Saturday, March 24, 2018

Finding Yourself at the Movies: The Power of Story

I don’t watch a lot of movies. I find them boring.

It’s basically Heterosexual White Guy confronts an enemy that wants to destroy the world (or the world as Heterosexual White Guy knows it, which can mean his career, his marriage, his city, etc.) and only Heterosexual White Guy can save the day. It’s gotten real boring, cliche, and repetitive.

Other than Guardians of the Galaxy, I don’t watch superhero movies. They’re all the same. Good Heterosexual White Guy must save the world from Evil Heterosexual White Guy. They have a big battle. Buildings are destroyed. But just when it seems Good Heterosexual White Guy is about to lose and all hope is lost, he finds the strength within him to overcome. Yawn.

The trailer for Infinity War, the culmination of the last several years of Marvel movies, is a snooze fest. I struggle to pay attention to the whole thing.

Then there’s Black Panther. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s one Marvel movie that I will make a point of seeing. Everything I’ve seen and heard about the movie tells me that it’s one I have to see — I dare not miss it.

What’s drawing me to the movie? It’s not about Heterosexual White Guy. Even more, it’s not even set in Heterosexual White Guy’s world. It features a nearly all black cast in the fictional African country of Wakanda and it thrives on the energy and vitality of the Afrofuturistic world it portrays.

Black Panther has so captivated audiences worldwide that it’s smashing box office records. There are news stories of inner city kids of colour in Canada and USA filling theatres, seeing themselves in the heroes on the screen (for the very first time), and being filled with inspiration and hope.

Last year, Wonder Woman did the same thing for young women that Black Panther did for kids of colour. Theatres were packed for Wonder Woman, smashing all expectations, because audiences were craving a strong female superhero.

Last night, I saw the movie Love, Simon. This movie is about a closeted high school boy who finds the strength to come out and find love. Love, Simon is so powerful, so heartwarming, so honest, and so true that it’s inspiring young people around the world to scrounge up the course to come out. Social media is filled with stories of people who came out after watching the movie, then feeling so free and loved after doing so. (Honestly, I cried through two-thirds of the movie and I’m really not a crier. My sister calls me an emotionless robot — so this is a testament to how powerful this movie is.)

And it certainly didn’t escape my attention that **spoiler** Simon’s love interest is a black Jewish boy.

A while back, I watched Call Me By Your Name — a story of gay love in the 80s. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time. It is so beautifully done.

Diversity is on the rise in Hollywood. It’s good for business — all of the movies above have been critical or box office successes, or in most cases, both. All of them have drawn in audiences who may not share identities with the main characters, but they still find points of connection. When I saw Love, Simon yesterday, I highly doubt that the room was filled with LGBT audiences. My mom (who is straight) saw Call Me By Your Name and raves about it, and she’s going to see Love, Simon very soon.

During the Oscars, they televised a pre-recorded segment about diversity in movies. Oscar nominee Kumail Nanjiani had this to say:

"Some of my favorite movies are by straight white dudes about straight white dudes," he said. "Now, straight white dudes can watch movies starring me and you relate to that. It's not that hard. I've done it my whole life." (source)

Audiences are finding themselves in these movies. And these movies are far stronger for it.

I hope this trend continues. I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m a die-hard Star Trek fan. I love how diverse the cast of the new Star Trek: Discovery is. In the past, Star Trek has been celebrated for it’s diversity, but it seemed diversity meant heterosexual white people and heterosexual black people. Until Discovery, I could probably name and count non-white and non-black characters on one hand.

With Discovery, among the main cast and secondary cast (which includes regularly-seen-though-not-always-named bridge characters), we have white, black, Latino, Malaysian, and Pakistani actors. (Shazad Latif is actually British, but his Pakistani heritage is a refreshing splash of diversity.) We also had Star Trek’s first official gay couple.

There is strength in storytelling reflecting real life. It makes it more honest, more true, more relatable.

