Is Corn Brain Food?

Is Corn Brain Food?
Is Coney Island corn-on-the-cob brain food? Dunno, but I DO know that all original content herein is copyrighted by Vincent Collazo. Namaste.

Saturday, February 25, 2017



Instant Nostalgia


A week or so before Trump's inauguration, Julia and I were talking about our sense of impending doom. I said Obama must be thinking, "You are gonna miss my gov'in'," singing it playfully, to the tune of the ever-popular Lou Rawls song. Julia laughed and said, "You know, if you took about five minutes and wrote that whole song up it could go viral."

I never believed that it would go viral, but the idea of doing the project captivated me. Well, I ended up working on it a little longer than five minutes. It would have been nice to have it out just before Trump's inauguration, or even during that first weekend of his nascent presidency, but while the writing of the song was done in a day, the technical aspects of getting it recorded had me bogged down. The major difficulty was that I'm not Lou Rawls, and the song wasn't in a key that's good for me. Although Julia got me an app that would change the music file I was using to a key that was more comfortable for my voice, I didn't like losing the richness that I thought the slightly lower register gave to the song, so I struggled to make the best of it, and used a couple of clunky work-arounds to get it to what I think is a listenable state. During this time there were two weekends we were out of town, during which I couldn't work on the recording or video.

As the early days of the new administration unfolded, I began to feel at once more determined to make the video and also more irrelevant. Shouldn't I be protesting instead? Making phone calls? Sending emails, signing petitions? I have done and did do some of this, but it isn't my way or forte. I'm a writer and sometime performer, so I persisted, even as what I was doing seemed to be mawkish nostalgia. Is it possible, I wondered, to be nostalgic for something that one is bereft of for only a matter of weeks? In fact I'd been missing Obama's administration even before the new one came in. I puzzled over this until I remembered Paul Krassner, famous for founding the satiric magazine, The Realist, had a one-person show that I saw at the Village Gate, entitled "Nostalgia for the Future." So I was well within bounds!

Finally the video is finished and I feel satisfied with the result, justified in making it, and gratified by the response. Please watch.

YOU'RE GONNA MISS MY GOV'MENT-a musical ode to Obama

Thursday, December 8, 2011

IF GLOBAL WARMING WERE AN ASTEROID

I've been wondering, if global warming were a large asteroid on a collision course with Earth, destined to destroy our civilization and much of life on the planet, would...

...the United States refuse to sign a treaty designed to avert the impending catastrophe?

...a World Conference on the Asteroid Collision fail to reach consensus on dealing with the problem and decide to put off beginning to work on a solution for eight or nine years?

...at least six serious Republican presidential candidates avow that they did not believe in the science predicting the asteroid's trajectory?

...the United States government declare that it would not participate in working to divert the asteroid because China wasn't doing it either?

...the Secretary-General of the United Nations say that economic problems and political discord meant the "ultimate goal" of a worldwide effort to avoid the asteroid disaster "may be beyond our reach, for now"?

Here's a "newsflash" to world leaders and governments: global warming/climate change IS an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. If we don't find a solution it's not going to magically change its path. Since governments seem determined to ignore and/or deny the existence of the imminent problem, perhaps we need an Occupy Earth movement, and start taking action on our own. Would love to hear ideas about what this would look like.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Other Side

When I first met Heather she was elusive and reluctant to be with me. For this I didn't blame her--from an outsider's perspective I didn't seem like a good bet at the time--but I was completely in love and so in the grand tradition of late twentieth century courtship, I made her a mix tape for her birthday.  "Desperate," "Ain't No Cure for Love," "Nothing Compares 2 U," "Something There Is About You," "This Is Hell," were just a few of the songs whose lyrics evinced the depths of my feelings. For the fourth song I sang an a cappella version of Mark Johnson's "Hold of Your Arms." At the end of the first forty-five minutes, following Joan Baez singing "Carrickfergus," I spoke into the mike saying, "Isn't that pretty? There's more on the other side." And there was. Another forty-five minutes worth.

I called the tape "Songs for Heather," but before giving it to Heather I told her sister Lizzy, "I was going to call it 'Songs of my Obsession' but I don't want her to think it's part of the seduction. Which of course it is."

It worked. Heather loved that tape and played it constantly in the early months of our relationship. She came to know those songs better than I did, and they became the soundtrack for our romance. When I visited her parents for the first time, Heather and I sat on the front yard grass at her mother Connie's feet and spontaneously burst into song, looking deeply and playfully into each other's eyes as we sang,
  
This is hell, this is hell, 
I am sorry to tell you 
it never gets better or worse
but you get used to it after a spell, 
for heaven is hell in reverse 

Connie smiled benevolently at us from her lawn chair and I felt accepted. 

Less than three years later, after a long illness, Connie died. Heather chose to honor her mother in the way of many Native Americans, by cutting her lusciously long hair. This was the start of a tradition whereby Heather would cut her hair and then donate it to Locks of Love, which makes hairpieces for children who've lost their hair due to medical conditions, chemo or radiation therapy. Our friend and hairdresser Angela would later cut the requisite ten inches of tresses, but Heather cut her own hair after her mother's death, and as she did so I played Patti Smith's "Ghost Dance" whose lyric declares in a funereal chant, "We shall live again, we shall live...again...."

Heather believed in reincarnation and I did not. But I put "Ghost Dance" on a loop play to honor Heather's beliefs, and it was a somber, uplifting and fitting backdrop to the ritual she was performing. She stood in our living room in front of a full-length mirror and cut her hair with great and serious intention, while I watched and learned. Heather would further honor her mother later that year when, during a quest to Arizona, she went skydiving--something Connie had always wanted to do, but never got the chance to. I thought it sweet that Heather provided Connie with a posthumous vicarious experience.
Click here, press play,  scroll to song #20 for "Hold of Your Arms"

Heather wanted me to see the truth of reincarnation and I wanted her to see that life was more complex than that. It was one of our few ongoing "arguments." On Heather's side of the debate was her sense-memory/feeling of having been here before, and on my side was the belief in the inextricability of "me" and "my body"--so when my body goes, therefore go I. Yes, I acknowledged to Heather that there is spirit, but spirit taking the form of matter, and it is our supreme gift to be able to inhabit the world in this way for a brief time. That our presence here is temporary is a good and natural thing...how could we otherwise truly appreciate it?

Ah, I was oh-so-rational in my views, but a part of me had niggling doubts. You see, when I was younger I believed that one day I would meet my one true love, with whom I'd been together in a prior existence. I spent a great deal of my youth thinking about meeting this soulmate; the feelings I had at that time are no better expressed than in this song I wrote called "Two Halves of One."

somewhere once a seashell was home for a clam
it died the shells split and drifted away
leaving you where you are
and me where I am
living lives separate in Rome and Cathay


oo-ooo-o-oo-ooo o-ooo-o-oo-ooo
oo-ooo-o-oo-ooo-o-o-ooo


from seashell to tree leaf
from tree leaf to sand
from reptile to mammal
from mammal to man


then when I saw you
you smiled at me
an eon of waiting upon circumstance
we both caught a glimpse of our destiny
rewarded so fully by getting the chance

oo-ooo-o-oo-ooo o-ooo-o-oo-ooo
oo-ooo-o-oo-ooo-o-o-ooo

sea shell baking under the sun
you and me making two halves of one


Ignore for a moment the goofy seashell/clam metaphor and imagine that all those oo-ooo's are eerily portentous, then focus on me--Mr. Logic--writing about multiple reincarnations, culminating in the grand reunion in human form. The song was no passing fancy, no mere poetic notion of romance...it was literal wish and belief. I also spent time drawing pictures of what this woman looked like--I suppose I always thought it would be a woman, though my sexuality was initially and exclusively tracked towards males--each and every one of those doodled drawings look like Heather...the long straight hair, the thin body, the ineffable aura. I was waiting/searching for her my whole life.

There is tremendous irony to this sequence: first I believed in the destined meeting of souls who belonged together...then it happened--I met Heather!...now I don't believe it. I obviously need to think more deeply on this subject. Or maybe less thinking and more feeling. Heather might like that.

When she was home for hospice, probably about a week from death, Heather and I were alone in the Zen Room. Sitting up in her hospital bed, a small, somewhat sly smile suddenly appeared on her face. "There's more on the other side," she said, quoting me from the mix tape, but also stating her belief in reincarnation. There was certitude in her voice, beyond any surety she'd ever conveyed.

I laughed softly and nodded my head, amazed at her strength of mind and sense of humor.

"Say it," she directed me. She wanted to hear me say those words that had graced her ears each time she got ready to flip that cassette tape, and she wanted me to come over to her side of the debate, to believe with her, and maybe, just maybe, we'd get to be together again.

