Monthly Archives: August 2009
Which is worse: that when I saw the Slate.com headline “Great Scenes of People Getting Stoned by Accident in the Movies” I thought it was about people having rocks accidentally thrown at them until they died or that when I realized after I started to read that it was about people getting high I was really, really disappointed?
For a book-club promotion I’m doing, I was required to write a set of discussion questions for my book Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever and What Happened Instead. With the help of some really insightful friends, I came up with some questions I really like. Here they are.
Swish Discussion Questions
1. The narrator’s “quest to become the gayest person ever” is obviously undertaken in jest, but he does embody several gay male stereotypes. Do you know people who embody any of these stereotypes? If so, how does this affect your relationships with them? Do you embody any stereotypes commonly held about a group you belong to? If so, how does this affect your relationships with others, both inside and outside that group? Are there truths to be found in stereotypes?
2. Over the course of the book, the narrator reveals himself to be arrogant, shallow, insecure, judgmental, and vain. How do these revelations affect your feelings about him? Why does he choose to show readers these parts of his character? Are there moments in which you identify with him when he displays these qualities? Moments in which he alienates you? Why or why not?
3. The narrator moves back and forth between the funny and the tragic, sometimes very quickly and other times more gradually. How does this affect your experience of the story? How are the funny and the tragic related in the book? In life?
4. The chapters on cheerleading and teaching aerobics deal in part with mental illness. What’s your understanding of mental illness? Do you know or are you related to anybody who is mentally ill? If so, how does this affect your experience of these chapters? What would you do if somebody very close to you became mentally ill? What would you do if you became mentally ill?
5. In the last chapter, the narrator spends time with a group of gay people who are trying to become straight. Do you think this is possible? If it turned out that you were wrong, in what ways would your ideas about homosexuality change? In what ways would they stay the same?
6. When the narrator goes to the ex-gay conference, he is struck by the contrasts and similarities between his Judaism and the delegates’ evangelical Christianity. When religion and homosexuality meet, what happens? What should happen?
7. In his search to make sense of the world, the narrator explores his connections with others—family, friends, teachers, lovers, strangers—for good and ill. In what ways do you rely on your relationships to develop and diminish your own sense of self?
8. What is gay identity? How is it different from other historically disenfranchised identities (black identity, female identity, etc.)? How is it the same? What is straight identity?
9. Much of Swish deals with or is informed by the illness and death of the narrator’s mother. Have you suffered the loss of a close friend or family member? If so, has this affected the way you look at the world? How?
10. At Camp Camp the narrator struggles with feelings that he doesn’t belong. Are there ways in which you’ve felt you don’t belong? Are there ways in which you’ve made others feel they don’t belong? Has your response to this kind of feeling changed between your childhood and now? If so, how?
11. In the chapter on dating, the narrator confronts the fact that his real boyfriend and his fantasy boyfriend are nothing alike. What do you think of the way he resolves this conflict? Have you been in this position? How did you resolve it? How do you figure out whether what you want and what you think you want are the same thing? What do you do if they’re not?
12. The narrator has a lot of casual sex. What do you think of casual sex? Is it good for people? Bad for people? Both? Neither? How? Is casual sex between two men different from casual sex between a man and a woman? How? What about casual sex between two women? Does society have the right attitudes toward casual sex?
13. In the chapter on musical theater, the narrator discusses two different kinds of creation, asah (creating something by shaping preexisting material) and bara (creating something “out of thin air”). What’s your experience of these two types of creation, artistic or otherwise? What value, if any, does creation have in today’s society? What happens when what you’ve created is everything you hoped it would be? What happens when it’s less?
14. In the chapter on go-go dancing, the narrator says all he wants is “to become a piece of meat.” Are there ways in which you’ve been objectified? Ways in which you’ve objectified others? If so, what were your emotional responses to the experience? Did they surprise you in any way? How?
From Sunday’s dinner conversation, based on what turns out to have been slightly inaccurate information (it was actually a coat rack affixed to the wall, which explains everything and renders the whole inquiry moot):
E.S.: Hey, did you hear about the reality show guy who killed his model wife and then hanged himself?
FAUSTUS: I heard he was a person of interest. I didn’t know he’d hanged himself.
E.S.: Yeah, they found him in a motel closet.
FAUSTUS: That’s unobtrusive. So, what, I guess he punched a new hole in his belt? His waist can’t have been as narrow as his neck.
E.S.: No, he didn’t need to punch a hole.
