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January 20th, 2014

A Coming Out Story – Episode 17: What I Learned About Homosexuality (Part 1)

In which it is made clear that our young hero is growing up in the 1960s, not the year 2014…

acos-17sm

Episode 17 of A Coming Out Story is Here…or go to the main page Here.

This is part one of a three part mini story arc about the horrible sex ed class I had back in junior high, and why it badly skewed everything I thought I knew about myself and about all that sex and love stuff.  The rest of the story going forward will touch back on this repeatedly, as I begin wiggling my way out of the straightjacket of what I was taught in this one week of sex ed.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 19th, 2014

If Only Valentine’s Day Was About This Too…

This wonderful Allstate ad came across my Facebook stream just now…

allstate_ad

Be nice if in the midst of all the celebrations of how wonderful it is to be in love, there was also some recognition of how wonderful it would be if everyone else had a chance at it too.  And maybe…who knows…a little re-dedication to making that world where all the butterflies come from love and not fear a reality.

Just saying…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 14th, 2014

So It Begins…

This from Towleroad…

Nigeria Has Arrested 38 Gay Men from List of 168

Dorothy Aken’Ova is executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights. She said Tuesday the new law, already being dubbed the “Jail the Gays” law, will endanger and even criminalize programs fighting HIV-AIDS in the gay community.

She said police in Bauchi state have a list of 168 purportedly gay men, of whom 38 have been arrested recently.

There was a list all ready and waiting.  How unsurprising.

So it begins, while the rest of the civilized world a) wrings its hands, b) issues a strongly worded protest, c) washes, rinses, and repeats.  Practice makes perfect.

broken_glass

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

Well…Of Course…Bavaria…

All in all, I had it pretty good compared to a lot of other gay teenagers back in the day.  I need to remind myself of this from time to time.  It wasn’t the best, not by any means.  But I never doubted that mom loved me.  Even so, we had an unspoken don’t ask, don’t tell agreement almost right up to the day she died.  It was okay for me to read gay novels and bring gay newspapers into the house. It was okay for me to not date girls.  It was okay for me to draw sketches and take photos of beautiful guys.  It was okay for me to march in gay rights protests.  I just had not to say it.  Sad to think, but this was actually a pretty good deal for a gay kid back in the early 1970s.  But not every gay kid had that deal.  Not by a long shot.  And even now, for some gay kids of my generation, it will always be a time before Stonewall.

Der Spiegel asks the question…

Is Germany Really as Liberal as It Seems?

A gay couple that was seeking to open a restaurant near the Bavarian town of Freying received an anonymous letter early last year. “Stay away. We don’t need people like you here,” it read. Additional threats followed, including a faked obituary and an open, though anonymous, letter claiming that one of the two was HIV-positive and that there was a danger that diners could be infected. The restaurant was never opened.

That it’s still hard for a gay kids in Bavaria even now is unsurprising.  It’s…Bavaria.  And it was probably a lot harder to be a gay kid in Bavaria, or from a Bavarian family, back when I was a teenager.  Probably still pretty hard for those gay Bavarian kids, even now, all grown up though they may be.  Impossible even.

Secondary school teacher Gabriel Stängle is likewise concerned about public school students in Baden-Württemberg. The 41-year-old, lives in the Black Forest and launched an online petition in November of last year that had been signed some 90,000 times by last Friday evening. His campaign is entitled: “Future — Responsibility — Learning: No Curriculum 2015 under the Ideology of the Rainbow.” Stängle’s primary concern is what he describes as sexual “reeducation.”

Stängle is angry with the state government — a coalition of the center-left Social Democrats and the Green Party — which is currently developing an educational program for public schools which will include the “acceptance of sexual diversity.” Students are to learn the “differences between the genders, sexual identities and sexual orientations.” The goal is to enable students to “be able to defend equality and justice.”

Stängle sees this as being in “direct opposition to health education as it has been practiced thus far.” Completely missing, he writes, is an “ethical reflection on the negative potential by-products of LSBTTIQ (which stands for “lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, transgender, intersexuals and queer people) lifestyles, such as the increased danger of suicide among homosexual youth, the increased susceptibility to alcohol and drugs, the conspicuously high rate of HIV infection among homosexual men, the substantially lower life-expectancy among homo- and bisexual men, the pronounced risk of psychological illness among men and women living as homosexuals.”

