The Lyralen Kaye Rules of Order Part 2: What is an Ally?

I recently wrote a book about how we come together and how we fracture. In it, I probe the definition of what it means to be an ally. Then I got in an argument with someone on Facebook, as usual, in which the issue came up.

Here’s the thing: I think many of my straight acquaintances would be surprised by my ally criterion, mostly because they don’t fit it. In fact, there came a point in my life at which I had to question whether having friends who had no clue that I might even have these expectations was an example of self-hatred and internalized homophobia. Because really, we need to pick friends who are on our side.

In the center of this stood my friend M, straight, with LGBTQ siblings, who worked for Maine Won’t Discriminate, who donated, who listened, who wanted to know my experience rather than be validated for hers, who was best woman at both my weddings, who supported, showered me with love and kindness, and generally fought like hell for equality. She kind of ruined me for liberals who think just having the right attitude and political beliefs is enough.

So in the Lyralen Kaye Rules of Order, here are the criterion for allyship:

  1. Takes political action on the part of the LGBTQ community. In other words, does at least two of the following: marches, donates, makes calls, votes in special elections or on ballot measures, spreads the word, checks the LGBTQ record of candidates and makes decisions based on that record.
  2. Understands that when someone LGBTQ starts talking about their experience or views on LGBTQ issues, they should listen, rather than argue or impose their own views as correct. In other words, allies know not to straight-splain.
  3. Stands up for LGBTQ people in social or public situations.
  4. Has been or is personally close to a member of the LGBTQ community or lives connection to a diverse community.
  5. Doesn’t allow homophobic comments to pass in conversation without calling it out.
  6. Knows what a homophobic comment is.
  7. Has read LGBTQ literature, seen media or read queer theory beyond The Kids Are Alright, which most straight people don’t recognize as a homophobic movie.
  8. Knows the difference between queer literature and literature and media that have been created by straight people about queer people.
  9. Understands why LGBTQ people should have the opportunity to play LGBTQ characters in theater and film.
  10. Understands that queer identity and queer desire are different from the mainstream.
  11. Understands and acknowledges that everyone in this culture has internalized homophobic images, ideas and attitudes and that becoming fully accepting is a lifetime process.
  12. Doesn’t believe that LGBTQ issues don’t affect them, just because they’re straight.
  13. And, ideally, questions ideas and attitudes around gender and genderized behavior. That’s pie in the sky, but so is the whole list, even in liberal Massachusetts.


Mindfulness…the Answer to Everything?

Mindfulness really just means paying attention.

Being here, and noticing that you’re here.

Noticing that you have a body, and sensations/emotions that cry for expression and kindness.

Here’s the thing about being an actor–we challenge ourselves to be mindful under difficult circumstances–when we are being judged (auditions), when we are being private in public, when we are relating to other creative artists, when we are being directed. It’s mindfulness heavy lifting.

And there’s no other game in town.

We have to feel our bodies, and lean into what’s uncomfortable, or we suck. The things human beings do to feel safe–the compulsion to control, or to check out, or to numb–we can’t do them or we SUCK.

Thing is, what’s uncomfortable shifts, and there’s something new in the body, something new to express, if you just pay attention, breathe and lean in.

And let this be said–the more we judge our bodies as not good enough, the more we push and shove at ourselves, the harder it is to be mindful. Of course we do these things–the industry is insanely corporate and based on greed and this creeps in. So what to do? Kindness IS mindful. Pay attention that the thoughts are happening, bring a little kindness or softness to the place you hold it in your body, breathe, and then refocus on the present.

Being an actor is about being mindful. How great is that?

The Human Family…Refusing to Other

Dear Human Beings who are like me–screwed up, good, decent, screwed up, fun, sad, angry, encultured, conditioned, screwed up, and so well-intentioned–

I know you don’t really want to other anyone. You want to be safe, to have a voice, to feel at home in your body and on this earth, as I do. You want to feel you’re serving something worthy, that you’re capable of more and more love, that you can find and occupy peace. Maybe you fall down on the job, as I do. Maybe you can’t always figure it out…maybe you think you’re unbelievably smart and why can’t everyone else figure it out (yes, I really do think that, regularly).