"There's more on the other side," I said.

There is, of course, more on the other side, it just may not be in the form we're familiar with. Certainly if the first law of thermodynamics is true, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, then SOMETHING must happen to the life force. Whether it has anything to do with the thing we call ourselves is an open question, whose answer, no matter how firmly steeped one is in science, must come from a position of belief, as there is no data available from the other side. Okay, Heather, I'll think about this some more. I plan to explore it in in some fashion (probably humorously, as is my wont) in a novel called The Chasing God Game, which I intend to write once I finish Saga of the Freaks--which is your novel, honey, the one you completely inspired that wouldn't exist without you. As I write Saga I think about you constantly, wonder what you would think, hope that you are pleased with the results. Perhaps the fact that I speak to the dead, write for the dead, seek your approval, means that without knowing it, I've already come over to the other side of our last disagreement.

We are the tears that fall from your eyes,
Word of your word, cry of your cry.
...
Two Halves of One?
                            On our stoop, 2009, photo by Angela Taormino
We shall live again, shake out the ghost dance.††









† from "This Is Hell" by Elvis Costello
†† from "Ghost Dance" by Patti Smith

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Storm

The Storm, 1880
Pierre-Auguste Cot (French, 1837–1883)

(click painting for detailed view)
One of my favorite paintings is The Storm, by Pierre-Auguste Cot, which hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the painting a young couple is depicted running in bare feet away from an impending storm. Together they hold a blanket over their heads to protect them from the rain, but the dark-haired, dark-skinned man is insouciant, his hand firmly grasping her waist, his tunic tightly wrapped around his waist, while a horn juts phallically outward. The light-haired woman is dressed in a body-length sheer garment, her pale skin exposed beneath. The woman is gazing upward with trepidation while the man's eyes are set clearly on the woman, with love, lust and a bit of bemusement.


When I first encountered The Storm at the Met my breath was taken away, and a slightly painful feeling arose in my chest...similar to the experience of what is called in The Godfather, "the thunderbolt"—love-at-first-sight. The Storm resonated with me visually and psychically. I found the portrayal of emotion captivating, the clinging sheer garment brilliantly executed, her naked body beneath enticing, and the use of light on the couple in conjunction with the dark background an eery über-reality. I identified strongly with the young man, having gravitated to the role of protector from a very young age, and often finding myself reassuring loved ones that things are not quite so dark as they seem. 

A few years back I found a print of The Storm on the street and Heather encouraged me to have it framed. I hung it directly in front of my desk, where the tops of books I've written touch the bottom of the frame, as if attempting to siphon inspiration. Interestingly, the young daughter of a friend who saw the print in our apartment asked if it was a picture of Heather and me. I chuckled, because I don't think the two figures resemble us except in the broadest sense—dark and light, male and female, and curly hair versus flowing. Perhaps the young girl picked up on something about our relationship, and saw it limned in oil on canvas. 

Two months into her final struggle against leukemia, when things weren't looking so well, Heather asked me, "Am I going to make it, Vinny?" I looked at her, smiled and reassured, "You're going to make it." I wasn't as sure of my words as I seemed, but it was my role to be optimistic. I thought it wouldn't serve her to voice my doubts. In retrospect I wish I could have uttered something closer to the truth, and that she would have been able to hear it with equanimity. But this is asking too much of her. She was brave enough, fought enough, gave enough. So in that moment we stayed within our roles: Heather worried and I minimized. She was as vulnerable as the young woman in The Storm; I as ostensibly strong as the young man.

Now as I look at this painting tears come to my eyes. The smile has been wiped off my face...the danger was real, and I didn't fully see it. The storm rolled in and I couldn't protect her...I failed in my role...none of us can truly have that kind of influence over people or events...we are at the mercy of randomness and free will...chaos and design. Before her illness I walked through life with the attitude of the young man. I thought Heather's anxiety toward the future immature, but in truth she was always ahead of me, more developed, realistic. Was I a fool to see only my love for her?  


When I first brought the print of The Storm to our home, Heather had not seen the original, and we planned to view it at our next visit to the Met. This is one of the many things that we never got to do. Her sister Lizzy is also an ardent admirer of this painting, and we now plan to go to the Met together to see Cot's masterpiece; in such fashion we will bring Heather there with us, and we will study it through our eyes and her spirit, and no doubt contemplate the many storms that surround us all.




The Storm, as it hangs in our apartment


Springtime, by Pierre-Auguste Cot, 1873
same couple, different vibe

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Refuge and Remembrance: Saying Goodbye to One Feather

Originally published in the Destiny Star (“The Wyrd Voice of
Faerie Camp Destiny”
) Spring 2011 issue

By JoyBoy, aka Vincent Collazo

The first few days after my beloved One Feather died of leukemia this past August, I had friends and family staying and visiting with me. Then I decided I needed to be alone in our home for more intensive grieving. A week of this proved a bit more than I could handle, and I desperately needed to be with people again. I thought of going to Destiny for Labor Day Weekend with a few faerie friends, to fulfill two of One Feather’s last requests: to spread some of her ashes on the land and hang, somewhere near the kitchen, a poster of paintings of faeries that she’d designed. When I saw there was a Virgo gatherette scheduled for that weekend, which was being promoted as a low-key affair, I thought it might be best not to bring my heavy grieving energy to Destiny at that time.

One Feather at Faerie Fashion Show, Destiny 2008
However, when Bambi emailed to let me know that that weekend they’d be planting the cherry tree my sister and brother-in-law were donating to the land to serve as a living memorial to One Feather, I knew that I had to be there. Besides, I now reminded myself, sanctuary is there for when you need it, not on a schedule. Certainly the Virgo gatherette would be able to accommodate me and my grief.

Captain Moonlight, Wally and I were the first to arrive on the land. It was such a gorgeous day I suggested we immediately go to the brook. I wasn’t prepared for the torrent of emotion this would evince—One Feather and I had spent so many delicious hours soaking up the phenomenal beauty of that place, most often staying until the sun was low in the sky. The Captain held me as I sobbed while Wally held space.

I received much love and healing from that long weekend at Destiny. The gathering unfolded wonderfully, and I was very grateful for the “normalcy” of daily faerie magic. Support came in so many ways—it was especially meaningful to speak with a few faeries who’d also gone through the ordeal of losing a partner to an untimely death. I literally cried myself to sleep in my tent and no one complained, though my wailing was at times fairly loud. I felt safe to do this, felt the energy of others surrounding me in the dark, holding me, comforting me.

On Sunday we drove the cherry tree from the kitchen to the lower meadow near the brook, which someone had suggested as a planting site, and which resonated with me as the right choice. A hole was dug and we discussed and decided the best way to plant and protect the tree. Once it was safely in the ground and watered, about a dozen of us circled around the tree and spoke about One Feather. Orange had posted on Lucy his memory of One Feather at a fire circle, singing one of her favorite songs, “American Tune” by Paul Simon. I invited others to join in as Orange and I sang it in One Feather’s honor. One part seemed most appropriate:

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

The group then processed to the brook, taking turns spreading One Feather’s ashes along the way. When we arrived we sat on rocks and grass; a few more people spoke, but mostly we were silent. One by one, and two by two faeries drifted away. This ritual was very much like One Feather: unpretentious, deceptively uncomplicated, quiet and powerful.

I returned from the gathering with a clear head, knowing that I needed to re-engage with life, even as I continued the grieving process. Never had the value of faerie sanctuary been more brilliantly clear or personally important than it was that weekend. While any trip I make to Destiny will forever evoke memories of One Feather’s life and death and the time spent with her there, it will also bring back this restorative weekend and the transformative gifts I received. I remain grateful not only to the thirty or so faeries who were present, but to all who have made Destiny a shining reality.
  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

INSIDE THE HEATHER MUSEUM

My shrine-ette to Heather
IT'S HARD TO GRIEVE WHEN YOU'RE DEPRESSED. Which is a throw-away one-liner with a little truth under its mask. Depression and grief, I have learned of late, may have the same event as their source but are two discrete processes. When I'm grieving I'm in the act of remembering Heather, or
A corner of the Zen Room
anticipating the emptiness of life without her--I am, in some way, involved in the loss of her. When depressed I am in the void, unmotivated, disconnected from everything, including the memory of my beloved. Depression is the absence of hope, while grief, from within the bounds of its wracking pain, contains possibilities of future pleasure. [click on photos for larger views]







Heather's herb cabinet
Robineau Vase & Steuben pitcher & tumbler
I became depressed shortly after the one-year anniversary of Heather entering the hospital (March 5th)--the beginning of the long slide to her ultimate demise. Remembering the details of that day and the first days of her hospital stay proved immensely painful, and I think that depression was a way of shielding me from the detailed memories that were the cause of my agony. If my mind is dull and emotions are flattened then I am safe from the excruciating suffering of remembrance. Of course this leaves no room for redemption, so it is a see-saw I ride, alternating pushing myself up with weighing myself down. 