Most of the petitions’ signatories live in the rural, conservative regions of Germany’s southwest…

That would be Bavaria…

…and the majority wishes to remain anonymous. Some signed with handles such as “The Gay-Hater.”

And probably a lot of them have gay kids of their own.  Who they love very much.  Conditionally.

Stay in the closet…get married…don’t disgrace your family…or we won’t love you anymore…we’ll hate you for disgracing us…  Still hard for a gay kids in Bavaria even now.  Probably a lot harder back when I was a teenager.  Just saying.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 13th, 2014

The Long Memory Of Blood…

I see they’re having trouble recalling how glorious World War I was Over There…

Germany yet to plan official WWI events

This year marks 100 years since the start of World War I, which began on July 28th, 1914, and lasted until November 11th, 1918.

The war saw the Allies, including the UK, France and Russia, fighting against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, resulting in more than 37 million casualties.

Although there is much debate over the start of World War I, Germany has been largely blamed for the outbreak of war and as a result has been closely scrutinized over its plans for the 100-year anniversary.

But Schäfer pointed out that the centenary was not solely a German occasion, although it had “a lot to do with Germany”.

“What went massively wrong in 1914 also had a lot to do with Europe,” he added.

Just the kind of thing to get the victors all riled up, that.  But one thing you have to bear in mind is who the victors in that war were, because it sure wasn’t the families of those millions of young men who died in it.

By jingo, Gove’s right – those leftie academics have hijacked the Great War

Now the centenary of 1914 has got going, we should do as Michael Gove suggests and celebrate the First World War, instead of taking notice of “left-wing academics”, who complain it was a regrettable waste of life.

But yesterday morning, on the radio, they played an interview with Harry Patch, the last man alive who fought for the British in the war. Harry said: “Politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”

Who let him on Radio 4, the dirty unpatriotic left-wing academic? It was all right for Harry, swanning about the Somme with his Marxist intellectual friends, lazing in the trenches discussing “peace studies”, but to really know what went on you have to rely on those with first-hand experience, people like Michael Gove. Because as he made clear, he’s read a book on the subject and an article in a magazine…

…Those who fought were told that the war was against tyranny, dictators, terrorists, and to defend “brave little Belgium”, all the usual stuff that justifies wars, as well as the “war to end all wars” line. Most of the survivors spent the rest of their lives feeling they’d been duped. But if only they’d read that magazine article, like Michael Gove, they’d have known the nightmares and missing limbs were worth it…

Seems the upper classes resent being blamed for that war.  But don’t they always…

goves guide to wwi

But if the European aristocracy wanted a war, let it be said they had a lot of willing young men ready and eager to go to war.  Der Spiegel is doing a series on the war that’s worth reading. It begins by noting that 100 years after the war we are still living with its consequences.  Then it goes into the how and why of it as well as I’ve ever seen. They give the indifferent aristocracy’s pride and arrogance it’s due, but there’s also this…

…Suddenly it became apparent that right-wing nationalist groups had been banging the drums for the fatherland in Germany, but also in Great Britain and France, for years, and that significant portions of the European youth belonged to paramilitary organizations…

There was a great willingness to go to war for one’s country. In England, more volunteers reported for duty than the army could equip. Letters suggest what motivated the men, who were often spurred on by the thirst for adventure or the desire to prove their manhood in a seemingly noble struggle. “I think the war is magnificent. It’s like a big picnic, but without the superfluous trappings that normally come with it,” noted a British officer.

This notion began to dissipate within weeks. As in the days of Napoleon, the men stormed ahead, cheering all along — and encountered the weapons of the 20th century. Machine guns spat out up to 600 bullets a minute and field artillery fired shrapnel grenades in rapid succession, mowing down the infantrymen. “When a machine like that hit its mark, there was nothing but minced meat left over,” a German soldier wrote in a letter to his family.

The dynamics of the industrial revolution had once brought Europe control over a large portion of the world, and now it was striking back…

It wasn’t after all, just the upper classes leading the masses by the nose.

