❀ CLICK on a photo if you want to see it in larger size. ------- I may call myself a Blue Elephant at times, but, in a larger sense, only as a part of The Blue Elephant that is our sense of sharing the same atmosphere on earth.
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Monday, May 14, 2012
George Birimisa, 21 February 1924 -- 10 May 2012
It will take a while to assimilate that George
Birimisa is dead. He is not the kind of
person who just dies in your life; he’s one of the ones who may pass into your
personnel pantheon, that “eternal” place that poets imagine as a repository for
all that seems “best” to them: In other
words, he may move into my Blue Hotel, the place name for my eternal space, a
name borrowed from the short story by Stephen Crane about a blue hotel set on
the wide plains. The Crane in the name
of the author of “The Blue Hotel” evokes the presence of some great white
crane, from a myth, hovering over the Blue Hotel like Montana skies. A gathering number of the many people we have
known, and been touched by, and reprimanded by linger on after their deaths,
but only a few take up residence in your blue hotel, or whatever the name of the place you imagine as
a residence for those who remain present and real in spite of being dead.
taken countless photographs of George, and have written descriptions of George
– a request George made of various people more than once – and, because
George’s Primal Rule for all writers was “Be honest,” I presented a candid
“Portrait of George,” when he requested it, among others, for the published
book of his plays, and I think I cannot add much to that portrait. As someone in his writing group for many
years, I remember that while each member was undoubtedly changed by personal
growth and by our interpersonal experience as a longstanding group, we also
watched George’s changes, as he moved from darker to lighter inner spaces. While a good writing class is not intended
for psychological therapy, George’s nature reminds me of Jung’s rule for
therapists, that unless the therapist is going through a personal change at the
same time as the client, therapy is not happening. George’s primary writing precepts, repeated over
and over, were (1) Write with total honesty (without that, there is no “life”
in a piece; (2) Writing needs conflict, conflict, conflict – internal,
external, whatever. The importance of
the two simple sentences were demonstrated more and more clearly over time.
The writing group could be wildly changeable in
temper but we were also a group physically on the move from one eccentric
location to another until we found haven in the new LGBTQ Center. All the while, George was the shepherd who
guided and found refuges for his flock of sensitive writers. George proved the notion of positive
reinforcement, and we all learned from him how to provide feedback as
questioning and suggesting, not criticism.
Of course, there were a few times when the group was less inspiring,
but, more often, we felt its exuberance as we inspired each other. George’s group also represented my return to
a gay community after some years of alienation, and it was a gentle re-entry so
that self-acceptance as a gay coincided with progress as a writer. The awful edge you may feel as a man among
other men in a group, ever prepared for competition, is too sharp for you to
sink into the state where creativity exists, and George encouraged a
non-threatening brotherhood (although I admit that I think the presence of one
heterosexual woman was a modifying element).
And there were a few emotional explosions (I lift my hand as one of the
guilty), but I will remember the quiet moments of recognition that pass between
creative people as we see our way through, even when our creative efforts take
us through a dark place.
Selfless with other people, George could also
appear to be a self-absorbed egotist, his clothing always in some sense also a
costume in which the actor could perform offstage as well as on, but his sister
Easter reminded me that, being totally neglected during his childhood, he had
an unabashed hunger for recognition and attention – oh, but I suppose that IS
theater. And theater, that social
collaboration, was his most precious gift to this lonely poet. The selfless leader fed a bit of social
confidence to this student.
George liked a scene I wrote, and asked me to
expand it for an afternoon where writers contributed work on a theme of
intergenerational communication within the gay community. Then George kept asking me to add more to
the scene, then, logically, revealed how that required more scenes, and soon it
was a one-act play, Turning, with me learning from George what had been
missing and why each new element was needed to make it a play – learning to
write a play while it is being prepared for performance (but I guess there is a
lot of that in the theater also).
And then George was there, selflessly serving the
play through the whole process, from the auditions and selection of actors, and
then in the many nights of rehearsals where I watched George refrain from
“directing” until the actors were becoming comfortable with their parts. Then he directed the play as someone with a
lifetime’s experience of theater.
The play was one thing, but the process of doing
it was a rich personal experience for me, although it was painful to be
wrenched out of my solitude and the habit of withdrawal, so that it was a sort
of awakening, starting with a sense of “miracle” on the day when the flat
characters on the page stood up from the
page and entered the room, thanks to the actors, and I was no longer the
solitary writer but part of that group process that is theater: creativity as a group experience, not
something you may pursue only in solitude and loneliness.
I could go on at much greater length about my
“virginal” experience of the theater, surprised as I witnessed what
professional actors do to prepare, etc., but that exposition is for those with
a great deal more experience – I only hope to write another play (that is,
wrestle with another I have written), and come close again to the religious
rites of theater.
Thank you, George – and I am tempted to add,
“Damn you, George,” which George would understand.
George on Wikipedia: