“Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir of a Vulnerable Man” by John E. Quinlan— A Memoir

Quinlan, John E. “Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir of a Vulnerable Man”, edited by Alex Cruden, MCP Books, 2017.

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

John Quinlan philosophically looks at his inner man in “Tau Bada”. He was called Tau Bada which means  “big white man,” when he met the tribes of Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province, north of Australia.

Quinlan and his wife Fiona tried their luck at a fishing business before becoming coffee exporters in Papua New Guinea. There, Quinlan used his expertise as a businessman to pull together over 2400 people from numerous different tribes to form a business focused on coffee collection, processing, logistics and export. What he think about were the cultural differences and the fear and mistrust that some of the tribes felt toward him and toward each other.

Quinlan’s memoir is a true-action story about money, new love, cultural challenges, the essential messages of the American West and of the South Pacific, as well as a personal journey of self-discovery.

This is a true account of Quinlan’s life with his failures included. After losing his job security and the end of a marriage, Quinlan decided that he needed change in his life and took off on a motorcycle trip in August of 1999. It was then that he met Fiona who was from Papua New Guinea. Because he and Fiona were honest business people, John and Fiona expected the same from their employees. They provided opportunities for local farmers to harvest a cash crop something that had never happened before in New Guinea. However, when John entered the village of Kiara, he was the first white man to ever do so and vengeance was there.

The book comes together from the journals that Quinlan kept during his journey and we see a man who lost his egoism and sense of self when he lost his job in Michigan. He began searching for healing and wanted to make sense of what he thought was a great life and going to Papua seemed to be a good choice.

What the book is really about (in the words of the author) is “the quiet transitions to real courage and the soul milieu that connects and binds us as mutual occupants of a shared planet.” Quinlan begins his book with this quote and then goes on to show why this is really what he wants to say. We see that Quinlan’s courage, stamina, and trust as they are tested over and over throughout his life.

He fell in love with Fiona Tanner, a beautiful woman at first sight as she did with him and when he learns that her visa has expired, Quinlan tries to help her make a living for herself, her three daughters, and ultimately himself as well, in Papua. From this they go into the tribal areas of Papua New Guinea where Quinlan is called “Tau Bada”. They start a coffee business, and tribal customs and native superstitions lead to vengeance, betrayal, and ultimately an attempt on their lives.

This is a not just a memoir— it is also a tale of adventure, a look at building a business and a love story. The Papua New Guinea home of John and Fiona becomes a center of both profound joy and constant anxiety where death is certainly a possibility.

This is a fascinating read about courage and adventure that we all share. There is something for everyone—intrigue, danger, humor and the power of love.

 

 

“Proxies: Essays Near Knowing” by Brian Blanchfield— A Cultural Autobiography

Blanchfield, Brian. “Proxies: Essays Near Knowing”, Nightboat, 2016

A Cultural Autobiography

Amos Lassen

Brian Blanchfield’s “Proxies” is a collection of essays about honesty and the revelation of self . He calls his essays “inroads to disinhibited autobiography.” The twenty-five are gems that come together to give us the writer’s life story. In each essay, Blanchfield chooses a subject that he looks at from several different angles and then produces a surprising and beautiful analogy. These confessional writings find their places between

“a poetics of impersonality” and a “disinhibited autobiography.” Through narrative, we are ushered into the writer’s life where we meet his family and John, hiss partner, friends and former lovers.

This is part memoir and part criticism and the essays chronicle Blanchfield’s life and memory. He shares his sensitivity to his own life experiences including growing up as a “primitive Baptist” in North Carolina.

His thought is influenced by reading, loving, and reckoning and each word seems to be specifically chosen with grace and daring. He goes through his life making mistakes in order to understand himself and his world sharing all that he feels he needs to live today and he reminds us to look within ourselves.

 

“CHERRY POP”— One Crazy Night

“Cherry Pop”

One Crazy Night

Amos Lassen

One crazy night in the life of a small local bar’s drag show is what “Cherry Pop” is all about. We meet a newcomer who struggles with being the outcast on his first night, a legend coming to terms with life after her last night in drag and about a bunch of back-stabbing queens with their own problems who just plain can’t stand each other.

We also see stories of some of the people who come into the bar. Chaos reigns here. There is another little twist here— a love story about a boy who falls in love with a girl, who accepts the boy for who he is even if he has a deep secret desire to dress like a woman and perform.