Sometimes I find myself reading the histories of the origins of that war and its consequences and wondering if in an equal amount of time we’ll come to see the beginnings of world war II in the same light.  But no…the crucial mistakes of that war were in not taking the threat seriously enough, but the threat was real.  World War One it seems to me was a perfect storm of aristocratic ego and arrogance and a disastrously naive romanticized ideal of war that had apparently taken hold in young men all over Europe.  Why that happened I still don’t understand…maybe it was always there in European cultures, or perhaps the human male psyche.  In his book “Defying Hitler” Sebastian Haffner writes that the majority of Nazi party recruits were young men too young to have actually fought in the war, and knew it only from newspaper dispatches that kept telling people Germany was winning gloriously right up until the surrender.  Those were the ones blindly eager for the next war to end all wars.  I remember feeling a chill as I read that as the 101st Fighting Keyboarders were at that moment cheering on Bush’s excellent Iraq adventure, and the corporate news media was happily going along with the storyline.  Got a lot less glorious as time went on didn’t it?

This poor world is still suffering the consequences of the war to end all wars, let alone all the other wars that came afterward.  Yet I lived through a time in my country’s history when the people told their leaders they’d had enough of one war and it stopped.  Regrettably, but instructively, that one was followed by one in which, as in Haffner’s Germany, so many young men who’d never gone to war had come to see it as a glorious thing, and couldn’t wait for the next one.

All adolescents, but perhaps especially boys, need to learn the reality of what war does, not just to a human body but also to a nation.  When choosing books to feed high schoolers bear the following in mind: Tom Clancy’s poor vision made him ineligible for service, Kurt Vonnegut was a soldier and prisoner of war during world war II, and as a German prisoner witnessed the firebombing of Dresden with his own two eyes.  Listen to the stories of men such as Harry Patch, and keep them close, because when the last soldier who fought dies there will be lots of older men, some rich and powerful others merely small, bitter and resentful of their own existence, more than willing to tell the next generation of young males all about how glorious war is, and that it will make men out of them.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 12th, 2014

The Parka That Represented A Mindset

OhMyGod…Sierra Designs is (or was) making it’s original Mountain Parka!!! It’s on the kind of sale that looks like it’s a discontinued item (again) and some sizes for some colors are marked as not in stock. But you can get to them from the main page if you go to “Men’s Apparel -> 60/40 Heritage”. Or you can just do a Google search on them like I did just a few moments ago on a lark.  Or just click this link.

See…I’ve been wishfully thinking about that parka for decades. Decades. I had one way back when, but not understanding the concept fully I bought one that had a Thinsulate liner and really, it’s supposed to be a shell. The idea was if you needed to you wore something else under it like a sweater or a vest. Otherwise it made a good wind breaker for back country hiking.  But there was more to it.  Oddly enough, a piece of clothing can also represent something more than itself and the purpose it was made to.

Back when I was a kid a lot of outdoor stuff you saw was made the same way they’d been making outdoor equipment since almost the turn of the century…much it merely riffing off old army designs that even the army wasn’t using anymore. Nobody was really thinking about what the equipment was supposed to do. New materials were mindlessly used in old designs that had been originally made with canvas and trotted out as something new and great simply because the canvas had been replaced with nylon or some other synthetic fabric.

In the late 60s a few small companies in California began rethinking everything. One of them was Sierra Designs which began selling their Mountain Parka in 1968. It hit the outdoor market like a bombshell for its innovative design and over engineered construction (they used to guarantee their stitching for life). It quickly became a thing. If you’ve ever watched the original Carl Sagan “Cosmos” series, that parka he was wearing at various points in it was one. It was a very recognizable item because its design was so unique for its day, yet it made so much sense for its purpose.

Nowadays all this is old hat…but I remember the thrill of walking into a Hudson Bay Outfitters store in the 70s and seeing so many new ideas and designs for outdoor equipment (I was in my wilderness backpacking phase then) that looked so different and yet made so much sense. Because some people had started rethinking what that equipment was For, had begun to realize what new materials and new technologies could accomplish. And those people got other people to thinking too.  This was the same think outside the box mindset…you saw it mostly but not exclusively on the west coast…that would eventually yank the power of the computer out of the mainframe and put it on people’s desktops, and then into their hands.  It was this:

We keep moving forward opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. -Walt Disney.

After the stifling 50s, that was the future I thought was was walking into when I was a teenager.  Well…it wasn’t all that.  But in some ways it was.  And still is.

