FGC Journal – Kingston Rhode Island, 2012 June 29 – July 7

 

Thursday, July 5th 4:49 pm.

The reading went very well – the room was over-full and the audience stood at the end. We had a meaningful, helpful discussion, and people have been very kind and enthusiastic since. I am still taking it all in. Much more to come – but thank you, my dear f/Friends for sending me to this most extraordinary, essential gathering.

Mary’s Joy at the FGC 2012 Gathering.

Monday, July 2nd 1:56 pm.

A suspect has been arrested in the brutal murder of Thapelo Makuthle in Kuruman, near Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. Makutle, who identified as both gay and transgender, was a volunteer for the LGBT advocacy group LEGBO.

Earlier this year, I turned down a chance to go to the World Conference of Friends in Kenya. I was discouraged by the notion that there was, reportedly, going to be a lot of division over gender equality. My work on Mary’s Joy has me looking at Quakerism in a basic, “pure” light, one that doesn’t allow for human nuances. And this is not serving me, Mary, Quakers or the world.

This was all brought to light in the past 18 hours. As I sat at dinner last night with some Friends at the conference, I casually mentioned that I didn’t go to the World Conference and why. One of the women at the table (Martha, from Denver) challenged me about it – and as the evening went on the subject kept coming up, and she continued to challenge me. I didn’t feel understood, but I could tell I wasn’t understanding her either. So I did what Quakers do, and I held it in the Light all night long. I woke up this morning still feeling lost and confused and mystified.

Why would I want to argue with other Quakers about gender equality? I spend a good deal of time engaged in gender rights activism. It’s bad enough that I have to argue about it with my “Christian” friends and work to end homophobia in American politics, right?

Wrong.

I sat the Lemonade Gallery at the conference this morning – the art gallery under whose auspices I will be reading Mary’s Joy on Wednesday. As I sat there, I realized there was a piece of the play missing, and it spilled out of me, the way things sometimes do:

Mary:  Our conviction, we Friends, is that the Truth makes men tender. Here is my choice, then. Either I expose the Truth – that the powerful in Boston who wield the sword will strike me down for defying their banishment decree – or I return to Rhode Island and let the mean world sort itself out. (pause) How can I? Is it not a sin, once I know the Truth, to keep it to myself? Is it not my duty to mankind to share the Truth so they may be made tender? Is my one little life so precious that I cannot offer it in sacrifice for the lives of the multitudes of Friends that follow me?

I inserted this section into my script, gathered up my things and made my way to the dining hall for lunch. It was my Road to Damascus, that hot paved strip of asphalt between the gallery and the food.

Father Barry (Karl Malden) in On the Waterfront seemed to stand before me on the path, and he said, “Hello, KNUCKLEHEAD!!! It’s a CRUCIFIXION, don’t you GET it?”

And I knew what Friend Martha was saying.

Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up. Taking Joey Doyle’s life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And droppin’ a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow – that’s a crucifixion! And every time the mob puts the crusher on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen – it’s a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows has happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of Our Lord to see if He was dead. Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you’ve got another guess coming! Every morning when the hiring boss blows his whistle, Jesus stands alongside you in the shape up. He sees why some of you get picked and some of you get passed over. He sees the family men worrying about gettin’ the rent and gettin’ food in the house for the wife and the kids. He sees you sellin’ your souls to the mob for a day’s pay and what does Christ think of the easy-money boys who do none of the work and take all of the gravy? And how does he feel about the fellows who wear a hundred-and-fifty dollar suits and diamond rings, on your union dues and your kickback money? And how does He, who spoke up without fear against every evil, feel about your silence?… You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s makin’ the love of the lousy buck, the cushy job, more important than the love of man! It’s forgettin’ that every fellow down here is your brother in Christ! But remember, Christ is always with you. Christ is in the shape up. He’s in the hatch. He’s in the union hall. He’s kneeling right here beside Dugan. And He’s sayin’ with all of you, if you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me! And what they did to Joey, and what they did to Dugan, they’re doin’ to you. And you. You. All of you! And only you, only you with God’s help, have the power to knock ‘em out for good.

David Kato, Charles Omondi Racho and countless – piles of countless – others have been crucified for exposing the Truth.