A while back, there was outrage on Twitter (haha, when is there not outrage on Twitter?) over a writer who said that she is writing an all-white all-heterosexual cast of characters because that’s life as she knows it. The response from the internet at large was that if that’s life as she knows it, she’s likely ignoring the world around her. Almost no one lives in an all-white all-heterosexual community.

But reflecting diversity of characters is only half of it. The other half is diversity is emotional honesty.

In Love, Simon, Nick Robinson (who plays Simon) does a phenomenal job of exhibiting the awkwardness, discomfort, and ongoing nervousness of coming out. I saw a lot of myself in him and his portrayal of Simon. I'm sure many people did.

In Call Me By Your Name, Elio (brilliantly portrayed by Timothée Chalamet) has a very different journey than Simon — he struggles with the same issues, but doesn’t really have a coming out aspect to his journey. It’s reflective of the journey that many people have with their sexuality. No two people have the same journey.

Watching these very diverse movies and these movies that pack an emotional gut punch has me thinking about my own writing and what’s lacking — and what I want to achieve. I’m working on a very long novel right now, New York Heat, which is a sequel to two series I’ve already published. Since it’s a sequel, I’m mostly working with pre-existing characters … who are all white. Thus, with the two new characters I added to this book, I made one of them an immigrant from Ghana. It’s a small piece of diversity, but just the start of what I plan to do with my writing. I also made two men bi rather than gay, because I'm increasingly recognizing the threat of bi-erasure in erotic literature (and society in general, for that matter).

The sequel to New York Heat will be a book called New York Ice. Presently, I know of two new characters I’ll be introducing — one will be a trans man and the other will be a Thai gay man. The books are set in New York City, after all. I remember back when Friends was on TV, there were occasional articles in the media about how white the show is given where it’s located. I don’t want my books to suffer the same criticism. Really, though, it goes much further than wanting to avoid criticism. They say “write what you know” — so, what do I know? My close friends and family are white, Filipino, Malaysian, Pakistani, gay, straight, lesbian, trans, and more.

By writing diversity, I’m writing what I know. I’m writing a reflection of the world I live in, the world as it is.

Then there’s the emotional gut punch. One could very easily argue that erotica and erotic romance is no place for emotions other than lust and love.

I disagree.

Emotions and emotional storylines of all types add diversity to story.

The ending of Orphan’s Triumph by Robert Buettner (book five of the five-book sci-fi Jason Wander series) turned my world upside down for weeks. I still get chills thinking about how Buettner created such an emotional gut punch that was so unexpected — especially for the genre of military sci-fi — but was so perfect. After spending five books fighting an implacable enemy, one who has utterly destroyed everything and everyone Jason Wander cares about, **spoiler** the book ends with a final confrontation between Jason and the enemy (a planet-sized hive-mind being). I saw this coming half-way through the series. Then Buettner turned it all upside down by having Jason talk to the enemy, understand the enemy, have the enemy understand him, and then forgive the enemy and letting it go. Regularly in life, we are challenged to forgive our enemies and to show compassion to those who have harmed us. This book shows us how powerful that moment can be.

This four-panel comic strip from the often-hilarious and often-sombre Pearls Before Swine packs an incredible emotional gut punch in only a few words. This is a pain that almost anyone can relate to, whether or not they've experienced a school shooting.

Seasons three and four of Futurama, an often-goofy animated sci-fi show by the the guy that made The Simpsons, often has me in tears because of the unexpected but oh-so-perfect emotional gut punches. Peppered among the goofy episodes are emotional stories about love, family, loss, and more. The Jurassic Bark episode often has me tearing up just by thinking about it -- a thousand years in the future, Fry discovers the petrified remains of his dog, Seymour, from before he travelled to the future. **Spoiler** As he's about to clone his dog from the DNA they've found in the petrified remains, he discovers that Seymour lived a long life after Fry left and travelled to the future. In the closing scene, we discover that Seymour spent the rest of his life waiting at the spot where he met Fry, hoping that his master would return to him. The very closing second is Seymour passing away.

