Thursday, November 02, 2006

La Maison De Vil

Deliberate cruelty is not forgiveable.

That's what Blanche Dubois says to Stanley Kowalski just before he rapes her. She speaks not of the heinous act which is about to befall her, for she is not aware of what is coming. Instead she is commenting on the behaviour inflicted upon her by a man who has purported to love her but who, for complicated reasons mapped out in the play, has changed his mind, his point of view; changed his heart.

How do we change our hearts? I understand changing your mind. You think, either reasonably or unreasonably, about an issue and you make the choice to alter your viewpoint, your opinion, your reaction. If you think one way, it is possible to to think another. So changing your mind seems a perfectly natural act in our day to day lives. How, though, do we changed our hearts? How is it possible to stop loving someone, that fast? How is it possible to stop liking someone, in a moment's notice? The heart is only an organ inside our bodies, yet it seems the most powerful force within these bodies, able to override rational thinking and lead us in ways that no other person, no other force, can.

"I don't love you anymore. Goodbye." So says Plain Jane Jones in CLOSER. Moments earlier, she loved Dan. He did something that snuffed out the light within her and in the time it takes to walk out the door, change his mind about going for cigarettes, and walk back in, she has changed her heart.

"I don't love you anymore. Goodbye."

Is it an act of cruelty to say, with such bluntness, that you have changed your heart? Was it an act of cruelty for Mitch to turn the mirror around on Blanche and point out, to her, her fatal character flaws? What is cruelty? According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, cruelty is the quality or condition of being cruel and cruel is defined as 'disposed to inflict pain or suffering'. Suffering is not the same, from one man to the next. Every person's pain is different. If someone's pain is being told by their loved one that they are no longer loved, is that honesty or cruelty? What if the way to inflict pain upon a person is to, simply, criticize the way they look in their favourite outfit? Would a best friend be considered cruel if they told someone 'that outfit is very unflattering on you'? Or are they being a good friend by not letting you go out of the house in a humiliating state of dress? How about this? A man collects first edition novels. He searches desperately for a novel by his favourite author and the novel is hard to come by. A friend who also collects books of this nature has one and acquires a second one. He opts out of giving the second book to his friend. What adjective would you attach to this behaviour? Would the adjective change if he kept the volume to himself, quietly; or if he bragged to the friend about having two? Would the adjective change, again, if you knew that the man who wanted the novel rarely exhibited any acts of generosity toward his friend, the man who had the two books? See? The circumstance changes so quickly, according to the facts of the situation.

When I think of cruelty, I think of people who kick dogs. I think of people who commit acts of violence against women, especially against children, against humanity. There are all different types of cruelty, though. We, as people, say mean things to each other. At times, they are in the name of self defense. We must protect our fragile egos and if we are engaged in a verbal battle with someone, it may become necessary to hurl insults, criticizisms and other painfully constructed sentences. What of the man or woman who threw the first punch? At what point does a fight--and it is human nature to fight; it is how we process our negativity and deal with issues within relationships--become cruelty?

Is it cruel to laugh at another human being? If someone walking down the street, on the other side of the street, trips (and we have all seen it happen) and we laugh at it, is it cruel even though that person didn't hear us laugh? People tell jokes that involve prejudice of many sorts. Bigotry against blacks, whites, asians, latinos; bigotry against Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Moslems; bigotry against people from different countries, people of different physical types, people who cannot see or hear, people of certain ages, people of certain incomes, people.. just people. We tell jokes and we laugh, whether we are (truly) racists or not. A joke is a joke and if we follow the philosophies laid down by Lenny Bruce, they are just jokes. So if the joke is at the expense of a homosexual and there are not faggots in the room to hear the joke, is the joke cruel?

Why are we so cruel? Why do we feel the need to hurt other people? Is it insecurity? Is it power? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? And do people who are, inherently, good have moments when they become just like the rest of us and do something cruel?

