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Day 20: Tuesday, April 14

Assignment

Welcome to Quarantini: Day Twenty.

Our assignment this week is to read chapters 4-6 of UNDER THE RAINBOW, available from Bookshop.org, Kindle, or as an Audiobook. Don’t forget to order it ASAP if you haven’t already!

This week’s discussion question is: What are the characters running away from, or running towards? How do you relate to either movement?

Use the below comment form to add your own responses and reply to others! I’ll be picking a few to discuss during our book club meeting on Tuesday, April 21. 

BONUS: On Thursday, I’ll be interviewing Jacob Tobia, the actor, writer, producer, and author of the national bestselling memoir Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender StoryTo prepare for our interview, your bonus assignment is to read Jacob’s short piece in the New York Times: “Excavating My Childhood Photos — and Myself” before Thursday.

See you tomorrow.

-Eric

Join the Discussion

7 Comments

  1. Though all the characters in the novel have a different story, they all seem to share having something to hide that causes shame and/or pain. Avery, for example, hates being uprooted from her home and tries to fit into her new school away from the spotlight on her activist mother. Gabe hides his sexuality behind moose heads and Carhartt clothing. Christine hides her bad marriage behind righteousness and her blog. David and Miguel hide a marriage-in-trouble behind threesomes. Linda tries to flee the grief she feels over the death of her son by avoiding the pain. Zach says he is not running away from his problems (the expression of his sexuality in a homophobic town) but is “fucking sprinting toward happiness and acceptance.” In short, circumstances have caused these, and other characters, to live inauthentic, untruthful, lives. This reminds me of coming out.

    Coming out is the continual journey toward living an life of honesty, truthfulness, and authenticity. It begins with coming out to oneself then taking that truth into the external world.

    So, I think of my own journey:

    • I had long felt “different” from most of the boys around me while I was growing up in our small Ohio town in the 1950s and 60s. As a child, I did not have the words to identify the source of that feeling, but I knew I was not like other boys in some deep and fundamental way. I sensed I was flawed.
    • Early in 10th grade, after months of severe anxiety that made me think of suicide, I whispered to myself the words, “I think I am homosexual.” The year was 1970. I felt I was alone. There was no one I knew like me. There was no Internet for research. There was nothing positive in the library about me. There were no overtly gay characters on television, in the movies, or in books. All I could find were a few clinical-sounding passages in books that claimed gay people were mentally ill. All I heard from my church was that I was going to burn in hell for eternity. All I knew from the news was that I was a deviant or even a criminal. I believed those forces of society knew me better than I knew myself.
    • As I began college in 1973, I also worked a full-time job and hid behind the “need” to achieve perfect grades. I made sure I had no opportunity to think about myself or be involved with other people in ways that might expose my true identity.
    • Furthermore, while in college to become a teacher, Anita Bryant, the Save the Children campaign, and the California Briggs Initiative were all in the news. These attempts to remove gay teachers from the classroom convinced me that if I wanted to teach, I could not live my life as a gay man. I responded by burying myself even more in my schoolwork and job. I graduated cum laude while working 48 hours a week, was “safely” hidden, but miserable.
    • Then, in 1981, the first news began to break about what was soon called AIDS. Thousands upon thousands) of gay men began to die. I believed I might get the disease and die unless I continued to bury myself in my work and avoided contact with other gay men.
    • In 1982, I took a sabbatical and went to Japan to teach. While there, the shame, horror, and self-loathing led to a breakdown that brought me home and into therapy.
    • That same year, I told my mom and stepdad and a few others that I was gay. Though it was a struggle, I began to wonder if maybe the world was wrong about me.
    • Finally, I had had enough. I woke one morning and decided I was going to live openly as a gay man in every area of my life. I came out to friends, employers, students, minsters…everyone. Never again was I going to let the world say t knew me better than I knew myself. Being out has not always been easy, but it sure is more satisfying.
    • Though the struggle with shame continues, I face it with the knowledge I will never hide or go backward but will continue learning how to be more authentic and claim my place in a world of beautiful diversity. Furthermore, I will do my part to argue not only for assimilation but for the celebration of that great diversity.

    Reply
    • Mark, I’m glad you picked that quote that Zach is running towards something. I went to a small-town high school and left as soon as I could to go to the city. It wasn’t running away from something, as much as running towards the opportunity to be around like-minded people. Now that I’m in a small town again, I find myself thinking about moving to NYC over summer (I have a job interview tomorrow). It’s not that I don’t want to be in a small town. It’s just that there are no other gay men that are available and like-minded.

