On Religion and Romance

Fall comes early in the Pacific Northwest, and all the swirling leaves, dropping temperatures, and drizzly mornings have put me in a romantic state of mind.  Very much reminds me of my Geoffrey–those were his moods and colours.

And I’ve also been rendered more romantic than usual by my attendance at the vow renewal of two very good friends–Ben and John Smyth/e.

I have to say, I did not head into their renewal expecting to be romanced.   The men are Puritans, and I had an admittedly prejudiced vision of what their ceremony might look like.

But it was gorgeous, as is their story, and so I thought I’d share some of it here (with their permission) in the hopes of combating my own atheist tendency to write off all things religious.  My empathy for the church-going can always use a bit of sprucing up.  If they believe in a God who brought them together, then who am I to scoff?

In any case…

It turns out that the little wooden meeting house in the Toronto countryside, where the ceremony took place, has been John’s church home for just over 200 years.  He came to Canada from England in the early 19th century looking for a new start and he was taken with the quietude of the congregation and, more particularly, with the pastor, who goes simply by Christopher.

I can see why.  Christopher, is a truly lovely man who genuinely wants everyone around him to be happy–I could tell from the moment I shook his hand.  And he is always willing to test his own faith life, and the faith of his congregation, by creating inclusive spaces for “all manner of God’s children.”

He is, in fact, a liberal puritan.  Of all possible things.

And it turns out that inclusiveness really started to define his theology when John came to his congregation–a deadly handsome single man with a household and trade, who remained single year after year after year…

A few decades in, Christopher finally asked him why, and John admitted that he didn’t think he’d make a very good husband to a woman, and that he worried for his soul should he take up with a man, even though he knew that was the way of his heart.  He asked for penance for speaking the desire aloud, poor thing.

Christopher thought about it and decided that he liked John too much to uphold teachings that would force the man to continue to live alone or live a lie.  Instead of penance, he opened counselling with John, taught him self-compassion, and after a year or two, convinced him to broach the subject with the congregation and broaden his net of empathetic friends.

About a quarter of them left.  John still feels terrible about it.

But the three quarters who stayed opened their arms to John, and apparently started trying to set him up, to his utter embarrassment.  Puritans, he says, mean very well, but have a rather indelicate handle on what it means to be gay, haha.  I can only imagine.

So, anyway, John continued on in his single ways until one afternoon service, while he was administering a reading to the congregation, Ben wandered in and sat in the back of the church, looking forlorn and tired and six different kinds of overly modern–we’re talking late 1970s/early 1980s club culture.  He refuses to show me pictures. And John ‘for some reason known only to the Lord himself…’ fell in love at first sight.

Christopher apparently saw it on his face and sent him over after the service to invite Ben to attend a picnic they had coming up.  (Oh to have been a fly on that wall.)

Ben said he might show up.

The congregation took this to mean ‘yes, I will definitely be there, and you should all match-make the dickens out of John and I because obviously I am gay, I’m wearing eye liner for crying out loud’.

So they did, haha.  The congregation spent the next few months putting the two of them together in as many situations as possible.  Ben’s demeanor softened, John grew a bit bolder, and they finally went out for supper and were Committed within a year following–recognised in the congregation as a married couple.

Both of them talk about the first five years of their marriage as a time of massive growth.  John is staunchly 17th century in manner and dress, right down to the linen shirts and antiquated language.  Ben felt very comforted by that after years of wandering around the world looking for highs.  He stepped back into ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ at home, asked John to teach him to pray again, and purified his lifestyle.  But he also needed John to work on allowing pieces of modernity into his worldview.  Agreeing to disagree on some things, qualifying the occasional bottle of wine as ‘pure enough’, attending the country dances the congregation indulged in.

Obviously, though, they made it.

Ben is still the more outgoing of the two–it was his idea to publicly celebrate their 35th this last week, exemplifying Godly love to the LGBT youth they now minister to.  John is still the stalwart–he agreed to the ceremony, but only if it was quietly incorporated into a regular Wednesday night service and congregational supper.

But the strength of their bond–the way their differences support each other–is actually rather inspiring.  As John said, ‘When I look at thee I see an exploration.  I feel it keenly both in the planning and the execution.  Thou art a vast adventure. And I want to know thee better, as I also crave thy mystery.’

And the steps they have taken to live outwardly in a faith known for its restrictions are beyond courageous.  I am in such admiration of their bravery, and of the way they have reached out to other LGBT Puritans.  Simon, in attendance at the ceremony, has an apartment, a job, and a live in boyfriend because of their work with him.  And Prid, their newest boarder, is on his way.

So, the next time I find myself rolling my eyes heavenward over some such religious nonsense or another, I will remember that there are those in the world who fiercely believe there’s something up in those heavens, and who use that belief for good.

