9: my life in quentin crisp

An English Man in New York


This is exactly how I was last night when I watched the film An Englishman in New York, an adaptation of the latter years of Quentin Crisp played by the luminous John Hurt, playing the flamboyantly gay author and actor.

Crisp rose to fame in the UK following the publication of his memoirs and the success of a one-man show, but when a series of typically frank but witty quips during an interview lead to a public scandal, Crisp is approached by an American talent agent, Connie Clausen (Swoosie Kurtz), who says she can get him work in the United States. Crisp relocates to New York City, where he stages a show entitled “How To Be Happy” and gains a new audience. However, the high camp of Crisp’s persona and his habit of making deliberately provocative statements (such as calling AIDS “a fad” and calling homosexuality “a terrible disease”) earns him the enmity of some gay activists and causes the show to close prematurely. Clausen arranges for Crisp to meet Phillip Steele (Denis O’Hare), the publisher of the Village Voice, and Steele offers Crisp a job as the paper’s new film critic. Crisp’s witty and acerbic commentary on new movies wins him a new fan base and he and Steele become close friends, but as age and broken relationships begin to take their toll on Crisp, he returns to the stage in a new show created in collaboration with performance artist Penny Arcade (played the awesome Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City). An Englishman In New York received its world premiere at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival; the film takes its title from a song by Sting, who struck up a friendship with Crisp when they both appeared in the movie The Bride.

How to Be Happy

Crisp was known for How To Be Happy, a live show back in the early 80s that mainly spoke about surviving life and making it big by living in the prophesies of fabulousness, customary etiquette and basic strength to live and surpass life’s cruelties by being who you are and showing it off to make the world realize that it cannot outlive its billion years without you.

Going in and around my research, it was fantastic realizing that the show was catered, nonetheless, by his canny portrayal of a sarcastic Englishman imbued in configured witticism that was both inspiring and revolutionary.  I had to reread these so-called quotes and pass the spoon into my own existence before the food got cold.

In one interview, Crisp mentioned, “In England there is no happiness.  Here, in America, happiness rains down from the skies. Americans,” he says sadly, “want luxury more than they want happiness.”  Who won’t be hooked with such rueful and blissful anecdote in one read?

In an engaging interview by Linda Eistenstein, it was clear that Quentin Crisp loved life.  The life of being different and not really being afraid of being different because love and happiness do not choose a particular pack of gods and goddesses to latch onto such dispensation.  All of us deserves love and happiness no matter how apart we are with the rest of the world.

Quentin Crisp is a legend — not just for his writing, but for his very way of being. He’s a delightful conversationalist: epigrams bubble from him like vintage champagne. After an hour’s chat according to Eistenstein, you’ll find a giddy smile wreathing your face.

Crisp has been charming audiences with his gently outrageous opinions in this informal setting since the late 1960’s, when his agent first booked him in a London pub.

It’s a telling recollection. Crisp too seems a representative of a different time and place: a land of gentility, grace, and quiet wit, partly of his own invention. He is indeed a Resident Alien, sailing serenely through a culture that elevates the rude and crude. When asked about manners, he says “I’ve now discovered Saint Theresa: we must treat all people as though they were at least better than ourselves. It altered her whole life. People want to be the equal of others; ‘I’m as good as they are.’ A great pity. One must accept defeat.”

As both his wit and longevity have turned him into an elder statesman in the gay community, Crisp’s controversial comments about homosexual identity have sometimes gotten him in trouble with gay activists. “Gay people? They are very different, but it’s gone to gay people’s heads.” He quotes a line from Harvey Feirstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy”: “If it’s so natural, if it’s so part of everyday life, why do we never talk of everything else?”

His unique style and propensity for epigram have made him frequently compared to Oscar Wilde, whose example Crisp finds pitiful. “His style,” Crisp has written, “was never a part of him but rather a sequined Band-Aid covering a suppurating sore of self-hate.” In Crisp’s philosophy, it takes both personal style and self-acceptance to create happiness, the centerpiece of his program for successful living.

“And no housework,” he adds impishly. “A woman friend once shouted at me: ‘No wonder you’re so nice to everybody, you don’t do any housework.’ Women who clean are in a blind rage by half past ten in the morning.”

My Life in Quentin Crisp

Here are Crisp’s fine, manicured one-liners that I found both imaginative and comparative to my ever perceivable life and my ever anarchistic presentations of how life should be.

Quentin Crisp:  Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.

