Sunday afternoon in Newcastle. Sunny and clear, shops and restaurants open, people walking along.
A young guy, shaved head, talks on his phone, walking up and down. He goes to the corner of a granite building near the bus stop, leans over, retches – vomits, not much, some chunks of food in what is probably mostly stout. He stays on the phone: only slightly shaky, only for a moment, he continues his conversation, ends it, walks off talking to another guy.
I am startled: it is as though he throws up without missing a beat... what they call, in the North, hard.
Eight and a half days until I leave for New Orleans, for the Big Conference. Before I came out to have lunch with Michael and Andrew, I tried to curb my anxiety at the many things there are to do, including new ones that have popped up without notice, by making a careful list – split up: research, the conference, teaching/admin, personal. As always, the list helps: it is a lot – especially the research that must be finished – but it can be done, perhaps; and checking things off cuts into the anxiety.
I think about Jeannie, as I do at times – a remarkably beautiful young woman with steely intelligence in her dark eyes: she taught seminars for est when I attended them in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. She said many things, and taught very, very well, with a slightly ruthless, businesslike manner; but I always remember her saying: Have you ever noticed how much you get done on the day before you go on vacation?... What if every day were like that?
I will have to be hard about things: less discussion, less fussing, just... done.
Through all of this, the tangential side effects of a bitterly symbolic dream, from a week ago. Penny, the character from The Big Bang Theory, appears on a walkway above my room – a dream room in a kind of large college dormitory, architecturally peculiar with partial walls, horizontal passageways, unenclosed spaces. She says she is going to the hospital; I am surprised, give her a hug – but as she gives details they become more alarming: a hospital that is hours away, she will be gone for a year, someone else will stay in her apartment. I am increasingly concerned: and as she lies on a dormitory sofa with me in an adjacent chair, near a wall stained by leaking pipes and damaged plaster, she scratches her head: a wig pulls partway off, and beneath it she is scarred, damaged, incredibly old...
Frightening. For me, Penny would be some sort of anima/eros figure – not a love object as she is for the straight men of the show, but someone who has sensuality, health, sexuality, happiness and sadness – strong feelings, strong physical resonance, with a great deal of kindness and empathy.
So, what can it mean that she is so sick – damaged parts of the self, the loss of happiness and the body, the afflictions of illness and lonely aging... and worse: the dream figure is going away for a year? Specific time references in dreams are alarming: they may be merely suggestive, but...
Sadness, loss, and finally anger – a lot of anger. A difficult focus on the essential pain of the complex, rather than its connections out in the world.
Earlier this week I read Steve Kluger's gay novel, Almost Like Being in Love. Fun, if not terribly well written (all the characters, even the kid, sound exactly the same – a lot of near-Will and Grace wisecracks); but I enjoyed it. The whole idea of young men who fall in love, then find each other again twenty years later – worlds filled with cheerful, healthy, hunky lovers and secretaries and colleagues, and blithely sarcastic woman friends on the verge of marriage: a casual gay-pop paradise.
But ultimately painful: the fantasy-recharge of reading about giddy fun, erotic possibility... but the wish-fulfillment parts make it ring too hollow: finally I am caught between hope, despair, envious distance, and disappointed disbelief.
Age, illness, isolation: when it feels too late for the attractions of living, not to mention: of love.
This does, admittedly, slow down my ability to focus on my conference paper: Derek Jarman's last works, and his battles around, and acceptance of, his imminent death... this is always the painful difficulty of writing about AIDS, too near the deep end.
The list pulls me back – and hard: back, to work....