From the chilly, detached sadness of last week, unexpected changes – a day and a bit that were more entwined with the life, and lives, around me –
Friday, an official reception – you know the drill: speeches, food, suits, paintings for sale. But this one has much more life in it than most: an LGBT History project, in its second year – people enjoying themselves and talking to each other, all a bit astonished that this was an actual pleasure. A speech by a gay councilman, a Labour representative – given Labour's behaviour the past few days I am admittedly not too interested at first. But he is energetic, involved – he had been a musician, so Tippett's Child of Our Time was the focus of his discussion... and he also makes it clear, without exactly saying so, that he is absolutely against current Labour policy.
Good people: energetic, happy – and some beautiful younger men. It is hard to miss them, to be frank. But a sense of connection even across the lines of... hmm, what do we call them? Boundaries of contrasting attractiveness?
That won't suddenly become the new slang, but you get the idea.
Somewhere in the midst of preparing my own presentation among these events, a message arrives from our department head: the previous day B. collapsed, theatrically, eyes skewing and vibrating, threw up everywhere – a stroke or what? Much anxiety and confusion, he's at the hospital now – eyebrows are electronically raised at me – others evidently remember my 2009 stroke, and defer to me slightly: what do you think could have...?
The reception isn't far from the hospital, so I text M., his wife, with the (only slightly fictional) news that I'm in the building. She says he is probably okay, he can't see anyone, but she'd like a break, so will meet me in the cafeteria.
And when I get there, weirdly enough, I joke – and then we joke together – for an hour. Yes, I know... but it seemed fairly certain that B. would recover, and M. and I were both increasingly caught up in a slightly giddy mood: hope, diminishing anxiety, a sense of relief with a slightly guilty look over the shoulder, in case things weren't entirely all right –
Today (Saturday) – the LGBT group is having its all-day public talks; I am doing my 'AIDS Rage' talk, heavily cut, but with a lot of the music, and pictures and... well, all the flashy stuff I have been able to generate.
And it goes well. Hey, I'm actually pretty good at this, if I say so myself.
Passionately engaged speeches from various people: a cheerfully pleasant woman – a retired librarian – talks about her archival research into a local man who was a transvestite, and his endless tangles with the police until he vanished during World War One. The way she tells it: not exactly a sad story – yes, of course, much abuse and darkness, and the lostness of the end – but she constantly reminds us how assertive he was about doing and being who he was – strangely and not entirely sadly inspiring.
The wonderful woman running the logistics, very direct and smart and calm – what is it about her face that recalls an actress, someone who is also very good at walking into a room and putting every person where they need to be?
D., who ran the whole show – an open, cheerful young man, who seems to make things happen just by his presence... And the mostly young, energetic people who have done so much work to make everything happen: a distinct sense that these are people who want to do things that matter, and they were lucky this time because it all caught fire: suddenly they all found themselves doing things that they wanted to do, and staying up late and running around like mad to do them...
A remarkable kind of inspiration. As when there are stage directors, or conductors, with that remarkable talent for making things happen – apparently without anxiety, without effort....
A young man who introduces the speakers, who recently returned to this city from a few years away, and now he is thinner, more assertive, more present – still shy and gentle, but one who seems to have discovered his strength in the world.
And my favourite lesbian lawyer: smart and quick, and unexpectedly the twin of a woman at my university office, someone who is always bouncing off walls with enthusiasm – the two of them alike and yet different: tall and blond, but sweet and tart in very different measures.
One of the last who comes to the podium, a trans speaker, friendly, imaginative, assertive but gentle across a complex series of feelings and judgments.
Saturday evening, after that long day, back to the hospital to see B. Who is feeling much, much better, though absolutely wiped out – it was not a stroke (that phrase has a faint resonance of Dickens: "and to Tiny Tim, who did not die..."). His eyes are closed, as the pupils vibrate when he has them open too much – it was neurological, viral, maddeningly weird but not a stroke, and not permanent.
