The Pages

1660523_10152174788269437_2144488630_nI participated in a storytelling show on Monday, Spark Off Rose.  It was a piece that I had been writing for about three months.  There were several drafts and I had regular meetings with this particular show’s lead producer, Janet Blake, who is also a friend of mine.  (Started 13 years ago, by Jessica Tuck, Spark Off Rose does ten themed shows a year, with 5 different producers taking turns as lead producer.) It was an arduous process that was ultimately rewarding,  one of the best night’s of my life.  

The story that I shared on Monday was framed within the context of an acting class I took a few years ago, about my identification with Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.   Really, though, it was the story of Ray in less than 8 minutes.  I didn’t even know if there was even a story there, but Janet encouraged me.  I hated what I wrote.  I fought to salvage threads that Janet told me didn’t serve the piece.  I complained.  I lost sleep.  Every looming deadline was something I dreaded.  But Janet was faithful.  Finally, the two of us arrived at a rehearsal draft for the show.  Our rehearsal was on Saturday.  I had a flat tire that morning, dropped my phone and chipped it a little, spilled coffee on my favorite sweater.  But the rehearsal itself went okay, actually, it went pretty well.  Every storyteller shared a beautiful story, some very funny, some haunting, some sad, all were affecting.  

And then the night of the show came.  Eric didn’t make it to the show because his car broke down.  I was nervous.  My chest was tight, one of my arms was sore and I wondered if I might be having a heart attack.  Also, I had the added pressure of going first.    I stood backstage, listening to Janet welcome the crowd, introduce the show, talk about the night’s theme, You Don’t Know Me.  And a resolve washed over me.  All the work has been done, I thought.  At this point, it’s just me and the pages.  All I have to do is go out there and read.  It was freeing. And then my introductory song, Is It Okay if I Call You Mine, chosen by me, began to play.

And what was on those pages?  My journey, in fact, things I’ve written about here on this blog.  I read about growing up in Kansas, dreaming of the world out there. I read about Bible college and New York and the game show and working in a restaurant and meeting Eric and finally, about swimming.   And the entire time, I clung to those pages. They weren’t just pieces of paper, of course, they were MY pages, MY story.

And it went the way I thought I could only dream it might go.  

I Can Catch the Moon in My Hand

FAMEJust a few minutes ago, I finished watching a French movie called Beau Travail that I’d dvr’d on Turner Classic Movies, it is a movie about, wait, never mind, there is no need for me to tell you what the movie is about, there is no reason for you to watch it.  It’s boring and it’s not even long.  For 90 minutes, I sat on my couch, sipping a little whiskey and eating cheese and crackers, wondering why I was watching this movie.  My answer came at the end, or rather, after the end, when after the credits, TCM played a mini-documentary about the making of my favorite movie (one of my favorites, anyway) Fame.

I remember when I saw Fame for the first time.  It was the summer between my 6th and 7th grade year, in the living room of my childhood home (imagine that!) and I watched it on HBO with my cousins Tracey and Stacey who were visiting from Colorado.  I already loved anything theatrical (I was just coming off of that Charlie Brown high from 5th grade) and something about the movie: the songs, the dancing, the acting, hooked into something inside of me, something at my core.  I remember how nervous the Montgomery character made me.  Gosh, I thought, I wouldn’t want to end up like that guy!

And even though I was a land-locked Kansas boy, I dreamed that one day, I would attend the High School for the Performing Arts.  Alas, that did not happen, but I did make my way to New York eventually, and from the minute I stepped off that Greyhound bus, I did feel like I’d entered a city that pulsated like the choreographed, gritty, magical, mercurial 1980 New York that Alan Parker gave me (ME!) in that movie.  And if you’ve been reading this blog, even just a little, you could understand how this movie might have resonated with me through the last 35 years, through every phase of my life.

Which brings me back to tonight, those few minutes ago, when this documentary came on my television.  And I loved watching these young actors, kids at the time, talk about the characters they were playing.  I always think of those actors, Irene Cara, Maureen Teefy, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller and the rest, in this revered way, the way a freshman looks up to the seniors at his high school, but I was struck by the fact that these actors were probably 16 to 20 at the time, just babies.  The documentary showed behind the scenes of filming many musical scenes, including Hot Lunch Jam, I Sing the Body Electric and of course, Fame, where the entire cast is dancing in the street, on car roof tops and such.  Perhaps it was the whiskey, perhaps it was something purer, but I felt the need to rise up and dance along with these teenagers, my idols, as they danced through the streets of Manhattan.

Where am I going with all this?  Well, I’m not completely sure.  I will say that one thing I love about art, be it paintings or music or movies, is it’s propensity to incite time travel.  As I watched this documentary, I was every age I’ve ever been since I first saw the movie.  I was 12 and 17 and 24 and 34 and 39 and 45.  And then I thought how wonderful it is that a movie or anything, really, could make this 45-year-old get up off his couch on a Tuesday night at 10 pm and dance without abandon.  It makes one think that they could live forever.

Second Thoughts

1347469654_oprah-winfrey-jane-fonda-441Last night, after I had written my most recent post, You Wouldn’t Even Dream That You Could Dream of a Moment Like This, I hesitated before clicking, ‘Publish.’  I wrestled with this feeling that here I was, taking the words of a black man who was talking about an experience that essentially belonged to a specific group of people, African Americans, and making it about me, a white male.  

On one hand, I’m a blogger, that’s what bloggers do, make everything about themselves.  They aspire to do it in a way that makes people see themselves in what’s been written, but there is a self-absorption inherent and even necessary in blogging. Last night, I wondered if I was making a mistake by writing about this quote in the way that I did.  Was I misinterpreting what Eugene Allen said?  Was there enough width to his comment that it could potentially inspire anyone who ever struggled with the idea of a dream being so unrealistic (at a certain vantage point) that one can’t see it as a possibility? 

Because I am obsessed with all thing Oprah, I woke up to an article on Yahoo about Oprah saying she was sorry that the recent Swiss store incident has turned into the international story.  It seems that in July, Oprah was in Zurich for Tina Turner’s wedding.  She went into a store and did not receive the customer service she hoped to receive.  She talked about the experience on a entertainment news show, while promoting The Butler and the story blew up.  The woman at the store retaliated with her own interview saying, “I don’t know why she is making these accusations.  She is so powerful and I am just a shop girl.”  Who really knows how the exchange went down.  Everyone has their side of any story and usually both people bear some culpability when bad behavior happens.  Could racial prejudice have played a part in this exchange?  Absolutely.  When I heard about the incident initially, I thought, oh, I’m sure it’s the shop girls fault.  You KNOW how Europeans are!  

If anyone was offended by my last post, I do apologize.  If anyone read it and thought, you don’t understand what it means to be black, you’re right, I don’t.  Sometimes I THINK I do, but ultimately, I don’t understand what it means to be black.  There is a saying that there is a black woman inside the soul of every gay man.  It’s glib, but I also think it’s kind of true.  I’ll never forget watching Fame and thinking that more than anyone, I wanted to be Coco.  I still want to be Coco.  (Arch your back a little, Coco.  Smile for me.)  I certainly don’t identify all that much with straight white males, I think nearly every one of my 73 blog posts affirms that statement.  If I am writing in a public forum, I am asking to be judged by words and my actions.  I hope I never come off as someone who sees himself as the expert about anything. I want to be part of the conversation, the dialogue. And if you are reading this, annoyed or not, and you read my last post, annoyed or not, AND you did not know who Eugene Allen was before you read my last post, I do feel that on some level, I succeeded because I’m really glad you know more about Eugene Allen. I’m also glad that, warts and all, you know a little more about me.