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You've still got time to savor JL Homan's memoir 'Out Here in the Stars, a poignant recollection of Homan (now a Westfield resident) and his journey from Broadway chorus dancer to executive assistant; to partner and caregiver to Harold, his longtime spouse, who died of a brain tumor, after they had been together for almost fifteen years.
This story hit home for me. As serendipity would have it, James was in the chorus of the Houston Grand Opera revival of Hello, Dolly!, with Carol Channing recreating her iconic role in a long national tour, which ended up on Broadway in 1978. I was at Houston Grand Opera assigned to the musical’s sales team. We were at numerous events together in Houston, on tour, and in New York, but we hadn’t met. When Hello, Dolly!’s Broadway run ended, James lived in a strange New York theatre world, where AIDS was wiping out a large percentage of the community. I moved to New York a couple of years later, frequented the same restaurants and clubs, and knew similar people, but had never met. When I returned to Springfield to work at the Springfield Symphony and Stage West, I met Bob Plasse (Homan’s current spouse), and wasn’t until a couple of years ago, that James and I sat in the late Press Room Cafe at "The Westfield News" and connected the dots in our parallel journeys.
James’ recollections of his life with Harold, struggling with brain cancer, reminded my of a required high school reading, John Gunther’s 1949 memoir, "Death Be Not Proud." Gunther, a well-regarded journalist of the day, had a teenage son, Johnny, who developed a similar brain tumor, while a student at Deerfield Academy. Homan’s spouse, Harold, had the advantage of almost a half decade of advancements in new treatment of these kinds of brain cancers, which killed Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and my fellow StageWest colleague, Pat Ford Yurkuna.
James is a good storyteller, and he lists, in intricate details, the many chemo therapy treatments and drug protocols alongside Harold’s favorite operas and ballets and theatre. The story isn’t as much about Harold’s finally journey as it is the story of a caregiver, who brings together his partner’s discordant family, and a myriad of friends, connections, and healthcare providers to build a team. I think that Harold, who had enjoyed a filled and fulfilling life, was given that fulfillment to the end of his life, because of James.
There are numerous stories of good people who are sick and dying and the people who stood by them and for them. In the time period where 'Out Here in the Stars is set, so many of the stories of patient/caregiver, like Longtime Companion, As Is, and The Normal Heart are set against the tableau of AIDS. James’ and Harold’s story does not involve HIV nor AIDS but is set in the backdrop of a pandemic which killed thousands. This makes their story poignant with different shadings. 'Out Here in The Stars is not a downer. It’s filled with inspiration and love, and testimony to caring people. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read it.
WESTFIELD – James Homan has had many roles in his lifetime: Broadway chorus dancer, corporate executive assistant, head waiter and now, author.
The Westfield resident recently published his first book, “Out Here in the Stars,” which takes readers through the journey of his life and possibly his most important role, caregiver to his dying partner, Harold.
Homan will discuss his book tonight at the Westfield Athenaeum at 6:30 p.m. in the Jasper Rand Art Gallery. He will have copies available for sale.
Homan’s memoir chronicles the 14 months he spent caring for Harold following the discovery of his Glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. The couple was living in Manhattan at the time and had beaten many of the odds facing gay men in the 80’s and 90’s — they had a 16-year, HIV-negative, monogamous relationship and survived the AIDS pandemic – a feat Homan touches on in his book. He noted that he eventually stopped counting the number of friends and acquaintances he lost to AIDS at 69 in 1990.
Homan writes about loss and feeling lost throughout much of his life, beginning with his abusive upbringing in Wisconsin and trying to find himself as a young gay man in the world of theater.
To celebrate Harold’s life, Homan took a journey to his former partner’s favorite city – Siena, Italy – the year after Harold died. Homan brought nearly 100 pages of notes he had taken throughout Harold’s illness and attended a week-long memoir writing workshop. It was there, in May of 2000, that Homan began writing this book and met Robert Plasse, the man who would encourage him to write about Harold and, 19 years later, remains his partner and spouse today.
“I brought, like, 84 pages of handwritten notes and eight steno pads,” recalled Homan. “I’d tried writing about Harold’s last 14 months before, but I couldn’t; it always ended in tears.”
Twenty years later, Homan feels this journey is complete, and he feels less lost these days. Or at least, lost in a different direction.
“I have come to the conclusion that we are all actually meant to be ‘lost’ to some extent during our lives,” Homan wrote in a letter to Harold in 2019. “Some of us find ourselves completely lost and our journeys become our meaning. Irving Berlin’s lyric ‘I got lost . . . but look what I found’ continues to strike a poignant chord.”
Homan, now in his 70s, said his latest journey is dealing daily with “the existential angst and irony that comes with growing older and learning to let go.”
Completing “Out Here in the Stars” was a labor of love, a learning experience and yet another twist and turn in Homan’s life.
“I contacted over 100 agents online,” Homan said of peddling his manuscript. “I got encouraging responses, but they didn’t want a 72-year-old starting a new career.”
Homan was more determined than ever and self-published the book, which is sold through Barnes & Noble.
Although daunting at the time, the publishing experience, like most of Homan’s life experiences, has not kept him from continuing on to his next chapter and he said he will have a series of short stories published soon.
“Those are about the resilience needed as we grow older,” he said, which is something he learned while he was lost.
COEXIST with TOLERANCE
and Respect DIFFERENCES