Freedom to Think and Liberty to Act

This morning I was grabbed by a news discussion on NPR about how some groups consider that proposed anti-discrimination legislation would infringe on their constitutionally ordained freedom of religion. Such legislation would in no way prevent these groups from thinking or believing whatever they want, however good or vile, loving or hateful that might be.

That spurious claim of infringement is based on a confusion and conflation of the concepts of freedom and liberty and of thought and action. Everyone in the US is indeed free to think whatever they choose to, no matter its veracity. However, no one in the US is at liberty to act however they choose, no matter their rationale in religious belief or personal inclination.

Our laws are not made to limit freedom of thought/belief but to circumscribe socially acceptable behavior/action. Religious freedom doesn’t mean that any group should be at liberty to infringe on or impact any other segment of society, regardless how devoutly their beliefs are held.

Think anything you like, but for God’s sake, act within the law!

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BREAKING FREE – Gay Life Before the Plague

Recently I’ve come to see my aged self as a writer of history, as a witness to and reporter on ancient gay history before the Plague. I just wish folks would take time to read what I’m writing.

Gay life in the 50s, 60s, and 70s of last century has only been nominally covered in coming out novels, erotic tales, and a few historical studies, mostly about the pivotal Stonewall Riot in 1969. Now I’ve fortunately found a 2018 book “TINDERBOX—The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation” by Robert W. Fieseler, another pivotal event that played a role in my life in the early 70s.

My own eye-witness reports on gay life in those decades before the Plague appear in my series of autobiographical novels and memoirs. I started writing 35 years ago about an unconsciously gay adolescent in 1957, and right now I’m into the unusual life of a mature gay man in 1976. The 25 years in these volumes span a sea change in gay life, and I was right smack in the middle of it.

My writing (fiction, memoirs, non-fiction, poetry, and plays), is all (with one exception) posted for free download on this website, and I watch the history of downloads closely to see how often they might get read. Every hit is a cause for jubilation and gratification.

I truly rejoice when somebody deigns to look at my short story, “Traveling Men,” or my play, “The Special Case,” and I cheer brave readers along from one memoir chapter to the next. Some download the whole text, but others just take a chapter at a time, some naturally getting more readers by simple virtue of their titles, like “Getting Naked” or “Hotter Than the Dickens.”

My book most frequently downloaded is “MS. YVONNE, The Secret Life of My Mother”—maybe because she was a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.  (It includes my own childhood, so is marginally relevant to gay history of the 40s and early 50s.)

The erotic chapters mentioned above are in my first novel, “BAT IN A WHIRLWIND,” about that unconsciously gay adolescent in the late 50s. This book, which downloads maybe twenty times a year with chapters a few times a month, is a look into the Stone Age of gay history.

My own coming out story, “DIVINE DEBAUCH—Chronicles of a Dissolute Youth in the French Quarter,” is about a newly fledged faerie named Tommy carousing in sailor bars in the early 60s. This is the exception mentioned before. At the moment it’s only available from an online publisher. Its webpage gets hits on the link, but there’s been no indication of any sales for some years… Really too bad—it’s a fascinating look into the Mesolithic Age of gay history.

My first memoir, “THERE WAS A SHIP,” about that wild faerie getting coerced back into the closet as husband and father, is downloaded a few times a month, both as a whole and as chapters. Right now some brave soul is moving through it, having just finished “Double or Nothing” and picking up “Honeymoon.” A going-back-in story, it portrays the heavy hand of homophobic society on out gays in the Neolithic mid-60s.

My recently posted memoir, “LORD WIND,” has been looked at so far only as occasional chapters, not necessarily in logical order. The past couple weeks I’ve been amazed by the huge number of downloads of its “Prelude” (a summary of my closeted marriage in the later 60s), sometimes as many as six times a day! I hope this surge will lead to another for its first chapter “The Jaguar.” The tale of my second coming out in the gay Bronze and Iron Ages of early 70’s, be warned that “LORD WIND” contains many graphic sex scenes.

And now we come to my memoir-in-process, “GAY GEISHA,” about the gay Golden Age of the 70s in liberated (and glamorous) Washington DC. Its chapters are now being posted as completed, and to date we’re up to Chapter 12 “Shameless.” (The sex scenes here are mostly handled metaphorically but nonetheless quite graphically.) Washington DC was, of course, at the forefront of history in the exuberant 70s, and I just happened to be right in the gay middle of it.

