Sunday, November 20, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 3

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Session 3, November 15

Since we continue to meet in the chapel, where congregants' relatives' yahrzeit plates appear on the far wall, my parents (z"l) still are auditing this class, effectively as a pair of brass-plated (dead) flies on the wall (see photo below). My dad's annual yahrzeit lamp was lit this time; it was his 34th yahrzeit on the 11th, so the lamp was staying lit till the following Shabbat:

Exercise: Create a curated exhibit of a day in the past week, or your past week altogether, as represented by three objects that you describe on three index cards and leave somewhere in this room near one another.

My cards, all from one day last week:
  1.  Viva la vida-inscribed, watermelon-slice-shaped-and-colored key-chain from a street artist in Mexico City 
  2. Damascened vessel in silver and bronze, with Arabic inscriptions from Medieval Jerusalem
  3. [A memory of] Size 14 sneakers for skateboarding.
Give everyone a tour of your objects. We walked around on a guided tour of each exhibit and did not necessarily explain the significance of our objects; in my case, I simply described them.

"How does this exercise connect with last week?" asked Jonathan.

"Objects give an entryway into the story," I offered.

"Ok, and objects help us remember. There's something about going around the room to "look" at the objects that helps us recall and remember. It helps us encapsulate emotion. And jump off to go deeper into ... a specific set of events that are embodied by a number of objects."

I loved this exercise and will re-use it somehow. I loved it because it made me feel so invested and engaged in expressing myself creatively, spurred on by what had amounted to the most vivid objects of a particular day.

Video of Alison Bechdel, explaining her artistic process

We watched this video next and I recalled being lucky to go to a live lecture by Alison Bechdel at the LGBT Center in NYC several years ago, where she gave a longer description of her technique. I was amazed by its meticulousness. And then I marveled again at another artist's precise, original method of glass-blowing. I blogged about his demo and lecture and compared it with Bechdel's process a bit. You can see for yourself; just scroll down to the section, "Two Artists, Equally Inspired and Inspirational".

Next, we compared pp. 96-98 of the graphic memoir to the scene/song, "Party Dress".

Both the panels and the scene/song reminded me of a painful memory. My face was so troubled, I imagine, that Jonathan asked if I had something I wanted to say.
This just reminded me of a very painful memory. It was Deena Gans' birthday party and I was 12. [Nearly all of the girls in my class already needed bras, but I didn't yet, at all. I was ashamed that I was still wearing undershirts. I couldn't stand wearing an undershirt any longer, not even under the striped Danskin shirt I put on for the party.]

My mother insisted that I wear an undershirt. "No, I won't," I insisted back.

"Put on an undershirt  n  o  w  !'"

Instead, I ran out of the house and down our long driveway as my mother yelled out the front door at me, "Butch!" I didn't know what it meant, but I knew it wasn't good.

It was fresh, the pain of our exchange of more than 40 years ago. It was another five years before my mom (z"l) was even more consciously vocal about my lesbianism, when by mistake/on purpose, I left a love letter to another girl on the kitchen table. I was a high school senior and just weeks prior, my father (z"l) had died of bile-duct cancer and only my mother (z"l) and I were left in the house, since my sisters were older and had moved out. "Don't you marry some man and ruin his life!" my mother yelled as her initial reaction to the discovery of the letter. She came around to being compassionate and was greatly supportive for most of my life, but those early years were crushing for both of us.

Then we looked at pp. 189-190 and listened to "Clueless in New York". 

I had a couple of memories pop up during the panels and during this scene, too. The panels referred to a trip with Alison's father and her siblings to New York City for the Bicentennial. Along with my mother (z"l), my father (z"l) took my siblings and me to New York during the Bicentennial to see the Tall Ships. Compared to Alison's experience, it was one of the nicest family days we ever had -- we parked with many others in a parking garage near the river and watched from there with tons of humanity pouring out of other parked cars. My mom (z"l) had packed a picnic for us, and we munched our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while leaning against the station wagon and watching the ships glide by.

The scene in the play didn't refer to the Bicentennial, but rather to her father's cagey wish to find some excitement in what was the gay hotspot back then, Greenwich Village. It reminded me of me, 10 years after the Tall Ships trip, when I turned 21. My middle sister and brother-in-law invited me to stay with them in their apartment at the time, in Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village. To celebrate my coming of age for legal drinking, they gave me a bottle of champagne as a birthday gift. We drank some and then they went to bed. I told them I was going to go for a walk. The difference was that all of us were adults officially, rather than that I was a parent, leaving my kids alone in a huge, strange city, as Alison's father did to her siblings and her.

I left Kayla & Elliot's apartment, hoping for the adventure of seeing real lesbian and gay people, walking around the Village. I scouted for a bit and no one was apparent, not any women in any case, so I decided to do something wild and entered a neighborhood magazine shop to find something racy to read.

The only LGBT-oriented publication for sale was "Gay Community News", a weekly newspaper out of Boston. I didn't peek through it at all. I had the cashier stuff it into a paper bag and walked back to my sister's, where I planned to read it if they were already asleep. They were, and I was excited, till I scanned the headlines. Yawn. It was all straight news ... so to speak. There was nothing pulse-provoking about it. I'm fairly confident that Alison's father found what he was looking for on his Village jaunt compared to my thwarted exploration.

Exercise for Homework: Consider three iconic moments in my whole life that reflect an arc of experience and write/illustrate them; the illustration option is my inference, as the form that Jonathan handed us had three caption fields with space next to each for a drawing. I'll think about it. So far, here are some candidates without doing any refinement, prioritization or arc consideration:
  • Learning to swim / ride a bike / recite the Ma Nishtanah (Four Questions) at the seder / to love rocks and minerals at Dr. Henderson's encouragement
  • Helping complete a minyan by lying by omission at my mother's (z"l) encouragement; they thought I was a bar-mitzvah-aged boy when we were in Mayah Sh'arim, but I was a tall eight-year-old girl
  • My mom (z"l), yelling Butch at me
  • Noticing my physical interest in one of my best friends, rather than in her older brother, at 11
  • My first lesbian experience, in Israel at 15
  • My father dying when I was 17
  • Going to college and exploring my sexuality, including while living in Jerusalem during junior year
  • Getting fired from a job I thought I was too good for in 1990
  • Beginning my relationship with Pat in 1992
  • Starting up the LGBT B2B business development team at my company 
  • Having my Master's sponsored by my company
  • Going with my future wife Pat to India on assignment for my work for six months in 2007
  • Marrying Pat legally in 2011
  • Graduating with a Master's in 2012
  • My mother, dying in 2014 ....
We have just one session more on "Fun Home" and then we switch to "Falsettos" in two Tuesdays, after Thanksgiving.

Here are links to the first and second in my series of notes on this course.

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