Bedroom Art Deco Vanity
It's difficult to remain unattached to her memory for long because, as I've often said to friends & family, "I'm living in the Heather Museum." Before she came to live with me I had an apartment, but in the ensuing years Heather turned it into a beautiful wonderland with loads of eye candy--in places a bit over-the-top and overcrowded, but always fascinating. And then there was the Zen Room--her interior decorating masterpiece.




Leaded glass bookshelf with Heather's abstract sculptures


The Zen Room was Heather's Therapy Room, which is what she came to call it, in which she practiced Jin Shin Jyutsu, the Trager Approach, her own brand of chakra energy work as well as an amazing talk-therapy in which she shared wisdom she'd gained through her life-experience and offered sage insights channeled from the Source. I dubbed the wondrous space in which she worked her "magic" the Zen Room, after a scene from The Rocky Horror
Heather's Zen Room altar
Picture Show when Dr. Everett V. Scott enters the mansion and Dr. Frank-N-Furter is observing him from a video surveillance camera. "He must be in...the Zen Room," Dr. Frank says with great portent, whereupon we hear a flourish of harp and bells with an Eastern flair. The Zen Room Dr. Scott wanders into is only slightly reminiscent of Heather's creation...her Zen Room was closer to the inside of the genie bottle Barbara Eden occupied in the I Dream of Jeannie TV series. But the Zen Room she used as her office, while borrowing & synthesizing from multiple inspirations, was ultimately uniquely Heather's.

Kitchen corner cabinet with antique clock
About a month ago three of Heather's sisters came to claim some items that Heather wished bequeathed to them, some of which were from their father's estate and held great familial meaning. I am very happy for her sisters to have these pieces, and the items leaving the apartment on which they made such a brilliant impact signals the start of a new era for my home and for me. Soon the Zen Room will become my bedroom, and while I intend to keep as much of it intact as possible, I cannot deny a transformation in physicality and energy is taking place.

Heather's reading glasses

Heather's winter coat
In the first days following Heather's death I would walk through the Heather Museum and every single thing I saw would bring waves of anguish as I remembered her and became piquantly in touch with my loss. It was hard to look at anything that she lent her singular vibe to, but there I was, completely surrounded by things which spoke of
Heather. I knew then that as painful as it was to be in the presence of Heather's possessions, that in time they would provide a warm comfort as they helped keep my memory of her alive--which is, of course, something I deeply desire. This has already begun to occur, and I take great pleasure in using a few of her personal things, e.g. her reading glasses (almost my prescription), an ankh pendant (a symbol that holds powerful significance for me) and even wearing the winter coat I bought her for our first Christmas together. She loved that coat, and I identify it strongly with her, but now that I've worn it I realize that it actually fits me better than it did Heather!

Zen Room fireplace
Another fireplace view
So yes, I live inside the Heather Museum, and those structures which house great artifacts carry the connotation of the static, the past encased in an unchanging display. But in some of the grandest and best museums fresh exhibits come and go, even whilst the permanent collection lends a noble aura of stability. I suppose this is the balance I wish to strike in my life...between remembrance and new adventure, between engagement in life when I can and withdrawal from society when necessary, between grieving and depression, between the void that Heather has left and the vistas before me that yet remain.  
The last hat Heather bought (left) & her famous One Feather straw hat

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is It Autobiographical? The Truth About Fiction

My writer-friend Sylvia, after reading a short story of mine, said, “I hate it when someone asks me this, but I’m going to ask anyway: is it autobiographical?” What fuels the seemingly irresistible urge to make this inquiry? The need to distinguish between real and unreal? Wanting to know just how inventive a writer truly is? Curiosity as to the author’s life? Most likely a combination of these factors. My response to The Question ranges from a perfunctory “Yes” to a long-winded exegesis on the Nature of Fiction, which borders on the defensive. My answer depends upon the tone of the query; asked in a certain way, I can feel as if my effort is being impugned—that once I admit/confess that a particular piece of fiction has its origin in “true life,” then it will be assumed that I am a mere transcriber. For me it is much more difficult (and troubling) to write from “life” than from “imagination.” Alternatively, some inquiries can engender a sense of being flattered that a reader experiences my writing as “real enough” for them to feel as if it could have (and probably did) actually happen. Fiction does, no matter how fantastic, ask us to believe in its truth, at least during the moments we read it. Oughtn’t I to feel complimented when my writing has fostered belief beyond the page? I endeavor here to answer The Question, once and for all, allowing myself wiggle-room for future revisions and alterations, as well as outright denials and reversals.

When my sister Lily read my short story “Trifles” she commented, “It’s very autobiographical.” I was confused. The story follows the life of a nameless character from his privileged childhood to overburdened adulthood. He is married with two children and runs a multi-million dollar business. Not one detail of my character’s history ran parallel to my life—thus I was startled that Lily, who knew my life so well, was identifying my story as autobiographical. I finally realized, after cross-firing every available neuron in my brain, that what she meant was that it was psychologically autobiographical. Certain aspects of my protagonist’s attitudes and viewpoints were similar to my own, as was his developmental process. Given this litmus test I believe every work of fiction can be considered autobiographical, for whatever we put on the page is imbued with some portion of our essence, else it would be meaningless to assign our names to it. That Lily felt the connection between author and story so strongly is testament to her facility as a reader and, perhaps, mine as a writer.

My poem “Heredity” contained an unanticipated challenge. While I envisioned it as being about my mother and me, the last third of the poem intimates that the narrator (identified as "I") has AIDS, and this proved to be the focal point for my readership.

After reading the poem, my brother Dave sent a heartfelt letter. “I never knew that being positive could be so negative,” he wrote about my supposed HIV status. My mother called to say, “Here I was in my little world, thinking that because you were with Jonathan you’d be safe from this.” Gladys, my mother-out-law, called to offer her condolences. She was an accomplished poet, and I said to her, as I did to Dave and Mom, “I feel I have to remind you that poetry can be fiction too. I’m not sick. I used AIDS to make a point.” Gladys was relieved and relayed the news to her husband Marvin. In the background I heard him say, “What do you mean it’s not true? It has to be true, he wrote it down!” Never was the power of the written word more clear to me.

My friend Marcus, himself HIV positive, after reading “Heredity” asked if I also had HIV. I wouldn’t answer him immediately; I was more interested in what difference this new “fact” would make to our friendship. Marcus said, “Well, if anyone would write a poem pretending to be HIV positive it would be you.”

I offered “Heredity” at a poetry reading and another poet approached me. “That was a really powerful poem. Thanks. I have AIDS too.” I didn’t, in that intimate moment, feel it advisable to say, “Oh, I don’t have AIDS, I was just using it as a literary device.” He might think my “posing” an affront to his reality, and that I took the subject lightly. I didn’t, but I also didn’t have the guts to tell him the “truth.”

“Heredity” was published in the queer literary journal QUACK and reviewed in Downtown newspaper. The reviewer wrote “Vincent Collazo's 'Heredity' is a hard packed, tightly woven poem about his sudden descent into the hell of AIDS.” She assumed. Everyone did. This has to do with the manner in which the poem was written—no one would assume that Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” really happened.

My novel, Sanity’s Bane, begs for the autobiographicality question to be asked. A reader completely unfamiliar with me can be aware from the cover of the book that I share my protagonist Victor Cruise’s initials, that we both were born in the South Bronx and relocated at an early age to Long Island. The book invites the inquiry and playfully stymies all but the most knowledgeable from obtaining an answer.

When asked how much of Sanity’s Bane is autobiographical I sometimes say, “Sixty-three per cent.” Or, “Only the parts about Harcus.” (Harcus is a planet from an intraplanular dimension, which has its origins in the mind of the possibly psychotic six-year-old Janice.) Sanity’s Bane is a fun-house mirror version of my life—some parts distorted beyond recognition, some relatively intact. More importantly, it’s an invitation to explore the inner workings of my mind, and if the question of what is real and what is not tends to baffle, this is an intentional correlation to Victor’s confusion about reality—my attempt to evoke literary empathy.

A new friend, Carl, after reading Sanity’s Bane, assumed that I’ve known my beloved Heather since childhood, mistakenly thinking that she was the model for Victor’s true love, Janice Cooley. Even a great deal of knowledge of my life doesn’t necessarily prevent such errors. There is a scene in the first chapter in which Victor steals his mother’s wedding ring. My father, upon reading this, thought it possible I had taken my Mom’s ring years before. My sister reminded him of the actual circumstances, that her ring had gone down the kitchen sink drain and that he himself had dug it out. Nevertheless, he thought that this did not preclude my having taken it. I was amazed to hear Lily relate this exchange: my father was bending reality to fit fiction.

