Monday, April 07, 2014

Looking at LOOKING








A new ‘gay’ dramedy for the decade

AOG, Madrid

Television serves many purposes aside from just entertainment. It informs and instructs, as best it can.

I am sure that social anthropology draws a direct correlation between society and the impact certain programs, or in fact, all programs, have on the changing of attitudes of said society.

We all know how the 1970s saw an explosion of programs where black people were suddenly the protagonists and not merely bystanders. 

Whether a reflection of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, or just an effort to cash in on a growing trend, the fact is that these shows did their fair share in normalizing, or helping to normalize, race relations in America.

Good Times’ was certainly one of my favorites as a kid in the 1980s. But I also enjoyed ‘The Jeffersons’.

Of course, at the time, I saw them as merely entertaining television. I was too young to think about watching a ‘black’ sitcom, or a ‘black’ anything. I was just watching TV.


And there will always be a soft spot in my heart for ‘Gimme a Break’ and Nell Carter.

But there is one too for my all-time favorite childhood show: The Carol Burnett Show.

In my mind, then and now, these were just television shows which made me laugh. I was not interested in categorizing them in any particular way. 

They weren’t white, or black, or gay, or anything other than just television.

Pioneer




The cast of ‘Brothers’
And although television has dabbled with gay shows before, in fact as late back as the 1980s with Showtime’s Brothers -which was the first time I saw a gay sitcom-, it still has floundered here and there with a successful formula or with the public’s acceptance of it.

Granted, Queer as Folk was a good show (although never as good as the British original), as were the L-Word and the magnificent Will & Grace but, of course, there’s always room for improvement.

There’s always other aspects which can be looked at.

There’s always something new to add.

Looking

 
So it was with some interest, and trepidation, that I started to watch ‘Looking’ about a month ago.

I taped the whole series (all 8 episodes) and, slowly, started watching it.

It follows the lives of three gay men, Patrick, Agustín, and Dom in and around the city of San Francisco.

From the first episode I was a bit underwhelmed.

I found it hard to believe that an adult gay male, Patrick, would be so inept at cruising.

I suppose the scriptwriter thought it was hilarious, but I admit that I was not much amused.

And the rest of the episode sort of read as kind of a Tales of the City cum Sex and the City, minus the clever parts… off steroids.

And I had, or have, other issues with it too.

I have to say that two weeks went by before I bothered to watch the second episode. My heart was not on it. Yet I also didn’t erase the show.

I just had to find the right moment.

Eventually I did.


Did the show improve?

Well, yes. Here and there. Sort of. In places.

But there were, are, things which just simply make me go hmm…


Like, for example, Richie, a character who is very Catholic, and gay, and has no issue with the clash between his sexuality and his faith (if he is enlightened about it, like most gay cathols I know, it is not coming through in the show).

Not just that, he sort of likes a guy and wants him to wear an ‘escapulario’, a scapular, right away.

Is that what he asks of all his boyfriends?

Yes, I found that weird.

Also, the whole issue with Richie being uncircumcised.

What is the big deal? As far as I know, being ‘au naturelle’ in the US is seen as quite desirable in the gay world. But not this guy? Not Patrick?

And with Agustín being a non-productive artist. Or a self-defeating artist. And mostly a bit of an asshole…and yet you like him. Then you don’t.

Or with Dom liking only younger men, but somehow magically falling for Scott Bakula as Lynn.

Believable yes, but no the way it is shown on Looking.




Also, lesbians, in that great gay city, are mostly not around in this show. Yes, I get it, it is about gay men. But it just seems odd.

And…sorry but is San Francisco populated by just hispanics and whites? No black people? Nobody from Asia? Hello?

And one final also: Doris. I feel for the poor actress who plays her, Lauren Weedman. Doormat does not even begin to cover it.

Why does this character exist? All she seems to do is cater and kow tow to Dom’s every whim.




Why?

Is she his ex?

Is she secretly in love with him?

Is she just slow?

She certainly seems to be a walking car crash of a female character.

Unloved, unlikeable, and bordering on annoying.

For a fag hag, she is certainly not doing well for herself.

Finally, and call me crazy, is it too much to ask that the city’s multifaceted gay community be semi represented?

And what about the issues facing LGBT people today? 

What about gay marriage? Social discrimination? Bullying? HIV?







Scott Bakula, as Lynn

None of these have been talked about yet.

Now, the positive side.

However, I must say, that for all my complaints, for all the show’s shortcomings, I liked it. Or at least, I like that it exists.

For one thing, it is very nice to look at.

The cinematography is beautiful here and there. And I like that they show you parts of the countryside around San Francisco which you don’t often see on TV or in films.

The music is well chosen. Or if not, at least I like it.

And the plot lines, though apparently absent at times, or just plain convoluted others, do seem to reflect the daily lives of the characters (all but Doris, of course).