I’m tentatively considering another volume of memoir set in the early 80s—to wind up my histories with those few Renaissance years before the coming of the Plague, a new chapter that brought much to culmination in my long gay life. A great deal has already been written about the Plague itself, and I fear any reportage on it by me would just be redundant.

As a writer of gay history, I feel like Herodotus who probably wrote his histories without concern for publishing royalties. His upper class family (like me in my privileged retirement), very likely didn’t have to worry about earning a living. Like him, I don’t want to deal with copyrights or selfish issues of intellectual property.

I just want folks to download my public domain work and read it—because I think I’ve got something rather important and special to say about ancient gay history. Anyone who can make a buck by disseminating my work is welcome to give it a shot. Naturally, I’d love to know about any such efforts, and respectful attribution would be nice….  

People, especially our younger folks, need to learn about how their ancestors’ generations broke free from the oppression of straight society. Maybe my scandalous tales can help today’s fortunate youth truly appreciate their precious freedom and liberty to be themselves.  

After all, there’s really no excuse not to read my histories—they’re free!

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Meditations on Mali

To show I’m not a johnny-one-note constantly harping on mysterious Mesoamerica, or even two-notes ranting about my gay memoirs, I’ll announce that my attention has been drawn elsewhere, specifically to West Africa, by a small book I’m now reading, “Sundiata, An Epic of Old Mali” by D. T. Niane. Three-quarters of the way through it, I’m greatly impressed learning ethnographic details of kingdoms (and empires!) long ago on the great river Niger’s northern curve through today’s (New) Mali.

I was first struck by the fact that the Malinke (Mandingo) society of Old Mali had hereditary castes, largely defined by profession such as farmers, leather-workers, potters, fishermen… Most striking was to read that the most powerful caste was that of blacksmiths, who professed secret knowledge of metal-working, and then to discover in the narrative that entire armies were composed of smiths—who probably forged their own weapons, combining their trades.

This pre-eminence of blacksmiths really snagged my attention because I’d just before heard an NPR program about new insights into Afro-American history, particularly about American society’s reliance on the skills, crafts, and arts of the enslaved. It focused on the popular art of brewing brought over from their West African heritage, but it also mentioned that enslaved blacksmiths were the backbone of the South’s metallurgical industry.

I’d bet that there were a great many free black smiths in the North as well. When you get right down to it, everywhere in the world in fact smiths—black, white or otherwise—were a crucially important profession, making the weapons societies depended on to wage their eternal conflicts, aggressions, and defenses. Note that the ages of man are named for the metals they smithed, and just think about how many people are named Smith. Q.E.D.

Something else strikes me about this epic of conquest set in Old Mali. Apart from the intriguing ethnography, this story could be set almost anywhere in the world at any time in history. All the rationales and methods used in the Malinke conflicts, aggressions, and defenses might just as well be those used by the Shang to drive the Xia dynasty out of China’s Yellow River valley in the second millennium BPE. In coincidental fact, this epic of the conqueror Sundiata (ruled 1235-55), belongs to the same present-era 13th century as good old Genghis Khan.

The Malinke naturally knew nothing of that contemporary incomparable conqueror, casting Sundiata as the greatest conqueror the world had ever seen. Curiously, they put that claim up even against the legend of Alexander the Great—who actually only made it as far west as the Siwah oasis to consult the oracle of Ammon 1500 years before. Doubtless, that legend had been brought into West Africa by Muslim merchants in recent centuries, along with whom Islam infiltrated the native animistic populations.

Consider also that the Malinke had no concept of distances or urban kingdoms anything like those conquered by Alexander and Genghis. With still 30 (small print) pages to go, I have no doubt that, as required for epics, Sundiata will complete his local conquest with great glory. Who really gives a hoot who’s the greatest? Winning is what matters to conquerors.

However, in this ancient oral epic some of the cultural opinions expressed by the traditional singer (griot) named Mamoudou Kouyaté really rubbed me the wrong way, in particular: “Modesty is the portion of the average man, but superior men are ignorant of humility.” I beg your parsnips. That’s not how I understand modesty and humility at all, and besides, an arrogant man who thinks he’s superior is about as ugly as it gets. I doubt I’d have liked Sundiata much personally, though I’m modestly sure I could have taught him some proper humility in bed.

