Friday, July 29, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 42: Writing about the students covered with sores and being ignored

I was beginning to have such reservations about writing anything for Ghiselin that could possibly impress him I wondered if I should not major in theater after all, with English as my minor so I could teach both.  I had learned that Ghiselin was married and with children, but he just seemed too unacceptably remote to female writers.  I felt that Sharon was never going to get through to him, and probably neither was I, as brilliant a poet as he unquestionably was.  He was as hard to decipher as his poetry, he seemed beyond my reach. I hated to give up on Ghiselin but something soon happened with Laurence that did convince me to declare my major in theater rather than English. 
I was having to take some education classes, too, required to teach high school, which were very uninspiring.  Laurence sympathized with me as he had taken them, too, even though he was going to get his masters and said he was planning to teach at the college level if he was able to secure the opportunity.  I wondered if that was why he was interested in talking to a bookish student like me.  Was he thinking that a connection to a wife might make finding opportunity easier? And he might be able to tolerate one who read books better?  There still had not been one spark between us!
I found out all too soon that he did indeed have this in mind, as after several meetings, he told me he wanted to tell me a secret that he did not want me to tell anyone. Since Sharon was the one who had introduced him to me and was the only person at the University we both talked to I assumed he meant especially not to tell her.  Then he said that he was in love with me!  I was dumbfounded.  He had never touched me and showed no signs of ever wanting to.
I immediately recalled what I thought was rather a bad dream I had had about him about a month before.  I dreamed that he held his hand out to me and when I looked at him again I saw the face of Lucifer. The dream ended with me now hesitant about taking his proffered hand. 
I didn't care what he had tried to make me promise I told Sharon what he said as soon as I saw her.  I could see that she was also very disturbed by his declaration of love for me.  Especially when I said that he was not attracted to me.  She was afraid for me too, but I assured her that I had to have a man that was wildly attracted to me, so there was no danger of me becoming dangerously confused by what he had said to me, not like that other girl must have been.
I made up my mind for sure then that I could not make English my major.  Ghiselin would be my most important mentor as a would be writer. And he was sure to upset and disappoint me just as Laurence was doing. 
That spring I also read a short story Laurence had written, published in the student literary magazine Ghiselin mentored.  It was about feeling guilt over a sacrificial lamb.  I thought at once that I had been the sacrificial lamb he had in mind! 

I thought if Lees, head of the theater department, proved to be a disappointment, too, at least I would have fun doing plays and performing.  I had not been able to get another role in big productions after the plum one in "The Great Aunt Sits on the Floor" which I hoped the actors did not remember, as I did not want to be identified with an old lady.
I did, however, try out for the leading role in "The Mad Woman of Chaillot" during my sophomore year.  I thought she would be an ideal part of me to play.  Lees however cast his wife in this role, but asked me to work on the production to fulfill one of my requirements in theater.  I played a bit part and did some tech, walking home at night after rehearsal to my convenient room at the Phi Mu house.  I also got to observe very closely Lees' relationship with his wife whom he all but ignored.  She reflected his lack of interest in her acting I thought by giving a very uninspired performance.  The only person he worked with was a young comic who was so good that he seemed to be a lot of fun for Lees.

I had by then found out that nearly every teacher in the theater department had benefited from roles Lees had given them in his productions.  He appeared to be keeping everyone happy by throwing them a bone now and then in the form of a part. They talked about these parts in their classes. It was no wonder there were few left over for the students, who would be here today and gone tomorrow.
One of my speech teachers did the big Shakespeare parts whenever Lees could not secure a Broadway or Hollywood actor.  I was very conscious of this teacher's voice, which he seemed very proud of, but I always found it annoying when an actor relied too heavily on velvet voice tones and not enough on thinking through the role.
I did not even like Orson Welles in MacBeth who Lees had been able to persuade to come to the university my freshman year.  He was just too Orson Welles in the part, I thought.
On the other hand I got extremely excited about the intense acting of a war veteran named H.E.D. Redford, who I thought out acted them all.  Everyone was mesmerized with H.E.D whenever he appeared on stage.  You could not only understand what words he was saying, but you could also take in the meaning which I thought happened all too seldom in Shakespeare plays.  I had been to plays where it was almost impossible to decipher what anyone was saying through all the bombast.  However, if every Shakespeare play had been performed by actors of H.E.D.'s caliber it would have been a different story.

I was unfortunate enough to be cast in a one act play by Saroyan chosen by Miss Utah that year for her student production. She went on to become Miss America by virtue of her performance of a speech out of Shakespeare.  I heard it on television and thought she was of the hammy actress school, but it appeared that the judges were so impressed with a beautiful contestant who would attempt such a difficult feat that they awarded her the grand prize.  She was a tall striking beauty who reminded me of my beautiful cousin Cheryl more than anybody.
But I knew Miss America's limitations because she had previously directed me to perform in her production in that hammy style she favored.  I tried my best to please her in rehearsal but in the performance I reverted to my more naturalistic style.  She watched me very closely and hissed at me when I came off stage, "You didn't act the part as I directed you! I would never use you again!"
She and I both tried out for the part of Cleopatra in Shakespeare's play.  I thought it was a foregone conclusion that she would win the role.  She strode about the stage in glorious fashion but I doubt if anyone understood a word she was saying, as she acted the part clear to death, and nobody was able to stop her.
So I could see that Lees was old and tired and even sick and the actors pretty much acted the way they wanted to in his plays now days.  He had given another choice Shakespeare role in King Lear to his wife and she had not been very inspiring in that role either, so I figured that she more or less demanded these roles which he for some reason kept giving to her.  I had so far not seen any sign that he was particularly attached to any male actors as Archie had not yet come along.
Another theater student did point out to me an older male actor she said had been around acting for Lees in Shakespeare plays a long time.  He looked as though he would have been perfect in a part like Iago. He had a wife and six kids, she said, but he was still to put it delicately 'decadent'.  I assumed this meant that he was suspected of being homosexual, but I did not blink at this information since I was used to men who married and had children without letting it interfere with their decadent ways.
Perhaps the most disturbing fellow who had been one of Lees' acting proteges was a professor everyone called Robert. He was simply a sadist.  There is no other way I can put it.  He proceeded to try to break down a male friend of mine in class who seemed helpless to defend himself.  His object seemed to be to make him cry.  I took it as long as I could and then got up and walked out.
I was forced to go back, however, as I was only a sophomore and could not complete a theater major without taking more of his classes.  He was supposed to teach the first play writing class the University was going to offer in my junior year, and I couldn't miss that.  But I doubted very much if he and I would ever get along again.  Such men are apt never to forgive a slight no matter how they might treat others, and he proved to be one of them. 
He had also been hired to do the experimental theater-in-the round and it was said was going to produce some original plays including some of his own. Lees gave him plum roles, but Marilyn, my most knowledgeable informant about the university theater world, said that the woman Robert married had suffered a nervous breakdown and was still in a psych ward as far as she knew.  That was rather stunning news, as I had thought that Robert was clearly the most outwardly gay of all the professors who might be in hiding.  He seemed the most bitter about the need for subterfuge, I had thought.
I was prepared to sympathize but I could not take his meanness.  I thought hiring him had been a mistake no matter how brilliant he was. He was too embittered and disturbed to be teaching the young without damaging them someway. 
I knew he would never cast me in a part just because of that one protest.  I could not take sadism.  No, I couldn't, but the worst upset I experienced in my sophomore year was in Lee's Introduction to Theater class, required for theater majors, during my last quarter that year.  He asked us along toward the middle of the quarter to write something personal about ourselves.  As I started to write I thought that I would take a chance on Lees.  Indeed I could not keep from writing what I did.
I wrote that the students at this somewhat fictional university I made it sound like were all covered with sores, but nobody paid any attention and acted as though they were all perfectly normal.  My point was that no matter how abnormal anyone acted in school, this was not going to be acknowledged by anybody.  I was thinking that the professors might exhibit sores, too, which Robert had certainly done in his theater class, trying to make a male student cry.  But nobody tended to respond to signs of mental disturbance in the professors either, let alone the students.  I could just imagine Robert going through college covered with sores which nobody addressed, and then being hired to teach, still covered with sores that nobody addressed.  It was the way students had always been treated.  So how could they not help but end up as professors who were shockingly disfigured with running sores, too?
Lees did not return my paper when he returned the others and asked me to come to his office.  When I got there he pushed my paper across the desk to me and said, "I can't grade this paper.  This is not what I asked for."  I thought he sounded quite plaintive.  Why was I creating problems for him?
I took the paper and said, "That's all right."  I meant that he could fail me but I was not going to offer to rewrite it.  If he was going to be that careful not to ask me what this was all about!
He gave me a B at the end of the class, so I guess he decided he would not fail me because I refused to rewrite the paper.  Well, poor man, there were still rumors going around that his ulcers were killing him and he might have to retire.  Perhaps it was understandable why he just ignored the gauntlet that I must have appeared to have thrown down.  I wondered what he would have done if I had revealed a deep stab wound on my body somewhere.  Looked the other way as I bled my way out the door? 
I could still go on a while I thought.  But I was going to have to get out the fact that I had been molested in childhood and concealed it, not once but twice, while I was still going to college.  I needed to have as many people as possible who might help with my cause.  I desperately needed to have more people aware, for I feared my father too much not to try to get a whole army of supporters.  I just did not know how I was going to go about surfacing the facts in these events in which my father was involved, as part of the reason the men targeted me.
I felt I was seeing intrigue of a similar sort here at the university, and in this theater department. I suspected Lees of leading a somewhat double life just as my father had always done, but he was no longer active, so I could not point to any current behavior that seemed to damn him.  But that paper was meant to break through his defenses if possible.
I meant to call him on his behavior and any college professor's who favored young males unduly over females while married and presenting respectability and family to the world.  I did not have a chance at this university for a fair assessment of my talent or intellect when being taught by such professors.  Heterosexual professors favored males enough without married homosexual ones who felt forced to marry because universities would not hire openly gay professors. If a male heterosexual professor had been a womanizer, ogling and favoring certain female students, his behavior would have been unacceptable, so what was different about a married bisexual professor favoring appealing young males?
No wonder Robert was bitter.  And no wonder his wife had suffered a nervous breakdown not long after marrying him.  He seemed to be saying with every angry word he resented what he had to do to be hired to teach at a university no matter how brilliant or creative he was.
Well, I did not expect Dr. Lees to talk to me about all this, but I was serving him notice that I had something on my mind that went a lot deeper than what he wanted to read in a paper.  The truth.  Why not the truth.  Oh, no, more lies and coverup was what he was really asking for.  Well, I had had enough of writing to please the professors.  And society.
I had a plan in mind I was going to carry out in my junior year after I thought about Lees' reaction to my paper.  Why didn't I just write the truth as I saw it in every class.  Treat all my professors with the same dose of truth I had written for him.  I needed to write from the state of mind I had reached after years, an eternity, of covering up to protect men like my father, who Utah society could not bear to acknowledge were practicing bisexuals.  The religion was too dominating in Utah for one thing.  Acceptance of gays and bisexuals too abhorrent to the Mormon faction.  No, they needed to be either cured or persecuted into leaving or they needed to go on covering up.  That was their solution.
Yes, a university greatly needed to debate this question, so I thought that in my junior year I would make my contribution to the cause and see what happened!

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