I also like that the characters come across as regular people. Not the über-rich A-Gay of other shows; not the to-die-for looks of stereotypical gay characters; no VIP, glamorous lives which seem far removed from the reality of many gay men's lives.

These three come across as regular guys with regular problems.

How to deal with an open relationship, and yourself. How to deal with yourself and a boyfriend-love interest of a different background from yours and a British boss who has the hots for you. How to deal with being a waiter at 40, trying to make it in the world, not kill your ex, and falling for an older guy, and yourself.

At the end of the first season it seems like all three of them have gone full circle. Yet they are still “looking”. For love? 
For solace? For answers.

Dom is going for Lynn, Agustín is out of his boyfriend’s home, and life, and living with Patrick, as he was in the beginning, and Patrick, who started the series failing Cruising 101, has graduated to cheating boyfriend, and maybe even power bottom.

Although this may not be the greatest gay show ever, I would venture that it has potential.

And even if the show tanked, even if there is a lot of room for improvement, as I always say, some visibility is better than NO visibility.

Remember, Queer as Folk ended in 2005 and Will & Grace in 2006. We are in 2014, and Modern Family can only do so much.
 

Friday, February 07, 2014

J a n u a r y · 2 0 1 4 ·

A recap of the month’s events







AOG, Madrid

Last year I read an article, probably written by an American author, which talked about the benefits of keeping a “blessings journal”.

This tied in with something I saw on Pinterest: a blessings jar.

The person who posted the image on that site was also American.

Is their nationality important? In a way, yes.
How could it not be?

For some strange reason, Americans these days (and for a long time now) seem to be intent on improving their lives (in a way other nationalities do not, or do but differently), and they seem to think that these little tips help them to do so.

I am not well-versed on anyone’s life other than my own, so I don’t know if these ideas actually help, hinder, or have no impact on the quality of life.

Nevertheless, the “blessings journal” idea has stuck around in my head since it seems like an unusual enough thing to do… and diametrically opposed to my usual penchant for a “Calamities & Damnations Journal.”

Although I am not about to list the month’s blessings, the idea has inspired me to write this post, which is just a recap of those things which have happened in my life this month and which I think worthy of a highlight.

Looking back, it was a busier month than I originally thought.

That can only be a good thing.

1- The Choir
About three months ago a friend of mine invited me to go along with him to choir practice. He and his brother have been going there for about five years, and they are always looking for male voices, he says. 

He convinced me to come along, no need to audition, and just join.



I had been in a choir in High School, and I have always loved singing, so, out of the blue came this opportunity.
I went along with him and met his buddies.

Because we are in Spain, and I am American, they quickly asked me to help them with their English. The choir, you see, is a Gospel choir, and most of what they sing is in English.

So for about an hour or so, until the director arrived, I helped them out with their pronunciation.

Then they practiced, and I stood by in a corner, listening. My friend told the Director who I was afterwards, and he said in a very polite, yet stern manner, that they had just had auditions, and that I could try out in January.

So that was that.

My friend told me that this was very unexpected, but nevertheless would love it if I came again and helped out the choir with their English. Which I did, over the next couple of months.

And in December the choir had a concert, and I was there, in the audience, listening. Afterwards some of them came up to me, like children who’ve done something they are proud of, and asked about their performance.

Was it good?” “Did we sing well?” “Was the English ok?
So, slowly, I had become a sort of choir consultant.

Then, early in January, so early in fact I was still abroad, I got an email inviting me to audition.

Yes, panic mode.

I had not prepared anything and they were asking for a recording before giving me any further details.

As soon as I got back to Madrid I contacted my friend and, together, on the very last day of the deadline, we sent off three short songs sung acapella.

One day later I was told to go the very next day, Sunday, and audition. Which I did.

That very afternoon the choir met for their first rehearsal of the year. And I was there, still as their ‘English’ consultant.

The director, having heard me a few hours earlier, was very friendly, and even said, I think in an attempt to come across as empathic, that I should have sent the recording earlier.

So, one week later, I was told I was in the choir. So now, I sing in a gospel choir. In Madrid.

I had my first choir rehearsal last Sunday. I knew bits of the songs, none of the choreography, and I got to talk to other members in a more inclusive manner.

You see, now I was officially one of them.

That felt good.

2- Breaking Bad
Perhaps a strange thing to highlight, but I have to admit that I was the last person on Earth to have missed every single season of this ‘cultural phenomenon’ and to show very little interest in it.


White & Pinkerton

Some work colleagues convinced me to give it a try; so I did.

Taking advantage of the fact that my cable provider permits me to download entire seasons of a few, select, shows, I did, and thus far I’ve watched the entire first season and I’ve started on season 2.

No, I’m not impressed. It is ok, but the only character I actually like is Walter Junior, or Flynn, as he is being called in season 2.
Skyler gets on my nerves.