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To Err is Human

—Not to care is divine. So I screwed up way back there in January, 2019 on Icon #16 which I titled TECCIZTECATL & METZTLI, Deities of the Moon. Operating on what I’d learned thirty years earlier for my book of days, I based my totally fanciful drawing of Tecciztecatl being the Nahua people’s male lunar deity ruling their sacred calendar’s 13-day week (trecena) One Death. I read that they stuck him into the calendar to replace the ancestral female lunar deity Metztli.

Tecciztecatl – (God of the Moon)

I could only imagine him then through the lens of Codex Nuttall, the only codex I’d seen in detail that long ago before the internet. Using Nuttall motifs, I constructed a standard half-kneeling figure with stylistically consistent regalia, but I had no idea even that thing in his right hand was an incense bag. I felt quite proud of my trick of turning his face into a moon, also blissfully unaware that the Aztecs saw a rabbit in it instead. We live and learn.

For Icon #16 in late 2018 when I still wasn’t very well-versed in my digital collection of Aztec codices, I chose for models the images in Codex Telleriano-Remensis and its later Italian copy Codex Rios (T-R/R). It looked to me like they’d placed both male and female deities together for that week. I didn’t even wonder about that sun-thing on his back.

God of the Sun and Goddess of the Moon

Only recently learning about the books of days in the other codices, I’ve discovered a different situation. Tecciztecatl is indeed shown as one of the patrons of the week One Death, but he only accompanies Metztli (who’s much smaller), in the Tonalamatl Aubin. In all of them, the god of the moon looks a lot different.

Visions of Tecciztecatl

In the others, the moon god is in company with the big guy, Tonatiuh, god of the Fifth Sun (the present era), and clearly that’s who rules here in T-R/R with the old goddess. Look at that sun-thing on his back, and the bird was yet another dead giveaway. (By the way, I believe the ancient Maya goddess of the moon Ix Chel was AKA the Old Goddess.)

It’s interesting how this week is ruled by both the sun and the moon. Only in Codex Borbonicus, Borgia, and Vaticanus was Tecciztecatl inserted in Metztli’s place with Tonatiuh. Does that mean these three examples were maybe more central in Nahua culture? What can we say about his appearance with Metztli in place of Tonatiuh in Aubin? Obvious doctrinal differences…

Frankly, it seems to me that my models in T-R/R are relics of the ancient Mesoamerican calendar before Tecciztecatl usurped the week One Death in cult traditions. That begs the question of when Tonatiuh himself was installed in it as a patron beside the moon. After all, he wasn’t around during the Fourth Sun, and we can reasonably assume that this sacred Count of Days (tonalpohualli), was running even then—maybe with Metztli in total charge of One Death?

In any case, also being a divinity. I don’t care about my mistake. With this confession, perhaps I’ve atoned for it, and I’ll make appropriate edits elsewhere. But I find it rather fascinating that my silly mistake didn’t really damage Icon #16’s authenticity, just its title, which should now be TONATIUH & METZTLI, Deities of the Sun and Moon.

In fact it was the young god Nanahuatzin who threw himself first into the cosmic conflagration to become Tonatiuh, the Fifth Sun, and timid Tecciztecatl simply dawdled—becoming the moon instead. So that little figure immolating himself is now Nanahuatzin, which makes no difference to the icon’s integrity. I love mistakes that correct themselves.

This excursion in esoterica makes me wonder if my next Aztec icon for the coloring book YE GODS! really should be for Tonatiuh after all. I seem to have had him now, and Tecciztecatl feels distinctly second hand. This could be my excuse to take up with the fascinating and dangerous Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the Lord of the House of Dawn. Wish us well…

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Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms

Usually creating these boggling icons for the coloring book YE GODS! has felt like giving birth, and this latest one, Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms, felt rather like dropping sextuplets! I prematurely squeezed out two fully formed sections that I posted for the world’s delectation:  the historical delirium of Tlalocan and the phantasmagorical Earth Monster. With the thundering central figure and his four wet vignettes, delivering myself of the Storm God himself was like birthing quintuplets. I guess that makes septuplets. Whatever…

TLALOC, God of Storms

I apologize for the dazzling intricacy of this icon and the fact that the curious mural of Tlalocan doesn’t much lend itself to coloring. I mean, look at that minuscule detail of heavenly frolic. However, since it’s in 300 dpi, you could blow it up three or four times to color in. This icon is the story of the Storm God, so lots of detail needs to be explained. The first is that the deity hovers between two root images from his deep past, at the bottom the wild mural from Teotihuacan of the eighth heaven he rules, and at top center his stylized face as Chac from an ancient Mayan temple, both from a thousand years before the Aztecs.

