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An Open Letter to Bachelorette Parties

In short: Stay out of gay bars on your big night.

Dear Bachelorette Parties,

It was May, wedding month, and my boyfriend and I were visiting some friends in Washington D.C. Our hosts took us to an excellent gay club called Town, a fun dance arena with wild music and very cute boys. We were doing our thing, having some drinks and cutting all available rugs on the dance floor, when it happened. We were attacked.

No, we weren’t hate-crimed or anything like that. The beast that attacked us wasn’t that bad – but it was still terrible. It was the shrieking hydra known as a bachelorette party – a hateful, relentless beast whose obnoxiousness knows no bounds.

Really, I shouldn’t say “we” were attacked, I should say my boyfriend was attacked. He and I were with each other, doing a gentleman’s grind, when out of nowhere this girl in a tiara came up behind us and put her claw on my boyfriend’s shoulder. She pulled him away from me and began to grind up against him. My boyfriend, horrified, shook his head at her and turned away, somehow wrenching his small self from her manicured grip. She looked insulted and turned away in a huff.

I’d like to say that this was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. Bachelorette parties have been plaguing gay bars and gay men for years, and it appears to only be getting worse.

STAY OUT

Before I go any further with this rant, let me give two disclaimers. First: I have nothing against bachelorette parties. I think it’s a good idea to celebrate the end of your singledom by going out with your best friends, getting wasted and drinking out of penis straws. By all means, as long as you and your groom-to-be have agreed on what is OK during this party, then go ALL OUT.

Second, I have nothing against women in gay bars. I don’t like it when gay bars make women feel uncomfortable, because I think gay bars are supposed to be some of the most welcoming places on earth. However, I DO support obnoxious people being banned from gay bars, and I think most people would have to agree that there is little more obnoxious than a bachelorette party.

But it’s more than that. Bachelorette parties are obnoxious, and rightfully so, but to gather  your gaggle of shrieking gal pals and bring them to a gay bar is, frankly, degrading to gay men and our culture.

I understand why women would want to go to a gay bar for this kind of a party. Going to a gay bar means you can get as drunk and as sloppy as you want, and while you will probably get some scowls, you most likely won’t be groped or drugged. So that’s an upside.

I fear that beyond this, a big part of the reason girls like to go to gay bars for their bachelorette parties is because they operate under the mentality that “gay men love women.” This is wrong. Some gay men love some women, just like some blondes love some brunettes. And if you’re an obnoxious, entitled drunk girl who is hosting or participating in a self-centered ritual of heterosexual marriage, then odds are most gay men are not going to like you.

Which brings me back to the anecdote I shared in the beginning. I have many female friends – in fact, most of my friends are chicks. Awesome, awesome chicks. But what makes them awesome, among other reasons, is that we chose each other. Like any normal and healthy friend relationship, we found each other and decided to become friends after developing an understanding and realizing we had things in common.

No one, under any circumstances, get to “pick a gay BFF” as if we were packs of gum at the check-out aisle. And that is what it feels like, when you stroll into a gay bar with your pink boa, scanning the dancing crowd for the cutest, most-approachable gay guy you can find, and ripping him away from his boyfriend to thrust your groin into his own un-aroused pelvis.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Absolutely not. Far from it. There’s an entire Facebook group dedicated to the cause. In fact, one gay bar in Chicago went so far as to ban bachelorette parties – though they are doing it for a slightly different reason.

“The women are a hoot, and some can be just delightful,” said Geno Zaharakis, the owner of Cocktail, a gay bar on North Halsted Street. “But because not everybody can get married, watching them celebrate, it’s such a slap in the face. Prop 8 just reopened the wound.”

Well, that’s not really the reason why I hate bachelorette parties in my gay bars. I live in Massachusetts, so I can get gay married when and if I please. And you bet your sweet bippy that if/when I do, I am gonna have a rager with my friends, men and women alike. I’ll probably go to a gay bar.

What bothers me is that gay bars are created as a place where we homosexuals can go to be with one another. Women and lesbians and straight men can come to our bars, of course, as long as they acknowledge that they are stepping onto gay turf, and that our bars are about us, not them.

While gay bars were initially put in place because gay people didn’t feel safe being themselves at straight bars, now they mostly exist because gay guys like to be with each other. Straight men hang out with other straight men, women hang out with other women, lesbians flock together like no others – and gay men like to be with gay men. Hence the gay bar.