Assad Yacoub directed this film that centers on drag queens. Not only is the plot unconventional but it also has a revolutionary view point to bring to audiences. The film stars such drag queens as Detox, Latrice Royale, Bob the Drag Queen, Misty Violet, Mayhem Miller and Lars Berge as The Cherry.

We see claws come out and feathers are sequins fly as we watch a challenge to traditional gender roles and societal constructs of sexuality (in a non-threatening and comical way). There is lots of humor and lots of wigs as we understand the message of loving who are.

“EVEN LOVERS GET THE BLUES”— A Look at Modern Love

“Even Lovers Get the Blues”

A Look at Modern Love

Amos Lassen

Ana is sleeping with Hugo, Dalhia with Graciano who does not know where he is in life, Léo with Louis, and Arthur is sleeping with everyone in Belgian director Laurent Micheli first feature film. One night, Hugo doesn’t wake up, and Anna begins to mourn him by reconnecting with his body, abusing it, listening to it, ignoring it and, finally, freeing it. All the characters cross paths in the randomness of the Brussels night and then once again in the countryside. Love here takes on a number of different forms.


The story, which begins in the cold of Brussels’ winter, migrates, with spring, to a rural lakeside, before coming to a close in the summer heat of the city’s secret gardens. We visit the bathroom in a bar, a nightclub, have sex on a sofa bed, go to a deserted beach where bodies come together and loves are lost, searched for and are, sometimes found again. The characters’ paths cross and uncross, couples are created and then unmade and there is experimentation with an ever-evolving sexuality as our characters search for the kind of thrills that make them feel alive. We see the unease of this generation in an insecure society that wants and tries to reinvent sex and love.

Director Micheli dares to present confronting sex scenes that are far removed from the norms of the era. The sexual freedom that we see on the screen portrayed explicitly on the screen represents the idea of formal freedom. The film has a sense of vibrancy that is free from the cinematic language that so many adhere to and this freedom carries a burden of awkwardness, but brings real freshness into the film as it portrays the characters’ procrastination in their quest for meaning and freedom in their life.

For the actors (Gabriel da Costa, Adriana da Fonseca, Marie Denys, Séverine Porzio, Arnaud Bronsart, Tristan Schotte) this is their first film role and in their private lives, they all have the conviction and frivolity of their characters.

“Caspid: A Love Song” by Joseph Osmundson—An Essay on HIV, Desire, Science, Queerness and Love

Osmundson, Joseph “Capsid: A Love Song”, Indolent Books, 2016.

An Essay on HIV, Desire, Science, Queerness and Love

Amos Lassen

Joseph Osmundson is a scientist and writer from rural Washington State who is today a post-doctoral fellow in systems biology at New York University.

He describes “Capsid: A Love Song” as an essay “On HIV, desire, science, queerness, love.” This is a long-form essay that incorporates eight prose poems, each one inspired by a different phase in the life cycle of HIV. The person infected with a virus is known as the host, and that makes the virus a guest. That guest can sometimes be a friend and/or a friend who becomes a lover. Osmundson here explores the intimacy of the relationship between an HIV-positive person and his virus. He does so through his scientific perspective thus making this young gay man “an especially poignant singer of this love song”.

Because of that I am not going to share the content of the book because I believe reading it should be a personal experience as we go from the time he was first tested for HIV to where he is today. Let me just say that this is a read that you do not want to miss.

 

 

 

“Books for Living” by Will Schwalbe— The Power of Books

Schwalbe, Will. “Books for Living”, Knopf, 2016.

The Power of Books

Amos Lassen

With the Lambda Literary Award nominations announced today, I was shocked to see how many of the books on the list I have not read and now I really have to get to work. It seems that I missed some really good ones and “Books for Living” quickly moved to the top of my list. Since we were snowed in today, I got the chance to read it and wonder why I had not done so before. I am certainly aware of the fact that books shape who we are and how we think. Will Schwalbe reminds us of this throughout this book. I agree with him totally that reading is entertainment and that it allows us to understand the world we live in. Schwalbe is on a quest for books that “speak to the specific challenges of living in our modern world, with all its noise and distractions”. In each chapter, he looks at a particular book and he shares what brought him to it (or vice versa), the people in his life he associates with it, and how it became a part of his understanding of himself in the world.  These books span centuries and genres and include classic works of adult and children’s literature as well as contemporary thrillers and even cookbooks. Each book relates to the questions and concerns we all share. Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully. He also shares stories and recommendations and if you love books as I do, you will love this as well.

