The Age of Anxiety

That was January and February and it was unpleasant. Then things got really bad (last day out of the house on 3/8, then two brushes with death, but that’s not my topic here).

So: the Auden poem; FPNs (faggot persecution nightmares), one set off by Torch Song Trilogy; and the astonishing devastation of Beethoven’s “Rage Over a Lost Penny”.

The Auden. From Wikipedia:


(#1) First critical edition (Princeton Univ. Press, 2011)

The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (1947; first UK edition, 1948) is a long poem in six parts by W. H. Auden, written mostly in a modern version of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.

The poem deals, in eclogue form, with man’s quest to find substance and identity in a shifting and increasingly industrialized world. Set in a wartime bar in New York City, Auden uses four characters – Quant, Malin, Rosetta, and Emble – to explore and develop his themes.

The poem won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1948. It inspired a symphony by composer Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety (Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra), which in turn was used for both a 1950 ballet by Jerome Robbins and a 2014 ballet by Liam Scarlett.

The FPNs begin. 1/31 on Facebook:

Despite elaborate efforts to divert my mind and body from the shitstorm of current events and my personal condition both, I descended into 6 hours of the Faggot Persecution Nightmare (a bane of my life for many years) and got up at 2 a.m. to face a day of exhausted wakefulness — but [awake,] I do at least have some control over what’s in the focus of my attention.

In the nightmares I am pursued, endlessly, by rifle-toting thugs using snarling dogs to hunt me down by my smell. I am hidden, crouched in fear, in cramped dusty attics by sympathetic strangers, while teams of brutish searchers go from house to house to root me out. I am pelted with verbal abuse and garbage. I am hauled up for execution for the crimes of my mind and the crimes of my body.

I wake up, try to shake the nightmares off, try to go back to sleep by enveloping myself in sweet memories, but as soon as I drop off the dogs are on me.

After a few hours I prefer exhausted wakefulness to the ordeals of sleep.

Torch Song Trilogy. On 2/21, As part of a program of viewing gay-themed movies, I watched my DVD of TST, which triggered another night of faggot persecution nightmares.

I’d seen it five or six times, so I should have realized it was going to be a problem when I was emotionally down and feeling threatened. After all, the central character is named Arnold, and in almost every part of life he’s an outsider, doesn’t really fit in. Even in gay bars. He has a small niche — the drag show — where he can do something well and is valued for it. (This is much as I see myself, except that my niche is linguistics, not female impersonation.)

But he is sweet, and self-deprecatingly funny, and earnest, and empathetic, and two men recognize this and love him. All this I remembered, and I remembered the major theme of his conflict with hs mother, who is offended by his homosexuality and rejects him for making it so public. But I had somehow suppressed the unbearably painful story of his great love, Alan, until just moments before the tragedy unfolded, when I was suddenly emotionally devastated.

Highlights from Wikipedia:


(#2) Alan (Matthew Broderick) and Arnold (Harvey Fierstein)

Torch Song Trilogy is a 1988 American comedy-drama film adapted by Harvey Fierstein from his play of the same name.

The film was directed by Paul Bogart and stars Fierstein as Arnold, Anne Bancroft as Ma Beckoff, Matthew Broderick as Alan, Brian Kerwin as Ed, and Eddie Castrodad as David.

… 1971: Arnold (Harvey Fierstein), a New York City female impersonator, meets Ed (Brian Kerwin), a bisexual schoolteacher, and they fall in love. Ed, however, is uncomfortable with his sexuality and he leaves Arnold…

1973-79: … Arnold meets the love of his life, a male model named Alan (Matthew Broderick). They settle down together … Eventually, they apply to foster a child together with a view to adoption, and their application is eventually successful and so they move to a bigger apartment. However, on their first night at their new home, Alan is killed in a homophobic attack. [A pack of teenagers roams through the neighborhood looking for fags to beat up, and they murder Alan on the way back from a small grocery run. Oh christ, they beat the adorable Matthew Broderick to death!]

1980: Months later … Arnold’s mother (Anne Bancroft) comes to visit from Florida, but her visit leads to a long-overdue confrontation. Arnold’s mother disapproves of Arnold’s homosexuality and his planned adoption of a gay teenage son, David (Eddie Castrodad), as well as Arnold’s use of their family burial plot for Alan.

It was an exceptionally bad night, full of fag-bashing teen thugs.

Beethoven’s rage and my despair. As I wrote to a friend (bedeviled by anxiety) on Facebook on 3/1, about the night of 2/28:

Bad anxiety time for me too, much exacerbated by current events. Got up in the middle of the night two nights ago (to take an old man’s frequent leak), the iTunes feed was playing Beethoven’s “Rage Over a Lost Penny”*, one of Jacques’s most-loved pieces of music, and I burst into bitter tears of sudden loss (though it’s been 22 years since he shared our bed with me). Oi. (* the “Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio” in G major, Op. 129, a piano rondo by Ludwig van Beethoven, better known by the title Rage Over a Lost Penny (Vented in a Caprice) (Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice); it’s wonderfully playful, and J broke out in smiles whenever he heard it) The sense that he was there, so vividly there that I could *smell* him, was just unbearable.

You can listen to a performance by Misuzu Tanaka here (#3).

Meanwhile, back in my bedroom Johnny Cash sings (you can listen here (#4)):

The other night dear, as I lay sleepin’
I dreamed, I held you by my side
When I awoke dear, I was mistaken
And I hung my head and I cried.

(My 8/21/16 posting “What you done, sunshine, is criminal damage” has a section on my sunshine (roughly ‘the light of my life’), and the song “You Are My Sunshine”.)

Now I will indulge myself in quoting a big chunk of my 10/11/16 posting “News for penises: NCOD, Portlandia” on how we worked together as a couple. Having a best friend is good for anyone, but if you’re gay, having someone to stand with you in love and respect against a world that is often quite hostile is precious indeed. (Recall Arnold and Alan in TST.)

I’ll note here that neither J nor I was likely to be picked out as gay on the street. We dealt with our (potentially concealable) sexual identities in two very different ways. J sailed along in life just doing what he did, including some decidedly gay stuff, and talking about things matter-of-factly, so that he was often, ridiculously, surprised that people pegged him as queer. In no way distressed, just surprised. Absolutely endearing.

On the other hand, once I realized that I could do a kind of community service by being visibly, flagrantly, sometimes in-your-face, queer, through writing and incendiary clothing, I went for it. And Jacques was with me every step of the way, his arms around my shoulders, admiring the earnestness of my commitment, and clearly enjoying my performances. He never once suggested I was Going Too Far, and once, when we were in private, he actually applauded me and kissed me.

He always said the political and public stuff wasn’t his thing, but obviously it was, he just got to do it through me. I was his vehicle. (Yes, I miss him terribly, even after 13 years.)

When I started writing extremely personal stuff abut my sexual experiences, in the belief that writing about such things intelligently would be useful to others (and, of course, yes, fun), I asked J what his limits were for my writing about him, our sexual lives together, and our sexual experiences with other men, and he just said, write about whatever you want, all of it, just so long as I don’t have to read what you write. I said, you know this could mean you’re going to meet people who know really intimate details of your (extensive) sexual history, your body, and our lovemaking. So what?, was his response. He had no reputation to protect, he was just a guy, I was the guy with the reputation, and if I could write about my times at the baths or in t-rooms, who would care about his times cruising at the gym, or our anniversary sex in the living room?

In the end, of course, he wanted to read some of it, in postings to the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss, and he thought it was really really hot. And often funny. And sometimes perceptive. (Over the years he was a helpful critic of my writing and teaching.)

 

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