A bachelorette party is meant to be all about one person, and that person is almost certainly not a gay man. Women who are celebrating their “last night out” typically want everything to be about them – and I agree, that night should be all about them. But that doesn’t mean you can come into a gay bar and expect gay men to leap at the chance to make your night something to remember. That, my girlfriend, is degrading and humiliating. We are not a penis-shaped gimmick gift – we are human beings with gay lives.

What I find ironic about this whole situation is that women come to gay bars to avoid being groped, at least in theory. But then, once the music starts pumping and the jagaer bombs start flying, who becomes overly aggressive and doles out unwanted physical attention? It’s you, ladies. I can’t count how many times I have been forcibly grinded with by a member of the opposite sex. No thanks.

So what should we do?

A few months ago, I went to a non-gay bar (straight bar?) with a few friends – two straight men and a straight girl. When I got to the door, I was informed that though my female friend could go in for free, I and my male pals would have to pay a cover.

“But I like penis,” I said to the door man. He just shook his head and told me the fee still applied. I understand why – straight people, like us gays, go to bars to meet other straight individuals, and possibly sleep with them. A bunch of dudes in a straight bar won’t do much for business unless there are some ladies around.

So let’s apply this reasoning to gay bars. How about any man who shows up to a gay bar gets in for free, but ladies need to have at least 2 men with them in order to avoid an entrance fee? Is that fair?

That way, if you really must bring your bachelorette party to the gay bar, at least you’ll bring something for us gays, too.

– Liam

Marina and the Diamonds Changed My LIFE

Guess what? I have experienced a bit of a meteoric rise at my job, which means I am no longer trudging through the underbelly of Google News, now I am overseeing a group of writers who do that trudging for me.

This in turn means that I no longer come home feeling like the last thing I want to do is write something on a computer screen. Which hopefully means that I will be doing more blogging and creative writing. Thank you Gay Black Jesus, for your help at work.

So here it is, my first of what I hope will be many more blog posts this year.

Marina and the Diamonds Changed My LIFE

Digging through the catacombs of my email, I found a note I had written to myself long ago. It was a brief email, simply titled “Look Into this Band.” In the body of the email, there was only one artist: Marina and the Diamonds.

I was on a hunt for good, new music, so I typed in the title into Google. This is what I got back. Sit back and be amazed, please.

HOLY CRAP. That was a SWEET VIDEO and an equally satisfying song. Who is this amazing chick?

Her name is Marina Lambrini Diamandis. She is Welsh and hot and young. Her last name means Diamonds, and though she sounds like she has a band, she is the mastermind behind her music. The Diamonds, she explains, are her fans. Her whole album is amazing – and though she only has the one record, The Family Jewels, she has created several enchanting and really freaking weird music videos. Like this one:

What is up with those blue legs and arms? I am simultaneously frightened by them and in love with them.

So what did I do when I found out about Marina? I immediately emailed a bunch of people who I knew would appreciate her musical prowess and unique style as much as I did. And was I right! Many of my friends jumped on board, and my good pal from high school, Leah, did a little research and found out that Marina was performing at the Paradise Rock Club, right in my very own city!

Marina is a combination of many of my favorite artists, with a beautiful twist that is all her own. She is Amanda Palmer, Regina Spektor, The Pretenders, Florence Welch, Feist and just a spattering of Lady Gaga. But there is something about her, too, that seems to call out to a very specific subset of the population – but more on that later.

Tickets were hastily purchased by myself, Leah and a number of other people I am friends with/work with. We ventured to the concert, which was at a relatively small venue, and I began to feel very strange.

I am a pretty calm guy – and while there are certain musicians that I become obsessed with, it is very rare for me to go crazy at a concert. Honestly, I prefer most concerts to last about one hour – and I never need an opening band. I just can’t sit and listen to music for that long, even if the music is rockin. I am definitely not the type to get out-of-my-mind thrilled or physically amped up at a concert, but as I have said before Marina and the Diamonds has changed my life.

I was growing anxious, and I could not shut up about what I loved about Marina. The list is long – her lyrics are funny, smart and deeply telling; her tunes are a catchy hybrid between pop and peculiarity; her style is so out of this world that it’s clear to me she is a quirky, fun and intelligent person. She’s really hot – universally so – men and women, gay and straight alike have spoken to me about her allure. What is not to love about this woman? Nothing, I tell you. Nothing is not to love.

