The Stillness
Volume 3 Book 6 Part 5 of
Living in the Bonus Round

[ Book 3-5 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] - [ Book 3-7 ]

September 29-31, 2003.
The Road Ahead.
I've never been one much for planning but somehow, the fact that I'm approaching fifty (50), I've been doing some ruminating on roads taken and not taken. They say a good traveler has no particular destination and is not intent upon arriving. That pretty much describes my whole life, I think. Plan ahead? The concept is as fathomless to me as fairy dust.

I think, like most people, I make choices based some unconscious gut-level instinct, the thing that drives me. I am not sentimental about time. Birthday parties and birthdays are meaningless to me -- a notion that appalls my friend Ernie. So, approaching 50 (do I use numerics or type it out? It's a pretty number, I think: 50).

A good example of just going on gut-instinct, following my bliss, is a recent decision I just made. The choice would, to the casual observer, seem obvious: Do I go to Japan or do I go to Indianapolis.

Let me preface this with one fact: I have always wanted to go to Japan.

The entire concept of Japan fascinates me. My favorite SF writer William Gibson always has inexplicably Japanese things in his books, very modern, very technological. I found an old yellowed copy of "Count Zero" the other day and I have been nurturing it, reading it slowly so that it never ends.

Then, earlier this year, Jimmy was offered a chance to do lectures aboard a cruise ship going to Japan this next February. Two weeks of glorious ocean, stopping off at Hawaii, then going trans-Pacific (do they call it trans-Pacific?). High living. Japan. The cruise of a lifetime.

I've been so excited about it. First of all, we met on a cruise ship...

(Parenthetical: We're in the midst of a massive house cleaning operation. In the piles and boxes of pictures, he found the first snapshot ever taken of us on board the SS Galileo on that first cruise. It's going into the show.)
We were set. Japan. A beautiful cruise through Hawaii. Me as the guest.

Then, I got an email from Indianapolis asking me if I would like to play the role of Gideon in a little "community theatre" three nights a week. (On their website, BTW, they proudly display the moniker "Celebrating 15 Years of Community Theatre in Indianapolis" -- a badge of honor. My kind of people.)

From the SECOND I read their invitation, Japan sounded like the most boring la-di-da place on the planet. Well, not Japan, per se. The whole trip. To be trapped in the ocean when I could be in Indianapolis singing for people? Doing The Last Session? Torture! The worst kind of torture!

No. But how could I tell Jim? We've made all these plans! I could hear him now. "You have a chance to go to Japan and you'd rather go to Indianapolis?!?" I could just hear it.

Also, the point being, TLS doesn't need me to run. There have been more than a few excellent Gideons. No, they all weren't Bob Stillman, but they were good. Dallas' Gideon Scott was wonderful (and by the way, was just nominated as Best Actor for TLS-Dallas, the Dallas Theatre League Awards). Baltimore's Gideon was great - superb actor. Omaha's Gideon had the best rock and roll/R & B voice of any of us. Denver, he was young but could sing his ass off. Lots of places. The show doesn't need me. It does very fine on its own.

So I wrote a note to them and told them I would love to play Gideon but that we would be in Japan. Then I told Jimmy about the invitation, told him we'd be gone. He just said, "Okay, good."

But it stayed with me.

When I went on my morning jog, I thought about TLS. I saw the theatre in Indianapolis. I saw the people in the audience. I thought of the other actors in the piece. I remembered how hard I dreamed, back in early 1996, that I'd live long enough to just see one performance of it anywhere. I remembered how writing and singing those songs saved my life.

In my mind, Indianapolis shown like great light while Japan faded into a faint water color. A treasure I could wait for.

A couple of days later I finally had to tell him.

He knew.

He knows me better than anyone. I had been struggling with when to drop this bomb on him. I think we were in the car. Hardly breathing, I told him, "You know I have to go to Indianapolis, don't you." He didn't even try to argue.