More immediately, the four vignettes are significant in two ways. The figures in squares at the top corners represent specific seasons in the growth of the all-important maize. They’re drawn from Codex Borgia, but I don’t know which is what. Two of Borgia’s pages have five each of similar Tlalocs, and that quinqunx format is respectfully reflected in this icon. The figures in the circles are symbols of just two of the several solar months “ruled” by Tlaloc, Atlcualco (left—“Water Abandoned,” roughly in February) and Atemoztli (right—“Water Downward Falling,” roughly in December). So much for the solar calendar lesson.

Now we come to the central image I call the thundering Tlaloc. It’s drawn from a series of stylistically consistent Tlalocs in Codex Vaticanus. I see a strong relationship with the Codex Borgia vignettes, for whatever that obvious insight’s worth. While this guy wears the royal jaguar headdress, others in the Vaticanus series wear heads of heron, crocodile, or odd conical caps and sport distinctive regalia. One is even nude. Our fellow’s respectably robed and, like the Borgia figures, has raised his conventional goggle-eyed and fanged face to the sky in a thunderous roar.

The thunder also comes with the lightning emanating from his huge serpent. (The Borgia figures hold only puny little snakes.) The lightning bolts from its head suggest traditional horned snakes like those from Teotihuacan or the American Southwest. The lightnings swerving behind the vignettes define a nanosecond’s reality for this image—an eternal NOW between the bolt on the left striking the Earth Monster under Tlaloc’s tread and that sneaky bolt on the right about to strike under the god’s next footfall. I love this kind of visual legerdemain.

There are more tricks of that sort cued by the lightning passing behind the vignettes. The top Chac frieze and weird lightning-filled sky is even behind that, and the water curtains down the sides are probably way back there too. Meanwhile, Tlaloc very subtly stands in front of the vignettes, as shown by overlapping hand with axe, headdress feathers, and the fire serpent. Along with clues to perspective in Tlaloc’s posture and costume, these tiny details create a depth in the composition that’s very unusual for Aztec art, maybe even iconoclastic. I won’t apologize.

Once again, finishing the long haul on an icon, I hesitate to jump right into another one, but I’m already thinking about breaking alphabetical order yet again and tackling Tonatiuh, the deity of the Fifth Sun, to complete the Mesoamerican set of cosmological worlds. He’d be cutting in ahead of Tlazolteotl, Goddess of Filth, but I’ve already been tempted to insert the Lord of the House of the Dawn, Tlahuizcalpaltecuhtli (the Morning Star) ahead of her. With such a wealth of ethnographic and iconographic material to work on, I guess I can wait a little while to decide. In the meantime, I really should start writing on Chapter 9 of my memoir GAY GEISHA and recall my exciting life in 1975 when I stumbled on two impressive gigs for my Russian language skills.

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Making Lemonade

            Despite historic obstacles, 2020 turned out to be a very successful and productive year for me, both artistically and personally. It started with a celebration for completing Aztec Icon #18 – XOCHIPILLI, the Prince of Flowers on the last day of 2019. I’d first drawn this sun god thirty years ago for my book of days. The black and white icon, infinitely more complicated than this old four-color image, breaks all sorts of Aztec iconographic norms and conventions. Go to the link above to see this iconoclastic addition to the coloring book YE GODS!

Xochipilli – The Prince of Flowers – (God of pleasure, feasting, and dancing)

            On New Year’s Day, 2020 I posted the Flower Prince but still had much to do before adding his icon to my “travelling” exhibition YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities. In mid-January I mounted this show of large-scale banners at its seventh venue in a conference center—with the help of a tall French fellow I’d met during its sixth appearance.

            We’d hung the show by January 18 (for my mother’s 101st birthday), and I turned to our trip for the New Orleans Opera premiere of my new translation of Tchaikovsky’s heroic opera JOAN OF ARC on February 2 & 9. My clan gathered for the occasion at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, and I enjoyed their acclaims, as well as those of appreciative audiences. I believe my linguistic work has turned the composer’s simply inspired piece into a masterpiece.