I’m writing this to tell you that I am committed to giving you and me, every part of me, and of you, the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. I will not classify you, I will not OTHER you, I will not put you into a category and refuse to acknowledge that you are like me. I have internalized the things I fight against–homophobia, sexism, ageism and racism. I am trying to grow toward enlightenment. Some days it’s effortless, some days it’s a slog fest. Please remind me, gently, if I’m off the path. Please know I assume you fall off it, too, and feel just as badly about it as I do. (Do you also have insomnia? If so, FB chat me at 5am.)

And yes, okay, this post is in reaction to the posts that start “Dear Democrats,” “Dear Republicans,” “Dear White People.” I have, in the past, written, “Dear Straight People,” and straight people have heard me anyhow, because they felt the pain of those words, the exile and the oppression. I can’t 100% be sure I won’t get super pissed off and want to say those words again. (Actually, I can pretty much guarantee I WILL get 100% pissed off and want to say them.) ANYHOW, I hear the pain behind the words, but this is my gentle reminder…those words are othering words. And knowing the pain of being an other so well, I can’t believe we heal ourselves or each other by saying them.

Dear Members of My Human Family. I am trying to see you, I am trying to make “Namaste,” something more than a phrase I say at the end of yoga. I am committed to the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. I am committed to gentle reminders rather than accusations. And because I am screwed up, I will fall off this path (seriously, I probably fell off it while writing this…ask my partner. No, on second thought don’t ask her. Don’t even tell her I said all this. She’ll hold me to it.)

Okay, okay. I will also keep trying to get back on the path. With my whole heart, I’ll try.

Please join me. (Hell, I’m such a hothead, you’ll probably be better at it than I am.)

Much Metta,

OMG, have I just started another memoir?

In the Agony and the Ecstasy, Leon Uris describes Michelango’s feelings of jealousy about Raphael’s artistic process. Michelango says that for Raphael, art is a walk through a garden on a soft path surrounded by flowers. But for himself, its riding rough water . And you regularly get bounced against the surrounding canyon walls.

I write this from memory, nearly 45 years after I read the book, and before I fell totally out of love with Uris’ prose, which today I can’t read.

I knew then, as a preteen, that I was more like Michelango than Raphael. In fact, I knew that nothing in my life was like walking through a garden on a soft path. Every single thing ached with misery and longing. With an inchoate passion and even more inchoate pain. Otherwise known as agony.

I went on to be called high drama, difficult, or, when people teased me, trouble walking into the room. I went on to speak out, struggle, name, help, protest, create, protect. I went on. If we don’t kill ourselves, that is what we do.

Reading the Agony and the Ecstasy, I wanted, as Uris obviously intended, to be Michelangelo. I wanted to pour out my pain and understanding onto a ceiling or into a block of marble. I wanted my canvas to be huge. I wanted, not knowing anything else to want, to be a troubled passionate artist.

* * *

For over a quarter of a century I’ve taught acting and writing, one or the other, sometimes both. Eventually I came to teach my students that art happened in the context of a life, and could not take the place of having a life. I taught artists how to be gentle with themselves, while still, hopefully, aiming high. I taught them to move past blocks, to listen to their intuition, to find their voices. I taught them to find truth.

I taught what I’d learned, which was mostly, a little at a time, how to clear trauma from the process of making. I’d had to learn this process, because in my life, trauma has infected everything I do, feel, or say, everything I think, every intention, every relationship. It is as if I were made of trauma—and with the unrelenting violence of the first 20 years of my life, this was almost true.

* * *

I am seven. Or eight. I walk the green 2 by 4 top of the chain link fence that borders the houses along the side of our neighborhood. I have amazing balance—it’s not a tightrope. For me, it’s an unbounded feeling of joy, like flying. I don’t have to concentrate with my whole mind to walk so high, and because of this I feel the Ohio sun beat down on my striped T-shirt, I feel the wood beneath the thin soles of my sneakers, I see the bright green of the grass and weeds, the white puffs of dandelions, the blue sky like a ceiling I could touch if I just grew tall enough. And I am every adventurer, I am a girl hero, and I have a story, in which this sun, this day, these feet, walk into another world. I begin to imagine what that world will be.

Once the fevered passion of my “on” writing phases stop, once I no longer wake in the middle of the night to scribble pages that litter the dorm floor at the YWCA where I live, once I’m not pounding on my electric typewriter for hours every afternoon, I go dead. I have no words, no voice. I move home, see my much younger sisters every day, teach them aerobics, make them laugh. I forget who I am. I forget both the girl on the fence and the one sobbing under her bed. I am voiceless.

