Monthly Archives: December 2011

George Clooney knows how to say goodbye

This afternoon I saw the new George Clooney movie “The Descendants” and I’m a blubbering mess. 

Mind you it’s not quite as bad as the time I went to see Colin Firth in “A Single Man.”  I didn’t know anything about the plot but I like Colin Firth and thought that a movie would be a good distraction for me after the weekend of my partner Bill’s funeral. It turned out that “A Single Man” is the story of a gay man coming to terms with the sudden death of his long-time partner. I sat through it in shock watching my life up on the screen. I came home afterwards, cried for four hours, and then cleaned for four hours.

I had seen the movie trailer for “The Descendants.” It looked like a comedy to me. And I’d go to a movie with George Clooney reading the dictionary.

“The Descendants” is not a comedy. Well, not mainly.

I don’t have to issue a spoiler alert here because I’m not going to give away any key surprise elements of the storyline.

Early in the film we learn that Clooney’s wife is dying. He has to help various people say their goodbyes to her – two daughters, the wife’s parents, close friends.

And, he has to say his own goodbyes, made rather challenging because theirs is a complicated relationship.

But what relationship isn’t complicated?

Every one of us will at some time in our lives be confronted with the imminent death of a loved one. Many of us already have. Our mother. Our father. A sibling, a child, a close friend. Our partner, lover, soul-mate.

All of these relationships in our lives are complex and replete with some resentment.

There is the temptation to postpone saying our goodbyes. Perhaps, we’re refusing to acknowledge the inevitable. It might be a hesitation grounded in pride, regret, or anger. Maybe we’re too traumatized or just too awkward.

My advice, not that you’re asking for it, is: Don’t be afraid. Do it before it’s too late. Say your goodbyes.

Bill and I said our goodbyes — for which I am forever thankful. I describe our story on the short 2 minute YouTube video at

If you don’t trust my word, go and see George Clooney’s character in “The Descendants” say his goodbyes. You may be forever thankful.

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My memoir “August Farewell” tells the story of the two weeks between Bill’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. Interspersed among the scenes are vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple.

Information on “August Farewell” and on my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both the memoir and the novel are available for order from your local bookseller or on-line retailers including,,,,

The picture below is self-explanatory:




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The Secret Message in Handel’s Messiah

George Frideric Handel hid a secret message in The Messiah when he composed his masterpiece oratorio in 1741. 

The incredible code has remained undetected until last night when I discovered it at the conclusion of a brilliant performance by the Toronto Symphony, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and soloists.

Don’t believe me? Let me explain.

My partner Bill was a music teacher of piano and voice. Over our thirty-three years together, hundreds of children and adults came to our home for lessons. They adored him. Bill was something of a larger-than-life character and highly respected as a music teacher. He always had a waiting list of students anxious to secure a place. With the children, he had infinite patience. With the adults, not so much.

When Bill and I first met in 1976, fell in love, and started living together, we discovered that one of the things we shared in common was a passion for music, especially classical music. There was always music playing in our home. Over the decades, we went to countless musical events in Toronto and in every major concert hall and opera house around the world.

One of our favourite Christmas traditions was attending The Messiah every year. Bill had a beautiful tenor voice and sang in many performances.

Then, Bill died. He was suddenly and unexpectedly diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer on August 7, 2009. He died two weeks later in our home. The story of those incredible two weeks and of our thirty-three-year love affair is told in my memoir “August Farewell.”

As with many people who lose a loved one, there is a powerfully-charged emotional dilemma about what to do with the special traditions that were shared together. To continue them invariably brings back all the memories. To ignore the traditions would feel disrespectful. My choice has been to embrace the traditions come what will.

And so, in a fragile state, I was at Roy Thomson Hall last night for the annual performing of The Messiah.

I held it together pretty well throughout the performance. Until the finale.

The oratorio ends with a chorus that concludes in a four-minute-long stunning choral “Amen”.

All of a sudden, as the 250 voices of the massed choir were reverberating through the concert hall, I wasn’t hearing “A—men, A—men, A—men,…”

I was hearing “Hall—man, Hall—man, Hall—man,…”

Tears streamed down my cheeks.

Bill was directing a chorus of angels calling out my name.

At least that’s how I experienced it.

I know that Handel’s coded love note from Bill to me was discernible to my ears only. No matter. It was intended for me after all.

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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both the memoir and the novel are available for ordering through your local bookstore or on-line retailers including,,,,

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The picture below is of Bill’s well-used score of Handel’s Messiah sitting on the piano in our home.





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A Deviant Christmas

You do what you have to do. 

