Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Door Closes and ...........

A number of months ago a door closed with a very loud bang, a bang that rang in my ears and shattered my nerves and I thought my life had come to an end. Notice that I did not say my life as i have known it had come to an end, but just my life. I was no longer the Director of the DePaul University Baroque Ensemble, my job being given to a young Queen fresh out of graduate school with little life or teaching experience, but certainly a new energy than what I had brought to the school for 21 years. Then my proposal for a new course called Baroque Performance Practice was rejected by the full-time faculty and I was left with nothing at all at DePaul. No more music. At first there was tremendous despair and a great deal of fear, but in my depression, my sweet 12-Step sponsor David G. took me to something to shift my attention away from the darkness that surrounded me. I went to a rally for children of incarcerated parents and I met two fabulous Queermen, Jim B. and RIcky S., and we became immediate friends. They have been an inter-racial couple for many years, both of them have AIDS. They invited me to lunch in their mobile office and we talked for more than two hours about my life and the needs of the Queermale community as the three of us understood those needs. They were hard Men to talk to because they had so much passion and fire of their own, and they had so much to say, that there was not much time for me to talk really, but talk I did. I talked of my passion and love for Queermen, and how I live in an ancient and mysterious myth, The Myth of the Queerman. They insisted that I had a great deal to say and encouraged me to do something with my journey as a veteran of the Stonewall Riots and a veteran of the AIDS Wars, surviving both with courage and brilliant flames. They told me to make a movie called "Project Elder Wisdom", because they said I had so much wisdom and I was clearly an Elder of the Tribe. They told me I had a responsibility as a Tribal Elder to carry the story, to tell the tale, to speak the Tribal Memory, to carry the rituals and symbols and dreams of a people to the people who had forgotten all those things. This is not the first time I had been told this, but each time I was left with nothing to do except hear those words ringing in my ears with no means of accomplishing my given work. I told them that I knew nothing about making films, but they insisted that the film would get made. A film......a film......I am not a cameraman, an editor, a soundman, an artistic director, a director, a composer. I am a harpsichordist and teacher, a spiritual director, and a Gayman with AIDS who was, at that moment in great pain over losing his vocation at DePaul.
Slowly, something began to grow in me. An energy. A light in that terrible darkness. A flash of insight., and I had a revelation of Biblical proportions. It says in "The Big Book" that "more will be revealed", and that which was revealed was so enormous, it knocked me to my knees as I wept with gratitude for all that my life has been, all its pain and all its joy, all the experiences which had thrown me into pits of despair and on to pinnacles of ecstasy. I would make a film about the AIDS War, told by those who fought it and are still fighting it, Queermen who were diagnosed with HIV in the 1980's and later in the 80's and 90's by AIDS, Queermen exactly like myself. Where would I get the Men? Where would I get the money? Where would I find the support? Where would I find the people I needed to help me get this "Project Elder Wisdom" started? I prayed. I meditated. I listened so hard to my inner voice and felt all the darkness of the rejection by DePaul slip away and a new light that was a primal energy at once both creep and slam into my life until I felt as if I were on a roller coaster, moving from the heights of excitement to the depths of fear, from the ecstatic connection of community to the alienation of loneliness and despair that goes with the creative process.

I knew, I just knew, that everything would come if I just opened myself up to the goodness of God and the Mother, to the Universal source of Love and Light, opened myself up to not just my own possibility but to all possibility. All the possibility of what had been for me just days before an impossible universe, to the most exquisite possibility of Love and God, and possibility of Possibility. Again, slowly, things began to happen, and I spoke to my dear friend Randy J. who is, himself, a documentarian videographer. He spoke with me as if this were not just some pipe dream, but a reality of what was to come. He gave me the name of Yoni G., a camera operator with a tremendous amount of documentary experience, and the triumvirate got formed. I became the Producer/Director and main Interviewer, Yoni the Director of Photography (he jumped at the chance to work on such a project), and Randy the Artistic Director and Production Assistant. Well. The foundation had been laid. Now what??? Money!!!!
We decided to approach Modesto "Tico" Valle, Executive Director of Center On Halsted, the LGBT Community Center in Chicago, our home, to try to elicit his help with the project in whatever way Tico thought that might be possible. I first went to Tico myself and presented him with my very unfocused but passionate vision of Possibility, and Tico's eyes danced with glee. He saw how important such a project could be not just to Chicago, but to the entire country, and I told him of my wonderful film crew and their experience, our individual and collective visions, our powerful commitment, and I wanted more than anything else for him to hear the need in my voice, the need for his support, his love, his guidance in fund raising, his help with networking. I left Tico's office with so much more than I had come in with. I came in with an idea and walked out with reality. I started corresponding with my dear friend Sheldon A. a brilliant Queer Chicago composer who I just knew intuitively could produce a magnificent score for the film, even though I knew he had never written for film before, and even though we had only renewed our friendship just a number of months before after many years of separation and no contact. I just knew that Sheldon would make the perfect partner artistically. After a great deal of correspondence, and a lovely dinner with Sheldon and his partner Terry, and after I told Sheldon what I envisioned in my ear to be the underlying sonic aesthetic of the film, Sheldon enthusiastically said yes.