            By Monday, February 11, I was gratefully back in Santa Fe for my comfortable retired life in my eyrie apartment, my Casa Arriba penthouse high above the world. With a gratified sigh of relief, I slipped back into my splendid routines of writing/drawing, gym, dinners out, and especially the ecstatic dancing on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Casa Arriba

            After a couple leisurely weeks, I started on my second memoir, picking up my sordid tale of after marriage when I came out for the second time. Covering the next two traumatic and extremely sexual years of my fourth persona (the HIPPIE POET, footloose and feckless), I pretentiously included my own poetry, a device stolen from “Dr. Zhivago.” My routines and retrospective writing trance held me nicely right up almost to the middle of March.

            In my Mesoamerican fascination, I consider Friday, March 13, 2020 or the Aztec day Four Rain to have been the emphatic end of the Fifth Sun, the Sixth Sun starting on Saturday.  Suffice it to say that Friday the Thirteenth brought enormous turmoil into my life when my gym closed down due to a virus they were already calling a pandemic.

            On March 14, 2020 everything locked down (my show as well), and since then I’ve fortunately been living safely and comfortably in Casa Arriba. The loss of gym, dinners out, and ecstatic dancing has left me with only the splendid routine of writing and drawing. Right away I replaced my gym workouts with walking/running around the nearby track, but I could do nothing about the sauna except miss it miserably. Cooking simply, I didn’t miss restaurant food—just my regular companions at meals. I was driven to solo dancing to radio reggae and salsa in my living room and to sorely missing all the young bacchantes at Paradiso.

            I joked about going into solitary confinement but didn’t really feel that way. I deeply appreciated being made to step away from the world’s sound and fury, to take care of my physical needs simply in solitary peace, and to do my work on my natural schedule without distractions. I found it fascinating to watch my hair grow, now longer than it’s ever been, and I rather like it. Perversely, I didn’t feel lonely, isolated, or confined at all, but instead felt blessedly secluded, a secular anchorite. Six decades later, this new Sixth Sun feels like a confirmation and redemption of my solitary youth in backwoods Arkansas.

            Staying snugly at home (except for walks at the track and to grocery stores), let me focus on the memoir, which I titled LORD WIND, alternating between writing it and drawing on Icon #19 – TEZCATLIPOCA, The Smoking Mirror. By mid-May I’d finished and posted the icon, which went much deeper into the god’s story than this old drawing for the book of days.

Tezcatlipoca – Smoking Mirror – (Lord of the Night Sky)

  And by early June I’d finished the memoir. Rejoicing, I posted LORD WIND on the web as individual chapters or entire text.

           On the urging of my French friend, in June I began conjuring up visions of Tlaloc, the God of Storms, and at the same time started the third volume of memoir, soon entitled GAY GEISHA, about my stylish gay life in Washington DC in the 1970s. Once again, for sanity’s sake, over the next months I switched back and forth between creative processes.

            Meanwhile, a few important things happened in the solitude of October. First, I rode my bike to the Convention Center and voted early against the scumbag, whereupon I put it and its filth out of mind. Next, I finally struck my icon show after nine months’ lockdown—with the kind assistance of my tall grandson. Then, accepting that my life was utterly changed for the foreseeable future, I gave him my little red car and happily became a true pedestrian.

            In mid-November I started posting chapters of GAY GEISHA serially and by mid-December had published eight covering about a quarter of the decade. The switch then back to the icon was for a final push, aiming to finish it by New Year’s. I didn’t quite make it though. Only the other day, almost two weeks into 2021, I finally wrapped Tlaloc up, though he doesn’t look much like my first fanciful drawing of him for that old book of days. Still, that goggle-eye and fangs are standard features.

Tlaloc – (God of Rain)

            Please allow me to count Aztec Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms, as an accomplishment for wretched but productive 2020. (I’ll post it very soon.) I’m tremendously gratified by creating my three icons, memoirs of gay liberation, and the operatic masterpiece.

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The Earth Monster

Nowadays we sometimes think (and some of us worry) about the planet Earth, this infinitesimal speck of dust in the infinite cosmos, as our mother—and quite reasonably so. In scientific fact, like all life, we’re indeed children of the female Earth sired by the male Sun. However, the ancient Egyptians believed we’re the offspring of the male Geb (earth) and the female Nut (sky).

In the Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and Hindu traditions, people were purportedly created magically (asexually like amoebas?) by a male deity with the Earth playing no role except as a location to hold dominion over. Characteristically, Buddhists don’t have a creation story since they consider the notion of origins meaningless. Take your pick because it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Meanwhile, ancient Mesoamericans believed people were created by the Earth as a deity named Tlaltecuhtli, which was conveniently a hermaphrodite—and not at all anthropomorphic. Most often it was depicted as a huge, gaping maw, a two-way street through which people were born and then on death passed back into the Underworld, the Earth being the mystical source and destination of all life. Creation wasn’t considered a one-shot deal but an ongoing process.