Let me diverge for a moment here and talk about her lyrics. She is an incredible writer, and manages to pull open truths as though they were loaves of warm and healthy bread. Some of my favorite lyrics are found in the song Oh No, which also has a sexcellent video:

I managed to make it through the pretty good opening band still relatively under control, but I lost my shit when Marina got on stage. She was preceded by her band, a group of very attractive, potentially homosexual boys.

Then she appeared. And she was wearing a very sexy, little-girl-in-mommy’s-clothes 50’s housewife dress with clear high heels adorned with pink poofs. I was floored.

I began to blabber, nearly incoherently, about how much I loved her. My feelings for the woman on stage, whom I had never met, mind you, went from intense fascination to a slightly concerning need to befriend and protect all that is Marina.

And I wasn’t alone. As I listened to the crowd scream out in delight, I realized something – the vast majority of people at this concert weren’t girls like Marina or straight guys who think she’s hot or even the ubiquitous Boston hipsters – they were boys just like me.

Something about Marina called out to gay boys in a way that is unexplained by science. What is it about her that makes gay men so obsessed? My guess is that it’s her confident sense of style coupled with music that contains sensitive lyrics. The fact that she could be our adorable little sister helps too.

Coming upon this realization, I began to wonder if Marina intended to reach out to gay men, or if it was a happy mistake. I say happy mistake, because having a gay following is a lucrative thing, no matter what type of artist you are. Keep that in mind, Repubs.

Throughout the course of the concert, Marina would disappear off stage to change costumes. This was a tiny venue with almost no back stage, as far as I could tell, and she is the ONLY artist I have seen there who has done this. She also had some awesome visual footage going on behind her on a screen, again something that was difficult given the space, and something that only she has done in my experience at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club.

Marina appeared later in a pair of SPARKLING pajamas. That’s right, blue stripped pajamas with sequins all over them. Unheard of. She also wore a Mary-Anne-from-Gilligan’s-Island get up, but nothing could prepare us gay concert-goers for her final costume – a yellow leather cheerleading outfit. PERFECTION.

Apparently, her cheerleader-ness wasn’t an isolated event. She had a 1980s video of a complicated cheerleading competition playing in time with one of her songs while she performed. Also this:

Heart on the vagina!

Which brings me to the subject of…

Marina’s Tambourine Antics

Like many gay nerds, I love the tambourine. It’s one of the few instruments my delayed motor skills can handle, and it’s silliness and routes in Gypsy culture only make it that much more appealing. I love when an artist picks up this jangly, sparkly music-maker while rocking out on stage, and my Marina delivered.

But there was something that Marina did with her tambourine is truly the impetus for saying that Marina has changed my life. Marina would bang on that tambourine for a few beats, and then, without warning, she would cast it aside, as if it were a scorned sexual partner or a rabid animal that had been nipping at her beautiful fingers.

I’m not sure if Marina was even aware of the way she so authoritatively tossed her tambourine, but I sure was, and so were my concert-companions. It was as if she was saying, “I’ve gotten everything out of you that I need, tambourine, and now I’m done with you. BE GONE.”

After the concert, while I was still very high on Marina, I was discussing this peculiar trait with my good friend Elizabeth. Together, we made a pact to take Marina’s treatment of tambourines to heart, and use it as a therapeutic method in our day-to-day lives.

Now, when I encounter something that had served its purpose and is no longer useful, be it a co-worker, a meal or, best of all, a rotten emotion, I imagine I am Marina. I toss the emotion or whatever I am imagining is my tambourine aside.

“Be gone with you, Jealousy! You’re done here.”

“I’m full of you, be gone, Grilled Cheese.”

You get the picture. It works very, very well. I urge you to fall for Marina, and then employ this tactic yourself.

In Conclusion

What I found in Marina is better than a talented and creative artist. It’s better than an attractive singer and songwriter. What I found was a sincere connection between what comes out of her head and what makes me want to live on Earth. While I admit that, sadly, Marina has no idea who I am, her music affected me in a way that only one other artist has – Aimee Mann. But that was a long time ago, when I was a depressed high schooler.

Now I have Marina, who is perfect for the 20-something gay man. And she may be perfect for you. Keep singing, Marina, for the love of god keep singing.

