Thursday, November 17, 2011

Admirable Miranda July

Miranda July feels different. The 37-year-old performance artist, fiction writer, and film actress and director has made and starred in two admirable movies, the prize-winning Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) and The Future (2011), which is now playing at an art house cinema near you. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, among other places, and are collected in No one belongs here more than you. (Scribner, 2007). Yet despite these conventional signs of success, Miranda July, like many other artists,  feels different.

Born Miranda Jennifer Grossman, she changed her surname to July once she became a professional artist. The name change presumably expressed her sense that she was different, the daughter of hippie intellectuals, her father Jewish and her mother Protestant. She kept Miranda (from the Latin for “admirable”), probably taken by her parents from Shakespeare’s ingĂ©nue in The Tempest. The name Miranda July sets her off as distinctive, the way “George Orwell” submerged and improved on Eric Blair, who was also felt uncomfortably different from the lads he went to school with.

Though a blue-eyed, raven-haired beauty who can resemble the young Liz Taylor, July at times appears uncomfortable in her own skin. As Sophie, her character in The Future, says, “I wish I were one notch prettier.” This sense of personal unease contributes to the anxiety her protagonists feel about physical intimacy onscreen. In The Future, for instance, though Sophie and her androgynous boyfriend live together, sharing the same bed, it’s not clear that they are lovers. That might be why she has an affair with a conventional businessman with conventional lust for her. She seems bemused but not displeased by his attention.

July’s short-short story “The Moves” begins, “Before he died, my father gave me his finger moves. They were movements for getting a woman off. He said he didn’t know if they’d be of use to me, seeing as how I was a woman myself. . . .” Later he says, “You’re going to make some woman very, very happy. . . .” But the narrator doesn’t indicate that she is a lesbian and speculates that one day she’ll “have a daughter and I’ll teach her what he taught me.”

July’s sexual ambivalence or ambiguity probably explains why a lesbian group has petitioned Wikipedia to include in her bio a note that raises the issue of whether she is gay or bisexual. In any case, she is married to the artist and director Mike Mills, whose film Beginners (Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer) explores his father’s coming out at the age of 75.

One of the treats in The Future, which grew out of a performance piece, is a dance that July conjures up while wearing an expansible yellow t-shirt that has the power of self-animation before she picks it up off the floor and pulls it on. July has the body control of a modern dancer and has performed at such venues as The Kitchen and The Guggenheim Museum. She seems slightly more at ease when dancing, usually solo, than when acting.

Whatever her art, July remains compelling. She has a sly sense of humor and an intriguing persona that tests the line between innocence and knowingness, ambition and inertia, desire and ambivalence. I suggest you make her acquaintance by seeing her films and reading her stories. You, too, might feel she’s appealingly different and an admirable artist.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catch Me at Left Bank Books

If you can't attend my reading at 81 White St. on Thurs., I'll be one of 5 poets reading at Left Bank Books for rare books, with lots of signed first editions and a bookish atmosphere. A nice event for book and poetry lovers.

Friday 11/18: Friedman, La Prade, Held, Lisella and Torrence-Thompson Read Poetry at Left Bank Books in Greenwich Village NYC

New York, N.Y., October 18, 2011 -- On Friday, November 18th, Left Bank Books of New York invites book lovers and poetry lovers to celebrate the November birthdays of poets Stephen Crane (11/1), Marianne Moore (11/15), J.P. Dancing Bear (11/17), Sharon Olds (11/19), Paul Celan (11/20), William Blake (11/28), and Celia Lisset Alvarez (11/30) with a late evening poetry reading by five noted local poets.

Poets Wear Prada's founder and managing editor, Roxanne Hoffman, will host the poetry reading at Greenwich Village's Left Bank Books in New York City. Special guest, the prose poet David Joel Friedman, author of The Welcome (National Poetry Series, University of Illinois Press. 2006) will introduce Erik La Prade (Chelsea), George Held (Greenwich Village), Maria Lisella (Astoria), and Juanita Torrence-Thompson (Flushing). Each poet will each read work by a favorite November birthday poet, as well as from their own recent books and new work.