I need to travel 10,000 miles away to begin to hear myself again. I write a novel about a novelist who keeps creating the truth about other people’s lives, strangers, who she only meets after her books are published. When she finally writes the truth about her own life, her husband tries to kill her.

I had no idea what I was attempting to tell myself. What danger I felt was imminent for a writer who told the truth.

So I focused on learning to even out the manic writing and the deadness. It took five years, but with great attention and even greater effort, I learned to write any time I wanted, night or day. I broke the pattern of repeating voicelessness. And then I taught it.

Not coincidentally, I stopped seeing my siblings.

And my parents.

* * *

I am a tortured artist. Mercifully, not in the process, but absolutely in the content. I write about homophobia and violence against women. Sometimes I write about mothers who abuse. I write about the double bind of trying to protect the parent who hates you from the parent who doesn’t. I write about losing your sister to their power over both your lives. Nothing I write is autobiographical in the details. But the emotions? The emotions are mine.

* * *

Sometimes, when I was little, I climbed trees, as high as I could go. And I would lie amongst the leaves, staring at them, at the glimpses of sky when a breeze pulled aside the curtain they made. I felt my body, its pure athletic grace and strength, and I loved being alive. Just for a quarter of an hour, sometimes, I knew it was possible to feel such things.

* * *

Once, briefly, I had a therapist who grew so fascinated with these memories, she asked about them again and again. I shouldn’t have been capable of such spiritual experiences, she said; joy should have evaporated from my emotional lexicon. Because most days I would be beaten or raped (I hate the word molested, let’s call it what it is), she found it incomprehensible that I could experience light. I left her quickly, because who wants to talk to an idiot who doesn’t realize you couldn’t have survived without it?

* * *

As I write about the woman who must lose her sister in order to find herself, I sob. I tear the characters from each other, and, as I do, I learn so much about my own life, my compulsion to sacrifice and blame myself, it is as if plates of armor fall from my chest and arms. I begin to lift, to fly a little, sitting at my desk next to the futon in my tiny apartment in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Telling the absolute emotional truth turns into a kind of grace, where I almost forgive it myself for having such terrible choices, for their absolute and tragic necessity. I am a woman who had to lose her sisters to find herself. I am a woman who had to choose. And I chose myself.

* * *

The first time I see the Clenched Fist by August Rodin my hearts beat so fast all the oxygen leaves my lungs and I struggle to breathe. He has made rage beautiful, and knowing this, I start to cry.

Anything fully expressed must transform. He teaches me this. As an artist, as a human being, the lesson resonates into the bottom of my hopelessness about everything—myself, my life, the darkness of human nature, about which I know so much.

I am twenty-one years old.

* * *

I am 46. I lie across a stage coffin, and my dark ponytail caresses the recently painted wood. The bangs and sounds of voices mean that soon strike will begin, and the play will end. This play that I’ve written, about sisters who don’t know how to love, about a mother who knows even less than they do, this play that ends my dream of a theater company, my dream of an ensemble of actors who will be able to see both the girl on the fence and the girl sobbing under the bed. This play with its bad reviews, its actors who forget their lines even on closing night, with me, unable to say anything about how my life has created this story. This play. The one that finally convinces me I must stop working all hours, trying so hard to recreate what I can’t have: a family.

Every night, of its run I have stood under a single spotlight, playing Claire, a recovering alcoholic who speaks to the audience alone for two minutes, wondering if she can make it through the trials of her family without drinking. And standing there, her vulnerability echoing through my body, I know I must finally say enough to the rewriting of the past.

The writing I do next is about my own powerlessness. I don’t know it yet, but I am writing about wanting and never getting what I want, which is part of the trauma of art, because even when I get what I want—when I get scholarships, win contests, get published or produced, produce or publish myself, land leading roles—they are never enough. In my mind I disparage each gift, and usually also the giver. Nothing but rich and famous will do, and the joy along the way is as brief as 15 minutes up a tree before climbing down to face the gauntlet of days again.

Then something happens. I stop producing theater and come home to not producing theater. All the surrogate brothers and sisters disappear from my life in one fell swoop, something like leaving the originals behind. The days are empty, and I am inventing things to do, but I am also lying on my back, breathing, feeling my body on the pine floor of an apartment in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. I am looking into the light.