And yes, he is a bit wrecked (when human beings undergo system crashes, they are not like computers – the body is exhausted for a time; he won't be working for some weeks). But his brain, his mind, his memory – his creativity, his existence – should be unmarred...
Though he is tired, his eyes closed, his face is relaxed and he smiles from time to time. He shares the relief M. and I feel (I needn't worry about the previous night's joking, fortunately).
M. sits on the far side of the bed, I am on his left; I hold his hand for a while, with a sense of reassurance shared among us all. When I leave after an hour, I give him a hug – and, in one of those peculiar split-seconds of confusion and missed aim, I accidentally kiss him in the middle of the chest, rather than the cheek.
But neither of us are thrown by it: in this atmosphere of returning to life, it all feels like – well, like life. Pure life.
There will be a birthday celebration for the guy who ran today's events in two hours – after such a day, which has had a friendly glow like embers, I don't mind indulging myself until then. So: Carluccio's – the outrageously handsome Italian waiter is near the door: he lights up when he sees me.
As I am floating tonight, I don't question this, I just happily go to my table. He is not on the floor, however – my waiter is a warmly friendly Argentinian with a wonkier, very guy-like face. But not unsexy: I think that, if the outrageously handsome waiter is someone you are dazzled by, the Argentinian is the guy you end up living with, the one who looks up and smiles as you walk into the apartment....
Dinner is good. Couples all around, I realise it is the Saturday before Valentine's Day – I choose from the regular menu, as too much of the valentine menu is a bit sickly in one way or another. (It has a 'for tourists' quality to it... and several items are dyed pink. Ecch.) The Argentinian and I argue out my choices – I feel a certain relaxed triumph as my order clearly interests him more than those of the adjacent couples. Well, hey: it's not their faults, what do they know.
After finishing dinner, dessert, a small liqueur: a brief Facebook exchange encourages me to get pictures of these waiters (friends on four continents want to know what I'm looking at, and I wouldn't mind pictures for myself). So I set up the camera on the phone, put on my jacket, pick up my briefcase, walk toward the front of the bar...
but neither is around. Oh the timing of taking breaks.
I put the phone in my pocket with a sigh, realise I need to buy a birthday gift, so walk over to their small deli – the maitre d', a big, tall, athletic local, helps me choose a box that combines liqueur and chocolates. A voice behind me – so, how was your dinner?... I turn and the gorgeous waiter, with his jacket on to leave, smiles at me. At that point I'm too flustered, and not coordinated enough, to get my phone to do what I want it to; so I smile, we chat, and we walk out, and part.
Walking down from the middle of town toward the area near the station, where the gay bars are, I detour through the small but crowded side street with the comedy club/restaurant where M. works – he is there as I walk through the door: he pushes back at the air in front of him, gesturing for me to keep back, as he has a cold (but is working anyway). We exchange a few sentences, laugh, wave, I turn to leave and walk further through the busy town.
In the plaza, people are outside at tables – it is not freezing, but it still seems a bit cold for that... Fortunately everyone I've met today is inside:
the bar is wide and long, a plain space, but a number of people from the LGBT conference are there – dressed down, more animated, the ones who worked all day calmer, relaxed, happy.
There is a warm connection operating across genders, ages, appearances: this is community, which can indeed be created on schedule by those who have a talent for it. I talk to D. and to K. and my favourite lawyer and the woman who ran things, and various young men and older men and women and...
An intense young man with a big smile, A., who asked a question after my talk that pointed towards a huge set of ideas around Galás, performance art, madness, and experimentation, wants to talk. And we do talk – for at least an hour or more; there is a constant, unstressed density to the conversation – because we each almost immediately get nearly everything the other says, the artistic, the emotional, the bizarre, the psychological, the fragmentary. Personal stories, art works, philosophies of existence.
