Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting Rid of Books

It's time for true confessions: I have books, proudly displayed on my groaningly overloaded living-room bookcase, that I've never read. I've moved them with me (for years) from apartment to apartment to apartment—across international borders, even.

But I've given their pages, at best, a flickering glance.

Some of them I think of as decorative—for instance, three volumes of a philosophy encyclopedia, The World's Greatest Thinkers, published in 1947. I like their spines; I probably picked them up at a garage sale somewhere. Their bookplates announce that they are from the library of Ethel M. Ziegler. I don't know Ethel, but (just between you and me) I don't think she read these books either. Their pages look untouched.

Some of them I've intended to read for years but probably won't. A compendium of Irish literature, say—I like that book's spine, too, and I bet I've read (or tried to read) a lot of what it contains, but I've never opened it.

Don't misunderstand me, though. I have read most of the books I own. Many are books I've read and loved so much that I couldn't bear to part with them. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go; a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots; and Bury Me Standing, a history of Europe's gypsies. And on and on the list goes.

I have a whole different bookcase with reference books (many of which I use—but a lot of these are "only for show," too: a 1965 thesaurus with a gorgeous mod cover, for instance). I suppose that I think I might need them again. One never knows when I'll need to refer to a QuarkXPress user's guide from 2001 or my second copy of Words Into Type, right? Or a 1999 Lonely Planet guide to Bangkok?

I know, I know. I will never need these books again.

I keep books and display them (or keep them in boxes in case I want to display them in the future), in part, because I like what they say about me: they say that I'm smart, that I'm a reader, that I'm a person who likes books. A library is a vain thing. The books say, "This is a history of my thoughts." I even chose the aforementioned titles with this notion in my head, asking myself, "Should I mention the biography of poor, doomed Queen Mary or poor, doomed Marie Antoinette?" And keeping books just became a habit.

Not too long ago, I divested myself of a "professional collection": most of my collection of etiquette books (and this blog post from 2009 is about the history of that collection). Now, as I prepare to move again (into a substantially smaller space), it's time to ... unburden myself of these books that I don't need anymore. I'll keep a few favorites, necessary reference books, and a few decorative books. I need to make room in my apartment for new books and new thoughts.

It's not going to be easy, but I bet it's going to be good for me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Gets Better

I don't know that my voice—added to the voices of so many who've already spoken so eloquently on the matter—will make a difference, but I'm taking a moment this morning to not only reflect on how grateful I am that I stuck it out, but also tell frightened teenagers that it gets better.

Being a teenager was, frequently, almost impossible for me. I just wasn't very good at it. I don't want to deny the positives: I had some great friends (thank you, ladies). But I was tormented for being gay, pretty much all through school. The adults in my life didn't give me the kind of support I needed. I was, at times, scared for my life. And I didn't value myself—my life—very much. I went pretty far in my efforts to harm myself, directly and indirectly.

But this isn't another sob story. (See my October 2009 blog post "Bullies" for that.)

I want to tell you now that, although being a teenager was rough, being a grownup has turned out to be pretty awesome. I think a lot of people get either a good few years in high school or a good several decades of adulthood. And if you're a bully target in high school, it means you're the second type of person. Trust me. Many of the fantastic, amazing, creative, brilliant, gorgeous people I know were terribly picked on (or just trying to be invisible) in high school.

Wait and see—you'll meet a bunch of similarly wonderful people someday, when you make it out of whatever craptastic teenage situation you're stuck in now.

When I was in my early 20s (20 years ago), self-identifying as gay meant (I thought) a life on the fringes of society, beyond what people considered "normal life." And that was fine with me, as I had fairly punk-rock sensibilities. Back then, being gay was something that "polite society" talked about "tolerating," like an offensive smell or bad weather.

Being gay isn't like that anymore. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people have moved out of the fringes and into the mainstream in a way the younger me could never have imagined. If you want to live a counterculture life, you still can. But if you want the whole white-picket-fence thing, that's a real option now, too. You can have any kind of life you want.

In some ways, I think this new acceptance of gays and lesbians actually makes things harder for some teens, because it has frightened a fast-shrinking minority of bigots into louder and more virulent anti-LGBT activity. They sound scary, and they motivate violence against us. But from my perspective of 40 years on the planet, I promise you: what we're hearing are this minority's last gasps. Their viewpoints are quickly becoming unacceptable to Americans. If you're a teenager now, these bigots will have all but disappeared from the national conversation by the time you're in your 40s. They'll be just one of those shameful blots on our country's history, as ridiculous and as despised as the KKK.

It gets better. It's getting better every day.

On a personal level, life has been wonderful. I'm so glad I made it. You know, I'm not rich or famous. I don't even have a partner to make an "It Gets Better" video with. And I love my life. I have amazing friends. Things got better with my family. I have work I enjoy. I've been all over the world, I've been in love, I've danced all night, I've laughed so hard I couldn't breathe, I've created art, I've been applauded, I've been upgraded to first class, and I've seen beautiful things (and terrible things that made me stronger). So much interesting stuff has happened to me—and I'm really quite average.

Years later, people I knew in high school have thanked me for being who I was—for setting an example of bravery (which I didn't realize at the time I was setting, and which you are setting, too). And a bully (or two) has even found me on Facebook and apologized to me (and, no surprise, come out to me as gay himself)—giving me the delicious experience of forgiving him.

I don't want any L, G, B, or T teenagers to miss all this good stuff that's ahead. Please hang on! We need you. So many people are on your side. I'm on your side. You can have an amazing life. If being a teenager is hard, if you're scared, if things seem impossible, find someone to talk to, and know that it gets better.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Once you see how illogical "false ranges" (as I call them) are, I hope you'll avoid them in your writing.

False ranges are ranges that don't truly represent a range or gamut. Here's one I just came across:

"New federal requirements have created a growing need for anyone with experience in health care* information technology, from IT specialists to medical-billing managers."

So, we have a range of workers from IT specialists to medical-billing managers—but who or what is included in this range? What about, say, medical transcriptionists? Are they within it?

I come across false ranges all the time: "from apples to ice cream," "from Hollywood to Capitol Hill," and so on. They bug.

This problem is another one of my "Who cares? We understand what it means!" problems, I know. But false ranges bug me because they're lazy—they let a writer seem to be providing more information than he or she is. (In the examples, the writer is providing two examples, not an abundance of them, as the "from ... to" construction suggests.) Or they're just unnecessary—in a sentence such as "The entire dinner was delicious, from the first course to the last," everything after the comma is redundant.

I like true ranges, and I like ironic ranges—for instance, Dorothy Parker's famous comment on Katharine Hepburn's acting in The Lake: "She ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B."

* The term "health care" is never hyphenated, per our style guide.