Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Perfect Color of Purple

Twenty years ago Stephen Spielberg made me feel like a big sissy when he made me cry over this story. He had made it into a movie and then won multiple Oscars. It was weirdly cast with comedian Whoopi Goldberg as the dramatic suffering Celie and self-important talk show host Oprah Winfrey as Sofia. Nevertheless, the story of suffering, hope, redemption and the many expressions of love captivated me. It was always a secret favorite movie of mine. I'm not black and I'm not a woman so it was inappropriate for me to confess my love of the show. The catch is this, the themes are universal. Everyone alive is familiar with suffering, loss, insecurity, isolation, low self-esteem. If you've not experienced these things, you know someone who has.

Now, twenty years later I had the chance to see this show again as a musical at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. It was glorious. I laughed, I cried, I clapped and shouted. In short, I practically had church at the Kennedy Center. So did everyone else in the audience.

The show starts with two little girls growing up in the south. It seems sweet. Then the gossipy local church ladies start their self-righteous singing and narrate the rest of the show. It turns darker when you see that one of the little girls is pregnant. Her daddy tears the baby from her arms after its born and the tears start there. The waterworks continue off and on for the rest of the night.

Sofia shows up midway of the first act and suddenly you have reason to celebrate. With her strength and powerful voice, as well as her fists, you realize there is cause for hope. If she can stand up to the mistreatment, so can everyone else abused in the show.

When Shug Avery makes her appearance, Celie finally gets the affection that she so richly deserves. The first major love song of the musical is heard. Shug Avery tells Celie that she is "Too Beautiful for Words". Up until this point in the musical we've heard jazz, blues, and gospel. The show has been a barnstorming blaze of music. Now, this first love song is a subtle, soft ballad that is all the more poignant because of its breathless contrast. This hardworking, humble little woman that has been called ugly by everyone in her life is now called beautiful by the most devastatingly gorgeous and sensual human being she has ever met. Anyone in the theatre who can sit through this song dry-eyed is completely soulless. The writers handle this scene so tastefully. What might be played uncomfortably sexual is offset by Shug's words to Celie before the song. She is thanking Celie for nursing her back to health and tells her, "You're the grace of God."

The production I saw starred several members of the original cast with one exception. Celie was played by American Idol winner Fantasia. This little lady and her story energized this role in ways that were a joy to watch. I don't watch American Idol and was unfamiliar with Fantasia. Apparently, the actress was a high school dropout from the ninth grade. She was an unwed mother at a very early age. At twenty years old she wins American Idol and suddenly has a celebrity career. You can tell that her personal story is close to the surface of her performance. She plays the role and sings with emotion that is raw and authentic . I wouldn't want to see this production with anyone except her in this role.

While the first act is powerful and exhilarating it is just a warm-up to the dynamics of the second. Celie finds her letters from Nettie in Africa. We see this as Celie is transported to Africa while she reads the letters. She is frightened and tossed about. She staggers around awkwardly in the way of the African dancers and in awe of the African chiefs. Then as she reads more and gains confidence and pride she begins dancing in step with the African women. It is a celebration that everyone in the audience applauds. Celie has found herself and found her identity. From this point on she begins to stand up to Mister and stand up for herself.

Celie and Shug part ways as Shug goes back on the road. When she leaves they sing one more beautiful ballad. These are the most beautiful and meaningful lyrics of the show for me. In finishing this article I will leave you with the words of their song.




Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Good Little Preview

Admittedly, this is a teaser. A close friend recently acquired a new Randall Good drawing. It is not yet framed so I won't reveal the whole work yet. He has also graciously allowed this exquisite angel to live with me for a few days. The angel and I plan to get to know each other and then I will write the full review. Please don't respond with comments quite yet. I wouldn't want to be accused of being influenced in the review. But, I guarantee it will be a positive one.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gemini Geriatric: My Annual Annoyance

Why must we celebrate birthdays? Who ever thought up this aggravating tradition should be burned at the stake on a stack of cheap grocery store cake candles. This is the one human custom that causes me almost as much angst and anxiety as do-it-yourself dental procedures. Why do we have to celebrate the fact that that we have grown more gray hair, found more wrinkles, and experienced a decline in physical condition over this time last year? It’s ridiculous. Those who celebrate it with grace dignity are lying to themselves. Those who make fun of the effects of growing older are just plain tacky.

