1904

The Year Everything Important Happened

I’m Fine Really

HF6A9168 copy GEORGE & LILY

BIANCA DORSO.  George & Lily in the Studio

Sometimes you just have to take a day off and deal with stuff.  The plumber, the bedroom door that sticks, the pictures on the floor that need to be hung, all those unpacked boxes.  So you decide to focus on what’s in front of you.  You make coffee, you post a poem, you answer the door.  It’s your neighbor.

“You’re home,” he says, stating the obvious with alarm and suspicion.  I explain about having to do things.  I don’t mention the poem, which I’ve sort of forgotten about.  I invite him in.  He asks if I am unhappy, sick, upset, disoriented, in pain.   I respond in the negative repeatedly.  I protest I am fine.

“It’s the commute, isn’t it,” he observes, still searching.  I decide to give him this and admit as how I did try taking Coldwater Canyon the day before.  He belts out an oath, like he’s Professor Plum in the Library, brandishing a Candlestick.  Mystery solved.

“NEVER TAKE COLDWATER,” he admonishes me.  “THAT’S INSANE.”

In retrospect I confess it was a bad idea, even more so once I saw the line of cars bumper to bumper attempting to navigate that impossible route, but I feel defensive.  “You didn’t tell me,” I point out.

“YOU DIDN’T ASK,” he replies, which is true enough.  I suggest there was something up with yesterday’s rush hour.  The fog, I offer.  My neighbor gives me a look.  We both know all it takes is a traffic light out in Malibu to shut down everything east of the 405.  The butterfly effect, but you only need one poor fool trying to make a left onto Outpost from Mulholland before 10 am.

The emails and texts don’t start pouring in til later.  Are you okay?  I remember the poem that poured out of my pen in the middle of the night.  I realize I probably shouldn’t post everything that comes in that way.  Writing is therapy as Graham Greene (1904-1991) once observed and then wondered what people who didn’t write or compose or paint did to manage their feelings.   I can think of a few answers to that question, but none of them appeal to me at the moment.

The plumber finishes, the pictures get hung, a box gets unpacked.  All is well.  And I will never ever again try taking Coldwater Canyon to get to the other side of the hills.

Where in the Body Do You Hold Your Pain

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PAUL CADMUS (December 17, 1904 – December 12, 1999)

Even as a boy
I could see you were dangerous.
Carrier of cares and confusion,
A jack in the box of feelings
Ready to spring.
You never said where I was supposed to keep mine.

My brothers put theirs in their fists,
Pain in punches or words in tight jaws
Clenched against our Old Man
Who kept the world’s dead weight on his shoulders,
Bent over, making threats to his plate
Or his workbench in the basement.
I learned there what a vice grip does:
Spin handle with hand in metal mouth ‘til
Teeth meet in meat, then never let go.
I held my breath instead.

‘A blank page is what I know
About women,’ my father told me once
To be poetic.  But my mother was an open book to me,
Like the BookoftheMonthClub
Mystery in her lap,
She would turn the page and look away, look away
Out the screen muzzled window toward fuzzy trees
On the other side of a stubby untilled field and further still
To some past place where she had buried her heart,
Claiming that secret spot as hers and smiling
Almost apologetically, as if to say
‘This at least is mine,
You must find your own
Hiding place.’

Interpretation

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On January 15, 1904, the American classical pianist George Copeland gave the earliest-known performance of Claude Debussy’s piano works in the United States, playing the Deux Arabesques at Steinert Hall in Boston (source).  Copeland was a flamboyant performer, wearing makeup and jewelry before it was fashionable and long before anyone had heard of Liberace.  He was also very open about his homosexuality. In 1913 in an interview with the Cleveland Leader he said,  “I don’t care what people think of my morals. I never think anything about other people’s morals.  Morals have nothing to do with me.” (ibid.)

This weekend I am having some energy work done.  It is supposed to help release trauma.   I can’t imagine it will do any harm to try.  I had a Sikh energy worker, a lovely young woman, tell me once I had a great deal of father memory stored in my right thigh.  “Is that where everything about the father goes?” I asked, trying to work out the symbolism, but she said, no, it could be quite random where pain ends up.  For example, the liver isn’t able to process all the chemicals we consume so it uses body fat to store things like Aspartame, which is ironic when you think about it, a sugar substitute used to help you lose fat that’s so poisonous it forces the body to hold onto fat just to have a place to put it.

You might say the body is a vast, complicated storage facility of many rooms and a waste processing system at the same time.  Or, “An alimentary canal, open at both ends,” as my friend who was a poet liked to say.

