Friday, June 13, 2008

No Guru, No Disciple, Part Two

In the car on the way home, Michael was furious. "How could you ask him that kind of question?" he asked, aghast. "He was nice enough to agree to an interview, and then you go and quiz him on his personal life."

"Quiz him? I asked a seventy-year-old man about gay relationships. I didn't ask for photos of him fucking Don."

"Well, it's none of your business, and you didn't have the right to ask."

"Let me get this straight. We've got a writer prized for his honesty who refuses to discuss homosexuality? His religion centers on unity and oneness, but his experience in life has no bearing on our own? There's been a sexual revolution. We've had gay liberation. And the end result is we still can't talk about sex?"

"Yes," he said. "That's absolutely right."

I tried to back out of our agreement, but even I knew that'd be lame. Michael hadn't promised he'd be civil to me: he'd just agreed that I could go. I typed up the interview, Michael edited it, and then he sent it off to Mr. Isherwood for his approval. A week or so later a reply came back.

Mr. Isherwood had written up a whole new interview, with brand new questions and answers. His version talked a bit about writing but focused primarily on Vedanta. I'd written off that religion. I didn't believe in reincarnation. I didn't believe in one God, let alone vast quantities of them. I was a gay teenager who'd left home at sixteen. I'd spent most of my adolescence on the street, wondering if long-term relationships even existed. To me, and other teenagers like me, the details of an obscure Indian religion weren't foremost in my mind.

Here, however, they was explored in vast detail.

Tell us about the role Vedanta's Five Sheaths of Existences can play in illuminating the unexamined corporeal life.

I flipped through the pages in disbelief. It seemed like every question should have been asked on a hilltop and ended with "Oh Enlightened One." Neither Michael nor I could get through the thing. Maybe it would have been interesting to, say, Dick Cavett, but nobody under forty could have plowed through Isherwood's first reply.

Michael was somewhere between insulted and horrified. He'd spent weeks preparing for the interview: rereading every book, reading every interview, writing up pages of questions. And it wasn't good enough. It didn't rate praise or publication. It had to be tossed out and rewritten by the pro.

The interview was printed the way Isherwood wrote it, and Michael came through with flying colors. Since he hadn't offended the master, he was invited back, and eventually Don drew a picture of him.

Me, I learned a lesson, though it wasn't quite as profound as the ones Mr. Isherwood learns in "My Guru and His Disciple."

Even if someone assures you that their life is an open book, don't risk looking between the covers.


David said...

I love shit like this. Please hold the sanctimony, let's hear about how these people really behave. Thanks for this.

1904 said...

Brilliant. You never cease to amaze me. And I love the last line especially.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mr Isherwood had transcended the need to talk about where or with whom he put his cock. Maybe he found he ‘got off’ on things other than sex. Or maybe he simply found you a little unremarkable? Who cares if you, the interviewer, has no spiritual belief? Isherwood did – and he wanted to talk about it. After all, he was the subject of the interview, not you. If your intention was to somehow ‘find yourself’ through Christopher Isherwood rather than finding out something about your interviewee then you might instead have sought some self understanding on the couch of a psychiatrist rather than pretending to conduct an interview with one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. Your own disappointment in your encounter with Mr Isherwood is like that of a member of the paparazzi who failed to get the money shot of Britney. Think beyond celebrity and let Christopher Isherwood’s words speak across the years – for surely yours won’t. And as for people under 40 not understanding Vedanta (or Isherwood’s interpretation), all you can accurately say is that two people under 40 didn’t. Anyway, thanks for sharing the vacuum between your ears. It adds to the ether of blog crap that floods across the planet like the weak, tepid ooze that is called Starbucks. For Christ’s sake, Isherwoood wrote in and of his own time, when people had a regard for literature. Yes, most people were fairly quiet about their ‘private life’, however we might now look back on their emotional shyness or coyness with some wistfulness. Now everyone’s crotch and heart-pangs can be posted on the web for all to admire. There’s no need to describe anything anymore, just list it. If you don’t believe me, turn on your television or read your own blog. It’s fashionable today to try to knock the great from their pedestals – why not try, instead, to crawl your way onto your own pedestal and perhaps achieve just one thing before you die. And as for one your respondents who, quote, loves ‘shit like this’, he/she/it should so, like, seriously, like, enrol in Literature 101. Or maybe read a book from cover to cover. How cool and awesome would that be?

Anonymous said...

Looks like Mr Anonymous above certainly has regards for his own privacy like Isherwood. Too much space wasted defending his literary idol. I thought what RH asked of Mr Isherwood was reasonable, after all, the interview was for a *school's* *gay* quaterly. The interview was done for its audience, not for the sake of the writer (leave the publicity to his publisher)

RomanHans said...

One small problem with Anonymous, above. If you'll reread part one, you'll realize I wasn't the interviewer, and I didn't work for the paper. I was simply a gay youth who wanted to know about gay life.

In today's NY Times there's an article about how gays are having a hard time with marriage : “Nothing turns out the way you imagine,” Mr. Venter said. “There are no role models for gay marriage.”

Not to mention gay relationships. How many partners should we have? Should our relationships be open or closed? What's cheap? What's prudish? Little Meagan runs to Mom for answers to these questions; little Mitchell runs to Dad. Where does little Bruce go?

Me, I went to a 70-year-old gay scholar. And discovered he was too ashamed to talk about it.

(Now, though, a quick Google will turn up the truth: "[T]he novelist's swami, Prabhavananda, was so reluctant to lose his celebrity disciple that Isherwood was permitted to leap off the various wagons of abstinence whenever he wanted. By 1948 Isherwood estimated that he'd had 400 sexual partners, and throughout the years of Vedanta he continued to make time with young men about as often as he 'made japam,' the meditative recitation of his customized mantra." [])

One purpose of my blog is to tell the truth about (gay) life. We need to move the world away from "We're all heterosexual and monogamous!" to something closer to reality, so those living real lives don't feel (like I did) as though they were doing something wrong.

With this post, too, I'm trying to set a record straight. Maybe, as Mr. Bachardy now claims, they were the only "out" gay couple in Hollywood in the 50s. But it sure didn't sound like it to me when in the 70s Mr. Isherwood would barely acknowledge his relationship in person.

"And as for people under 40 not understanding Vedanta (or Isherwood’s interpretation), all you can accurately say is that two people under 40 didn’t."

Here's where your motive becomes questionable. That's your guess for our ages? Two college students are "under 40"? Obviously your thoughts are a bit truth-challenged too.

(Thanks to 1904 for swaying me from my original closing line: "Put three gay men in a room together, and two are going to get fucked.")

george said...

It seems odd to me that people can be compelled in a comment on a blog to complain about the crap they find in blogs. It seems like denouncing the evils of alcohol with a cocktail in your hand. Or inviting a couple teenaged boys over because you like teenaged boys and then when they ask you about liking teenaged boys you give them a religious lecture. The people I know who loathe TV and lament its low culture content don't own TVs. Those who hate blogs don't read them. And the men who have sex with boys but have transcended the need to talk about it don't invite teenaged boys by to interview them for gay magazines. In fact, they tend to be priests, but that's another matter.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story. Given the timeframe, I would imagine Christopher Isherwood took a formal literary approach to being the subject of the "interview" and felt the need to control what was published about him.

It was a different time after all.

-GØØD MØRNiNG BLU∑Z- said...

This is my first time ever hearing of isherwood or bachardy...and whole 2 part post was something!

Thank You for sharing!