email from the Ozarks
(Vol. 3, No. 1)
Bradley David Williams
“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”
Friday, October 29, 2010
Here in the alternate universe that is Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- where a transgender Christian evangelist is running for mayor and a former gay porn star for city council -- we were NOT happy to learn of the existence of one Clint McCance, the vice president of the school board in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, who went on a very UNpleasant and hateful anti-gay rant on his personal Facebook page, calling for “fags” to commit suicide and saying he would disown his children if they turned up queer and he‘s glad gays “can‘t procreate“ and is further happy so many of us received an AIDS diagnosis straight from God. He’s a real charmer, that Mr. McCance…
As I vented on Facebook (yes, I finally surrendered to the FB Universe a few months ago, dragged kicking and screaming, but am now fully addicted and ready to start a twelve-step group for crazed “micro-bloggers” like myself…). Anyhoo, I said on Facebook -- in a moment of blind rage at this Neanderthal giving Arkansas a bad name with his spectacularly evil and over-the-top hate-speech -- that ol’ Clint deserved to be called “McCanceR” because he is a cancerous growth on the bottom of a the left big toe of the body of America. (Did I mention that Facebook is responsible for the virtual death of good writing??? Get it? “Virtual death.” ;p )
McCancer’s free-fall of a mea culpa to Anderson Cooper last night was riveting, but this whole Arkansas PR disaster (though maybe a jackpot for “bullying awareness“) has been so crazy, I’m hoping it will inspire an even rowdier than usual Fall Diversity this weekend, when throngs of homo-sekshul revelers from near and far descend on this unlikely gay mecca in the Ozarks. Fall Diversity -- sort of a hillbilly circuit party, with drag shows, dykes-on-bikes poker runs, a mass “Public Display of Affection” in Basin Park (noon Saturday!), midnight breakfasts, and even a queer literary event this year -- coincides with Halloween, which is very big in Eureka Springs. And owing to an endless summer heat wave and drought, the fall foliage has peaked a little early, meaning we are in for probably the most beautiful weekend of the year. This picturesque Victorian spa town is one of the hotspots in America for the “leaf peeper” set, who come from parts unknown to gawk at the gorgeous Ozark landscape dappled with oranges and reds and yellows.
After this exhausting Clint McCancer episode, gawd knows we NEED to escape this severely damaged world and have some FUN! Planet Earth seems more chaotic than ever, and it feels especially apocalyptic here in America, where everybody is broke and angry, anti-gay bullies are driving teens to suicide, and the lunatic fringe known as the Tea Party is gaining power with a slew of horrifying candidates like Sharon Angle, Rand Paul and Christine O’Donnell. As I heard Ann Richards say to a gay audience at the Human Rights Campaign’s Black-tie Dinner in Dallas fifteen years ago (regarding the rising tide of nut job right-wingers out there), “I remember when the word ‘crackpot’ MEANT something!” ;p I miss Ann so much.
So, you may have noticed this is the first time I have really resurrected “Email From The Ozarks” in a couple of years. I never said it was going to be a “traditional” blog, whatever that could possibly mean at this point… It all started with three very long essays I wrote during my six-week stay at The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow when I first relocated to Eureka Springs from Houston in August of 2007. Then the next year I did a couple of essays about Obama and my trip to the Democratic Convention in Denver, but I had pretty much given up on anything more than an “occasional“ blog. The term “email” (and even “blog”) sound quaint to me these days, when Facebook has pushed those mediums into the background of my virtual universe.
Oh, and I had a little setback. ;p The ol’ bipolar started acting up. ;p I prefer the almost extinct term “nervous breakdown,” which is what a manic episode would have been called back when Judy Garland and Debbie Reynolds were having theirs.
In the Spring of 2009, slightly manic, I emailed my old friend (not kidding) Martina Navratilova, saying that I was ready to take her up on her offer of helping me get a job with the Tennis Channel, which she does commentary for at Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian Opens. The idea of traveling the world with Martina was just too fantastical not to pursue. If you don’t know about my hopeless tennis obsession, I won a lot of junior tournaments as a kid in Texas, and from the age of ten, I was obsessed with professional tennis, which was in the Golden Age of its first incarnation and on network TV at least a couple of hours most Saturdays and Sundays.