 

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Physical Improvement, or Ghost Cosmetics

My good friend Ben Smithe died in the early 1600s in a roaring house fire.  He saved three of his younger siblings, and then collapsed from exhaustion and smoke inhalation in the process of rescuing his remaining sister. They manifested together, burned to death, clinging to each other, the fibres of their clothes embedded in their skin, and the buckle of Ben’s belt seared to his stomach. He was sixteen; she, fourteen.

Now, we ghosts tend to have a dark sense of humour.

We have an entire tumblr dedicated to the ridiculous things people are wearing when they die.  We have a soap opera called Days of Our Afterlives.  Most tribute bands just throw ‘Dead’ in front of the name of the band they impersonate.  And so on.

But it would be a cruel joke indeed if Ben and his sister Samantha were forced to spend eternity wandering around in pain, as the shreds of their former selves.

And that is why ghosts have spent century after century perfecting the art of physical improvement.

There are two aspects to physical improvement: surface and developmental.

Surface improvements are essentially cosmetic, and they happen in two stages.  First, a manifestation team swoops in and helps you to remember who you were prior to your death.  They aim to help you find your healthiest self–the self you want to be as you step out into the afterlife–and then assist you in coaxing your energy back into that form.

Ben and Samantha, for example, coaxed their energy into the appearance of fresh clothes and unharmed skin.

Most ghosts stay in this initial form for quite a while–learning to manipulate energy without the assistance of manifestation experts is no small task.

The Smithes, though, were rather adept.  And so they proceeded into the second stage fairly quickly, using their imaginations to mold their appearances to fit what they had dreamt about experiencing in life.  Namely, Ben cut off his hair and Sam coiled hers up, they dressed in the latest out of London, and they popped right off to the continent to see what ghost world had to offer.

Very progressive Puritans, these two.  Or, you know, the rebellious children of a man who’s name was literally Abstinence Smithe.

Either way, my point is that not only can you manipulate your age and your appearance, you can also style yourself as you travel, as the eras pass by, and as you try out new traits and tastes.  All you have to do is imagine what you want, and, if you’re aiming for the most immersive experience, borrow the memory of a ghost who knows…lets say…what silk feels like.

As to the developmental changes.

Round about 1800, Ben tells me he grew mighty tired of looking sixteen.  And his sister Samantha, still his boon companion and partner in crime, was finding it more and more difficult to find ‘fun’ blokes, as she puts it.  The concepts of adolescence and childhood were growing in vogue, and new ghosts weren’t taking the Smithes seriously.

They needed to look older, they decided.  They needed to better suit their 200 year old minds.  They needed to age.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  Because while ghosts can change clothes, you cannot ‘age’ in any actual sense.  In fact, you have two choices.

You can add energy to your manifestation to gain a few extra inches of height, for instance, or to fill out a gown, but convincing the new energy to stay and permanently amalgamate is very difficult.

Similarly, you can reduce your manifestation to tone the appearance of muscle, define a chin, or lose weight, but only through the redistribution of the energy with which you died.  You either have to displace the energy into, say, longer hair or bigger feet, or you have to condense your body as tightly as possible, through exercise, and hope that it stays put.

And all told, the most any ghost has ever managed to really ‘age’ is about four years.

For Ben and Sam, shooting from a soft sixteen and small fourteen to a muscular twenty and fulsome eighteen made all the difference in the world.

For other ghosts, such as my daughter Mira, who wants nothing more than to experience romance or to adopt a child, seven to eleven won’t make much of a difference.

Incredibly frustrating, that, poor thing.

But I suppose, overall, it is rather lovely that ghosts can shift and change their bodies after death, particularly given the sadder manifestations.

Got to See a Man about a Go-See

This last winter, one of my designers fell apart at the seams–no pun…some pun intended.

I try to keep six of them in my pocket, because I’ve determined that six is enough to keep me interested without stressing me beyond my ability to look and walk well for each.  I also try to take on jobs that allow me to stay at a consistent age and physique–as a ghost, I can shift at will as long as it’s within my realm of alively experience, or within an achievable range of new experiences as a ghost, but it does perturb the children, especially J.  And, finally, I try to take on jobs that allow me to dress for historical eras.  This might be a throwback to my time in the opera, or it might just be a personal quirk, but whatever the case, I bloody well love flouncing about in costumes from previous eras.

My current list of designers, then, fleshes out as such:

1. Marcus–JS Designs:  Of course, my husband’s line was my first sign.  I shall have to tell the story of our hiring at some point…it’s a tickler.  His clothes are angular, interested in natural materials (wood, ore, leather), and modern, although they are often inspired by his Roma and what he remembers of it.

2. Marie–Mode du Marie: Marie was my second sign. This was apparently something of a coup, although I didn’t realise it at the time, as awestruck and befuddled by everything as I was to begin.  She is the foremost designer of 18th century haute couteur and worked as an assistant to the primary dress designer of Marie Antoinette in life.  And now I traipse down the runway in her glittery creations, acting every part the courtier.  She recently collaborated with Marcus on a line of zoo animal inspired outfits.  She is also mad.  Just completely mad.  She calls her husband, “girafe.”  And she asked me at my interview to describe myself as if I were a hot air balloon.

