Inception: Saint John the Divine in Iowa


People have been asking me why I wrote the story.  And I keep thinking of the staged reading, because after it was over there was this wonderful discussion about marriage, love, fidelity, acceptance, gay rights.  But as people were leaving, the man who filmed the reading came up to me, very close–you know, close enough to smell.  He leaned forward so he was looking me directly in the eye (very Meisner technique, since he was my student at the time) and he said, “She seems very, very lonely.”

I knew that he was asking if I felt that way.  I ducked it–who wouldn’t?–but of course I did feel that way.  I’d been fascinated by the idea of gay marriage passing in Iowa and the what if of the story definitely arises from that fascination.  I couldn’t help wondering and imagining the individual lives of gay people and their families in Iowa.  But what I needed to explore was this idea of a woman of integrity, a woman so deeply grounded in her own values that she didn’t question herself, didn’t have doubts about who she was.  I wanted to explore the loneliness of leadership.  A priest, a minister, who is strong in her leadership, is inhibited by her own values in sharing who she is, because she can’t talk to anyone in the congregation about her feelings about anyone else.  Leaders, spiritual leaders, can’t be unprocessed in what they share, so there is always a remove, a space, in which who they are in the moment can’t quite be known.  They have to be so conscious.  I thought, so let’s say someone in this position gets thrown a curveball, and it’s really too much for her, at least for a while.  How does she handle it?  Who can she go to?

It’s not like I haven’t been thrown curveballs and struggled with exactly those questions, really afraid I’d get it wrong.  And I have gotten it wrong.  Just not very often.  Thank WHATEVERWHOEVER.

I amused myself by torturing Reverend Alex with a particular curveball–she thinks she’s the most liberal person and then gets completely freaked by her daughter’s gender queer lover.  I made her disintegration kind of funny. Because face it, we are all just so absurd in our egotism and the ways we think we’ve got it down, only we never do.  In the presence of all those higher values, what we keep learning is no one does it perfectly.  We all have unacceptable thoughts.  We are all inappropriate at least once in a while (or if we’re not, we’re so judgmental that that becomes inappropriate.)

My subjects as a writer are women (mostly), homophobia, spirituality/religion and the nature of love.  I don’t write about anything else.  Those are the imprints.  Those are the passions of my life.  I don’t see why there can’t be some humor mixed in, though.  I mean, think of how ridiculous we are when we fall in love.  The incredible high of illusion.  Seriously, the minute a friend tells me this time the new relationship is healthy I struggle so hard not to fall over laughing.  What is healthy, anyhow?  Speaking in “I” statements all the time?

I digress.

So, why did I write this?  Because I fell so deeply in love with Reverend Alex.  I loved her strength, her spirituality, her absolute commitment to social justice and to her daughter.  I loved her good judgment and I loved that it breaks.  The best thing about this project so far is getting to talk and write about these things–about integrity, spirituality, sexuality and their relationship to meaning.  About the girlfriend, Younger Alex, who is just as strong, but younger, fierce, confrontational and unafraid.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think I’ve spent 30 years writing a way into seeing my own goodness so I could believe in it with Reverend Alex’s kind of confidence.  I mean, it matters so much how we are in the world, the stance we take toward freedom and justice, but also toward kindness and peace and gentleness with each other.  I’m probably at least as (if not much more) screwed up as everyone else, but when I create these characters, I get to see the movement forward into grace, and to know I know what that is.

It is my hope that writing about it carves a visible path that other people can recognize.  That each character is a journey through which we know ourselves–so flawed, hurting people we love, reaching them, comforting them, saying yes, saying no, all of it.  Maybe the inception of any piece of writing is just this: I open my arms, I take it all in, I say, yes, whatever it is, I will hold it.

(PS–For those of you who read my last rant, I have to say this is probably some version of tonglen and then I owe an apology to Pema Chodron.  I’ll put her on the list. Which is, of course, very long.)

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