So is there room for this kind of emotional gut punch in erotica and romance?

Fuck yes.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a few pen names — under my other pen names, I basically write wank stories. They’re short and they’re meant to get the reader off. There is a place for those in the market and I’ll continue to write them.

But for this name, for Cameron D. James, I’m seeing a shift in where my writing is going. I will still market my stuff as MM erotic romance and/or gay erotica — but it will be so much more than that. New York Heat and New York Ice are both going to pack an emotional gut punch that is extremely atypical for the genres. But it’s the story I want to tell.

The best stories are often the ones that the writer is most invested in. Under this pen name, I write the stories I’m most invested in. I throw my whole heart, mind, and soul into these books. I try to reflect diversity (and I’m striving to do better at it) and I try to reflect emotional honesty — and to do that, I have to create stories that are deep and rich, which means I can no longer just do surface-level love stories. I can't be afraid of taking a risk and going for something sad or painful.

Will I lose some readers? Undoubtedly.

Will I gain some readers? Undoubtedly.

But who am I writing for? The reader or myself? I’m writing for myself. But that doesn’t mean the reader won’t get something out of it. With novels of emotional depth and honesty, featuring characters that are diverse and true to life, who face the same struggles and trauma that real people face … there will be people who read my books and say, “Finally, a book that I identify with.”

I’ve always struggled with the vociferous argument that condoms must be used in MM erotic romance. The key argument is typically that featuring condom use or over-long explanations on how getting tested is a normal thing that loving couples do is written into the book for the young gay man who might be reading the story — maybe he’ll internalize that message and have a healthy approach to his sex life. The problem with that, though, is the key readership of MM erotic romance is women, not gay men. The message is nice, yeah, but it’s directed at the wrong people. (And, honestly, I think it reinforces the idea in non-gay-men’s-minds that gay men are diseased and must use condoms to stay alive — but that’s an argument for another day.) By including this in the books, these writers are trying to reflect a rather narrow exeperience that is not shared by their largest readership.

But by writing a diverse cast and plots that feature that emotional gut punch -- and stories that reflect life itself -- I can write something that almost anyone can identify with. That Pearls Before Swine comic I linked to above has a message that anyone can identify with, whether or not they’ve been personally affected by a school shooting. The ending of that book, Orphan’s Triumph, is about forgiveness in the most extreme of situations. Jurassic Bark, that episode of Futurama, is about loving your dog. These are relatable to anyone who consumes these media. And all of these media are richer and stronger for it.

I’m finding my way in my writing.

I was lost for quite a bit. I wrote some wank stories and thought that was the extent of it. I was going to write some stuff in other genres (in fact I have a sci-fi novel on my hard drive and plans for a trilogy, as well as plans for a line of thrillers that my writing group says is strong enough to land a traditional deal) — but I’ve put all of those projects aside and have no plans to pick them up again.

Why? Because they’re just plot. The don’t have the diverse characters (though I could certainly put that in) or the emotional gut punch that I now realize is what I love most about books and movies. To rewrite those books to include those things would make them very different beasts. I may return to them at some point, but I’m not ready for it yet.

I write stories of transformation, growth, pain, trauma, healing, hope, love, loss, and family. I write stories about life. Yeah, there’s a lot of sex along the way. Sex is part of life. There are probably people who read my books for just the sex. But there are also probably people who would read my books even if there wasn’t sex in it. I’ll write what I want to write and my audience will find me.

Just like audiences are now finding themselves in the movies, I’m hoping readers find themselves in my books.

Apologies to my fellow Grippers for being late yet again.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Autumn Fire. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, member of the Indie Erotica Collective, and hosts two podcasts, Deep Desires Podcast and Sex For Money. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Friday, March 23, 2018

My Ranking! My Precious Ranking!