Something happens. I learn my nervous system has an automatic hardwiring toward trauma over which I have no control. I do a bodywork technique that helps start to change the wiring. And I write a play about women who learn how to love, and in the learning, give each other hope. It’s an autobiographical play about the nuns who took me in during high school, and the brief weeks I spent living in their convent, receiving their attention and care.

This most autobiographical play is about love, not trauma.

It seems I know something about love after all.

* * *

Off an on, throughout my writing life, sitting alone at my computer, I have sobbed. But I have also laughed, hard. I remember this now. I remember the darkness of the comedies, and the way I laughed at what hurts.

I can survive anything. How did I not know this?

* * *

I write a memoir that breaks every rule I learned in my two degrees in theater and writing at some of the best schools in the country. I laugh a lot while I’m breaking these rules, telling more of the truth, using my own many voices. Then I sob. Then I laugh even more.

After the memoir, I am free to write what I like. The process of writing has been wiped clean. I can tell my own story. Or I can write about goodness and decency, because I am rooting myself into their comfort.

Everything fully expressed must transform.

The only problem is then you probably want to share it.

Even without a theater company.

Or perhaps especially then.

Acting…or, what am I here to say?

After nearly 10 years running a theater company, I decided to do what I probably should have done from the beginning–focus on my own acting career. I found Boston frustrating, so I started to go to NYC, and I got cast immediately and did a series of independent films. I also did the pay-to-play workshops, showcases and agent-hunting we all do.

Of course, at 50, you’re up against ageism. And I’ve found this as I’ve gotten older anyhow–in addition to sexism, homophobia, and sexism and homophobia, and general othering, and did I mention sexism and homophobia? now there’s a new prejudice. And, as with every other prejudice, you first turn it on yourself (anti-aging creams, diets, working out, dyeing your hair, wardrobe, wardrobe, wardrope). UGH.

I identify as a pseudo granola, a-little-too-young-to-be-hippie… so, hippie-wannabe. As well as a queer feminist, pseudo-Buddhist political radical.

What the hell was I thinking? The f-ing film industry?

Of course, I taught young actors how to maximize the resources I found, and the good looking and trending and talented could do this successfully.

And we all love the art of acting. Really, really love it.

But I found myself in this existential crisis. Like, here is a list of things I can’t stand, period:

  • Trying to make people like me.
  • Dressing for success.
  • Working on image.
  • Corporations.
  • Ageism, sexism and homophobia.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Trying to meeting someone else’s idea of what is good
  • Fitting in
  • Looksism
  • Make up
  • Did I mention trying to make people like me?

Recently, I spent 2 and half weeks in Hollywood and I pretty much hated the city, which is often gorgeous and stunningly warm. And no, I didn’t see the beautiful people walking down the street or performing at the Hollywood Fringe. (I actually loved the Fringe people, who were having their own struggles with work and the industry.) What I hated were the ads, every 20 feet, for tv shows and movies, with celebrity faces, with the worship of all the false gods that the industry represents. And the undercurrent of desperation in all of us, trying to make it, to be worth it, allowing ourselves to be defined by its recognition or lack thereof.

Now perhaps if I’d had the incredible success I dreamed of, entitled ONLY RICH AND FAMOUS WILL DO, I’d be in a completely different existential crisis. Though no doubt with the same focus on morality and integrity, because, well, I think in those terms. I worry I’d have made even more compromises than I have.

But as I’ve entered the world of film, as I’ve won contests, had more access, auditioned for better parts, had some small recognition, I experience internal pressure and conflict. Like, I don’t want to write the perfect 3 act screenplay. That’s a male conception of the world and I’m not male. I want to write MY conception of the world. I’m tired of industry professionals telling me anything but that structure isn’t saleable. I’m tired of the temptation to say, to ahead, make my work cheap and predictable you axxh*(# so I can, what…make it?

And acting! I really, really, really don’t want to play strong middle-aged women who for some reason or another have lost their humanity and are just. not. kind. I have a deep swath of kindness in me now, and I’d like to give it some expression.

Also, I kind of hate big auditions and the internal conflict I let them create in me. The high of doing great that has just a bit too much adrenaline. The shame of not showing up for yourself when that happens. The bragging about getting roles, and the hiding the shame. Ugh. I’m ambivalent, and why? Of course I’m ambivalent. I’m a friggin purist.

