A Culturally Sensitive Mascot

I just heard on NPR about schools all over the place scrambling to find culturally sensitive mascots to replace racially discriminatory figures. I googled college mascots and got a list of a few hundred mascots, only one of which was obviously “racial,” though hardly discriminatory. The rest were frankly cartoonish and some downright stupid, but there’s nothing wrong with that. So I assume they were talking about secondary schools, and I’ve had experience in that arena.

Namely, when my grandson started at a new International Baccalaureate school (in New Mexico), they were all in an uproar about choosing an appropriate mascot, and the principal told me they wanted something truly significant. As an artist/designer, as well as an intellectual and historian, I proposed a mascot embodying the concepts of enlightenment, education, and culture. But the administration buried my proposal and steered the decision into the realm of standard animalistic clichés. They chose an African lion—if only because no other school in town had nabbed that one—which was as locally significant and symbolic as an Antarctic penguin.

The design I proposed was based on an incised drawing on a shell cup found in the Spiro mound in northeastern Oklahoma dating to c. 1200 CE, a winged, horned serpent (rattlesnake) known in Southwestern Native American cultures as an “avanyu,” a water spirit.

AVANYU MASCOT

The figure is an authentic representation of the Olmec/Maya/Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, bringer of culture, the calendar, and maize to primordial Mesoamerica. Its horns come from ancient Teotihuacan, and its full-scale wings and “forked” eye are traits encountered in the Mississippian cultures of North America. Literally nothing could be a more culturally sensitive and significant mascot or more relevant to the New World.

In my buried proposal, I suggested that the school’s students could work together to color in the image, decide on a name for it, use it dramatically on school spirit gear, and construct a dragon-like float for parades and sporting events.

My grandson’s school shortsightedly missed the boat. If there’s a school somewhere out there in the market for a meaningful mascot, it’s yours. Email me (rbalthazar@msn.com), and I’ll supply you a drawing in vectors which can be freely sized for whatever you want to do with it.

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Where No Man Has Gone Before – In Memoriam Philip C. Ritterbush

Phil Ritterbush on Baffin Island

This post is a memorial to an exceptional gentleman who loved me for a moment long ago.

In late 1976, Phil Ritterbush came to a grand dinner at my Victorian house in DC (see my memoir GAY GEISHA), and proved an endearingly interesting fellow. A Rhodes scholar and Yale grad, he’d been a big shot with the Smithsonian Institution, had authored books on the history of science, and now regaled our dinner guests with his mountaineering explorations on glaciers of Baffin Island and Andean peaks in Colombia. Much impressed, I happily offered adventurous Phil hospitality in my jungle boudoir for the night.

Phil sent a polite note of thanks “for a very civilized evening; it is no mean feat to keep a well-set table going in today’s jungles of individualism and naturalism, and the candlelight and classical music carried it to a plane of distinction!” In a second card, he remarked that he “would like very much to become better acquainted” and asked that I give him a call if my commitments left me “a suitable opportunity.” As a busy geisha, I didn’t normally call my guests afterwards, and so I now regret that we never got better acquainted.

With his first note, Phil enclosed several pages which he advised were “not the kind of account one writes for other climbers, who are given to understatement about difficulties and who do not need explanations about how glaciers work.” He’d written a vivid, intensely personal account of a harrowing expedition most likely in the mid-60s that impressed me enormously. It showed me that Phil was the only gentleman I’ve ever met who boldly went, as they say on Star Trek, where no man has gone before.

In his dear memory, I append herewith a very lightly edited copy of Phil’s un-copyrighted essay “TO FARTHER MOUNTAINS: A Baffin Island Chronicle.”

Phil’s expedition ascended a glacier north from Cumberland Sound to a ridge overlooking what is now Auyuittuq National Park (the view in the photo above). Sadly, in the more than half a century since his trek, climate change has caused that glacier and others on those southern slopes to melt away. Near the end of his essay, Phil remarks on sighting to the west a “throne-like snow peak” which may have been what is now called Mount Asgard.