Lost: sales rank listing for all erotica books on Amazon US. If found, please return to their rightful place.

Yep, as of yesterday (Aussie time), any books categorized as "erotica" have lost their overall sales rank position on Amazon US. Apparently this happened on Amazon India a while back, too. The books still retain their category ranking, but not an overall one.

Plenty of theories have already abounded as to why this is. Having been through the Pornocalypse in 2012, and all the ongoing adjustments that have been slapped upon us since then, I'm treating this as a big red flag.

Maybe nothing much will change. Maybe everything will. I don't wanna go all Chicken Little here, but it worries me that perhaps this loss of one particular status point will be only the first step toward a total relegation of all erotica titles. Either to the seedy backstreets of Amazon, or off the distributor's site completely.

It's fair to say that erotica must still constitute an enormous part of Amazon's revenue, so logic would dictate they're gonna stick with selling it. As long as they're able to without risk.

The passing of the SESTA/FOSTA bill is being pointed to as a credible cause for this change. I'm as apolitical as my own chest hair is, so I can't really say much. Also, I'm in Australia where the bill will only have a flow-on effect (though it could be huge).

I mentioned the Pornocalypse earlier. At that time, when Amazon and others made an overnight (apparently) and unannounced decision to place far greater limits on what could be published, it felt as though the world of erotica had ended. We all got through that, and through every minor Pornocalypse since then.

But each time these changes happen, it saps a little more of our strength, and our power. If we want to keep playing in the biggest sand pit in town, we have to keep handing over a little more of our soul. Okay, that's probably too dramatic, but it does feel that way. Even in the cases where we're churning out a 3,000 word story which is nothing but genitalia being diddled, it's still something that came from us. It might be a red-headed step child, but it's still our baby.

For me, this hits just as I was getting moving on churning out short smutty tales under a new pen name. None of those five books have overall ranking, and none of them have done all that much yet. That's pretty normal, since you really do need to have a bunch of books out before you could expect much action. But now I need to sit back and wait, to see if there's any point in continuing that project.

I'd like to think nothing much will change. I more strongly believe much will change but most of it will be well below the surface. The distributors rely far too heavily on their precious smutbux to simply send it all packing.

In the end, though, this simply strengthens my resolve to get my non-erotic/non-romance stories cranking again. Ribald poetry, children's books...even zombies and post-apocalypse. Because it seems, now as much as ever, there are far fewer strictures on KILLING people in books than there are on loving them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Libido—A Terrible Thing to Lose

by Daddy X

If I were to expound on the necessities of life on earth, sex would certainly be right up there with food, water and oxygen.

As a boy, I looked forward to becoming a teenager. The changes in my body and general interests took a giant leap after I turned 13. Prior to that, I’d had crushes on girls, aware only of the basics of sex but not the full picture. After that, shifts in focus went from fishing and wandering in the woods to girls, girls, girls. Even at the time, I figured that 13 had to be the greatest age ever.

I grew up to be the guy who could fuck all night.  I can remember having eight orgasms on several occasions before we both quit from exhaustion. The guy who never tired out. Never said ‘no’. Always ready, always willing. Ready to please. And to be pleased. 

Now, not so much. Though I am certainly moved by sexual concepts and by Momma X (or those Latina twin sisters wearing identical stretch tights who I saw last week in Whole Foods rocking identical pear-shaped asses that looked like either one could yank a dick out by the roots) it’s all in the  mind. The idea of acting on those stimuli are virtually nil for good reason:

Realistically, I’m too old to be attractive to someone sexually. Sure, some women may think I’m ‘cute’. They may even say I present a ‘sophisticated’ or ‘witty’ demeanor. But wanna fuck me? Nah.

I have to admit it’s not going to happen.

