Lobsters

Ross-and-Rachel-ross-and-rachel-31487773-700-700To me, they were Ross and Rachel.  They seemed destined to stay together forever, a perfect fit, lobsters.  That’s why, for the sake of this story, I will call them Ross and Rachel.  They were among my first friends when I moved to LA.  They were and are creative talents.  They had been high school sweethearts from someplace else who moved to LA with the same dreams I had.  Jealous type that I was, I thought how much easier it must have been to move to LA with a support system already in place.  

Several years ago, they announced to their friends that they were separating.  It appeared amicable, but eventually Ross and Rachel decided to divorce.  It seemed that their friends were more heartbroken than they were because whenever we all were together, they still seemed, if not a couple, at least, united.  Ross and Rachel-ish.

Rachel threw a big party for a milestone birthday.  And though they were divorced, living somewhat separate lives, Ross was in attendance.  I remember tons of people, tons of alcohol, tons of food.  Not long after midnight, I found myself talking to Ross and Rachel in the kitchen, just the three of us.   It had been a great party and we were all three feeling the effects of a great party, so to speak.  I don’t really remember what we were talking about.  Rachel wasn’t at her most lucid, but hey, it was her birthday.  One minute, she was sitting at a chair around the kitchen table, nibbling on a chocolate chip cookie, the next minute, she vomited onto the entire plate of cookies.  And as I stood there shocked and grossed out, Ross immediately went to her aid. He pulled her long hair back until she stopped throwing up.  He wiped her face, cleaned up the mess on the table.  I tried to help by cleaning up things that had not been hit directly, but Ross had no such boundary issues. As I pretended to straighten the kitchen, Ross lovingly put Rachel safely to bed. In this moment anyway, she was still his responsibility, and he was going to get her through this crisis, just one of many that they pulled each other through in their many years together.

Relationships are hard and things go on in private that others don’t know about or need to know about.  I don’t really remember how Ross and Rachel ended up on Friends. Wasn’t it a little fuzzy as to whether they would get back together or stay together?  I remember thinking that they weren’t going to grow old together, at least not in the traditional sense.  But like lobsters, there were going to be bound to each other in certain ways.

My Ross and Rachel never got back together, either.  They both moved on with their lives with great success, and as far as I know, remain amicable.  It’s a happy ending.  But I will always think of that night, how they reminded me that love reveals itself in many ways and it’s often more expansive than we realize.

Patron of the Arts

1798866_10152304887902755_1072442248_nAs my one year blog anniversary draws nigh, I will confess to you, today, why I started this thing.  I used to take an acting class. I’ve talked about the teacher at times on stage.  He figures into a story I often share about my struggles working on Uncle Vanya.  My feelings for this teacher, whom I’ll call Professor, are complicated.  At times, he could be overwhelmingly nurturing and other times he could be mercilessly cruel.

I left his class several years ago, then after a two year absence, I returned.  I think he was disappointed and hurt that I left class initially and when I returned, I never felt like he liked me.  I hope that you are different than me, but I am one of those insecure types that likes for people to like him.  When I returned to class, our every conversation was adversarial or dismissive or academic.  In my early days of class, he had told me how unique and special my instrument was, but after my flight and return, he never said things like that to me.

After I left class the second time, he told a story to his New York class about a student in the LA class who was nothing more than a patron of the arts.  “This student is in his 40s, he calls himself an actor, but he is nothing more than a patron of the arts.  He goes to plays and read books and goes to museums.  He can talk at length about what he reads or sees, but he, himself, is not an artist.  He does not dig deep the way an artist digs.”  And of course, I was that LA student he was talking about.  When I first heard about it, obviously, it hurt my feelings.  Professor often talks about his students, usually derisivlely, in class, often in the victim’s presence, but more often, behind their back.  As perceptive as he is about humanity, he chooses to build his class around his own antagonistic pathology.

But, back to me, this is my story, after all.  What I did love about Professor is that when he said something about me, usually something negative, I was able to look at it and ask myself, if there was truth there.  And of course, always, there was something true, maybe not 100% true, but somehow, as ugly as it was, there was at least a part of it that resonated.  

I am a patron of the arts.  I read books, but don’t write them.  I see plays, but don’t act in them.  I go to art museums, but I don’t paint.  But I am an artist, and that’s not to say that I am a good artist.  This blog is my art, over which I toil.  And I am not attempting histrionics by saying that it’s been mostly failure.  Not one of my posts has “gone viral.”  Most of my posts receive startling few hits.  Many friends have openly told me that they don’t understand why I am doing this.  And, Amy Grant has not retweeted even ONE of my beautiful, complimentary, open-hearted posts that I’ve written about her and repeatedly tweeted to her.   But still, I keep going.