Birthdays, like Christmas, are for children. Children get excited when they are surrounded by crowds of friends and family pretending they are the most important thing in the universe for a day. I’m old enough to know that I’m not, so why make a big fuss? After you’re old enough to have voted in several elections even parents have a hard time remembering the day you were born. So, why not just forget about it, okay? If I can’t remember having more than twenty or thirty birthdays, then why not just say that’s how old I am, twenty or thirty. We’re allowed to estimate our taxes to the nearest dollar amount. So, why don’t we estimate our age to the nearest decade? Rounding down, of course.

Who is the event for, anyway? Is it for the one with the birthday or for the friends and family? If the celebration is for me then I shouldn’t be bothered with the planning or execution of the event at all. If it’s my event then I shouldn’t have to work for it, right? If it’s for the family, then just tell me. I’ll give you a wad of cash and a cardboard effigy of myself and all can pretend I’m with them. My favorite way to celebrate the thing is to not be bothered or inconvenienced by all that.

I get so annoyed by birthdays, all that annual repetition of the thing. It becomes so monotonous after several years. I’m annoyed by the fact that I’m expected to be happy about my birthday so that the celebrants can feel good about what they’re doing for me. I’m annoyed by experiencing guilt and feeling under obligation to reciprocate those who feel I deserve a gift for having lived another year. And most of all, I’m annoyed at being reminded that I’m one year closer to dementia, arthritis, bifocals, and questionable bladder control.

Yes, all may grimace at my whining. I’m being a grouch about the whole thing. This attitude about it demonstrates that I have already drifted from the category of “eccentric old uncle” to “cranky old coot.” Geezers like me don’t deserve birthdays, so let’s just skip it this year, shall we?

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Good Stuff

Once again I’ve found a beautiful piece of Randall Good’s work that deserves mention here on the blog. Of course, I would love to review each and every piece of work that he creates, but that would be a little time consuming. This piece is a drawing I acquired for a friend’s birthday present. He admired it at the last gallery walk we attended at Blue Moon Art Gallery in Hot Springs. I generally need very little excuse or persuasion to buy Randall’s work. I love it all.

This piece was untitled but I’m sure it could be called, “Christ Victorious”, or “Christ Triumphant”. Another interpretation might be a highly stylized ascension. The work is a graphite and white chalk drawing on a gray tinted paper support. Once again, Randall left a beautiful white deckled edge lending to the suggestion of an old parchment. The sense of Michelangelo’s or Da Vinci’s Renaissance works is prevalent again. This work was floated over gray mattes to compliment the tone of the support. The fully framed dimensions are 14X21 inches.

This work is a striking composition and succeeds on a number of artistic levels. As a balanced composition it appeals because of the contrasting elements of the organic and dynamically posed body countered by the static and geometric form of the cross. The drapery is energetic and wind-swept while serving a primarily decorative and ornamental purpose. The dominance of the cross in the upper left quadrant is countered nicely by an abundance of twisting fabric held in Christ’s hand and in the lower right corner. Randall’s sense of line and movement gives the viewer’s eye a number of paths to follow through the work. The lovely S-shaped serpintinato of the body projects upward, the diagonal of the cross moves left to right, the billowing curvature of the drapery encircles and frames the figure. It all works together to create a vigorous amount of activity in what could be a very static and stationary posed figure. One is reminded of Michelangelo’s David when looking at the bent knee and counterbalanced angled hip.

