these days it appears
attractive to young men
attracted too, of course, but that’s not news
and not newsworthy: young men are
even people who aren’t generally attracted to young men can see this
and even if they can’t see it, they are still
attracted to them
their gender their inclination their
their emotion their wisdom their inhibition, their assessment of any given
whether they want to or not and believe that they are or that they aren’t
(except those few who are not and they are few and are not and are therefore the
what’s new is that more than before
more than ever
as far as i ever can tell
(and often i can’t)
or recall (and i could if i would)
men half my age or just slightly older or occasionally just slightly younger still too
come to me, seek me out
not i them
of the men i have met, spoken to, spent time and been with lately
most, though not all, have been those
that are half my age or slightly older or on occasion slightly younger even
and who have come to me, sought me out
not i them
this flatters me, of course, maybe honours me, but more than that does it
because i don’t do anything to attract them, not
consciously: if anything i do the opposite
i grow a beard
i wear a jacket left me by a friend more than ten years ago, which was vintage then
my shoes are worn out and my jeans
i don’t go to the gym i don’t wear my lenses i don’t
a young voice or vocabulary
more than they have ever done before, even when
when i was their age
come to me, seek me out
i don’t go after them. on a park bench at a party in a bar
i mind my own business more or less
i say hello maybe, or
greet a smile with a smile
but that’s it
i don’t do anything more; maybe
that’s what it is
maybe that’s what makes me
to young men: it may be that
in the past, when i was
i was just trying too hard to be
something, someone, some other
person than the one that they saw
because they saw through me then to me now
what they see is what they get
and if they are friendly and kind and intelligent too
(apart from being attractive: being young, they’re always
i see no reason
why they shouldn’t get
what they see if
what they see is
what they desire
is life not give and take after all and are we not in it
to share of ourselves
as we lose ourselves in each other?
my summer of love leaves me warm-hearted light-headed and simple of soul
I decide that the origin is clearly not what matters. It goes against my grain somewhat to accept this, because wasn’t that what got me onto this story in the first place? Wasn’t that the intriguing question: how did it all begin? Still, nobody knows, and no-one I met and talked to about it was able to give me any further hints or pointers.
There’s the legend of the two guys in their twenties and their dare, and there is the tradition that has established itself over time, and that’s all there is to it. Does there need to be more? Of course, everything has a cause and an origin somewhere, and probably this is somehow known: in the fabric of the common consciousness, unspoken, unexplained. It just happened, we all know it just happened, we kind of understand how it happened, and we’re all right with that. Or is it a case of avoiding something, some uncomfortable truth? What could possibly be uncomfortable in a truth about an event as friendly and as inclusive and as welcoming and as joyful as the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll on the last Sunday of June each year?
I resolve to let go. This obsession with clear causes and rational effects. I’ve had, against all my expectations and severe reservations, a marvellous time in the unclothed company of strangers who turned out very much to be friends I hadn’t yet met. This belief I’ve held always, borne out by experience.
We are good people. Yes, we do terrible things—the litany of our offences against each other, against the planet, against the animal kingdom, against our own soul, reads like a catalogue of monstrosity, and we’re never more than an inch away from some appalling misdeed or other—and yes our history is littered with catastrophic failures of humanity, and yes: you watch your news and you feel a moment closer to despair before you’ve had a chance to change channels, but… take a Sunday afternoon like this in almost any town in England, or in any country, really, and, away from the agitation, unstirred by some cause or other, some issue or concern, given a set of basic parameters —that the fundamental needs be covered, that the fabric of the community be intact and healthy, that the framework that allows human beings to feel safe and appreciated be in place and not threatened by crime or corruption or despotic politics—you will find us getting on with each other, pretty much. Across generations, across creeds, across ideologies, across gender, across ethnicity, across religion, across our own little preoccupations, and large ones too, across the spectrum. It’s not spectacular, and it’s not difficult. It’s human, it’s normal. And yet, it is still remarkable.
