Wednesday, December 31, 2008



So let’s see what the practical intellectual can do with the problem of Tristan who is the Caliban of the Tempest known as Cinematheque. Prospero, er, Barrus, in desperation, turned the company blog over to Tristan. The boy who calls himself “Tristan the Great,” and who gets in more self-destructive pickles than seems possible, might shape up if given real responsibility. That was the theory. Who knows where it will go, since it hasn’t ended yet, but he certainly has everyone’s attention. That’s GLOBAL attention since the Cinematheque boys are scattered around the planet.

The first thing Tristan did was to change the banner to the most “lascivious” he could find: three young boys with no shirts, their hair on end, and two of them sticking their tongues out. I’m sure the idea was to look like that guy with the black and white makeup who has a tongue so prehensile that he probably wouldn’t have to stop at snatching a fly out of mid-air -- he could probably nail a bullfrog. I’m sure that to Tristan these boys are the very epitome of allure, so sexy that people would immediately get out their wallets. That’s his life experience.

There are two things he doesn’t know. One is that boys like this are not sexy to everyone -- probably not to most people. To me they just look like kids joking around. Their tongues look about as sexy as my cats yawning. It takes a certain kind of wiring to desire one’s own sex and another, more problematic, kind of wiring to desire children in that way. I feel confident that the larger part of the world would simply advise them to put on their shirts to avoid sunburn and offer to comb their hair. I’m saying they trigger protective parental impulses. Tristan moves in a very small circle that doesn’t offer him this knowledge.

The other thing is that boys grow up. These snub noses and frail collarbones soon begin to thicken so that by the time their voices change, they will no longer look like free-range cherubs and begin to be tall and strong with stubbly jaws. And they will change inside as well, gaining dignity and insight, and losing their defenselessness, which may be what makes them as irresistible to predators as fawns. We’re told that human minds make two huge developmental jumps, one at entering adolescence and another at about twenty-one or voting age, leaving adolescence. That second burst of intracranial growth is not always recognized, especially in this drug-crazed time when substances from alcohol to anti-depressants interfere with the growth of the bits and pieces so crucial to human identity as well as preventing the processing of experience.

When I was teaching and kids asked me about sex -- one always came quietly to ask something and when others discovered I would give them a (straight) answer, they slid in the door before class -- I’d tell them there were only two things needed for excellent sex. Skin and brain.

I wasn’t giving them a smart-alec answer. In the hospital where I did my chaplaincy there was a program no one talked about much, but we had it explained to us. It was the re-creation of a sex life between married couples when one or both of them had been badly hurt. One man had been so burned that he only had feeling on the backs of his upper arms. His wife learned to caress him there so creatively and teasingly, while talking with him about their feelings for each other, that she could bring them both to climax. But part of this success came from the trust between them. Not protestations of “oh, I trust you,” but the deeply rooted fact of the long-term relationship that had been tested and found true.

So there are three things Tristan doesn’t know: 1. Not everyone thinks boys are sexy. 2. Boys don’t stay boys for very long. 3. What he thinks is sex is only friction and voguing. REAL sex is about intimacy.

Why address Tristan the Great’s convictions? I’m told that le-too is not an in-house communication system anymore -- there are others listening and probably some of them are also Great and need to do some thinking. I’ve learned more in groups than as an individual, often when the problem in discussion wasn’t mine. I wouldn’t eveR have considered it mine.

In Shakespeare’s play, the Tempest, Caliban is one of two sprites on Prospero’s island. (The other one is called Ariel.) Some say Caliban is a little monster, half-fish, with a witch for a mother, a bit like the Golom in “Lord of the Rings.” Some say he represents the animal side, the earthy sensation-bound body. Others say he represents the indigenous people that Europeans always come along and displace.

Caliban himself says:
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show'd thee all the qualities o' the isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' the island.

He thinks that what he wants are freedom and power, the rest of the island. He wants control so that he will feel safe.

My bit of synchronicity for the day was watching Robert Redford being interviewed on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” (A lot of people think he’s sexy -- most of them female.) The relevant bit was that Lipton quoted Sydney Pollock, a director and close friend of Redford’s, as saying that the actor had a dark and twisted side that few ever saw. Surprisingly, or maybe not, Redford readily admitted this was true. (Honesty is one of the hallmarks of the kind of acting training this school does.) His father was rarely home because he worked long hours, Redford was balky and miserable at school, and his mother was the only one who believed in him, but she died young. Redford was only a bit older than Tristan when he left home. There was no reason to stay. He was talented enough as a baseball player to get into college, but got so deep into alcoholism that he was “asked to leave.” He decided to be an artist and went to Europe but that didn’t work out.

