The following entry is of a much more personal nature than I usually allow here, which will no doubt surprise many. Hell, it surprised me. If you’re here looking for a pithy review, a report on my filmmaking adventures or some insight into the political machinations of the local film industry “professionals,” you might want to cast your net elsewhere, today. Warm fuzzies abound here, dredged up, picked over and flicked unceremoniously in your direction through unapologetic navel gazing. You have been warned…
Beginnings are interesting things. Especially when viewed through the lenses of retrospection. I have a fuzzy memory at the best of times, but there are moments that stand out like beacons in my mind. Reminiscences that are more than polaroid flashback, more than reflection in a clouded mirror, more than an awareness that something memorable took place and should never be forgotten.
Generally they need some sort of prompt, a nudge that allows the door to crack open and suddenly a flood of memories batter it down, infusing pleasure centers with Technicolor, stereophonic, scratch-n-sniff clarity. Well, kind of. Mostly it’s a prompt that forces me to sit back and sift through the snapshots to reconstruct what eventually becomes a full-blown recollection. It’s a little like editing together found footage, using Xerox copies of mimeographs of journal entries as guidelines. (There are some out there, reading this, who won’t even know what that means, but I’m okay with that. Google is your friend.)
The prompt, this time, was a search for information on my stageplay Rain Damage, which I remembered had debuted around this time, ten years ago. Turns out I was right. A search through old journal entries (the digital kind, not xeroxed) revealed we had just started rehearsals for the production in early February, though the play itself wouldn’t actually premiere until April 14th. It was a slow start, mainly because we were so busy at Soul Invictus – the performance space I co-founded on Grand Avenue, specializing in provocatively outrageous shows that had the unsuspecting sleepers of our desert metropolis buzzing – and finding time to schedule rehearsals was proving difficult. The upside was I had a dream cast for the play and early read-throughs were very promising.
The cast of Rain Damage: Jimmy Asemenios as the protagonist, Tim, and, in the background, Brian Klein as Drew, Stu Sherman as Gilley and Scott Pierce as Roger, the three ghosts.
But something else also became instantly apparent during that search. Along with the photographs and reviews I needed to update my website, came a wealth of memories and the realization that two of the more important “beginnings” took place at around that same time, too. The first was meeting one of my creative muses, the incomparable Venus de Mars, whom we had invited down from her frigid home sphere of Minneapolis to present her artwork and perform at Soul Invictus.
To our eternal surprise, she accepted, even though she had never been to Phoenix before. Her first visit, which began February 27, 2006 (exactly a year ago today), was a week long and afforded the rare opportunity for us to truly get to know her. Not just her music, which I had been a fan of for some time, or her art, which was dazzling in its originality and expression, but the gentle, fiercely talented artist, too. It was a very auspicious beginning and one I will treasure always.
Now that I live in New Mexico, Venus has made Las Cruces one of her regular stops on her annual tour of the southwest, even though finding venues in our conservative little town doesn’t always work out. El Paso, however, has proven to be a more ideal location and several fine performances have come from that proximity. Over time, Venus has become more than a muse to me, she is an inspiration and a creative force that propels me beyond acceptance of any status quo. I am also very humbled to be considered, by her and her partner Lynette, a friend.
Sparks were flying, literally, when Venus de Mars took the Soul Invictus stage for the very first time.
The second beginning is much more personal, but it too revolves around Venus de Mars and Rain Damage. First one, then the other. Venus, because it was her show that brought the artistically inclined revolutionaries of the Phoenician underground out of the woodwork, creating a standing room only crowd at Soul Invictus. Among them was a young man who was a semi-regular participant of our Bare It All For Art events (yes, we had those. Very naked. Very fun. Story for another day). This time, however, he wasn’t alone.
