Monday, June 23, 2014

The Boy in the Yellow Dress

Good fortune took me to Brisbane to study writing. I knew it the moment I set foot on the splendid sandstone University of Queensland campus in St Lucia. Like many people who arrive at their life's calling relatively late (though from this vantage point are you that old in your late 20s?) I threw myself into my degree with joyful commitment.

The friendships that flourished between that diverse group of classmates unfolded organically and at different speeds, on and off campus, over the course of the year and at its end when we dispersed interstate and overseas, our conversation moved online.

It has been a decade of drafts, manuscript re-writes, residencies, further study and in several instances the publication of the original material hashed out by each of us on the sixth floor of the Michie building over successive Monday nights.

One of my classmates was Victor Marsh who read out loud from his memoir, a work in progress, about growing up gay in Perth in the 1950s. The passage he shared involved attending a demonstration in Sydney while on an acid trip. I'd pieced together bits of Victor's colourful life over tea and biscuits in the coffee room at break time. I knew it included a career that took in travelling the world as an assistant to a guru and a stint as a producer on Young Talent Time. I was certain that this story ever made it into print it would be a ripper read.

If this were a film it would be a short montage later. At the speed of actual life it has been a decade. This month I had the pleasure of finally reading The Boy in the Yellow Dress curled up in bed with a cup of tea. The bookworms out there will be familiar with this simple grade 'A' pleasure. Victor, the wait was worth it.

Firstly I'd never read a 'spiritual' memoir. My experience of spiritual non fiction extends to the short browse at the airport book shop in the section titled 'I escaped the Family/Scientology/Orange people'. I'd always enjoyed thumbing through those books, sure, but these were prison break stories filled with preschoolers breaking rocks before sunrise. Victor's own story is closer to a spiritual quest, a serendipitous discovery (the teachings of Prem Rawat or Maharaji) and a decade of service that involved cleaning, meditating, teaching and eating little. While this section of the book sounds a bit dour, it's actually fascinating and Victor brings it to life by conveying the necessity of this work to his very survival. Naturally Victor – bright, engaging and capable – distinguishes himself and ends up part of the Maharaji's inner sanctum, criss-crossing South East Asia setting up Centres and assisting with teaching.

What is the nature of the black hole that Victor is circling? Yes, it is a search for meaning but it's also bound up with growing up gay in a homophobic culture and, in Victor's case, feeling deeply rejected by his own father. When Victor finds himself a successful television producer in Los Angeles many decades later the sight of parents of LGBT children marching in unity at a Mardi Gras parade provokes a strongly emotional response in him. In many respects this is a story about fathers and sons. It is also a story about sexuality. Despite the fulfilment and belonging he feels as part of the 'shram, it's his urge to explore his sexual self that leads him to leave the organisation in his late thirties.Victor's various sexual encounters – from his first gay experience with an older overweight toothless garage attendant, to a fleeting, wordless threesome in Japan – are electrifying.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, he's on the set of Young Talent Time. It's nice to think that long before we met Victor was troubleshooting production issues in Nunawading at the studios of my very favourite show. I was 11 and living one suburb over.

The Boy in the Yellow Dress by Victor Marsh. Out now though not through all book sellers.

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