Back Here

Anytime someone asked me what I did for Thanksgiving, my answer was “you mean the ‘Gilmore Girls’ revival?” Actually, anytime anyone has asked me anything for the last two weeks, I have answered in the form of Gilmore Girls. I do not mean talking fast and making references – that is the manner to which I am accustomed – I mean my world has assumed a new shape. And old. Sort of like a pair of jeans you find at a thrift store which are exactly like ones you had years ago that were shrunk in the dryer – shrunk in the dryer that started on fire – shrunk in the dryer that started on fire which became a pyre – shrunk in the dryer that started on fire which became a pyre for jeans you admired* – and so when you get another pair, it’s like going back, but you’re here, and it’s good to be back here.**

Here is Stars Hollow, the town of “Gilmore Girls,” which many viewers have suggested*** would be an ideal setting for “The Twilight Zone,” while seeming to forget that it practically was – in the episode “Walking Distance.” A 1959 Mad Man “living at a dead run” is fleeing Manhattan in his car through the countryside, when he stops at a gas station and recognizes the area is within walking distance of his place of birth, Homewood. At some turn in the route he is transported 25 years ago to his childhood, a place in the summer, with a merry-go-round and cotton candy and band concerts. That atmosphere is very breathable to me. When someone asks where I’m from, I always end up listing several towns, saying “I’m from East Troy. It’s Stars Hollow. It’s Mayberry,” then explaining the reference and/or justifying the comparison with: “We have a square. And a trolley. And a vintage ice cream parlor.” So I understand why the man in “Walking Distance” stays home long enough to realize how much he’s longed for it, only to learn, in his father’s words, that he doesn’t belong. “You’ve been looking behind you,” the father says. “Try looking ahead.”

As a writer, what is behind has always possessed more potential than what is ahead. When I watched the first season of “Gilmore Girls,” I was staying with my sister, a teacher, who had the entire series to that point on DVD. While she was at school, I was getting schooled by the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, particularly in the reference, a hyperspecific metaphor. It was a technique I had observed elsewhere, most notably and obsessively in Myra Breckinridge. The reference uses literature, film, music, history – as coordinates for a specific moment, an X marks the spot, the X a cross, of course, one line being the time you are in, another line being the time of the reference, so you are here and there, the one who knows, who can be asked for directions.

“Gilmore Girls,” now more than ever, acknowledges that it is “never or now.” A vital member in the original cast has died, everyone has aged, and the world of 2016 is not as we remember it in 2000, or 2007, the years when the show premiered and ended. Its creator and sustainers, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, left the original run a season early, due to lack of support from the network. The actors were never certain what the final episode would be. So this is one revival where everybody took Arlen and Koehler’s advice to get happy – and get ready – for the judgment day: this might be the end, more than the might before, and a manic energy, an emotional undertow, shoots through the series like an arrow, to a bull’s eye ending, those famous last four words to which Amy alluded for years. But I didn’t watch for those four words. I watched because, in a small way, it was a resurrection, and I always want to believe in that.

“You hardly ever get a chance, at any point in life, to appreciate the moment you’re in, while you’re in it,” said Lauren Graham, who plays Lorelai Gilmore. “I was just walking around [set] like…’you’re here, and thank you so much for being here’…I was just a freak, I had so much appreciation it was actually very overwhelming and…I’m not a person who cries very easily. I would cry every day.” Graham rightly insists that crying in character is different than crying as yourself, but still, it is not difficult to believe she cried every day; there are so many gradations of grief in her performance. I’ve never seen such a range, in any of Graham’s performances, or anyone else’s. Indeed, for a character and actor renowned as fast-talkers, some of their finest moments in the revival are silent, grounded in truth and floating on emotion.

“Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening,” writes Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline. Foster’s book does not mention “Gilmore Girls,” but surely that is because his most recent revision was 1998? Watching the revival, it was like someone was listening to me and speaking for me, simultaneously, in a rapture of understanding. I was in my sister’s living room, 10 years ago; I was in my parents’ living room next to my sister, now. And when Sam Philips’ song played over the final scene, just as it played over a similar scene in the original series, we wept together. I felt like one of my hands was holding the past, just as the other was holding the present – and even though both were empty, my eyes were reflecting light.