Others around come over and joke with us briefly – A. is known to them as someone with strange tastes and ideas, someone fascinated with the edges and dark transformations of imagination – but A. and I are moving so fast, in such an endless tangle of exchanged possibilities, that everyone soon backs away and leaves us to keep talking. As from a fire that is burning a bit too hot for it to be comfortable to be near it.
It is, throughout, remarkable, for speed, for ideas, for... even if at first there is a hint of mutual measuring, some can-you-handle-this on both sides, it rapidly becomes clear that neither of us has anything to fear in this conversation – least of all being misunderstood.
After an hour or so, I still haven't gone home – so much for that plan. I don't feel tired...
Some of the men move down the street to the leather bar, the Eagle – usually the place where I would feel most comfortable, in this neighbourhood where all the gay and lesbian bars are strung along a single, long, curved street.
I have not, however, been in here for at least a year, or two, or very possibly three. I really don't go out these days.
Which tells you how low my expectations have plummeted, and my connections to the everyday gay life that is here....
Which is probably why the continuing life that fills this day and night, this time of connection, is so surprising.
I continue to talk to the men who were involved in the conference – we are gathered in a small raised area, up a small staircase, at the front of the bar: the quiet, alert man who ran the Twitter feed, which apparently was second-most-popular in the UK for the entire Saturday – second after football... which, if you think about it, is seriously impressive. He put a couple of my best lines onto Twitter – rather proud of that, made a small splash.
At points I am assertively lecturing K., and then D., about how well they did today, about their skills and talents, about the rather larger splashes that they each have made. It's an interesting tone – I'm being the Old Man, pushy and a bit aggressive, but in an entirely encouraging way: telling them, no, you don't quite get it – these are talents many people don't have, and you must realise that you have them, in spades.
It's a bit like when I've pushed some of my own students – such as the ones who have that peculiar talent for leading and encouraging that makes a good conductor; or talking to M., who now studies in New York, when he showed that he could join practically any musician or ensemble in the department and make the performance vastly better just by getting involved...
D. looks at me intently, surprised but attentive, as I tell him what he is capable of doing: I am the old man you bump into after you have gotten lost in the fairy-tale forest – weird cackling, gnomic words, the forecast of the castle won, the golden future.
Down on the floor of the bar I can see F. – a big, friendly, charming Irish bear, the one I always love talking to in the vitamin store. I haven't seen him for weeks, he's hanging around with people I know...
So I go down to mix with them, with increasing energy, for several hours. F. has quit the vitamin store, but we are glad to see each other – and now we have contact, we know names and Facebook feeds; and I'm seriously glad of that – he is not only intelligent, but – beneath the slightly Irish exaggeration and brief flashes of anxiety, he is very – how would I say it – grounded. Adult. Strong – if still a bit uncertain how to present that to the world. His boyfriend is an energetic, talkative (yes, that is me saying talkative, so the word really means something) American – charming, daring, constantly testing small boundaries in a non-threatening way. They are (in at least two senses) with a solemn but pleasant Spanish man, who occasionally smiles and joins the conversation (the limits are linguistic, but when he catches on he is lively, imaginative).
S. and his partner, and their gang of friends – always a fixture at the Eagle, but a friendly one. Various rounds of shots revolving – you can tell I haven't been to the bars in ages, because I am surprised that shots are now varied and mixed (which, I suppose, gives the bartenders something amusing to do as they dash around keeping up with things – and they are indeed having at least some fun, trading laughing backchat with patrons as they pass).
(But perhaps they are merely responding to this day, this night: and perhaps it isn't just me – the world seems to be alive tonight: Eros is present, and everyone has energy, hope, plans, life.)
