I find this an odd time of year; the days are short here in Northeast England, it's between Christmas and New Year, many but not all have stopped working for a week or perhaps two, time is spent with friends and family or perhaps alone... there's both a feeling that this is a time of rest and a feeling that an effort is made to connect and have fun. Whilst there is rest, connection, warmth and love there is also an inbuilt expectation of some kind of fantastic, best there could ever be time of goodness knows what; a mythical Christmas. There's a kind of inbuilt failure in this if one should fall for it. And the commercialism supercharges all this. I take a low key, laid back approach to it and enjoy a time of peace, rest, connection and warmth. Memories of Christmas past come and go. There are walks in nature, time with people I care about, good food, time to reflect and time to feel.
Yesterday evening whilst looking up recipes and cooking times on the internet I had Nina Simone playing on Spotify. A number of songs amongst them 'Ne me quitte pas', brought me to tears. Her voice has the power to embody the deep sadness at the very heart of human life. A voice that seems to walk the tightrope between despair and a joy born of the love of life, the very force of life, it takes me across the precipice of misadventure (perhaps) as adventure, life as journey; an errotic flowering in an ocean of heaven only knows what... Listening to Nina Simone I recall the first time I heard her and liked the song, it was 'My baby just cares for me'. It was in the late 1980's and I was in a pub with a friend. I was still waiting to 'grow out of' my same sex desires and had probably shut down in ways that I still don't fully recall. I didn't know it but I was falling love with this friend and whilst I knew I found him interesting I wouldn't realise that I loved him until he told me (not on the night that song played) that he didn't want to ever spend any more time with me. He wouldn't say why but only that I was 'in a bad way'. That was painful; more or less all at once I realised how much he meant to me, that he didn't think much of me, that I wasn't just turned on by other guys but that I wanted them emotionally too (I'd kind of understood that before since the boys I fancied most at school were the ones who I could imagine connecting with), that yes I probably was in a bad way and that this person who I now realised that I loved (although I don't recall using the word love) didn't actually exist. He didn't exist because the person I thought he was wouldn't be so cruel. Those tears Nina's singing provoked contained her pain, parts of the pains which I've experienced including that unrequited love described above and of course the sadness that comes with life's flowering in an ocean of heaven knows what... that we are at once and at all time interconnected and separate... Just now I'm reading Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd a book about the way LGBT people are adversely affected by being at the margins of society. I'm reading this to see if it's suitable to send to a young gay man I know who will soon go off to university. Because I'm reading this and because Nina Simone is connected in my memory with my struggle to make sense of being gay those tears had that struggle as a bit of a focus but it's the journey across that precipice; life's journey that's the light brought to focus. This is what moves us, the enormity of our, of life's potential and limitations.
The thing I enjoy about this time of year is that I do have time to feel. It's not only at this time of year that I can do this, but the time away from work at midwinter when work lives sort of slow for many facilitates the chance for deeper connection with feeling and being. The feelings are as ever, at times complex and at others apparently simple and more and more there is the sense of the space that holds them. Spiritual life for me is about awareness. The mirror is without a stand and has nowhere for dust to land yet it still needs to be wiped clean. And it takes a healthy self to forget the self. This brings me to constructions of masculinity. I've seen straight men struggle with that, from machismo to men who seem wet and without direction and I've seen gay men struggle with it. Gay men struggle with it both in relation to straight men and other gay men. What is needed of course is just to respond to life from the heart with the power that is needed, without too much attachment to the outcome but with the care that the situation needs. This requires a lot of awareness and a willingness to act. The two are of course related. Women too have to negotiate constructions of self but as a gay man my energies are naturally directed in terms of masculinities. We often create our selfhood through our work or in our sense of alienation from it. At this time of year if we take a step back from our employment and take time to feel and be then there is the opportunity to consider our life's work as we move into the next year. What are we all about? I feel fortunate in that I've had opportunity in life to explore this question and continue to unfold it. My hope for the young man I'm considering sending the above book to is that he lives a life with balance and flair; that there is depth, understanding, peace, joy and compassion and that he gets these qualities without too much pain yet is creative, engaged and growing. And that's probably what most of us want for ourselves and those we love.