 ~ ~ ~

*Apologies to Rose Bonne, and you. I just couldn’t stop.

**And hear ye, year ye, those who aren’t familiar with the show: become familiar with the show. Start at season 1 and watch through season 6 and skip season 7 – the only season without Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, which was basically Madame Tussaud’s wax figure of Rowan Atkinson, frightening, lifeless and without purpose – and proceed directly to the revival, “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” It’s all streaming across that beautiful banquet hall called Netflix, booked solid with reboots and reunions.

*** James Poniewozik in The New York Times and Todd VanDerWerff at Vox, to name a few who can write.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

When the earth was still flat
And the clouds made of fire
And mountains stretched up to the sky
Sometimes higher
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs
They had two sets of arms
They had two sets of legs
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
So they could watch all around them
As they talked, while they read
And they never knew nothing of love
It was before the origin of love

– this was what Hedwig sang, raising a manhand to her wig. “How’s my hair? Is there trouble in the west wing?” She asked, then pointed to her burly curls. “These are actually my lungs. My Aquanet lungs. They kick in on the high notes. Let’s be serious.”

After being closed down – by an affectionless mother, the Berlin wall, an unsuccessful sex change, a failed marriage and a rock star who stole her songs – Hedwig is opening up. For one night only. Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not: Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Hedwig has traveled from Germany to America, from off-broadway to film. It’s a musical. It’s a soliloquy. It’s a stand up comedy routine. It’s an erector set of sexuality. It’s a wrecking ball of rock’n’roll. In the author/director/star’s note, John Cameron Mitchell says, “The script is, at best, a record of a single evening of a single production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. We deliberately developed it over a number of years in non-theatre venues – rock clubs, drag bars, birthday parties – in order to keep it free-flowing, improvisational, alive.”

Mitchell probably does not remember meeting me – or actually maybe he does – because I shook his hand like I was going to rip it off and attach it to a key chain as my talisman and I said,

“Thank you for giving us a third option: Man, Woman and Hedwig.” It was a line I had rehearsed. It was dead on arrival. I was already eulogizing the experience.

“She’s quite a woman,” he smiled with a tired grace. A smile nonetheless. And then we, the shadowcast, stood in front of his movie, based on his musical, and made it about us. Mirroring the actions, lip-synching the words, feeling the emotions. We didn’t have a mission so we took Hedwig’s: “I must find my other half.”

Once I accepted that my other half was not John Cameron Mitchell, I hosted a search party – in bars, clubs, social networking sites – until I had searched everywhere but home. I came back to my Wicked Little Town of East Troy, Wisconsin and tried to die. And yet back, back, to the Origin Of Love I was drawn, to a God whom, like a celebrity, I knew of, but did not know –

Well, I am completely dilated tonight. And I digress.

So. Once I was home, I had to leave. I found a second home, 45 miles away: Milwaukee.

And it only took 6 years for Hedwig to catch up with me, via Smithereen Productions, a local theatre company.

Their elected Hedwig ambassador was Jordan Gwiazdowski, a young actor with a nose as formidable as his talent. His performance was a tower of strength and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He drew me close and then drew blood – I wanted to give blood – plasma – a heart.

Once I accepted that Jordan Gwiazdowski was not my other half (he was moving after the show closed), I wanted to restart the search party in the usual kinds of places, all of which were within walking distance of the theatre. But I was with a good friend who would not leave me alone until it was too late to do anything but go home.

Days later, I was at my church’s children’s after school program. Kevin, one of the Pastors, who is one of my roommates, until November, when he will become one flesh with Brianna, read from my favorite version of the Bible, the Storybook Bible. “God wrote ‘I love you’ – He wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote His message everywhere! Because God created everything in His world to reflect Him like a mirror…”

That night I got Hedwig from the library, where she was waiting between Heaven’s Gate and The Heiress. Halfway through the film, trapped by a too-close-up, Hedwig looked into the camera. Kevin walked in and looked at her, then at me. I looked from her to him. I searched his eyes and thought about saying something, but I stopped when I heard Hedwig singing –

Know in you soul
Like your blood knows the way
From you heart to your brain
Know that you’re whole