notes on exile no.1: this week


The performance was constrained, conveying Dietrich’s masculinity and Bowie’s otherworldly androgyny; a thing inflected with intensity both subtle and thrilling. We’re trained somehow to romanticize exuberance when it’s shadowed by political horror, so it’s easy to make cabaret something it’s not.

Elements of the singer’s style, those both affected and real—as well as his double entendre, too smart for the couple sitting next to me, who always laughed five seconds late—reminded me of Kurt, now three years dead. Like those nights at his bar, when he’d talk ahead of patrons who bored him; bantering to keep the real joke out of sight.

We’d had a cabaret period, if you can rightly say Providence ever had cabaret. Mostly we drank too much and said terrible things about people who weren’t there, listening to an angry singer who questioned her worth.

Kurt would have liked Kim David Smith, but maybe that’s a projection. Kim David Smith performed Kurt: sexy and smart, cutting and utterly wounded, with a tantalizing hint of tragedy. Kurt’s ghost is fixed in my mind, embodying youth like some old-fashioned matron’s portrait, eliding his last decade. Thirty-five was the end of our exuberance. It was our Weimar. And everything after wasn’t.

I don’t experience romance now, even as I inhabit a gauzy midlife adolescence. I live at the beach as much as I want, and I have work that allows me to step in and out of multiple worlds (at safe distances). And, I’m bored. Rick called me to remind me of that fact. He’d read it off my Facebook, all the way from Santa Barbara, even though I’d never outright said it. You need to get back into the world, he told me.

I used to push agendas, but agendas push back. And egalitarian politics are designed to contain men like me. That’s not a complaint. Men like me, although maybe not me, need to be contained. That, of course, holds a dubious conceit. But you can’t fight too many battles at once.

I hate military figures of speech, but they get the job done. Which is what a Sister of Mercy once said to me about political violence. It still haunts me. I have no interest in being a fascist.

My exile is a search for new metaphor.

I use writing as an excuse not to paint, and painting as an excuse not to write. And teaching is the best excuse to do neither. I take long walks and tell myself it’s a practice.

I posted a personal ad: Seeking brilliant iconoclast, interested in living on the far Eastern edge of a continent and epic hikes across sand dunes.

I never said what we’d do in the dunes, because I don’t know. But it must be epic.

I teach people to claim their voice, but I’ve misplaced mine. It’s that simple.

To shut me up, Shehzad says I can be Tiresias in his Bacchae. But the miniscule propane leak in my stove was fixed this week, and I no longer have visions. Boy Tiresias or Girl Tiresias? I ask. Big bearded Tiresias, he says, and we return to a conversation about cats.

I’m starting to remember.

Even in the thrall of him, when I wanted to be more like him, I never wanted to be him. He was never cabaret, because cabaret isn’t nihilistic. And for too long I turned my eye from romance’s failures, Platonic and not, but mostly Platonic, and the way Romance soured him.

Herein lies my problem. I spend far too much time deciphering the dead, and not nearly enough deciphering myself.

He was never better than me, and he knew it when I did not.

Now I’m supposed to summarize, but that’s not how thinking works. It pools and eddies, until bumped by some slight vector. I’m still spinning, hoping for a pull one way or another.

It’s taking forever.

The self-help literature, in which I’m immersed, tells me I am the vector, and Astrologers say it’s coming fast. Is it Rick’s call or another of the pings off my devices? Was it a melancholic cabaret singer? The gas leak? Tonight’s eclipse? Am I resisting? Probably.

Thom Gunn said his old teacher’s definition of poetry is an attempt to understand. My old teachers taught me politics are more important than beauty, all the while lecturing me on the problem of dualism. And while they hectored, I learned to navigate the world as both gay and straight, simply to survive. Being two things at once was a problem most of them (nearly all) never considered. And now I ask (again and again) why not both?

Next: Notes on exile no.2

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