I cannot let Mary carry my water. It’s up to me to hold up her life not only in this country and in the Western world as a beacon for free speech, but to put her story forward as a beacon for human rights for everyone on earth. So the hell WHAT, if it’s uncomfortable. PLEASE! Reading Mary’s Joy is no picnic. It’s hard, hard work and it’s not over when the playing of it ends. The most uncomfortable part of all is that there are many American Friends divided by this conversation, and that, I find obscene. I don’t want to have that conversation with American Quakers. I cannot understand it, I cannot fathom how in this country where Mary Dyer went to the gallows for freedom – was crucified for freedom – there are Quakers who would break up their Meetings over the notion of same gender couples marrying.

But there it is.

My “artivism” is driven by my conscience that won’t let me get comfortable. This is my life’s work – begun when I wrote my first little solo piece and performed it for my 8th grade class in Toronto. I wanted to tell a story about a woman traveling alone to the New World on a ship from England. I truly did. I didn’t know what the story was really about until now, 40 years later.

Thank you, the Light. Thank you, Truth. Thank you FGC and Friend Martha for all you have given me in fewer than four days.

My cup runneth over.

****************************************

Friday, June 29th 10:47 pm.

Happy birthday to my brother Jeff.

This is my first time to post – no time in Tucson this morning and no WI-FI at Denver Airport! Everyone was freaking out. I tried to stay Zen about it. So I wrote this by hand on the airplane after we took off – how bizarre!

Read through and did some editing of Mary’s Joy on the flight from Tucson to Denver. Thanks to some deep insights, virtuosic editing and stellar writing by my friend, Dylan Brody, the play’s spine has emerged.

Mary Dyer lived in a day when freedom was so fleeting an ideal, that most of the world didn’t indulge in entertaining it. The radicals became Seekers, Ranters and Pilgrims. There were a lot of them, yet they were a tiny percentage of the world’s population. The Vikings had “discovered” the “New World” five centuries before Columbus was born. There were whisperings of a raw, “uncivilized” land where there were no kings, no laws, no churches, no roads.

As an actor, it’s my job to stand up for the characters I play. To do that, I have to reduce the distance between us. Research is my most precious ally in that process. With Mary Dyer, I need to understand the world into which she was born in much more than simply an intellectual way. So I’ve begun the process of imagining my feet in her slippers and following the magic trail of bread crumbs my romantic heart likes to think she left for me.

Mary was “high born,” though we know nothing of her parents. We know she was received at court, was loyal to the King after England’s civil war resulted in the restoration of the monarchy. We know she could read and write – well. We know her husband spoke of her in extraordinarily loving terms, in spite of her “inconsiderate madness,” that he described in a letter to Governor Endicott. We know women were the property of their husbands, once given or sold by their fathers or guardians. Women were not permitted to be clergy – such a thing was unthinkable. Because of their gender – or, let’s get real, their reproductive organs and developed mammary glands – women had virtually no civil rights, and men could beat their wives with impunity. Women who rebelled could be and often were burned as witches. It was into this world that Mary Dyer came of age.

By all available accounts, she married for love and was lucky to have a husband who shared her appetite for spiritual freedom. Together they traveled to New England, leaving behind all the comforts of an old society for an unknown, rough wilderness. They chose to do so.

I am just now beginning, at 52 years of age, to appreciate the sensation of freedom by choice. I’ve experienced it before, but not articulated it in any but the most vague, internal way. I’ve gone to jail for trying to stop an execution, for trespassing on federal land proposed to store nuclear waste and for refusing to disperse from a street demonstration that blocked traffic at the Capitol in Washington DC. Those were not comfortable experiences, to be sure. But I never knew the feeling of being locked up against my will until I was falsely accused and literally dragged into a police car. I’m only now, thanks to Mary, accessing the enormous differences in sensation. To be handcuffed to a wall by my choice is entirely different from being put there by someone else’s choice.

Such are my musings as I sit here, 39,000 feet above the earth in an age Mary could not have imagined. People sitting in chairs in ships that fly, writing in journals, with mechanical pencils, entries to be later transferred to digital media and read within moments by people all over the world, via electronic devices. What she would appreciate, I’m sure, is a married woman leaving behind her home and husband and setting off on a spiritual adventure.

Thank you, Gene. In some important way, you are cut from the same cloth as Mary’s long-suffering, devoted William.