Time passes…the universe expands…my economic status declined rapidly after the Reagan recession and the Savings and Loan scandals wreaked the economy. I got rid of my Thinsulate lined parka when its fabric got hopelessly torn and I had no money for a new one but I figured I’d get one of the basic shells at some point. But the company changed hands, joined with other outdoor companies like Kelty and stopped making some of its classic products including the Mountain Parka. Every now and then I’d check the company web site to see if they’d re-introduced it but it was never there.

Last Christmas my brother bought me a really nice L.L. Bean down vest and I started thinking again about the Sierra Designs parka and just now I looked and it’s back!  So of course I bought one. I didn’t need one…I have some very good coats and parkas in the coat closet already. But sometimes you wear an item of clothing not for what it is entirely, but for what it represents.

sagan-cosmos-2

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 11th, 2014

Cat Dreams…

Some weeks ago I brought a new cat into the house.  Her name is Isis.  She’s an eleven year old black domestic short hair I adopted from the Maryland SPCA.  More about that later.

I’m down in the art room working on the computer. Isis comes in and sits in my lap for a while, then hops off and lays down on a cat bed I’ve given her for down here. I keep working and after a while I hear a little sound, like a little cat snore. I’ve heard her snore occasionally since I brought her here and usually it stops after a moment or two. This time it gets louder. Then it gets really loud.

Alarmed, thinking she’s in distress, I get up and go check her. She’s laying curled up in the cat bed, and seems sound asleep. But she’s growling. It’s the same noise she makes when she’s at the front window and sees another of the neighborhood cats. You’ve probably all heard that set your teeth on edge slow drawn-out growl that’s the prelude to an all out cat fight. This was the sound she was making. But she was sound asleep, eyes closed, paws twitching slightly. I figured she was having a bad dream. I remembered a passage from Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley when Charley, his dog, was having a nightmare after seeing his first Yellowstone bear:

In the night I heard him whining and yapping, and when I turned the lights on his feet were making running gestures and his body jerked and his eyes were wide open, but it was only a night bear. I awakened him and gave him some water. This time he went to sleep and didn’t stir all night. In the morning he was still tired. I wonder why we think the thoughts and emotions of animals are simple.
- John Steinbeck, “Travels With Charley”.

So I place a hand on my cat and for a moment it’s as if she doesn’t feel it at all. Then she startles awake, head up, eyes blinking. (What…what???) I give her some friendly pets and chin scratches and stay there while the dream leaves. She gets up and sits in my lap for a while and I keep petting the bad dream away. Eventually she wanders upstairs to the food dishes. I suppose cats do comfort eating too.

I wonder sometimes what animals that dream think of their dreams. Do they understand the dream wasn’t real? They must have some grasp of it. How else does a cat reconcile waking up from a dream of, oh say, stalking some tasty birds and then suddenly they’re in their cat bed inside the house. Or do they just casually accept that reality is like that? Not linear from past to present, but bouncing here and there like hot water on a griddle.

Silly human…the whole world is unstuck in time, you just don’t notice. Which of course means…because clearly I’m better at noticing these random time warps than you are…that it’s breakfast time whenever I say it is…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 7th, 2014

“Ich liebe dich, Schätzchen!!”

So tempting…

love_he_shouted

So very very tempting…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
January 2nd, 2014

Fear Of Mickey

This came across my Facebook steam a while ago, via Towleroad

Disturbed by NSA Spying? Disney World’s New “Magic Bands” Track Guests.

Disney World’s new NSA-style “Magic Bands” track guest movements. “The MyMagic+ ‘vacation management system’ can track guests as they move throughout Walt Disney World and analyze their buying habits. If parents allow certain settings on the Magic Bands, employees playing characters will be able to see data with the use of hidden sensors — so a child might walk up to Mickey Mouse, who says, “Hi, Bobby! Happy birthday!” Some rides will be designed so that there’s interaction between the machines and people with Magic Bands in waiting areas, thus keeping guests entertained as they wait in line.

Yadda, yadda and so on…  I got mine just before my last trip down and I loved it.  It was simple, convenient, I could do everything I needed to do, get in my room, enter a park, get a fast pass, buy food, drinks, stuff, without having to mess with a bunch of different cards. Plus, though I didn’t use it in the water parks this trip (too cold this time of year) it’s waterproof, which is a really Big plus when you’re in the water parks and you want to buy a snack or a drink without having to trudge back to your locker, get your wallet, trudge back to the snack stand, then back to the locker, then back to whatever you were doing.