At one point, a man in a wheelchair, small and very crumpled, comes through the crowd – we move aside to let him occupy the corner of the bar. He sits, head on his shoulder, for a while – finally a guy sitting at the bar and I catch each other's eyes with that look of: okay, somebody needs to do something, and it looks like it's up to us. As the guy at the bar calls over the bartender, I lean over – in full right angle, because he is sitting that low – and ask if he wants something to drink, if he needs anything... he says, clearly but shyly: I have to tell you something – I've never been to a gay bar. (A sudden sense of walking into deep waters, but with no threat of drowning: I know I can, and must, keep my head through these moments.)
We talk for a while, I wave away the bartender – the man in the wheelchair really doesn't want anything to drink – and we talk directly about being nervous and being comfortable, about how bars are and how men are, what it's like to be out in public – when he worries about being treated badly because of his wheelchair, I choose the realistic option: it's true, that might happen. But everyone in a gay bar is usually a bit self-conscious anyway, so if it does happen – ignore it. And he is fine with that....
There are increasing numbers of guys, familiar ones and new ones – everyone is a bit alive, an electricity running through them. The shots keep coming in strange colours, mixed reds and greens, peculiar and sweet flavours – which is good, I'm happy with sweet, as always.
Two guys who just got engaged – and they are absolutely in the world of sensation: they both radiate a combination of sexuality and innocence – a sense of some kind of perfect match... The taller one is energetic, happily loud, has lived in many, many places – he's way ahead of me, having lived in more than ninety countries, but at least I have my four continents, the fifth one coming this summer. He is friendly and funny and talkative, with an utterly masculine joy: he seems archetypally a man of repairs and tools, of the most immanently physical chunks of the physical world. A bit later, his boyfriend, the short, hot one, confides to me, his arm comfortably around my waist: his 41st birthday is Monday, and he knows his partner has surprises ready, but he doesn't know what they are. I turn to smile at him, and say, vividly oracular: it will be amazing.
The joy in his face...
And a very tall, handsome man, but with a closed, private face; who knows all the men in this circle, though he stands slightly alone, like a cautious animal – he is shy; and even during a few minutes of talking with him – but I don't quite know how to explain this: what is it about reassuring someone who obviously cannot realise how extraordinarily beautiful they are, that makes you feel as though you are doing exactly what is needed in this second?...
The street, still fairly busy, but soon there is another taxi. The driver at first a bit irritable, a bit anxious – chaotic traffic, people wandering in and out, he is repeatedly waved down –
I tell him, look, this will take a bit more time than usual, and I don't mind.
He relaxes, and drives me home.
Sunday: a floating lassitude, not up until early afternoon. Laying in bed reading. Enjoying recovery from something I rarely do these days...
The early part of the week is pleasant, though working comes and goes.... I push myself a bit, some bits of administration vanish into a couple of quick spreadsheets... the list of to do's shortens, a bit, though the article at the top of the list is still there, and I keep walking around it, looking at it with a sort of friendly though guarded caution.
Tonight I listen to some of the music I added into the computer last week – a collection of ars subtilior, some Jai Uttal...
Uttal's kirtan – this I haven't listened to so much since the early 90s. Wandering through Facebook, I see that L. is closing the house where he has lived for years, where I first met the guru Ma Jaya – and first heard such things as kirtan, the entire cloud of Hindu and Buddhist teachings that made me yearn for comfort, for enough warmth to get me through the death I spent those years expecting.
The music – more casually edited than I remember, but full of life and passion – returns me to a younger self: I find myself emotional, but as in memory – not grieving, but remembering grieving. And I want to tell him something, as my analysands do when they become aware of their memories as shades and echoes of earlier selves –
though I admit that, among the several things I consider telling him (you are going to live for a long time, you want to finish that degree soon) is an instruction that I wouldn't be able to fully explain to him: ambition yes, travel yes, but remember: love is better.
Days full of light. Not a bright light, but light that keeps flashing through, and among, various people and exchanges and moments, that keeps showing up in sentences and eyes – as though there is really such a great deal of light, holding constant under all the surfaces of things: and it keeps appearing, glinting, through everything....