More soon… Rehearsal starts at 9am, which is 6 my time. It’s now 11:37, and I’m not remotely sleepy. Alarm is set, and I will be up one way, or another. Hopefully there’ll be coffee….

And yes – I brought the fan.

******************************************

Thursday, June 28

Packing all day – always a battle between what is to stay and what’s to go. I have decided to break with personal policy and check a bag at the airport. I’ve decided that the luxury of not shlepping around a heavy bag outweighs (har har) the benefits of not having to worry about lost luggage or the wait at baggage claim. I’m flying in and out of very small, manageable airports (Tucson and Providence). Denver is the wildcard, since I’m switching planes. As American airports go, Denver is one of the good ones. I’ll trust that my stuff will be transferred uneventfully. If not – it’s more detachment practice for me. Is this a middle age thing? We start thinking about letting things go?

Meanwhile. I’ll be sharing a dorm room with a “stranger,” though all Friends become friends one way or another, and we’ll get to know each other quickly, I’m sure. We’re in a non-airconditioned room. I’m considering packing our small fan. The conference organizers recommend bringing one. The thought of lying there in summer temperatures with east coast humidity is not at all pleasant. But then I think of Mary Dyer and the early settlers who came over from cool, cloudy climes, and chide myself about being spoiled. I’m going to bring the fan, though, if there’s room in the suitcase.

Okay – tomorrow when I’m sitting at the gate, I’ll let you know about the fan decision. I know you’ll be holding your breath ’til then.

Ha ha!!

15 thoughts on “FGC Journal – Kingston Rhode Island, 2012 June 29 – July 7

  1. Wonderful that you have the opportunity and support to do this work. Mary’s Joy is a powerful play on many levels, and the chance to sing in the choir must be uplifting.

  2. What a wonderful time you will have..so looking forward to the updates & all the news you will have to share. I do know how gratifying it is to sing…I just don’t do it well enough to do it outside of the car or my shower. You will be doing TWO things that are a gift & what you love..so rewarding. Love you & proud of you…

  3. I AM holding my breath about your fan decision. And then will be anxious to hear how the weather is back there….on pins and needles.

  4. Haha! Cheri. I brought the fan, and I am SO GLAD I DID!! It is muggy here – right now it’s lovely, but the sun is pretty brutal with the 45% humidity. I just keep thinking about how it must have been for Mary Dyer and tell myself not to be such a spoiled 20th Century baby. Love you!!!!

  5. It’s beautiful here! Wish you and Pops and Gene and all the dogs could be here vacationing in a place on the beach. You would laugh at the wimpy humidity, compared to yours in Louisiana. Lots of love – please give Pops a squeeze and tell him to give you one back.

  6. Please continue with these blog entries, they are very informative and it feels like we are there with you. I always enjoy insights from artists about their life and art, the line between the two can be very thin at times, almost non-existent. Art is life/Life is Art. It can be a rough road to travel at times, but in the final tally sometimes the art is all we truly have, all we really need. This seems to develop when living a more simplistic life and all the frills are stripped away and given up. They become more like obstacles and distractions.

  7. Jeanie – Sitting here with my coffee and reading your post for the first time. I am so glad to be able to follow you on your trip. All my best to you on this journey into your discovery of Mary and her story.

  8. The truth can be hard at times, and the Light, too. Being open-minded is no less hard than being close-minded, maybe even harder, since one works/desires to accept more of the world and show others that intolerance/arrogance is intolerable/ignorance. It seems as if the close-minded are not willing to bend and consider other options, and react with negativity/slander/name calling/chest thumping, largely die to fear. One way to deal with that, to break through it and per chance to help change one’s mind, is continued passion/compassion/tolerance about what one knows is right, but also towards those who disagree with us. There are just as many opinions as people on this planet. Its not about good or bad, but right or wrong. The truth always rises to the surface, even if not in our own lifetime, but it gets there in the final tally.

  9. That’s beautiful, Gene. And I agree. Sometimes being Quaker means accepting everyone’s point of view as okay. But I’m not doing that on human rights issues anymore. Compassion is, as you say, essential. On that, I will continue to work.

  10. It pains me that fellow Quakers haven’t ‘seen the Light ‘ yet, regarding gender issues. How difficult it must be for Meetings with members that have differing views on this. Thanks for bringing this problem to the forefront of my mind so I can hold them all in the Light.

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