I appreciate they’re tracking you. That’s fine…anything that gives them insight into how to make my stay there as enjoyable as possible is a Good Thing, especially considering the money I’m spending.  If they want to track me around the parks and figure out how to make me want to keep coming back…fine!  It’s Disney World.  Just make it fun is all I ask.  Here’s the difference between a Magic Band and the NSA: When I leave the parks, the Magic Band comes off and goes back in its box.

NSA don’t go away, doesn’t ask permission, breaks the security on my personal devices, gets my money straight out of my paycheck whether I like their act or not and don’t care if I’m having fun.

magic_band-sm

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off

To Whom It May Concern…

born_in_a_cage

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
December 27th, 2013

A Coming Out Story…Why, Has It Been A Year And A Half Already?

I just this morning finished the pencils on an episode of A Coming Out Story that’s more than a tad out of sequence…about four episodes after the story arc I’ve been trying to start since…oh…almost a year ago. (sigh) But it got me started again.  The story arc that’s supposed to start appearing next is the flashback to the sex ed class I had back in junior high…it was eighth grade, 1968…I can verify that because I still have my old year books and one of the gym teachers that taught it was only there when I was in eighth grade.  The guy I’m drawing is a composite of him and several other awful gym teachers I had over the years.  I can’t emphasize this enough: everyone in the story except me is either disguised or a composite of several people.  This is particularly true of the object of my affections.  I don’t want anyone embarrassed by things they did ages ago, in what was practically another world when it came to understanding sexual orientation.

The story arc after that one is an imaginary conversation with God.  Both these story arcs serve to get the times I grew up in and my frame of mind during adolescence more fully understood.  But I don’t want to post them out of order.  After these two mini story arcs then the action moves back into the main story arc and I’m at a football game taking photos for the student newspaper, and I go to the snack tent to grab something to eat only to discover You Know Who is working the snack tent.  I’ve been looking forward to drawing this part for literally years now.

It’s taken me a long time to fully appreciate that I’ve got my most creative energy in the morning. The thing about those of use who don’t or can’t earn a living by our artwork is we have regular jobs and that takes time away from the work of doing art.  And the problem with that for most of us is during the work week you try to do things in the evenings after work and that just doesn’t work.  Unless you’re a night person, brain does not function at the levels required then.

This holiday stay-at-home vacation has really driven this point home for me:  I am at my best creatively in the morning.  So I need to work on anything that requires that kind of thinking and concentration at the beginning of my day, and schedule the follow-through, or routine or drudge work in the afternoons. I do it this way I get tons of stuff done. I was already trying this at work, since a lot of what I do there in terms of programming and system engineering is a kind of creative thinking.  So I schedule my day to hopefully do the creative stuff in the morning and then the follow-up and routine stuff in the afternoon and I get a lot done.

But this holiday vacation I’m really seeing it. I get up and go down to the art room and do some work and leave the cleaning chores I’d planned for the afternoon and lo and behold I actually get things done.  What I need to do is get up early so I can have an hour at my drafting table before I go in.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
December 23rd, 2013

To My Readers…

Folks stumble across this little internet space of mine now and then and a few stick around and I reckon I have to keep posting this so there aren’t any misunderstandings, particularly about the blog.

This is a life blog. I started doing this before blogging became a thing, before it became a legitimate alternative to the pop media and corporate news services, before it became a kind of citizen journalism.  ‘Blog’ back in the early days of the World Wide Web, was a kind of shorthand/slang for ‘Web Log’…little online diaries people posted on their personal web sites in the days before you could update your status on Facebook.  The first blogs, started by artists, who were thought by some to be crazy putting their entire lives out there for the whole world to see, were just artistic experiments.  Then it became a thing.  Particularly during the Bush presidency, and the Iraq war, as people became frustrated and angry with the mainstream news services.  Nowadays, many blogs are topical, political, outlets of citizen journalism.

