Thursday, March 26, 2009

bushel basket

I have that within which passeth show.

-- Hamlet

When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.

-- Philippe Petit, Man on Wire


I am not gay. But I have empathy with those who are.

Actors have a common nightmare that is sometimes realized. I and my pals would sometimes act it out, in a casting director’s anteroom or in a pub, laughing till the tears came.

“I love your work,” the director says, “so all I want is for you to be yourself.”

So you begin.

“Oh no, not that.”

You take a different tack.

“That’s not it either.”

You try a third thing,

“This just isn’t working.”

So tell me, you ask, what was it you had in mind?

“Something different.”

You’re a pro. You dream up some different attitudes and lay them down. Are we getting closer?

“Not exactly.”

Higher? Lower? Faster? Slower? More authority? More friendliness? More casual? More polished?

By now you’re a long way from “yourself,” and your best stuff is in the circular file. There’s only one way to go from here. The client, lacking faith in your sincerity, will get your phoniness. (If you were Kelsey Grammer or Liam Neeson, they might get your good stuff. When they pay that kind of money they trust you: everything you crap is gold. But you’re just the local bozo working for scale, subject to the meddling of tremulous mediocrities. They feel free to mess with you, and they do.)

So why do we laugh until the tears come? It’s the terror of an intimate deceit. They ask me for myself, and then reject my self. It’s personal.

I have something within me that “passeth show.” It will be there no matter what “trappings and suits” I wear. And it will out. In terms of parable, it is the light I was given to shine on the world. I am commanded not to hide my light under a bushel basket. “I would be true, for there are those who trust me,” says the hymn. Trust demands our best and raises us to it. I cannot be best, I cannot be true, by hiding my light.

Philippe Petit saw a drawing of two buildings not yet built, and knew that he would walk between them. It wasn’t a convenient dream. There was danger, and not just to himself. He didn’t ask permission. As he stepped off the wire, red-faced officers of the law handcuffed him, hurled him down stairs. How had he offended them? by shining an unauthorized light. How dare he do what I dare not do? Where is my light, and why have I not let it shine? How dare he succeed? How dare he accuse me?

Why did those who loved him let him do it? Perhaps they should have committed him to a mental institution. An assertive psychotherapist might have confined and drugged him, shamed his dream, cast out his daemon, saved us all this trouble. Doubtful. The dream would have survived but in a crippled, twisted form. The only way to kill it would have been to kill Philippe.

Freud aside, we’re not all sex. Sex is one of the things that rides on libido, and not even the first thing: we must eat and drink, and defecate, before we copulate. But there’s no libidinal surgery that can separate our sex from other √©lan vital: it’s inoperable.

“Be yourself, but o god not that. Be true, but hide your light. Live, but die.” That’s what the world says to gay people. That within them that passeth show is to be stuffed in a closet, and even the closet is to be burned down. We straight people are fortunate that, as our sexual nature comes to light, the world sings its praises. If we use it for harm there are sanctions, but the urge itself is worshipped.

Artists and pastors, by definition, struggle with their daemon. The song, the call. It passeth show. It is not convenient. It will out, or kill you. Whatever it is, some will hate you for it. Even if you’re not gay, it’s as if you were gay. Perhaps that’s why so many gay people are in the arts, and in the pastorate.

Power always demands, “Sing my song!” Power never understands that I have no such option.

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