When he was getting his big break, which was Barefoot in the Park, directed by Mike Nichols, he got bored and tried to get himself thrown out by being difficult. Nichols wouldn’t let him go -- told him he could just lie down on the stage and do nothing if he wanted to. Redford came on the stage one night and said NOTHING. He just walked around the set doing stuff with a little smile on his face while the desperate actress tried to get him to say his lines. That did it. At some point in those awful minutes he found whatever he was looking for -- he said it was feeling dangerous and that THAT empowered him to start making the play work.

There’s a kind of fatalism among people who have a serious disease. Maybe a willingness to risk, play games with fate. But what about a boy who lives? Who licks HIV/AIDS, kicks heroin, grows up to be a man? It’s not impossible. Why not protect oneself, one’s skin, one’s brain? Why bet against one’s own survival? Why not put those tongues to work on ice cream cones?

Some of you should probably stop reading now. This next part is tough.

When Tristan managed to get himself to Paris to be with Barrus’ main group, it seemed at first he was just trying to grow up too fast. Then it became apparent that the damage to his scrotum from crashing his trail-bike was infected and would require surgery. This was done and seemed successful. Somehow in the night his surgical wound, which is in the abdomen rather than the scrotum, came open. He would have bled to death right then if he hadn’t been rooming with Joroen, one of the bigger and more mature boys who was checking on him regularly. We still don’t know what will happen. The following was written by Eavan, another of the older mature boys, really young men the age of soldiers.

Cinematheque New Year's Eve Party Canceled -- Eavan O'Callaghan

Set-backs are only set-backs. They're not necessarily defeat. You have to realize they happen if you want to deal with them in any effective way at all. It's a set-back of a few yards. It's not the game. The football is still in play. A couple of players always get sidelined. It happens. Our strategy is to just deal with it.

Those of us at Cinematheque will be having a small in-house gathering of music and those of us who are into our guitars will be playing them.

Then, we will be doing something we have never done before. It is not because we believe necessarily in a god (some of us do). We are doing this because it affirms our connections to alliances and brotherhoods we have never had in our lives before.

We will be attending Mass at Notre Dame de Paris. Unusual for us. But Gothic suits our mood. We are constantly reminded that life is a tenuous, mysterious, driving force upon this planet, and what we really know about why it exists at all is elementary. We know a lot about how it exists. How it came to be. But there are so many questions, and today we feel like monks in robes of badly woven wool that has fitfully slept on straw and our dreams are haunted by sheets soaked in seas of blood. It is one thing to imagine the image of it in your head. That is what the human brain does. It is another thing to see it, touch it, clean up after it, pick some limp body up that you have loved, made love to and with, and carry all of this into another night of exhausted uncertainty.

So we reach, not out, but inward, to what we can find of what certainty we know. What certainty we can hear in the ritual of a Gregorian echo bouncing and being absorbed by those ancient walls. We seek some comfort.

As for me, I find it all over Paris every time I turn a corner. Great art is everywhere.

Tim Barrus is more apt to find it in Florence. It is there, too.

To stand there in the dark with my mouth open and see someone who can barely move his bones lift a naked body covered in blood is a sight burned for as long as I live in my swirling dervish head.

Tristan is receiving blood. I am told (I honestly do not know much about Mass) that it can be symbolic, too.

We are told that Tristan, Tristan who is the rebel in us all, Tristan who always stands on his own two feet firmly planted in his steadfast confrontation with life, Tristan who moves a football around like a tenacious cat, manipulating that ball to bend its path to his will, Tristan who has pulled so many of us to his bed so many times, Tristan who manages to leave all his anger behind in that bed, Tristan who embraces you with a tenderness in that moment you did not know he had anywhere in his repertoire as a human being, Tristan whose bed was always his temple, will fight, is fighting to stay alive. Tristan is a fighter. Tristan who has gone off cliffs and exasperated everyone he knows. Tristan who has been kicked out of families, schools, detention (yes, you can be kicked out of detention), programs for troubled children, medical clinics, and moving cars (one trick kicked him out of the trick's moving vehicle), and entire countries that have listed him on lists, is not going, and never could go gently into any good or quiet night. Is going to live. I have to believe that even as I sit here with Tim in this hospital room with the shadows and the smells and the beeping of machines.

It would be all wrong to have some wild event that would not affirm too much of anything I can think of in this moment.

It feels right to all of us to simply put it off until another time.

This is a time of contemplation. Not drinking or drugging or cuming or sucking up champagne. For the first time (we are so protected from this or insulated from it and I am glad) we have looked at this new year arriving and we have seen a darkness that has not as yet told its story but it will. For us, we think we can rock and roll with the economics of it, but we do not think it will be a world anything like the one we have known.

