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New Year’s Madness

Leonardo Ricardo/Len Clark: Feastival pot.

Leonardo Ricardo: Feastival pot.

There are times I am astonished at my own greatness.

Isn’t that the most ridiculous line you’ve ever read?

I want this essay to explore what it’s like to wake up one day and find yourself with talent.

A million people have that experience; “Hey, I’m Peyton Manning.” Or Julie Andrews, Barack Obama or Yo-Yo Ma.

Then they get up and go to the bathroom, the same as you or me.

Isn’t life crazy? You’re Frank Lloyd Wright, and then you get up to take a leak.

How do they stay sane? I do not know.

Of course I’m not Julie or Barack or Peyton. I’m not even Leonardo Ricardo, who is a certified genius and all his friends know it.

I’m not Stephen Helmreich. He’s the actual genius I’m closest to, and he’s so much smarter than I am it’s not funny.

But I am Josh, and that is good, and hello, 2013.

Think about “the hardest-working man in show business.” Who is that to you? Sammy Davis, Rich Little? The term has been applied to several performers.

What it actually means is “He’s not that talented, but he uses all he’s got.” They try to express their total admiration, “Look at how good this guy is!”

But “Everyone’s a genius on Skid Row.” A social work supervisor told me that in 1984 at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I didn’t much like her, but I’ve always remembered what she said.

Using what you’ve got, instead of peeing it away, is the name of the game.

“I’m John McEnroe! I’m Diana Butler Bass! I’m (fill in the blank)!”

Fame is public recognition that a person has talent and uses it, in public.

That takes courage, to do your thing in public; Emily Dickinson was very, very lucky. She was private, but she managed to attract a few devotés who loved her poetry and made her well known. Without them, I’d have to come up with a new example for Ms. Dickinson. In her lifetime she wasn’t famous at all.

But a few key people recognized she was a soul of uncommon beauty. So they talked her up and now we know her name.

Fame is happenstance. I bet right now you can name a hundred people in your life who are all-stars.

Few of them are famous, though. The set of people who are {famous} ≠ those who are {talented.}

Fame itself is not a thing one ought to pursue. (Kim Kardashian is pregnant! Who exactly is Kim Kardashian?) The person who is wise as well as talented pursues her talent, not her fame. She can’t help it; Susan Boyle was born with that voice, and she has to sing.

She would die if she could not; the people on Skid Row have voices but prevented themselves from singing.

God makes more talent than “men” make famous.

It’s kind of a scary thing. But then you look at a bowl by Leonardo Ricardo and just go, “Wow.”

How did he do that? And why? “It takes so much patience,” that pointilism of his. He’s in fucking Guatemala; who gets famous in Guatemala? But the place is teeming with talent, apparently.

He doesn’t need to be famous; he’s famous among his friends, and that is good enough.

If someday he becomes actually famous, won’t that be a joy. (Or not; it can go wrong.)

I do not know why I am not famous – except that I come from a particular place, which might as well be Guatemala, and I’ve never pursued fame, especially compared to Kim Kardashian, and “talent” I think probably seeks its own level and finds it.

If, years later, you go back and watch Susan Boyle’s introductory video on “Britain’s Got Talent,” you’ll see that whatever she lacked in looks, she made up for in chutzpah. She walked out on that stage prepared. She knew what her talent was, and that if she could get a chance to sing, she could bring down the house.

They gave her a chance and she brought it down. Instant worldwide fame.

Most of us don’t know what she’s done since, but she’s still got that voice inside her body. She still can make, and always will make, that sound.

I’m no Susan Boyle. I don’t even carry Doug Blanchard’s water. I’m just Josh, and that’s pretty good.

I’m happy with my life, this first day of 2013. I’m singing. It’s what my body needs to do, so I’m doing it.

What prompts these musings? Why am I yammering on here? Several things which fuse in my mind.

• I looked over ten days’ worth of posts from dailyoffice.org. This is the public performance I’m best known for now; Morning and Evening Prayer, plus graphics I select, with an occasional prayer of my own composition. I’m happy with my posts, with the art and little comments. It’s some beautiful stuff, and my site’s had two million visitors. I like what I’ve done, and I’m pleased to have a following. Every day, a thousand people get e-mails with my stuff. It’s mostly about God and not about me, but people sign up because, well, I deliver them God.

Leonardo does too; Stephen and Doug and Diana and Grandmère, Robert and Malcolm and Sara. We all do this; we all deliver God, which is a really fun thing to do.

But the other day some friend of Leilani’s posted a hurtful comment. She re-posts my stuff on Facebook for her followers, but FB gave her trouble with the link, which she mentioned in frustration, and some guy wrote, “Go to Mission St. Clare, it’s much better!”

That’s the competition, and no, it isn’t better. It’s run by a machine and not a person. But it’s good, and I’m happy to acknowledge it – because God is good, who you kiddin’? – and anything or anyone who delivers God is doing right. Still, I wondered if that guy knew how hurtful his Christian comment was. “Josh is bad, St. Clare is much better!”

Oh yeah? Sez who?

• I put out a book last fall, The Gospel According to Gay Guys. It’s extremely long, starts out with graphic Gay sex, and it’s not going to make me famous, but I’m proud of it. It distills everything I think I know.

It’s sold enough to pay my electric bill for a few months, and my genius friend Stephen raved about the first couple of chapters he read before life made him put it down. I was pleased by his excellent reaction.

This book has one reader-review on Amazon. It’s one star; I haven’t read it. I just know the person hated it.

I do have the ability to piss people off. Usually I don’t even know when I’m doing it; I make a simple statement, some truth that is evident to me, but whammo, I’m in big trouble.