When not a mouth spitting out or devouring people, the deity of the Earth was generally shown as a monster with impressive fangs and claws. Its species was apparently the crocodile (caiman), a creature called Cipactli (also the name of the first day of the month in their calendar).

The Mesoamerican Earth Monster

I drew this surreal image of the Earth Monster as a detail in my next icon for the coloring book YE GODS! It’s based on a smaller version in the Codex Borgia. In some other instances in the codices, Tlaltecuhtli/Cipactli has no limbs, but the fanged jaw was put to good use in biting off the left foot of the god Tezcatlipoca. That’s another story.

Of the various creation fantasies, I much prefer the Mesoamerican narrative since it recognizes that our planet Earth is the parent of life and illustrates the principle of dust to dust. It really does matter after all to acknowledge that our Earth is a living creature, a metaphorical monster not to be dominated but to be cherished and nurtured. Remember, even planets can die!

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My Third Gay Memoir

What with increasing urgency in the Corona virus calamity, it has become clear to me that I’m going to have to change my mode of operation in writing my memoirs. Before, I always waited until a volume was complete before publishing (posting) it on my website—in order to have the luxury of skipping back to earlier sections to add, delete, or tweak the material.

Now that I really can’t predict hanging around on this planet long enough to finish the current (or any future) volumes, I’m going to post chapters serially as they’re completed, adding them to the Table of Contents for individual access. Too bad for second-thought revisions, but that’s how this wretched Covid cookie is crumbling.

Recently writing on Chapter 6 of the current volume, I’ve only just now found the title for this memoir. It’s the registered name for a spectacular variety of iris I used to sell at the Farmers Market a long time back when I was the famous Iris Man:

GAY GEISHA

As I told a dear friend, these two words are the most cogent description I can imagine of who and what I was in the 1970s in Washington DC. My third real memoir (actually the sixth volume in the story of my unique life), GAY GEISHA covers 1972-80, a time of glorious gay liberation, when I lived and graciously entertained gentlemen in a grand Victorian mansion at historic Logan Circle.   

GAY GEISHA provides the dramatic and often lurid details behind that old summary of my fifth persona which I prophetically entitled “Courtesan.” With this posting, I’ll provide now the first five chapters covering my arrival in DC, finding a job and places to live, encounters with old and new paramours, moving into the mansion, our historic neighborhood, sudden social whirl, and a remarkable affair with a friendly neighbor. Shortly, I’ll add the next chapter and forge on from there. (As of 3/20/21, I’ve now posted twelve chapters covering up to July, 1976.)

To start reading, just click on GAY GEISHA.

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Update on the Pandemic Pandemonium

UPDATE: November 8, 2020

As my daughter Aimée’s birthday and the day after a most joyous occasion—the calling of the 2020 election and consignment of the scumbag to the trash heap of history—today’s a great time to report on the past four months of pandemic pandemonium as an update to my biographical age on the Venerable Old Queen

1) THE FLAP AT THE TRACK

The most alarming event was on August 18 when a security guy hailed me on the track at the Aspen School and advised that I’d have to leave because school was starting on Monday, and they were closing the grounds to protect the kids from the virus. I ignored him and continued on my way, but that weekend they shut the big gate at La Madera with a chain and lock. I couldn’t do my walk on Saturday or Sunday.

On Monday I looked out my window and saw the gate open, so I went to walk, and there was no one there of course, because the students had to stay home—except a couple cars parked way off by the back building for the teachers running the distanced learning classes. That night the gate was locked again but open by six the next morning. I walked the track peacefully, marveling that the schools were so irrationally paranoid as to lock up weekends and nights when absolutely no one was around and open up again when only a few folks were way off over there.

And I wasn’t looking forward to missing my next Saturday and Sunday walks. By Wednesday I got to feeling really irked and noticed that the lock and chain were just hanging there loose at the gate. I put them in a paper bag, placed it under a board just outside the fence not six feet away, and left a note: “The lock and chain have not been stolen; they’ve been hidden.” That night the gate was closed but not chained—and open again in the morning.