Schwalbe takes us on a personal journey through a life of reading. But like any great journey and it is much more than just words. He gives us a map to those places deep inside ourselves where books can take us. We learn how stories and characters, inspire us, guide us and reveal us. Schwalbe uncovers lessons in and around books and these include lessons that have nothing to do with the content of the reading. What we need to remember is that each book we read is an encounter with another human soul and Schwalbe shows us how to truly experience that depth of different human connections. 

Do not be misled— this is much less an account of the specific books Schwalbe loves and cherishes and more of a little push to us to recall or seek out the kinds of books that will provide us with meaning, solace and enlightenment.

Schwalbe tells us the story of his life with the books he has read as inspiration for his remembrance of things past. He is a highly reflective person and his reading helps him to relive the sights and sounds of his childhood and adult life.

As a gay man he has learned the hard way what it means to reveal himself to others, but in his book he shares his most intimate thoughts and feelings with us and we love him for this. He speaks directly to us and tells us what is on his mind and he writes so naturally that it is easy to forget we are reading and not in actual conversation with him. We feel ready to share our own thoughts with him about the special books that have made a difference for good in our lives even though they may be far from the books he has chosen for his himself.

Schwalbe also shares examples of how to be a compassionate human by using shared reading experiences to enhance relationships and self-awareness. This is, quite simply, a beautiful gift from a beautiful man.

“A VERY SORDID WEDDING”— Back to Texas with the Gang

“A Very Sordid Wedding”

Back to Texas With the Gang

Amos Lassen

I have been a huge fan of Del Shores ever since I first saw “Sordid Lives” which now finally has a sequel with some of the original cast. The people who live in Winters, Texas are still as loony as ever even though age has made them a bit more tender.

It is now2015 and Ty (Kirk Geiger), who was coming to terms with his sexuality in the first film, is now legally married to a man. His mother, Latrelle (Bedelia), is still living in Winters, but she is not the same difficult a person as she once was, although she’s still got an edge when pushed. However, when she learns that she’s going to become a grandmother, she realizes that she has not fully opened up as she should.

Latrelle’s sisters are in their own worlds. Sissy (Dale Dickey) is still chain smoking and LaVonda (Ann Walker) is flirting with love. Then there is Brother Boy (Leslie Jordan) who is now out of the mental institution but still plagued by visions of the psychiatrist who tried to turn him straight. He’s working on a new drag act where he’ll play three queens of country music. However he gets fired and ends up on a road trip with a serial killer.

There is a problem in Winters. The US Supreme Court has just decreed that same sex marriage should be legal across the United States, but the new Baptist preacher there has decided to organize an ‘anti-equality’ drive, in the hope of making sure that no gay marriage will ever happen in their county. Some of the residents of the town back this prejudice and begin using bible verses to support it while but others come together to try and put a stop to the bigotry.

I believe that one of the reasons that “Sordid Lives” has always been fun is because the female characters often insult one another in wonderful ways. We again have that here with the new actors hurling insults wonderfully. Ion fact, we become so involved with them that the plot fades away for a while.

If you have not seen either “Sordid Lives” or the series based on it, you might feel a little lost in the beginning but that passes and you will soon be rolling with the cast. When things speed up, you will be smiling with the rest of us. Bonnie Bedelia and Dale Dickey give a good deal of heart to the film and we laugh at the adventures of Jordan as Brother Boy. However, there is a note of sadness as we realize how some of us are affected by aging (that does NOT include me, however). We also see the evils of homophobia and as absurd and silly as this film gets, there is a sweetness to it. I am not going to disclose who is getting married because that is part of the fun.

I loved seeing Sissy Hickey reading the Bible from cover to cover, trying to make some kind of sense out of what it really says about gay people.  Her niece Latrelle has finally divorced her husband Wilson (Michael MacRae) who has taken up with a hot young gold digger (Katherine Bailess).  Latrelle’s now out and proud gay son Ty is on his way back to town with his black lover (T. Ashanti Mozelle) and news of their own.  Her sister LaVonda is being blackmailed to sit with the sick and afflicted. LaVonda’s best friend Noleta (Caroline Rhea) meets a hot younger man (Aleks Paunovic) while visiting her awful mama (Carole Cook) in the hospital.  G.W. (David Steen) has new fiberglass legs after Noleta burned his old ones is still feeling guilty and mourning Peggy.  Nearly incoherent barfly Juanita (Sarah Hunley) has moved from her obsession with Vacation Bible School roosters to the royal family while Wardell (Newell Alexander) and Odell (David Cowgill) still fight at the bar Brother Boy hasn’t been back to Winters since Peggy’s funeral, and he’s working at a tragic little gay bar in Longview, having added Loretta and Dolly to his new medley act “We Three Queens of Oper-y Are” till a chance meeting with a dangerous criminal (Emerson Collins) forces him out on the run.  