Last night, I watched the Christmas episode of the popular TV comedy “Modern Family.” For various reasons this year, the Pritchett-Dunphy clan is not going to be able to be together on December 25th so they decide at the last minute to celebrate their family Christmas on the 16th. But since they are totally unprepared, the predictable chaos that is necessary for a hilarious segment ensues and it’s a disaster. But in the end, they do have their Christmas celebration, albeit in an unconventional style.

Earlier in the week, I read a commentary piece in the paper about a woman who couldn’t face this Christmas at her ancestral home. Her mother and most of the members of that generation had died and the writer found the prospect of trying to recreate the traditional family gathering with so many absences just too painful. So this year she is intentionally going to create a new tradition with just her husband and children together on Christmas Day in their own home.

I found some comfort in these variations from the Christmas norm and some affirmation that I’m not totally crazy myself—I’m not alone in celebrating a deviant Christmas. 

My partner Bill and I were together as a couple for thirty-three years before he was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died two weeks later. During those many years together, we hosted innumerable Christmas dinners and other special family celebrations in our home. Sometimes there were too many of us to sit around the table so we would do it buffet style. As the years progressed and family members had competing obligations, the numbers dwindled. For most of the last few years, it was just Bill and I hosting my parents and his parents.

Then, in an intolerably short period of time, they all died.

Bill was the last of our Christmas remnant to die. And his death was the most unexpected. All our parents were getting well on in years. Bill was still a young man in my eyes. And as difficult as it was losing our parents, the trauma was of a totally different magnitude when I lost him, my partner, the love of my life.

To cope on Christmas Day, I have created my own new tradition. I make a turkey dinner as best as I can since Bill was always the main cook in our household. I follow the stuffing recipe, make my own cranberry and orange sauce, cook the bird following assiduously the instructions in The Joy of Cooking, and carve it according to Martha Stewart’s ingenious suggestions.

The table is set with the good china, the polished silverware, and the crystal wine glasses and water tumblers.

Two place settings.

And I eat alone. I spend the day alone. I am with Bill, alone.

I cannot imagine trying to be social on that day by accepting one of the invitations that are offered to me by solicitous friends or from what remains of my more extended family. I couldn’t tolerate faking a convivial demeanor and I don’t want to be a downer at their table.

And so I do what I have to do. And for me what I have to do to cope without Bill is to be alone on Christmas Day. 

That’s my Christmas, for now at least. Deviant for sure. But so is my life these days.

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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both books can be ordered through your local bookstore or on-line retailers including  http://amazon.com


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The picture below is of my Christmas table centerpiece. The six white poinsettias are in memory of Bill, my mom and dad, Bill’s parents, and my younger brother who died six months before Bill.




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The Toxic Allure of Sexual Transgression

Director Steve McQueen’s new film “Shame” is burning up movie screens and polarizing audiences. I saw it this afternoon.

Some of the hype comes (so to speak) from the frontal nudity shots of star Michael Fassbender. And yes, what they say is true.

This blog is not a review of the film – you can find lots of them through the kind auspices of Google.

Nor am I going to moralize about the story line. I’ll leave that to the rating boards and ‘family values’ organizations.

I want to talk about the toxic allure of sexual transgression.

Or more specifically, I want to talk in this initial blog (there may be more installments as I digest the film) about the energy force inherent in sexual transgression.

The voracious sexual appetite of Brandon (Fassbender’s character) is riveting and its intensity made fierce through the calculated detachment by which he seeks to satiate it.

Much of the commentary on the film has been focused on the addictive aspects of his compulsion. And the story line does indeed veer toward a judgment of it as ultimately toxic.

But there is an allure about Brandon’s transgressiveness, a manifestation of a primal life force, an energy and intensity. Part of the allure derives from the surmounting of limits or boundaries some of which are related to social acceptability. Part of the allure is the unmasked visceral response to instinct. Part of the allure is the unfettered exercise of potency.

You no doubt expect, and I’ll oblige with a modicum of conviction, a list of qualifiers. Yes, there is a misogynistic dimension, and yes, there is a palpable poverty from the squandered opportunities for true affection and grounded intimacy.


French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote considerably on the subject of transgression in terms of ontology (how we understand the nature of our being), ethics, politics, and sexuality. He says quite poetically at one point “perhaps (transgression) is like a flash of lightning in the night which, from the beginning of time, gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies, which lights up the night from the inside, from top to bottom, yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation, its harrowing and poised singularity.” (Language, Counter Memory, Practice, 1977).  

There is an appeal to breaking through from time to time the grayness of what constitute most of our lives and social conventions and experiencing the blinding intensity of a lightning bolt framed against the blackness of whatever – despair, perhaps. 

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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both books can be ordered through your local bookseller or on-line through retailers such as,,,,


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