Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Velvet Rage

An interesting read today, more of psychology of a group of people, gay men, in Alan Downs’ book the The Velvet Rage.  Downs, a gay psychologist who works with gay men, uses lessons learned from his clients and shares themes and the three stages of “gay men” development.  He begins the book by sharing the “roots of rage” that develop in young boys and how the slow process of coming out occurs in most men.  His hypothesis is that there are three stages that gay men go through: dealing with shame, compensating for the shame they feel, and how a gay man needs to develop authenticity to become “self-actualized.”  He provides in-depth examples from the lives of his clients to support his theory.  The stories are vivid and tell of a self-damning culture that exists for most gay men.  Downs does generalize his findings often and not being a researcher on the topic, I am left with the feeling that this is the norm for ALL gay men, though in some ways that leaves me feeling a level of discomfort.  There is little to no quantitative data shared by Downs as it relates to sexual violence or abuse that he discusses in the book, (or for any other claim he makes), which I think provides some serious shortcomings to the book. Yes I am a quantitative guy, but I realize that in issues as sensitive as this a quantitative study may not provide the level of depth or intricacies as qualitative data does. He provides ten lessons that gay men should follow to get to stage 3 and beyond: don’t let your sexual tastes be the filter for allowing people in your life, adopt a nonjudgmental stance as often as possible, when you have a problem with someone, speak first with him/her about it fist (instead of everyone else), it’s never a bad idea to be completely honest about the facts, others are often put off by perfection (in this context especially the obsession he sees in gay male’s with the male body), don’t act on every emotion you feel, put off having sex until you feel comfortable that you really know him, actively practice accepting your body as it is right now, intentionally validate those you love, but never validate the invalid, and finally, whenever you encounter a relationship problem, fist assess your own responsibility before blaming someone else. Reviewing these tips… darn, they are great for gay men, straight men, lesbians, and straight women!  This was a very quick read and provided an insight into the more recent gay male culture from the perspective of one psychologist.  I can’t say how applicable it is to a generation of gay men, but it certainly provided some insights I had not had in my thinking on the topic.  Again, not much scientific research to support his work, so I can’t say I buy all that he is sharing here.  I think it would be very interesting to discuss this with men living in the age range of the men Downs draws his hypothesis.  Helpful read nonetheless.

Monday, September 29, 2014


A gripping real life story of a boy growing up in Sighet, a town north of Transylvania during the height of World War 2.  Elie Wiesel shares the atrocities that he and his family faced when this Jewish community in Hungary was invaded by the Nazi Germans in 1944.  What follows in his book, Night, is the horrific reflection of the “night” that went on and wouldn’t end.  From the beginning something’s about to happen, a former community member who had been apprehended and escaped, came back to warn everyone, but people paid him little heed.  No one thought the horrific stories he told of burning bodies, shootings of innocent people, or starving corpses could ever occur in the twentieth century.  And then on March 18, 1944 at midnight, all changed for the Wiesel family and all of their community when they were herded out like animals out of their homes and transported from town to town and left at concentration camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald to face the most abominable images one can ever imagine… family members separated and led to crematoriums, pits of half-dead/dead corpses, or to work camps.  Elie and his family were separated, the three sisters and mother led to their death while his father and he were brought to a camp.  For the next year and a half Elie shares his fight against himself, humanity, and God trying to somehow survive when everyone around him was starving, being shot to death, or burned alive.  To read this book raises so many questions about how evil is still around us on Earth today.  Elie and his father make it through the seasons of heat and bitter cold, rations that would not satisfy a bird, and the dehumanizing of an entire population.  To think that there were world leaders who supported this unthinkable action is beyond words.  This is a heartbreaking story that disgusts the reader on the unfathomable lengths evil takes on the world.  The images and details conveyed are too much to comprehend.  Every person needs to read this book so that we as a society never become complacent on the worst a human can be.  To think he and his father made it through for so long, and his father to die at the very last days before being released from the horror is unthinkable.  Elie Wiesel, a man whose story lives on so other stories like this can be stopped.  A fitting time to read this book during the time of atonement for the Jewish religion, but so much more for those who intentionally committed horrors against the Jewish people.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Black No More

