank told some stories about me. I love these times. I hope that Susie is collecting her parents' stories, and her grandparents' stories.

We left late afternoon and drove back to Moscow through the little towns of Emida, Harvard, and Princeton. Emida is a small wide spot in the road (who am I kidding, they are all wide spots) where my cousins lived when I was growing up. It's in a wooded mountain valley, and the scene is beautiful, especially in the spring light with its athletic green. We drove south into the setting sun, over the timbered ridges, into the tiny towns of my youth. We drove through Potlatch. The old high school building (where I went to school) is now an apartment house. The school was raised in 1906, and I like the idea that it has a second chance.

The day ended with supper at Mom's (like we need another meal...), then goodbyes. I don't know when I'll see Frank and Wendy again, but I really enjoyed visiting.

So I got up bright and early yesterday morning, had breakfast with Mom, then drove back to Spokane. On the flight to Salt Lake City, I sat in the first row of the commuter jet, kinda cool. Only twice have I been the first person off the plane. I like that. I read Wired, the Harvard Business Review, and Country Boys* on the flights back. It made the hours go much faster, and made me horny, too. I like that.

*A collection of country gay erotica about strapping country boys.