      I thought that Zach’s chapter was wonderful. I also thought that it has a hint of Huckleberry Finn to it. Huck was adopted by a widow that was too prim and proper for his liking, whereas Zach gets a stepmother that’s too conservative for him to be comfortable. Huck finds opportunity when he comes across gold, and Zach finds opportunity to live in a world where he can be himself on Instagram. A black man is replaced by the daughter of lesbians. Instead of the Mississippi they have a road taking them to the bus station.

      I also found it interesting that it’s a snake that runs over his foot. The snake is symbolic of the devil, and it was religion that he was fighting in Big Burr. Maybe this means that he can’t escape from religion? Maybe it was foreshadowing that something bad was about to happen?

      Reply
      • Daniel, best wishes with the interview! I also found myself liking Zach most among the characters. He is aware of the dangers of his town but creative and strong enough to find a way to survive, thrive, and plan for a better life for himself. He is an optimistic character. Your Huck Finn comment was interesting. It gave me a fresh way to consider Zach.

        Reply
        • Mark, thanks for replying! I definitely fit into Zach’s archetype most closely. I really admire the author for being able to go into detail on so many different types of characters. I hope she brings it together nicely. The activist in me wants to see character development and growth with a happy ending. The cynic in me is hoping for a juicy ending that leaves my jaw on the floor. The optimist hopes for both.

          Reply
  2. Linda’s chapter was pretty clear-cut for this question. She’s running away from the loss of her son. I was more interested in the literary setup for this chapter. When she said that her son died, I assume that he was running from something. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Was it a suicide and why? I think that is large in part due to the fact that this chapter is so much like a miniature Prayers for Bobby.

    In the next chapter we have Avery. She’s running from the discrimination of Big Burr. I think she’s also in a way trying to teach her moms a lesson. There’s a little revenge there for making her move away from L.A.

    The same chapter also has Zach. Zach’s the character that was lightly mentioned in a previous chapter as a volunteer at AAA. Zach’s running from his conservative family. He’s also running from a rape. This intrigued me for a few reasons. The first is that Zach is bisexual. Another character mentions that boys can’t be bisexual, which I think is even a belief that holds true amongst most gay men.

    Gabe’s chapter is my favorite chapter thus far. There’s clear conflict throughout the entire chapter, whereas some of the other chapters just focus on character development. This engaged me. I also like how it brought in David/Miguel not just by mentioning the other person, but they also developed to the plot by hinting that he knows Gabe might be gay. But then the chapter kind of ends. We don’t know if he’s going to get caught or not by his wife for trying to have an affair.

    So far in the book, we have a lot of character development. There’s conflict, but it’s in the lifestyles of the characters and the social dynamic of the town. With the exception of a few instances, we don’t see these characters’ really crossing paths. After this week’s assignment, there are only 130 pages left. I’m skeptical.

    The book reminds me of Tales of the City. Each chapter focuses on different characters. Eventually the different characters’ lives intertwine. I remember that book moved at the same pace. It also focuses on developing these archetypes the same way Under the Rainbow does. Tales of the City, though, was more dramatic. There were twists and shocking moments.

    You know, in that book, the person that ran over Avery would’ve been Christine, trying to get some revenge. Maybe PB Tall Guy is actually Zach. The only problem with that is Zach is a junior in high school, which puts him at about 16 or 17, but in real life there are tons of underage kids on gay dating apps pretending to be 18.

    I’m not giving up on the book just yet, but I’m a little skeptical. I wasn’t a fan of Giovanni’s Room until Giovanni had his meltdown. There’s still time for this novel.

    To end on a high note, I do think she does a great job building character. I loved Christine’s chapter and Gabe’s chapter. I don’t relate to either that well, but I felt like for those few pages I could relate to those people, and that’s what makes reading good writing so wonderful.

    Reply
  3. I just really resonated with the line at the beginning of Zach’s chapter, “But what if running away was actually the opposite of all those things? An active choice made in defiance, not running away but running toward.”

    It’s similar to the statement, inaction is an action. I’m not going to answer the first question, because that’s kind of obvious.

    I’ve been in a state of perpetual procrastination since this all started, and that’s a form of running away. I couldn’t tell you why, really, there is literally nothing to stop me from doing anything. I guess it’s the problem the endless void is paralyzing.

    Reply
  4. Dredging up old memories of my sexuality had some mixed feelings attached to them, both positive and negative ones.

    Reply

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