Autobiography

Soon after I moved back to New York in 1986 I began working on a personal history, motivated originally by a great tenderness toward the many people I have loved and been loved by and a deep desire to reveal the large pattern, if any, of the events and concerns of my continuing life. I called it “Amorous Affinities: Stories About My Friends,” and I wrote a raft of chapters about individuals. But the limits of this approach were evident: people and scenes started overlapping, relationships developed in parallel over long periods, essential context was hard to manage. Anyway, it was my story I wanted to tell; I did not need to back into it.

My friend Dan Potter read what I had written at this point and observed that the most interesting part of it was my relationship with Johnny Dodd, whom I lived with in New York from 1964 to 1971, and whose influence, for better or worse, destabilized and dismantled many of the preconceptions and limitations I had grown up with. I thought Dan was probably right so I devoted my residency at MacDowell Colony in spring 1991 to narrowing the focus, creating a much shorter text I called “Wild Dogs.” One of my fellow colonists read my manuscript and praised it warmly, but I was not convinced I had the story right, it was an awkward length, and I did not try very hard to find a publisher. My life was stalled, and the book was depressing.

Besides, I still wanted to tell the whole story. By now my life had changed completely several times, and I wanted to show the range of it, the surprises and wider possibilities, and also the unfolding of identity. So a few years later, after I settled down in Santa Barbara with Carol Storke, my sons growing up, my journalistic career revived, my left hip replaced, I bought myself a motorcycle and went back to work on what I now frankly called my autobiography, feeling more positive about my life and ready to write it, bringing the story up to date and completing a 646-page version in January 1998 that I called “Balance” (I am a classic Libra). I spent another six months revising and slightly expanding it, changed the title to “Original Body,” and sent it out to a couple of agents, who dashed my hopes by saying they did not think the commercial publishers they worked with would be interested in it.

It was a still a story I wanted to tell. In 2000 I quit my day job editing Santa Barbara Magazine, and in spring 2001 I spent two months in Divisov, a village in central Bohemia, visiting my friend Paul McNulty, who worked long hours every day building beautiful Viennese pianos, giving me many welcome weeks clear to do a “final” revision of this book. I tightened some parts and filled out some others, brought it up to date again, and retitled it “One Single Time” (from a passage in Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception—which I am not capable of reading). My sons, Julian and Alfred, were now in their twenties, and when each of them asked to read it, I was glad to give them copies of the manuscript; now they knew everything. My friend Gary Zarr read this version and was marvelously encouraging, and I made another effort to find a publisher, but to no avail.

The next year, for the fun of it, I wrote a fictionalized version of the same story focused entirely on sex: “Sex/Life,” which I have not shown to anyone except Dennis Pinette. I am not quite sure how to end it.

In spring 2004, having built myself a beautiful new studio in Oregon, I decided to recognize that no one wants to read the whole long detailed story of a happy nobody and rather to heed the standard advice about memoir, which is to focus on a single theme or period or relationship. There was a small revival of interest in the early days of Off-Off-Broadway, a theatre movement I had helped to define and played a big part in as critic, director, playwright; and I decided to do a version of my story concentrating on my years in New York, which had a dramatic arc that ended with Johnny Dodd’s death from AIDS in 1991, which in effect released me from the city. This became “When I Was Gay,” which came in under 200 pages. I think it is good, and so does Gary. Part of my aim in putting up this website, and in going back to New York to do a play in winter 2005-06, was to find a publisher for this book.