In analyzing the work one must question its purpose and meaning. At its essence, is this a spiritual work or a decorative one? Is this a religious work celebrating Christ or is it an ornamental work using the imagery of the Christ figure as decoration? Could it perhaps be both? Most religious works display the Christ figure for the purpose of narrating the His message and ministry. The crucifixion describes the story of the Passion. The resurrection shows His victory over death. The ascension demonstrates His separation from earth and habitation of heaven as a divine being. But, this work causes us to question which event is being portrayed. What is the story or message here? Is it simply a tribute to Christ as a physical being?

In this work, Christ is not nailed to the Cross. He embraces it as a symbol. Without it the viewer would be hard pressed to identify the figure as Christ. Perhaps this is an interpretation of the Resurrection. The billowing drapery might be the linens used to wrap His body. In the powerful force of reanimation He is liberated from them and they become more symbols of His victory and defiance over death. However, the drapery does little to cover the nudity of the figure and serves an accessory to stylize the work. The figure stands on a swath of the billowing fabric as if He is being elevated by wind alone giving Him a light and ethereal presence.

When looking at the image it gives the feeling of celebration and joy. This figure, without the cross, could easily be the triumphal top of a modern-day athletic trophy. The pose is not unlike the victorious Athena Nike with the uplifted arms ascending into the air. All that is missing is the wings.I like that this piece provokes questions in the mind of the viewer. I like that Randall didn’t do all of the mental work and storytelling for us. He intelligently creates an image that allows the viewer to bring their own interpretation and overlay it on the beautiful template he provides, thus creating an individual meaning for everyone who sees it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Boom and a Bust

It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I am EXTREMELY happy about the creation of a new Star Trek franchise. It should also come as no surprise that I was very skeptical about the idea of new hands taking hold of the reins. I feared this new younger generation had no connection to the show and had not experienced the love of the original series. I doubted they would handle it with the respect and dignity that we true fans believe it deserves. My feelings were to either make the movie in good taste, or leave it alone. I was very happy that the movie was created with great passion and a new youthful energy that had been missing for the last couple of releases. It also looked like the cast had been well schooled on how to be good Starfleet officers. They also appeared to love and respect their characters. They looked like the sexy children of the original cast. If I were Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Nichols, Koenig, Takei, and Doohan, I would be very flattered.

The story was close to perfect. It gave us Vulcans, Romulans, the Kobayashi Maru. We had warp drive, phasers, photon torpedoes and deflector shields. We had an Enterprise that was built like a college boy’s hot rod. I believe this is the ship we would have had if Gene Rodenberry or Rick Berman had the technology to make it years ago. My only disappointment with this outing was a little story twist that involved time travel. I understand it was used as a device to give us Leonard Nimoy in a nostalgic homage to the original series. He gave the new guys the necessary LL&P as a blessing to continue. I appreciated that. However, time travel episodes get very complicated with their plots. It was cool that the “alternate universe” now gives us liberty to do almost anything with the new set of movies. But, stay in the present with these new kids now. Let them have fun and save the universe on their own without the help of the old guys. Our beloved Jimmy Doohan and D. Kelley are gone now. Let’s not try to bring back cast reunions without them. If any of the original cast deserves a cameo, let them appear as holographic computer references and move on with the new guys. And, as Captain Janeway was told a couple of times in Voyager, try to avoid time travel.

As much as I enjoyed the new Trek, I disliked the new Dan Brown movie, Angels and Demons. I went to this movie with the greatest sense of anticipation for good. Many of you have seen my drawing of Bernini’s Ganges from the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome. That drawing was inspired because I fell in love with it after reading Angels and Demons a few years ago. I posted the drawing here on this very blog.

We all have to agree that DaVinci Code the movie was awful. It was boring. I didn’t care if they solved the codex or destroyed it. I didn’t care if the main characters lived or died. I was angry that a great book had been made into a bad movie. Of course, we all hoped that Howard and Hanks had learned their lesson and would do a better job this time. The one good thing about these movies is the fact they are based on fantastic stories written by Dan Brown. Angels and Demons is an even better book than DaVinci so it should have been a better movie, right?