Martín, a writer friend, critiqued the scene in Sanity’s Bane in which Janice plots revenge against little Garee, intending to perform a horrifically sadistic act upon him. Martín found it implausible that a six-year-old would do this, and encouraged me to increase her age. “It would help if she were around eight because at that age you are really starting to be mean on purpose. Before that it seems more instinctive, less conscious.” I had to inform Martín that not only was this frightful incident based on real life, but that Denise (the model for Janice), had created her plan not at age six, but at age five! Knowing this allows me to feel justified in presenting the incident, attributable to Janice’s precocity (and disturbance), but the “truth” of the event doesn’t really help my readership if it isn’t believable.

In reading J.D. Salinger’s brilliant stories about the Glass family, with its precocious children regularly appearing on a national radio show called “It’s a Wise Child,” I could tell that he’d based them on his own life and family. Salinger had done a masterful job of converting his life into literature, and I was duly impressed. Later, I found out that Salinger’s life was nothing like the Glass family. I had an epiphany: It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not—that’s what fiction is, it makes us believe. Regardless of how closely a novel corresponds to an author’s life, if we don’t believe it, it isn’t true, and thus doesn’t succeed as fiction.

In high school I wrote an assignment for Sociology, in which I’d written about graduating college students having to enter “the real world.” Professor Muratore wrote in the margin: “All the world is real.” I sat at my desk staring at his red-inked words. For a teenager who spent a lot of time exploring inner worlds having little to do with the senses, this was a daunting and liberating thought. Those five words—All the World is Real—became my mantra, and if I used that as a springboard to my future, I hope Professor Muratore isn’t disappointed or aghast at the fruit of his inspiration. I have learned, through my long companionship with fiction, that all the world is real, but some parts feel more real than others.
Learn More About "SANITY'S BANE"
Learn More About "THE MONSTER & THE PROXY" 


 

Mother's Days

1975 I was a high school senior and sprained my ankle playing basketball, tearing ligaments so badly that I was on crutches for weeks. A special bus drove me to and from school, but as Mother’s Day approached I still couldn’t negotiate my way to the store to buy a card for Mom. I composed a poem instead.

Through autumn leaves and winter chills
And the seasons of the sun
Three hundred sixty-five days a year
Your work is never done.
It seems a meager tribute
For all your love and time
That once a year on Mother’s Day
I simply drop a line.
For no words could begin to pay
All that I owe you
No poem could encompass
Everything you do.
And what I guess I’m trying to say
In this second week of May,
Is “Thank you, Mom” and by the way,
Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom, of course, adored the poem more than any Hallmark card I could have purchased. When her sister Margi called later that day, Mom read it to her. I felt proud and happy that Mom was pleased, and validated as a fledgling writer. This was in great contrast to what I felt at age fourteen when I’d first told my mother that I wanted to be a writer. Mom had shaken her head doubtfully and explained to me that writers traveled all over the world, that they had lots of experiences, and all kinds of jobs. I was a skinny kid who spent most of his time holed up in his room. Not too much hope there.

1984 I had broken up with Jim, my first lover, in January. After sinking into a months-long depression, I met Jonathan, and by the time Mother’s Day arrived, we’d had a couple of dates and I was in love. Mom expressed sympathy for my break-up with Jim, and asked how he and I were doing in the aftermath.

“It’s really okay,” I told her, “because we’re still great friends. We talk on the phone almost every day and see each other at least once a week. And also, I’ve recently started going out with someone else....”

Before I could even mention Jonathan’s name Mom said, “Your father and I have discussed this and we don’t want him coming here.” I was stunned.

It had taken a great effort to convince my father to overcome his homophobia enough to allow Jim to visit as an extended family member. I’d made an emotional appeal to him, I sang a song I’d written for him—he cried, he softened, and relented. Now my mother, who’d been my tacit supporter the first time the issue came up, was telling me, “This time I won’t go against him.”

My father said, “Last time it was like you asked us, ‘are you big enough to do this?’ So now we’re asking, ‘Are you big enough?’” It didn’t seem to matter that my request was one of love and inclusion and theirs was based on bigotry and exclusion, their minds were set. But it was Mother’s Day and the conversation/discussion/argument that I wished to have with them about their horrific decision had to be put off, because we had company. I was emotionally overwrought and sought singing as an outlet for the hurricane gathering inside me. Borrowing my brother Dave’s guitar, I sat on the backyard grass by myself, strummed and pounded the strings, sang and wailed songs of the deep hurt and injustice I was feeling.

I must have reached an estimable volume, because Mom came out to talk to me, though she’d explicitly stated minutes before that “now was not the time.” It was as if she’d dropped a bomb on me and agreed that while my spilled blood and guts meant that first aid should be administered and a trip to the hospital strongly considered, nevertheless holiday decorum dictated that it wasn’t the proper moment.

She attempted to stop my musical plaint first by telling me I was creating a scene on her special day. As far as I was concerned she’d sullied her own day by conspiring with my father on the premeditated and malevolent plan to bar Jonathan from their home. Next Mom used her Illness as a weapon, suggesting that she wasn’t a well woman, and that my behavior could only make her sicker. Her system was so fragile, she implied, I could actually kill her. She stood above me as I sat--still holding but no longer playing guitar--and I looked at her directly and said, “I have needs too!”

If placing myself before her was catastrophic enough to kill her, so be it, I thought. Mom walked to the house; I finished a song, and was satisfied.

1987 Jonathan remained banned—and I, in seeming acquiescence, had continued to return home on certain holidays, but after Chi-Chi, the family dog, died in 1986, I simply stopped visiting. Chi-Chi and I loved each other dearly, there was no need to punish us both by my staying away because of my parents ruling. Now that he was gone, there was no reason to come to a home in which I was not truly welcome. After several “missed” holidays, Mom called to ask if I was coming for Mother’s Day, and when I said no she asked if I was ever coming again. “No,” I said. “Not without Jonathan.”

Mom still didn’t want to overturn or oppose my father’s decision, but in June chose to visit Jonathan and me in our apartment in Astoria. “I’ll go anywhere to see my son,” she told my father. Dad held out until December when he phoned to ask, “What are you guys doing for Christmas? Do you want to come home?”

2004 Heather and I had just returned from vacation in Tennessee and I wanted to call to wish my father a happy birthday, but our phone line was dead. I went to a phone booth. Mom answered. I told her I was on the street in the rain; she thought I was trying to tell her I couldn’t talk long, but I was merely being descriptive of my situation. “I’ll get your father,” she said and left before I could tell her I wanted to talk to her a bit. She sounded tired and a bit disgusted; I thought she was angry with me. I spoke to Dad briefly and told him to tell Mom I’d see her on Sunday for Mother’s Day.

On Thursday I got the call that Mom was in the hospital. It didn’t look good. Eight years prior she’d had her leg amputated owing to diabetes and smoking, and now she was having difficulty with her heart. Doctors had suggested an operation to help prevent a heart attack but she’d declined because, as a consequence of the surgery, she’d need to go on dialysis permanently.

When her doctor vociferously told her that she’d die if she didn’t get this operation she told him, “I have to die of something!” After having miraculously come back from heart attacks a few times, she was making a last stand, choosing how she would die.

I planned to visit the hospital on Friday, but Thursday night she had a heart attack and was completely unconscious the next day. A doctor later told us that the last words she said as they rushed to save her were, “Let me go!”

Sunday morning I got a call that she was close to death. It was Mother’s Day. Heather was fighting bronchitis but recognized that I needed support, and she pulled herself together and accompanied me to the hospital.

Mom was all but gone. Heavily sedated. I thought she responded ever so slightly to my holding her hand. I thanked her for bringing me into the world, for raising me, for giving me love. I meant it, but of course our relationship was more complicated than I could speak about on her deathbed.

Dad, Lily, Pete, Dave, Heather and I stood around her. The decision was made to remove the dialysis machine they’d put on her—something she’d never wanted. The respirator was kept on. She’d never actually filled out the DNR form, but her wishes were known to all of us. The time for heroic measures was over.

I was first to notice her heart rate diving on the monitor, 51...47...34...it all happened so quickly...her breathing with the respirator continued steadily—in/out, in/out...the nurse came in, felt Mom’s wrists and said,
“There’s no pulse, just some electrical activity. I’ll take the respirator off, so it’ll be better for you.”

The family went outside while the intrusive apparatus was removed. Dad broke down and cried big time. I thought he should wait until Mom was really dead, but everyone else surrounded him, giving comfort. When we went back inside, Mom was still.