The 15 Most Influential Books I Read in 2009

 

Wait! Before you read any further! If you like this post, don’t miss my most recent book list: The Best Books I Read in 2010! OK, resume.

Last year was a big reading year for me, primarily because without college I have so much more time to read books that really boggle my brains.  What I like about constantly having a book going is the way the world around you changes depending on what your reading.  A book about aliens will make your everyday interactions with existence alien-related.  Or black hole related.  Or reincarnation related.

There are some books that I read last year, however, that have stayed in my brain and still color my perception, even though I closed them a while ago.  So, as a sum up of 2009, I present the 15 most influential books I read last year.

15.  A Spot of Bother Mark Haddon

 

I read this book in one sitting on an 18 hour bus ride.  I had nothing else to do but read, as the scenery out my window was desert and only desert.  So I enveloped myself inside the fun-house mirror world in this book, written by the same guy who wrote the wildly popular The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The best thing about this book are the characters, who are actually based on you and your family, except slightly more neurotic and idiotic.  Neuridiotic, if you will.  Shifting from the severely limited perspective of the narrator of his last book, the narrator of A Spot of Bother can jump into the heads of each character, even those who are losing their mind.  The family members in the book rip each other to shreds in a slow, sad way.  However, the story had me laughing out loud several times, (though I usually found myself cringing only a few pages later.)  It was perfect for a bleak bus ride, and though it didn’t leave too much of a lasting impression, it definitely tinted the whole journey.  Thanks to Caroline for the book!

14. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom Corey Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is a big fan of the cyber-punk genre.  Judging by the rest of this list, he and I have that in common.  The best thing about this book is the setting.  Almost all of it takes place in the Disney World of the future, which has become the most sacred place on earth; it is a cherished gem of ancient art.  The storyline follows an all-out war between the people who manage The Hall of the Presidents and the  team that operates The Haunted Mansion.  Additionally, everyone has computers in their brains that allow them to communicate rapidly with one another sans vocalization.  Though it wasn’t the most morally profound book (it is about Disney, after all) it’s a fast read that you won’t be able to put down.  Come to think of it, I read this one in another 18 hour car ride, from Ohio to Connecticut.  You can see why I might have needed a bit of escape.

13.  The History of Love Nicole Krauss

I picked up this book because I am an intense fan of Nicole Krauss’s husband Jonathen Safron Foer, who wrote one of my all time favorite novels Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  You can see why he married the woman who wrote this book.  Like her husband, Nicole Krauss has mastered language and ingenuity.  This book features graphs and charts, and she has no qualms about playing with form.  The storyline, like almost all of her hubby’s work, is dreadfully sad but wildly insightful.  Though I don’t want to solely compare her to her husband, I did feel that his books achieve slightly more.  However, this book is very well crafted, and Nicole Krauss will no doubt be out with several more books to twirl the imagination.

12. The Invention of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick

 

Man I wish this book had been around when I was a kid!  This was another one-sitting book for me, in the bean bag chair at my library in the kids section, which is where you should read it.  (Though you can go to your own library if they have a bean bag chair).  Talk about mixing genres, Selznick combines words, photographs and incredible drawings, making this semi-non-fictional 500+ page book entirely unique.  The majority of the book is sweeping pencil drawings that zoom in on certain faces or places as you turn the pages.  Here’s an example of some of the artwork you can look forward to:

Brian Selznick has somehow kept his childhood imagination perfectly intact, and has poured it out succinctly and beautifully into these pages.

11.  Generosity:  An Enhancement Richard Powers

This book is one of the most realistic fiction books that incorporates a strong science-fiction theme into its storyline.  Set in a Chicago that isn’t quite Chicago, Richard Powers follows the story of a writing teacher at an arts school (it felt so much like my old college days I thought maybe Powers had been stalking me).  He is depressed and cynical, but his entire life changes when he meets a student who, despite her refugee status, is so naturally and thoroughly ebullient that he can’t resist her charm.  Nor can anyone else who meets her.  The story embarks from there on the scientific research of a happiness gene, and spends the rest of its length discussing the morality of manipulating human genes to make everyone naturally cheerful.  Throughout the short novel Powers reflects distorted characters from our reality (think a white, Catholic-Irish Oprah).  It’s profound to the maximum, and I’m desperate to talk about it with more people, so read it.

