10:59 am - Mon 9.29.2008
Mon 9/29/08 (2:15 a.m.)
A week or so ago, I learned that Steven M., someone I knew from Lansing theater, had died earlier in the month.
He was 41 years old.
We did at least two shows together that I can think of, but we weren’t friends; I had no reason to dislike him personally - he never did me or anyone I cared about any harm - but I didn’t respect him as a performer (I just didn’t think he was very good), and, being positive he was gay, I didn’t respect him for being in the closet.
He was married, and had two children (Two girls). And I don’t know this, so I could be totally wrong, but I’m assuming he died of AIDS or an AIDS-related illness (Once again, we’re talking about a guy I barely knew “back in the day” and hadn’t had contact with in years, so this is total speculation on my part).
His friend Tamara had posted the news on Facebook, along with a link to an online memorial site.
After reading the news, I clicked on the link, and watched a slide show of pictures from his life - shows he’d done, at his job (As a cook at Chilis), with family and friends, all accompanied by appropriately touching piano music.
And I was touched.
Whatever judgement I’d made about him, based on very little information and even less understanding, Steven lived and loved and was loved by a lot of people (And often working with kids, as a dancer/choreographer, he probably had a lot more lasting impact on Lansing theater than I did, however formidable my talent).
Under the circumstances, whether he lived up to my performance standards or not seems spectacularly unimportant. I think it’s pretty safe to say he entertained a lot of people, and positively affected a lot of lives.
As for his being “in the closet” - if he was - I should be able to find a little more charity in my heart for someone conflicted about who he is, when his society, his family (I’m guessing), and even his God, tells him he’s supposed to be something else; under those circumstances, I don't know that I'd be any more courageous about coming out of the closet myself.
(Any time I find myself thinking of someone as being “cowardly” in some aspect of their lives, I need to remind myself: It took me twenty years to come out to LA, to start following my heart’s desire. And that was without any pressure from anyone to ever be somebody else.)
For the casually disparaging, dismissive judgements I’d made about him when he was alive, I found myself wondering, looking at snapshots of his life, who managed to do more with their life, him or me?
Still thinking about Paul Newman...
I wrote a little about his passing in my other blog, and thought that was the end of it.
Then in the afternoon, I was reading an obituary in the “AV Club” section of The Onion.
As I finished the article, and was going through the hundreds of reader comments, I found myself, to my shock, tearing up a little - While I’d said I was “sad” at his passing, apparently I had no idea I was really sad at his passing.
(That reminds me of something I wrote down on an envelope some time ago - Someone writing an article about the show Dexter wrote, of the title character, “Like so many of us, he’s deeply introspective while managing to have absolutely no genuine self-knowledge”. I couldn’t have felt more like he was talking about me than if he’d written, “Hey, Jim Hoffmaster - I’m talking about you here!”. )
But when I think about it, it’s not very difficult to see why I’d have a strong attachment to someone like Paul Newman - In a nutshell, the man was pretty much every single thing I fantasize being, while living an exemplary life in the process.
I’ve never been very comfortable in my skin.
And in spite of whatever “gifts” I have, life's always been something of a struggle for me. And, more often than not, it's a struggle I've felt I was losing.
So I’m inherently, powerfully attracted to people who “make it look easy”, who seem as if they just "know how to do it" (When I was younger, I thought it simply was “easy” for some people; now I know that it’s not that simple - To one extent or another, I imagine life’s difficult for just about everyone. Which makes the people who “make it look easy” all the more impressive.)
I’ve said it before - it really doesn’t make that much sense to be sad when someone like Paul Newman dies, because the only “relationship” I had with him was through his movies, and that “relationship” remains unchanged - Paul Newman may have died, but "Butch Cassidy" lives forever.
But whether it makes sense or not, I am sad. Genuinely sad, as if I’d lost someone close to me.
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