 An anniversary memorial service is being planned in honor of Peggy at Bubba’s Bar while the Southside Baptist Church is planning an “Anti-Equality Rally” to protest the advancement of same-sex marriage, spearheaded by Vera Lisso (Lorna Scott) and Mrs. Barnes (Sharon Garrison.)  Both events are to take place on the same night, so the cast of colorful characters are all on a collision course for shenanigans and fireworks!  Along the way a host of new faces arrive in Winters including Ty’s man, Latrelle’s ex-husband and his gold digger, the new fire and brimstone preacher (Levi Kreis), Noleta’s mother, several drag queens and a bisexual serial killer, all swept into the adventure on the way to the surprise wedding. Could we possibly want things to be any crazier?

“Sordid Lives” was (among other things) about coming out in a conservative southern world, A Very “A Very Sordid Wedding” looks at  bigotry and what happens when gay marriage comes to communities and families that are not quite ready to accept it.   Del Shores’ trademark comedy and his much-beloved Sordid Lives characters to deal with these important current social issues is everywhere as is the very real process of accepting family for who they are instead of who we might want them to be. For the dysfunctional folks of the small suburban town of Winters in Texas, it looks like time stands still.  This time we have a contemporary issue in the story to get all the Town’s homophobes worked up about when the handsome but bigoted new Church pastor  wants to have an Anti-Equality Rally. There is a surprise cameo by one of our favorite actresses but what really makes this film so much fun is seeing the cast having a great time making this film and then sharing it with us.

“FORT BUCHANAN”— Romantic Turmoil

 

“Fort Buchanan”

Romantic Turmoil

Amos Lassen

When Roger Sherwood’s husband Frank is sent on a mission to Djibouti, Roger remains behind with his adopted daughter, the temperamental Roxy, at Fort Buchanan, a remote base in the middle of the woods. Over the course of that year, he seeks advice, company and consolation from a middle-aged woman, from three wives abandoned by their husbands, and a farmer and personal-trainer. He learns that all of who are dealing with their own romantic turmoil.

“Fort Buchanan” is directed by American filmmaker Benjamin Crotty and it looks at living on an army base with a rebellious adopted daughter. The daughter, Roxy is quite the girl exhibiting buxom, earthy charms that constantly tempt sexually frustrated army wives to engage in gossip.

At first, “Fort Buchanan” seems to be Initially structured around the domestic inner workings of an army base and focuses on the lives of several broken family units as examines the entwined sexual activities and tastes of forsaken spouses. But it really exploits the familiarity of its setup to emphasize its disinterest in sticking to formulas, considering recognizable plotlines before tossing them aside as the film moves between military and civilian life. We have an atmosphere of desire—whether quashed, fulfilled, or neglected that comes to us in different and strange ways.

The base becomes a sylvan retreat that seems to have returned back into the forest and seems like a summer camp more than anything else. Here the spouses, most of them female, play out a queer-oriented roundelay of sexual gamesmanship, pressuring the naïve Roger (Andy Gillet) who is stubbornly faithful to his Djibouti-stationed husband, Frank (David Baiot) to join them. A similar pressure is exerted upon the local fitness instructor/mysterious woodsman (Guillaume Palin), with the general uptick in sexual energy apparently timed to the sexual awakening of Roger and Frank’s adopted daughter, Roxy (Iliana Zabeth) who is introduced into a the coven of part-time lesbians.

From beginning to end, Crotty backs up his ideas with humor and the sensual evocation of the base’s natural setting. The film which never settles into any identifiable rhythm; instead it drifts freely through a tangle of relationships as it looks at the intricacies of group mechanic.

When Roger and the wives go to visit their husbands in Djibouti, Roger finds that the spark has gone out of his marriage. Hoping to reignite the flame with his husband Frank (David Baiot) Roger takes certain measures which leave him, when they fail, standing alone in the middle of a party. He no longer really knows who his husband is or what he wants, and this is the matter at the heart of Crotty’s film.

