December, 2018...already? 

(Santa Travis visits Ramshead Revisited, Lake Arrowhead; photographed 1984, painted 2018) 

Well, I almost didn’t write a letter this year. Not only is the state of our country enough to make anyone sick, this year I actually did have my share of health problems. My holiday spirit is a tad late this year.

 

I remember as a kid having the image of two old fogies sitting on a bench in front of their retirement home talking endlessly about their gallbladder surgeries. Now, from this angle, I understand how that happens. You see other friends your age anywhere and the first thing you do is share your individual health horrors or discuss which mutual friends have dropped dead. It’s inevitable. Someone asked Einstein in an 11th-hour interview what the most challenging thing was he’d faced in his life. He said, “As every other living thing on this planet, getting old.”

(Our prophetic view of old age; San Francisco, Halloween, 1973) 

So my year was less fun than usual and more challenging—mainly because I couldn’t do all the things I usually do. Remember, I was diagnosed five years ago with prostate cancer but, since then, until this summer I checked every year and they couldn’t even find the friggin’ thing. This June, they found it—but it remains so small it’s still not a problem. But. In doing the testing, they found a mass on my pancreas. With an overly eager, overly dramatic young gastroenterologist right out of med school right there to scare the living hell outta me—I asked him once if he ever studied with Uta Hagen—I was all ready to compile my Who Gets What list.

 

Long story short (gratefully, right?), it turned out not to be malignant but it was an aneurysm in the vein structure surrounding the pancreas. Two surgeries later, with four new handydandy coils stuffed into my nether regions sure to make all the bells and whistles go off when I next go through TSA and suffering from the intense agony of “rest and recuperation” while Victor zombied out incessently on Guy Fiere, Tarak and Christina, and Judge Milian, I’m baaaack. Lotsa CBD oil works wonders.

In truth, I continue to have a great deal for which to be thankful, if I can only remember to not watch the evening news. Victor is still gratefully at home with us and remaining mostly stable (as of next November we've lived together 50 years!), but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to communicate with him sometimes, not to mention coaxing him to eat anything besides cookies and binging on Diet Cokes, shaving (he could hire out as ol' St. Nick this year if he was able), showering and washing his hair, or even going out of the house. When his doctor asked him on his semi-annual medication management visit when the last time was he went out of the house, we realized it was the last time we saw him six months before. Through all the trials, though, and the many, many ways I have to fight my own depression watching him slowly disappear, I'm glad he's here and not in some care facility where he'd last about five weeks. 

On the other hand, my Ganymede and I have been together almost six years now and despite the incongruity of our relationship (we could be posterchildren for the term "opposites attract"), we are more deeply in love than ever. Hugh makes my geriatric years a lot more exciting than I ever imagined, not to mention how our relationship keeps me on my toes. Having to pretend to be as agile and energetic as someone 42 years my junior (Hugh turns 30 in March... I have socks older than that) who can twist himself into inhuman yoga positions and earns his living in the rugged outdoors can be a tad exhausting. And surely good for me. 

Although when recuperating I decreased the number of plays I reviewed, I’m obviously still maintaining my website and am amazed how many people keep up with it. By the way, all my artwork for sale is posted here on this site if you want to see more (and remember, if any of my peeps want to purchase anything, you guys get 25% off any original painting and $25 off giclée prints on canvas).

I’m still private coaching spoiled divas and neurotic TV stars like crazy and am about to enter my ninth year teaching at New York Film Academy--though less hours, since the student body was about 65% international until November, 2016, when enrollment immediately decreased considerably. I mean, understandable, right? Who would be dumb enough to send their kid to America with Trumpty Dumpty and his soulless syncophants in power?

Although I started at NYFA  teaching acting and scene study and directing student productions, for the past few years I've also been teaching Great Playwrights, Playwrights to Screenwriters, a course I developed from my seminars on Tennessee Williams' life and plays, and both Media in Society and Media & Culture for BFA and MFA filmmkaking students in the Liberal Arts Department. This was initially rewarding but these days, with two-thirds of the students from China (the only country still untroubled sending their precious cargo to 'Murka, it seems), teaching the Media classes can be a challenge since our cultures are so different and trying to get them to join in class discussions is practically impossible.