The few times that Jack, my late beloved done-me-wrong, raised his voice to me, I rushed to stop what I was doing in the latest pissoff. But I can’t do that with strangers, and even Julie Andrews ain’t gonna win ’em all.

• Some part of me is glad I have that pissoff factor. The same thing led me to march for Stonewall in 1974, when sidewalk gawkers outnumbered Pride participants; in 1980, when I led a student rebellion at college; in 1982, when I founded AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, the world’s second-oldest AIDS services organization. Prophets get stoned; I’m proud of my battle scars.

But I don’t like bad reviews, when I’m trying to deliver you God here.

• I’m engaged today in a mini-debate on The New York Times website. They ran an article about Lincoln and Walt Whitman, part of their Civil War series. I commented on Lincoln’s Gay sensibility, which I see dimly between America’s Poet and America’s President. This got some Likes, as well as a chorus of dissenters. A hundred and fifty years later, after three states have voted in Gay marriage, Lincoln’s hetero defenders still turn out in force. That’s fine, I’m not surprised by this, but it does get old after awhile. I don’t claim the fact that he slept in the same bed as other guys while circuit-riding in the wilderness proves he was Gay; for that I look to his relationship with Whitman, distant but respectful. Those two loved each other, but America still doesn’t want to hear it.

God cannot possibly be Gay.

• But God is Gay to those of us who are, and Straight to those who swing the other way, and female if you need her to be; Jewish, Arab, Christian, Black and utterly Japanese. What else would God be but Black or Japanese?

I do not whine; I’m not famous and never will be. Some people hate my books, my sites and my life. Some people like them, too, and for that I’m very glad. They enable me to keep singing by their belief.

Leonardo, down in volcanic Guatemala, keeps on making his bowls and pots and tables and entire house with pointilistic perfection, and if you ain’t been there it’s your tough luck. His doggies snuggle up; he’s got a Juan Carlos, too. The garden blooms, the feasts get made and he lives happily ever after.

Not famous, just talented. Happy New Year.++

To Luke I'm the center of the universe - or at least the guy with crunch food twice a day.

To Luke I’m the center of the universe – or at least the guy with the food twice a day.

4 Responses

  1. You make me happy (and sometimes you make me think harder than I wanna — or even can!)…today, we just had one of the feasts. Nine people came to our garden and Juan Carlos grilled Guatemalan type steaks (flank steaks with great sesonings marinated for three daze)…it’s a lovely, and another, 1st day today of so many everyday instigated things…think of it Josh, just think of it, you bring such insight to so many in so many different ways…you even surprise me with observations that are especially kindly/wise about me…I’m content, I’m plugging along and painting each day with a song in my heart (and endless replays of fascinating memories dancing in my head)…thank you for sharing about/with me. I love you, You are my brother, my friend, my accomplice, another best ideal of spiritdriven commaraderie. I really like it when you tell ¨the rest of the story¨ whenever it occurs to you what IS, actually needs further inspection. Mil gracias, all is well, Feliz año nuevo to you and Lukenstein, Leonardo Ricardo/Len

  2. BTW. Juan Carlos is in the kitchen doing the dishes (no housekeeper today) — sometimes I am shocked by the amount of good luck/love that comes my way. Un gran abrazo, Len

  3. Luke is Kewt!

    Yeah, I’ve got the Piss-Off Factor, too (in spades). God must have *some* use for it (though it’s not to make me rich or popular, obviously…)

  4. I agree with you, tgflux, that boy’s full of kewtness. But that also brings up a story.

    When I decided to open my home to an animal, I searched and searched for a fox terrier or his cousin, a rat terrier; these are the breeds I grew up with. They’re little, and sweet as apple pie, and though they were common in my childhood they’re rare today. People want designer dogs as status symbols. Rat and fox terriers are working dogs; commonly they lived in barns and kept out rodents. But they’re also great in the house and wonderful with kids.

    I don’t buy pets from stores at the mall. So four times I drove to dog pounds, and even searched online in Chicago. After many false starts, I finally found Luke at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. He was shy when I met him, but I knew he had a heart of gold. Then something got said as they were “wrapping him up.”

    He has a bit of an overbite; occasionally when he shuts his mouth, one of his teeth stays visible, as you can see in this photo. Yes, I saw it when I was getting him – but the Humaners were relieved that I was willing to take him despite this “flaw.”

    It was only a small comment, but it taught me that in the dog business, any defect in the Cute Department can get a guy killed. People want beauty (and after all, he cost me $110, even at a non-profit), so the staff person praised me for taking him. (The Humane Society of Indianapolis has a fantastic operation; they helped rescue this boy from the streets.)

    Gee whiz, they’re relieved to get rid of him. Every day I tell him what a pretty boy he is – the photo shows why – and every day he does his best to please me. He quickly learned my habits; he never complains or barks indoors; he knows I don’t want him underfoot when I’m setting down his food dish, so he waits patiently on the rug under the sink until I move away. Then he runs!

    I love this dog. He was three years old when the Humane Society of Kokomo found him run over by a car – and his streetsmarts show once in a while in his behavior. We’ve had our ups and downs.

    But there is never a time I don’t think about him, and never a time he doesn’t think about me. He’s a genius at being Luke; he’s got talent.

    Once Susan Boyle got cleaned up, with a decent dress, a hairstyle and some makeup, she perhaps is more acceptable to people in her professional singing career; good for her, may she have every success. Or maybe she has an overbite; I don’t know.

    The beauty within comes out in her voice; it comes out in Leonardo’s dishes and chairs and feast days. It comes out in my writing – and it comes out in yours, too.

    Are we perfect? No. If I were in the dog pound I doubt anyone would pay a dollar ten (even if I had all my shots). But I found Luke because talent knows talent, and that kid’s worth a million bucks.

    Doggy’s got talent. Yippee!++

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