So, now I had my film crew, my mentor and helper at Center On Halsted and a composer who would write a newly commissioned score for the film. Randy, Yoni, and I put together a line-by-line budget, a treatment plan for the film, a time-line for the making of the film, and I wrote a flyer to be copied by the hundreds that would be placed in medical practice waiting rooms asking for possible film subjects. I also called three nurses who were my nurses in Unit 371, the dedicated AIDS Unit at Illinois Masonic Medical Center during the holocaust of the 1980's and 1990's, and asked each of them if they perhaps had an interest in being part of the project. All three agreed wholeheartedly. Within 14 days of putting out the flyers, we now have eight Men and three nurses.

One of the Men who wants to be in the film, Joe E., said that he had some connections to a medical practice in the suburbs that might be interested in our work and that he would approach them with the workings of the project to see what kind of help they might be able to provide. They thought they could provid us with a great gift, which is the use of their 501C3 not-for-profit status so that those who wish to donate money to the making of the film, who share our vision, can do so and be able to take tax write-offs. This is vital if we are to receive any donations of any kind. This was a pearl beyond price. Today, I bought a website domain for my production company Tribal Elder Productions that will be the company that makes the new film "The Elder Wisdom Project" (working title)

For the past 30 years, Queer People have been the initiates for the world. In the 1980's, just like tribal youth among indigenous peoples, we were removed from the "village" (the larger structure) to go into the forest (the years of illness and genocide) with our Initiators (the medical practitioners and alternative medicine practitioners who helped us live) to learn what it was to enter into our Adulthood. The thing that made this ritual process different from Victor Turner's paradigm of the classic ritual process, was that we had to become our own Elders and teach ourselves Adulthood, because no one from the structure, from the larger community, would come near us to help us. We were the lepers. We were the unclean. In that liminal space of anti-structure we grew up, matured, went from the individualistic, consumerist, materialistic partying unproductive youth of the larger structure, to the compassionate and loving, kind and altruistic people that became a community of peace and non-violence, of care and helpfulness, and we brought our Adulthood back to the structure when protease inhibitors hit the world and we were not in such a powerful liminal space anymore. Death began to subside for the most part and slowly, over the ensuing years, the community of Adulthood began to disappear. We slowly unlearned what we had learned in our time in anti-structure, our time of initiation. We had become again the consumerist, materialistic, individualistic, disconnected people of the larger structure. We were and still are mirroring the old structure again. The film, "The Elder Wisdom Project" will re-member the initiation rites, the ritual process, by re-telling the story of the Death Years, by re-membering the genocide and making it a part of us again, by reminding us of where our Adulthood lies so that we can take it back to the larger structure and bring peace and non-violence to the world through Queer Spirit. This is the purpose of Queer People after all, isn't it?

We are the peace makers, the bringers of non-violence, the connected through compassion and love, through altruism and volunteerism. "The Elder Wisdom Project" will be a vehicle for the in-breaking of our Adulthood, our compassion and love, our kindness and generosity, our concern one for the other. For 90 minutes we will move back into our ritual process, from the structure we have prior to witnessing the film, into the anti-structure brought about through the lived witness of the participants in the film who will bring us back to that place of Great Initiation, that place of anti-struture, and back out after the film into the structure changed and able to change the world for the better, as Queer People are meant to do. God and the Mother have put us here for a purpose, and we cannot carry out that Great Purpose without having gone through the Great Initiation which we did in the 1980's. Only now it is time to re-create the Great Initiation in order that our Adulthood be achieved once again and Queer Spirit can flood the world with love and compassion, kindness and altruism, connectedness-in-community that only God and the Mother can give through Their Great Initiation. The filming has begun. The idea has become an entity. The story is getting re-told, and the Myth of the Queerman grows ever bigger.

Soli Deo Gloria.


  1. Fantastic news, Roger. SDG, indeed.

  2. Wow!
    Your recounting of all these pieces materializing out of the ethers in support of your wonderful project is a testament to the power of Spirit manifesting before our eyes! Reading this has greatly encouraged me in my blogging, writing and other pursuits this week! Thank you-

  3. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I would like to keep in touch to be alerted to your progress.

    I remember all too well the horrific decade and half before protease drugs.

    And you are correct that our community has already begun to lose sight of the incredible nurturing energy we had created amongst ourselves. I hope your project will remind us of what we gain regain if we so choose.

    Best Wishes,
    David Thomas
    Principal Clarinet
    Columbus Symphony
    Columbus, Ohio

  4. I am eager to hear the progress of the project.