Ask anyone of any sexual identity about David Mixner, and there is a good chance they will discuss his political work. Whether it has been his activism to end the Vietnam War, to call for global nuclear disarmament, to challenge California’s Proposition 6 (which would have made it illegal for gays and lesbians to work as schoolteachers in California), to raise awareness of the larger social and political forces affecting those living with AIDS, or to object to the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” people usually know Mixner because of his extensive, public involvement in our political history. His current blog, Live from Hell’s Kitchen, reinforces his relationship to activism and politics even today. His new book, At Home with Myself (Magnus Books), certainly does not contradict that image, but it does complicate it in ways I was not expecting and ultimately found fascinating.
In 2007, Mixner left his two-thousand-square-foot apartment in Manhattan for a newly-built, two-bedroom home a few hours outside the city in the Catskills. For the next three years, the small town known as Turkey Hollow became his home until he returned to the city. Mixner cites turning sixty as a turning point that pushed him to think about his life, including how lucky he was to have his life but also how isolated he felt having lost so many friends his own age to AIDS. The book is organized seasonally, starting with spring before moving to summer, fall, and winter. From there, Mixner produces a pastoral panorama complete with photographs of the deer, bears, and–yes–turkeys that fill his new life. Much that he encounters in the present of Turkey Hollow reminds him of growing up on a farm in New Jersey, whether it is ads for prom dresses in a local store making him think of dances from his own prom to gay discos or how sitting on his porch reminds him of the forts, frogs, trees, and leaves of his youth.
This does not mean politics is absent from the book. This is David Mixner we are talking about, after all! Besides discussing how AIDS influenced his decision to move in the first place, Mixner ruminates on the “No on Proposition 6” campaign and working with Harvey Milk. He remembers how her first learned Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. He even presents a unique eulogy for Paul Newman, calling him “an outstanding citizen.” Some say it is in nature that we can find the quiet and solitude necessary for deep reflection, and At Home with Myself may support this argument. The politics and the pastoral mesh well, and Mixner moves easily from one to the other.
Reading Mixner’s collection of essays made me think of Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers , which I reviewed for LLF in 2010 . Do we have a new sub-genre of memoir emerging? For decades, scholars and memoirists have written about the importance of city life to the development of queer communities and individual lesbian and gay identities. Now, these two books chronicle why some gay men who spent much of their adult lives in those cities may feel the need for a more rural life. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but these two books have gotten me thinking–and looking–at the world outside the city a bit more deeply.