The reading will start at promptly at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a brief Q&A.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poetry Reading, NYC, Nov. 17

Poets-on-White, Thursday, November 17
George Held
Leigh Harrison
Katrinka Moore

read from their poetry

Thursday, November 17
$4 Admission
Open Mic
Hosted by
Jack Tricarico
Evie Ivy
Cindy Hochman
Space on White
81 White Street, @Bway
New York, NY 10013
(212) 227-8600
Subway: N/R/J/6 to Canal, 1 to Franklin

Friday, November 11, 2011

There's Something about Jerry

            The outing of former Penn State football guru Jerry Sandusky reminds me of men who made sexual advances on me as a young boy. But they only scared me, because I was on to them fast and beat a hasty retreat. I was never as vulnerable as the typical “disadvantaged” target of men like Sandusky. I hesitate to call him “monster” or “predator” because such words dehumanize, and what we need now is to recognize Sandusky’s humanity: he is a man too much like other bullies and connivers (mostly “straight,” by the way) all of us encounter in our communities. But he is “sick,” if you like; he needs help, and his life in incarceration, where he seems to be headed, will be a nightmare.
            With all the negative labeling being heaped on Sandusky, I have yet to hear that Jerry is “queer.” But that is how I thought of every man who tried to molest me as a boy. And I believe that a good reason for Jerry’s immunity from gay slurs, which are unacceptable in any case, has to do with the culture he comes from, which is not gay culture, but football and sports culture, which breeds the notion that its ablest performers are immune from engaging in abnormal or illegal behavior. For Jerry to be labeled “a queer” would be to taint him with the ultimate male taboo—a “faggot” in the locker room.
            Statistics suggest that every major sports league, with hundreds of players on its rosters, must have athletes who are homosexual. There are probably Jerry Sanduskys who have played for or coached at Ohio State or USC, the Chicago Bears or Philadelphia Sixers, the Montreal Canadians or the New York Yankees. Back in the ’70s a pro running back named Dave Kopay, an All-American at the University of Washington, wrote a book about being gay in a game in which the taboo against homosexual behavior was ironclad. And while he named only a Redskins teammate with whom he’d had an affair, Kopay wrote that he knew of other gay men in other teams’ locker rooms. Yes, Dave’s sport was football, and 1964-65 Jerry Sandusky was playing it and then, by 1969, coaching it at Penn State.
            Imagine the stress on Dave and Jerry and other gay men among straight teammates in a culture that reviles homosexuals, and then imagine Jerry’s lust for boys’ bodies. And then imagine St. Joseph Paterno’s turning a blind eye on Jerry’s horrific abuse of local boys as he exploited his insider status at Penn State and his access to its football facilities, because Jerry’s skills as defensive coordinator had helped St. Joe win two national championships back in the ’80s. This is the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, especially at the denouement, which we as a nation are witnessing: the mighty Joe and Jerry brought low through their own hubris.
            Joe Paterno’s greatest sin might have been his failure to get his friend Jerry help the first time—or the second or third—before his inevitable self-destruction brought down the temple in Happy Valley. And our greatest denial now would be to consider Jerry’s case an aberration and not a result of our exaggerated glorification of sports “programs,” from Little League to the majors, which carries with it a double standard for judging the most successful athletes and coaches and thus allowing the Jerry Sanduskys to commit crime after crime against helpless boys.
            The irony is that Penn State, a respectable academic institution, depended so much for its reputation on its football team and the success of St. Joe. In his seventies, when asked to resign, he told the university president to take a hike, that only he, Joe Paterno, would decide when he’d step down. And most Penn Staters sided with the coach. That’s why some loyalists still think Joe got a raw deal when he was fired by the board of trustees. But think of all the other areas of life besides education where our values are also topsy-turvy, and the inmates run the asylum. What has happened in State College, PA, is no aberration: Penn State and Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno are the pure products of America.