10.  Fear and Loathing in Lost Vegas Hunter S. Thompson

Though I don’t have many “classics” on my list, this one I couldn’t leave off.  This book holds its place in the popular consciousness because it is so far from anything else out there.  Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s actual experience taking almost every single kind of drug you can imagine (and some you can’t) while covering news stories in Las Vegas, the book is hysterically funny, and almost painful to read because the characters are so destructive and risky.  I bought the movie afterward, and have to admit that it is just as good as the book.   Fear and Loathing is known as the ultimate piece of Gonzo journalism, a genre which is all too relevant today.  In fact, one might say that all modern American TV news has morphed into Gonzo Journalism, though how many drugs Nancy Grace is on is still in question.

Eric Larson

If you couldn’t tell, I’m much more of a fiction reader than non-fiction.  I prefer imagination to fact, but in some cases there are facts that go roguer than Sarah Palin.  In an incredible narrative, Eric Larson tells the story of two men:  the architect behind the 1839 Chicago World’s fair, and a serial killer who preyed on the fair-goers.  These two men never met, but at times were less than a mile from each other.  What is unique about this book is the way Larson weaves these two stories together, using his in-depth research and powerful vocabulary to make your heart race.  Though the sections on the World’s Fair’s organization enthralled me (and made me mourn for the fact that the World’s Fair will never happen again, at least not in the magical way it did back then), I was ripping through the pages to find out more about the creepy serial killer.  He designed a hotel around his desire to murder young and impressionable women, and Larson reveals the details of his killings in a sickly fascinating way.  All of this, and I learned more about mid-1800s America life than I ever thought I would.

8.  As She Climbed Across the Table Jonathen Lethem

How I love thee, Jonathan Lethem.  This book is deliciously bizarre.  It follows the story of a jilted lover, whose physicist girlfriend left him not for a scholar or artist, but for a black hole she created in her laboratory.   The black hole becomes a national interest, and the hilarious cast of characters that interact with the hole and the narrator (including two bumbling blind men and an…unconventional therapist) will make your brain vibrate with joy.  This book takes the mad scientist to a real, possible level without looking back.  It is a lovely and easy read, but the ending, guaranteed, will shock and mystify you.  If you love the Large Hadron Collider, go get this read ASAP.  Thanks to Matt Starring and Rita for this!

7.   Never Cry Wolf Farly Mowatt

 

Everything you think you know about wild wolves is wrong.  In a hilarious narrative, Farley Mowatt tells the true story of his journey into the Canadian wilderness to study wolves.  Mowatt himself makes the book worth reading; he is a strange and frighteningly smart man who has no qualms about pissing on rocks and turning in circles before he lays down for a nap, all in the cause of getting to know these animals better.  This book shatters the scary wolf image, and shows that they are nothing more than very smart, very powerful dogs.  I was skeptical about the book when it was first given to me, but within the first 3 pages I couldn’t stop reading, and in fact didn’t stop reading until it was over.  As an added bonus, the book also makes a harrowing call on the side of environmentalism, and concludes with a sad ending about the future of the wolf.  Thanks for this one, April!

6.  Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a little ashamed that it took me so long to read this, as Kurt V. is one of my literary heroes.  I suppose that because people rave about it so much, I was afraid it would either be disappointing or take away from my deep-seated love for Breakfast of Champions.  However, this book is perfect for today.  As usual for Kurt, it’s about war.  But it’s page-or-so long chapters, as only Kurt can do, peel the skin off warfare and leave its raw, sadly comical innards exposed.  The next time you’re feeling bummed out about Afghanistan, read this book, even if you already have.  I can’t guarantee that it will make you feel better about war, but it will certainly make your thinking more pleasant.

5.  Blindness Jose Saramago

This book fucked me up.  Seriously fucked me up.  You may have seen the movie, which was one of the best adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen.  They put almost everything in the book into the movie, except for 2 quite gruesome and depressing moments.  For those of you that don’t know the premise, this story takes place in a nameless city, where a man is suddenly struck blind while driving.  His blindness turns out to be contagious, and soon everyone begins to lose their sight.  The main character is a woman who seems to be the only person immune to the disease, and for more than half the book she’s living a hellish (and I mean HELLISH) quarantine facility in an abandoned mental hospital.  If the story line isn’t enough, the commentary on humankind is intensely profound.  Add to this that the book makes you feel as if you are going blind (there are almost no periods in the book and not a single character is given a name).  You will be sucked into the white pages and the terrifying, familiar world they describe.