But this is not that kind of site.  This is a life blog.  It is my life blog.  I vent a lot here about politics, but I am a gay man, who grew up during the cold war, and even worse, lived most of my life in the suburbs of Washington D.C., which isn’t exactly known for its rural pastoral arcadian lifestyle…

No, Seriously.  I did my duck and cover drills in elementary school.  I listened to the monthly tests of the air raid siren behind the apartment complex mom and I lived in.  I did my pre-induction physical six months before Nixon ended the Vietnam war.  I remember sitting at the desk in my underwear with a few dozen other guys filling out this form that asked things like were we ever communists, wondering if I should check the box that asked if I was a homosexual.  I lived through the counter-culture wars in the 1960s.  I marched and took photos at the Nixon Counter Inaugural. I came out to myself on December 15 1971 somewhere between 4 and 5PM. I have marched in every gay rights march on Washington since the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979.  I wandered among the panels of the Names Project quilt when it was first unveiled on the Washington Mall in 1987, terrified that I would find one with the name of a certain someone I first fell in love with once upon a time there among them.

So I tend to vent a lot about politics here.  But this is not a political blog.  It is a life blog.  I put stuff here on the blog, mostly for the same reason I post my cartoons and photography elsewhere on this site. I am an artist. It sounds pretentious to say it, but there is no way to understand my frame of mind at any given time without understanding that I have this powerful need to Get It Out Of Me regardless of who cares or who even understands.  Mostly I do graphic art.  Sometimes words come out.  The Internet is just another way I have of putting my stuff out there.  It is not and does not function as an online publication of some kind.  It is a life blog.  Think of this place as being slightly retro…like it’s owner.  Matter of fact, apart from this blog, the rest of this site is all hand coded by me in simple HTML.  Yes, I’m a computer geek too.  That’s how I earn my living.  That’s where the artist and the Internet meet.

I have comment moderation turned on, not so much to regulate the content here but to keep spammers out of the comments.  For every real comment I get here I also get about 50 – 100 spam comments.  These are posted just to raise the rankings of a particular web site in the search engines and there’s no easy way to filter them out.  This is why we can’t have nice things.  My email box is even worse.  Send me an email and I might not even see it in the torrent of spam.  But this is not an online publication, it’s a life blog.  If you post a comment here or send me an email it might not show up for a while…maybe even a long while.  That might be because I’m not paying close attention to the blog because I am occupied elsewhere in my life, or it might be because I want to read it over carefully and post a response.

I don’t particularly care if you need to tell me why something I posted here is wrong.  I might argue or I might just eventually post your comment and say nothing. I might even agree I was wrong, or at least clumsy.  But I won’t endure a long heated argument either.  Obviously outright abuse won’t get posted, but I seldom get that here for some reason, probably because a troll wants a bigger audience than just me and the few regulars here.

This isn’t a political forum.  I am not a citizen journalist.  I am a software engineer for the Space Telescope Science Institute.  I am a computer geek.  I am a technology nerd.  I am a science geek. I am a photographer.  I am a cartoonist, I do political cartoons for Baltimore OutLOUD. I am a painter.  Sometimes I write stories.  I am an artist.  This is my life blog.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
December 19th, 2013

The Atheist And Christmas Music

I’m sitting at my desk listening to Christmas music.  Specifically, to my Pandora app on my iPhone. Pandora has a “Peaceful Holidays” channel and I love it.  The music lifts me, soothes my soul, brings back old and very pleasant memories of Christmases past.  Back in the day I would set the family manger scene under the Christmas tree.  I was the good Baptist boy.  Nowadays if I bother with the tree (the holidays aren’t the best of times for us single people) I use my manger figures to make a little middle ages town. (Funny isn’t it, how the people of Jesus’ day all dressed like people from middle ages Europe.) But even if I don’t put out the decorations, I have Christmas music playing softly on the stereo. I inherited all mom’s LPs, and treasure the Christmas ones especially. So how does the atheist I’ve become in my old age listen to this essentially religious music and still enjoy it so very much?  See…there’s a thing about music: it’s not about the lyrics.  Let me reach back into my blog archives, and tell you a story…

It is 1981, and I am a longhaired twenty-something out for a hike along the trails around Sugerloaf Mountain near Comus, Maryland. I am alone, with one of the new Sony Walkmans as my only company. I am well into my Bruckner phase, and in the Walkman is a cassette I’d recorded the previous day with his Symphony 8 and the Te Deum. Some say that title was a tad redundant for a Bruckner piece…that everything he ever wrote could have easily been subtitled, as he had in the dedication to his ninth symphony, To My Beloved God…