This, I decide to hold on to. As a thought, as a hope. I know some will find me naive or deluded. I realise at this time of confrontation and conflict and unbearable regression into isolationist rhetoric; in this feverish atmosphere of allocating blame and guilt and shame while searching for simplistic solutions, it may sound almost glib to say: ‘we are good people.’ But think of the alternative.
Think of what it means if we decide, in the face of everything, that we are as terrible as the dreadful things we see? Then whatever makes whomever among us do wrong, in whatever way, will have won: we hand our worst version of ourselves victory over ourselves. Because yes, the bombing of children in war zones, the dumping of plastic by the container load in the oceans, the burning down of refugee centres, and the shooting of students at high schools: they’re all done by us. People. Like you and me. That is the horrendous truth, but it’s also—and that’s much harder to comprehend and as difficult to accept—the reason there is hope still. The people who do the most terrible things from which we recoil in disgust, they are not a different species. They are innocent when they are born and grow up with hopes and dreams of their own. And then things go wrong. Over time, bit by bit, through circumstances, through personal choices, through the need to survive, through the culture we’re born into, through what behaviours are reinforced. Through illness. Through despair. For every person who does something destructive, violent, inhuman, cruel, there is also the person they could have become. May yet turn into, given the chance. And vice versa.
So if we give in to despair, surrender to cruelty, and accept violence and destruction as the norm, then we feed them. We give our energy to them, we make them stronger. We start to meet hatred with hatred, instead of with love. We start to build walls, instead of dismantling borders. We start to arm teachers, instead of disarming society. We crank up the tension, instead of defusing situations, we add fuel to the wildfire, instead of extinguishing it, and planting new trees.
They’re simple choices, really: whichever version of ourselves we nurture will grow strong. And so I take my leave of Bournemouth & Boscombe and its famous Nude Beach Stroll. I salute you, good people, there, by the coast: I thank you, you’ve given me much food for thought and made me see my world differently. I wish you well!
And so, back. Down. To Earth. Where I belong? This, my home? This desert wilderness of beauty and voluptuousness, this abundance of colour, vegetation, insects and beasts; these cities, these people, these civilisations? This art, these quantities of stuff and rubbish; these tears, these cruelties, these abominations? This joy? These excellences, these wonders? These tastes, these smells, these flavours, these sensualities, these sweet transgressions, these experiences? This catharsis? This messiness, these quarrelsome foibles; these imperfections, these obstacles? And this weather?
This air that I breathe, this need to do so; these urges, this hunger, this thirst for immersion, this drowning, these rocks on the road, these symbols, these signs? These abstractions? These metaphors, this poetry, this song and this dance? That we make? About what? This love.
Everything suddenly feels disconcertingly real again, and I’m not sure I like it. I’m sure I don’t dislike it, not as such, but I find these certainties confusing. These obligations to respond. These figures of speech, these formulations. These competitions for superlatives. These hyperboles. These headlines, these star-ratings, these ceremonies, these awards. These absurdities. These traumas of rejection or attraction, of interpretation of behaviour of looks and of glances, these whispered words, these games I refuse to play. These rules. These obediences, these categories, these schedules, these expectations. These parochial wordlinesses. This world.
This world perplexes, awes and bewilders me. Here I am, stunned to find myself on it, in it, part of it, and I am momentarily paralysed. This will not last, I feel sure, though why I should feel so I don’t know.
For a long time now I have felt like wading through treacle, slowly, cumbersomely, glued to the ground by a sticky morass that would not let go. There is no escape from gravity in this place, except perhaps on aerial silks or on skis. The former are not for me, the latter very much so. I think me on the mountain, gliding down the glorious white, with the Alps in the distance and the molecules in my lungs, and I know what it is to be free. That I know; that, I can relate to. Everything else does not quite make sense. Which is strange: I’ve been learning and trying to understand, but it still is mostly as alien to me as the planets from which I’ve returned, richer in mind yet not much the wiser. At the end of the day there is always the here and now to make something of, and now that I’m here, I might as well make the most of it. Thus I tell myself, over again.
