Friday, October 28, 2011

Letting Go

Letting Go

Fuck letting go.

I attended a rehearsal for the 25th anniversary production of Robert Chesley’s Jerker, marking the first time that I haven’t been involved in a local presentation since the night of the world premiere a quarter of a century ago.. Certainly this band of ribald queers, led by impresario Glenn Kessler, doesn't need my help but I can’t let go of the play. So I’m engaged as a “consultant” which means I get to watch scattered rehearsals and—like flashbacks stored in every crevice of my consciousness—relive my intense relationship to the play’s soul: its humor, its politics, and its inescapable bed of pain.

I happened (?) to walk in during a moment in the play that Chesley and I had wrangled over. In what was a very bold choice, I wanted the two characters—who never meet in person, only over telephone lines—to break the imaginary wall between them and actually kiss, lips on lips. The brilliant playwright finally agreed to see if I could make it work. I did—so much so that the move is now a permanent part of the script. And, passing the torch, Kessler is making it work, too—stunningly.

Kessler’s approach encompasses a company of seven sexy performers; in addition to the two leads, he is incorporating a team of players who will essentially recreate—live—some of the play’s erotically-charged memory passages. What I have seen promises to illuminate the play in ways we haven’t experienced it before. This is why I had to let go.

Producer Jason Moyer and I trade publicity postcards at the rehearsal I attend (you show me yours and I’ll show you mine). His card depicts a telephone (not a cellphone, an actual eighties telephone) and spells out the full title of the play: Jerker Or The Helping Hand, A Pornographic Elegy With Redeeming Social Value And A Hymn to the Queer Men Of San Francisco In Twenty Phone Calls Many of Them Dirty. It provides the details: opening on Friday, November 4 at Space 916; get tickets at

My postcard shows the partial face of a weathered man, with his eyes closed and his silver gray bushy moustache unkempt. My new solo piece, which plays  one night only on November 30, is called Torch. This is the story a man, over sixty, who can’t seem to let go of his youth, his memories, his heat, his sexuality, his past lovers (dead and alive). But he must let go or face the last act(s) of his life as a prisoner to The Past.

The juxtaposition of these two postcards encompasses decades of theatre that speak to  the cultural phenomenon of HIV/AIDS in ways both similar and wildly divergent.

In certain respects, Torch is an emotional sequel to Jerker. The man reconnects with a lover on Facebook and they resume a convoluted romance that they had not finished four decades ago: on the Internet, instead of the telephone, they share emotional and sexual intimacies that never result in a face-to-face meeting. There’s no death in Torch other than the demise attached to letting go of inflamed memories and stumbling into old age as a gay man with HIV.

Directed by Tony Abatemarco, Torch will be presented by the Katselas Theatre Company’s INKubator along with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets: 702 582 8587 or online at KTCTICKETS.COM.

More reality based and less theatrically rendered, here’s the swelling heartache: I cannot let go of my daughter. Can. Not. Let. Go. Of. My. Daughter. She has left our apartment, where we have lived since she was a baby, and is spending her junior year of high school at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, studying filmmaking. My feelings of pride are only equaled by my pangs of agony. If the “love of your life” is the person you have the deepest feelings for, the person you would die for, the person you are entangled with—emotionally and spiritually—more than anyone else, Katherine (Tia) is the love of my life.

I imagine that I hear her in her bedroom. I feel her brush up against me in the kitchen. I hear her coming home, opening the front door; my phantom daughter, haunting my dance with loneliness.  I have not lived alone for seventeen years so here I am, earlier than expected, fluttering about apprehensively in an empty nest. Not Yet. I will not let go of my daughter. But. Not Yet.

I feel like I’m on a tightrope, with the stabbing pain of neuropathy ever present, walking on tiptoe from the past into the present and terrified of the fall that’s ineluctably in my future. But I suppose it’s that fear I must let go of ultimately, right? Yah, I’ve read all those books, too.

I love the work Glenn Kessler is doing and I know Robert Chesley might have initially winced but would ultimately wallow in this newborn adaptation. Chesley worshipped sex. And the politics of sex which Kessler certainly knows how to portray with a wink and a nod—and perhaps a hard-on?—in Chesley’s direction.