As do the sister and brother-in-law characters.

We’ll see…

3- Online Mags
Ok, I love magazines, and I love online magazines. Why? The photographs look so much better!

So this month I’ve added a couple of them to my tab list: Vice and I-D.

4- Grooveshark
I am a music freak, and a fan of Spotify.


But I can only use it on some devices, so, like a fool, I began to use the free online service, not knowing that eventually your 20 hours are up.

And you have to pay up for more.

So I re-discovered Grooveshark.

Basically the same, but with no hour limit; the interface is pretty cool.

I say re discover because I came across it a few months ago but forgot about it pretty quickly.

I’ve also been listening to music sets on soundcloud. Less cool, less interface rad, but interesting sounds just the same.

As always, don’t judge a song by its album cover…though, of course, we all do.

5- Trips to the UK
Ok, last year I went to the UK only twice. May, and December. My family are still there, but I was not able to go more.




This year, however, I will be there twice before June, which is a step up from last year.

This is a highlight because I’ll be going for different reasons, at different times, and it is all sorted in early January.

So, something to look forward to.

6- Writing Vs. Life
Ok, this is not exactly a highlight, quite the opposite. 

I have not been able to write much of my Sci-Fi novel this month. 

I met up with a friend a couple of weeks ago and managed all of 6 words. 

Not good.

Nonetheless, the highlight here is that I have managed to think about it and about how it should develop. 

In other words, although I’m not writing it, I am plotting it out somehow, which is a positive thing.

7- Democrats Abroad
Like a good little American, I’m in touch with an American expat association. In this case, Democrats Abroad in Spain. 

I was semi active with them a couple of years back, but kind of stop attending the various parties and events because they either clashed with something, I was out of town, or I was plain tired.


Well, a couple of months ago, DA organized a very interesting meeting at one of the member’s home where a journalist who had just been reporting from Syria (as a freelancer) was giving a talk on the situation there.

The other thing that I am is interested in all things foreign-affairs related.

So meeting Anna Therese Day was a very enlightening experience. She regaled us with the horrible tales human conflict manages to create, with her problems getting American editors to value the work of freelancers in the area, with the fact that, at the age of only 25, she is already better versed on the situation there than Anderson Cooper, and that she trains the new arrivals there. And more things.

She has a great perspective in life, and I only wish her all the best in her professional endeavors.

If you want to see what she is up to, you can follow her on twitter: @AnnaOfArabia

But it doesn’t end there. I volunteered to be the photographer at one of their voter registration and fundraising events, which was fun since, as the guy with the camera standing by the photocall, you get to meet a lot of people there. That was also a highlight since I think that, maybe, just maybe, I made a friend. Maybe even two.

8- Instagram junkie
Ok, this is to do more with the fact that I now have an iPhone, courtesy of my partner, and I can do what I’ve been wanting to do for years: walk around the city with a small camera and take snapshots of anything, and everything, I see.

My partner says I’ve gone camera crazy.

And he is right.

9- Books junkie
One can never have enough hats, gloves and shoes, said Patsy Stone once. Nor books, say I.

After my Christmas visit to my sister’s I am having a small percentage of my book collection mailed over to Spain. A very small percentage.

I have also began to rearrange some of my bookshelves at home. Rediscovering titles I had forgotten about, and giving it a more ordered appearance.



I have also been expanding my library this January. Here’s the link to my Shelfari, where I’ve been uploading titles lately, in no particular order other than the new ones get added rather quickly, and the older ones in a much slower fashion.

Yes, Shelfari, not Goodreads, where I also have an account.

This is a bit like Beta Vs VHS.

Who’ll win?

Nobody knows but of the two I rather interact with Shelfari. I think it looks better.

10- Interior Decor
I have a sofa from Ikea, the one with the changeable covers that everyone has. But I need a new one.

Ikea sofa

So a couple of months ago I discovered a Facebook page where people sell their things. Mostly expats living in Madrid.

And this lady put a photograph of an Ikea sofa she was giving away. I was, of course, very interested, and so was everyone else.

She was a bit odd to deal with since it seemed like she was playing all interested parties against each other.

By this I mean that she would only contact you after someone else had dropped out of the race. Which made arrangements near nigh impossible to make.

But I persevered. I was interested. And she was very very keen on somebody taking the couch of off her hands. Very keen indeed.

But she began to flounder.

She began to insist I came to see/take the sofa in question. 

So I asked for another view of the sofa, since the one she had put up on facebook was a screenshot from Ikea’s website.

She did, but it was on its side, and I could not really make it out very well. Was it the same sofa?

Once again she was contacted by someone who could take it off her hands, so she changed her tune with me and put me back at the end of the line.

Fine, I thought, the sofa in question did not appear to be the one I was after. But the whole thing backfired on her, again.
The person who had come to take the sofa had to return it. It was too big for her flat!