Not only because I couldn’t attract a woman; that’s been the case for quite a while. But there was a time when I could still fantasize. I could always imagine some addled tart losing her sense of judgment (or eyesight) while negotiating a warp of sanity and coming on to me.

Now, even that silly fantasy is beyond my reach. Even if something like that happened, my equipment wouldn’t respond. I can’t even get hard these days for more than a minute at a time. Of course, I know that a boner isn’t the be-all-end-all to sex. I understand that tongues, fingers, palms, arms, legs, tits, asses, noses and shoulders coupled with an extensive imagination can be effective aids to sexual pleasure. But even then I’d have to talk somebody into it. Hah!

So now that my libido isn’t what it used to be as far as capability goes, it stands to reason that I should still be able to write on the subject strictly through experience and speculation.

Not so. Seems that much of my motivation to write occurred while exploiting that testosterone-driven acceleration of hormones that I loved (and depended on) so much. Now that my libido has taken a back seat to the consequences of age, it seems ideas don’t pop into my brain as vividly. The agility of my vocabulary is failing. Where once words flowed easily, almost on their own, concepts now need constant prodding, wrestling nearly every sentence into something coherent and effective.

I’m lucky to have sublimation activities to satisfy my yearnings. As I mentioned last fortnight, I have once again increased involvement in my art and antiques business. That, and the reasons stated above have brought me to this swan song for OGG.

Although you’ll see my comments here from time to time, this will be my final post as a regular contributor to this blog.

Thank you Lisabet, for including me in this endeavor. Double thanks for holding my hand while prodding me into a published status in the world of erotica writing. (I love prodding.)

And it’s been lots of fun learning from you all.

Be well.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lost--and Found

Sacchi Green

Loss has been on my mind too much lately for me to write lightly about it, and I’ve been tempted to opt out of this topic, but I might as well give it a try. Fair warning that it’s just my own idle meandering, pretty much gloomy except possibly the part about the erotic dreams.

I need to clear out and try to sell the house where I grew up, at least from the age of nine. I watched it being built by a local carpenter with my father helping as an assistant. Now my father, at 98, has recently been moved to an “extended care” facility very near where I live, an hour away from where he lived with my mother for more than sixty years, and then six more years alone (with help from family and friends.) The house now isn’t worth much, but the land is, so most likely when it’s sold the house will be torn down and a McMansion-type house will replace it.

I feel as though my memories are being lost, but of course I do still have many. So does he, sporadically; occasionally he’ll suddenly tell me something he remembers that he couldn’t remember when I asked him several times before. Mostly inconsequential things like where we used to pick blueberries, or memories of vacations spent camping and canoeing with his brother (my uncle who died last year) and his family. All this is just the natural way life goes, I know.

But the house seems to haunt me, the house and who I used to be there, who we all used to be. When it comes to the house, I feel a sense of loss when I enter, a loss of the time not too long ago when I would be there to cook him dinner, leaving several days worth of leftovers for him to reheat in the microwave oven until I came again. The times before he burned up the microwave because he forgot that you can’t put metal in them, and then, a few days later, had a fit of some sort right in front of my brother and fell hard against the wall, hit his head, and was taken to the hospital. He’s never been back since.

 Now I look around the house to decide what I should take away next. This week, I think, I’ll get the stacks of family photographs, still loose or in envelopes, unorganized except that I went through them after my mother died getting rid of duplicates and indecipherable pictures. And I’ll take the huge basket of family genealogy material that she had accumulated, also unorganized. At least my daughter-in-law has an interest in genealogy, so she may preserve them for my granddaughter.

