[I have no pictures of me in this persona worth looking at. See the old 2017 portrait on the home page.]
July, 2012 — Present
It’s daunting to try to write about my current persona from the inside—only eight years into it—hard to get a real perspective. I’m calling this Me now the Venerable Old Queen because I think I’ve achieved a certain venerability as a life-long gay and have definitely gotten old. (Happily, I’m also the artist and writer I dreamed of being ever since my teenaged novels.) But now, after Friday, March 13, 2020 when our paradigm shifted to pandemic panic, I’ve gotten a virus-induced clear perspective on those eight years—as well as on the present dire world.
One might say my eighth persona only lasted these eight years, but I think I’m still very much the same character, probably just more so. To dive right in, on Saturday, June 30, 2012, I closed down my Babylon Gardens plant recycling business at the Farmers Market, effectively ending my seventh identity.
Then I turned to face the prospect of an old age having to work part-time to supplement Social Security at some job like, perish the thought, greeter at Walmart. To liquidate my meager assets, that week I hauled about half of my stuff outdoors to display nicely on old Market tables for a ginormous yard sale advertised for the next Friday through Sunday. Early that Friday morning, July 6, while shoppers were pouring into the yard from cars parked up and down the street, the phone rang. It was Mother in New Orleans.
Now my relationship with Mother deserves a long explanation, and if you’re interested, you can read it in the biography I wrote of her a few years later. She’d called to tell me she was so sick and weak (at 93) that she needed help now. I was obviously over the barrel when it came to getting down to New Orleans right away, so my niece Jen flew down from Rochester the next day to help her grandmother, who now accepted the fact that she could no longer live alone.
Since she really didn’t want to live in Santa Fe with me—mostly because of the altitude and the winters—Mother chose to go live with Jen in Rochester. As soon as I could, I got to New Orleans and spent some weeks clearing out her stuff and closing up her house. That fall she did quite well, but in the winter she went into serious decline again. In January, 2013 I went there for her 94th birthday and to help Jen with the hospice. On the evening of March 2, while I was sitting at her bedside holding her hand, Mother died.
Suddenly my problematic future was solved. Mother had made me the Trustee of her Family Trust, and I discovered that she’d left both Jen and me annuities. All those years I’d never even suspected that Mother had any appreciable assets other than the little Metairie house and was really astounded to learn that she’d somehow accumulated a sizable stash. My first act as Trustee was to sell the house to the long-time neighbor on a mortgage to provide Jen and me regular payments at a much better rate of interest than we’d get anywhere else.
Back in Santa Fe, I looked at the house where I’d been living for 30 years (through two previous personas), and realized that I was no longer interested in caring for a half-acre of yard and gardens, much less deal with the old greenhole with its roof falling in. The experience of clearing out all Mother’s stuff had taught me a good lesson, and I held another yard sale to get rid of half of what was left after the last year’s sale.
With the little left, in August I moved into a sweet one-bedroom in a complex called Avaria off St. Michael’s and Pacheco, Apt. 210. It had a luxurious balcony looking west at the mountains and a great space behind the building for an iris bed. (I’d also brought a dozen prize varieties along.) Ensconced in my snug eyrie with financial security, I embraced the freedom and solitude—for the first time in my life—to do whatever I wanted, and thus began the most productive period in my life—so far.
Still quite the non-sexual, I built a life routine that was quintessentially monkish. Each day I’d eat simple fare and park myself behind the computer (which I’d already done for many years on West Alameda) to work on whatever project was under way. Then later on weekday afternoons I picked Jammes up after school and took him home, really the closest activity I could hope for with my quickly growing grandson. It provided a time-anchor in my schedule and led easily into the drive to the Spa for my unchanging regimen. After that there were the usual dinners here or there with old friend Don or alone reading, and a long, relaxing evening at the computer again. Or on Wednesday nights out dancing at the Rouge Cat. Life didn’t get any better than that.
At first it took several months to wrap up the early version of my first memoir (to be re-done a couple years later). Early on also, I met a young man at the Spa who put together this wonderful website for me, and well into 2014 I wrote on its perhaps excessive verbiage and gathered the zillions of images. Now I had a platform to do anything I wanted. That winter I decided to make a coloring book out of the Aztec drawings in my old calendar book.