So she was all sweetness and apologies again when she contacted me. So, I asked her once again about the sofa model. 

Was it the one from Ikea that she originally posted on Facebook?

No, it was not. She insisted that I came and took it, but, hello? Wrong sofa = No deal.

Plus I don’t like people like her.

And then there was the whole Zara Home incident.




Inside a Zara Home store.

I like cushions. In fact, I love them.

I like them on the bed, on the sofa, anywhere.

So, early in the month, I thought I would walk past Zara Home. 

They were having the usual January sales and I came across a sequin cushion which, I thought, was €5,99.

When I took it to the till, it had gone up to €19,99, which was its full price. 

Like and idiot, when I was walking around the shop the price tag fell out somewhere. 

So, of course, I had to go back to the cushions table and find another one. Which I did.

And when I did I thought, great!, a matching pair.

No such luck. 

That one didn’t have a price tag either. So the girl at the till called the on-duty manager, who looked at me (like they always do in Europe) as if I was trying to put one on them, and told me I had to pay full price for the cushions.

So, even though your entire store is on sale, you want me to pay full price for these?

Oh ok, then half price.

Even though you have marked these down to €5,99."

But they don’t have a sticker.

But that is not my problem, I am your customer and you can’t expect me to …

And that is where I stopped talking. It was useless.

Once again Europe’s approach to customer service won out, and I walked out, minus two cushions.

But since I am on an interior decor bender, it seems, I have started to pick up fruit boxes (it is strawberry season in Spain!) and taking them home. 

I have been using them to hold books, mostly, and I’ve had to fight off my cleaning lady who throws them away whenever she comes round.

You see, once home I wash them and leave them to dry by the kitchen window. The cleaning lady sees them and assumes they are trash, so out they go.

11- Shoes 2014
I’m quite lucky that I live in one of the world’s shoe powerhouses. 

Spain has some great shoe designs and this season I have found myself in need of new shoes.




Thus far, taking advantage of the January sales, I’ve bought a pair of dark brown suede brogues, and a pair of Caterpillar boots, which I began wearing back in the early 1990s and have been wearing ever since.

However, not all is buy buy buy

As they say, recycle or die, so I’ve also mended the soles on another pair of dress shoes which I bought in London about three years ago. Unlike the UK, or Texas, living in Spain means you actually have seasons.





Brogues…

So you have Winter shoes, and Summer shoes. So whereas a pair of shoes in London would last months, or a year, here they last about the same amount of time, but spread out over a couple of years.

Now that I live in Madrid, I have discovered the short life-span of thin-soled shoes, which tend to last but one season and hardly ever make it to next year’s Summer season.

12- Probiotics
Over the Christmas season I had an abscess in my mouth. Since I was traveling so much, I found it impossible to go to the doctor, unless I went to the ER, which would have taken out a chunk of time out of my daily routine. I was at first in the UK, and I could not get any antibiotics for love or toffee! I needed a prescription. 

So I endured with this thing in my mouth as best as I could.



When we got back to Spain, I was still not in Madrid, and I tried to buy antibiotics. No luck.

Thankfully my partner’s sister was friends with a pharmacist who, and only because I was family, gave her a box of antibiotics for me.

I was so grateful!

The other thing this lovely pharmacist did was recommend I took pro-biotics, to overcome the effect antibiotics have on your plumbing. This was news to me, but I got some and, true enough, for the first time ever I didn’t have the usual digestive tract side effects. But I did have some new ones.

Especially the first day I started taking them.

It seems that they have a very efficient laxative effect. I was very effectively “laxed”.

13- A death in the political family
Death is something which is with us at all times. I still don’t know how to deal with it and my heart goes out whenever I hear somebody loses a loved one.

This January, my partner lost an uncle.

He went home for the funeral and stayed there for the weekend.

14- Thespian Days
I love going to the theater. I love a good play. And I really appreciate good acting.

This month, on the weekend my partner I were meant to go to the theater together he had to go to home for a funeral (see above). 

So I had three tickets (the friend who was coming with us had to cancel too) to play with.

I invited two friends who don’t much like each other — which is ironic since I met one through the other– and we went to see a play by Argentinian playwright Claudio Tolcachir: Emilia.




Emilia, Madrid cast.

The writing was amazing, and the acting was very good too. He has very quickly turned into one of my favorite playwrights these past few years.

The cast (above) were all well-known Spanish actors, and the audience was, for some strange reason, mostly retired citizens, which all three of us thought was unusual.

15- Elliot Murphy
A few years ago, my partner and I were lucky enough to go to Paris in March, and go to Elliot Murphy’s birthday concert at New Morning. And we did this a couple of years in a row.

This year we talked about it, but, given that the year is gearing up to be very travel heavy, we decided to skip Paris.

Oh well, no Elliot Murphy this year… or so I thought.