There’s one thing about the house, though, that I’d be more than happy to lose. Why do so many of my dreams seem to take place in it? I haven’t lived there in over fifty years, but I still have those dreams, some of them very strange. The ones about missing the school bus make a certain amount of sense, and so, I guess, do the ones about suddenly having to fix a meal for a crowd of relatives using only whatever canned or dried foods my mother had accumulated over so many years of grocery store “sales” that most of them were likely to be well past their “use by” date. No, I never really had to do that, although I did on occasion miss the school bus. Dreaming that I’m in my old bed, in the room that later became my father’s office, isn’t so strange, either, except that in these bed dreams I’m sometimes having sex with people I met much, much later, and who have never been there. In fact that’s where most, if not all, of my erotic dreams take place, complete with the sense that we have to try to be quiet because the family would hear us. No, there was never any actual sex going on there, and definitely no abuse. I never even masturbated until I was in college, although I did read some rather hot books there, so maybe that explains it. Still, wouldn’t you think that someone with considerable experience of writing sex scenes could come up with some better settings in their dreams? Or maybe that’s why I feel the need to write sex scenes with better settings.

Life does go on. I need to get practical. Do I have to empty out all those outdated cans and boxes of food on shelves in the basement and clean them so that I can take them to be recycled? Do I bring it all home and overwhelm my compost pile with the contents, or dump them in either the forest behind his house or the one behind mine? Do I tote boxes and boxes of usable dishes and cooking pans back to donate to my local Survival Center, or see if some organization in his town will come to get them? Do I have to overcome the feeling that I should keep the house stocked at least well enough to stay in for a day or two just in case of needing to do so for, say, a funeral? Which may not happen for several years yet, because in spite of age and fading memory and unsteadiness, he doesn’t have any immediately life-threatening health problems.

There’s a “found” aspect to all this, too. In one of my bursts of cleaning I swept out a mass of clutter from underneath the very low shelf on my father’s desk. Something glittered—a candy wrapper? An unusually clean paper clip? A coin? Wait—a ring! A gold ring! It was my mother’s wedding ring, once enlarged for her, then much too big when she grew very thin toward the end. We’d thought it was saved in a certain box in  certain place, but then we couldn’t find it—until now. Hmm, this could be worked into a story. Probably won’t be, but just the same; thanks, Mom.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Crisis in Midlife

by Giselle Renarde

I'll tell you how I've been feeling lately.

I've been feeling like every worthwhile thing I'm ever going to do in my life--everything good, everything useful, everything productive--I've already done. The best is behind me. I'm just waiting out my sentence.

Last month, my mother told me I'm not a spring chicken anymore. That threw me for a loop. Isn't your mother supposed to think of you as a child for always? But when I told my girlfriend, she said, "Yeah, well you're middle aged."

Middle aged?

My ex, who (as you know) was much older than me, used to say that every time he looked in the mirror, he expected to see his 18-year-old self. And instead he saw an old man. It was jarring.

I didn't get that when I was 19.

I get it now.

The thing I really didn't get is that a midlife crisis is... well... a crisis. Crisis in the sense of crisis counseling, crisis lines, crisis intervention. The term always made me think of sports cars and 22-year-old girlfriends, but there's more to the story. Holy Mother of God, is there more to this story.

There's a reason you try to recapture your lost youth: that's when you accomplished everything of value. Or, at least, that's when I did. Or, at least, that's how I feel. But you're talking to someone who peaked in high school. Your mileage may vary.

I'm sure there are ways to feel useful again. Volunteer work and such. But volunteer works is just one more of those things I did when I was younger. I worked in the domestic violence sector for years, and I burned out so hard I can't even tell you. I've volunteered my ass all over this city, and most organizations (the big box charities in particular) have left me disillusioned at best and disgusted at worst.

In a perfect world, I would feel fulfilled by my work.  So I've devoted a lot of my time and energy to projects I felt would be helpful to others. The thing is, in order for your book to help anyone, someone in the world has to... read it. And when you get to the point where you write something super-meaningful and then you literally can't even give it away for free, it becomes pretty clear that the work isn't going to dig you out of this hole.

Now I get why people go back to what gave them pleasure as children, as youths. There's a simple joy to childhood that's so hard to recapture decades later.  The lights dim over time. The world is less shiny and bright.