Upon his arrival at one venue during a concert tour in South America, Aaron Copland was arrested on a morals charge and held until he was able to explain to the authorities that he was Copland the composer, not Copeland the pianist. Apparently George Copeland had preceded him on a concert tour of his own.   Ironic in a way when you think how gloriously gay a work like Appalachian Spring is.   But, matter of opinion, easy to confuse names, open to interpretation and so on.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to construct my own personal reality in haste, like rushing through grocery shopping when I’m hungry and after a long day at work.  Judgmental (“Outrageous price for eggs”), dismissive (“High fructose corn syrup the first ingredient, why am I not surprised”), forgetful (“What in the world did I come in here for?”), and then I wonder why my life has ended up the way it has.  Oh, please.  It’s all so open to interpretation, isn’t it?  George Copeland played Debussy like no one else.  Rings and eyeliner and all.

It’s all energy, though, isn’t it?  It’s all crap, it’s all beautiful.  It all means everything or nothing.  As my friend the poet liked to say, “The body is a shit factory.  That houses the priceless and eternal soul.”

January 13, 1904

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Oliver Messel (January 13, 1904 – July 13, 1978)

Also born today:

Horatio Alger (1832-1899)

Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989)

Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007)

Rip Taylor (1935 -)

Edmund White (1940 -)

Matthew Bourne (1960 -)

There are stories you are told, and there are stories you tell yourself when the ones you’re told don’t add up.

And sometimes you take the facts you know, a few you don’t (or not entirely), some names and dates, and you look for another story in the connections and the patterns and the details, invisible to those who don’t see what you see, or understand what you understand.  You find a narrative, a queer history.

Games

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“The Debutante” January 10, 1904, Chicago Sunday Tribune

A friend of mine was playing a new X Box game recently when one of his team had to drop out.  Your teammates are remote, of course; they could be anybody, anywhere, you don’t know anything about them except how well they play, how many kills they’ve scored, how many aliens they’ve blown up, that sort of thing.  “Gotta go somewhere,” Alpha Dog announced.

“Where?” another team member asked, right before he obliterated an enemy convoy.

“Debutante Ball,” replied Alpha Dog.  She was 16.  It was her first.

It would make a better story if it was one of those chastity dances, I tell my friend; the ones white fathers take their daughters to in southern states.  Still I had to admit, pretty good.

January 10th in 1904 was a Sunday.  The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire entertained the King and Queen at Chatsworth, according to the Chicago Sunday Tribune.  There was probably snow in Chicago; just guessing, but I bet there was.

You want to call people terrorists sometimes.  You don’t know for sure, but you bet they are.  You know nothing about their lives, their desperation, their ignorance, their poverty, where they come from, their hopelessness, but you think you know something about them.  You’re just guessing, but you know what you saw on the news.  You know how they play the game.

Ritual

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Signature, Salvador Dali (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989)

The story I was told, years ago, was, Dali signed thousands of sheets of paper in anticipation of a printing project that never happened, and a load of those blank sheets of paper bearing the artist’s signature was stolen, the truck hijacked leaving Spain for France, somewhere on a narrow pass high up in the Pyrenees.  There are other versions of the story (here) but I like mine better.

There is, of course, a ritual to an artist’s signing.  It is similar to the ritual of a saint’s or guru’s blessing.  I’ve been present for both. Lots of people are involved.  An assembly line is set up.   The artist enters the atelier, sits in his appointed place, pencils sharpened and within easy reach along with other accoutrement – a cup of tea and ashtray and lighter perhaps – while studio assistants in white gloves present the work for signing from a stack of prepared prints.  “One of Twenty-Five,” the artist’s registrar / curator / lead attendant announces, as another assistant lifts the glassine or protective sheet from the image and the artist duly notes the limitation lower left, and then another assistant carefully, gently, slides the work to the right where the artist signs and dates the piece lower right, while two more helpers wait to lift and move the signed work to a waiting portfolio.  Repeat.

It’s a ritualized process, like a dance.  There is a quiet humming of energy, of a special, even slightly sacred rite in action, of the human miming of a mechanical process, a  living machine.  Each participant playing a part, each with a task, a movement, a cue, a role.

The saint or guru enters and sits amidst her (or his) attendants while the faithful are brought forward one at a time to receive darshan (the blessing) communicated by look, touch, a flick of a peacock feather, an embrace.  An assembly line is set up.  There are attendants to guide and prepare and announce the waiting devotees, others ready to hand the saint the prasad, assist, interpret, wipe a brow, translate, adjust a robe or sari.  There is a quiet beneath the commotion, the directives, the movement, the dance.  A living machine of transmission of grace, a blessing, a healing.

Now, say there is static in the air and the glassine slips, and for a moment the foggy covering slides clear, revealing the vivid image beneath.  Or in that moment as the devoted looks into the eyes of his guru there is a hesitation, a lingering, and some film separating this reality from the breathtaking one beneath shifts, slips away, revealing another world entirely.