Turns out he has been coming to Madrid for the past 10 years and the weekend my partner did come, he and the friend who cancelled, and myself, all went to the Madrid concert. And it was great.

Especially the rendition of ‘Rock Ballad’. 

Masterpiece!

And when we went out, I came across a small fruit box (this time blueberries) which is now at home, waiting for some books to be put inside it (see above).

16- Game of Thrones
There are some programs which you faithfully and ardently watch, some that you watch whenever they are on, never making all that much of an effort to catch them, and some that just pass you by. That you just don’t really want to engage with.

Such was the case with Breaking Bad (see above).

Everyone was watching it, and I was in some other alternative universe, bypassing all the hoopla.

This had also happened when Twin Peaks was on.

That entire fad passed me by and I think that, thus far, I’ve only watched about half an episode. That is not to say I didn’t like the theme tune, I loved it and Julee Cruise.

But that’s about as far as my involvement with that series goes (that and the fact that I bought the first season on DVD about three years ago-though it remains unseen).




So when Game of Thrones came out, I was a bit blah about it. What little I saw of it on TV just didn’t appeal to me.

I ended up taping the entire first season (just in case I eventually liked it), and, a few months after it ended, started to watch the first episode.

I watched the first 15 minutes and switched off. I even thought of deleting the whole thing.

But people kept saying how good it was, how I had to watch it, how I would love it. So weeks later, maybe months, I watched the whole first episode.

No. I was not hooked. But I decided to watch the second episode. I think I began to like it only about half way through it.

Then I taped the second season, which is incomplete since I started watching the first season fully halfway through it. Then the third.

So, finally, I have been able to start watching the second season. I still don’t think I am hooked, and the show is getting a bit too Hollywood for my liking, but I am glad I’m watching it.

17- Aretha Franklin
So when my partner was last in Madrid we had this idea that we would go to Ikea and look at furniture.

Maybe buy an armchair. Maybe a new sofa (see above). Maybe a new mattress. So we left home and ran some quick errands throughout the city.

It was a sunny day, like most Winter days tend to be in Madrid, and for some reason, the temperatures were almost high. So we decided to have a coffee before heading off to Ikea and spending the rest of the day there. Not that we wanted to do that, we didn’t, but it is what ends up happening every time we go.

So there we were, having a coffee, and then I said to him “Should we skip Ikea? I mean, who wants to be indoors on a day like today?

He laughed because he was thinking the same thing, and we decided to bail on the Swedish smorgasbord, stopping, instead, on a nearby record shop.

Yes, records. How retro! Right?

But no, I was not after records for their sake, I just wanted to see what they had, and eventually I would move on to the CD section like I always do.


So there we were, just perusing, when I came across something I hadn’t seen since I left the US: Aretha Franklin’s album from 1986: Aretha.

My first album of hers ever.

I was hooked. I wanted it. I had never wanted an album cover so much before. Something about it (Warhol, hello?) made me want to buy it.

I thought it would be interesting to put it on the wall. Album covers is such a lost art I think.

Yes, of course, CDs still keep it alive, but it is not the same thing. You can’t appreciate a great cover on a CD.

So I put it aside and continued looking. I found a couple of Grace Jones albums and thought I’d take all three.

My partner offered to buy them, in fact, but I declined. We were having such a nice day out that I thought I could do without them.

I didn’t want to carry things, I just wanted to enjoy myself.

So I left all three there… (to be continued).

18- Parlez-vous Français?

The other thing that happened this month is that I had a couple of friends visit Madrid. Both French.

One lives in Sitges, the other in France. But they were both here, along with two of their friends.


They all got a place together not too far from me and they had me round for dinner one evening; it was a great opportunity to practice my French.

And how good is my French?

Well, good enough to half argue, half coherently, on the following subjects:

Masculinity (or why do you think that being camp is not an inherent part of masculinity?); Time (or I think time is man-made and there is no such thing as time); God (or just because the Bible says things happened and certain people lived does not actually mean that things did happen or that those people actually existed).

I tried to put my points across on these major subjects (but there were others– such as Mylène Farmer, for or against?) as best as I could with varying degrees of success.

On the masculinity front, it was 5 against one (not me). On the God thing, it was, again, five against one (again, not me) and on the time thing, it was three against two, and one undecided.

No, you never know how bad your French is until you realize you can’t explain why you think time does not exist and you have to switch to English to get your point across... to a group of people whose first language is not English…
My bad.

19- Home blackout!

And just the other day I came home to a dark apartment. What a surprise that was!

I wasn’t sure what the problem could be since the lights in the landing were on and I came up on the elevator.


So I called the light company only to be told that since there was not a problem in the building, I was on my own.

Call your insurance company. The meter is not out resposibility”.

So I finally used a candle a dear friend of mine from Mexico gave me when I first moved to Spain years ago and which had remained unused.

Yes, gifts eventually come into their own. Somehow.

