The Birds and the Bees
by Marvin Payne
Were you expecting a column? How about a healthy baby elephant instead? This is my thirty-sixth monthly column of Backstage Graffiti. Steven Kapp Perry, who has read all my columns, or at least counted them, has brought to my attention that thirty-six months is the gestation period of elephants. I have no really good reason to believe that he is wrong in this calculation, so I’ll go with it. I mean, what difference does it really make, anyway–except to the elephants?
(My wife and I have come near to arguing twice in the last ten years. The first was just before we were married, when I observed, quite sincerely, that I thought she looked better without make-up. I hadn’t anticipated that I was attacking sort of a hobby, nay, an art form that she cherished. I mean, I find make-up a hassle generally, and pretty sure I wouldn’t wear any at all if I weren’t being paid to. The second near argument was when she was quite large with child and I cheerfully pointed out that it only lasts “X” number of months, and she countered with the knelling announcement that doctors prefer to measure the time as “Y” number of weeks. When I suggested–helpfully, I thought–that “X” multiplied by four, factoring in a couple of weeks’ worth of extra calendar days, appeared to be fewer weeks than “Y,” she took an infinitesimal shuffle in the direction of an emotional region probably best designated as “huffy.” If any elephants are similarly inclined to take exception to Steve’s arithmetic, I will allow it, and sympathize.)
Sometimes (well, quite often, really) gestation is good. This is why I’m starting to write this column three weeks before I have to send it in, three weeks before it’s, if I may use the word metaphorically, “delivered.” I’m intrigued with what may happen if we consider these opening paragraphs to be “conception,” and allow the whole thing to gestate.
Now you may set this aside for three weeks, as will I.
…Well, here we are again. Thanks for your patience.
The column is being born. Right now.
(Oh! I have to give you a journal entry that’s totally germane–and here I use the word “totally” not to mean “entirely” but actually the way your son might use it, as if, for example, I had written instead “Oh! I have to give you a journal entry that’s totally germane, Dude.”:
20 July 1980
[edited slightly in deference to certain delicate issues–no, I didn’t say “delicate tissues.” These were primarily the concern of the doctor in attendance.]
I wrapped up my performance work in the northwest this morning. This whole tour I’d been worried about the nearness of my wife’s delivery of our baby. Just before I left home two weeks ago, we consulted the doctor, who was confident the baby wouldn’t come until after my return. Night before last I called my wife and everything was normal. Yesterday morning I called, and there was no reason for concern.
Last night at about 10:00 Eliza Wren Payne was born. I had left Kennewick, Washington, at 1:00 in the afternoon, and so missed the birth by about three hours. Sort of. At 4:50 I got off the interstate at Burley, Idaho, for some dinner. I called home right after the waitress took my order–pay phone at J.B.’s. My wife had just gone to the hospital, driven there by the doctor and Mrs. Doctor. I called there, and the doctor’s wife guided me through the delivery– “Here are the shoulders, here it comes, it’s a girl! Good color! Mom just keeps smiling!” She was holding out the phone from time to time so I could hear mom squeal and baby cry.
Then I waited fifteen minutes–ate a burger–and called my wife in the recovery room. She asked me to come straight through, so I arrived at 2:30 [don’t do the math, particularly if you work for the Highway Patrol] and we spent a quiet sweet hour together with our beautiful daughter.)
Well, that was the only birth among my seven children that I missed, and I didn’t much mind, really, because what happened instead makes such a better story. But I didn’t miss any of the gestations. I wouldn’t have dared.
It’s That Season
It’s the season of Valentine’s Day, so I think I’ll let this column gestate into something about the birds and the bees. (Would you rather I focus on vital organs and arrows? Gruesome.)