Always organized, I made a list of 26 main deities, the 20 from the calendar plus bad old Huitzilopochtli as head honcho and five more for the Five Suns (worlds) in their cosmology. Figuring both the deities and the colorist really deserved an ornamental context, I settled on the notion of the “icon” including elements of the “saintly” story and significance. So what if they’re pagan gods! They’re just as real as the supernatural being(s) in any other religion.
Always systematic, I proceeded alphabetically starting with Atl, the God of Water, who represents the Fourth Sun, and dug around in the various codices (now widely accessible online) looking for relevant images and designs. I had great fun pulling the pieces together and flexing my drawing muscles in my freeware graphics program (GIMP).
What with the over seven million pixels involved, it took some months to draw the icon of Atl. And so it went, one icon after another, through these past six years, each adding their weight to the free digital coloring book YE GODS! It was fortunate figuring out early how to cope with pixel fatigue. I’d switch off with writing projects, playing with words until that got tedious, then to the drawing until that did too.
By the middle of 2015 I’d rewritten that first novel about my youth in Arkansas BAT IN A WHIRLWIND. In that productive year I also finished off the memoir THERE WAS A SHIP, and in 2016 I researched and wrote the aforementioned biography MS YVONNE, The Secret Life of My Mother. A great part of the maternal project was learning to restore old photographs, a skill that still amazes me. I’m proud to say that in my safe retreat I only rarely cast disgusted glances at the trumpery going on in the outside world.
Four years (2013-2017) of living at Avaria in a creative flux were troubled only by the daily necessity to cope with traffic on St. Francis Avenue. It could take up to a half-hour to go three miles to the Spa! So I decided to find a place closer and incidentally closer to where Jammes’ new school would be on Agua Fria Street. Scarcely lifting a finger, in June I moved into a terrific “ivory tower” apartment on Alicia Street with space for a big garden and a second-floor roofed porch—again looking west towards the mountains.
In my new digs, my monkish life resumed: the taxi service for Jammes followed by Spa fun and the dancing. Then a big problem arose when one night in late 2017 I went out to the Skylight nightclub as usual and found its gates chained shut. The last dance joint in Santa Fe had bitten the dust. I was devastated. On the advice of a friend I checked out an “ecstatic” dance group that met on Thursday evenings, Embodydance, and was thrilled.
Of course, the icons have kept on coming. In alternating spurts, I wrote for the most recent years on the second memoir LORD WIND, winding it up just this summer of 2020. What made this creative orgy even better was that in 2018 I took two artistic leaps. First, I arranged an informational exhibition for that summer at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe called YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities. The 15 icons at that time, displayed on 3’ x 4’ vinyl banners, hung for an amazing two whole months. I also gave a battery of lectures and felt hugely fulfilled.
At the same time (summer, 2018) on a total whim I contacted New Orleans Opera about my opera translation done 40 years before for the Canadian Opera, Tchaikovsky’s “Joan of Arc.” They decided to stage it in New Orleans. In the three months of that fall I gave it a serious workover and then relaxed for them to do the rest. It was performed on February 7 & 9, 2020 (just over a month before the paradigm shift) celebrating the 100th anniversary of Joan’s canonization. I can truthfully say I’d never before felt so honored or my art so appreciated.
But truckloads of appreciation were also still to be had through my icon show. In fall 2018 it was up again for a month at Northern New Mexico College in Espanola, then in spring 2019 for two months at the Santa Fe Community College, and for October at NM Highlands University. After that, it went up in pieces for six weeks at the Southside Santa Fe Public Library. I was really on a roll. In early January, 2020 I hung it on 4’ x 5’ banners at the Ohkay Casino conference center in Española, planning on it up there till the end of the summer.
I really must return to my addiction to dancing. I sure wish I’d found ecstatic dance 60 years ago! Not skipping a beat, I went directly from disco to ecstatic, and Thursday night became the high point of my week. Very soon my dance started evolving. Ever since La Casa, I’d felt the Dionysian ecstasy, but it grew now into a somehow shamanistic celebration, first dancing for and with Mother’s spirit and then expanding to channel my other dear departed lovers, friends, and ancestors. A half-century after his death, I even danced reconciliation with my father’s spirit.
