It’s time for a much-delayed update and I think it’s also time to reveal a very special part of my “personal archive”. I mentioned in my first blog post (Salutations!) that I wanted to be able to post some more creative reviews of my favourite literary works. I came up with this idea because I had already written several adaptations of my favourite novels, plays and works of poetry (which I may share here at some point if I can muster up the courage!), and I had always enjoyed making use of my own creative impulses and imagination to expand the stories I had grown to love and to get to know my beloved characters better.
It was because of this desire to get closer to my most idolized literary characters that I wrote a letter to Prior Walter, of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, during the summer after my second year of university. I was reminded of this letter just a few days ago when I visited the Distillery District in downtown Toronto and saw that the play was being performed. I vividly remember my reaction to Kushner’s award winning play. I remember wondering whether I would like the reading list for my Jewish Literature class because most of the works were American, and I have never been a particular fan of American Literature. I remember reading the premise of Angels in America and thinking that it sounded too far-fetched, a little random and altogether too religious for my liking. I remember sitting down in E.J. Pratt library, at the University of Toronto, and flipping eagerly through every single page, desperate to get to the end. I remember tears streaming down my face as I devoured the story of Prior Walter and his lover and his friends and the marvellous cast of intricate and unique characters that surround him. I remember being moved, I remember being violently emotional, I remember being obsessed with this modern prophet…I remember wanting to marry him despite the fact that I knew he was gay and, probably more importantly, fictitious. I remember wanting to help him, wanting to jump into the play and save him from a disease that I hadn’t known much about and from a love that seemed to be destroying him. I remember wanting to give myself to him, to heal him.
And so, my only option was to write Prior Walter a letter, to pour my heart and soul out to him in writing, the sole medium through which we could speak to each other. I wrote this letter with more tears streaming down my face…and as I documented my more articulate thoughts about the novel in my journal, still more flowed. I love Prior Walter, to this day, and I will never forget him…he gave me insight, he gave me knowledge, he gave me compassion. He gave me the will to be a better person, and he opened my eyes to issues and ideas that I hadn’t considered before. I am the woman I am today because of Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale and Shirley Keeldar and so many other strong female characters – but I possess this overwhelming capacity to love because of Prior Walter.
With the biggest and warmest of hearts,
Girl with a Green Heart
A letter to Prior Walter of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
“Fuck you. I’m a prophet.” – Prior Walter
To my favourite prophet Prior,
Throughout history there have been countless alleged prophets, most of them religious, but I must begin by admitting that of all of them, you are my favourite. No disrespect to Jesus, who I grew up learning of, but you, Prior, seem altogether more real and tangible than any prophet that I have ever heard of. Perhaps I am most drawn to you because you are not religious, because you are so bound up in the secular. Among the characters of Tony Kushner’s awesome, awe-inspiring work, you stand out as the one so totally free of religion, so non-denominational and non-conformist. You don’t have all the answers, and you don’t care to find them. I respect that. I respect you more than I respect Roy Cohn, who is evil despite his Jewish heritage, or Joe Pitt, who does everything in his power to contradict his Mormon upbringing. The angels that appear to you are orgasmic, not spiritual, and their god is a traitor unworthy of devotion. You are untouched, unaffected by them, and you even have the guts to reject their prophecy, to scorn their Book of Immobility and their offers of immortality. You are a prophet with balls who I believe to be severely under acknowledged!
I was also drawn into your world and I began to (rather vividly and viscerally) adopt your sentiments, especially your mixed affection/anger toward Louis Ironson. I was half insane with devastation when Louis left us battling AIDS alone and abandoned. I was enraged and crazy when he returned and begged for our forgiveness. I was astonished and proud when we held firm, demanding his blood and torture before accepting his apology. I became a gay, fatally ill man and I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with a cheater, a traitor, a criminal. I wept with you. I swore and cursed through you.
But, there were of course some critical differences between us. I had a strong, healthy body, free of sores and lesions. I didn’t shit blood or cough and wheeze after minimal exertion. I could see clearly; no woolly patches clouded my eyes. I didn’t have AIDS; I wasn’t facing a death sentence. I could only read as you limped along, in and out of the hospital and consciousness. This fact only served to increase my fury. You were lonely, helpless, uncared for. I was lonely, companionless and dying (not quite literally) to soothe your pain. I wanted nothing more than to jump into the thick, worn pages and marry you, Prior. I am not delusional; I knew that you would have no physical attraction to me whatsoever. I knew that our relationship could never be sexual and that I would always be more attached to you than you would be to me. Regardless, I felt, I believed inwardly, that I could easily accept a less than reciprocal engagement if you would only let me heal you. I would be your nursemaid. I would administer your medication, wipe your sweating forehead, tuck you in at night. And, I would lie beside you, listening to your tired ramblings, letting you call me “Louis” if you needed to. I would be your angel, your Book of Immobility, your key to peace and calm. You would not be the first literary character with whom I formed a relationship, and yet I would give up all the others to take away your torment. I became inexplicably attached to you. When you cried, I cried, my heart breaking. When you screamed in frustration, my chest ached with silent sobs. My only peace came when I saw you happy, surrounded by friends, and when, in the end, I heard you declare that you would fight your disease without cease. You gave me the will to fight too, to conquer my own demons here, in the real world. You gave me strength and courage.
And, simultaneously, you scared me. You still do. You are beyond intriguing. You are developed, intricate, multi-faceted, the perfect character. You have a voice; it is yours, not your creator’s, and you use it well. You have a spirit and, as I said, you are so real, so realistic. Having said that, you are above me. I don’t know if I could ever create a character quite like you. I don’t know if I have the talent to envision a prophet, and then inflict torment and torture upon him. I don’t know if I can create a Pulitzer Prize winning story, if I can surpass or even match your narrative. I don’t know if there is enough passion in me…yet. I only know that you, Prior Walter, have helped to increase my passion, have left an imprint on my soul. You are permanently lodged there, and your presence encourages me, inspires me to write and imagine and see. You make me want to prophecy my own work, my own story.
I shudder to think about what has become of you since I last saw you, in February 1990. I know instinctively that you are dead now, as you can only fight such a tremendous battle for so long. This thought saddens me, and yet it seems somehow fitting. You will always belong to that period of change and anxious anticipation. May you rest forever in that peaceful time, just before Millennium approaches.
With love and admiration,
July 27, 2011
I have many loves in my life, my most recent being Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America. I will admit, I am completely obsessed, and after seeing the film adaptation I am even more affected. I cannot talk or write about this amazing play enough. Don’t misunderstand, I love Shakespeare but Kushner is a truly breathtaking playwright. Angels in America opened my eyes to so many controversial issues: religion, sexual orientation, the American legal system and injustice, the AIDS epidemic. After reading, I realized just how little I know about the world and its suffering. However, after reading, I felt more informed, more knowledgeable, more aware. I was most touched by the character Prior Walter (even thinking about him now, I could cry) and his battle with AIDS. I have never witnessed suffering first hand, but I feel like I lived through AIDS with this man. At times, I could hardly control my anguish, and I was severely overcome with sympathy and the desire to help somehow. I was moved by every aspect of the play, and I can honestly say that I feel I am a better person for having read it.
Prior Walter is now one of my dearest companions. He joins a list that includes Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, Johnny Wheelwright, Owen Meany, Duke Orsino and Viola, Erik the Phantom, and Henry Higgins. I have already conversed and will continue to converse with him as I do with Milton’s Satan and Abdiel, or Munro’s Del Jordan. I seek refuge in his company as I do with my own fictional creations. He is, for me, more real than many people I know.