Coincidentally, Lee's most memorable interaction had a very strong connection to Maine: Goodman's widow, now in her 90s, lives in Farmington with Goodman's youngest daughter. "I couldn't believe that, here I was, in the bosom of this family that I just idolized — it was so hard to believe it was really happening," he says.The film has met with rave reviews, and Lee is now traveling the globe for appearances at various showings including several in Maine. At press time, a staffer for Ellen DeGeneres had contacted Lee, explaining that the comedienne loved documentary film and was requesting a screener.
Despite the whirlwind of promoting Goodman, though, Lee has moved on to his next major project, one that led him back to his home state and was certainly motivated by his work on the film.
INSPIRATION Paul Goodman, open bisexual, with his long-time wife Sally, from Paul Goodman Changed My Life, a film by Jonathan Lee.
He recently purchased a sprawling parcel of land and an equally grand colonial home in New Gloucester that he intends to turn into a residential retreat center for activists, organizers, and scholars. When completed, it will be named the Machaih Center after the Yiddish word for "pleasure," which was often used by his father.
"The idea is to have a center where organizers and activists engaged in a number of issues — sustainable agriculture, gay rights, human rights, labor, community organizing, alternatives to war — can come together for a couple weeks and rejuvenate and have conversations," says Lee. "The center will be a catalyst for working on tough problems together, learning from visiting scholars, but also for just taking a break."
Lee says that he is currently raising money for the project, which he hopes to have operational by 2015; in the meantime, he is working with groups like the ACLU of Maine and the Maine Humanities Council on bringing speakers and opinion leaders to Maine for seminars and other events.
Consequently, Lee is back in Maine to stay, a decision that was also fueled by the passing of his father in June 2010.
"My father had a profound impact on me, and he was part of what led me back," says Lee. "I am very grateful for him, because he loved life. I will never forget how he would do something that he loved, like jump in the ocean or a lake, and come out and yell, 'what a machaih!'"
Lee also counts his father as an inspiration for his various projects: Shep Lee was instrumental in various gay-rights efforts, from donating thousands of dollars, to speaking on the steps of the State House about the need for equal rights.
"I'm proud to be here and pass on some of his legacy, and name the center after him," says Lee. "And I won't mind having to explaining the name of the center over and over."