Pitying the stupidity, on Thursday morning I moved the bag to within three feet of the gate, just behind a piece of fence leaning there for no apparent reason. Any idiot couldn’t miss it. And that night they performed the empty exercise again, obviously not even looking for the bag. Friday morning I traipsed onto the track and worried they’d actually find the lock and chain and close me out for the weekend. Something told me I’d have to fight fire with fire.

Three miles later, I went home to my hermitage and emailed the Fire Marshal, advising that the school had started (irrationally) locking the grounds—which cut off emergency access to the several buildings at the back of the campus. A fire engine couldn’t get anywhere near them. He didn’t respond to me, naturally, but I saw a fire engine roll by around seven just checking, and since that night the gate has stayed open. And the bag still sits there for any idiot to find. My Nepali friend, the guys who play soccer on Saturday mornings, and a multitude of other community folks can still enjoy the facility.  

2) AZTECS STILL ACTIVE

My show of Aztec icons (YE GODS!) went up last January at the conference center of the Ohkay Casino in Española and in mid-March got locked down with the rest of the world. The manager said he didn’t know when they’d get the center open again and had no problem with me just leaving it there. Nevertheless, I went up last month with my grandson to retrieve my artwork. I’ve no idea where I’ll ever manage to hang the show again—or when. But that hasn’t stopped my working on the next icon, #20: Tlaloc, the god of storms (water, lightning, etc.).

In this Aztec context, there have been some other developments. A few weeks ago I heard from a young woman fashion designer in Chicago that she wanted to use my images on clothing; the sample hoodie with my Ocelotl on it was stunning. I told her to go for it. Last week I heard from a guy in California that he wanted to paint my old calendar deities, and I told him to go for it—and to take a look at the icons. This is the kind of action I’ve been hoping for.

Another recent Aztec connection is with Marguerite Paquin (in British Columbia) who does a Maya horoscope blog. See https://whitepuppress.ca/the-ok-dog-trecena-oct-30-nov-11-2020/.  Since the Maya calendar is basically the same as the Aztecs’, she started using the images from my old book for the trecenas (13-day weeks), and now that she’s worked through that ceremonial year, I’m re-creating the pages from the tonalamatl (book of days) from Codex Borgia for her. For when she’s worked through those 20 weeks, I’m also re-creating the tonalamatl from Codex Rios—which entails combining separate pages into a single layout and considerable artistic refinement. When these calendars are complete (and there are still others left to work over), I’m going to load them as galleries here on this website, so watch for them!

3) THE GRANDFATHER IN SECLUSION

For months I walked around my car sitting in the yard, a 2014 red Toyota Corolla, and maybe drove it twice a week to a grocery store. Then in early October I realized that my grandson Jammes was soon to turn 18, and ever the generous grandfather, I decided to give him my car. I can easily walk to the grocery stores, and he’ll give me lifts home when I’ve got too much to carry or take me on errands.

In this connection, my ecstatic dance group started getting together again (clandestinely). Jammes took me there last Wednesday, joining in the dance, and now he’s ready to take me weekly. Maybe even bring a friend along? There’s reasonable distancing and some masks, and so it’s only slightly contrary to mandated practice. After all, we’re not talking here about a Republican political rally. It’s such a joy to have something to look forward to each week, lots more fun than my usual solo dancing around the apartment to salsa or reggae.

In between Wednesdays, however, with all my art and writing projects, the days seem to fly by. An example:  Every day before lunch I have half a cup of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar—recommended to me by a curandero friend—and today when I went to mix it, I got the distinct impression I’d just done that like five minutes before. Twenty-four hours of eating, walking, reading, napping, writing, drawing, cooking, watching a silly movie, and sleeping a healthy 7 ½ hours had collapsed into a mere five minutes. This is how we get so old so fast.

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Tlalocan II – The Drawing

After showing you my reconfiguration of the Teotihuacan mural of Tlalocan in early July, it took me these past three months to turn it into a black-and-white drawing. As such, it will become the lower register in Icon #20 for my digital coloring book YE GODS!

For several centuries the enormous city-state of Teotihuacan “ruled” central Mexico (and parts of the Maya world as well). Painted about 1,500 years ago, the tremendously ornate mural is a fascinating window into that vanished metropolis, a panorama of its people enjoying afterlife in the paradise of their water (storm) god—whom a thousand years later the Aztecs called Tlaloc. My drawing gives you an intimate look at the actual people who lived in the Place of the Gods. (It’s greatly reduced in this illustration, but you can click here to download a full-scale image—at almost three feet long and one foot high.)