3. Herschel–Zehr Anzuge:  Herschel signed me on my gentlemanly manner, which holds until I open my mouth and attempt to say any word starting with an “h”.  He makes suits primarily of the Edwardian era, and over the years I’ve come to front his line and print ads.  He’s a dear heart who fancies walks in nature over walks with companions.

4. David–Sliante:  David is adorable.  He’s this shy Irish bloke with an aversion to parties and shmoozing who knits all the sweaters for his line, pines after redheaded lasses, and finds the fact that I’ve gone and made him famous equal parts fantastic and frustrating.  His line is 40s/50s based.

5. Georgie–Regencies:  Georgie is posh, flippant, and something between a dandy and a Corinthian.  He found me in my second year of modelling and snatched me up before my contracts became…absurd.  I love walking for him, as he usually picks natural, wild, forlorn sorts of settings and encourages both Byronic attitude, as well as Byronic attendance–his audiences are overwraught, as are his partners of both sexes.  It’s all rather brilliant, haha.

So, now I find myself in the position of contracting a sixth designer.

This is a bit of a dilemma for a number of reasons.

First, I’m embarassed to say, I have to find someone who can afford me.  I don’t controul my own contracts yet–that happens next year, at which point I plan on taking on brand new designers for next to nothing with the intention of launching their lines.  But for now AMMA tells designers how much they must pay me, and it’s exorbitant and horrid.

Second, I have to find someone in whose line I “fit” as it were.  I need it to be a line in which I can believe, as well as a line in which I dress well.  And I also wish very much to work with other fun blokes who enjoy what they do but don’t take it too seriously.  The sorts who will go out for a beer after wrap and not fret the whole time over calories.

Just these two stipulations narrow my options, considerably.  In fact, I came up with five options:  Medieval, Renaissance, Cavalier, Victorian, or a second modern line.

The second modern line is right out.  I decided rather quickly that I’d rather Marc occupy that spot on his own.  Then I tossed out Victorian because even well tailored Victorian has a tendency toward frumpy, as Marcus discovered when he took in a number of my own jackets for daily wear.  I ruled out the Medieval after some debate because the clothes are just a bit shapeless, as well, and the blokes on the current line rather serious.

So that left Cavalier or Renaissance.  Both sets of models for these lines are deliciously hilarious and handsome, and the clothes are equally gorgeous.  So, I procured some looks from each and tried them on at home to see how Marcus responded, as I also like to look well for him.  He appreciated the Renaissance, but the Cavalier duds inspired a rather wolfish grin, and so that settled it.

https://veronica12aslvillegas.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/095.jpg?w=519&h=388

Me.

 

Nearly.

I had one further person with whom I had to clear the decision–Marc’s assistant designer and junior partner in JS Designs, John Smythe.

John, you see, is a Puritan.

https://i1.wp.com/www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/04_American-Government/01_Colonial-Foundations/pictures/WIK_The-1st-Thanksgiving_Brownscombe.jpg

John.

 

I know what you might be thinking–but he works in fashion and with Marc of all people.  How does he handle the constant allusions to battle and sex and paganism and sexy pagan battles??

Well, it turns out that John is such a phenomenal craftsman and truly good person that Marc keeps it all toned down for his benefit.  And it also turns out that John is a rather progressive Puritan–he still uses antiquated speech and dresses quite simply (loose white shirts, khaki capris with lots of hooks for tools, and tall boots) but he also enjoys seeing his visions play out on the runway, giving away the money his leather-work brings in, and living in some comfort with his husband, Benjamin, also a Puritan.  I’ve also heard him drop the F-bomb.  Granted it flew out of his mouth when he was nearly hit by a car, and he submitted to a week of penance over the whole deal, but he still said it.

Anyway, Puritans and Cavaliers are like water and oil, and I very much didn’t want to offend him with my choice, even if it is just a playful one. So, I went to ask him his permission.

He gave me a very tight lipped once over and said, “Do what you wilt.”  And then a bit more kindly he added, “Thou art a good man.  Clothing is but clothing, after all.”

I nodded and said, yes, it’s all just a bit of fun.

This concerned him.  Fun.  How suspicious.  So he added, “But as thou partake of fun, do be wary.  Thou shouldst take care not to let the Cavalier ways of mind and manners of person affect thee.  They are a lascivious lot.”

And I said, John, darling, the H.M.S. Lascivious set sail years ago.  Which got another tight-lipped once over with a bit of a wince thrown in, but he just shook his head and waved me off.  “Go and have thine…fun” he says.

(I desperately want to play “Cards Against Humanity” with him.)

In any case, now all that’s left is to sign with my new designer–Rrrrrrichard–and then it’ll be mustard coats and armoured breast plates and a vast number of boots.

Boots everywhere.

Quite looking forward to it.