Strangers in fiction

This past weekend I was on a writing team for an entry in Milwaukee's first 48 Hour Film Project competition. The international contest asks teams to make a four- to seven-minute movie in a randomly drawn genre (western, musical, horror, etc.) and incorporate a required line of dialogue, prop, and character. The instructions are given on Friday night and by Sunday night the teams must turn in a finished product.

I had replied to a post seeking writers for the Avant Guardian filmmaking team a couple months ago and director Melissa Musante sent the team updates now and then. I have to admit I was somewhat alarmed to find out last week that the writing team included 12 people who didn't know each other. How could that many strangers come up with a meaningful story? How could we write believable dialogue when we didn't even know the sounds of each others' voices? How would we manage all those egos? I spent the ride to Melissa's house trying to think of useful icebreakers from summer camp that might get us focused and productive.

It reality, the process went quite smoothly, with smaller groups of writers brainstorming possible story lines from which Melissa picked one. A core writing group of about 5 of us retreated to the basement to develop a three-scene movie that ultimately was titled "In Spades."

The strangest aspect of working on this project was the sense that, once the writing team was done with our work on Friday night, we were giving up our brainchild to the production crew and we had nothing to say about how the movie looks, sounds, or paces. One of America's first published poets, Anne Bradstreet, commented on that same feeling of letting her writing go - maybe before it was ready --Ā  in her poem "The Author to Her Book" from the mid-1600s:

Thou ill-form'd offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad expos'd to public view,


What was your first clue?

It's PrideFest weekend and I'm looking forward to, among many other delights, the Joan Jett concert on Sunday night. I owned the "I Love Rock and Roll" record back in the early '80s and wore it out on the turntable in my parents' basement. Having been raised on Beethoven and mariachi, I think I was less attracted to the music than to her attitude. She was a woman who played rock like a man. She led her own band. Then there was the way she looked: the black hair, the leather jacket, the sweat, the chain around her neck.

OK, so it wasn't her attitude.

There's a classic gay pride T-shirt that simply asks, "What was your first clue?" It looks best on someone so fabulously gay that there's no question that the shirt's message is sarcastic, as in, "What was your first clue that I'm queer, you big ol' gaydar hotshot?"

For lots of LGBT people, the funny thing about coming to terms with our sexual orientation is that it's not just strangers who need to get a clue. We do, too. It took me years to figure out who I really am and maybe Joan Jett should've been my first hint.

There were some others. There was Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies. I don't like suspense, horror or monster movies. I especially hate ones that are loud and violent. So why did I spend many a teenage night watching not just "Alien" but the sequels, too? Go get yourself a copy and check out Ms. Weaver hunting down extraterrestrials in her white tank top. It will explain everything.

Ooh! And Annie Lennox from the Eurythmics. The first big concert I went to was the Eurythmics show at Alpine Valley. My mom, a friend and I sat on the grass and Annie Lennox took off her shirt on stage. I thought I was going to die. Not because I was with my mom, but because my mom was hogging the binoculars.

There were more teenage crushes: Jamie Lee Curtis, Debbie Harry, Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, and on and on. Sherlock Holmes solved many a knotty case with a lot fewer clues than I…


The (alleged) crook who told the truth

Let's say I'm a gay politician, a granddaughter of immigrants, who uses her position to rail against the injustices done by our government to gay people and immigrant families. Let's say that I develop a loyal following of constituents and others who admire my willingness to speak truth to power on behalf of these vulnerable groups.

Then let's say that in my spare time I mug grandmas on their way home from the grocery store.

Am I a hero?

If that's a tough question, you must be living in Milwaukee. Whether Ald. Mike McGee has committed any crimes will ultimately be determined in the courts, but whether he's a hero or not will be decided in the court of public opinion.

For the record, I don't think he's a hero. I admire anyone willing to challenge the status quo on behalf of people whose needs are being ignored. I admire anyone who is willing to call Milwaukeeans out on our legendary personal and institutional racism. But I don't admire Mike McGee, Jr., even if he does talk that justice talk. If none of the new criminal charges against him stick, what he's already done on the record makes him a hypocrite at best and a liar at worst. His public, well-documented anti-gay comments belie his supposed stance against oppression. His public, well-documented misrepresentations of his identity, his relationship and paternity status, and his financial responsibilities belie his assertion that he is an honest man serving the public good.

What's more, if all the new allegations against the alderman turn out to be true, the hypothetical politician I sketched at the beginning of this post has a real-life model in McGee. The alleged McGee leadership plan goes something like this:

  • He creates a corrupt and hostile business environment by shaking down business license-seekers for bribes and "voluntary" contributions to his pet causes.
  • He buys votes to fight off an election challenge.
  • Then he gets mixed up in a scheme to kill or beat up a teenager w…