So, starting January 30th I will be playing the role of Gideon at Theatre on the Square. I love the director already. Her name is Ruth and she has asked me a hundred questions about the piece. Ron, the artistic director sounds like a hoot and John, the producer, has been really open.

Ah, Indianapolis. You're the sun I wake up to, fair Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, we'll be doing six performances of The Big Voice here in Los Angeles for those who missed it. Now that we're up for the Ovation Awards, we thought it would be fun to do the show in the glow of award season. So, we start in a couple of week. October 29-November 2.

I just finished reading Paul Monette's "Last Watch Of The Night," which I found breathtakingly profound. He wrote the book as a series of essays during the last year or so when he was dying of AIDS. Many of the stories were take place during the time he was caring for his over, Rog. I kind of compare it to the mental state that I was in during the writing of the songs from The Last Session. I must find a way to incorporate Paul Monette into "A Joyful Lamentation," the candlelight memorial service I'm organizing on World AIDS Day Eve.

So, that's kind of it. My mind is full of poetry these days. Monette has a way of elevating you. It's like what Oscar Levant used to say about classical music, that people listen to it and imagine themselves more intelligent than they really are (or something like that). I read Monette and he makes me imagine myself a poet.

Did I mention that I turn 50 on October 4th? I never thought I'd make it to 50. I remember when my goal was to simply live long enough to see one performance of The Last Session. And now 50. Jimmy asked me, "So, do you want a surprise birthday party?"

"No," I told him. I already had plans. Saturday night. 35th anniversary of the first gay church. Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles. That new song Rev. Peter and I wrote."

And the lyrics go:

"This is the birth
Of a new body
Here in this place where we know tears and pain."

On Saturday, Oct. 4th, it will be the birth of a new body. Steve turns 50.

How many bonus rounds do I get?

October 1-4, 2003.
Steve at 50.
I do not know why this was my happiest birthday of all. But it was.

When I woke up I could feel this huge grin on my face. As if a smile were forming itself in my inner guts and forcing its waves of smileytude out into the rest of my body. For the first moment, I didn't move. I was beaming in the dark. I listened to Jimmy peacefully breathing. The cats were nowhere in sight so I knew they were still asleep.

It was a perfect stillness.

I got up and padded to the kitchen, flipped on the light, and there was Steinbeck draped over the back of the chair, wearily looking up at me through sleepy eyes as if to say, "Are you nuts? Do you know what time it is?"

I did not know what time it was.

Bleary-eyed, he gave me a dismissive rowl and buried his face back into his paws.

The apartment was perfectly still. The kitchen gleamed. (Jimmy had fixed the dishwasher.) And I was still grinning. Fixed myself some liquids and then climbed to my little writing loft, the only sound being the whirring from my fragile homemade desktop computer (where I do my music), always on for fear it might not start again.

But even that was merely white noise, mechanical stillness.

The stillness of a pre-dawn L.A. Saturday morning.

I had a task: to finish the song I was to sing that night down at Metropolitan Community Church. It was their 35th anniversary and my 50th birthday. The song, called "This Is The Birth" was something I adapted from a set of lyrics by Rev. Peter Carman, pastor of Lake Ave. Baptist Church in Rochester NY.

This Is The Birth.

50. I actually made it to 50. I sent a note to the TLS list. I told other online friends. No one was awake, not even on the east coast. I liked it.

So I started working on the song. I decided it should be a sing-along, something that the congregation sings to itself. It's an anniversary! About birth and rebirth about making music that spreads from the room to the street to the community, to the world. After rising, Jimmy stayed hard at work in his room.

Exquisite togetherness / solitude.

That night, they handed out the worship order and I was listed as last. Oh no. This song is not a climax to a show. It should come, like, fourth. And these singers! There's the assistant pastor to Della Reese's church. He sang with these two brilliantly outfitted women, all in white. They raised the roof from the very first note.