‘Most’ meaning ‘best’: meaning all I can do. What could that possibly be? If I allow my youth up to say about eighteen, nineteen – why not twenty-one: if I allow that to be my formative phase that doesn’t yet count as my adult existence, then I’m now halfway at least through what my adult existence can reasonably be expected to be: I can still look forward, but as much can I, must I, look back. That frightens the hell out of me. That I’m here on Earth, effectively halfway through—way over, if you’re counting from birth—feeling pretty much as I felt right at the beginning, and not having made any impact at all. Not having really moved from the spot. Not having done more than tried, but without ever really succeeding, to take flight. Does that mean it’s too late? Is it ever, can it ever be simply too late? But for what? For some sort of attainment, of what? Of acclaim, recognition, notoriety, ‘fame’? Or even just love? Can love be attained?
“Be not afraid of moving slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” I want to know what the soul is. At a quantum level: the science, the understandable, perceptible, conceptualisable part of existence that is not material, not intelligent, not rational, not emotional; intangible, insubstantial but essential and real. A Quantum Philosophy. I want to know what that is.
That part of me that I can’t see when I look in the mirror and that I can’t choose one of my names to put an identity to, that I can’t express in words—and if I write another million or ten—that I sense is forming and taking shape (without shape, of course), that is there and that others, some others, recognise in an instant (others, of course, never will): that is what interests me, makes me curious to go further, encourages me, yet to delve.
And so I take my cue, once again, and affirm: I’m here now. I might as well make the most of it. Whatever that turns out to be: it probably really doesn’t matter at all, but for my soul—if nothing else—it’s better to sense me alive than just there; more joyful than to reject, to embrace; more gracious to receive what is given with thanks; and wiser to do what I can, but leave for someone else or another time what I can’t; more courageous to take the challenge, than to say no; more human, altogether, after all, to say ‘yes.’
Being invisible to the naked eye has the advantage that you can watch and learn.
I sit on a tube train wearing a hat, and I examine the people sitting across from me. Nobody notices, nobody minds. I love looking at people. I love people. I love. I’ve put half a century on the clock and not ever experienced ‘love’, not love in return, not ‘I love you,’ ‘I love you too’ love. I feel love all the time, I gush all aglow at the slightest appearance of beauty or kindness or both or even just quirky adorableness, and I forever fascinate at the troubled soul. But never has anyone whom I felt myself as ‘in love with’ felt that way about me. Or vice versa. That is strange. As it so seems the norm. Then again, I’ve never subscribed to ‘the norm’.
Back at the Limonlu Bahçe, the boy’s sun bleached hair is lighter blond than it would be had he not spent some time on the beach, I assume. I feel like talking to him, but I don’t know what to say. And I don’t want to scare him; I remember what I was like when I was that age, and although I was fiercely independent and unselfconsciously ‘cool’, I was also wary of men of the age I am now. They were ancient. And really what was their point.
I put myself in his place and imagine myself looking at me from where he’s sitting, still held in a momentary trance, and I find it surprisingly easy to see what he sees and feel what he feels and know what he knows and be what he is and it hits me: I’m he.
Not metaphorically speaking in a similarity kind of way vaguely so, but for real. No wonder he looks so familiar. And so abjectly alien too. I have manoeuvred myself into a space-time-convolution in which for reasons I cannot begin to imagine I am sitting twelve feet away from myself, some twenty-eight years removed. Holy cow.
The strident thrust of a century recently launched, and with great fanfare too. Millennium. Nobody talks about that, no more. (A comma makes all the difference.)
There are aeroplanes flying overhead there are cars on the road there are people in the street about town. Forward motion, always. It likes me not; not always, not now. I long to ease. Not from now on, just for right now. Much needs to be done, but it’s good to do nothing, once in a while; just to float. Relent to slow the flow of time. Be. Not go anywhere. At all. Except you always do, don’t you. You can sit in a spot for eternity and when eternity is over you will have moved. Away from the centre, along the Milky Way, around the star, on your planet’s axis, many times.
Once upon a time in a story I knew this to be true and I said so and I said it was disconcerting, but nonetheless comforting, too. And it was. And it is.
Then a kiss.
< 6 Descending, Temporarily, Into the Unrequired Sludge of Unrequited (at Least to Reciprocal Level) Affection, Again
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