Jon:  Fashion is so appealing to me that I always make fun of it.  I have always believed that my fashion sense is commiserative of old-school bohemian look to corporate drag for the simple reason that it does not hold any statement but my own.  I don’t give a flying fuck about trendiness because when you enter a roomful of people wearing the “latest” thing in clothes and accessories, what better way to be out of uniformity than a shakedown of your very own devil-may-care apparel?  As I am a writer, as much as I can, I move away from cliché.  Enough said.

Quentin Crisp:  Decency must be an even more exhausting state to maintain than its opposite. Those who succeed seem to need a stupefying amount of sleep.

Jon:  Decency is, again, a cliché in a sense that it is so overrated.  Like morality and Miley Cyrus.  How can you become decent in this day and age when the people who actually invented decency is out making sex scandals in the Vatican and killing children in Gaza?

Quentin Crisp:  It is not the simple statement of facts that ushers in freedom; it is the constant repetition of them that has this liberating effect. Tolerance is the result not of enlightenment, but of boredom.

Jon:  I am not a famous writer.  I have followers by the numbers and most of them are my family and friends.  I do not have complaints but had I been more forceful to be heard, I would want to be filthy greedy and come out syndicated beyond belief!  What is there to freedom if you can’t be heard?  What is there to extreme freedom of the mind if your thoughts are bottled up inside of you, not even considering that you may have had formula for immortality all along and kept it to rot for your own personal disadvantage?

So walk.  So fight.  So write.

Quentin Crisp:  Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level.

Jon:  I want to say this.  You are special in your way.  So, unless, you have decided to become a social climber for life, be aware that your social status does not make you any less unfabulous than your richER neighbor.  As I have always said, ” Class and personality is never in-born.  It is earned.” For me, humor and compassion are the only things you need to keep up with Joneses because that’s the most earnest way that they will be dragged down to your level.

Quentin Crisp:  The formula for achieving a successful relationship is simple: you should treat all disasters as if they were trivialities but never treat a triviality as if it were a disaster.

Jon:  In my article called Movements in Gravity and Peripheral Views, I wrote:

When in love, stop rationalizing.  Your peripheral cautions always comes in handy because it makes the human in you and it keeps the patterns relevant but being in love at this point is all about partaking to the music that both of you create.  It could be anything but what matters most are the movements that are conceived by compromise and from the hip fun of bonded titters that should remind both that love is the one driving the car.  Neither of you is allowed to handle the wheel unless love is failing to cope through the intersections.  To put it simply, that’s when peripheral vision takes the center stage.  It is called sensitivity.

Love should free you anyhow and relationships, be it an old one or a fresh one, brimming melodically with its initial thrills or an age-old union for that matter,  should be treated with bohemian abandonment and loads of laughter.  All the time.

And so I dance to Newton’s universal law.  With both of my feet planted on the ground.

Quentin Crisp:  There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can’t think what to do with the long winter evenings.

Jon:  There are three reasons why I write:   the first is I need to reinvent insanity by putting my quasi-dementia into words of inspiration. I do believe that making someone smile, laugh and cry makes me a contributor of postponing suicides and creating meaning to this sordid existence we all need to understand with clarity; the second is I need something to say that I think the world should know;  the third is I can’t think of a better way to control my in-born loquaciousness than to shape them into entries such as this because if I did not, I would’ve killed myself.

Quentin Crisp:  The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to plant their whole life in the hands of some other person. I would describe this method of searching for happiness as immature. Development of character consists solely in moving toward self-sufficiency.

Jon:  In my article called The Lonely Masturbator, I wrote:

The lonely masturbator touches two immortalities:  friendship and compassion.

Friends become plenty and old friends suddenly become reachable.  It is entertaining and at the same time, it bridges towards compassion.  Hitherto, the mind opens to possibilities and more importantly, the heart speaks in favor of the mind – all geared for spirituality and maybe, true love.  These two things are completely masturbatory in a sense that all are self-induced.  You touch yourself.  You touch your spiritually.  You invite the caress of orbital bigotry.  YOU BECOME adherent to the core of self-indulgence which is appreciation.

If you are with someone right now, be grateful.  Remember that loving someone means inspiring your dominion together.  And celebrating your individual magic together.

If you are on you own, masturbate!  Be grateful of what you have:  yourself.  Be grateful that you have hope and that you have that journey to your middle Earth.  Explore it.  Until then, you will know when it is time to love again.  Trust me, it will happen all over again.


Walking as Quentin Crisp or my ensemble scattered selves intrepidly



* From Wikipedia and related articles on Quentin Crisp


About this entry