I also had some unused tea lights somewhere and, I don’t know how since I don’t smoke, I found a lighter in one of the kitchen drawers.

So I called my partner, who gave me the number for the insurance company, and called. They would be round in about three hours or less.

The electrician called and said he’d be round in an hour and a half more or less. In the meantime I was in the dark.

It was interesting being at home with the lights out. At first, before I lit the candles, I was just enjoying, albeit briefly, the semi-darkness of the rooms. I live on a fourth floor studio flat, and the street lights managed somehow to light up the space. I could have sat there for a while, but I would have fallen asleep very quickly, and I would have gotten cold very quickly too.

My iPhone was almost out of juice, and the candles were starting to make me wheezy. I am asthmatic, so I can’t be around too many candles. Especially not paraffin candles.

So, I took my Mac, put a coat on, and left the apartment.

I went to Café Figueroa, my new writing destination, and stayed there for about 40 minutes. I didn’t want the electrician to have to wait and leave.

So I went back and sat in the dark for a while.

Eventually the electrician came round.

He buzzed and I let him in. I expected him to come straight up, but he went, as I foud out later, right for the meter room.
He called me.

Hello, I’m going back to my van. They’ve taken your fuses.

That I was not expecting.

Within 10 minutes the lights came back.

He came up and I signed a paper.

One of your neighbors must have taken it.

Did they take anyone else’s?

I don’t know, I just checked yours.

No time for chit chat. He was in a hurry.

20- Epiphany

My last hightlight of the month is really one of the first ones.

My partner and I organized a dinner party for Epiphany, just like we did last year.

At last year’s event, we asked our guests to bring along those gifts they had received throughout the year which were just gathering dust at home and they had no clue what to do with them.

At that event, and following the rules, one of our friends left home with 4 identical leather wallets.

All in all it had been a great party.



So this year we thought we would do the same.

I have to say that, as far as I’m concerned, I did’t do too badly.

My favorite gift this year? A rainbow-colored plastic slinky.

And onwards to 2014!

 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Art & I & Art

Or, why do I always have this internal struggle?



This year’s ARCO logo. 2014.

AOG, Madrid

This past weekend Madrid held its international art fair: ARCO. This art fair has been an annual event for me ever since I moved to Spain.

I have gone every year since then to every single one, and every year I walk away thinking to myself, ‘Why the Hell don’t I start doing that?’.

By “that” I am referring to art, in whichever way you wish to define it.
And art and I have had a very tormented relationship from the very start. And it goes on today.

There are many reasons why I don’t live and work as an artist.

And I dislike every single one of them, yet, that has always been, to use a well-worn euphemism, the story of my life.

The cruel beginnings…

When I was a young kid I asked my mother to let me take drawing classes.
I remember going to my first-ever drawing lesson.

I remember the anticipation, the nerves I felt then. The joy inside of me as I anticipated what was to happen.

As a kid, nothing made happier than drawing. I loved it.

I remember that I read somewhere that there was an art academy near where we lived. Maybe it was just a poster, or an ad in a magazine. And I remember pestering my mother to let me go to drawing classes.

After my mother tired of hearing me, she allowed for this to happen. And I was over the moon.

It was a complete fiasco.

We went to the academy in question and I saw several tables with children pouring over their work. I was very excited because I’d soon be learning what they were learning, and I’d be working alongside them. It was going to be my first extracurricular activity ever.

Madame Mère (as I like to call her theses days) and I were shown around the academy, the director explaining to her what the children were doing at that particular moment.

And what were the children drawing?

They, all of them, were drawing a picture of a mountain top and the moon.

Circle and triangle. Basic.

And it seems like that is all they had been drawing and all that they were going to draw for a long time.

My mother asked about this, and she was told, again, that until the children learned how to do that well, that was all they were going to do.

Only that picture?

Yes, only that picture.

My mother thanked the director for her time and said she would think about it.

She didn’t drop me off at the academy that day, as I had been expecting to happen; she didn’t say she’d be picking me up later. 

She didn’t do any of the things I thought were going to happen.

instagram: @tony4sure

Once outside, or in the car, or the elevator, or wherever it was that we were at when we were alone, I asked her about what had just happened. 

Why wasn’t I being dropped off? What was happening?

I don’t remember her exact words but it was something along the lines of ‘I don’t think they have a very good idea about how to teach drawing to a child’.

She really didn’t like the thought of me doing just one painting over and over.

I, on the other hand, would have killed at the chance to do just that. But it was not to be. She had seen a problem with the academy and dismissed it. And for some reason, she never bothered to find another one.

Now it would be unfair to say she didn’t encourage my sister and I to express our creative side.

Although I never went to art class, Madame Mère did spend hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, paying for art supplies throughout our entire childhood.

Instagram: @tony4sure

She paid for ballet school, piano lessons, acting lessons.