4.  Cloud Atlas David Mitchell

What makes this gem stand out among the others on the list is its construction.  I picked up this book and immediately began to wonder why my teacher, Peter Shippy, had recommended it to me.  The storyline took place in the early 1800s, one of my least-favorite eras to read about.  The language was confusing, the storyline uninteresting, and then, suddenly, on page 38, the story ended abruptly.  I’m talking mid-sentence.  I almost took the book back to my library and told them they had a bad copy, but after conferring with my partner Rita, I continued to read.  The next story moved on at a slightly better pace, then ended abruptly again.  Then it happened again, and I realized that as these stories went on, I was traveling forward in time.  1800s, 1930s, present day…and then the stories started to move into the future.  A Korean clone manufactured to work at a terrifying version of McDonald’s was next.  After that story ended abruptly, you move on to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii.  Finally, here,  you get the entire story.  It spans the center of the book, and then…you begin to boomerang backward.  You get the rest of the story about the Korean clone next, then back to present day, then on and on until you’re back in the 1800s.  After the first two stories, I couldn’t stop reading.  Each of the complexly crafted accounts take on a different format (journal, letter, interview), and are connected to the others in a sensual and spiritual way.  To make it simple, this book is hot and intense sex for the brain.

3.  Feed M.T. Anderson

Enter the best Young Adult novel for the modern age.  This book was so influential it inspired me to write an entire blog entry about it.  This book stands among The Giver and Fahrenheit 451 in that it is an essential read for the nerdy adolescent who likes to think too much.  Feed forecasts where our times are going, but it does so from one of the scariest perspectives of all time:  the teenager.  American Teens of the Future are so immersed in technology (or perhaps the technology is immersed in them) that they can’t escape it for even an instant.  Marketers have latched on to them, and even at the most tragic moments of pubescence, they can’t avoid having someone suggest that they buy a new rugby shirt.  If technology and marketing continue to grow hand in hand, there is no doubt that the world of Feed will soon be our own.  M.T. Anderson created an entirely new language for the teens in his book, even more realistic and unique than that in A Clockwork Orange.  I also can assure you that you will cry like a baby for the many tragic losses in this book.

Bonus:  As one of my readers commented, the audio version of this book is AMAZING!  I usually don’t enjoy hearing books on tape, but I recommend it for those with long commutes.

2.  Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood

What can I say about this book besides you have to read it to believe it?  Atwood is known for her storytelling, and this book is no exception.  This may be my favorite post-apocalyptic book of all time.  Atwood covers everything about our modern times, and hits it all squarely on the head.  The world has been destroyed by a lethal combination of genetic engineering and lust for amorality.  We made the science roller-coaster go way too fast, and almost everyone on the planet was thrown from an incredible height to their death.  Now you get the story of one of the sole survivors, and the way he slowly reveals the demise of civilization and Earth will chill you to the bone.  Nothing I could write in one paragraph would describe the awe and overpowering feelings I had upon finishing this book, so I’ll stop there.

Bonus:  After you read it, or before if you want, check out this art.                        Double Bonus:  Margaret Atwood wrote a sequel to this book!  Joy!

1.  Lilith’s Brood Octavia Butler

This book holds the number one spot because not a single day goes by when I don’t shudder because something in my daily life reminds me of this book (or rather, this trilogy of books).  Octavia Butler loved to write creepy science fiction, and the aliens in this book are the most well thought-out, intriguing and downright disgusting creatures I’ve read about.  The aliens come to save us from ourselves, but their morals, their history, and their ultimate goal is so, well, alien that I’m still confused as to how I feel about them.  I don’t know what happened to Butler to make her write this way, but the central theme and most outrageous part of this book is the way humans mate with the highly intelligent, tentacled aliens.  The sex in the book is beautiful and so utterly disturbing that at times I had to put the book away (and at one point, hide it somewhere where I wouldn’t even see it).  I got so grossed out and intrigued by tentacles (which play a huge part in the sex) that my own arms started to freak me out when I would wash them in the shower.  Of course, the book makes a huge statement about the human race and our own trajectory.  It is frustrating, disturbing, riveting and of course, so influential that life is never the same afterward.

