|Shimmer on Water Shoshonah Dubiner cybermuse.com|
I live a double life. One part is enchanted with scent, songs, folding laundry, cooking, being in my garden or in a bubble bath, looking at really close-up things, stretching my body, learning the piano, tweezing. The other goes out to work, brings home the bacon, often cooks the bacon in a cafe I thoroughly dislike, or bashes away at bamboo roots outside houses whose owners pay good money for horticultural titillation. We all have these double lives, right? For so long I considered that I must be strange, peculiar, depressed. I don't connect easily with others. I rush home, or to a fitness class, after work for that lovely haven to drench me with the things I love.
I am deeply fascinated with life and what it means to be alive, to perceive, to touch, to think critically, to taste. My body is a riddle, a vessel, and our bodies are just a drop in the ocean of who we are, full of fluid clues. I am fascinated with what makes me (and others) tick, with what lies beneath the semi-ridiculous material facade. I wonder if the material world is entirely incidental, just an accumulation of choices.
TONIGHT my bike, a gift from my dad a few years ago, was stolen. Reading a few books on angel presences that a friend lent to me, and skeptical about appearances of these angels in every day life, there it was in front of me, as my friends consoled me - another feather on the ground, defying me to remember that it's all, well, small potatoes really. How could I be angry? My body was still, contemplative. I've learnt this year to keep my cool because it's in these strange crevices of life that real life seems to lurk. What's to be learnt in the puzzle today?
Nothing Ever Happened
For as far back as I can remember, life has been such a complex puzzle for me. A supremely self-conscious child and teenager, I wondered why on earth I was in a snoozing suburb of Manchester with parents who didn't look a thing like me, or my sister. They often joked that my sister and I were found under a cabbage leaf but my child-mind wondered what the cabbage looked like and where it was. As a newborn baby, I couldn't even accept my mother's milk, neither cow's milk. My digestion wasn't ready for this, not ready to belong. Some cellular cosmic part of me belonged elsewhere. The boys at school, in the street, knew it and teased relentlessly. Unkind people still do.
Naturally, then, taking flight in the world has been fraught with hellish times, financial difficulty and a willful galvanisation to find what, where and with whom I belong. I, my body and I, exhaled, deeply, soulfully, at Sunseed , a sustainability project where I spent a year. From the moment of my arrival, there was no question of my oddness, my to-ing and fro-ing between the deeply male and female parts of myself, the bird of paradise style yellow blonde mohican hair, the colourful clothes. We were all the same, and very different and unique. I bawled like a baby when it was time to leave. The morning I left I sung a moving goodbye and my beloved community all lifted me in the air on their hands and arms as my voice clamped shut with tears of relief. For the first time in my entire life, I felt like I belonged. I belonged. Yet, I had to move on and follow the challenge of finding my tribe outside of that dreamy bubble.
From that sandy stratosphere, it's a nose-dive into planet earth again but this time, I had a voice and I had found my spirit-feet. I headed to the Algarve where I met other gay guys in Portugal who showed such kindness, a reaction among the gay community I had never felt before. The crevice of insecurity that runs in minority groups ironically can trigger such cruelty especially when one of its members mirrors those insecurities, or simply fails to conform to its brittle conventions. So for now, I wafted around, I ate small snails with garlic, cleaned the pool, worked out. I was a welcome guest. I liked so much being a guest but it was borrowed time. My feet were hovering above ground.
We often speak of trauma as a bad thing. If something's traumatising, what follows must be something deleterious and irrecoverable. And yet, what if the scars of trauma are necessary for a hard pruning of the spirit? Where is the point at which we break? Only we, as individuals - or, adults - can know. I often justify stress because the outcome is learning all the time how to be kinder. Is it a deceit? Is kindness the same as learned behaviour on how to be polite, hidden? I was unhappy with so much and for so long, while constantly working and thankfully distracted on becoming happier. I'm happy dancing wildly to loud music. I'm profoundly happy singing jazz and blues songs. I'm very happy when I bounce on a trampoline. And written words are my world, while conversation can knacker me out. I'll do my best to make you laugh, though, cus I love to make you smile. Is happy the only gauge I have?