And if all that’s not enough, I hate the celebrity system and movies getting made on the strength of that system, which eliminates an ensemble focus (which I love, particularly in UK movies and TV). And means that often people are cast for roles someone else could do better (I have somehow managed not to scream out loud in theaters watching straight actors butcher lesbian and gay parts, but it’s a near thing).

Into all this conflict comes a solo show. Like fresh air. Like joy. I hate dealing with AEA in certain cities that seem to think that because I’ve produced I’m the enemy rather than the person they’re supposed to represent. I don’t enjoy marketing a lot of the time. But getting up and doing the exact work I love? Knowing there’s no schism? That I’m not serving any god but the one of freedom, joy and connection? It’s a bit of heaven.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to do anything else.

Enter an offer to do theater in Canada.

I feel my life turning on its axis.

I don’t know what’s coming.

I’m tempted to do absolutely nothing and see.

All I know is this:

I seem to be the one I’ve been waiting for.

All of me.

Call Me by Your Name, or, Let’s Get Real about the Gay

Every year one LGBTQ film ends up in award season…in other words, crossing out of the festival circuit (mostly queer festivals) into the actual theater. We’ve had these films:

  1. The Kids Are Alright (blech)
  2. The Danish Girl (blech)
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color (blech because of the sexual exploitation)
  4. Carol (blech)
  5. Moonlight (flawed structurally, but by far THE BEST. I mean BY FAR)
  6. and this year’s offering, Call Me by Your Name (blech)

For those of you not in the LGBTQ community, I’ll give you a queer perspective on these moves:

  1. The Kids Are Alright offended every lesbian I know who saw it and it make me homicidal. Of the films mentioned, it was the only one that is actually overtly homophobic–an alcoholic workaholic mom, her codependent wife who SLEEPS WITH A MAN (seriously?), and the two kids who are unhappy enough to secretly look for their sperm donor father. Yay, lesbian life. Yay the conflicted unhappy lesbian marriage and the great sex with the guy. The insider jokes about lesbianism played as homophobic in this crossover movie, and the construct of the lesbian sleeping with a man is so flat out offensive I can only say this: most of us don’t go back after discovering who we are because we don’t hate ourselves that much. And the truly bisexual and pansexual women….live pansexual and bisexual lives. BLECH to The Kids are Alright. Triple fucking BLECH! (And I’m not even going to start on the lack of chemistry between the lesbian leads.)
  2. The Danish Girl featured Eddie Redmayne playing a trans woman and I hated his performance so much, and found it so dishonest, that I didn’t make it through the whole movie. The trans community has been very vocal about having trans people plays trans characters. For a reason. BLECH.
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color told a fairly lesbian story of love, insecurity, infidelity. It was well-acted. The problem was how highly eroticized the film was, that the actresses had actual sex with each other, and that the straight male director got off on all of it (read on line articles). We basically watched a “me, too,” experience, though it took the actresses a while to admit it. SERIOUS BLECH.
  4. Carol took us back in time to lesbianism being forbidden love, and the casting was RIDICULOUS. I didn’t believe in their relationship for one hot second. I didn’t believe they knew each other well enough to love, or that they were queer enough to be hot for each other in any way. This film was written by a lesbian and I still hated it. (As for other lesbians, some of them were so grateful to have a film in which they could see their history, they forgave the above. I didn’t.) BLECH.
  5. Moonlight, a huge sigh of relief, had something to say about being queer, being African-American, being different, finding unlikely allies. The casting was very uneven, and the rewards showed that, but the film was deeply moving, and like Sean Baker, Barry Jenkins took us inside a life, rather than glossing over the experience of queer people with some friggin’ fictional erotic fantasy. I thought the transitions between the 3 sections were clunky as hell, but that is something I’ll forgive in the service of meaning and originality.
  6. Which brings us to this review: Call Me by Your Name. Guess my rating? BLECH.

My partner, who is either way less critical of movies or way more, depending on what pushes her particular buttons, says that for many gay men, Call Me by Your Name, is probably a very sensitive portrayal of coming out.

No. First of all, it has a 17 year old protagonist who has sex with a grad school student who looks like he’s 35. THIS IS ALMOST ACTIONABLE PEOPLE! Okay, maybe not in Italy–I don’t know what constitutes statutory rape in that country. So before even talking about plot or character development, let’s talk about what the movie sells–and what it sell is man/boy love. If the character of Oliver (the grad student) had been cast with an actor who looked a young 24, I wouldn’t have found it so disturbing. But casting is a large part of a film’s vision, and this vision sells me a very mature grad student, who acts, speaks and looks like a fully grown adult, having sex with a very young looking 17 year old, who looks and acts like a slightly spoiled, highly gifted but immature kid. That the character of Oliver is worried about whether what he’s doing is right only further disturbed me, because he seemed to be looking to the 17 year old Elio for validation.