FAUSTUS: What, he used one of the holes that was already there and kicked a stool out from underneath himself?
E.S.: It was a motel closet. I don’t think there was room.
FAUSTUS: Well, what then?
E.S. (exasperated): I didn’t see the crime scene. He must have just left it free and tightened it and waited till he passed out and died.
FAUSTUS: So he didn’t hang himself, he strangled himself.
E.S.: I want to strangle you.
E.S.: In fact, I’m trying to remember a time I didn’t want to strangle you.
FAUSTUS: Between your first e-mail to me and our first phone conversation?
E.S.: I’m not so sure about that.
FAUSTUS: Oh, because I pointed out that you’d used impending when you meant incipient?
E.S.: No, this is the first time you’ve shared that information with me.
E.S.: You know, I was wrong when I said I wanted to strangle you. I want to decapitate you, dismember you, and stuff you in a suitcase.
FAUSTUS: Hey, you wrote it, not me.
I almost always find FMyLife.com delightful, even if I strongly suspect that at least a third of the entries are made up. But it’s not often that it offers up a gem like this:
Today, I went to the bookstore and asked the sales clerk where the self-help section was. She said if she told me it would defeat the purpose.
My therapist yesterday:
“That’s the one problem specific to gay male relationships. There’s nobody to stop you from buying the big-screen TV.”
I just woke up from a nap during which I had a dream that David Tennant, who plays the Doctor on Doctor Who, was acting in a piece I had written. It was very clear that he thought highly of the show and of me, but every time I tried to get him to say more about why so that he and I could be alone together with him saying nice things about me he maneuvered us into a group of other people working on the show. It was unclear to me whether he did so to avoid being alone with me saying nice things about me or whether he did so because he was actually oblivious to my worshipful adoration. At one point he wanted to speak to my father and me privately; he handed me a check made out to me for $1.00 and handed my father a check made out to me for $1,500.00. I hadn’t known that I was being paid for the project, and I didn’t quite understand why David Tennant was the one paying me when he was acting in it, but my father was concerned about possible legal implications. David Tennant said that there were none, and then remarked to me (as we were walking through the playground) how odd it was that my father had been worried. When I said that this didn’t seem to me to be an unusual reaction, David Tennant said that the problem was that Americans were passivists. I asked him to explain and he maneuvered us into a group of other people working on the show. I vowed to myself that before the end of our time together I would kiss him, thereby becoming the only man to have done so other than John Barrowman. I bade my time during continued work, including a group discussion about whether a certain part of the show should involve antimatter (represented, if memory serves, by person-sized stuffed red cylinders) or matter (represented by divan-sized stuffed blue cubes); antimatter was obviously the preferable choice but the director insisted on matter, at which point David Tennant and I griped to each other in a conspiratorial but good-natured manner. I knew that the time was nigh for me to kiss him and I was getting very (emotionally) excited. Then I woke up, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get back to sleep.
So close, and yet so far.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Mountain Dew (alas, no Diet)
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
zest from 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime
1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a measuring cup, combine Mountain Dew and concentrated orange juice. Do not use Diet Mountain Dew; aspartame breaks down when heated, and sweetness will be lost.
3. Combine butter, sugar, and zest in a large bowl. With a hand mixer on medium-high speed, beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Scrape the sides of the bowl before adding flour.
4. Add dry mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the wet in 2 additions, beating on low speed until just combined. (I like to finish mixing with a spatula after the last addition of flour.)
5. Pour batter into cupcake papers about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.
Yield: 12 cupcakes
Mountain Dew Cupcake Frosting
1 cup Mountain Dew
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
zest from 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime
1. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup of Mountain Dew to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat until it no longer bubbles (medium-low or low depending on your stove). Let Mountain Dew evaporate for about 15 minutes. It should reduce by 3/4. You should end up with between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of syrup. Pour it in a small glass measuring cup to cool.
2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a mixing bowl. Add butter and beat, gradually increasing speed to high, until combined. Pour in heavy cream and Mountain Dew syrup. Continue mixing on high until fluffy. Add orange juice concentrate, zest, and food coloring to taste. Mix on low speed until combined.
Note: Frosting a bit too sweet; next time add cream cheese?
If I have a wisdom tooth coming in, does it mean I’m finally wise?
Alternatively, if I think I have a wisdom tooth coming in and it’s actually just a cavity, does it mean I’m even dumber than I thought?
And, having made an appointment with the dentist, should I now swallow a handful of Tylenol and go about my day or should I just go back to sleep?