“She’s not breathing,” I said. Everyone looked at me in astonishment. “Is she...?”

“She went before. Didn’t you know?” Heather said.

Now I cried big time, a little behind the curve. I had convinced myself that while Mom had no pulse she could live a while longer. The electrical activity the nurse had spoken of meant she was alive. Removing the respirator would help her die more easily, I’d thought. “You know what Mom used to say to me?” I said. “‘You’re so smart, you’re stupid.’”

In addition to this funny comment, I was left to ponder the last few words Mom had said to me. Her disgust was probably not with me, but with herself, the world, her illness. She knew she was close to the end, though the Christmas before she’d said to us all, but staring at me, “No one ever thinks that it’s going to happen to them. Not really.”

I remembered the last actual conversation we had. She’d asked how and what I was doing, and I told her I was working on completing my one-person theatre piece, “Queerer Than Thou.”

She subtly, then not so subtly, denigrated my efforts. The gist of her remarks was: Where do you come off thinking you can do a musical theatrical piece all of a sudden? You’re not trained in music, you’re not this, you haven’t done that...etc.

“Have you ever seen me perform?” I asked, knowing the answer too well.

“No,” she said, having turned down every invitation I’d extended to see me read or perform.

“There’s something you don’t know,” I said. “I’m pretty good.”

“But it’s not Broadway,” she said.

No, it wasn’t, I admitted, leaving out what I thought of most Broadway plays. I didn’t say that after a five minute performance of an excerpt from “Queerer Than Thou” a man had written on a feedback form that my piece had “transformed my homophobia into revelation.” How I wished that I could have made that happen for her.

While I’d acquitted myself well enough in standing up to Mom’s negativity, I was still very hurt, and I’d need to summon a great deal of courage to continue work on “Queerer Than Thou.” I was reminded of another time Mom had undercut my efforts to become a writer. It was 1988, and I was speaking on the phone with Mom about my play, The Dust Bunny Murder, which was about to be produced at the Gay Center in New York.

“Ohh,” she sighed. “It’s so sad.”

“What’s sad?” I asked, confused.

“You could have been a writer.”

“Mom, what are you talking about? I did write this play. It’s going to be produced.” But she could not be dissuaded from thinking I’d failed to realize my potential, the same potential she’d tried to squelch when I was fourteen. I got off the phone dazed, hurt, damaged.

Only weeks after Mom dying I got the notion to self-publish Sanity’s Bane. Her death and my idea were intimately related. I had known about print-on-demand publishing, its affordability and practicability—a friend had published this way with great success—yet I’d never imagined it as a possibility for me until Mom died.

“The agreement with your mother not to tell secrets was stronger than you think,” my spiritual mentor, Eliane, told me. Eliane is someone I listen to seriously. She’d told me to call her soon after my 47th birthday, and I knew that something big was in store for me. I was scared, thought it might be a death.

I managed to put it out of my conscious mind for many months. But a week before my 47th birthday I had a dream. In recent years my dreams are usually sketchy and ephemeral, but this one was relatively long and complex, and I wrote it down as soon as I awoke.

Mom was dressed in black—young & pretty—but something was wrong.

“Oh, Vincent....”

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

She’s quiet.

“You can tell me.”

“I feel my mother inside me,” she says.

“What does this mean? How do you feel her inside you?”

“I feel cigarettes.” Mom begins to roll on the floor.

“You mean you’re craving cigarettes?”

She shakes her head hard, as if I don’t get it. “No one knows the truth,” she says, clearly in tremendous pain. She begins to spit up and cough. I try to help her, and a nurse coaches and encourages me.

“I know she’s your mother but you can change sides (meaning from her right to her left), you’re allowed to move her.”

I take off Mom’s jacket because it’s getting caught and she wants it off, but the nurse comments, “She’s been feverish, I don’t know if it should be off.”

I throw the jacket on top of Mom, along with the blanket already around her. As Mom seems to recover from the fit the nurse says to her, “You’ve got to make a choice between staying and getting ready to go.” Then she says more firmly, looking directly at her, “You’ve got to get ready to go.”

Mom died nineteen days after this dream, eleven days after my 47th birthday.

During the publication party for Sanity’s Bane, it was especially irking to me that my friend Jamie, during a toast to me, said, “Mrs. Collazo was not able to hang in another year to witness her son’s triumph. If she could somehow look down today, I’m sure she would be very proud.”

I held my tongue but my mind screamed—“No! She wouldn’t be proud. She’d be horrified. She’d try to stop me!” In a way, Sanity’s Bane was published on her grave.

2005 In August I attended the Lammas Gathering at Radical Faerie Camp Destiny in Vermont. During this week, I joined the Playback Theatre group facilitated by Mountaine. Playback Theatre is a process by which audience members relate incidents or stories from their lives and the actors “play it back” for the person and audience. The results of these stories being played back are often hilarious, and frequently moving, bringing insight to the person whose story is being re-told.

While rehearsing for our culminating Saturday afternoon performance, we, the actors, provided each other with the stories to play back. One sunny afternoon I offered up the story of Mother’s Day, when Mom told me Jonathan would not be welcome in my parents’ home.

I, as the storyteller, got to select the actors who would play the parts of Mom, Dad and me. Mountaine also decided there should be an actor who would play my Mother’s shadow—who would speak the things she was thinking but not saying. This proved to be a brilliant addition. The dialogue went something like this:

Vinny: Hi, Mom.

Mom: Hi Vinny. How are you?

Shadow Mom: Thank God he’s not here with that faggot Jim!

And later:
Vinny: I’ve met someone else.

Mom: Oh yeah?

Shadow Mom: I hope it’s a woman. Why can’t he be normal?!

As Mom’s Shadow spoke more, I realized that yes, she must really have been thinking things akin to what the Shadow was expressing. How else could she have treated me so shabbily?

The scene built towards the climactic moment, and the actor said, “I have my needs too.” But he didn’t shout it, as I did in real life, he stated it firmly, but with the vulnerability he’d expressed throughout, unlike the real Vinny. It felt healing to see my story played back in this fashion.

For me Mother’s Day now has a dark aspect so distant from the light, admiring poem I composed for Mom in my youth. I will carry to my death the knowledge that the last conversation I had with my mother consisted largely of her putting me down as a writer and performer. I will be sad and regretful on each Mother’s Day as I reflect upon her life and death. But this devastating experience will help me to be mindful of the things I say out loud, as well as question the things my Shadow-Self thinks. I will continue to write and perform, revealing some bitter and difficult family secrets along the way. I will never win my mother’s approval, admiration or respect, but through the imagination of art and the transformative power of love I can generate those things for myself, and pass them on to others.

Exogenetically Yours

At a family get-together some years ago, my brother Pete despondently asked, “What have I done with my life? I haven’t really accomplished anything.” Those gathered immediately demurred, pointing to his two youngest children seated at the table. This effectively quashed exploration of a valid and important inquiry. Was “having” children enough of a raison d’être for my brother? The simplest creatures on earth breed—ought we to be content with this, or are we after more? What are our children for?

1. Several women have wanted me to impregnate them, but for various reasons none have succeeded. My first brush with potential fatherhood came at the age of twenty-eight when Barbara asked me directly. At the time I was in a two-year relationship with Jonathan and Barbara had been involved with Janet a little longer.

“Janet’s baby crazy,” Barbara told me. “She really has to have one.” Her idea was for me to provide the sperm and for Barbara and Janet to raise the child, and I could be involved in the kid’s life to whatever extent I wished. This open-ended, low-responsibility set-up tickled a place in my mind, meshing with a fantasy of simply passing on my genes while neatly stepping around the messy business of parenting. I recognized that this is effectively what so many “absent” fathers did, whether they chose to remain in their offspring’s life or not. I judged myself for entertaining such a narcissistic notion, yet I was still attracted to the idea.

Jonathan was upset when I told him the plan, because he didn’t want me having sex with Janet. “We’re talking Lesbians here,” I told him. “Turkey baster—not intercourse.”

He still wasn’t thrilled. My having a child outside our relationship would, well, distract me from him. The allure of depositing my genes into a fertile repository and making my getaway wasn’t powerful enough to override the part of me that knew I would want to be involved in my child’s life. I didn’t feel prepared to be a good dad, and the disturbance the prospective infant was already causing between Jonathan and me was enough to tip the scale. I declined the flattering request. Childless, Barbara and Janet broke up within a year.

Five years later Jonathan and I considered adoption. We attended a workshop at the Gay Center. Will, the workshop leader, an adoptive father himself, explained that if we were persistent and could negotiate the paperwork and interviews, within two years we’d have a child. Over the next few months our resolve to adopt faltered and we didn’t follow through.

