Try a Little Tenderness
Written from our farmhouse outside Iowa City on a snowy fall morning, November 12, 2019.
My first year officially producing live performance, we devised and mounted five shows. The Scooty and JoJo Show will live forever as one of the wildest, funnest, most satisfying ventures of my turns around this planet. Scooty just recently reminded me that we had been dreaming of this for a while - producing cabaret performance with my big-headed church puppets that I had saved from a Southern Baptist mission center in Detroit on our way moving from Seattle to New York City. You see, I met this charming man in Seattle just as I was coming out in my mid-20s. I wanted to party and let my hair down, having hidden in the shadows for most of my youth for fear of being found out and to maintain my abuser’s well-being. I wanted to get it out of my system so I wouldn’t have a midlife crisis later in life when there was more to lose. So, I was moving to New Orleans or New York City. The fact that I could have a guide and kick-around pal as fun as Scooty sealed the deal - to New York we go. And on the way across coasts, I reunited with my puppets. Maybe that was when I started plugging in the chords of my life, bringing me to this wholeness and this curiosity of how we might mend tears in our cultural fabric. But I digress.
The first year of The Scooty and JoJo Show, we made one storyline of Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, positioning Molly Ringwald as the star of the show and using the iconic songs from those movies as musical numbers. I got to play Ducky. As a big-headed church puppet. Scooty had written the book and included the scene in the record store where Ducky performs Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” with his body. I was committed to pulling that off. I am of the school of puppetry where the puppeteer should be hidden and the puppet made to feel like a whole, sentient, unique being. That meant crouching while I danced, connecting both arm rods, and sliding across the floor. (One time, I slid right off the stage...and didn’t miss a beat.) Those were the days!
I was reminded of the joys and dream fulfillment those days represented. Scott’s show Packing opened in Chicago this last week. It’s his memoir piece of growing up queer in Iowa, moving away and not being from Iowa, then returning home. It’s an epic, beautiful testimony to the bravery, resilience, honesty, and integrity of my favorite artist, person, and husband. (The rest of my husbands are much too dull.) It was hard watching my husband get beaten and mocked. It was harder to hear the nasty voice in his head - the antagonist of the play. It hurt partly because it sounded like me at my most nasty. And I can be nasty. It was the first thing Scott asked of me in our relationship - to curb the anger and soften the tone.
Had I been more tender
Had I held him longer
Had I listened more deeply
And so, I set out to offer more tenderness - to Scooty to JoJo to my niblings to loved ones to clients to strangers to everyone. I want to help us remember that each of us could use a little more tenderness in our lives. I want to especially be in service to the youth who are misfits. The queerdos - creatives, queers, and weirdos. To the ones who feel so strongly they don’t fit that they wonder about their worthiness to be their natural, authentic, unique being. I want to surround them with angel networks of people who say, “Yes, you are so worth it that I want to stand behind, beside, or before you, whether you need back-up, a sidekick, or protection. You tell me what you want, and I will do what I can to be there for you.” I want to travel to the country, the city, and stop in the ‘burbs along the way. So many of us want to be there for these misfits and don’t know how. I want to figure out how to link people to those they care about and find consensual, mutually supportive systems. I want to help us be the sunlight from this poem by St Thomas Aquinas and presented by Daniel Ladinsky in “Love Poems from God.”
did the rose
ever open its heart
and give to this world all of its beauty?
it felt the encouragement of light against its being,
otherwise we all remain too