Mount Asgard on Baffin Island

My recent Google search on Philip Christopher Ritterbush told me that he specialized at Yale in 18th Century biology and wrote several books, including “The Art of Organic Forms” (1968). With no details, the Necrology from Yale University advised that Phil died on January 1, 1987. That ceremonious date suggests to my still-romantic mind that my explorer friend may well have perished on a mountaineering adventure. He is not forgotten by the geisha he once loved.

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Revisiting My Ancient Artistic Triumphs

Today I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time fighting to update my Writing webpage, having decided to include pictures of the book covers. That was the first mistake because I wound up spending hours “fixing” the image of a Mississippian Eagle Warrior on the cover of my first book REMEMBER NATIVE AMERICA—a curious experience re-doing digitally what I’d drawn first in pencil I believe in 1988. Talk about ancient history… It really is a remarkable image of a repoussé copper plaque found in a mound at Etowah in Georgia.

I got the idea to do this update to my webpage because I happened to think about the beautiful drawing I did in maybe 2001 for the cover of the book “Gymnopedie,” publication of which I cancelled and then revised as BAT IN A WHIRLWIND.

The Etowah Eagle Warrior my book designer converted to digital and produced in a copper stamp. The drawing for the other book, also done in pencil, was scanned to digital by myself, and then worked over by me again in my Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). (That work was what set me on the road to drawing the icons for my YE GODS! show, as well as all the photo restoration for the biography MS. YVONNE, The Secret Life of My Mother.) The Gymnopedie cover is an illustration of exactly what that Greek word means: a dance by naked boys.

Gymnopedie

Forgive me for feeling sinfully proud of this illustration based on ancient Greek vase-painting. While some of my Aztec icons are outrageous masterpieces, I consider this classical vision right up there with my best work. The motion of their dance is palpable. At least in my opinion…

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Revised Gay Novel at Last

The Divine Dionysus and Debauched Cohort

Serendipity is a marvelous thing! I was looking for an ancient address book to find out the date of my step-son’s birth (for my third memoir GAY GEISHA), and to my surprise ran across a CD from about 15 years ago labeled “Files from old computer.” And what did I miraculously find on it but a file of the text of my first novel DIVINE DEBAUCH! I’d figured that to revise it I’d have to type the whole thing all over again (as I’d had to do for BAT IN A WHIRLWIND). But the universe gave me a splendid gift. I only found that old address book weeks later by total accident—when I no longer needed it.

With the old text in hand, all I had to do was edit it (one of my favorite activities—you can guess at others), and right away I jumped on the fun, playing steadily for about ten days in my viral solitude. Now I can cancel the book I published online in 2003 and today in 2021 offer you the immensely better revised edition of DIVINE DEBAUCH for free download. Go for it!

Told in many voices, including his own and those of friends and lovers, this is the picaresque, semi-fictional, semi-epistolary tale of Tommy Youngblood, a college boy who frequents the disreputable Latin and Greek sailor dives on the Wild Side waterfront of the Quarter. A dervish in the Holy Carouse, Tommy dances his gay way through love affairs and amorous adventures, celebrating his brief sweet youth in a Dionysian debauch.

As a teaser, here’s a passage from a letter of Tommy’s scandalous antics with hunky Mark:

“          Showtime! The evening’s concert was packed with crowd-pleasers. First, the renowned maestro Sir Roger Wrighte-Rowndleigh led the Bump-Bacon Brass Band in his own rousing, rollicking composition, the Hide-the-Sausage Suite. Whereupon, in response to audience demand, I blew a fanciful fuguing tune on the bonnie laddie’s bagpipe con brio. Then, recalling the golden opportunity once missed, the lecherous Sir Roger insisted on an encore of his first number under the same contract conditions, only this time allegro furioso. And the night’s featured work was Mark’s debut performance of the poignantly sensuous Sodom Sonata (scored for skin flute and double bum drum), quite artistically executed for an amateur flautist. His lengthy cadenza was nothing short of inspired, and the final movement was absolutely maestoso. Then we slept.”

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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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