On the Bestie front, we think both our canine people are now about 12 (they tell us all rescues are 18 months when we first meet them, right?), and although Kenmore, King of the Boston Terriers, is getting a little creaky and our sweet pug Genji is now totally blind, they’re hangin’ in there and bring us endless joy. Now, if only they would stop shitting on the kitchen floor, they’d be just about perfect. These are portraits of them I did this year, something that started a cottage industry for me painting people’s cherished pet pals, which makes me happy making them happy.

I continue to paint obsessively and am selling my paintings (and even more signed giclee prints of  my paintings) with surprising success. I had a show of my Tennessee Williams portraits and New Orleans street scene art on display at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center during their award-winning reinvention of A Streetcar Named Desire last winter (below) and over the last two seasons, seven of my canvases have been featured on Ava duVernay’s Queen Sugar  TV series on Oprah’s Own Network. And this spring, I will have another show in New Orleans to coincide with the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival there. Since early in 2017 when I started painting, like, fer seriously, I have completed 80-some paintings and still pumpin’ ‘em out. Since these days no one seems to write great roles for 72-year-old juveniles with enormous asses, I’m grateful I’ve found a worthy and satisfying creative substitute.

Hugh had quite a ride this year when his summer job for two years running ziplines and ropes courses and wrangling kids for the City of LA at the Griffith Park Boys Camp led to him being hired by Fulcrum Adventures at the end of summer as a challenge course facilitator. He was ecstatic—especially since his first degree is in Outdoor Leadership and his education is starting to pay off for him—but more than that, he has discovered a true passion for working with children in team building and youth leadership development.

Unfortunately, a major chunk of his progress was derailed on November 10th when the Woolsey Fire totally destroyed two of the major venues in Malibu where Fulcrum operates: Hess Kramer and the Gindling Hilltop Camp above it. Hugh was heartsick—as was anyone who ever went there and their parents who sent them there, including many, many of my friends. Hess Kramer was known to have one of the top five challenge courses in the country and has been around for 65 years, but thank Geebus both camps were owned by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple who vows to rebuild them, a task of which Hugh will be a part and help design.

(My painting of Camp Hess Kramer in the aftermath of Malibu's Woolsey Fire )

Though I got to spend some quality romantic getaway time this year introducing my beloved Hugh to my beloved New Orleans and my beloved San Francisco, my health shit has kept me from traveling since summer, but thank Terpsichore he has been around to help me get through this and care for Victor when I could not. Victor and I are skipping our usual Vegas holiday trip this year since he says he would hate not sleeping in his own bed (ya got me... you should hear what he says about not showering) and, although Hugh and I were considering going anyway, I just can't bring myself to leave Victor alone at Christmas even if I suspect he might be thrilled. Still, Hugh and I are returning to N’awlins the end of January during my semester break from NYFA and we will also be going back there in the spring again for TennFest and my art show, so guess I ain’t down yit.

I wish I had something encouraging to write to lead into the New Year, but I’m a tad tired of being “Mr. Pollyanna-Happy,” as Brandon once dubbed me, sadly feeling these days as though all those elusive windmills of justice and equality I’ve been chasing all my life have purdy much crumbled and are in imminent danger of disappearing entirely. I used to be so full of hope when I was young that my generation would be the one to change the world as never before, but then we all got stoned and partied and fucked one another and made the same mistakes everyone before us made--and forgot our mission entirely.

Now, although it floors me that only 30% of millennials voted in the recent midterm elections, I do see a brave, outspoken, committed faction of the new generation vowing to save the earth and criticizing ours for missing our opportunity before it was too late. And they’re right. So, good luck with that. I’m afraid since the rise of our nightmare “Leader of the Free World” quickly exposing what ugliness still lurks in the belief structure of backwards people in places I haven't considered in years, my optimism for the future has suffered irreparable damage. If I prayed, I'd pray I'm wrong.

Best for 2019. It’s gonna be a bitch, I’ll bet.

LOVE...

Travis...

Victor... 

 ...and a most festive Hugh

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!