There have been some successes.  I’ve received nice compliments.  I’ve made a couple people laugh, a couple people cry and of course, my holy grail, a couple people laugh through tears. My favorite emotion!  What’s more, I feel I’ve gained something as an artist.  It’s helped my onstage ventures. I am better at writing than when I started.  I think I understand story a little better.   

So, I am glad a low moment inspired me to create Easily Crestfallen.  It’s kind of thrilling to think that hearing something unfavorable about yourself, can open you up to the possibilities.

The Interestings

9781594488399_custom-a82317e37abed747b8112d39b71b8b84724c22fd-s6-c30I do not think I would make a good reviewer.  My reviews would be divided into “I liked it” or “It was…okay” or “I hated it.” The body of my reviews would be, “I don’t know, I just really enjoyed reading it or watching it or listening to it.”  This is not a review of The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, but even though I’m only on page 248 of the book’s 468 pages, I could give you my review, were I in the review business: I love it.

I know there are much sadder things in the world than this, but I have not finished a book since December.  For the last three months, I have picked up books that I’ve slogged through, then given them up somewhere within the first 150 pages.  The books would sit untouched on my side table, and I’d look guiltily at them every time I’d glance in their direction. It’s kind of my own fault; suffice to say, if you’ve read the biography of one gay alcoholic 20th century writer, you’ve sort of read them all.  

A few months ago, my friend Sienna, who I’ve been in the same room with twice and our friendship is mostly cultivated on Facebook, told me that I would love The Interestings.  You can learn a lot about people from their Facebook activity, and Sienna, in her acuity, nailed it.  I do love it.  It’s about New York in the 1970s and New York in the 1980s and current New York and New England summer campers.  The only thing that could make it more interesting is if the characters all went to an Amy Grant concert in Central Park in the 1990s.  Unlikely, but, you never know, I still have over 200 pages left.

If you are a reader, I think you can relate to that feeling you have when you’re reading a book that you love, when it’s the last thing you read before you go to bed at night or you wake up thinking, I could read for 30 minutes before I have to get ready for work.  And wherever that book is set, you are there for the duration.   I wasn’t the only 20-something that spent weeks in 1970s San Francisco while feverishly reading the first six Tales of the City books.  I wasn’t the only midwestern teenager who spent a few days tooling around Holden Caulfield’s Manhattan. And I’m not the only person, with fond but complicated memories of summer camp, intimate but complicated relationships with more successful old friends, that has read and connected with The Interestings.

At work yesterday, a few of us were talking about books. Kristin talked about how she loved when a book was so interesting she had to read it while she walked to the bus stop. Ian confided that he had not finished a book in 10 years. “I wish I loved reading books,” he lamented. But books are just a method of taking a journey and Ian loves movies and television the way others loves books. We are what we are.

And right now, I am in the middle of a journey and I think about my new friends Jules and Ethan and Ash and Jonah Bay constantly. I don’t know what’s ahead, as I said, I’m only on page 248. Will Cathy Kiplinger resurface? Probably. Will I forgive Goodman for what he did? Unlikely. Will one of the Interestings die before the book ends? I have a feeling. But I am in, absorbed, captivated, interested. And I have to wrap this little post up and get back to my book, because I still have 10 minutes before I need to get ready for work.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a

Leonardo-DiCaprio-dans-TitanicIt was December 1997.  I remember it vividly for a couple of reasons.  My parents and I met my brother and my two nephews and niece at Simple Simon’s pizza in Independence.  I was visiting from LA for Christmas and it was to be my one chance to see the kids.  I had been close to them when they were smaller, but as they grew up, it seemed we had less in common.  They were roughly 15, 13, and 11, I believe.  The day before, my parents and I had gone to see Titanic.  I innocently asked the kids if they had seen the movie.  It was December 1997, and if you remember, it was the movie everyone was talking about.

“Leonardo DiCaprio is a fag,” my oldest nephew bellowed. “I hate that fag,” my other nephew agreed.  And that was the beginning of a 15 minute conversation among my two nephews and niece about the sexuality of the most beloved, yet apparently, polarizing heartthrob of 1997.  The boys talked about how they didn’t want to see the movie, because Leonardo was a faggot, a fag, gay.  My niece bragged, “I don’t care if he is a fag, I still love him.”  

I was actually 29 in 1997.  I was newly out to my parents.  My brother said nothing to them to stop them.  He wouldn’t have.  Just a few years before, back when I looked up to him and tried my best to build a relationship with him, his best friend would regularly call me Fag and Gay Ray to my face, in his presence, and he never asked this friend to stop. My parents also did nothing to stop the conversation.  I watched both of them, clearly pained to hear their grandchildren say cruel things about a community of which their youngest son was a member, but they both stared down at their pizza, hoping the conversation would stop.  Eventually, the three started talking about something else on their own.