We eroticize youth. The vision of film often eroticizes youth. In this film, Elio is eroticized–he’s a beautiful boy. Oliver is eroticized–he’s a beautiful man. And when they come together sexually, Elio acts like a kid in the way he touches, hugs, acts.

Seriously, boys?

Now, my partner doesn’t think the film wasn’t disturbing. She just thinks a lot of gay men will think it’s beautiful. She thinks a lesbian/gender non-conforming couple has a way different view of sexuality and love than these beautiful eroticized men.

Well, since I happen to agree with Lin Manuel Miranda that love is love is love is love, whether it’s set, as this film is, in a gorgeous part of Northern Italy, or whether it’s set in a garish strip of central Florida, I’m not feeling terribly forgiving toward this one, either.

The story is a coming out story, set in a very privileged family. And Oliver, the grad student intruder in the plot (for it is an intruder plot), is athletic, sexy, apparently into women, smart, even erudite. He looks a bit like, well, a blonde California actor or a preppie guy from Wall Street, rather than an academic, but since eroticism seems to be the highest value, and the whole film is about beauty and the body…what can I say. We never get to know Oliver. We never understand him. He doesn’t really treat Elio all that well, blowing hot and cold in his guilt. He doesn’t seem particularly moral, and though we’re told by Elio’s father that Oliver is “good,” his acts of actual kindness or goodness might number exactly one. Otherwise, he’s crude, rude and American.

Elio is more understandable…attracted to the older guy, but having sex to prove to himself…something…and using a girl his own age who is vulnerable to do it.

Basically, Elio falls for the older guy, has sex, comes out, his parents are completely cool about all of it. There’s some very loving and wise lines, but I’m not sure I believe a father in the 80’s would actually say them. They seemed more like the writer telling me what to think. They weren’t, as they too often say in writing classes, earned.

Yes, the film is beautiful. But it’s a double BLECH for me, and sorry, you can’t sell me man/boy love, in a cosmopolitan or any other context. Cast someone who doesn’t seem like a handsome, using jerk, and way too old, and maybe. I say maybe, because it’s hard sell. And one thing I’d need in the sell is some real intimacy. Some basis for connection besides physical beauty or lust.

And let me be clear: it’s not that I don’t think good queer movies are being made. Tangerine was an excellent queer movie. In TV, we have One Mississippi and Transparent (thankfully so far past Queer as Folk and the L Word). I like to believe that the mainstream world is ready for our lives, for films of meaning, like Moonlight. I hope we leave this old vision of queer lives behind us. Like, now.


PS–I love the poetry of the title of this movie. But, once again, it didn’t earn it. Call me by your name should be about blending, intimacy, identity. This barely scratched the surface. (Unless you think that both men using women to hide their desire for each other is enough to twin them.)




The Florida Project: Or, the best movie you didn’t see

Tangerine was the first film I saw by Sean Baker. I thought it by far the best film about the trans community, not about the transition, but about the lives of trans women on the fringe who can’t afford insurance, let alone surgery. Super low production values, super high insight and heart.

The Florida Project shows a rise in the production values, and it has a star, William Dafoe, who does a good job, though I think casting him was a mistake. Why? Because he seems like an actor and all the other actors seem to actually be the characters they are playing. Without Dafoe, the film would read as more documentary than fiction. This, in fact, is Baker’s genius: he takes us so deeply inside the lives the character are living, he removes us enough from the screenplay formula, that we deepen into the most complicated of human understanding. Of desperation, of love, of ugliness, of imprinting, of danger.

Specifically, The Florida project tells the story of Moonee, a five year old girl being raised by her very young, foul-mouthed, tattoed mother, who scraped a living together by stripping, selling bulk perfume as designer, and eventually by hooking. Moonee swears, spits, lights a fire, and is smart, inventive and adventurous. Much of the movie seems like slice of life, because the accrual of events is slow and subtle until the underlying dangers of this life become difficult to watch.