The film presents us with a scenario in which the two parties of various marriages are split apart and made to live in different worlds. In a marriage of two people, as they live through shared experiences, the hope is that they will grow together through the seasons but when separated into drastically different worlds the two people are likely to grow in opposite directions. In “Fort Buchanan” this is so to such an extent that not only can the divided people not be together when reunited in one world or the other; they are not even able to live in that other world.

In addition to this complex emotional aspect between lovers, sexual frustrations fizz and than fall flat. Sex drives divert and digress and lead the characters into cross-currents of interaction with one another and the wives begin to turn their attentions towards Frank and Roger’s sometimes violent daughter, Roxy (Iliana Zabeth).

This is a look at intimacy and the lives of characters of characters that is fascinating, often funny and sometimes sad.

“The Combat Zone” by Vincent Wilde— Meet Cody Harper

Wilde, Vincent. “The Combat Zone (Cody Harper)”, Cleis Press, 2017.

Meet Cody Harper

Amos Lassen

With “The Combat Zone”, Cleis Press seems to be trying to make some kind of comeback after the last two disastrous years after the press was sold, reviewers were insulted and many in its writers stable bolted for greener pastures. For me it is especially hard to deal with Cleis after having reviewed for them for so many years. I literally had to beg and argue with them to send me review copies. Requests would go unanswered and the new staff had a lot to learn about dealing with people. I could not help but notice that for this book, they contacted reviewers with a plea to review this.

The Combat Zone was once Boston’s officially sanctioned red-light district and while the name has stuck, it is not what it was. When gay, cross-dressing detective Cody Harper learns of a sadistic murderer who is stalking haunting the steamy streets of the Combat Zone, he takes it upon himself to find a way to put a stop to it. However, Cody’s unrequited love interest, Stephen Cross, learns more and more about the killer and finds himself in the center of killer’s targets thus forcing Cody to use all the tricks he has including his drag persona, Desdemona, in order to stop whoever is behind the terrible murders. Cody “is a man who enjoys wielding a whip as much as slipping into a silk chemise”. But when Stephen Cross tells Cody about the death threats he’s received, Cody is willing to do whatever it takes to stop the murders and protect Stephen.

It also happens to be election time and a self-righteous and corrupt presidential candidate is becoming powerful and with a secretly homophobic detective barely cracking the murder cases along with Stephen’s life at stake, Cody realizes that we will have to go from the “underbelly of Boston” to a neo-Nazi compound in the mountains of New Hampshire to put a stop to the killer.  

 The first book in the Cody Harper Novel series and while great literature it is not and it does not pretend to be. It is a fun read for those who like dark novels and it is filled with sex, betrayal, and danger. As to whether this new series will save Cleis Press, we will have to wait and see. Personally, I think they would be a lot better off if they unloaded their staff and got some real people to work for them. I really never thought I would ever review for them again and that was because I was so rudely dealt with. However, I firmly believe in keeping our literature alive and vibrant and I firmly believe that Cleis is ready to rejoin us and the press was always a step above the dishonesty of another major LGBT press that very conveniently and dishonestly hides the gender of their authors. It sees that their name fits their “dreams”. And yes, I enjoyed reading “The Combat Zone”.

“The Ada Decades” by Paul Martinac— Back to the 1950s

Martinac, Paula. “The Ada Decades”, Bywater Books, 2017.

Back to the 1950s

Amos Lassen

Ada Shook is a girl from a Carolina mill family who manages to do what girls from mill families are not supposed to do— she wants a career and strives to get one. She graduated from college on a scholarship and landed a good job as a school librarian. Set in the 1950s, the South was going through a turbulent time with integration and rocks with turbulence. Ada is soon caught up in the fight to integrate the Charlotte public schools. At the same time, she becomes friends with Cam Lively, a teacher who challenges her to reexamine her narrow upbringing. Through this the two young women fall in love and work together for the good of the schools yet all the while being afraid of being discovered and losing their jobs.

Ada, now in her 70s, has seen racism in all of its forms and how some use religion for both comfort and torment while the gay people have created their own networks to stay together. “The Ada Decades” is made up of eleven stories that are connected and together give us Ada’s life. I think it is important to note here that unless you are from the south or have lived there during this period, you might have a rough time understanding and/or accepting southern ways. Most of us who are members of the southern LGBT community tend to think like Ada but remember we were not always as visible as we are now.

What I really love about this book is that the story leads us to think about so much as we are reminded of how we once had to live.