With him was a tall, scruffy young man with shoulder length, bleach blond hair and a sideways smile when he very warmly shook my hand, stating “how’s it shakin’” with an awkwardness I found disarming. He was wearing flip flops and cargo shorts to an event at which fetishists, cross dressers and fashionistas were in full splendor. Even better, he didn’t seem to care that he looked like a refugee from a Bill & Ted adventure at an Eyes Wide Shut convention. That was my first encounter with Donny. It didn’t last long. He and his new beau were there to see Venus. Introductions made, they quickly faded into the crowd.
The focal date and event was Friday, March 2, 2006, during the First Friday Artwalk. I have the journal entries documenting everything: the week leading up to Venus eye-popping performance, and the chance meeting with a young man who seemed so very out of place at the time. There’s no way I could have known, at the time, how indelibly those two events would be intertwined. My life was beginning to change in a very big way, but it would be years before I saw any of the connections. Life is funny like that.
This is why I consider this unremarkable meeting to be a sort of destiny. There was a 20-year age difference between Donny and me. We were both in relationships – mine just beginning to crumble, his just beginning to flower. There was absolutely nothing to draw us to one another. Not at that first meeting. Nor when he came to see my play Rain Damage a month and a half later. Afterwards, he told me how much he liked the play and again, very warmly shook my hand. I think that’s when I first noticed all the variegated color in his eyes.
We wouldn’t actually end up having any kind of meaningful conversation until a year later, when we were cast as the Great Kanaka (me) and Starcat (him, natch) in Psycho Beach Party. Things changed pretty rapidly after that. Suddenly we each had somebody to talk to. Somebody who actually understood what we were respectively going through. In the coming months, we came to cling to one another like human life preservers in the maelstrom created by our volatile relationships crumbling away into accusations, confrontations and, eventually, very hard feelings.
Psycho Beach Party kind of cinched the deal…
The transition wouldn’t be easy for either of us, and there were many who disapproved, but in the end it only served to draw us closer. It was an ugly, tumultuous, life-altering time, full of upheaval and the worst kind of treachery. By the time we made the decision to leave Phoenix for good, we each had a handful of friends left – objective supporters who had stood by us through the worst of it all. And, in the end, we had each other.
Here’s what that means to me: Donny is as close to a soul mate as any has ever come. Which is saying something, considering my battered old soul has been bartered and sold so many times over the years it has no more warranty and its salvage value is in the single digits. That’s the dark, shambling Emperor Palpatine version of myself talking – the bundle of negative energy living just behind my eyes, where clouds have the most effect. The dark mirror I peer into daily, relentlessly seeking approval from the myriad dolorous reflections looking back at me.
Then there’s Donny Glow In The Darko: King of the Goofballs, he of the elastic face and sarcasm-infused brow. He makes me laugh when the air is thick with sobriety and I’m slowly being sucked down into a gravity well of my own devising. He keeps me from losing sight of the reasons to get up every morning and give it my best shot, despite the IMAX-sized shadow plays eternally unspooling in my head. He also breaks my heart every time I catch him lost in his own thoughts, his face a perfect mask of wonderment. I’m a sucker for shit like that.
It’s all about the laughter.
So, you see, what I present here are two very meaningful beginnings, cross-pollinating and breeding to form an unforgettable moment in time, a decade removed. Right before reality descended with the weight and chilling effect of a sleet-soaked blanket. Right before dreams changed and destiny cast me adrift – only to yank me back through the efforts of a young man with kaleidoscope eyes and a sideways grin.
But all that wouldn’t have any effect for another year or so. Ten years ago today was when the first seeds of destiny were planted. Ten years ago this very week, when the future was still bright and the world was my oyster. Before the implosion of two misguided relationships. Before a major geographical move and a necessary shifting of attitudinal gears. Before the serendipitous beginning of a new chapter, the introduction of unforeseen adventures and an unexpected career shift that should really surprise nobody. And a decade’s worth of annual visits by Venus de Mars, who always makes sure to schedule time to grace us with her munificence and abounding creative energy during her musical excursions.
Ten years, which sometimes feel like several lifetimes ago. In a galaxy far, far away…