Moonee’s mom, Hallee, isn’t likeable per say, but she is made utterly understandable. In Tangerine, you can’t write off the trans women as tranny hookers; in The Florida Project you can’t write off the young mom as a white trash stripper. And yet they live the fringe lives they live, barely subsisting, imperfect in their connections, and yet…connected.

Honestly, Sean Baker makes every other filmmaker this year look utterly superficial. His vision is at once brutally honest and utterly compassionate. He has something to say, and he says it with subtlety and care. Some of the shots are a little stylized, but they so effectively underscored and communicated the meaning of what he was revealing (often about the nature of childhood…any childhood), I ended up liking them…and I hate stylization for its own sake, in which the filmmaker is showing us how clever he is.

I believe what Richard Linklater said is true–if you want innovation, if you want an original vision, don’t look to Hollywood. Look to independent films.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. I’m going to watch everything else Baker has ever done.

Molly’s Game: Sorkin’s Feminism or what?

Let’s start with what we know. Aaron Sorkin writes to the liberal sweet spot. Morality tales of the good versus the ego-driven, the corrupt, the addicted. There’s always the “one good man,” who is somehow tortured, often by his father’s early treatment. (Think Jed Bartlett.) There is always a challenge to the integrity of this man. There are always supporting characters, many of whom are actually more moral than the protagonist. We on the left love these tales of trying to do right, the fight between our own best angels and worst demons. And when right triumphs…as it does, so often in Sorkin, as evil is paid back, sometimes in Sorkin, we rejoice and wish to live in this world.

What else do we know? Well, female protagonists are the rage. And Hollywood operates on trends, so this current trend may ride high and die rather than change anything, especially if men ride on and shape the trend.

We also know that Sorkin has never written a decent female protagonist, or a portrait of marriage or intimacy that resembles anything like, well, marriage or intimacy.

Enter Molly’s Game. Any intelligent writer is going to play to his strengths, so Sorkin chose a bio-pic in which this time it’s a good woman tortured by her relationship with a dominating father. He leaves the mother/daughter relationship almost completely alone, leaves the sisterhood and complexity of female relationships almost completely alone, and places his one good woman in the company of corrupt and addicted, even violent, men. His ability to probe her psyche is so limited that he resorts to two lazy writer crutches: constant use of voiceover and a psychiatrist father that gives his daughter a 3 minute session that changes her understanding of her life and her relationship with him.


Don’t get me wrong. Sorkin is writing to the same liberal sweet spot he always does, and we on the left are certainly tempted to take comfort in that, even if the FBI’s disregard of constitutional rights and the piggy-backing of the IRS on that disregard is nothing short of terrifying, considering the world in which we live. It’s a fast-paced (in spite of voiceover) movie. It’s not terrible. And it has Idris Elba, for whom I would seriously change teams, so there is that.

But let’s go beyond the usual liberal sweet spot into what’s truly disturbing about this movie and about Hollywood.

Men are writing female protagonists, and they are placing them in a male world, with little to no understanding of women’s lives. Molly Bloom–oh the irony of that name, given James Joyce’s fascination with a female character that never resulted in a true understanding of anything female–doesn’t reveal anything about women. She uses her wits, cunning and beauty to make a lot of money, but Sorkin doesn’t understand the cost of this, or the cost of the constant sexual offers, or the struggle to hold one’s own in this world. And then, when Molly gets beaten up, it’s not at all sexual. NOT. AT. ALL. The guy doesn’t even seem to get off on it. And you know, I just don’t believe that. Not in the world of “me, too.”

Molly’s Game is not a feminist movie. It foregrounds only one female character, and explores nothing about women’s lives, relationships (she doesn’t have a single boyfriend the 12 years the movie covers, let alone serious friendships with other women). How, then, can Sorkin still be the voice for the liberal sweet spot? His morality is getting a little boring for this viewer, and the use of voiceover to cover missing character development (including an addictive progression) is RIDICULOUS. Maybe we’re growing past what he has to offer.

Of course, Hollywood is not a place in which ideas like cultural appropriation really get air time. But this movie is gender appropriation, and the writer–and make no mistake, the writing is always the star in Sorkin, because it’s words, words, words, flying at you all the time, when the image could speak for itself if he’d let it–has been ridiculously lazy in his research about women, their lives, their psyches, how they feel and what they want. (Incidentally, there are courses on line on how to write a good female protagonist, and none of them challenge the idea that a one size fits all will never do what we need, which is to tell women’s stories in women’s voices and in artistic structures men haven’t invented.)

