Saturday, June 30, 2007

Books Wormed: "Michael Tolliver Lives" by Armistead Maupin

Back in the day - this was right after I came out, so I'm going to say the late Cretaceous - Armistead Maupin showed me the way.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI don't mean he gave me directions, per se, like to the nearest supermarket. But he did show me that the easiest way to be the best gay man I could be was to be the best person I could be. This was sort of a revolutionary ideology, especially in an era fraught with identity politics and the kind of militancy that tends to erode manners.

I could have very easily fallen into that trap myself back then, and become an activist with a vengeance. Hell, I already had the vengeance, and there are days even now when I find myself idly contemplating what Queer Nation and al-Qaeda could offer each other. Fortunately I got good counsel early on and instead emerged from the outrage of youth as more or less a humanist, if a cynical and misanthropic one.

In the Tales of the City series of books generally, and in the character of Michael Tolliver specifically, Maupin's own humanism is key in helping his characters to overcome whatever rage or frustration needs to be overcome. Not knowing the man, I can only conclude from his writing that he must be a very warm, caring person indeed, since every page he's ever written seems to radiate compassion and kindness.

When I found out about this book being published, the bulk of my elation at the news was that it would be about Mouse (as he was known); maybe it was because we had the same name, but Mouse was always my favourite character. Over the course of six books, which I first read one after the other in 1989 and have reread in the same way half a dozen times since then, Mouse goes through a lot, yet doesn't ever let himself get down for long. This in itself is a feat that I have until recently felt was possible only in a work of fiction.

In Michael Tolliver Lives Maupin is still showing me the way. Now, though, instead of how to be young, the lessons to be gleaned from him are more related to being old. Youth, as difficult as it was, seems easy when compared to ageing, especially in a gay context.

I don't yet have the vocabulary to talk about growing older without sounding negative, and it'll take more than a single novel (no matter how great) to change that. In this book Michael's new boyfriend Ben is depicted as something akin to Apollo carved out of cream cheese. Maupin's real-life husband is of a similar vintage, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he's talking about.

But I am now and have always been skeptical about chubby chasers and Daddy's boys and bears of all kinds. While I've seen plenty of evidence that they exist, they've been darned reticent towards me, especially lately. They may exist, but nevertheless I won't believe in them until they make themselves more obvious.

While the world in which I live has given me a share of kindness and loving friendships, the gay community within it seems content - pleased, even - to see me die of unrequited love.

Then again, if Michael Tolliver can survive, maybe I can too. All I need to do is find a way to write myself a middle age with the same generosity of spirit as one Armistead Maupin.
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The Sound of Silence

Hear that? No? Ain't it grand?

The rhino upstairs - you know, the one who likes to tapdance in roller skates and never did learn to juggle those bowling balls despite all the practice - just moved out. As I am writing this I can see all her noisy stuff being loaded into a noisy van by her noisy relatives.

Maybe now I can get back to the sensation of not having any neighbours at all, just like it was in the old days.


Previously, on the Pop Culture Institute...

A Spot of Gratitude - Good Neighbours
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On This Day in Pop Culture (2005)

Spain legalized same-sex marriage.
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