Phoenix Rising


Dear James —

I’m sharing a comment someone made about my last piece, in which I was being a little hazy about my love life. Mopey Reader wrote:

Firstly, thank you for thinking of me. I do have some questions. Sometimes, if people use a number of metaphors and/or similes, or if they confuse the two the same way many mistakeningly [sic] use the term ironic in place of coincidental, I get confused and miss the main point. Is there a new lover or is this a metaphor for the art fairs? At first I thought the article was about a new person that you met but then it turned out to be about other things so I don’t know if that person is real or not.”

The Judgement of Paris

Relationships: We Are Slaves to the Empire of Instinct

I have been romantically involved on and off for almost five years with a guy I’ll call Chris because that’s his real name. It has been the most challenging of my life; he has a schizoid-avoidant personality, which has almost nothing to do with schizophrenia, and I am blessedly cursed with hypersensitivity and far less than a saint’s all-accepting disposition. He says he also has some form of OCD — a crack in the street will stall him for an hour when he only has to walk two blocks to Whole Foods. As attracted as we are to each other, as intellectually and artistically compatible, we are a fatally incompatible combo. Just as well that he lives in New York, I in Los Angeles.

I can have no expectations of Chris. I can rely on him for nothing.

Joan Holloway

Relationships: Love Means Never Being Afraid of Ending Up Alone

Trust Mad Men’s pneumatic, aging bombshell Joan Holloway to nail seven seasons worth of subtext in one sentence. In Sunday’s episode, which is rightly being lauded as the most emotional of the season, closeted Bob Benson, now fearing for his future as a senior executive in the hyper-masculine auto industry, desperately proposes to Joan, his fag hag. He believes this will be a mutually beneficial arrangement: her child will have a father, a male role model who literally looks and behaves like a model;

Duane Michals

Relationships: That Oh, So Toxic Deception

I’m on a relationship bender these days for a few reasons. The main one is readers overwhelmingly respond to these posts, more so than my articles about the creative process, my remembrances or my film reviews. Forget the erotic stuff from a few weeks ago; that was a dud (but I’m glad I did it). The secondary reason is there is a lot of dramatic relationship activity going on close to me, and for once it isn’t just my own.

As I’ve written before, creative types tend to have more atypical relationships than ‘normal’ people. That stands to reason. While we might aspire to some degree of normalcy in the false hope it will bring us stability and a measure of acceptance and validation, it’s not in our makeup to conform to a preset mold, which means normalcy will not contribute to our happiness.

Saint Sebastian

Story of S: Ascent Into Domination

Please read Part One of this series first.

We kiss and hug awkwardly, but that’s normal, S and I know that. We’re not like straights: We’re accustomed to showing up, taking off our clothes, having sex; then maybe talking about who we are. I was fine with the impersonal sex when I was younger, but I’m not now; it’s colorless, a void unfilled even by ejaculation — actually, I  become even emptier after I cum with a total stranger than I was before we collided. If there isn’t some sort of dating process,  a mental foreplay, it’s not happening. There’s doesn’t have to be romance, or the expectation of it; I’m not emotionally available right now, anyway. I am tied down that way, a semi-reluctant bondage that I want out of one day, want into the next.


Story of S: The Journey Into Bondage

“Vaping on the Surfliner to Santa Barbara. So Won Kar Wai,” I tweet. Everything is about film with me. I’m specifically referring to the glamorous robots and their lovers vaporously posing aboard zooming, futuristic trains in Won Kar Wai’s 2046. Maybe three people I know who could possibly read that tweet will get it. A minute later I get a response from a producer friend asking what the Surfliner is. She’s a dedicated driver, a Roman motorist, who would never take the train to either Santa Barbara or San Diego, the Surfliner’s route via Los Angeles, where it picked me up. Pity: it’s one of the most pleasant travel experiences I’ve ever known.

Orpheus and Eurydice

Caught in A Bad Romance: The Only Way Around This Is to Go Through It

A sad thing happened on Sunday, at the end of an otherwise enjoyable long weekend: a dear friend reached a crisis point with an on-again, off-again relationship that left him in an emotional pulp, as if he’d been beaten with chains by a gang of thugs. This was force five mental distress that saw him lying prone and sobbing to the degree he was physically incapacitated.

It’s horrible to watch someone you care for deeply go through this torment. You wish there were something you could do, but this isn’t real physical injury. There is no ambulance to call, no hand holding in the emergency room while you wait for a doctor to administer Dilaudid,

Butch Cassidy Sundance Kid

When It’s Time to Break Up with a Friend

I’ve been of two minds whether to write this piece for a few weeks now. Writing about relationships of any kind is more Oprah’s purview, but a case may be made that all writing is about a relationship of one form or another. With that self-serving justification in hand, let me proceed.

What finally prompted me to examine the end of friendships—or even putting a friendship on indefinite hiatus; you can never be sure what might happen down the road no matter how final the termination feels—is a close friend of mine called it off with another close friend of his today. There have been epistolary battles via emails for some time now, a veritable bloodbath of character assassinations.