So my problem is this–while Molly’s Game isn’t a terrible movie in and of itself, it is, above all things, a hypocritical movie by a man with so much ego he glorifies his own writing in the use of voiceover and doesn’t do the intellectual work his own politics should require that he do. Because the liberal sweet spot should include feminism 101, shouldn’t it?

I know, I should be more tolerant, and the making of Wonder Woman (a woman surrounded by men after the first maybe 20 minutes…and, yes, written by a woman, but who cares), of the new Star Wars (best of the bunch, but still no real understanding), of the upcoming Ocean’s 8, must be steps toward something, right?

No. They are a danger. Men have written about women throughout history without understanding women…let alone queer women and women of color. Movies that offer women characters that are distorted by the male eye, or are men in women’s clothing (think Hemingway), are a false offering. For years I’ve read almost exclusively female, queer and authors of color in order to educate my own eye, and in order to not go feral crazy. I may take it upon myself to do the same with film. Because a film or tv series produced, written and directed by a woman about a woman tells a different story, comes from a different eye, and holds a much deeper understanding. Of the fact that women aren’t like men. (Oh, for the feminism of Fay Weldon and the UK, which is self-critical as well as critical of the patriarchy. Even Caryl Churchill writes about the wrong turn feminism makes when women think equality consists of being like men in a men’s world.)

Molly’s Game? Wait until it’s on Netflix if you’re hungry for the old Sorkin liberal sweet spot. And watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel now instead. It’s truly subversive in so many ways. And the writing’s better, the characters way deeper and more idiosynchratic. The morality is way more subtle and challenging. And it’s WRITTEN BY A WOMAN.

Sorry, Aaron. Grow more deeply into your obsessions and tell more of the truth. Like, write a main character who doesn’t understand women or intimacy, becomes aware of this, and learns to, and I’ll buy a ticket.


Moving Insanity

We’re having one of those times. You know, when we look at 20+ places to find a temporary living situation, and the paperwork to Canada keeps getting lost in the mail, and our jobs are the most stressful they’ve been, well, ever, and the people that say they want our furniture continually renege, and we’re throwing away so much stuff it’s like having our life histories stripped away.

Until there we are, looking at each other.

Each morning, we get up, she takes a shower while I either groan, sleep or play with social media. And then we meet in the living room, where we do 10 minutes of yoga stretching, followed by 10 minutes of meditation, followed by a brief share on where we are, and then we just stare into each other’s eyes for 3 solid minutes. I’m not kidding. We call it present time. We make each other the object of our waking meditation. If we zone out, we close our eyes until we can zone back in.

I am hanging onto these times in the morning, when I see my partner, when I feel her beside me, moving her body, groaning about the strains from shoveling, when I listen to her, when I focus only on me. when I say metta.

We keep catching our own insanity. This is what meditation does. And every time one of us catches ourselves taking shit out on the other person, or leaving the sense of teamwork, and comes back in, trust builds back from all the terrible moves culminating in this, the worst move of all, except for the us of us.

I told my partner the other day that I married her so I could watch that bowlegged walk she does for the rest of my life.

We are dropping out of the known into some other thing. We know not what.

I have thrown away so much stuff! So that I feel unburdened and untethered. I have thrown away copies of manuscripts, I have donated books I love, I have given away clothes…sometimes it physically hurt.

Then I look at this person. See her. 30 years, we’ll have on June 8. We watched our wedding video yesterday. We are truly not those people any more. She has a different gender identity. I have a different name. Those 30 year olds were gorgeous. And we are wise, and love with a knowledge of everything it take to love and break, and rebuild, over and over.

I am beginning to admit that I might not change anything, even though I’ve screwed up so badly at times that I myself find it hard to believe.

I let go. Of everything else. But me. And her.

With no idea what’s coming.

I wrote a short novel about love and grace in our times. You can read it for free on Amazon until March 11.

Saint John the Divine in Iowa, my screenplay that won the Meryl Streep-funded Writers Lab, told the story of an Episcopal Priest fighting to balance the needs of her congregation and her gay daughter. Priest Kid tells the daughter’s story…of having a mother who’s a saint, but who loves humanity as much as she loves her. It’s about good people, about hope and politics in families, about redemption. If you want a break from hate, as I do, this is the story.

Priest Kid

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