A really interesting concept shared in this 1931 classic book by George Schulyer called Black No More.  At the height of the racial divide in the United States, Schulyer, an African American journalist who held some socialist views, shares the challenges facing black members of society by offering this satirical work.  The story shares how Max Disher transforms his life when noted scientist, Dr. Crookman, offers a new scientific technique to change all features of black people to become Caucasian!  Max has just left a New Year’s Eve dinner event where he approached a single white woman for a dance and is rebuffed because of his skin color.  After years of being held down by society, Max is the first one in line with his $50 to attempt the procedure (which takes three days to complete).  Alas!  Max walks out as the new “Matthew Fisher,” a white man, sells his story to the local magazine, takes the money and heads to Atlanta to start a new life.  As Matthew Fischer, he gets involved in an organization that attempts to keep white and black people separate, meets the leader (a former KKK leader), gets hired to run the new initiatives, and ends up marrying the man’s daughter (who is the same woman who rejected him at the nightclub in NYC on New Year’s Eve!).  The two marry and of course life doesn’t end happily ever after.  One challenge with the new process of changing skin color is that babies revert to the dominate genes of the parent, so for many children, having the dominate gene will mean the child will be born with black skin and features of black people.  Luckily for Max, his old friend from Harlem, Bunny, also heads south (after becoming white) and helps Max during numerous challenges he faces with the birth of a child, the running for political office, and assisting with the merger with a neo-conservative group who wants to rid the nation of the new procedure and of blacks in society.  Wow, a lot here.  While I won’t give away the ending on this one, I will say, Schuyler’s work is utter brilliance!  What a concept to make us appreciate the differences and how frightening it would be for us to “remove” humans because they look, or think a certain way.  In the novel, as the country becomes more white, there is no longer visible a “lower class” of people to be pawns for the elite white of the day.  Schuyler also presents in the development of the Presidential election caricatures of prominent black leaders of the day.  A great social commentary of the day which could be replaced with filling in the “blank” for other groups who are oppressed as well, though we clearly have yet to “solve” the issue of race relations in this nation.  I encourage all leaders to think through the implications suggested in this novel and what can we do as a society to ensure we don’t go down this road of making everyone “the same,” because in the end, we just aren’t.  We need to appreciate the differences and move on.  Reads as a simple shorter story, but there is a lot of nuggets in this one that has me thinking over and over where we are today.  Thanks for suggesting. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014


I feel hungry after reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked.  This is my second read of an RA Favorite from Pollan.  Yes, I have met Michael through his father, Stephen, whom I call my coach and inspiring wise mentor!  Knowing Michael was always a writer/journalist, but jumped into the “food scene” just about a decade ago, is astonishing as he seems to be the guru of all things cooking.  In this book, rather than going out to find his meal like he did in his first book, Omnivoure’s Dilemma, Pollan decides to learn how to cook his meals.  What a great idea, especially for someone who is not a cook.  Pollan explores the four classic elements of cooking: fire, water, air, and earth.  Each section gives a “deep-dive” providing in depth learning from experts (some known, most not to the general public) who take Pollan in to share their learnings.  From the hog pit in the Carolinas, to Europe to bake breads, to the caves where shark lay months in fermented state, and brewing beer with his son in their basement, Pollan takes the reader every step of the way, sharing recipes and hints about preparing foods (and drinks) through lessons shared by the teachers.  He has done his homework in presenting the main ways to prepare food and done so in a way that includes his family, and a few times his community.  I love the historical perspectives that Pollan shares throughout the book.  The reader learns how to improve their skills and the importance of people preparing their own foods, rather than the processed foods made to accommodate our hectic lifestyles.  Read those ingredient panels on the side of foods in the supermarket.  Pollan is at the top of his game once again.  I was able to listen to this one, a great suggestion should you want to make the food as you listen.  I was slightly grossed out by much of the fermentation section of the book. I’ll pass on the sauerkraut!  Foodies, this is your heaven!  Stephen Pollan, you never surprise me as a father…. giving your son a pet pig to raise in a NYC apartment?? Love it!  For those who want to hear about the present Stephen sent me for my apartment, let’s chat!  A great investigative read on a topic everyone needs to know about… food!  Highly recommend!

Friday, September 26, 2014


As I often ask RAs, “what’s your favorite book?”… always get at least one Tisch acting student who gives me a play.  No worries, I’ll read it.  This one was actually pretty darn good.  The play is originally called “Incendies” but is translated into English and titled: Scorched, written by Wajdi Mouawad.  The play takes place after the death of Nawal, the mother of twins, Janine and Simon.  The twins arrive to listen to the reading of their mother’s last will and testament.  Their mother leaves them two letters behind, one for their “father” and one for their “brother” – whom they were not aware of having.  This has the two children journey to their homeland to find out the history their mother never shared with them, what they find will shock them.  During their journey they meet numerous people who remember their mother, not for anything she did, but for her beautiful voice.  She was imprisoned at one point in her early life, gave birth to the twins, and the twins were condemned to death, but what happened?  The twins were saved by one of the men on watch at the prison who gave the children away.  The journey brings the children to face a dangerous and frightening past for their mother.  I won’t reveal the final secret of Nawal, which will destroy the memory of their brother AND their father.  This play has a real Ancient Greek feel to the play.  All I can say is I did not see this ending coming.  Love to see it staged.  Lots of “forward and back” look at Nawal’s life throughout.  Worth a read for you play lovers.