However, in early spring 2019 I got frustrated with the lowering energy at Embody and started dancing Wednesday nights at a place called Paradiso with a much higher energy and younger bunch. I’ve never felt more beautiful than as that demented old dervish at Paradiso. It was an apt name for a place to bring my host of spirits for the dance of blessed life.
In later March my eldest grandson Ike took his own life (at 18), and I lovingly took his spirit into the dance with me to soothe his pain and assuage my grief. At 13, Ike had come out as gay with little apparent anguish, but I think his lethal pain was probably the abysmal future looming for our new generation. My heart breaks to think that my other grandsons must face that same abyss. I most likely won’t be around to fall into it—unless it’s closer than I think…
Maybe it is. On Friday, March 13, 2020 I got the bad news from the manager of the Santa Fe Spa, Randy, that they were closing it down because of the virus. I felt like someone had yanked out my IV. The world I’d known was no more. No more picking up my grandson from school, no more workouts or saunas, no more ecstasies/rituals at Paradiso, nor visits or dinners out with friends. In my self-incarceration, I actually had to start cooking for myself!
When the paradigm of our world shifted, and my icon show got locked down at the casino. I’ll check soon to see if they’ll ever re-open the conference center, but in the meantime the icons might as well just hang on. I’ve got nothing else to do with the big ones, nor hope for public display of the smaller ones. My exhibition career may be over for the foreseeable future. Of course no future is really foreseeable now.
Desperately missing the gym, to keep my ancient body active, I went right away down the street to the fancy track and field to do power-walk laps, usually 12 for about three miles.
Besides sneaking out under a mask to grocery stores once or twice a week, (and working in the garden), the track is my only outside activity and provides most of my few human contacts (such as the Nepali soccer-playing kid in this photo), though they’re at the prescribed anti-social distance. Aimée occasionally will stop by walking the dog and talk at a masked distance, but Jammes is concerned about exposing me and only talks on the phone.
In the middle of June, Randy re-opened the Spa at 1/4 capacity, socially sanitized, masked, and distanced, with no facilities except the toilets. I worry that at that severely reduced level the business won’t be sustainable for very long. I sadly decided to stick to my track, which is much more appropriate for self-incarceration anyway. Without the sauna, I’m terrifically bereft.
Besides, the meditation of marching round and round the track lends itself to channeling my beloved spirits into the vital movement of my limbs—much like dancing. Power-walking (mixed with spurts of jogging) is proving something to replace both gym and Paradiso. Alleluia!
The track also suggests a metaphor for what’s happening to folks in this pandemic. Along its south side there’s a colony of prairie dog burrows. If any of the cute rodents are out and about, the instant anyone comes striding down the track, they frantically scurry back home and zip into their holes. Only the very bravest might poke its head up for an instant, casting a fearful beady black eye on me as I pass by, just like whack-a-mole.
That’s what this pandemic would turn humans into—paranoid prairie dogs. It’s ripping our social fabric into isolated, broken threads and destroying old networks tying folks into groups to speak, think, or act in any concerted way. I fear it’s a perverse, reverse natural selection thing to turn humans into non-social creatures, like wild animals only getting together to mate and otherwise lurking alone in the woods. Is it the survival mechanism for our species in a new environment?
Meanwhile, I tramp around the track and then scurry back to my second-story burrow, off and on sticking my beady-eyed head out the door. Otherwise I’m parked inside, like a wise old hermit squatting on his mountaintop. Used to be, a couple young friends would drop by for green tea and to listen to my pseudo-Buddhist sagacity and rambling anecdotes about ancient gay history. But they haven’t come by for some months now, and like me, all my old friends are squirreled away at home… We’re all hiding in our safe holes.
So I think Venerable Old Queen works rather well for the title of this eighth persona, much better than Saintly Old Hermit, and it’s way better for marketing my free gay merchandise. Who knows how long this persona will last? If and when I make it into my ninth one, I’ll let you know.
Till there’s more news, keep as safe, healthy and happy as you can.