I love my new piece, Torch, and all of its stingers and zingers. I love that Tony is directing me—a man who is unique but also shares so many of the qualities that my fallen brethren possessed. I am nurtured as an artist.

And, finally, I love my daughter with a passion that is unparalleled. And who can be sorry about that, even if there are periods of longing that are torturous.

That’s what life dwindles down to: what we have, what we had, what we remember, and how to let go gracefully: knowing that everything is stored in our hearts, hearts that promise to beat immortally, taking up residence in the hearts of others.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Someone recently asked me, as I am asked repeatedly, to “speak at a meeting.” What kind of meeting needn’t be spelled out (I assumed it was not a meeting of the Daughters of Bilits or the Ku Klux Klan). It is a twelve-step meeting; specifically an AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous, not Aryan Acrobats). Summoning the requisite honestly (one of the tenets of 12-step programs, I think?), I declined.

This individual also casually asked, as I am repeatedly asked, for help with kickstarting his career. Another “meeting,” I surmised. To both requests, I replied with honestly:

“I began drinking with no adverse reactions about a decade ago so I’d be a hypocrite to speak at a meeting. I would happily have an initial meeting about your career but I would have to charge for any subsequent meetings since this is how I make a considerable percentage of my living.”

My sincere and expedient response to his requests received no reply.

What I find troubling is the frequent mergence of the GLBT community and The Industry when it comes to 12-step profiling. For the devout twelve-step member (and there isn’t enough ink in my printer to list the myriad addictions)—whether n the queer tribe or the show biz cult—there seems to be a sense of superiority regarding the rest of the human race, especially directed to anyone who has reverted to their “addiction” and begun to function anew with no negative results (not one, in my case). This is a sweeping generalization but I perceive its veracity. There is also that mafia-esque hiring practice that favors its own in spite of talent or ability.

And I’m not an idiot; I know that some people cannot and should not ever pick up a drink. But I also suspect the number of my Facebook friends will plummet.

For the record, I stopped drinking in 1982. I resumed drinking lightly about ten years ago. None of the things “they” said would happen have happened. During the time that I have been drinking, I’ve had more complications (physical, emotional, spiritual) from the voluminous HIV drugs I’ve ingested than reasonable amounts of alcohol and/or marijuana (soothes the 24/7 unbearable neuropathy pain that I experience—wanna argue that one?).

I am neither a doctor nor a scientist but I’ve read a lot about how the brain changes over time, a subject I am particularly interested in as a parent. The formation of the brain we have at twenty (around the time I began drinking alcoholically) is decidedly not the same brain I had in my fifties (when I chose to drink responsibly). That is a fact. Or at the very least it is a scientific theory I not only believe but my behavior supports.

There are also other issues at play. I have a child. And like Susan Hayward, I want to live. I want to be a grandpa.

But I don’t want to be infantilized, treated as if I’m unable to make choices for myself. At some point, I chose to believe HIV would not kill me because I trusted my body. I also trust my body when it comes to having a glass of wine at dinner with friends. I have never gone home and drunk a bottle of vodka and ventured out driving around town in search of tricks (or treats).

I will always refer to myself as “a recovering alcoholic” but part of my recovery and “spiritual awakening” has been taking moral responsibility for my actions. I don’t judge the choices of other people; I am able to decide what is right to put into my body; I return phone calls and messages.

Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life and I am forever grateful. It gave me a renewed perspective that I attempt to apply on a daily basis. But, try as I may, I am still addicted to sugar, work, and saying what’s on my mind in a public way.

There are over 400 Alcoholics Anonymous slogans on the Internet—ranging from Dr. Suess cutesy (“If you stick with the bunch, you’ll get peeled”) to profoundly life-avowing (“More will be revealed).”

I choose to believe that more is constantly being revealed, including data on the dogma of Alcoholics Anonymous. And, whatever you do, please don’t tell me you’re saving me a seat.

P.S. I imagine I will receive many responses to this blog—either demonizing me or extolling me. I will politely tell you in advance that I won’t answer those because I don’t want to appear either defensive or self-righteous.