Three years later I got a call from Jan, my colleague at the Park Slope Food Coop. “I don’t know how to ask this except to come right out and say it,” Jan said. “Alyssa and I want to have a baby and we’re considering you as the father.” I was startled. I knew Jan only from work, and Alyssa I’d only met for about fifteen minutes at the Gay Pride March where I’d been dressed as a court jester; I made enough of an impression on Alyssa that she told Jan afterwards, “He’d make a great Daddy.”

This request/offer came with the hope that both Jonathan and I would be involved in parenting. The two couples met and we all spoke about what we each wanted from the situation and what we were willing to give to it. We all wanted to be a parent, but I sensed that the strongest desire came from Alyssa and myself. Rather than a clinical implantation of sperm, Jan and Alyssa fantasized a ritual in which Jonathan would help me ejaculate, then pass my sperm on to Jan who would then place it into Alyssa. Beautiful, I thought, all of us involved in the fertilization. But Jonathan was prudish about doing something sexual in front of others, and the proposed modifications weren’t to his liking, so that plan was nixed.

There were more serious obstacles—my hesitancy to get an HIV test prior to donating sperm, for instance. I’d never had the test because I thought them unnecessary, inaccurate and, more importantly, a political tool with dire ramifications, responsible for the deaths of thousands. I tried convincing the women that my health was apparent, and offered to take other tests demonstrating I was not infected with a deadly virus, but the mythology of AIDS latency is a strong one, and Jan especially was adamant about a test for HIV. I said I would consider getting tested—I wanted the baby that much.

But our plan to bring new life into the world was interrupted by our lives. I began an extramarital affair with Leslie and at virtually the same time Alyssa started an affair with Tim. Childless, Jan and Alyssa broke up within a year.

Leslie told me, before we got sexually involved, but when it was obvious that I was pursuing her, that she’d had a fantasy of having a baby for Jonathan and me. In her scheme Jonathan and I would be the parents but she, as birth mother, would be intimately involved. “I guess I was trying to figure out how I could fit into your life,” she said. Instead of the child, we had an affair.

A curious thing happened when Leslie and I had sex. My body wanted to make a baby. My mind knew better. Once we were involved, Leslie got over her baby fantasy, thus we always used a condom. And yet, as I pumped and glowed, I felt the urge to take off the condom...to give her my seed. I was shocked and appalled at my body’s craving. My instinct was base and ignorant, but it was loud and insistent.

My affair with Leslie was discovered, and I chose to continue my marriage and my affair. Childless, within a year I had broken up with my mistress and my husband.

Heather told me that at the beginning of our relationship she wanted to have my baby. And I, or at least my body, felt the same drive to procreate as I had with Leslie. Heather’s father, watching me playing with her niece and nephew, said to her, “You should have kids with him.” Good sense and birth control once again prevailed. We each had too much to accomplish to stop to have children.

A few years ago another lesbian acquaintance made a preliminary inquiry as to my willingness to be a sperm donor for her lover and her. I stopped her mid-sentence and said, “Two other lesbian couples have asked me this and both times they broke up within a year. I don’t want to jinx you—please don’t ask me this!” They have since adopted a boy and remain happily coupled.

2. This history of “near-misses” with fatherhood is meant to demonstrate that for me the issue has been tortuous. Now, however, I actively choose not to have children. I have often wondered: does this make me selfish? Am I not willing to devote my energy to the work of raising a child because I’d rather be free to play? Does childlessness equal childishness?

If we truly seek to gain more than mere transmission and recombination of our genes with (what we guess to be) suitable partners, then we must look outside our genes; we must consider exogenetics.

It is arguable that the process of natural selection has ceased for humankind, and a new “unnatural” selection has commenced, with people opting out and opting in to procreation for variegated reasons having little or nothing to do with survival of the species. Genes are essentially living information, which get passed on efficiently, with the ability to create something new, once combined with another’s genes or when exposed to a mutagenic agent. There are other ways to pass down information to future generations, perhaps more effectively and with greater impact. I’ve identified at least four categories of exogenetic transmission humans employ, each more esoteric than the next.

The first category is Person-to-Person. We experience the world and teach others what we know—parent to child, teacher to student, peer to peer—and thus information is preserved. In this regard the raising of children is an exogenetic component to an otherwise genetic happenstance, for it is in the process of parenting that who we are and what we value are most essentially passed on to our children (for better or worse).

The next method of exogenetic transmission is through artifacts, beginning with the first cave painting and continuing through to the latest video game. In between lie all manner of arts, writing, music and objects. Increasingly sophisticated artifacts will no doubt emerge, as the digital age morphs into something new and, at present, unimaginable.

I ask myself: which is more valuable to humanity—the thirty-seven plays of William Shakespeare or his forty-six strands of DNA? Do we really believe that his clone would become a great playwright? The accretion of experiences is what makes a person, in combination with whatever genes are inherited (certainly I won’t declare genetics plays no role in who we become).

The third category of exogenetic transmission is “memes.” This term, coined by ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, denotes a cultural unit of information (whether a custom or idea) imparted verbally or by repeated action, from one mind to another. A meme is to a culture as a gene is to a person. Some examples of memes: popular songs & commercial jingles, catch-phrases, beliefs, the manner in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, clothing-fashions. Collections of individuals create a culture, and the individual parts of the culture consist of memes. Person-to-Person and the Use of Artifacts are both a large part of forging a culture, but where memes are concerned an individual’s contribution is secondary to the collective’s acceptance or rejection of their ideas. Mores trump morals.

The fourth, most esoteric (perhaps controversial) of my categories of exogenetic transmission is the Collective Unconscious, defined as a part of the unconscious mind, shared by humanity, which is the product of ancestral experience. Religion and morality would be contained in the Collective Unconscious as well as other archetypes (patterns of thought or symbolic imagery). I believe, unlike Jung, that the Collective Unconscious is a dynamic system with which we can and do interact—that new archetypes are created through our development. But, as in the case of memes, the individual’s contribution to this process is most often minimal or nonexistent—like ants building a colony, wherein “some” of the “hole” is greater than its parts.

As the categories broaden, the individual’s influence becomes increasingly diffuse. I’m certain better and more disciplined thinkers than myself will advance other categories and more complex concepts than I have described here.

With this array of means to “pass myself down” I cannot bemoan for too long the fact that my particular gene set will not move on—though since I have four nephews and a niece sharing a semblance of my structure (my brother and sister having garnered their genetic code from precisely the same pool as I), my general genetic info will continue. Outside of the egoistic act of cloning, there is always a simultaneous dissipation and augmentation of genes, since they must combine and share their fate with the other half of the zygote. It seems to me that exogenetic transmission actually holds better hope than mating for passing on a bit of my essence more clearly and wholly, and then allowing the receivers of that information to enrich and/or dilute it as they choose.

3. I recently found out that an older man in a building in which I work had passed away. We’d had brief, uncomfortable encounters in the hall and on the street. He was crotchety, but beyond that I’d not known anything about his life, or even his name. Through an announcement on the bulletin board in the hall I found out he’d been an art professor at Pratt Institute. A memorial was planned and a website devoted to his work was created. I found the testimonials on the website to be in sync with my experience of him. Professor G was a hard man—he “inspired” students by breaking them down and being nasty. I realized through these descriptions that I’d actually met him thirteen years prior when, as a model for art classes, I left Professor G’s class thoroughly disgusted by his treatment of his students and me.

The ever-so-brief biographical info on the website mentioned he’d been married from 1955-1965, and had begun teaching at Pratt in 1966. I imagine heartbreak from his divorce. I speculate whether ten years of the kind of arrogant condescension he meted out to his students was all his ex-wife could stand. I wonder if he became even more bitter after the break-up and threw his life into his art and students—several students commented on the website what a privilege it was when the Professor would invite them to lunch or dinner, but it seems to me he used them to fill up his life a bit. He was, in my experience, a lonely, fearful man, who used his position to bully.

A quote from an interview with Professor G: “...when you're lying stiff in a box and they put a lily across your chest, all that matters is the body of work you've left behind.” I’ve thought this at times, but I no longer agree. Every piece of advice, kind act, harsh word, each choice we make from the myriad of options which present themselves during the course of our lives, leaves traces and impressions upon the world. My work is a byproduct of and an important part of my life, but it does not supersede it. If I create great work but become miserable in the process, then this is not success, in my estimation. It is a considerable accomplishment for one’s work to inspire and edify those alive now and those to come, but if this edification does not include me then what, precisely, is the point? I hope to leave behind not only my work, but also my play. Love, I believe, is a benign contagion which creates its own momentum wherever it flowers. May my exogenetic descendants bask in it.

