Holding the Center
A White Crane Conversation with Steven Solberg
By Bo Young & Dan Vera
This is only an excerpt…
Steven Solberg began in film in the heyday of San Francisco’s 1970s counterculture, hot on the glittering high heels of Stonewall. He co-starred in the legendary 1970 counterculture surrealist film, Luminous Procuress (now in the Whitney Museum of American Art collection), directed by Steven Arnold. Solberg went on to work with many of the leading artists and filmmakers of the avant-garde movement.
As a scenic designer and actor in Los Angeles from 1981- 1983 his credits include the scenic design for the LA County Art Museum’s Leo S. Bing Theater premiere of Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II, the world premiere of Eugene Ioneso’s Tales for People Under the Age of Three at Stages Theater Center, The LA premiere of Sam Shepard’s The Unseen Hand, Murray Mednick’s The Hunter and numerous other productions. In response to the devastating toll of the early AIDS epidemic and the necessity for a more stable and dependable livelihood following recovery from his own drug and alcohol addiction, Steven moved into the field of front-line social services.
From 1998 – 2005 Steven incorporated art therapy in HIV Education and Prevention services for the Van Ness Recovery House Prevention Division and AIDS Project Los Angeles, and co-founded the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Medicine Circle with Dr. Donald Kilhefner where he developed curriculums and taught workshops such as “Seeing In The Dark: An Introduction to Queer Shamanism.” For the past couple of years, now, Solberg has been working on a documentary about GLBTQ elders, aging and spirituality. Robert Croonquist a frequent contributor to White Crane and an associate producer of David Weissman and Bill Weber’s The Cockettes documentary put it this way: “It is an important movie. I want very much to see this movie come to light. Word is Out told the story of my birth as a Gay man. The Cockettes told the story of my youth. Standing on the Bones of Our Ancestors tells the story of my adulthood.”
White Crane Institute is proud to be the fiscal sponsor for Standing on the Bones of Our Ancestors: Exploring the Role of The Queer Tribal Elder. We asked Steven to talk about the film for this issue:
Bo Young: What prompted you to make a film on the subject of “ancestors”?
Steven Solberg: Actually I inherited the project. As a young person I earned a living as a fine artist freelancing my creative talents and services. I experienced periods of great success but also periods of tremendous financial insecurity – the life of an artist. As I grew older and it became less graceful to live “on the edge” I entered the field of front-line GLBTQ social services that offered me some financial security, specifically HIV education, prevention, health education, and substance abuse counseling. I often incorporated art as an intervention tool in the programs I was associated with, such as the Art Intervention program I facilitated for the Van Ness Recovery House Prevention Division in Los Angeles. And I earned some recognition and visibility in the community for my efforts.
Based on this work I was recommended as someone with the qualities of an emerging elder by a mutual colleague, Don Kilhefner, to a film producer by the name of Donald Ham and a director by the name of Lee Wind. They were looking for subjects for their documentary on Gay and Lesbian Elders. I became a principal subject of their film. But having barely started production, Donald Ham died suddenly. Lee, who had already become disillusioned by their inability to secure funding, reprioritized his commitments following Donald’s death and offered their initial tapings to me. I was willing to move the project forward as a “guerilla” production and so I inherited the project. Not long after that I began a form of chemotherapy treatment for Hepatitis C. Side-effects from medications became so debilitating I finally surrendered and took a period of disability leave from work. Treatment was grueling. I could barely get out of bed for nine months – but completely successful (the virus cleared and remains undetectable). Upon concluding treatment I returned to work, but only briefly since funding for the program I was employed with at AIDS Project Los Angeles was terminated by the CDC and therefore I was laid off.
It was serendipitous that I received a small inheritance following my mother’s death. Shared between two older brothers and two younger sisters it did not amount to much. But it allowed me to bring the initial videotaped interviews I’d inherited out of storage, revision the project, purchase a camera and other digital video equipment, a second-hand computer with digital editing software, and with a lot of support and prodding from my co-producer and domestic partner Kohl Miner, resume production on what has now become Standing on the Bones of Our Ancestors: Exploring the Role of the Queer Tribal Elder.
Bo: What is Standing on the Bones of Our Ancestors about? And where does the title come from?
Steven: This was the working title Donald Ham and Lee Wind were working with. So I inherited the title as well. They met with a lot of resistance to the title from potential funding sources. And were contemplating changing it. But I think it’s perfect. Remember that the full title is: Standing On the Bones of Our Ancestors: Exploring the Role of the Queer Tribal Elder I assume the metaphor of “Standing On the Bones of Our Ancestors” is from an indigenous culture or tribe. I know that in some African tribes the bones of ones ancestors are placed in special communal shrines. Or sometimes even within the rafters or structure of a family’s dwelling. In Chinese Qigong, bones are considered to hold the consciousness of our ancestors—our own bones as living repositories as well as the skeletal artifacts. But from whatever hereditary lineages we may have descended ancestors and elders were revered. In indigenous cultures we observe that the elders or old ones are almost always the guardians of the mysteries and the laws, and it is in these that the cultural heritage of the tribe is transmitted and expressed. As the Hopi say, “We have held the center, and so we endure.” This understanding is expressed so beautifully by the quotation I preface the project’s opening credits with. By anthropologist Joan Halifax:
“The wisdom that we need to solve our problems lies encoded in the depths of our unconscious minds, but it must be evoked by elders who evoke our potential. Without realized models to evoke our archetypal depths, we are literally lost in the world… Throughout history, elders have served as beloved pathfinders, beckoning us to enter the province of old age in anticipation of growing strength and usefulness to society.”
This is pretty much what the film is about. Exploring this concept within the context of the contemporary GLBTQ community. Not in an academic sense. But within the spiritual dimensions of the subjects interviewed as revealed through questions posed to them. Memories, dreams and reflections sculpted out of the interviews – what Mark Thompson would characterize as Queer Spirit, or Queer Soul. Around what it would mean for those of us who are entering the province of old age to become elders within our communities rather than just grow older. Or retire behind a gated community somewhere (assuming one is economically privileged enough to even afford to do that) with no intergenerational role in community.
This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane. We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going. So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!
Standing on the Bones of Our Ancestors: Exploring the Role of the Queer Tribal Elder is a sponsored project of White Crane Institute.
Please visit www.gaywisdom.org to see how your contributions can help finish this important film. Check our projects page.