The show started out better than the last one. There was action, there was excitement, and there was the very adorable Ewan McGregor as a heroic and lovable camarlengo. Then they ruined it. Spoiler alert here! They made McGregor the villain. The joy of the book is that the hero is elected Pope after he risks his life to save the church he loves. When he shows he is willing to sacrifice himself for it, he is made leader of the church. It is a beautiful and optimistic ending that shows the possibility of a Catholic church that just might have the common man’s touch. Instead, Hollywood makes the church appear to be an institution of crime, misdirection, lies and conspiracy again. That’s how we left it at the end of the DaVinci Code. Wouldn’t it have been better to show a balanced interpretation of faith in this movie? Brown did. Brown showed that men of faith could be heroic, altruistic and noble. He allowed that the Christian faith could inspire men to greatness and allow them to find their better selves. Why did the makers of the movie feel it necessary to tarnish what was an optimistic and inspiring ending to the story?

Brown created a noble and honorable character, why did Hollywood feel it necessary to destroy him? Do the makers of the movie not believe that such men are realistic? Are good men so fictitious and unrealistic that Hollywood can’t portray them? If so, they are a very pessimistic lot. If that’s what they believe, then they should watch the new Star Trek. Those moviemakers believe in heroes and know that the good guys should always win.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Spiritual or Religious?

Window of rose

I have not yet brought up any spiritual or religious discourse on the blog. I have discussed art, politics, pop culture. But, religion is such a sensitive matter to most people that I have avoided it. Generally, the readers of this blog are somewhat liberal and have such a diverse, unique, and non-traditional opinion of spirituality that it would offend some, many, perhaps all if I were to broach the subject. Most of this audience are either artists, fellow bloggers, gay people, or close personal friends. Several are devout in their personal beliefs while others have been so criticized by mainstream established organized religion that they have rejected it completely. Religion has been a subject best left untouched here to save myself the headache of reading emails from irritated subscribers.

However, I have recently been prompted to confront my own personal views on spirituality. A dear friend reminded me how much comfort and consolation his religious beliefs bring him. He asked where I stood on the matter.

For the remainder of this blog post you will see me use the term “spiritual” rather than “religious” quite a bit. While many people use those terms almost interchangeably, I see them as being vastly different concepts. I have found many of my acquaintances, if not all, possess a strong core of personal values. Many of them believe there is a deeper meaning to life than merely living day to day. They believe there is a purpose to life that exceeds what we see with the naked eye. Most people I have met believe in a higher power (God, Divine Spirit, collective consciousness, Oversoul). I consider this to be the demonstration of a spiritual awareness or spiritual life. Religion, on the other hand, is an established, contrived collection of rules, practices, rituals and conventions that organize, separate, divide and categorize people into groups that loosely agree on the same views of spirituality. Where spirituality is the music of the heart, religion is the written notation that cannot be improvised on. Spirituality is the subject, religion is the painted canvas that is a mere interpreted reflection of the actual thing. Spirituality reinforces our humanity. Religion has sewn divisiveness and hatred for ages. Spirituality has inspired us while religion has spawned wars, bloodshed, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and terrorism. Okay, that’s as much as I can do with analogy and metaphor to explain myself. Moving on.

Like many in the southern United States I was taught to believe in one of the many super-conservative Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian sects. It has shaped my understanding of God, the afterlife, and the human soul. It has also taught me an exaggerated concept of sin, justice, social conformity and moral absolutism. It taught me to be self-loathing. While many Christian traditions teach the concept of “grace”, the notion that God forgives us our human fallibility, my particular upbringing required that I embrace the notion of an unattainable personal holiness.