Maybe I've been watching too many YouTube videos about nihilism and existential angst, but lately I've been wondering if I should even bother trying to do anything of value, if anything actually has innate value anyway, or if we're all just marking time.

I remember having fantasies, when I was young. Fantasies about all the exciting things I would do in the future. I would imagine scenarios in detail. It was really energizing. Made me want to get up in the morning and work toward my goals.

Now? In midlife, or whatever this is?

I don't have fantasies anymore. do you get through life when it seems like your best days are behind you?

I'm taking it one day at a time.

I've been working at publishing all the stuff that's just sitting on my hard drive.  Most recently, I've released the second edition of my book Ugly Naked People. It's a collection of queer fiction. This second edition has a new stories, three of which have never been published before now.  No sense letting perfectly good fiction go to waste. Might as well get it out in the world.

If you're so inclined, Ugly Naked People is available from booksellers like Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and Google Play.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Remember Me

 I sat in my seat with a photo in my hand, waiting for the service to start.  The photo, from 1973, showed a beautiful young woman with long hair and long, long legs in high summer standing next to a tall manly man with a huge head of hair and a mustache and big authoritative looking glasses.  The man’s name was John.  The girl’s name was Dana.  It was the only photo I had of her. Up until yesterday.

My friend Denise leaned over and whispered, pointing, “who’s that?”

“Her name’s Dana,” I said. “I lost my virginity to her when I was 18.”

“Is that you, then?” she said pointing to the man.

“Naw, I wish,” I said.  “He’s John.  That’s the guy she dumped me for.”  Denise guffawed and covered her mouth.   

“I was no competition for him at all.” Then I laughed.  “I just found out a couple days ago she died from cancer last year, over in Oklahoma.”

It was after all, Day of the Dead.

My little Unitarian Church celebrates the traditional Latin holiday “Dia de Los Muertos”, Day of the Dead.  For those who haven’t seen the movie Coco yet, this is Spanish culture’s more optimistic  version of Halloween.  Instead of being haunted by the dead, we celebrate them and offer the things we knew they loved, cigars, chocolate and so on.

In our church service we had a fairly large ofrenda up front where people could come to place something during the course of the service to remember those who had died. I found out about Dana when I was zoning out on the sofa the day before, watching reruns of the Walking Dead.  Dana was my first love.  I did actually know a little bit about what became of her.  In 1998, when the Internet was still young and innocent I joined, which may have been the precursor to Facebook.  It’s still around and it’s where school mates gather to rediscover eachother.  In a time when everyone moves away, class reunions are hard to count on, and some of us aren’t that sentimental about our high school experience.  

I posted my profile and one bright day Dana posted hers.  You could email people directly through the system then.  I emailed Dana and asked - and yes - she remembered me.  I wasn’t her first love, I knew that, but I was certainly in the pantheon of early experiments. Her response was swift and heartfelt.  She had felt terrible all these years for the way in which she thought she had dumped me so suddenly and maybe cruelly, in her remembering.  She gave me a brief biography of the twenty plus years that had passed. She had arrived in a small town in Oklahoma, she told me the name, and said she had had a rocky love life but finally found a good and decent man with whom she had terrible fights that somehow drew them closer.  I wrote her and gave the back story of my adventures in those twenty years, hoping we’d be penpals.  But no. I never heard from her again. 

I’m remembering the back seat of my Dad’s Mercury Cougar on a hot Minnesota night, parked under a street light and how it all felt and how it how it all turned out.  Sometimes the best thing a lover can do for you is dump you and set you free to chase your destiny.  I googled Dana and her town and she turned up -   dead.  An obituary explained she had died after along struggle with cancer.  There was a picture of her in her final days.  I would not have recognized her, but I knew those eyes.  You remember the eyes.  She was in a bed, tubed up giving a brave thumbs up sign, her hair gone.  Behind her posed a man about my age - his hair also gone - smiling kindly and looking strong.  We all havea few false starts.  She found love and had not died alone.  Go your way, dear girl.  Go your way.