I loved Borg and McEnroe and Vilas, but it was WOMEN’S tennis I was REALLY interested in. I had just turned six when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome, and I have very vague memories of seeing some of it on TV. It was already near the end of Billie Jean’s reign as a champion, so naturally the star I became most obsessed with was Martina. I was eleven when I saw her in the flesh for the first time at the 1979 Virginia Slims of Dallas at SMU‘s Moody Coliseum (yes, a cancer-causing product, one marketed especially to women, was the original tour sponsor of this healthy sport for women!).
I would see Martina at the Virginia Slims every year, gradually asking for her autograph and getting to tell her that I worshipped her. I still don’t understand how my obsession with Martina didn’t clue my parents in to the possibility that I might be GAY. In 1982, when I was 14, my best friend and next door neighbor Debbie’s sister’s boyfriend, a sports reporter for the The Bonham Daily Favorite, was able to get me a press pass, and, impersonating an actual reporter, I crashed my first of Martina’s always-entertaining post-match press conferences and asked my first question (if she liked playing in front of her Dallas friends; she DID ;p ).
Then when I got to the University of Texas, I convinced the sports editor at the Daily Texan to give me an assignment so I could get credentialed for the women‘s tournaments in Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas (sadly none of these exist now), and that began my life as an occasional tennis writer, usually for obscure, often GAY, publications. After many personal encounters with Martina over the years, in places as far-flung as Wimbledon and Palm Springs, she started recognizing me, and in ‘96, we had our first phone conversation and started emailing back and forth occasionally. I could go on and on about Martina, but you will have to wait for the book I’m working on for all the details.
So last spring, I sent Martina one of my rambling, stream-of-consciousness emails. She emailed back that I should go for it and that she would be happy to vouch for me and that I could just forward her email to Ken Solomon, the CEO of the Tennis Channel. As, I was in the process of doing this, I realized that if I forwarded it as it was, Mr. Solomon would see below my un-erased, long, over-the-top email telling Martina why I would be so perfect to work for them. I thought, "Why NOT?" That would definitely get his attention. I then emailed Martina to tell her what I had done. "Ballsy, I know," I wrote. She responded simply, "When in doubt, go to the net!"
Coming from the nine-time Wimbledon champion, the greatest net-rusher in the history of tennis, I was beside myself with excitement. Two weeks later, Solomon had still not responded and Martina said to give it until the following Monday, then try again. He got right back to me this time, and that began a series of email exchanges and, finally, a phone call. A major Hollywood TV executive and creator of the Fine Living Channel, he was incredibly nice and seemed intrigued, but he was non-committal, saying they didn’t have a position as “Assistant to Martina” for the French Open. I was sure I could convince him to let me “intern” or “audition” at the French, which would begin the last week of May. He was encouraging, and seemingly impressed with my chutzpa and my encyclopedic, idiot savant-like knowledge of even the most obscure tennis history.
It’s hard to know which chicken or egg came first, but my excitement over the prospect of being with Martina in Paris in May either caused, or was the result of, some off-the-charts mania. I have had a handful of major manic episodes, lasting as long as three months, over the past fifteen years. These extended psychotic breaks have gotten me into all kinds of trouble, including a few legal skirmishes, the alienation of friends, and the kind of humiliation that always makes my subsequent depressive episodes even worse.
So there were some crazy days late last spring and early summer, and two weeks during which I was really out of my mind. One afternoon, still thinking I had a shot at finding a way to Paris, I telephoned Ken Solomon’s cell number. He picked up and said he was on the tarmac at LAX, on a plane about to take off for Paris. We had a quick and friendly exchange. “IIIIII want to be on a plane to Paris,” I announced. “Well, you started the application process a little late for the French," he said, "but let's keep talking and see what we can make happen.”
