The Artist Is Present
We all write about our experience, in some way or another. Even someone imagining himself into the mind of someone of another gender, long ago and far away, is still drawing on their own sensibilities, emotional history, personal experiences. For the more facile (or more narcissistic) writer, everything’s a thinly veiled version of one’s own history. For me, I find my writing is a combination of my own history and a lot of wishful thinking about how I wish life had/would turn out.
Christopher’s experience in the bar in New York, being looked up and down by some queen auditioning for a reality show called “Judge That Outfit And, By Default, The Person In It,” is mine, though I have it roll off his back like water off a duck, not because it isn’t enraging or painful to Christopher, but because he doesn’t live nearly as close to the bones of his feelings as I’ve come to. For me, it was a cleansing experience – I never go to the bars when I’m in NYC, always thinking, next time, when I’m not so fat. This time I did because I’d read about Flaming Saddles in the Time Out guide, and a joint where bartenders dance on the bar sounded like a good time. I forgot it was in Chelsea, so the bar dancing was a nice gimmick but it was still a bar in Boys Town, where you were supposed to wear a burka if you don’t have a Hot Bod. But after that queen stared me up and down, finally making eye contact after his circle of friends, facing him, had been treated to a display of his rigorous skills at fashion policing, he was treated to six foot two inches of incandescent rage from his victim. If looks could burn holes, I burnt them in him; my message being a giant FUCK YOU to everything I hated about gay life as it’s lived within that template of “fabulousness.” My brown pants and blue shirt and black messenger bag and brown New Balance hikers (and worst of all an extra 30 pounds) were admittedly All Wrong if you think the world should look like the Bravo Channel, but what did I care? And the funniest thing was, the reason I never went to bars was because I was afraid of being judged and rejected…and when I was, I had never had more New York attitude than when I looked as if I would punch that queen’s lights out if he said a fucking word.
It’s funny how that works, but the most intimate moments I had on this trip were with strangers, no not that way. I saw 4000 Miles at Lincoln Center, and had a front row seat to the right in this small theater. There is a scene in the play where the hipster grandson, up to that point a mix of playful shaggy puppy and narcissistic, egocentric, selfish bastard, reveals the horrible incident that happened on his cross country trip, and the feelings that he’d been holding back all through the play. It’s a long monologue, and the staging had the actor directly facing me as he spoke it. He locked eyes with me, and he was talking to me, and we were both crying as the story went on. I’ve had this happen at the theater before, and I know now (young and dumb, I originally thought I was being cruised) that actors are looking for someone in the room to connect to, someone who’s emotionally available to what they’re putting out, whether it’s a dark sexuality or a heart-rending confession, so they’re not projecting it to “a room” or to nobody, but to someone in particular who can bounce it back to them, seen, appreciated, absorbed. It was because I was there in that seat, placed geographically correctly, but also because I was there, ready and willing to make the connection. If I hadn’t been “available,” he would have looked to the right, the left, above and around me.
It can be funny, too, as when it happened at Silence! the Musical. In this extremely small space, the Jodie Foster character was miming the target practice scene, and had her “gun” (the production was so low budget that all the guns were the actors’ two fingers) pointed right at me, looking right at me and right through me at the same time for 30 seconds. She couldn’t really look at me, since she had to focus on something to aim at, and yet she had to be a caricature of distant, glassy-eyed Clarice Starling. So it was an exercise in me looking straight at her and busting out laughing, and her being all Clarice-y, and whenever did Clarice Starling laugh at anything?
These moments in the theater aren’t experiences I really feel like giving to my characters – for a social retard/social anxiety person like me, they really are intimate moments of connection with another person…more real and intimate than the million “OH HI!” moments people have with their legion of acquaintances. If that makes sense, that like the actors reaching out to me, I can write them down for an audience (you), but only as my experiences, because they belong to me, and I don’t feel like letting my fictional characters have all of me.