This Thing Called Courage

Monday, November 27, 2006

Of Endless War and Resuscitated Junipers

Hi All, and I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving/National Day of Mourning. I spent the day at my nephew Christian and his wife Regina's home in Atkinson, NH-- which name always reminds me of 'Willoughby, little town by the name of Willoughby' from the Twilight Zone, if anyone else recalls that one. It poured rain all the way up and all the way home, but with dog as my co-pilot-- Fionn to be specific-- we made it home safe and sound. And speaking of pouring rain, the weather promises to be somewhat wild on Friday evening, when I have my next reading-- at Calamus Books, 92 South Street, Boston, one block behind South Station. A shivery cold front is due and as it comes in we will have wind, we will have rain, and we will have plunging temperatures.

But of course the show must go on. I love reading at Calamus, and proprietor John Mitzel has been an unflappable supporter of my work since the get-go. His is one of the last GLBT bookstores around-- not only in New England, but on the East Coast, as I have heard that the last two have closed in NYC-- unimaginable! John is an erudite and witty wealth of gay history, apocrypha, and anecdote, and, above and beyond the gay book store being a community center, coming out spot for many people, gathering space, carrier of the mid-list novel, etc etc etc, it is always discouraging when any book store closes, and intimates, to me anyway, a lack of oxygen to our collective brain in this country. One can order any book from John, regardless of its content or subject matter, and you can also sign up to receive his email newsletter, which comes out every several weeks or so, at

Dear friend Dermot tells me he was up to the huge Borders at Downtown Crossing a week or so ago, and they have taken down the 'Gay and Lesbian Studies' sign from above that particular section of books-- though the books themselves are still there. I must find out why-- was someone offended? Did someone steal it? Is it out getting re-varnished? Curious and not altogether propitious.

I have started a new novel. The working title is 'Brian at the Corner,' though that will probably change in time. It's begins with someone standing at a corner (this is in South Boston, where that past-time, along with hub-cap absconding, has been raised to high art) while someone is observing him from behind a curtained window in a house across the street. The third principal player is a very old and very massive Silver Maple (my favorite tree that grows in these parts) that towers over the corner, and the narrator is a 1500-year old Irish Bard. Where he came from I'm not really sure.

Tonight I schlepped over to Arlington Center for the weekly anti-war protest. We meet at the corner of Mass Avenue and Route 60, and anyone is welcome to join us, Monday nights from 5:30-6:30, year round. We hold our signs and wave to the crowd and just basically witness to the increasing insanity of this immoral and illegal and utterly unnecessary war. While the Democrats have won-- and that's a good thing-- the dying goes on, day after day, as the situation continues to devolve and implode. All I can think of is that game Chenga (if that's the right spelling) where everything collapses as you try to take out a small piece of the wooden tower.

There was a truly excellent documentary on NECN (New England Cable News Network) last Friday night. Entitled 'Hidden Wounds,' it looked at the experiences of three local Iraqi War veterans, all from New England, and their struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It's estimated that one out of every six returning Vets is effected by PTSD. The hour long documentary was presented without commercial interruption. It wasn't didactic; it didn't preach; it just told the stories of the three men, and was all the more powerful for that. It was compelling, enraging, informative, and catharthic-- everything television news could and should be. It will be shown again in the Boston area around the holidays; those interested can purchase a DVD of the film by mailing a check for $20, made out to NECN, to Doreen Vigue, Director of Communications, NECN, 160 Wells Ave., Newton, MA 02049. For more info, go here

This is a subject quite close to my heart. My late father suffered from PTSD so badly that he was adjudged 100% disabled by the Veterans Administration. There was hardly a night went by without my father waking and screaming out for his mother, as he, nightly, revisited the scene of his own personal hell. (I mention some of this in the memoir piece Now Batting for Boston, in the book of the same name.) Propitiously enough, one of the characters in my current work-in-progress also sufers from PTSD. It's funny how, when we turn our attention to something, suddenly it is everywhere, and so-called coincidences abound.