I knew I was out of my mind, but the mania is so intoxicating that you luxuriate in it and don’t want it to stop. You are invincible. You own the world. You can travel the world with Martina. These are called “delusions of grandeur.” But when you’ve had the life experiences I have, it’s hard to think in those terms. Some of the grandeur I’ve experienced has been of the real, non-delusional variety. I have had the privilege of working for Ann Richards and being friendly with people like Liz Carpenter and Martina and Billie Jean, and through tennis and politics and journalism have gotten to meet people like Nelson Mandela and Lily Tomlin and the Queen of England and Johnny Carson and Annie Leibovitz and Liza Minnelli and Carl Sagan and yes, even Oprah! ;p I have gotten to party like a rock star and visit the world’s great cities and live in places like New York and San Francisco and Aspen and Honolulu and Eureka Springs, Arkansas! All of these things would have been considered “delusions of grandeur” before they actually happened. If I wasn’t bi-polar and hadn’t had the manic vision to dream crazy dreams, a lot of these things would never have happened.
When you are bipolar and you finally go for help, you learn that you are going to have to take these powerful medications that will sedate you and ward off the mania, but that might leave you feeling FLAT and bored and unmotivated and uninspired and FAT (one of the many side effects of the meds; I have also had to have half my teeth pulled because of dry mouth caused by fifteen years of a twice-daily regimen of various pills). If you want any sort of stability and functionality, you have to settle for a less colorful and eventful and joyous life, and that’s hard for somebody who has had so many high highs. You’re not necessarily depressed, because your cocktail includes anti-depressants that are effective, but you feel resigned to a life of mediocrity and flat moods.
SO, loooong story short, I had a major freak-out here in Eureka Springs last year, featuring all KINDS of erratic behavior. I somehow managed to stay out of the newspaper, except for the very funny police blotter of the Lovely County Citizen, which gives a colorful description of events but doesn’t use actual names. But I did apparently get talked about on Geekfest, our crazy local online forum, and that’s probably worse. I still haven’t forced myself to find the thread, but I will need to for the book. It’s a gossipy town with nothing but eccentrics, but most of the people are forgiving, so I am thankful for that.
Again, you will have to wait for the book, but I will tell you that there were all kinds of FALSE rumors about me, for instance that I was “off my meds.” This wasn’t exactly true. Basically, I kept taking the uppers and quit taking the downers. Some Eurekans swore they had seen me DRUNK, and I drink very little. But it is practically mandatory that all Eurekans smoke weed.
After discovering the joys of cannabis in college, alcohol never had much appeal for me. In my first blog entry, I wrote about my discovery of Eureka Springs after attending the Rainbow Gathering of ’07, held in the gorgeous Ozark National Forrest, about an hour south of Eureka. At this tribal freak-fest, where I hung out for a week in the camp of the Radical Faeries (Google it!), a fabulous drag queen from Pittsburg named Sharon Needles (read it again) proposed that my “rainbow name” be “Truman Ca-pot-head.” Perfect! ;p And before I get off this subject, I want to urge any California voters reading this to help get out the vote for legalization of marijuana on Tuesday!)
I also become a chain-smoker of whatever regular cigarettes I can get my hands on when I am manic. Otherwise, I am a nonsmoker. And I have never been a big coffee drinker, but I drank lots and lots of high-powered java on this bender. The manic episode also coincided with me having to move out of the place where I was living near the Crescent Hotel and into a wonderful little studio apartment right downtown, so the chaos of that added to the insanity.
So in my extremely altered state, I had some mishaps here and there. I was accused of “cat-napping” the most famous cat in town, Leo, a giant 20-pound orange tabby with long “Maine Coon” hair, who is the resident cat at one of Eureka's best art galleries. I’m saving that one for the book, but in an unrelated feline event, I went out to the Good Shepard Humane Society to adopt a couple of cats, as I hadn’t been allowed pets at the place I was moving out of. I picked out a pair of severely disturbed but adorable orange tabbies who had spent the first year of their lives climbing the fences of their small cubicle. The shelter let me borrow two cat carriers, but I decided to run back and picked out another one I had been eyeing on my frequent visits to the hang out with the kitties. What could a third kitty hurt? It was an average size grey and white mutt kitty, and since there was no carrier in sight, I found a pillow case and used that to transport said kitty to the front. Needless to say, kitty was NOT happy by the time we got there, and the shelter workers were quite disturbed at my behavior, so I left with just the two tabbies. Someone from the shelter came the next day for a “safety check.” They let me keep the kitties, but I was ordered not to return to the shelter.