Tlalocan – The Paradise of Tlaloc

Within that eye-boggling border, the first telling detail to notice is that there are no women, which may say something about a sexist society in Teotihuacan. Of course Tlaloc’s Eighth Heaven was reserved for victims of drowning and children sacrificed for life-giving rain, but one thinks maybe some women might also have drowned and girl-children been sacrificed too. In all likelihood (if the eschatology of Teotihuacan is reflected in that of the Aztecs), women may well have had their own paradise among the thirteen heavens. But there’s no mural of that one.

The Aztecs definitely inherited the concept of Tlalocan from Teotihuacan, and the iconography of the ancestral water (storm) god is also clearly reflected in that of the much later Aztecs.

Teotihuacan Water and Rain Gods

Tlaloc’s goggle-eyes and fangs crossed the centuries into the figure from Codex Borgia, as well as the head-pitcher he holds for pouring out water:

Aztec Tlaloc and Quiahuitl Day-signs

Teotihuacan’s rain-god image carries over directly into the Aztecs’ golden Four Rain sign (day-name of the Third Sun) on their Stone of the Suns. The Rain day-sign to its right is based on it—drawn thirty years ago for my book of days before I ever learned of the raindrops on the Teotihuacan image. The two lower signs are stylized versions for the calendars in the Fejervary-Mayer and Vaticanus codices; those in other calendars are similar, but often less formal.

Now let’s look into this window on the people of Teotihuacan. First, check out their quite varied fashions in clothing:

Teotihuacan Fashions

Not surprising are the loincloths or breechclouts worn by figures on the left with varying numbers of sashes. Note that children can be nude or just wear “panties.” But then the costumes get weird, like the top center fellow wearing a midriff T-shirt and toreador pants and the guy just below with a full-length T. The runner to his right may be wearing similar pants, but he also has gloves. The guy below is wearing “clam-digger” pants with breechclout; the guy with the tears (ignore those for now) only wears gloves and socks/slippers, as does the cross-legged kid below. On the far right the top figure wears shirt and pants under a loincloth, and the lower figure wears pants/leggings under a kilt with sash.

The variety of outfits may have to do with social classes—or maybe not. But I can say that the cross-legged kid in gloves and socks is remarkably unique in being presented full-face. All the other faces are done in profile—the standard view used by the Aztecs for faces and bodies as well. However, the ancient artist made free to show figures frontally and from many other realistic angles, an iconographic freedom apparently lost over the centuries.

Note also the varying hairstyles: Figures are frequently bald (or with shaved heads?), but many have hairdos of various lengths. The kilted fellow on lower right may be an elder with receding hairline and gray hair. In the mural you can’t tell if the guy at center-top has a topknot or feather headdress. Speaking of hairstyles and headdresses, there is also a wide assortment of such on other figures which again may have something to do with class or occupation—or maybe not.

Teotihuacan Headgear

Here we see several types of hats, headbands, skullcaps, and turbans. Notable is the figure on the upper left wearing an ear-flare, the only one in the whole mural—a fashion that became almost universal under the Aztecs—but there are no nose ornaments. Again, note the cross-legged kid on the lower right wearing what looks like a slightly cocked beret. The flirtatious fellow to his left possibly sports a half-Mohawk crest—or a feathered hat?

So now we know what (at least male) Teotihuacanos looked like! Here are a couple vignettes of their playful activities:

                    Teotihuacan Dancers

  Teotihuacan Toss

 Both of these group activities well illustrate the ancient artist’s stylistic freedom, as well as elements of perspective that the Aztecs would never have attempted. (The curlicues are shouts or songs of joy—a convention that totally carried over into Aztec iconography.) The scene of the tossing is probably celebratory—as happens in many cultures—and not a punishment like that undergone by Sancho Panza in “Don Quixote.”

Now we come to some distinctly odd images that I have a hard time parsing:

             Teotihuacan Oddities

This guy with the tears (in gloves and socks) seems to be singing loudly or shouting, but why is he crying and waving a branch, and what’s he got flowing from his chest? In the mural the flow doesn’t seem to be blood, and why should it be? The guy with the long stuff flowing from his head (hair?) seems to be chewing on a stick (sugarcane?). The four fellows holding each other’s wrists maybe are playing some game? Since this is in Tlalocan, whatever’s going on must surely be joyful fun.

I hope my little drawing has given you some visual notion of the lost and almost forgotten world of Teotihuacan.

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