Only as an adult, when I went to live in London, did I take a photography lesson.

And ever since then, photography has been with me as a sort of surrogate for drawing.

But I still draw. Badly. Awkwardly. Furtively. But passionately.

With time, my drawings became more about designing things.

When we first came to Europe in 1988, for some strange reason, I decided I would start drawing buildings.

Ever the frustrated architect, I was content to draw skyscrapers, cut out the shapes, as though they were paper dolls, and ‘assemble’ them.

I had already started designing cars a couple of years before. And shoes. And clothes. And furniture. But I never trusted my drawing skills. And I never took it seriously. So I never did anything with it. I just drew. I just draw.

But I take art seriously. I take my photography seriously. And my writing. And my acting. And I recently joined a choir, and I take that seriously too. Just as I took music seriously when I had a magnificent keyboard I never learned how to play well. I am also a frustrated composer.

But I am a great reader. And all of those years I read about art. And then I did a BA in Art History (and History with a philosophy minor). 

And I combined that degree with photography, and my love of all the arts. And you can see the results online. Follow me on instagram for the more immediate images: @tony4sure.

Being an artist.

For years, as one does, I never thought of myself as an artist. I was just doing what everyone else did -so I believed.

I used to think that since I liked art, so did everyone else.

Since I could draw, so could everyone else.

Since I could dance, and sing, and act, and all the rest, so could everyone else.

Realizing that was just not the case took me years.

Not so much a rude awakening as a realization: not everyone is an artist.

But was I an artist? Or was I just artistic?

I was an actor, a singer, a writer, even a half-assed musical composer when sitting at the keyboard, but an artist?

It took a while before the dots connected.

The proper thank you.

I have to thank London for telling me what I was. For opening my eyes. For slapping me in the face with what was there.

You see, London, like any major metropolitan area, attracts its fair share of talented people.

And talented people are excellent at recognizing talent in others, and extremely adept at letting you know when it is not there. Cruel in fact.

And it was a group of those people who told me what I had never been able to see myself: that I was an Artist

That I had always been one.

But it took a while before I accepted this about myself.

Weird, right?

Instagram: @tony4sure
 I was informed that I didn’t take photographs just because I pointed the camera and pressed the shutter. I had compositions. Angles. I was producing images, not just photographs.

I could act, and embody a character. I could express feelings through movement as a dancer. I could write poetry, and prose. I was a producer of art, not just a consumer.

And I should have gone to Art School. RADA, or Central St Martin’s, or the Royal Academy of Art. But I didn’t.

Why?

Because I was not an artist in my head. Art was something everyone did. Hence, I undervalued it greatly.

But I wanted, still want, to learn. And to produce art.

As a designer, I wanted to learn about CAD. Not programming, just using this wonderful program to make my car designs look real. Or professional. Or just better.

But couldn’t. And didn’t.

So these days, I channel my impulses as best I can.

Instagram: @tony4sure

And most of the time I am happy with the exercise (if not necessarily the actual output).

But now and again, I go to an art gallery, or a museum, or some exhibition somewhere, and I kick myself for not being an artist.

For not working as one.

Or, perhaps, what I am kicking myself about is really for not having been clever enough to convince a gallerist to buy my photographs, for not being a writer in print (though I am in print as a journalist).

For not getting that recognition which, as an actor, I do get when I perform with my improv colleagues.

For lacking that confidence and living with that internal struggle.

But, you know what? Perhaps it is the struggle which keeps me writing, and acting, and reading, and taking photographs, and all the rest.

Because being an artist is so many things…

 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Resolutions 2014

A new year but with the same hopes

AOG, Madrid

My Christmas vacation started off with me flying to London a few days before and ended with me flying back to Madrid from Barcelona airport a couple of days ago.

In between both airports, as is customary since I relocated to Spain and met my other half, we spend part of the holiday season in the UK, both in London and in rural Oxfordshire, and part of it in northern Spain, mostly Bilbao and coastal Cantabria.

Then, once the family duties are done, we relocate to the Catalan coastal town of Sitges for a couple of days of rest before facing the year ahead. Yes, we both end up shattered and fatigued after all the travelling, the gifting, the emotional encounters with family, friends, each other, &c.

I left sunny Barcelona and landed in a cold and rainy Madrid thinking about the year ahead. About my career, my life, my plans. The challenges ahead, the things I’ve left behind.

I realised that, basically, since my 20s, I’ve been consciously trying to do the same thing, year after year: achieve something.

Achievement is, naturally, defined and applied to whatever new task happens to pop up in my life, and it is not always reached… though I have been known to surprise myself.

I was talking to a friend of mine just after I got back to Madrid and the subject came up: New Year Resolutions.

Only last year, and for the first time ever, I actually took out a piece of paper and wrote down a few lines.
I forgot, or redefined, or lost, most of them as the year landed squarely on my lap and brushed aside most of my good intentions.