I’m not sure why this day popped into my head today.  But it’s something I’ve thought about from time to time in the years since it happened.  I think about it whenever the movie comes on television.  I thought about it when Eric and I went to the Titanic exhibit in Las Vegas last summer.  I thought about it the only time I saw Leonardo DiCaprio in person.  (He was with his girlfriend at the time, the insanely gorgeous Bar Refaeli.  I thought to myself, he doesn’t look gay to me.)  I also thought about it when one of my nephews passed away a couple years ago.

I am a forgiving person, I really am.  I still love my nephews and niece, I only wish the best for their lives, but there was a shift after that day.  They were kids, I don’t really know if they were li’l homophobes or just talking the way every other teenager talked, especially in Kansas in 1997.

On that day, I sat there hoping that someone would speak up.  I hoped it would be my brother.  I also hoped it would be my parents, who struggled so much with my sexuality, especially in those early years.  If only one person had just said, “Stop, don’t use that word.  There is no reason to ever call someone that word.”  Of course, looking back, I know who that person should have been: it should have been me.  I should have told my family, “I wish you would not use that word.  I’m gay and words like fag and faggot hurt people’s feelings, specifically, my feelings.”  And if I had, maybe it would have been the beginning of a conversation or an education or a connection.  

By not saying anything, I backed away and I never gave these kids the chance to move forward.  I do not know if they grew up to not like gay people, we’ve never talked about it.

I’m a lucky guy, I know that. I have friends who have been my friends so long that they are family now. And I’m lucky that those friends are actively, vocally, passionately supportive of me and my community. And I’m lucky that I have the relationship that I do with my parents. But when I think about that day, it does still haunt me. If I’d been brave enough to say something, who knows what I might have gained in the long run.

Marilyn Monroe’s Amanda Wingfield

marilyn monroe carlyle blackwell 5Yesterday, I was discussing the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie that I was lucky enough to see last week.  The person I was speaking with, an actress of a certain age, asked me what I thought of the production.  I told her that when you see a play like that, you have a hope that you are going to witness the definitive portrayal of these iconic characters.  I had hoped to see the definitive Amanda, the matriarch of the Wingfield family or the definitive Tom, the narrator and central, autobiographical character of the play.  In my humble opinion, that is not what I witnessed.  Both Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto gave heartfelt, formidable performances, but I left wanting a little more.

My friend, I’ll call her Jane, said that an actor needs to understand the poetry of Williams to play his characters.  I agreed and admitted to a struggle with the poetry when I worked on another Williams character in an acting class.  “You know who would have made a wonderful Amanda?” Jane asked me.  “Who?”

“Marilyn Monroe.”  

I confess to you that I actually gasped a little when she said that.  “You mean Laura?”  I asked.  “No, Amanda.”  Jane went on to tell me that many years ago, she had been in the same acting class as Marilyn.  She told me her Amanda would have been something to see.  In some ways, I’ll admit, I couldn’t see it.  

And yet, in the two days since she put this idea in my head, it’s all I can think about.  One would not have a hard time believing that Marilyn’s Amanda would have had a trail of gentlemen callers.  One would not have a hard time believing that Marilyn’s Amanda would have chosen the most unpromising of those gentlemen callers.   Marilyn’s Amanda would have understood that Williams is funny.  And Marilyn’s Amanda, entering the living room with the ridiculous old cotillion dress from her youth, would have been, as Jane put it, something to see.  So many possibilities.

If you are a drama nerd like me, and you’re still reading this, no doubt, you’ve had your own opinions pop into your head about the possibility of Marilyn Monroe’s Amanda Wingfield.  Maybe you like the idea, maybe you hate the idea.  Whether over a cup of coffee or a Makers Mark neat, these are the conversations I love.

Because this is the way my little brain works, I think of what might have happened if Marilyn had played Amanda.  What might Amanda have unlocked for Marilyn.  There is something exciting about living with a character that helps us understand the world we live in and understand ourselves better.  Maybe Amanda could have saved Marilyn, maybe she wouldn’t have left this world so young.  And maybe Amanda would have turned Marilyn into a great actress, not just a compelling movie star.

And there is something else about yesterday’s conversation that I’ve carried with me.  It goes back to those possibilities.  I told Jane that Marilyn as Amanda sounded so wrong and Jane said, “It might be!  And it might be so wrong that it’s right!”  Maybe this conversation will unlock in me the practice to see the possibilities for myself, that Tom Wingfield isn’t the only one with tricks in his pocket, things up his sleeve.