Eulogy for Heather--New Jersey funeral service


Some of you may have been surprised that Heather chose a church for this service, because although she grew up as a Protestant and a Quaker, she wasn’t really Christian. On the other hand, Heather believed in reincarnation, but wasn’t a Hindu; she worshipped nature, but wasn’t a Shintoist; she wasn’t Jewish but when her cat José died we sat shiva for him for a day (it was a beautiful ritual); she admired the Dalai Lama but wasn’t Buddhist; she participated in many goddess-based rituals with the Radical Faeries but wasn’t Wiccan. Heather was spiritually, as in other aspects of her life, a great synthesizer. She developed and pursued her own faith, and she would say right now that she has returned to the Source.

Our neighborhood friend Jackie, when she found out about Heather’s worsening health said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask, but ‘why her?’” When someone dies relatively young it’s natural to ask why, but none of us are ever privileged to possess that information. But I would like to address the question of How—which I didn’t write about much or at all in my many email updates. How did this come to happen to Heather?

It begins with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. In the wake of that horrific event, Heather volunteered to help the people who were involved in the clean-up by offering her hands to give Jin Shin Jyutsu—the Japanese healing art, a form of acupuncture without needles, by which she made her living the past nine years. The workers came to her directly from Ground Zero, covered in dust, and Heather worked with them in that state. At the end of one of those sessions with a firefighter her arm had a large rash on it, and she knew something had happened to her. Recently she said, “I guess I made a mistake going down there.” I told her that wanting to help people was never a mistake, but that the people in charge of the clean-up and of the bodywork program to assist the workers should have protected her. And that she should have protected herself more. In the days immediately following the towers falling she was worried about me being outside all day breathing in the toxic air, and lent me her respirator so that I would be safe. I, in turn, didn’t want her traveling to Manhattan, but when it came time for her volunteer effort, even if someone had told her the danger she was placing herself in, she wouldn’t have stopped, any more than a firefighter would hesitate when informed that the building they were rushing into to get people out was in danger of collapsing.

She is a litigant in the World Trade Center class action suit, which the city has settled and we are awaiting approval of the ten thousand people involved in the case. The defendants (chiefly the City of New York) are fairly anxious to settle this case, as I believe Heather and the thousands of other plaintiffs are only the first to suffer the results of this gross neglect. I’m afraid there are many more who will endure pain similar to Heather’s. In contrast, the workers who cleaned up the Pentagon after its 9/11 attack wore hazmat suits. It’s clear to me why these two sites were handled differently. In New York City the image of clean-up crews wearing this cumbersome equipment would have been a detriment to getting our citizens to believe it was safe to return to work downtown.

Leukemia, like other cancers, has a better prognosis when discovered early. A key factor is determining the outcome is the size of the spleen. By the time she was diagnosed Heather’s spleen was two and a half times its normal size, and doctors by the dozen were being called in to palpate it, because it was so rare for them to have a chance to feel a spleen from the outside of the body.

After 9/11 Heather left the corporate world and had no health insurance. A routine blood test would have revealed the disease, but she felt she couldn’t afford regular check-ups. National Health Insurance, if we ever get it, will come too late for Heather. There were other missed opportunities to discover her leukemia, but I’d like to describe just one more. We were in Vermont at Faerie Camp Destiny and Heather had tremendous pain in her abdomen. There was a physician’s assistant in the community who gave her an informal exam and told her it seemed like appendicitis and that she should get to an emergency room soon. The nearest hospital he recommended was a two-hour drive, but he said we had enough time to return to Brooklyn. Our friends helped us pack our tent and camping gear and I drove. Heather didn’t want to go to the hospital. I told her she had to, but as we approached New York she felt better and better as she administered Jin Shin Jyutsu on herself, and by the time we arrived she had completely resolved the pain, and over my strong objection, she did not go to the ER. This was in 2007, seven months before her diagnosis. If she’d gone to the hospital, she’d have received earlier treatment, her spleen would not have swelled and she’d probably be alive today.

But when we spoke about this, even to the end, Heather never regretted not going to the hospital, because if she had, she believed that she would not have been able to compete with Women In Sync, a synchronous ice skating team, because some of the moves they did were too dangerous. It was that important to her. Heather was not a morning person by any stretch, but she set her alarm for three a.m. so that she could practice with the team in Central Park at six a.m. Just three months before her diagnosis she traveled to Richmond, Virginia to compete in the Eastern Sectionals, the highest level for her division, and her team placed fourth. She did this with her undetected leukemia, with an enlarged spleen which if she’d collided with another skater could have burst and killed her instantly, and with only a 65 per cent oxygen level. The bliss she had while skating was enormous, really indescribable. She was fulfilling a childhood dream that she didn’t realize she’d had until she was 42, after I’d bought her a pair of skates for Christmas. 

If I had a choice, I would have chosen for Heather to go to the ER, but in the thirteen years I knew her, Heather consistently chose quality of life over quantity of anything. She again made that choice when she came home for hospice care. She probably could have lived a few more months had she stayed at the hospital. But we had a glorious two weeks at home before she began to decline.  I do believe that whenever possible life is meant to be lived in glory and joy, and though she had a hard life before I met her, I am very grateful that she had so much happiness since then.

Thirteen years is a long time, a nice chunk of one’s life, but I expected to live with Heather for at least another twenty or thirty years. But I don’t feel cheated, I don’t, because Heather and I spent so much time together. You know how when love is new, the lovers will sequester themselves away from the world, because they want to spend every moment in intimate connection. Heather and I never really moved past that “phase” and we organized our lives so that we spent all but a few hours in a given day with each other. If we didn’t get out to see our friends as much as we could have, it’s because we were always desperate for each other’s company. We were together probably three or four times as much as a typical couple, so I figure our relationship was the equivalent of having spent 40 or 50 years together. And that’s not bad at all.

One of the things I truly liked about Heather is that whenever I asked for her opinion, I never knew what she was going to say. Most people, including myself, have certain parameters of thought within which you can guess where they might come down on any given issue. But Heather was a reliable source of surprise.

Heather was a gentle soul, but as our friend Donna Minkowitz wrote on her Facebook page, she was also “unrepentantly angry at abusers.” And she had the fierceness to stand up to them. Heather had a tremendous gift for empathy, making her more sensitive to people’s needs, and greatly in touch with their pain. She was easily hurt, but not easily defeated; delicate, but not fragile.

Before I met Heather I wrote, but her encouragement and passion for my writing made me truly consider myself a writer. Anything I have written and anything I will write, for better or worse, is also part of her legacy.

I’d like to share with you the song I wrote for Heather for her birthday, this past July 10th. It’s not the best song I've written for Heather, but it is the last. I sang it to her in the hospital, and I sang it to her a few times since, including her final day. I’ve got so many songs constantly running through my head that I never know if the tune I’ve chosen is original or unintentionally borrowed. This music seems very familiar to me, though I don’t know what it might be, but if you recognize it as another song, I’d like you to think of it as homage rather than theft. It’s called “Shine and Rise.”




Shine & Rise
 © Copyright 2010 by Vincent Collazo

I’ve known you for a thousand, thousand seasons
Made love to you a thousand, thousand times
And if you need another million reasons
I’ll line ’em up for you & make ’em rhyme

And shine, shine, shine
Your lovely amber light
Every night I’m with you I’m all right
And when you climb
Up to the highest height
Look around you’ll find me by your side

For you spark my energy
When my batteries are runnin’ low
And you light my destiny
When I think I cannot see tomorrow

For you I’d carry water ’cross the desert
Or swim the English Channel once or twice
No monsoon earthquake twister flood could ever
Stop me, can’t be bought at any price

And fly, fly, fly
May brilliant purple plumes
Carry you where health is always nigh
And when you do
Stand steady on that site
You’ll find that I’m still right next to you

A thousand thousand seasons I have known you
A thousand thousand times have we made love
A thousand million reasons I have told you
a million million rhymes are not enough
a million million rhymes are not enough


(fading) And shine, shine, shine
Your lovely amber light
Every night I’m with you I’m all right...

Eulogy for Heather--Brooklyn Memorial

Thanks to all of you for coming tonight. Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX) is an appropriate setting for this memorial for Heather. Just down the hall she took swing dance lessons; downstairs she took a self-defense class with Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts; we attended a number of theatrical performances here and Heather co-directed me in my one-person show, “Queerer Than Thou,” which was performed right in the space we’re sitting in now. She also led two workshops at BAX for her unnamed work that she received from her mentor, Eliane Siqueira, which I describe as energy and chakra movement and development. And this past February, just one month before she went into the hospital, she volunteered to participate in a benefit for Brooklyn Arts Exchange by giving a full day of Jin Shin Jyutsu & Trager Approach energy & bodywork.

