Push Play, Then Work

Posted on May 10, 2018. Filed under: Art, Family, Gay parent, Poems, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

May 10, 2018

Greg and Emily 1956

Dad & Me circa 1956

I’ve been busy. Not just busy, but crazy busy. You might not see it because so much of what I’ve been up to means I’m buried in my office. I’m knee-deep in a memoir about Gregory Thornton, my dad (or maybe these are short stories?). If you know me, you probably are aware that my Dad was an eccentric, gay artist. Like gay men of his time, he stayed in the closet, had a family and, after the culture shifted he torched his marriage—and not in a passionate way. Starting in 1977, he also fairly consistently recorded his life on audio tapes. When he passed away in 2000, he accumulated 10K hours of cassettes (yes, 10000 hours!!) Earlier he arranged to have the Kinsey Institute archive them. He thought they would make a fascinating book. I think so too.

When I started this book project a few years back, I traveled to Bloomington, Indiana to visit the Institute and listen to the tapes. I stayed for as many days as my hotel budget could tolerate and listened to my dad ramble mostly familiar stories. Sometimes I transcribed an interesting segment.

By last year, I gained enough credibility with my Kinsey contacts to trust me with tapes outside the Institute.  Now, I am privileged to receive a package of ten tapes via FedEx every few weeks. Meanwhile, my master-geek husband discovered Audacity, a nifty sound program that allows me to digitize the cassettes. After duplicating the batch, I send them back and return to listening until the next batch arrives.

My dad had a big personality, a voice that carried throughout the house and an ego to match. In telling this story, my biggest challenge is to not feel cast into his shadow, which is where most people ended up when they were in his presence. Don’t get me wrong. We were great friends, but I have to pay attention to my own voice to write this story. I think writing this blog will help. And, since I’m often asked how the book is going, this is an easy way to share updates.

So feel free ask me questions. If you know any books about having a gay parent—not BEING a gay parent—let me know. In preparing a book proposal, I could use some help finding competitive literature. Gotta go.  Gotta change the tape!

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7 Responses to “Push Play, Then Work”

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Wow, what an interesting project… It seems like you should go audio and visual with this first. Maybe start a podcast where you can pull themes from what he says. NPR has a bunch of voice/history/life programs that might be worth pitching to… What a huge task you took on!

My Dad was a preacher and he taped his sermons on cassettes, which I have with me. I have used Audacity, too, and know the bare minimum in terms of sound editing. My goal is to edit his tapes and make them digital so that family can access them, but no time right now. Sadly, he didn’t date them. Instead, he labeled them with the Bible text he was preaching on. There is a huge difference in his voice from the early and later ones. More pep and pizzazz when younger, more gentle and reflective later.

I also hesitate to tackle them because I don’t know if I will just start bawling when I hear his voice. I miss him so much!

My dad dated the tapes, labeled initials of how is speaking and put little stars for meaty conversations, which I’ve learned don’t necessarily don’t translate into meaty for me. When did your father pass away? It’s taken me a very long time to be able to tackle this.

Wow, what you’re describing sounds like quiet a big job, you have your hands full of documentation on your and your dad’s past, but I bet it is also a lot of fun to travel back in time, and listen to his life from the perspective where you stand at this time. I’m looking forward to your future postings on this project, your dad was a very unique person, way ahead of his time!

You are so right, Isabel

I’m so excited to read this book! So glad you’re allowing us to follow some of your journey on here!

Thanks. I think it will help me get it done!

“I’ve been busy. Not just busy, but crazy busy.” For those of you who know Emily, this is an accurate working lede on her slowest days! Separately, what a perfect, thoughtful pivot — actively searching for ways to ensure your formidable personality doesn’t get lost. I cannot wait to read this; among all your poems, essays and art, I think this will be your defining work. That’s an amazingly high bar and anyone who is lucky enough to call you a friend knows you’ll not only reach it, you’ll blow over it.


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    A writer and cancer survivor chronicles her renewed dedication to art and words..

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