It's a very curious thing, how-- in this day and age, as the old chestnut goes-- we can still abide or tolerate the spending of billions and billions of dollars for the utter decimation of a culture, a people, and a country, inflicting untold death, destruction, misery and grief in the process-- when all that money, put to better purposes, could achieve so much good and alleviate so much suffering. Had we gone there and built hospitals, schools, sanitation systems and water treatment plants-- who would hate us then? Who would seek to do us harm? If one is going to waste half a trillion dollars, and plunge the nation into debt-- why in God's name don't we something good with it? Why do we even have to speak about this? Why do we even have to stand out on street corners, trying to raise awareness about this?

It's so easy for people to feel powerless over this, and so many other situations. The Serenity Prayer comes in handy at times like these-- 'God/Higher Power, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.' I can't end the war in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter, much as I would like to. I can only end the wars inside myself-- my petty hates and judgments, my own prejudices and fears. But people coming together can end wars-- the big, real kind. Millions of people-- bloggers, volunteers, telephoners, door-to-door people-- came together this past summer and, thanks to them, many of the people responsible for this war were thrown from power on November 7. We change minds one at a time. Besides, there is something just so powerful in standing out in public and saying This Is Utterly Wrong. And it's a pleasure to stand with people who are so full of peace and committment. Finally, I have a new nephew, Will Malachy Hayes, and I aim to play a role in his life. If he ever asks me what I did during these dark times, when our country was the source of so much misery, both here and abroad, I'll be able to tell him at least I did something.

People sometimes say, Oh, you must be so proud of your books...but I'm not, not really. I mean, I'm not ashamed of them or anything, and I do get a great sense of satisfaction that they have moved and spoken to people-- but, really, it's just what I do, a thing (among others) I was made to do, and I consider myself EXTREMELY fortunate to do what I so love to do.

I will tell you something I'm really proud of. Some years ago I was hiking up in Happy Land, on an exquisite summer's day, the kind that only comes after a cleansing and especially voracious summer storm the day or night before. At the top edge of a narrow, boulder-strewn, green ravine, there was a lovely young juniper, about 6 feet tall-- and it was prostrate on the ground, having been knocked over by the storm. It was, somehow, especially poignant to see something so young and green about to die on such an electric summer's day. I passed it by. But then I said, Aw, what the heck-- and turned around and went back to it. What to do, what to do, I wondered, as I made futile gestures at it. Finally I stood it upright, and tamped its roots back into place. I rolled over some heavy rocks, and placed them around the base of the tree, so it couldn't flip over again so easily. And then I emptied my water bottle on its roots. Bisky was with me the whole time, and watched-- approvingly, no doubt, dogs are all for life.

I didn't hold out much hope for the tree, but at least I'd done my best.

One day this fall I found myself in roughly the same area. I don't get to hike in Happy Land (aka the Middlesex Fells Reservation) as much as I used to, as Fionn got attacked by large, unsocialized, wild, unleashed, improperly-chaperoned, ill-minded and untrained beasts (get the picture?) whenever I brought him up there, including a @#$%$!! German Shephered the size of a rhinoceros whose career-suited mistress was whallop-kicking a soccer ball at it and driving it hysterical when suddenly it spotted us at the top of the path. (It hardly needs to be said that Herr Mistress was from Winchester). Intervention was key once the beast got a lock with his open maw on Fionn's precious little back-- hopefully the SOB is still spitting up shoe-leather from the kick I gave him. I love all God's creatures-- the other nations we share this beautiful earth with-- but just don't mess with Fionn!

ANYWAY-- when I was up there this fall, biking with a friend, I suddenly recalled 'my' tree and had a sudden, irresistable need to pay it a visit. I think I avoided it all these years because I didn't want to see it gone. But...yea!!!! It is now about 14 feet high, and the very picture of verdant, vibrant, vitameater-vegemeter health!!!!!!!!!! I was over the moon with delight. Best of all, there was a cozy little bird's nest ensconced somewhere near its top-- the ultimate seal of approval. I was so very pleased, I had to go back a few days later, and be alone with it. That say trhat plkeasure is doubled when its shared, but there are certain pleasures that are most keenly felt when they are secret, and one is alone. I appraised it from all sides-- lovely, lovlier, and loveliest. I stepped back. I came in close. I placed my hand on its scaly, light-grey trunk-- the sense of touch is, really, so underestimated--and whispered, "Hey, good lookin'! Remember me? Look at you! Look at you! LOOK AT YOU!!!!"

Now, that I'm proud of.


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