It is September, my birth month, and the air is clear and crisp as it only gets in the Washington D.C. suburbs during the beginning of spring and fall. The sky is a deep cobalt blue, flecked here and there with threads of high cirrus clouds. I walk lightly with a branch I found at the trail head like a staff, my hiking boots clomping over a narrow trail that winds through the woods, around and up the mountain to a little park on it’s summit. As I walk a pair of headphones fill my world with wonderful, evocative, richly textured symphonic classical music. I am in love with my Walkman. It lets me fill my world with music, yet bother no one else. Years later, I would rediscover that love in a little white iPod.

I reach the top of the mountain. The little park is empty. It is just me and Bruckner. I plop myself down on a rocky ledge that faces south toward the Shenandoah valley. It is a lovely view. In the distant haze I see the northern end of the Shenandoah mountains reach toward the horizon, and go over it in a procession of gently curved peaks. Several turkey vultures are in the sky below me, circling idly on a random updraft. Through the rolling hills of the Maryland Piedmont the Potomac river glistens in the late afternoon sunlight. A ribbon of smoke floats eastward from the smokestack at the Monocacy river power plant.

I take it all in, and Bruckner’s deeply spiritual music seems to make the very air around me sing. Life is good. It is awesome.

The music ends, and I take off the headphones. There are people behind me.

I turn to find that my quiet spot has been invaded by a crowd of picnickers. I figure them for a church group, since the boys still have their Sundaywear on, and their hair slicked down. Only somewhat more disturbing than the fact that a crowd of people were able to get behind me while I was listening to the music, is this kindly older lady sitting only a few feet from me: she is looking straight at me with that expression that at 27 I’ve come to know and love…

Incoming proselytize!

She smiles a sincerely transparent smile at me, and says, “That must be very nice music you’re listening to. What is it?”

I am dressed in cutoffs and a Hudson Bay Outfitters t-shirt. My hair is about as long as it gets, almost halfway down my back. I have my blue bandanna tied around my head, 70s fashion with the ends of the knot trailing down just behind my left ear. I am in my golden earring and lambda necklace stage of outedness. My friends tell me I have this perpetually bewildered look on my face when talking to strangers, and I know a hook when I hear it, but I look her in the eyes and answer her question seriously. “The Te Deum, by Anton Bruckner, Zubin Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic.”

Her eyes glaze over. We stare at each other for about a second. Then the kindly smile reappears and she says to me in all seriousness, “That’s very nice, but I think on the Sabbath we should listen to music that praises God…don’t you?”

That does it… I get up, nearly dropping the walkman, and start walking back to the trail. Behind me I hear the woman say, “Where are you going?”

“Into town to buy some.” I reply, walking faster.

I’d seen the lyrics to that Bruckner piece once on an album back cover and they disappointed me, Christian though I still identified at the time. And I think it was then that I resolved never to read the lyrics of classical music pieces that I discovered and loved.  I still try to avoid it. Michael Nesmith once said on one of his album covers that the lyrics were only the logical part, that the meaning was the music itself.

I am not an atheist because I have a grudge against religion, I’m an athiest simply because I discovered I’d reached a point where belief had stopped making sense to me.  But many things I learned and experienced in church I still hold close to the heart.  I still find myself humming some of the old hymns while doing chores.  And Christianity has produced wonderful, deeply spiritual music. When it’s done from that place of love and awe, all art, even the darkest, speaks a universal language, deep, soulful, and spiritual.  It is a place where we can recognize one another, and our common humanity.

If the lyrics add something to the music for you, then fine. If not, then never mind the damn lyrics. They’re just the logical part, for those of us who have trouble sometimes, seeing the heart.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
December 17th, 2013

‘Tis That Christmas Story Season…

Well…there’s a baby in the manger one, which a lot of good people still hold dear.  I have a different one in mind.  This just came across my Facebook stream…

17 December 1843 A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was published.

I saw it and immediately thought the artist had captured both Scrooge and the entire Dickens story perfectly.  This is one of the better representations of Scrooge I’ve ever seen, and you see a lot of them this time of year. Most of the time what you get is a caricature, an easy to dismiss stereotype. I hear the 1938 movie version with Reginald Owen is well liked, but the first serious telling of the story I ever saw was the George C. Scott version and I still find that the better one. In it, Scrooge is a business man of his day and age and when he says the poor had better die soon and decrease the surplus population you feel it as Dickens meant it to be felt, that this is a man who is probably very good at business, but has lost his soul.