It won’t be any great departure–nearly all my art is about the birds and the bees–all the songs, plays, poetic meanderings. That’s how it seems, anyway. I wonder if I have a problem. (More than that, I wonder if I’m on the verge of having a problem, a very practical problem. This could be serious. Here’s the problem that worries me first. Will the blocking software the Proctors have on their internet configuration–the “birds and bees” blocker, refuse to let this column be delivered to Meridian Magazine? If a Backstage Graffiti column fails to appear at your house on schedule, if there’s a month completely devoid of graffiti, you’ll know why. Actually, I guess you won’t know why–I guess that’s the problem–for me, anyway. I mean, how could I survive emotionally without those two monthly e-mails from column readers telling me they weren’t particularly offended by what I’d just written? Oh no! A possible new problem! What if these sneak through the birds-and-bees filter and the column reader e-mails don’t come anyway, because finally they WERE offended? I guess if any column could do it, this would be the one. Oh well, here goes.)
Not long ago we did a new three-player musical at BYU called “Soft Shoe.” (See Backstage Graffiti Archives under “Heavenly Choreography”–did you know there was an archive? Or, I mean, some archives? You could go nuts in there! Breathlessly, tentatively, tiptoeing in among all those hushed columns and vaulted ceilings and musty dignity suggested by the word “archives” and then reverently turning a shadowy corner and Ta-da! a hundred pages of Backstage Graffiti frolicking boisterously on a polished oak shelf.) Before our show opened, people would ask me what it was about. (The show, not the archives.) I usually said, “Well, it’s all about the birds and the bees.” That’s not what was written in the press release we gave to the BYU Daily Universe, but it’s the truth.
The young heroine was looking for her father who never bothered to marry her mother, a birds-and-bees issue–this made the heroine feel wounded, discounted, and alone, a typical response. The young hero was afraid to love anybody because he thought birds and bees was (were?) the ruin of his long-fled mother, “a regular on every casting couch between here and Atlantic City.” My character (the Dad, as always) was afraid to love anybody because I was the one who was so ignorant of the true mission of birds and bees that after buzzing and flapping among them, I took off, leaving the young heroine’s mother in the family way.
Every character’s life was punched into a different difficult shape because somebody close to them didn’t understand the meaning of birds and/or bees. But by curtain call, the birdsong was clear as light, and the buzzing like a reverent hum. I liked being in that play a whole lot. Because the writers had the right idea–the whole idea of moving among birds and bees with a certain reverence.
Just like I liked the movie I had just done up in Northern Idaho playing a crusty old sheriff (Not The DAD!! Yay!!) who assumes that if the young heroine was raised by a shady lady and is employed by a shady lady, then she must be a shady lady too, an abuser of birds and bees, as it were (or as she were). He warns the young hero to stay away from the suspect young heroine, but happily for everyone (except the suspect young heroine) the young hero hasn’t yet come to appreciate that the suspect young heroine is in fact Female. (The general dimness of youth is sometimes a blessing, I think.)
Anyway, they overcome the misunderstandings and malignings of Valentinic love and look like they’ll probably live happily ever after, and do said living against the backdrop of some pretty glorious country. (Isn’t there a song about some other pretty glorious setting with a line about “bees were humming, sweet birds singing”? Okay, that had to be about something else. But we’re getting away from the Metaphor here. Or, more honestly, the Euphemism.) The movie is “Where Rivers Meet.” Ably written and directed by Bill Shira. Coming soon to a theatre near you. Even sooner if you live in Northern Idaho. I like the movie a lot–this G-rated movie about, well, the birds and the bees. And about getting some responsibility and reverence into the interaction of birds, bees, and humans.