I have been cruel. I am sickened by it. I cannot change the fact of it--it's a part of my history. I don't pretend to make excuses and I don't pretend that I didn't know what I was doing. During the days when I drank (and for anyone who didn't know me when I drank, let me just give you a mental image by telling you that Brady Schwind once told me I reminded him of Martha in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?), I became angry and bitter and I hated the world. My poor, sweet, good Pat Dwyer was inflicted with this horrible person who (sometimes unsolicitedly, sometimes during drunken brawls) said mean and hateful things to him. I remember what it was like saying cruel things to him. I felt like one of those characters in a play or a tv show who can kill with one barb. I would be drunk and think I could banter the way they do in THE LION IN WINTER or think I had the power the great divas like Margo Channing or Alexis Colby had, able to kill with a single sentence. I'd say things I didn't mean, trying to be powerful, impenetrable, impervious but all I did was hurt the one person who has always done nothing but love and protect me.

The examples of divas on film, onstage and on tv were not the only gauntlet thrown at my feet, challenging me to attempt my own brand of cruelty. In the days of my young adulthood, I loved to gossip about people and when rumours in college drama departments start to spread, people get hurt; and freshmen in college are still too young to know how to handle that kind of cruelty--I know because while I was hurting them, they were hurting me. Children in grade school exhibit a different kind of cruelty but I was the butt of that cruelty in those days; perhaps it was there that I learned the cruelty that, later in life, I practiced. My grandfather was cruel. He had a violent temper and he took it out on everyone from my grandmother to his children to his grandchildren. As an adult, I have watched as members of the society within which I (personally) walk exhibit random acts of cruelty. I have seen men in gay bars make fun of strangers, to their face, for their choice of costume. I have watched actors at auditions belittle their fellow performers (usually in the name of psyching them out). I have listened as women have derided their men in front of their circle of friends and I have observed the public humiliation of people by their friends, family, spouses or peers. I have done the same to Pat. He drew it to my attention years ago and I have never, fully, recovered from the knowledge that I coule and would hurt him, humiliate him, so.

I have witnessed the physical abuse of children in public.

The one thing I have never seen, though, is the kicking of a dog.

I had a real interesting experience, recently. A story that I wrote on one of my other blogs sparked a reaction in someone who read it and they sent me hate email. One was a public comment on the blog, haranguing me for what I had written and criticizing my character. The other was a private email in which the stranger (with a profile that disguised their true identity) found (on the internet) and cut & pasted a scathing review that THE SWEATER BOOK got when it came out in 2003. My immediate response was to stop breathing after reading a sentence or two. My second response was to hit delete. And my third response was to laugh at it and forget it. I had read that review when it was written. I have read it, since. It makes me laugh. I'm glad there is someone out there who didn't like my book. It shows me a wide variety of points of view. I let go of the hate emails but, since that day, I have found myself wondering why someone would want to be so cruel? Was it someone I know? Was it a stranger? I'm not losing sleep over it; but it has made me think. If someone is happy to go out of their way to be cruel to me, what about other peoples' perceptions about my having been cruel to them? Oh, no.

During a recent visit Marci was telling me what a good friend I am to her. She wanted to pay me a compliment with a story. She said "when people ask me how can you still be friends with Stephen and Pat? I tell them that you are the best friends I have ever had and my oldest friends." I heard the compliment and I appreciated it and I always will. What I am left with, though, is wondering what we did to make someone ask Marci how she can still be friends with us. Did we do something cruel to someone? God, I hope not. I do not know, though. I know I have alienated people in recent years. That's my suitcase. I know about that. There are people in my life who became toxic and who had to be exorcised. Are those the people who said that to Marci? If I am to be considered cruel because I did something to self protect, then so be it. I remember getting in the middle of a fight between my best friend and his roommate several years ago--shame on me--but the roommate and I have, since, found a peaceful forgiveness and healthy respect for one another. There are people I cut from The Sweater Book before publication but I went to many of them and told them why and made closure. I could make myself sick trying to think of all the people who don't like me--and I know they are out there. In fact, I recently said something rude about someone online. I deserve to be disliked by this person. I edited my statement and apologized--but I still worry about having been cruel, in the first place. Shame on me. I don't want to be that.