Ronnie was our cat, our only pet and household animal for eighteen years in two different countries and four states. This week Ronnie died.  We never had a spare cat or dog to cushion the pain. Ronnie was the cat, family. My son grew up with him, side by side, from the time he was seven years old into young manhood.  He wrote a beautiful obituary on facebook remembering our beloved friend. Ronnie in his prime was a huge orange tabby, a whopping 19 pounds of territorial, jealous, beastliness, with claws like a bobcat who took on big dogs and sent them howling. 

Old cats die when their kidneys begin to go on them.  His kidneys were going, his hind legs were going.  He shrank from a street fighting tough to a frail and fragile thing at the end.  It became harder and harder for him to carry himself straight.  He was always hungry, his food didn’t stick to him. He stayed close to home and played it safe.  His old haunts, street drains, nearby woods and people’s yards and garages became more and more out of reach for him as he felt his strength leaving him.   Nature is not kind to old animals, which other predators see as an easy meal. If he got in another fight, he knew it would bad.

  He would sit outside with me, sitting in the dark together, dreaming.  What does a cat think of when he’s sitting like that, with the distant serenity of a zen master?  Does he remember, with a sting of sadness and pride, his youth when he was formidable and other animals cleared out of his way?  When he jumped fences, explored and had adventures? When he loved?

He died strong. 

The night before he died, he had vomited what I knew, but refused to believe, was blood.  He woke us at 1:30 in the morning howling and filthy.  I cleaned him off and went back to bed, but I lay awake all night, listening.  I told my son, and while I was at work the next day, he stayed with Ronnie and reported back that he was behaving normal and even seemed energetic and happy. I still wondered about the blood.  Maybe he had eaten a toad.  He had most of the symptoms. Yes, a toad would do.  On our last evening, my wife ironed clothes, I sat on the floor writing on my computer, Ronnie perched on his favorite ottoman between me and my son, his eyes closed, purring softly and with deep contentment.

Late at might, I went to bed, but the lights were on upstairs, and complaining I got up to turn them off.  My last view of Ronnie in the dim hall light, he was sitting in a chair.  Breathing gently, ribs barely moving.  I thought at first he was asleep, but I saw his eyes were open and he was looking off into some far distance, so serious.  I thought of petting him goodnight but something in his look told me to leave him be. 

My wife found him in the morning, upstairs in a closet where he had buried himself in the family junk.  He had climbed a flight of stairs, close to twenty steps, with almost no back legs, with whatever internal destruction he had suffered the night before, like a cripple climbing the side of a mountain.  He sought out his solitude and on the sad peak he left us.  He died in his own way, like a proper beast, without a sound and with tremendous dignity. The way a lion dies.  Goddamn.

When I look at that picture of my boy and his kitten side by side, I feel like I understand what the Buddhists mean by impermanence and essential emptiness.  It all passes away, the good and the bad, like a dream.  The ones you love and you yourself will float away downstream.  The period of time is only for a moment and then it morphs into something else.  The little boy is gone, now incarnated as a man, strangers with common memories. The big eared kitten lived his full span, loved and was loved and now is no more. Someday I’ll be no more.  Someday the boy will be no more. Hopefully in that order. It all passes away downstream.

I feel pain, I feel grief, but I don’t seek comfort. Comfort is not what I need. The pain is what I need. To honor my friend with my pain.  To listen for his demanding yowl when I come in the door. To trip over him one more time when he stands quietly behind my legs.  I need this pain, his final gift to me, to carve my heart deep, to feel.  For the future.

I need this pain because I need to get myself ready.  I’m at a point in my life, in my age, in my generation’s age, when this kind of thing is going to keep on happening to me more and more. 

Except that from here on, it’s not going to be cats.