Family: A Joyful Proclamation
But then, hey, I’m half of the team that created “Family: A Joyful Proclamation,” a big fat choral CD that’s more about the procreative association between a man and a woman (Oops, I just gave the Metaphor away) than anything I ever heard before, including Puff Daddy’s latest rap effort (which I actually never heard before and, well, hopefully never will). It even has a getting-a-body song, a falling-in-love song, a wedding-night song and a couple of baby-having songs in it. What musical celebration of the Family Proclamation wouldn’t? This document we all have hanging innocently (archivally, even, in many cases) on our walls, festooned with dried flowers and gold-sprayed macaroni, has more to say about the place of birds and bees in our eternal journey than any other piece of writing ten times its length. (Sales are right now a tad sluggish on our web sites, incidentally, I think a lot of you are getting carried away and typing too many “p”s into “stevenkappperry.com.” You may find “marvinpayne.com” easier to spell, but don’t let me influence you just because Meridian has a potential readership of gazillions and Steve is not currently a columnist. Actually, I think he’s a Republican.)
Not all my art is about the birds and bees.
I’ve written some songs and tweaked some scripts for a couple of talented brothers, Chris and Nate Smith, sons of my old comrade (this was before I had Republican friends) from days of youth and poverty, Gary Smith, the really good painter of fields and farmers and gods and prophets and, well, you name it. (In those old days, before fame roared in like a William Blake angel, Gary and I would tell each other stories about going around checking telephone booths for nickels left in the trays. He hasn’t done that for lo, these many years. I haven’t done it since, hmm… just after Christmas.)
These two Smith guys are making clay-mation movies of Bible stories, sort of “Wallace and Gromit Meet Samson and Delilah.” (Picture that. No, let them do it.) Their visual mentor and advisor is James Christensen, so it’s all pretty magical. (James is the artist who was asked by the Prophet, when he was being shown James’ sublime and monumental mural work for the Nauvoo Temple, “Okay, Brother Christensen, where’s the fairy?”)
It’s enormous fun. At least it has the refreshing advantage of not being one more project about the birds and the bees. (I just have to get away from birds and bees for awhile.) The first episode, which I think is entirely finished now, is about Jonah, who ran away from what God wanted him to do, thinking he’d find peace on the lonely beaches of Tarshish. You see, God wanted Jonah to use his body, strength, and passion (gifts God had given him) to teach and lift and save people, to be like a father to them, caring about their temptations and obstacles and particularly how well they were dealing with the challenge of how properly to incorporate birds and bees into their… (Oh no! There they are again! If only I could just pretend there were no such things as birds and bees and find a nice, quiet beach somewhere… I know! I’ll go to Spain! Which was anciently called… what was it? Oh yeah, Tarshish. Oops!)
(Hastily Inserted Relevant Observation: I had this column pretty much wrapped. Then I was up until about midnight, helping produce a CD for a lovely young sister who sings really wonderfully. She sang an inspiring theatre song or two, a serene seminary song, and a couple of fairly harmless rock ‘n’ roll songs. Then she belted a song in which the singer assumes the character of a hard, proud lady of the evening in her New Orleans boudoir, a place just raging with birds and bees that are wondering what in Hades they’re doing there ((this is not profanity, this is geography)). So I guess it’s not just me whose art is all about the birds and the bees, but everybody else’s art too. Maybe it would be safer to sing instead about buffalo roaming and antelope playing all the time. Or maybe, if we ever hope to account well for the talents the Lord has given us, we’d better tell the truth about birds and bees all we can, like the Family Proclamation does.)
It’s not just during Valentine’s season that we have to deal with our attitudes (and actions) involving birds and bees. And I suppose it’s futile to pretend there can be a world without them, although it might be an easier world to live in, sometimes. “Safer,” some would say. I think a lot of people would say that, actually. Like everybody in the Puritan era, for example, or the Victorian era, perhaps. Or the monastic epoch. (We’re talking Epochs, here. Epochs are really long–way longer than trifling little Eras. Archival, even.) Maybe it would turn all our minds around (and frustrate the Adversary no end) merely to remember who created said birds and bees, and what for. And for how long, which, if we are to inherit all the Father has, would be “eternally” (which is measurably, no, immeasurably longer than your epochs and eras put together). Perhaps, without birds and bees, the world might be an easier place to live in. But it would be a whole lot harder place to get to.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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