Thursday, April 18, 2013

Church, Rogers & Hammerstein, etc.

C and I are going to church now. We’ve settled on the Community Church of New York, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in the east 30s. There are 4 UU churches in New York and we visited all but one (it’s in Brooklyn, and, though none of them are what I’d call conveniently located, I ain’t going to Brooklyn on Sunday morning).

The congregation on the Upper West Side (4th Unitarian Universalist) was more neighborhoody and intimate, and the big church on the Upper East Side, All Souls, is the famous one, with the well-known minister and the amazing choir, but it felt a little fancy to us, a little dress-up churchy. We like the minister at Community Church, I love the building, modernist but all warm brick, and the people we’ve met there, and I like its roots in and commitment to social justice movements (their slogan is, “Our Mission at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist is to grow as a caring, justice-making, anti-racist, diverse, spiritual community.”). And there’s an express bus that goes right from our neighborhood down the east side to get us there in half an hour.

If you haven’t known me long, you probably don’t know that I’m a long-time U.U. Jay and I were members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville and when we left to live in a camper for 2 years it was only possible to make a living on the road because we performed in U.U. churches all over the U.S., not only in concert but we also performed Sunday morning worship services. That’s right, we were bona fide preachers. Our service was called, “Was It a Miracle, or Was It the Lucky Green Dress?” I’m proud of that and proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, a denomination with a long history of activism and free thinking embedded deeply in American culture.

When we started talking about adopting, we started talking about church. I guess it’s a cliché, but think about it. I’ve had my whole life to ponder the big questions, to come to some understanding of how I feel about religion, and “God,” and why so many people around me seem to believe such ridiculous shit, but that understanding was hard won. I want our kid to grow up knowing that it’s possible to live a life according to religious or spiritual beliefs without being an asshole. Not that I wish my parents had been anything but skeptical, Evangelical-bashing humanists, but I do believe it’s good for kids to get a sane introduction to the various things that people believe, and nobody does that better than the Unitarian Universalists. If we’re going to raise a child, I want to be members of a U.U. congregation.

I’m always a little surprised by how unfamiliar people are with Unitarian Universalism. Our good friend who lives across the hall told us that his boyfriend was appalled to find out that C and I are going to church. I sort of understand – he’s Puerto Rican and his understanding of church is “Catholic.” I’d be dismayed too if I found out I was suddenly going to mass on Sunday and praying to Jesus.

What else?

Speaking of anti-racist, C and I watched The King and I Sunday night. Sunday is our old movie date night. For the most part, I’m curating (our first 3 films were Easter Parade, For Me and My Gal, and A Star is Born), but I recently decided it would be okay if C picked the movie one night a month. He chose The King and I. Not sure why, but great choice. It contains my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein song, “Something Wonderful,” which I guess is sort of a tribute to battered wife syndrome but, well, it’s a gorgeous song.

I wish I could link to a clip of the song in the film, but apparently copywrong law is preventing me from it. Sorry. At any rate, here's the song, without the moving image:

C didn’t love it. One, he didn’t like Deborah Kerr/Marnie Nixon’s operetta soprano voice. I’m a total sucker for that voice, so he got no sympathy from me. But he also really zeroed in on how racist the film is. It’s funny because of course it's racist, I know that, but the bigger picture is that Rogers and Hammerstein’s intention, not just in The King and I but in most of their shows, was to be anti-racist. In fact, they chose the stories they chose (South Pacific, Sound of Music, Oklahoma) in order to explicitly challenge assumptions about race, and class, and gender.

Maybe we’ll watch South Pacific next Sunday. I think their anti-racist message was, if maybe heavy-handed, more successful in that show. And it’s a gorgeous film. It was the first big musical I was in, in a community theater production in Indiana, when I was about 14, I was one of the sailors.

Sadly, though the stories and songs are transcendent (okay, maybe not Happy Talk), these films remain products of their time..

There are, however, notable moments, one of which is the Uncle Tom’s Cabin sequence in The King and I, which I think is a fascinating riff on the idea of a 19th century Asian interpretation of a contemporary American woman’s view of African-American slavery. (which, by the way, have you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Great, great novel. Nothing like its reputation. Do yourself a favor.)

What else?

We’re trying out a new schedule, trying something different in the ongoing effort to make time to write. For months I was getting up at 5 a.m. to write for 2 hours before waking C up and getting ready for work. I was getting some writing done but not enough. And it was really, really hard on our relationship to not go to bed together. C was staying up a couple hours later than me and then I’d wake him at 7. I knew I was giving up something I loved -- going to sleep and waking up with C -- but I thought it was a sacrifice I could make in order to have time to write. No ma’am. I won’t speak for every marriage, but for us going to bed together and waking up together are both important. Those conversations we have, curled into each other as we’re drifting off, are vital to the health of our marriage.

So now, my day off is set aside for writing. My “day off” is sacrosanct. No errands, no laundry. I am waking up at 7 with C and staying up till 11 so we can go to bed together.

I used to have Wednesdays off, but I’ve switched to Thursdays for a few weeks. Tomorrow is Thursday so I’ll be writing all day. I’m writing a play, did I say that before? I finished a draft of the first act, but now that I’ve gotten some feedback on it (I showed it to a couple people whose opinions I trust) I’m going to completely change it: the setting, the ending, a lot of other stuff. I can’t wait to get started.