I look over at Tristan and I see a body that was made from a certain perfection even if the life that body was given did not turn out to have a shred of anything perfect in it. I look over at Tristan and what I see isn't blood, it's an enormous, dissonant, undeviating, almost unparalleled amputation where Tristan has cut off the gravity that would hold him to anything whatsoever even slightly unoriginal. It's Tristan who defeats Tristan even as he denies it and dances through the mine fields he himself has made. Why we value him is not at all clear to us. But what is transparent is that we do.

My whirling dervish is simply a bunch of words I put on a computer screen and none of it is overtly dangerous. Everything Tristan does is dangerous. I just pretend what I do is either vital or important. I need to think that. We hold our breath around Tristan's chaos, his wreckage, and close our eyes and pray for hope. He represents the parts of us that have not yet settled so we might survive. Tristan is the fist. What that fist is really saying -- and its languages are easily misconstrued -- I am here doing the best I can and if you cannot recognize that, or see anything of me that has any value, I will defy you to the bitter end.

Tristan is a lucky guy. Joroen checked him in the middle of the night and raised the alarm. It is what we do.

We say things like, "Did you take your medication?"

There is a checklist. We are not in this boat alone. I have Kilian. Kilian has me. We both have the rest of us. We do not need a production as a celebration. What we need is one another and we need that now. It's about right now. Here. In this moment of struggle and survival. That is why Cinematheque gives hardly any notice when we have an art show. We just do it. Whether or not you can find us, whether or not you attend any art gig or poetry night we might do, whether or not you believe we are real, whether or not you like what you see or hear. It's not important. You are not in our boat being tossed about. You are only the spectators at the edges who watch the football game. You stand on the shore and watch what's out at sea on the hosrizon. It's going to get played out whether you are there or not. It's not about you or what you like, or what you think art is, or what you need to believe is real. It's about what's in this moment. Like the light through the colored windows of the Notre Dame de Paris.

This is why Tim Barrus loves this boy so hard. This is why a bunch of fractured bones will pick up a heavy sack of flesh and unconscious limpness and do what must be done. Tim is not alone. Tim does not feel alone. He feels all of our support. Our football team gathers in a huddle around Tim. Not to tell him we are there. He knows that we are there. He can see us. Feel us. He smells our breath in the crush of the huddle around the ball. Our football team gathers in a huddle around him to design, to agree upon, to plot, to plan, to say this is what we will be doing next, a strategy created from the shared assumption we want to win.

There is a window in Notre Dame de Paris that seems to defy both design and time. It speaks to me as a great work of art. It is almost impossible to believe it was installed in the year 1136. It speaks to me of life, death, genocide, barriers, the fencing of a concentration camp, barbarism, and yet the light shines in.

I don't think that window is even remotely gothic. But it came from the mind of a man. A person who must have lived (or endured) the Renaissance. Rebirth is everywhere. The Renaissance is all around me. It speaks to me that it is not confined to a particular time or era. It is now in this hospital room that is so dark and filled with the machines of shadow. This is our time. This is our era. This is our struggle and our plague. This is our holocaust. This is our music. This is our creativity. This is our dance. This is our writing. This is our poetry. This is our whirling dervish. This is our painting. This is our light pouring through a window.



Chas S. Clifton said...

Yeah, those soi-disant boys.

Have fun, Mary, but just don't send him any money.

prairie mary said...

Chas, the link you include is one of a cloud of persecutors who send truly evil messages to the boyz. Like, one announced he was going to tear Tristam's scrotum open and rip out his prosthetic balls. I thought maybe it was all paranoia until I recognized one of these guys from a Nat Lit list and he admitted it.

It's too easy to be cynical and distant.

As for money, what money? Did you think I got paid an academic's salary? I'm on SSI derived from low-pay (female) jobs.

It's interesting to me that the artistic HIV/AIDS community is better about supporting their members than the religious community is.

Prairie Mary

Art Durkee said...

Ya also gotta remember that the AIDS community tends to be very supportive partly because most members have been utterly, continuously, endlessly rejected by virtually everyone else, from family and friends to some parts of the medical community, who should know better. People who take care of each other because there's no one else who will, or cares to.

It's hard for me to tell where all the hate comes from, but some of it is just blatant homophobia. Some of it also comes from being a lightning-rod just for being different and outside the norm. Okay, REALLY outside the norm.

prairie mary said...

Homophobia for a street hustling kid who is consistently defiant is one thing. But AIDS also affects the innocent: wives faithful to unfaithful husbands, recipients of contaminated blood, babies of infected mothers, and so on.

Anyway, as I look back over my past, I realize how many gay men and lesbian women were woven into our ordinary lives. "Boston marriages," aesthetic bachelor uncles, solitary old people -- we just accepted them. There are many famous couples in the arts and society that just ARE and no one questioned them much until recently.

I guess people are scared.

Prairie Mary