And what did I NAME the precious kitties? Little Martina Jr. and Little Bradley David Jr., of course (now “Marty” and “B.D.”). I wrote Martina of this development, telling her that the kitties were both male, which I found appropriate, doing a little gender-bending with the names. Martina was spending time in Paris with a new girlfriend and wrote back about her new puppy named Sascha.
Around this time, I attended the fabulous party of a really nice, wonderful friend here. Not only did I come up with some pretty bizzare behavior (a lot of which I truly don't remember, but others at the party told me later), I somehow got home with his Pee Wee Herman doll and various DVDs and refrigerator magnets that I had “borrowed” without telling him. I also“floated” checks all over town, thinking my Tennis Channel paycheck would surely cover them. And I conned the then-director of the Writers’ Colony into buy me a Blackberry in exchange for doing some work on a project for her. (Another loooong story.)
Just several weeks before the French, I decided I had to get to Los Angeles where I could just show up at the Tennis Channel offices in Santa Monica and sell myself to Ken Solomon. I involved an old friend out there -- she was ready to give me enough of her frequent flyer miles for a ticket to L.A. Let’s just say that when I hitched a ride and arrived at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport without a ticket and tried to make the frequent flyer thing happen by phone with Paula in California, I attracted the attention of Homeland Security and was swiftly arrested on ridiculous charges of disorderly conduct.
I kept a manic stream of emails going to Martina in Paris, and she played along with all my antics, until she had to tell me to “cut it out with the marriage stuff.” I had decided it would be funny to maybe announce that Martina and I were getting married. Martina was getting some bad press after being sued for by her most recent ex, and I had told her in one of our phone conversations, “You should marry ME. Now THAT would be an ideal gay marriage. You know I would never try and take you to the cleaners.“ She thought it was funny, but naturally wasn’t crazy about my brilliant idea to break news about our “gay marriage.”
On the eve of the French, I wrote an email addressed to both Martina and Ken Solomon, saying, "C’mon, it’s not too late to get Bradley David Williams to Paris! If somebody could just wire a couple thousand dollars to my account, I could get a passport overnighted and be in Paris by the third day of the tournament."
I had tried very hard to conceal the severity of my mental state in all of my communications, but this last-ditch email had to have made my insanity pretty clear. Martina very nicely emailed back that she thought I should “give up on the idea of coming over here at this late date” and maybe shoot for Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. “Thanks for telling me like it is,” I wrote back, sobered by the development. That was the beginning of the end of the mania, followed of course by a free-fall descent into depression and isolation.
Martina and I have had a number of phone conversations since, and she has been great. The Tennis Channel thing could still happen at some point, but my sane self tells me to be careful of the “delusions of grandeur.” Even if it did happen, I might not be in any kind of shape to thrive in the job.Of course the kicker is that my manic episode from hell made me re-think the book I have been working on for the last three years. It was planned as a collection of funny personal essays, a la David Sedaris. Devastated by the path of destruction I had caused and determined for it not to happen again, I decided that it should be a more serious book about my struggles with manic depression. (I actually prefer this dated term to “bipolar,” and so does my beloved Carrie Fisher, who says “bipolar sounds like gay bears in the arctic.”)
So it may take another three years to finish this big, serious (yet still hilarious) book about mental illness. Working title: “MOODSWINGER -- Tales From The Bipolar Underworld.” Of course with the “Death of Writing” comes the “Death of Reading” (or is it vice versa?) and who knows what the publishing world will look like when I finally finish it. I’ve considered just tweeting the whole book in 140-character morsels.
In case you are wondering, the Clint McCance debacle and the breathtaking response from the gay community inspired me to tell this story really for the first time today. Thank you for reading it. Now let’s all have a beautiful weekend, wherever you are, and celebrate Diversity. Much love to all my friends, virtual and otherwise! And don’t forget to V O T E !