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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

 

Standing Alone for 40 Years.

I never feel sorry for myself. That's not my style. I'm the kind of man who turns every frustration into anger, because rage can sometimes accomplish things. Rage against injustice, rage for the right. As the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote,
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I cannot sign on to everything in his poem, in part because I don't understand it. But here it is, in case you do understand it.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The Irish writer Brendan Behan once described himself as "a drinker with a writing problem" — in two languages, English and Irish Gaelic. I have to guard against alcoholic excess, because my ancestry is 3/4 from drinking peoples, Dutch, Irish, and German. As I get older, I become more easily affected by alcohol, but decades of experience have taught me how to recognize when enuf becomes too much. I couldn't always draw that distinction, but I usually drank only at the end of my workday.
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In my mid-20s (that is, in the late 1960s), I realized that there were two kinds of people in the world, the people who were always involved with someone and the people who were never involved with someone. It took a lot longer to even begin to understand how those two groups differed.
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Part of it was wanting to be connected more than wanting to be one's own man.
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Part was being willing to compromise and adjust around another person.
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Part, however, was just dumb luck. You did or did not find someone right for you, and that's all there was to it.
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Well, that wasn't ALL there was to it. There were social forces, in my case and in the case of other gay men, that contrived and conspired to keep us alone, isolated, unloved and unloving. And why? Why would someone wish on a stranger that he be miserable and alone, or alone but refusing to be miserable? What did I, what did we collectively, do, as to make total strangers want us to be miserable, alone, and empty all life long?
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Despite social conspiracy to keep gay men from finding love and stability, some men did manage to fall into relationships that suited them, in which the other man loved him unconditionally and supported him in whatever he wanted to do. He encouraged him to pursue whatever he wanted to be, and helped him overcome obstacles. In the alternative, when he saw that what the man he loved wanted to be was never going to happen, for whatever reason, he helped him adjust his expectations. He was a sounding board who listened, evaluated, and gave candid advice, from the basic understanding that it's not kind to lie to people about things they can never be. Rather, you cause someone you care about to see themselves as others see them, without pretension, hype, or cons, and judge whether what they really are fits their ambitions, or does not.
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We do not all have the luxury of such a sounding-board who can show us, always lovingly, what we can and cannot do, and what we can and cannot truly expect from life. Those who don't have that kind of always-kind observer may arrive at the same conclusions at the same time, but not likely.
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In 1979, I wrote a flyer to be handed out at a gay march on Washington, DC, in which, in one line, I pronounced for gay marriage: "Legalization of homosexual marriage, both in civil and canon law."
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At the time, that was not just not a popular stance. It was actually denounced by significant portions of the gay community as "hetero-imitative". Gay men were to PREFER the "freedom" to have sex with anyone and everyone we wanted. THAT was liberation, and to be free was the supreme value. Free, not "attached", not "bound" to a relationship to one man in preference to and exclusion of all other men.
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I personally would be a hard case in any case. I am militant, uncompromising, and hardline intellectual. I'm like a human "Sheldon Cooper", the central, preposterously fictional character in the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory — except that I know how to pronounce things that the character Sheldon Cooper doesn't have a clue about (such as "coitus", which has three syllables, not two; and "Raj" has a J-sound, not a ZH-sound, because it's Hindi, not French). If I don't know how to pronounce something, because of the insane spelling of English, I have the good sense to look it up.
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Like "Sheldon", however, I am never lonely. "Sheldon" has a roommate. Rarely have I ever, since I struck out on my own in June 1965, lived other than alone. Yes, a few months with different (gay) friends, but assuredly less than a year of the 47 years that have passed since I left my parents' home.
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"Sheldon" is a hardline science intellectual, who is kept busy by his internal intellectual processes most of the time. But he also plays computer games, paint-ball war games with friends, etc. I do not. I work on my computer and in taking pictures for use in my Newark fotoblog. I play pool while waiting for the (clothes) dryer in the basement of my house. I watch television the rest of the time.
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120 years ago, I would have had no television, no radio, no musical recordings to fill the space around me with the sounds of people. Rather, I would have been inescapably aware that I was alone in a room. In order to have so much as the illusion of companionship, I would have to leave my house and seek out actual human company.
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Most people understand that they need other people. Sadly, I actually don't need people, almost ever. There is an incandescent music video of the song "Stand by Me", performed by a number of different musicians singing or playing different types of instruments in different countries, all taking their rhythm from one performer, Roger Ridley, in Santa Monica, California. Everyone after Ridley listens to his rendition via headfones, and makes their vocal or instrumental contribution to Ridley's superbly touching performance. "Performance" seems too trivial a term for what Roger Ridley gives us. Judge for yourself, and come up with your own term for Ridley's, and the international group's astonishing rendition of this emotionally powerful song. There are other songs, with other international performances, by the same recording entity, but I haven't yet checked them out. My concern is with the idea of someone standing by you, no matter what.
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There has never, in my 67 years of life, been anyone to "Stand by Me". The recent advances toward "marriage equality" in the U.S. and other countries have come much too late for me, as for hundreds of millions of other gay men thru the ages. Tho I am emphatically glad that other gay men will have benefits of social approval and support that I never had, it does me personally no good. I am too old, too set in my ways, too curmudgeonly and insistent on the right as I see it, to form a loving, lasting relationship in my declining years heading toward death.
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I would have been powerful, or at least not almost totally powerless, against economic adversity if I had been involved with someone for many years. Between the two of us, we could have set aside money for a future when we might not have income from any source but Social Security and scant savings.
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I have always had to stand on my own. I didn't think about it. I just did it. It wasn't a choice. I just had to do it. Millions of people my age, gay and straight, have had to provide all the energy, all the internal resources, to do everything in our lives, from ourselves alone. We survived, but did not thrive.
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We lived by virtue of biological tenacity and intellectual vigor. We didn't dare hope to be happy, tho we somehow kept hope alive, knowing all the while that we were fooling ourselves. There would be no happiness for us. No love. No children — no sons. No one to care for. No one to care about. We trudged on, against the dismal gray, and hoped for a better day for people like us. When will our sun finally come out?
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I shall never go gentle into that good night. I shall rage against the dying of the light, and at the very end of my lite, I will lie, defiant, horizontal but unbowed. No fondness to bestow on anything, not on life. Just bitterness and anger that injustice kept me from being happy thru all my life. I stood by myself. I wish you much better luck.



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