Lift Off: Eric Reads the Week, #33

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

This week I took a break from my life to get in touch with my life.

I spent the week in L.A. at the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat working on my playwriting. I used it as an opportunity to completely step back from all the things that I engaged with every day. David called it gay theater camp, which is adorable and so accurate it's almost redundant. Theater camp is gay, gay camp is theater, and camp is gay theater. Anyway, on the last night of the retreat, as members of my playwriting cohort and I demanded that the DJ at the closing party play "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy and then performed a dramatic lip-sync to it en masse, I decided that David was probably more right than I realized.

This image isn't even from "Rose's Turn." It's from our encore presentation of "Ladies Who Lunch." It was followed by a roof-raising closer of "Don't Rain on My Parade" in which I raced through the crowd, threw the doors open and took off through the courtyard with the comic determination of a young Fannie Brice. Don't invite a bunch of queer playwrights somewhere unless you're interested in drama, honey. DRAMA.

My time away was all of that and more. It was everything. It was a week in a dorm room on a college campus. Like, a twin-size bed! And a roommate. It was wilderness camping DRAMA.

More importantly, it was an intensive week spent with 60 brilliant LGBTQ writers. What was remarkable to me at the end of it was that though we, on group levels and individual levels, talked about politics, identity, race, class, intersectionality and everything else under the sun, I never heard anyone mention the president's name or Mitch McConnell's or anyone else who seems to be taking up all the air in the room. It's weird to call it a vacation, because we were grappling with some of the more difficult things related to be being a queer person in the world and trying to turn them into plays, or poems, or fiction. But it was a break from the reality we so often find ourselves in in which all the news is bad and inarticulate and brings a tiki torch to a terrorist action like some kind of asshole.

It was a chance to be in a new reality, an equally valid reality.

I returned to Philly last night and, this morning, got the chance to meet and have brunch with Megan Carney, the director of the Chicago production of my play, Time Is On Our Side. (About Face Theater, March-April 2018!). She said something that really stuck with me as we talked about the play. She described it as one of those plays that offers an opportunity to transcend a problematized narrative. "It says, 'This is where we are but we don't have to stay here'" she told me. She talked about the characters lifting off as they found new ways to be free, to be more themselves, to be liberated. I love this. I LOVE this. I think "We don't have to stay here" is the siren song of resistance. The song of progress. "We don't have to stay here!"

(That's a GIF of me leaving this place that we don't have to stay. Obvi.)

So much of our news and our understanding of "the world" is weighted by the effects of oppression. We see them in front of us, we feel them on our bodies. But oppression isn't the only narrative. We can exist in a reality that oppresses us and also in a space where we can connect to joy, to progress, to hope. It's a viewpoint that says, "It is this and also it is this." That's what this Lambda experience was for me--it was a chance to say yes, this moment is colored by the threat of nuclear war and a white nationalist in the White House; it is also queer expression, by community-making, by struggle and by the mundane.

On my way back from brunch, I passed some of my favorite South Philly houses. After the election, a lot of row homes started sprouting signs of resistance in their windows. This was surprising to me because I've long held a narrative in my mind about South Philly--working class, largely white, steeped in history--being a less-than-progressive. This is based, partly on experiences I've had (you can get called the N-word by a stranger pretty much anywhere; it's the American dream) and partly on my assumptions of my neighbors.

The signs didn't fit the narrative and I liked that. I LOVED that. It is this and also it is this.

This is my favorite sign:

I walk by it every time I go to the market and I always chuckle because I imagine other versions of the sign that read "Anti-Racist Zone Monday-Friday 8am-6pm" I don't know why but that level of bureaucratic specificity is hilarious to me. "No racism here on Federal Holidays." Oh America. LOL.

Because I was away writing new plays about blackness and queerness and newness and joy, I didn't write any columns this week save for a reaction to the finale of The Bachelorette. At the end of the email, I also included links to the articles I wrote last year this time, about the Olympics, in case you need a break from everything.

I think a break is always valid. It is this and also it is this. And whatever it is, we don't have to stay here.

Is Love Alive? Processing The Bachelorette Season 13 Finale

The two dog-lovers with teeth gaps argued once again over Peter’s desire to have a normal courtship despite the fact that both of them went through a very lengthy audition process and signed a massive number of legal documents so that they could appear on a show that could be called Black Tie Speed Dating. Peter decided that the hill he would die on was the “I won’t be pressured into proposing” one. Which, fine. That’s a great hill. Again, you’re on a television show called Proposal Pressure Cooker so maybe read the room. [READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE]

Did you hear me on Jonathan Capeheart's "Cape Up" podcast last week?
Here's the WaPo link with a short write-up and a link to the podcast
And here's a direct link to the podcast on SoundCloud

From the vault...

Game of Simones: Rio Recap Day 6

"Today, I don't want to hear or talk about anything if it doesn't have the word Simone in it. My favorite television show is Game of Simones. Into old skool jams? DJ play "Crossroads" by Simone Thugs-n-Harmony." [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Living Your Best Life, Olympics-Style: Rio Recap, Day 4

Quiet down, America! The Raismans are sleeping! Use your inside voice. Or, if you're reading this silently, use your inside interior monologue. Incept yourself. After literally not shutting their eyes in the four years since the end of the London Games, the Raismans can finally relax because Aly Raisman and the Final Five took home Gold medals last night. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Random thing from the internet...

My friend and writing buddy Anna Goldfarb published another piece in the New York Times this week, about couples choosing not to have kids. It's phenomenal--personal, wise, intriguing. I treasure our writing dates and I love her writing. I know you will, too.

Have a transcendent week,