Discovering that I was a gay person as a teenager complicated my spiritual life and religious beliefs considerably. Yet, I continued into my thirties trying as hard as I could to follow through on what I had been taught to believe. That conflict between my personal orientation and psychological conditioning through religion pushed me to the limit of my tolerance for emotional stress and anxiety. It led me to psychologists, counseling, SSRI prescription drugs and a constant pursuit of study in comparative religions and spiritual traditions. It led me away from the one thing I needed most, a nurturing, intimate relationship that would satisfy my need for personal acceptance.

Eventually I had to make a choice for my own personal happiness. I could either reject the Fundamentalist teachings I was raised with, or I could accept the fact that I was a “sinner” and pursue a potential fulfilling relationship. But, I could not do both. The two ideas were mutually exclusive according to the teachings of my religious upbringing. It was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. I am always amazed by the gay people who are able to reconcile the disparity of being gay and being Christian. On the one hand it’s a compromise that allows them a modicum of spiritual comfort, on the other its religious hypocrisy (which is supposedly an additional sin compounded onto the first).

So, I have drifted into my own somewhat “New-Agey” variety of Christianity. I don’t attend church because I don’t feel welcome or comfortable among people who think that I am an “abomination.” I’m not certain who to trust as an authority for spiritual information. We don’t trust witch doctors to be our physicians. We look to more educated people to care for our sick bodies rather than superstitious shamans. Why should we not be even more cautious when searching for information that might jeopardize the condition of our souls?

To answer the original question, “Where do I stand?”, I say this: I believe in God. I believe that I have experienced prayers answered. I do not believe anyone who uses God as an excuse to teach hatred or violence truly understands or knows the nature of God. Anyone who practices hatred or violence toward his fellow man does not understand the true nature of God. I do not believe that one must be religious in order to be spiritual. And, I certainly do not believe that a loving and nurturing relationship between two people, whether they be male or female, is something that God will punish. This is where I currently stand in my “spiritual” life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I am a Kroger Gigolo

I looked into the face of loneliness today.

A sweet older woman saw that I had fewer items in my grocery cart and insisted that I go ahead of her in line. I insisted that she keep her place but she refused. Then, I really looked into her eyes. She didn’t simply offer a courtesy, I could see she wanted to speak to me. I started a conversation. “Looks like we’re cooking the same thing for dinner, Mexican food.”

“No,” she said. “Chili.” Then she picked out a few other things in her cart to show me. She told me that she was only cooking for one now and which things were perfect for a single serving. Her hair was a cottony snow white and her eyes were bright in her plump face. I wondered how long it had been that a young man had spoken to this lonely widow. When was the last time a man had spoken to this sweet lady except to sack her groceries or mow her yard? When was the last time a man had shown any personal interest in her? I wondered how far away she might be from her children or grandchildren. When was the last time they might have called her? It hurt to think how lonely she might be. What depth of solitude would prompt her to converse with a total stranger in the grocery line. I wasn’t that interested in the vegetable and rice frozen dinner she showed me. I was also amused by the fact that even if she were forty years younger, I’m a gay man and would have little more interest in her than I do towards her at seventy. However, I did my best to look her straight in the eye, gave her one hundred percent of my attention, and smiled as kindly as possible.

I’m a single man but I’m surrounded by people every day. That doesn’t mean that I have not experienced loneliness. I am very often a loner by choice but when I want company, there is no greater ache than unavoidable solitude. I wonder how long it will be before each of us will have outlived our friends. Will the adventurous call of life pull our children, grandchildren and energetic young friends away on their own life’s journeys. Will they travel to places that we cannot follow? Who will remain behind to comfort us with company and friendship? How do we prepare for such a time?

The Hindu believe that we are a reflection of the universe and a reflection of each other. We are one and the same. I don’t agree with the spirituality but I do agree with the symbolism and philosophy. Let’s all try to sympathize with one another more than we presently do. Let’s try harder to see ourselves in the place of another. Let’s be ready to show love with our eyes if a stranger needs it. We all may need it one day.