Heather was a researcher who was nationally recognized for her work with Early Head Start at the University of Pittsburgh. Heather was a researcher not only by vocation, but also by nature. And the subject of her longest, most massive and detailed research project was...little old me. This investigation started shortly after we met when she proofed me for my age, requiring me to show her my driver’s license. But it didn’t end there. Heather was thorough, and as a way of getting to know me she listened to all my CD’s (over a hundred at the time) by taking them from the CD tower and playing a couple every day. Some of them were gifts I hadn’t listened to yet, and I felt I might be judged by music I hadn’t even heard. One day I was working at the Park Slope Food Coop and an office worker doing her shift with me mentioned that a woman with long hair had stopped her in the stairway and asked, “Do you know Vinny who’s a coordinator here?” Heather proceeded to ask her all kinds of questions about me. How long had she known me? Was I a good guy? What was I like to work with? Etc. That was one I knew about—who knows how many other people she randomly stopped and brain-picked. And Heather would ask me questions, often the same questions, sometimes days, months or years apart. I thought at first she repeated her inquiries because she had poor memory—it took me a while to realize that she was cross-referencing my current answers against my prior responses. Heather came by this mistrust legitimately—having just escaped from a 15-year relationship that was abusive on every level.

I’m pretty allergic to cats, so when Heather & I decided to move in together she offered to find her 9-year-old cat José a new home. “You can’t do that!” I said, “José’s your cat—you love each other too much.” I thought this was a marvelous gesture on her part, a testament of her love for me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that her offer was not a testament but a test—if I’d have agreed to her giving up José, she probably would have broken up with me. (Whew!)
Earlier this year, after Heather had been in the hospital about four months, we were sitting quietly and out of nowhere she began to sing to me. It was a song she was spontaneously composing as she sang, and I was so stunned I couldn’t really focus enough to remember much of it. But it was tremendously sweet and it went something like this:
Please don’t—leave me, 
’Cause I really want you to be here, 
Please do—stay with me, 
’Cause I love the way that you’re lovin’ me...

... And as she sang I realized, and Heather later confirmed, that in that moment she’d chosen to end her research project on me. She’d concluded that, you know, I was okay. Actually, it was in that moment that she really and truly got me, and without any doubts or shadows from her past fully understood how much I loved her. And I was so grateful that we had that.

Despite the doubts Heather had, which did not haunt her continuously, we really did have a magical life together. And I’ve been wondering lately if it’s true that magical love doesn’t last. Or maybe if love does last, it ceases to be magical. But I don’t think that’s true—Heather and I were deep in our romance after 13 years, there’s really no reason for me to think that if she’d lived we wouldn’t have gone on with our heads in the clouds for another 20, 30 or 50 years. There’s a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey comes back to town after having seen what life would have been without him, and he finally sees his wife Mary. George holds her and says, “Are you real, Mary?” Every now and then, I’d look over at Heather, just sitting there eating or reading and I’d come up to her and say, “Are you real, Heather? Are you real?” My daily life with her was that magical.

We didn’t have our first argument until we’d been together for more than a year—partly this was because we got along so well, but part of it was because we were both being extremely gentle with each other, having both so recently come from difficult relationships. I don’t want to over-idealize our relationship—like everyone else, we had our problems. We had rifts so great that they threatened to break us up. But always, throughout the worst times, we had a deep passion for each other, and that, along with some hard work, always got us through. 

As a birthday present my cousin Tennille gave me an astrological page that described many of my qualities, I thought fairly accurately. At the bottom of the page were two birth dates that would be ideally compatible with me. One of them was July 10th—Heather’s birthday. I took great comfort in this. It’s nice when a pseudo-science can back up what you already believe. For Heather’s birthday Tennille gave her a similar astrological page, which again accurately described Heather’s qualities. But at the bottom of the page my birth date did not appear as one of her ideal compatibles. So Heather was ideal for me, but I wasn’t for her.

This rang true in one important way. Heather, as you have seen in the video presentation, loved to dance, and while I can flail away with the best of them in a club, I don’t really like partnered dancing, which was what Heather was interested in. I tried. I took some salsa lessons, and then some Argentine tango lessons. Tango was Heather’s favorite and the one dance I liked—I even took a private tango lesson, but I’d forget everything I learned within a couple of weeks. It just wasn’t for me. Maybe I should have tried harder to please her.

In the last two months in the hospital, Heather lost a great deal of muscle tone. Her legs were atrophied from disuse due to pain. So in order to get out of bed to sit in a chair or use the commode, I had to support her by holding her elbows and in lifting, pivoting and moving with her as she turned and shuffled to her destination, we were at long last dancing together. And that’s what we called this synchronous movement which we had to do many times a day and night—our dance.

I want to share with you one more talent that Heather had—and it’s one that you don’t put into a proper obituary: Heather could find four-leaf clovers. And I’m going to share with you the secret to finding four-leaf clovers, though it can’t truly be transmitted by words. The secret is to not only believe there are four-leaf clovers to be found, but to know that they are there. And the only sure way to know it is to experience it. Before I met her, Heather met a guy who said he would find a four-leaf clover, walked into a field of clovers and within a couple of minutes found one. After seeing this Heather was able to consistently find four-leaf clovers—the last four-leaf clover Heather found she gave to our friends Martín and Gabriela as a gift to their newborn daughter Abril. It’s framed and is on display in their apartment. Of course Heather’s ability to find four-leaf clovers was assisted by her super-sharp vision. About a year and a half ago, when she was having some trouble with her eyes, her vision was measured at 20/15. But even I, with my 20/200 vision, after seeing Heather find four-leaf clovers, I too finally found one. And then I did her two better—in that same field I found a six-leaf clover.

We were going to see some friends that night and I wanted to share with them my extraordinary find, so I plucked it, put it in a Tupperware container and stored it in the fridge. Heather said I should put some water in the container but I, knowing better, said it would be just fine. Of course, hours later when I went to retrieve the six-leaf clover it was completely shriveled into an unrecognizable green clump. Heather didn’t say “I told you so” but when I asked she explained why it hadn’t been preserved.

Now Heather is gone and there are no witnesses to my having found a six-leaf clover, so you can choose either to believe me or attribute it to Vinny myth-making. It doesn’t matter what you believe, because I did even better than that: those of you who knew her know that in Heather I found an eight-leaf clover. And having seen that with your eyes, I wish to enjoin you all, if you haven’t already, to find your own eight-leaf clover. And also, to strive to become, ourselves, eight-leaf clovers, so that there will always be some out there to find.

I closed the funeral service in New Jersey by singing the last song I wrote for Heather, and tonight I’d like to close by singing you the first song I wrote for her. When Heather was home for hospice care I sang this song to her and she had her eyes closed, I thought she was asleep but figured I should keep on singing. About halfway through I got caught up in the emotion of the song, and in remembering all the hope and joy we had that first year together I broke down and began to cry. Still with eyes closed Heather said, “Hang in there, Vinny.” And so I sucked it up and finished the song, because she wanted to hear it. So if I get caught up tonight when I sing this, please feel free to say aloud, “Hang in there, Vinny.” I hope I don’t, because I really want you to hear it the way Heather did when I first sang it to her twelve years ago. 

The song is called, “Heather’s Celtic Waltz,” but it’s not really a waltz, because what do I know from waltzes? And it’s not really Celtic, ’cause I’m kinda Puerto Rican, but it is about Heather. That it is.


Heather’s Celtic Waltz
(c) Copyright 1998 by Vincent Collazo, all rights reserved.

Once upon a time my love
I dreamt of you without knowing how
the stars reconfigurate, transform a seed
for witches and warlocks and lovers in need

When mortal spirits recognize
a sister once lost, a brother tossed off
the Universe lets loose and sighs
and with that breath, we live aloft

Here and now, or there and then
the magic we cook feeds our destiny
faeries and angels and shamans descend
join voices to souls and with me they sing

Heather’s moved in with me
I can’t begin to be
Happier than I already am
And if you want me to
I will sing unto you
every night ’til you understand

And once a dream comes true
in waking hours we face a test
how to keep it renewed
or follow the vision wherever we’re led

Joy, hope, intensity
In my daily life with you
I have propensity
Towards ecstasy, rapture and playing the fool

Witches and warlocks and lovers in need
can stew in a cauldron of love ’til they bleed
the world is aghast, when two are so blessed
the fruition of paradise can’t be assessed

Heather’s in love with me   
could you but only see
half of what is driving me glad
you’d make an encampment
of mirth and enchantment
love is the only gift you’ll always have

Heather’s moved in with me
I can’t begin to be
Happier than I already am
And if you want me to
I will sing unto you
every night ’til you understand