 

 

So that’s it. Those are the books that colored my perception in 2009.  I’m already 2 books into 2010, both of which I expect to be on my list for next year.  If you have read or plan to read one of these gems, feel free to leave a comment.  I am dying to hear what other people thought of these books.

And don’t forget, I have published a new list of books for 2010!

Llegando Al Cuzco

I´m here!

6 states, 3 trains, 4 flights and 3 apartments later I have finally arived in my destination city of Cuzco, Peru.

Yesterday my plane landed high in the mountains where Cuzco is situated at around 8am.  I had spent the previsous night in the bright and loud Lima airport, the night before that on an airplane and the night before that on an air mattress in the hallway at Krystyna´s.  And the night before that?  On a train.

Needless to say I was exhausted and befuddled.  I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon sleeping and trying to catch my breath and bearings in this new place.  I am feeling very anxious, and in need of some social contact.  Today I was introduced to the hostel,  and read about the kinds of things I will be doing as a volunteer.  Today around 3pm I will be coming back here to participate in my first day of volunteering.  I hope to meet some more people my own age, since the past 48 hours have been pretty lonley.  Everyone I´ve met so far only speaks Spanish, so that has been making me feel pretty isolated, not to mention my lack of vocabulary and atrocious gramatical structure make it very hard to express myself.

Anyway, this is just a brief post to let you all know I´m here.  Look for more soon, with pictures!

SLEEP STUDY: Part I. The Tedious Lead Up

NOTE:  If you already know all about the weeks leading up to the sleep study and don’t want to read about it, then I suggest you skip down and read the bulleted points below.  They’re easy to find, they’re bulleted.

I heard about the study through everyone’s favorite website to buy lawnmower parts, find employment, and get anonymous ass, craigslist.com.  If you ever browsed craigslist searching for a job better than the job that owns the computer from which you are searching, then you’ve probably come across the sketchy advertisements posted by Brigham & Women’s hospital.

Their titles range the loud and awkward  “HOW LIGHT AFFECTS YOUR ZZZ’s!” to the straightforward “PARTICIPATE IN A 28 DAY SLEEP STUDY FOR CASH”.  I was drawn to the first one.

I had read about these studies on craigslist for a few years, since I had a friend participate in one when I was a senior in High School.  My friend went into the study, and I promptly lost touch with him.  But I had heard that he had come out somewhat “off” from the experience.  I didn’t take it too seriously until, four years later as a senior in college, I had regressed enough emotionally financially  to consider the study as a viable option.  The night I decided finally to participate, I was drinking a mixture of hibiscus tea and vodka out of a latte cup while mopping the floor of a cafe where I worked.  My co-worker closing with me happened to have a second job at the sleep study, and when I told him I was considering it offhandedly, he looked at me and said, “Liam, you of all people should do the study.”  What I found out after I had completed the study that what he meant was “Liam, you of all people are crazy enough to enjoy the study.”

A few days later I called the number on the advertisement and began the quietly freakish relationship with the woman who was my “recruiter”, who I will called Jane for safety’s sake.  Jane existed only as a soft spoken, hesitant voice on the other end of a phone for a long time.  She first conducted an interview with me, what she called a “Phone Screen”, to see if I would pass.  She asked me questions about family history, how much I drink or smoke, and weather or not I had ever heard voices in my head.  I passed the screening, almost failing once for telling her that I drank about 4 cups of coffee a day (due to my employment?).  “I can stop!  I can quit!  I promise!”  I actually groveled to Jane like that.

Then I spent a wild last few months in college, and met someone who I thought I had fallen in love with.  The day I was supposed to go into the hospital to finally meet Jane and take the next step towards entrance, I woke up to a beautiful June morning, with a cute and intelligent boy in my bed and the birds chirping outside.  I walked to the hospital and told Jane I couldn’t go in when the weather was so nice.

Fast forward 6 months.  It’s October and I’m living at my parents house in Portland, Maine, which is a city where intelligent gay men go to die.  One day, out of the blue, my telephone rings and who should it be but Jane, asking me if I’m interested in participating in the sleep study, now that the good weather had ended.  Well yes, Jane.  Yes I would.