But two in particular kept popping into my head throught the entire 12 months the year lasted.

First, writing.

My actual resolution was to write 12 short stories in one year. One per month. That did not happen.

I ended up writing about 3. But then I also co-wrote a script for a short film, and, back in November, I participated in NANOWRIMO.

No, I did not finish a 50K word novel in 30 days.



But something else happened. I took up an old, forgotten, sci fi novel I had started to write in my very early 20s.

Along the way, it has grown, changed, and been re-started a couple more times.

But, for the time being, it is incarnating itself semi successfully. I’m not sure about when I’ll finish it, but I want to continue writing it. This is an achievement in itself.

Unfortunately, those things which always get in the way of writing (you know, life, work, shit) are still there.

I had this idea that I could do some writing during the Christmas season. I even took my laptop all over the place in the off chance I would get some time to do a bit of writing. No such luck.

However, that thing I do when I write, think about the story, did went on. I kept thinking, and have kept thinking, about the story, the characters, the twist, throughout.

Then my partner told his 12 year old niece that I was writing a novel, and two days later she was asking me about it. She is the only person who actually knows what it is about, other than me. And the best compliment was when she told me she wanted to read it.

Of course, at the tender age of 12, she got a ‘doctored’ version of it. And She may have to reach 17 before she can actually read it. But I’m glad she was interested.
www.fofothing.com/polo



The other thing I wrote down has a lot to do with me personally.

I wrote down “Be more sociable”.

Not that I am not sociable. I love society. I love socialising. Meeting friends. Doing things. Going places.

But unfortunately, I am not always in the mood to do any of that. Usually because I am tired. Or not interested on what is being offered. Or unwell. Or whatever other cheap excuse I can think of to redeploy inside and stay home and not see anybody during daylight hours…

However, more and more, this past year I tried continuosly to put my initial distate for the things I dislike aside, and endeavored to concentrate instead on enjoying my friend’s company whenever it is offered -which is often.

Unfortunately for me, I’m still too stupidly shy, or coy, or reticent, or whatever the hell is wrong with me, to actually call friends up and seek them out.

Yes, that thing that normal people do on a regular basis I tend to find difficult. Not always. Not all the time. But now and again. Here and there.

But, throughout 2013, whenever somebody called me, whenever I saw their name on the phone’s screen, I did my best to just pick up and agree to meet, putting all of me aside and just doing it.

I can’t say that I did that all of the time. But I did do it. And certainly I did it more often than in 2012, or 2011.

Perhaps I take my cue from my mother. When we were kids, she was the eternal social butterfly (Gemini).
Her social calendar was always chock-a-block with dates, parties, dinner engagements, social events, etc.

But I also recall how she used to complain that she needed time off. I remember how people would call home and ask for her, and she would sometimes say in a low voice, or just mouthing the words, ‘I am not here’. 

And the message would be passed on.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t tired, she just wanted to be left alone for a short while. She needed some ‘me’ time.

These days she has become very much a hermit, and her social calendar is mostly devoid of dates, other than whenever my sister and I ask to see her.

Nevertheless, last year she told me very clearly she was not flying to Spain to see me on my birthday.

She had a long list of excuses, but basically, she is not where she was when she was in her 20s or 30s, or 40s.

She is aging. She is somewhere else.

But back to me.

Last year I was able to combine my social life, such as it was, with my writing. I would meet with friends from the writing group I belong to and agree to set up a writing time and date. Usually a Saturday afternoon, somewhere in one of the city’s cafés.

This allowed me to write, to create, and be social, at the same time.

Onwards to the new year.

So, this year, my resolutions have not been written down yet, but those two will certainly head the list.

1- Write. Finish the novel. Do the short stories. Continue going to the writer’s group once a week.

2- Be more sociable. Even more. And again. One more time.

And I’ll add a couple more.

Exercise some more.

Watch my weight.

Make more friends. One can never have enough of those.

Read. Yes, read. A writer writes. Also, a writer reads. And reads a lot.

By the author of this post. Ralph Lauren, Fall 2o13.

Draw.

Create.

This one has been on my mind for a couple of months now.

I started doing some fashion illustration last year sometime in late September.

The drawing bug is within me once again. 

I’ve even thought about setting up a blog to upload the sketches. Maybe even invest some time in learning how to fully operate Photoshop, or even learn about Corel Draw.

Be healthy. Live healthy.

Improve my career. Move to Barcelona to be closer to my partner. These, in fact, go hand in hand.

Acting. Don’t give up on improv, in spite of all the problems and drawbacks concerning the course.

Join a choir and sing some.

Blog more in the abscence of all else.

I have even considered going back to University, although this last one belongs to late 2013.

I have to decide on whether I want to do a doctorate, which I do but have no time for.

Or start a new degree, which I do but have no time for. Psychology is always very appealing.

And it is only January!