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.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Eclipso (1997 - 2015)


(Originally published November 29, 2015)

Dear Ones,
I want to let everyone know that this past Friday my dog Eclipso died as a result of an undetermined cancer. Eclipso had just turned 18 and enjoyed, I hope, a good life as well as a lengthy one. Heather and I found her in a garbage ditch while staying at a bed & breakfast in Ceiba, Puerto Rico--and she never quite gave up her penchant for eating garbage. (As a puppy she especially liked used chewing gum and cigarette filters!) She was born without a tail and was such an unusual-looking and striking dog that on more than one occasion someone stopped their car to shout out: “What kind of dog is that?!” We could hardly walk around the block without being asked this question; the truth was that she was some sort of mix, but people wanted a better answer so Heather and I invented a breed: the tail-less East Caribbean Garbagi [pronounced Gar-BAH-zhee]. Such a lofty name deserved a back story so we gave her that too; this “breed” was originally bred to sniff out errant unexploded bombs from U.S. Navy training missions in Vieques. It was a wicked lie, which most people accepted with a nod, and some would say knowingly, “Oh, a Garbagi.” When one guy said flat out to me, “That’s not a breed” I quickly retorted, “Well it’s not officially recognized by the American Kennel Club but we’re hoping the paperwork will get through this year, so keep your fingers crossed.”
At the Dome, in Connecticut

Eclipso’s best friend was my other dog, Vanya, and she played plentifully with Heather’s cat José. She’d follow Heather around our apartment throughout the day and knew her as “Mommy” as that’s what I would tell Eclipso she was called, as in “Here’s Mommy!” and “Go to Mommy,” etc. But because Heather didn’t reciprocate by telling Eclipso I was “Daddy,” I remained nameless to my dog. I think she thought of me as some canine version of “that guy”--that guy who took her on walks, made her food, took her (yikes!) to the vet, and otherwise cared for her. Eventually, she and I were the only two left from our original family of five, and she kept an extra-sharp eye on me, always expecting me (I imagine) to abandon her, or disappear. In the past year when I was brushing my teeth at night, Eclipso would come from her bed into the bathroom to make sure I was still there, and then, satisfied, would return to bed. Sometimes she’d check on me two or three times until I finished my dental hygiene.

Eclipso, age 15, at the top of High Tor


The past year was a tough one for her as her arthritic back legs wouldn’t hold her up very well, (despite glucosamine sulfate with MSM, Chinese herbs, acupuncture, rimadyl, etc.) but she improved once the summer humidity abated and she was walking fairly well around the block up until the day before she died. When she was 16½ she went on a 2-3 hour hike to Leatherman’s Cave in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, New York, holding her own with the six humans accompanying her. This past Thanksgiving morning Eclipso had the rally which so often occurs prior to the end of a life. She was up and walking and greeted my brother and father, hung out in the kitchen while Julia, her mother Bonnie and I cooked, mooching and getting in the way, as she always had. It was wondrous--lasted about 7-8 hours before she again began to decline. She died in our home at 2:35 the following afternoon, five minutes before her scheduled vet appointment, which I had finally decided to use as an opportunity to euthanize my darling dog. But she was able to die on her own, before we could leave for the vet, and while it was difficult, I was relieved not to have to follow through with the horrific choice to take her life, and grateful that Julia and I were present at the moment of Eclipso’s death, along with her vet, Rebecca Stronger, who joined us by phone.

In 2003, after Vanya died, (also at home and on her own, without euthanasia) Eclipso was despondent. When I fed her breakfast Eclipso looked up at me as if something was amiss and made no move toward her food; I knew something was wrong because, unless she was tremendously sick, Eclipso never turned down a morsel, much less a meal. I was puzzled for a long minute but I finally figured it out.
Eclipso & Vanya, circa 2000
Eclipso was used to having Vanya on her left when she ate--so I picked up her bowl and put it in Vanya’s place and Eclipso then chowed down as usual. Heather said, “Wow. Now we know how to honor the dead: by taking their place.” I have tried, since Heather died, in some small ways, to take her place, though I fear I’ve fallen far short of the mark. Now I must find some manner to fill Eclipso’s paw prints, though I am currently at a loss as to what that will look like.

When Julia first met Eclipso four years ago she thought to herself, Oh, this dog doesn’t
Chillin' in Greenwich, CT
have very long to live. She was wrong, as Eclipso eclipsed her expectations and wormed her way into Julia’s heart. Eclipso would mooch at the table from Julia, but though she wouldn’t give her any food, Eclipso persisted.

“Why does she keep asking me for food--I never giver her anything.”

I responded, “She knows what she’s doing.”

Eventually Julia broke down and became Eclipso’s Chief Advocate for Extra Food. Because of her sensitive digestion I had to limit what Eclipso ate. “But can’t she have a little egg?” Julia would ask me.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“Didn’t you want to let her lick your cereal bowl scraps?”

Julia worked for Eclipso.

It’s fitting that Eclipso died on Thanksgiving weekend--a reminder to me of how thankful I am to have had her in my life. Our time together spanned the very beginning of my relationship with Heather, Heather’s illness and subsequent death, and the start of what I hope to be a lifelong relationship with Julia, who immediately received the Eclipso Good Vibe Person Seal of Approval. She was a weird little dog, who was a holy terror as a pup and a sweet tolerant elder dog--and lots else between the extremes. She will be in my heart for as long as it beats, in my mind as long as it remembers and in my soul for as long as spirit survives. Thanks Eclipso, for being Eclipso--no one could have done it better.

ALIASES: Clipper, Clipso, Clippy, Clipso-Facto, Clipper-Dip, Dippersmith, Clip, Tip-Tap, Dances for Food (her Native American name), Your Little Friend


All photos by Julia Fischer

Stealing another dog's bed

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.
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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.