And every single act was like that. Older, younger, black, Asian, a white balladeer, a Spanish speaking choir led by a beautiful guitar-wielding Latino who sang like an angel, a mixed race trio who sang the most Jesus of Jesus songs you could imagine.

The evening itself was pure Gospel, like being back in Texas.

Okay, I found that part a bit scary. But I stayed with it. For all its joyousness, I still feel pain when I hear these songs. I probably always will.

And yet, here I was with a new song to add to the canon.

The "show biz" side of me was in a panic. This new song wasn't really a "performance" song. I purposely pitched it lower than I sing so that everyone could join in. The competitive side of me wanted to sing something that I thought would totally kick ass, something in my key. You know, do a Clay Aiken!

At that moment, I started laughing at myself and I thought, you're not here to impress the crowd. It's like following Merman or Ted Nugent. You can't.

So when it was my turn, I introduced myself and said something about The Big Voice, and got a laugh. I sent greetings from Lake Ave. Baptist Church in Rochester NY (which got some very thankful applause). Then announced I had a new song, a song expressly written for them, which would be included in "the new hymnal I'm writing."

(The new hymnal I'm writing?? Where did THAT come from?)

Then the slide projector flashed the song up on a screen and we took off. I wasn't looking at them (since I had only just finished it and was reading off the lead sheet) and they weren't looking at me (cuz they were reading the words off the screen).

But after it was all over, people told me they can't wait to get the hymnal. One gay said, "I'm a music minister at my church and I'm so glad you pitched the song down where people can sing it. All these new books have songs that are too high." (I took a mental note).

So, at 50 do I feel reborn?

I feel born.

October 5 - 13, 2004.
The Picture of Stillness.
Big orange cat stuffed in a box. With Marlene Dietrich looking on.
 My birthday stillness continues.
Marlene is watching Steinbeck snooze.

Someone wrote me, "What I like about your diary is that fact that there are lots of pictures."

This after two straight entries that were text only, of course. It's weird the kinds of reactions you get from an online diary. You never know what people are reading into your words.

For instance, the people in Indianapolis wrote me after the "not going to Japan" entry and worried about me giving up something so incredible. The producer John said if he had a chance to go to Japan with the person he loved or go to Indianapolis, he'd be saying "Sayonara."

But it's funny how things happen. I'm a great believer in "following your bliss," as Joseph Campbell puts it. No sooner had I decided not to go to Japan than Jimmy got to lecture on another Japanese cruise later next year. So, there ya are! I followed my gut feeling and it all worked out.

We are getting great response from people who want to come to see The Big Voice on Halloween night. If you come dressed as Ethel or Judy you get in for $5. Suddenly all these Ethel and Judy Queens are coming out of the woodwork.

Speaking of following my gut, the Joyful Lamentation concert is becoming more and more a reality. This past week we actually passed out flyers in the church (which makes it official) and I added the Palisades Peace Chorus to the line-up thanks for Barry Fasman (who just celebrated a birthday -- in fact, we celebrated with him and he taped it. Jimmy and Steve singing a parody song of "California Dreaming" with Jim as newly elected Governor Arnold).

Also, this week Rev. Neil called me at the last minute to play for choir rehearsal down at MCC-LA (fun!) and we ended up learning "This Is The Birth," which we then sang on Sunday morning. (They are in the process of hiring a new Minister of Music so everyone's pitching in as our schedules allow. Because I travel so much, I'm kind of on permanent stand-by.)

Speaking of which, I'm going up to San Francisco to visit Ken for a week, sing for a group called "Thrive," an HIV+ group that meets and socializes at The Center.

Oh, and Jimmy and I are still working on our new musical about marriage.

Last week, they took about a gallon of blood and will soon send me the results. I really hope I did well. I've been very faithful to my diet (except, okay, I ate a pizza on my birthday) but other than that, it's been just about perfect. So, fingers crossed.

[ Book 3-5 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] - [ Book 3-7 ]


© 1996-2003 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.