A few years ago one of my closest friends (who was a new friend at the time) was sitting with me in my home. He looked at a photo on the wall and said "who is that in that picture?" I told him "that is my best friend, (name omitted for discretionary reasons), and you may not sleep with him." You see, my new friend had (in a very brief amount of time) managed to engage in sexual congress with an extremely large number of people within my circle. I went on to say "I have had a horrible crush on him for many years and for extremely private reasons have never acted upon it. But just because I have not, does not mean that you can. Please do not sleep with him." My newer friend went out, sought out my older friend, seduced him and then called me and told me about it. It destroyed me; but I did what I do and I forgave him and we continued to be friends. Upon hearing the whole story, my best friend shunned the newcomer to our circle, claiming him to be cruel. The cruelty, he said, was not in the seduction but in the confession. It seemed, he said, to be calculated. Deliberate. It's an important word, here. Cruelty can be reflexive. Deliberate cruelty is calculated.

Cruelty. The act of being cruel. It is an art. It is practiced every day by people all over the world. They say that practice makes perfect. Is this the kind of perfection we, as a race, want to showcase? Is this the legacy we wish to leave our children? There are muggers, robbers, rapists and murderers. There are terrorists and politicians who benefit from war. Cruelty is everywhere, it is around every corner, and we all witness it and suffer from its effects. What I don't understand is why we bring it into our personal, day to day lives? Is it something we are taught, something we are bred to observe? And how can we, as a race or as individuals, affect a change in our persons, our existences, and become better people? It's no secret that I am on a path to, a quest for, enlightenment; it is my deepest desire to be a good person. I know I am far from that. I am just a man, a human being, fallible and flawed; but I can work, I can try, I strive for a life in which I am not the perpetrator of cruelty. It will become a new focus in my life, a life that has too much upon which I must focus; this, though, is of utmost importance. I must. not. be. cruel.

I once heard it said that there is no happiness without peace; and no peace without forgiveness.

And deliberate cruelty is not forgiveable.

please note: the photo of Glenn Close as the cruel Isabelle de Merteuil was taken off the internet. photographer unknown.


Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Pretty powerful commentary, Ste. Thanks so much for sharing.

I have seen many cruel things, but never want to be viewed as cruel. Your posting is a wonderful reminder to keep goodness in mind!

Your friend,

12:56 PM  
Anonymous annalisa said...

i believe that the difference between cruel and honest is entirely in the intention. pat dwyer sitting down and telling someone who he loves, "you are being... [fill in the blank]" may be considered by some to be a little harsh, but he does not intend it to be cruel, it is not cruelty. it has redeeming value, it has a higher purpose. what that person wrote on your blog was only meant to hurt you, upset you and frankly, they CLEARLY have a pathetic life if they have nothing to do with their time.

to cruelty in ourselves, we can try to keep in check, express our feelings in productive ways, stay away from triggers for our unhappiness.

to cruelty in others, be gone, you have no power here.


3:07 PM  
Blogger jungle dream pagoda said...

Goodness I am not aware of this sitch. Annalisa is right this person sits cloaked in the anonymity of a coward.The need to make others feel small so they can feel better about themselves IS pretty pathetic and if you boil it down thats the bottom line.Deliberate cruelty is what my precious child is going through right now. Yep thats the latest ,we got a mean girl situation going on here at the Pagoda. I could spit blood right now I'm so mad!Why do artists have to 1st be outsiders wherever they go whoever they are?

9:21 PM  
Blogger StephenMosher said...

Hi Steve. Thanks for commenting. You're sweet to me. I don't get the feeling there is any cruelty within you; no worry there.

Annalisa: truth of the matter is that Pat could never be cruel. Am I right or am I right?

LGG: is someone giving Crooked Halo a hard time at school? I'll call you and hear the news. And I don't know why artists have to be outsiders.. Maybe art is derived from pain? I don't know. It's a mystery.


6:06 AM  

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