This weekend, I say a final farewell to my childhood home. A few months ago, in preparation, my family and I watched footage of childhood holidays and Christmas and birthdays, and I marveled curiously at the smiling boy on screen while my heart unexpectedly sunk; the colours, the indescribable browns and greys of it, the smallness of it, my mum's oversized tinted glasses. What didn't she want to see, or look at dimly? This was pre-internet, where a children's birthday party was literally your semi-detached living room with a record player which your mum switched on and off by hand for sleeping statues. I felt at once tremendously sad, and also full of gladness that the little boy I could see, me, was not bothered one single jot. The past is firmly in the past.
I serve so many seniors at the cafe and they move almost as slow as sleeping statues. They reach for their purses as if penetrating lunar dust with thick white boots, perhaps the might required against the youthful gravity of life. They quickly confuse with the jangling clinking coins in there, they wonder exactly what amount their goods came to. And a part of me wriggles again, and fights against this impatience, and bodily complains. Why? Do I envy their slow ways? How do they get anything done? Am I sad that they are dying? Here we are, face to face, occupying the same world that is planets apart. We can learn from each other. Do we?
The modern mind at once values speed and efficiency, haring around like diarised lunatics. For the thrill, to conquer, to continue, in a contemporary way, the Victoriana that my grand-dad and his brutal peers propagated almost 100 years ago. The colonial, the learned hunter, imagines that everything in-sight and on the horizon belongs to him, if only he could arrive there, even covered in sweat, or blood, even half-dead. He, we, did it. And the world, temporarily, is ours. Is mine. But it never happens that way, because there's always one more corner to turn, one more door to open. Without sugar, my morphine, I need to learn how to be softer and more light-hearted in my navigation. The stamina he thinks he has is just a nerve-gas of second, or even third, wind. Then, the stillness of my miniature pond delights and stills me, its glass reflection of the grasses that surround it and the immovable sky. I could stagnate here. I sometimes pretend that, outside of the garden fence, nothing is of much importance.
CANTERBURY this is my hymn to the mostly appalling 9 months of life that you have birthed through me. The Hebrew tarot-style cards showed me last summer, when I asked about my fate, they showed me an image of a man diving into a blue pool. They showed me the word "excellence" and "courage" and my imagination roared with possibilities of how excellent I could be. I fell at the hurdle, I didn't prosper...I scraped by, ticking or barely scratching boxes. Did my spirit survive? Barely, but I am here and only fools dismiss this as extravagant nonsense, as over-reaction. A friend took her life, my nana contracted pneumonia (recovered), I smashed my leg (fully recovered), I got tennis elbow (almost recovered), my hairline continued to recede. I can call no-one here a close friend. I have stuck to my old friends through WhatsApp and trips; I have stuck to social media, to those I admire and who inspire me. Praise be to technology, to music, to natural beauty. To dreams that keep our body alive when, darkly, the spirit whispers of a better place.
What now? Will I return to the Masters in September? Do I want another harrowing year? I considered myself the luckiest guy in the world until the end of 2018 but then the circus tent caved in on itself. Now the fun, the real fun, can begin...without masks, without etiquette or shame. My spirit reminds me that I came to conquer, not the world, but myself through an urgent and profound need to self-actualise. No excuses. What does that mean? No idea, but I guess it looks like another layer of authenticity, really looking at myself and my life and being fully accountable in a way that is alien and new to me, terrifying. Community was wonderful in its way, but it was too easy to be invisible. The masked hero is but a coward. The real one has wrinkles, scars, trauma, deep regret, a hearty soulful laugh and a veiny love for life that isn't swayed by a dose of bad luck.