There’s the old story of the birth of Jesus.  There’s other’s like Amahl and the Night Visitors, also a favorite of mine once upon a time.  There’s It’s A Wonderful Life.  But for me the meaning of the season is best seen in A Christmas Carol.  You just have to get past all the cardboard Scrooges.  If I were doing a film version of it today, I’d make him an American financier, and change not a word of dialogue or action, and it would make you cringe for the soul of this man.

[Update...]  It was the Alastair Sim version I was thinking of, as the first of the believable Scrooges, not the MGM Reginald Owen one.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
December 10th, 2013

The Persistence Of The Closet…(continued)

Slate today runs an article riffing on the New York Times article I linked to yesterday. They headline theirs The American Closet Is Bigger Than We Thought.  I assume the ‘we’ in that headline is “heterosexuals’, with maybe a side of ‘those of us also in the closet’, because you don’t live in this country as a gay person without seeing or at least glimpsing that vast nation of the closeted first hand. No kidding there’s more of them than you thought…

But if that Times article helps the heterosexual majority to see, really see, the damage that was done, and is still being done, then good.  Seems a lot of folks are noticing that bit in the Times article, about wives in less tolerant states checking Google for advice on whether their husbands are gay. But there was also this…

Craigslist lets us look at this from a different angle. I analyzed ads for males looking for “casual encounters.” The percentage of these ads that are seeking casual encounters with men tends to be larger in less tolerant states. Among the states with the highest percentages are Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.

Back in the 1980s, what I think of as the BBS days, I did volunteer work for a gay community BBS whose creator intended it not to be a hookup site but a serious information and educational resource for gay people.  He realized back then, as I did when I connected to those first primitive amateur computer networks, what they could do for us as a people.  The BBS advertised in the local gay newspaper, and I think in one of the alternative City Papers, and the ads included a phone number for help getting connected.  He told us he would get desperate phone calls on that number in the middle of the night, from men who’d been caught in police vice stings…trolling the parks or some public lavatory…needing emergency legal advice.  He said without exception, without exception, those men were all married, and none of then identified as gay.  At least, they wouldn’t over the course of that phone call.  That was the 1980s.

It’s still going on…

One could leave these findings angry at all these men for not coming out, but Stephen-Davidowitz’s concluding anecdote—about a retired professor who has been married to a woman for 40 years and “regrets virtually every one of his major life decisions”—articulates my overwhelming emotion: sadness.

That’s fine, but anger is still a good reaction to have and I hope the heterosexual majority cultivates it…not at the closeted, but at the Righteous and the Upstanding who keep teaching young gay people to hate themselves, so that they can have scapegoats, someone to gloat over, so they don’t have to look at their own failures of moral character. Be angry at them. Ask yourselves what kind of person turns anyone’s basic human need for intimate companionship against them, makes them deeply ashamed, even fearful, of their own human heart…

Sometimes even I get tired of looking at aggregate data, so I asked a psychiatrist in Mississippi who specializes in helping closeted gay men if any of his patients might want to talk to me. One man contacted me. He told me he was a retired professor, in his 60s, married to the same woman for more than 40 years.

About 10 years ago, overwhelmed with stress, he saw the therapist and finally acknowledged his sexuality. He has always known he was attracted to men, he says, but thought that that was normal and something that men hid. Shortly after beginning therapy, he had his first, and only, gay sexual encounter, with a student of his in his late 20s, an experience he describes as “wonderful.”

He and his wife do not have sex. He says that he would feel guilty ever ending his marriage or openly dating a man. He regrets virtually every one of his major life decisions.

He regrets virtually every one of his major life decisions… What kind of person does this to another, takes pride in doing it, and can look in a mirror and see a righteous person?  Look at that.  Really look at it.  It’s okay to get angry after looking down into that Pit.  But don’t look into it for too long, because Nietzsche was right about an abyss gazing back into you.  Just remember what you saw the next time you hear one of them yapping about their sincerely held religious beliefs.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off
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