Since I had already passed the screening (barely), the next steps advanced pretty quickly.  I made an initial trip to Boston, to meet Jane and do a few weird things.  First I was given a mountain of forms to read, describing the study in as much detail as was legally required.  Other forms I had to fill out, mostly on my sleep habits, asking me how long I thought it took me to fall asleep or how many times I woke up in the night.  Over the course of the study, I had to answer questions like that constantly, and I’ve found that the answers are more slippery than one thinks.   I also had one really strange 536 question long psych evaluation that was very sneaky.  It would ask you a series normal statements and then slip in one scary one:

T or F:  I enjoy reading mechanics magazines.

T or F:  I had a good relationship with my father as a child.

T or F:  Sometimes I fear that someone else is controlling the things I do and say.
I also filled out a form asking me what types of foods I like.  When she handed me this form, Jane said, “I would fill in as many things as you think you can stomach.  It can get repetitive.”  I checked off things like macaroni and cheese, pudding, broccoli and baked scrod (which was a huge mistake).  After I had finished up a total of about 1.5 hours of paperwork, Jane sat me down and gave me a long briefing on the specifics of the sleep study.  Mostly she was reading from the sheets I had just read, and this happened several more times along the way from separate people.  Basically, they really wanted me to know exactly what I was getting myself into.  Here’s what I was told:

  • You are the subject.
  • Before the study the subject will wear an “actiwatch”, which is basically a ugly black box that monitors how much light you encounter each day, and also how much you sleep.  Here’s a picture. Picture coming.

  • The subject will also record his sleep patterns for the entire month before he enters the study, and turn in the form to the recruiter the day before the study.  The subject will also call the recruiter and leave a voice mail every night before bed and every morning when he wakes up.
  • One week before the study the subject will also agree to follow an assigned sleep pattern, with required bed times and wake up times.
  • The subject will abstain from all caffeine (including chocolate), street drugs, alcohol, over the counter drugs, prescription drugs, and (I kid you not) poppy seeds for the duration of the study.
  • On the day of the study the subject will come to the 9th floor of Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston and enter a place called Pod 9-B.
  • Pod  9-B will be the room where the subject spends the next 28 days.
  • The Subject will be required to perform simple tasks throughout the day.
  • The subject’s brainwave and heart patterns will be monitored at all times with electrodes and an EKG, unless the subject is in the shower.
  • Pod 9-B is to be a “time-cue-free zone”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  There are no windows, no clocks and I wasn’t allowed to bring in anything that would indicate time.

I want to pause, here, and reflect on exactly how many things in life indicate time.  First, electronics.  Think about all of the electronics that are important to you, ipod, cell phone, laptop, magic bullet.  Almost all of them have clocks on them.  Furthermore, think about all the things you have at your fingertips that give away time.  Live television, newspapers, magazines.  Even my body was a perpetrator, with its hunger and sleep cycles.  Which meant:

  • The subject will eat and sleep at specific times.  Which is a less scary way of saying that you will eat and sleep when you are told to.  Even if you aren’t tired or hungry.
  • The subject will not be allowed any live contact with people outside the study.  The subject is allowed to write letters to family, as well as receive e-mails and letters.  However, all letters will be held back for a few days as to skew time, and the emails will have all time cues cut out with a pair of scissors by none other than Jane herself.
  • Upon completion of the study, the subject will be given $5,000 dollars compensation.
  • At any time, the subject is allowed to leave the study, and the staff members are not allowed to try and persuade him to stay.  If the subject drops out early, he will be awarded the money that he has earned.  However, 2,000 of the big bucks are a completion bonus, which means even if you only quit one day early, you still wouldn’t get a large chunk of the finishing prize.

Now, a lot of people are turned off by the idea of having to go to sleep when the lights go out, like a parrot.  But most people I’ve talked to, when I tell them this much, say that they could do it.  But there is a clincher that usually gets people:

  • Once in Pod 9-B, the subject will be required to wear at an anal thermometer, which is a flexible, mostly unobtrusive way of checking someone’s core body temperature.  And I’ll say this several times, they weren’t lying.  It was mostly unobtrusive.

My thought was, I’ve had gay sex.  A thermometer is nothing.

Once I told Jane that I understood all the things she had told me, she whisked me away to a hospital room where they drew three vials of my blood for drug testing, and then Jane gave me an EKG, which was weird because she was in civilian clothing.  After that, a rather mean doctor gave me a free physical, and did almost all of the worst things that typically happen during men’s physicals.

Then Jane fitted the actiwatch on my wrist and told me to call her if I had any questions.

Coming up next:  SLEEP STUDY:  Part II.  The Month Before Incarceration Admission