That’s what happens with ritual, with rites of magic, with dance.  Hypnosis.   Repetition.   And then a glimpse of something else.  Beneath the surface.  Something more in the transmission, the touch, an acknowledgement, imprimatur.  Did I see that? Did that happen?  It can be very hard to explain afterward.   You would swear it can’t be faked, you’re not pretending, you’re not making it up.  But afterward, as so often happens, you may not be sure.  It was nothing, just a man saying, “This is mine, not yours, I did this, I created this.” Just a person saying “Take this in remembrance of me,” or “I see you, I know you.”

Or, then again, nothing.  Or, on the other hand, something.  Or it becomes just a story you were told, years ago or told yourself.

Games People Play

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Patented January 5, 1904,  printed drawing for a game board invented by Lizzie J. Magie, a variation of which would later become the board game “Monopoly.” Source: research.archives.gov

Today is also the birthday of Jeane Dixon (January 5, 1904 – January 25, 1997), astrologer to Richard Nixon and Nancy Reagan.

Life is a game.  Life is theater.  If you want to predict the future, look to the past.

A New Year

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Boris Kochno (January 3, 1904 – December 8, 1990) by Christian Bérard, 1930.  Oil on cardboard, 43 x 31″ (source)

Writer and ballet librettist, Kochno met Serge Diaghilev in 1921 and became his secretary, collaborating with him in the last years of the Ballets Russes.  After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, Kochno collaborated on Cotillon and Jeux d’enfants (1932) for the new Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  With his longtime companion Christian Bérard and choreographer Roland Petit, he collaborated on the ballet Les Forains (1945), which led to the founding of Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées and the renaissance of French ballet in the post-war years.

I want to start the new year thinking about dance.  Dancing.  My friend S came by the new place the other day for tea. She looked about.   “It’s so clear,” she said with a hint of surprise and possibly a touch of relief.

“Clear?” I asked.

“No ghosts,” she explained.  “The other place was full of them, you know.”

I did know.

It’s a clear day here today.  No view to speak of, but a clear strip of light and sky.  Shadows of birds dance by.

Big Valley, Continued

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Still Life with Betty Dorso by Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980) Photograph by Bianca Dorso.

“Growing up in the 40s and 50s the Valley was orchards.  That’s what I remember.  The orchards.”  Bianca Dorso

Nothing lasts forever but lots of things last longer than you planned on.  And that’s what makes places like the Valley, like lots of places in America, so fascinating.  Not meant to last, intended as temporary, a place-holder, a make-do, dedicated to the proposition that all things and people being equal doesn’t mean there’s not something better bound to be on the way, and as soon as this or that, or later on, or tomorrow…

Then time passes, Time of pocket watches and ones on the wrist, of clocks, of days and years, of generations, and that breezy cabin out by the orchards, on a dirt lane without curbs gets added to, winterized, summerized, a porch tacked on, an extra room at the back, at the side, at the front, a concrete slab for a carport, a patio, a pool, and before you know what’s happened you’ve got neighbors, a neighborhood, they change the name of the neighborhood, you live in a mansion, you live in a Desirable Area.  Or the reverse, and in less than a generation that mansion you built so optimistically in a boom time gone bust becomes a rooming house, a flop house, a vacant building, an eyesore.  Or say your timing is off, you overshoot the mark, you go too fast from cabin to mansion and the neighborhood turns on you, turns commercial, turns against you, turns back again, upscale again, just try to keep up.

It all changes.  Only children and religious fanatics think in terms of eternity.  And people in love.  There’s no sense of time when you’re young, or when you believe in a world without end, amen, and when you’re in love you want it to never end, don’t stop, don’t ever stop.  Don’t grow up.

More Magical Thinking

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Garrett Hedlund to play a young Captain Hook in the upcoming Warner Bros. “Peter Pan.”

“Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” opened on December 27, 1904.  Barrie was afraid the audience wouldn’t clap when it came to the part about saving Tinker Belle (“Clap if you believe in fairies!”) so he instructed the orchestra to do so, just in case.  He needn’t have worried; everyone applauded that first night and the show went on to be a great success.

We each have our favorite Peter, I suppose.  My first was Mary Martin, who wasn’t even a boy.  Then there was Cathy Rigby.  But just the idea that someone, anyone, would come to your bedroom window and take you away was enough for me.  A young friend, a young comrade, a buddy, who shows up and teaches you to fly and says Come on, we’re outta here… well, it’s a fantasy you may find yourself pursuing long after it’s either practical or age-appropriate.

Because contrary to the title of the original play, they all do grow up.  And the story keeps getting reinvented, reworked, reconsidered.  The reasons are obvious enough, of course.  The idea of never getting old is certainly appealing, on many levels.  Someone once said that American men only mature when they’ve exhausted all other options.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but I always really wished I could fly.

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A grown up Jeremy Sumpter, who played Peter Pan in the 2003 Universal/Columbia Pictures production.

And then there’s the marvelous Sam Swan in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production I wish I’d seen, last year, in Birmingham:

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