Venus

Venus troubles me. I come here reluctantly; so bright. So mystifying, so inscrutable. So tenebrous, as well, beneath that gleaming skin. Moist. Overwhelming, warm; so uninhabitable, at least for me. And still I feel I ought to spend some time here. Wherefore, I know not. For the experience? For the completion of my being? For the expansion, yet, of my horizon? – These planets travel far and yet not wide, except they do. They are – we all are – on a forward motion we don’t notice. Venus knows. This is a body that’s imbued with universal wisdom, which it can’t express. We move in spirals, not ellipses, our sun drags us with her, and whenever we feel we’ve been here before, we have, but we’re a little further down our path: it’s not the direction of our nose that we travel in, it is the direction of our pate. We have no eyes there, at the top of our head, we have only a string that pulls us, and still we resist.

Here on Venus, everything feels strange; the smells, the flavours, the embrace. The fuzzinesses and the softness, they unsettle me. Long before I become comfortable I become complacent, and that will not do. I start to wander, restless. I think I am getting ready to settle in some sort of way, but settledness entails a great deal of immobility. I like the rest of motion. I need to be alone. Not all the time, but enough. Venus asks me too many questions. It’s not that I can’t find any answers, these answers can mostly be found, but the effort is out of proportion. The thinking that normally invigorates me tires me out, here. The obviousnesses, the courtship; the irrationalities, the repetitions.

At the time there was no myth and no meaning. The time being the beginning, the beginning being the origin, the origin being unknown. I suddenly feel alert, a little, and happier to exist, mainly because of this old realisation that I can’t, I just can’t expect myself to make sense of it all. Any of it, really, it’s just there. Annoying as it may be. I take a step back and I look at my thoughts as they spread out before me and find them unsatisfactory. The thinking I’m doing is inelegant, crude; it will not suffice. Nor is it poetic. And thinking without poetry is like love without mathematics. It has no substance, no structure, no special tingle of satisfaction, no meaning. It is like sex in a haze of drunkenness with someone you don’t fancy. I’m becoming self-referential and it irks me.

Womanhood. Much like aliens, women don’t so much scare me as baffle. I’ve hardly ever thought this through, but there comes a time. And a place. I seriously doubt that now is that time or this that place, but when or where will it ever be, and does it matter? I contend myself mostly with knowing that there are things I can’t know and go where my curiosity takes me, which is not normally here. Nor abnormally. I’m out of my depth, out of my comfort, out of my pond. The mountains, the seas and the rivers, the streams. The landscape and the disorientation. There are too many things happening all at once to get a handle on any of them and there is also the new mix the new blend the new fusion. That both thrills and frightens me, a little. Not because I dread the loss of myself but because I really like my delineations as much as I like my inbetweennesses and my blurrages; the overlappedisation of our existence, I like it. Entropy.

I hear a warm soothing voice that is not in my head and it is not in my memory; it is not my mother, my sister, my wife. (I have no wife, by the way, that was an unnecessary witticism of moderate charm and no consequence.) The voice comes from the ground and from the cloud that envelops the ground and from the all about the sphere that I have wrapped my body around, and it says that there are no mysteries and there must be no pain. She’s trying to reassure me, I’m not sure she succeeds, but her sentiment is benign. I feel her hand on my back on my neck on my thigh and the touch is tender and real. I recall once upon a time being deeply at ease in this presence and as deeply afraid of it too. What embraces you can ensnare you, what holds you may crush you, what loves you will kill you, what desires you own you. What owns you is you. And you thought you knew who you were.

Did I? Maybe a couple of aeons ago; it is possible, then, when I did not yet exist, that I was really quite sure of myself. I had an arrogant streak, not mean, not cocky, but aloof. My journey humbles me. I sense I’m getting closer to the truth, and like everyone else I know that there is no such thing. The energy that we are. The quantum states. The potentialities. The particles and the waves. Of course I am Venus as much as Venus is me: we share the constituent parts, and yet: I don’t belong here. It’s sometimes good to know where you belong, and also good to know where you definitely don’t. There’s nothing definite, ever, and anything can and does change, and you never say never and all that goes with it, and in any case there is only so much existing you can expect to do at one time, but by the time your energy dissolves and changes its form, time ceases too and you are quite literally reborn, only not in the way that you thought you didn’t want to think about, or were taught, or wanted to believe to be nonsense. From one state to another. These states are all within us contained. The energy that you are is your matter your body your molecules your thoughts your emotion your wants and your needs (always, they come as a pair, you knew that already), your shades and your textures, and when they go they don’t go they are simply reconfigured because energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed. I shall not miss myself when I go for I am always around. So are you, so is Venus. So are the superclusters of our sistergods.

I am much happier now than I was before I came here. I knew I would be, I doubted it not. But now, much as I sense the draw of the earth that is so near and so familiar and so welcoming too, I must surely go on a detour and find me a distant adventure. Home beckons, but I have to explore…

18c Entreatment

I see my Science Communicator Friend next at a party I drag him along to where we have a long and involved conversation and where I introduce him to the hosts and to some other people and it is so easy to talk to him and so comfortable, and he’s so easy and comfortable with talking to other people while I’m distracted, that I begin to formulate in my mind a fantasy that features him and me together. This, I think, is what I would want in a ‘boyfriend’: somebody I could be so comfortable, so perfectly at ease with, who could hold his own but when he didn’t need to would find me interesting enough to converse with me and would be interesting enough to be conversed with himself and who had enough going on in his life and thoughts to think and friendships to maintain to be effectively self-sufficient, most of the time.

In retrospect this fantasy grows stronger, not weaker. For a good long while I forget about it, not least because Christmas comes around and I go to Switzerland, while he has his brother staying over from Greece. Then we see each other once or twice briefly and then not again because he’s off to Greece himself. This may or may not have been Easter. By the time he comes back he has brought me a tea that he has made himself. It’s a jar of leaves and it’s my favourite infusion straight away, not just because it’s from him, but because it has sage in it and I love sage. It has one or two other ingredients, maybe three, but I don’t now remember what they were. I am touched that he thought of me while away, not least because we’re not actually ‘together’ in any way, we don’t even really have sex. One of the first things he’d said, after a bit of what could easily have turned into sex, was: ‘let’s not get onto sex, it just ruins everything’.

I found that interesting, but also perhaps true. Although sex does not, in my experience, have to ruin everything, it certainly is a complicating factor. And many people I’m still excellent friends with I don’t think I would still be excellent friends with if we were still having sex.

We then don’t see each other again for a while, this time because I’m away from London for two months while my flat is being renovated and he’s traipsing around Europe, I believe.

By the time we’re both back in London, he is enrolled for his MA, and I am not because I had failed to sufficiently toe the line or impress the course convenor at King’s College, London, or both. I am not unhappy about this, though I am of course marginally peeved, but I’ve since been told, by my Philosopher Friend that this is not in the least bit surprising since what interests me in philosophy does not, apparently interest philosophical academia, in fact ‘they resent it’, she tells me. I feel reassured by that. The branch of philosophy that interests me doesn’t yet exist, and although I made that clear in my ‘submission’ to King’s (I don’t so much like the idea of ‘submitting’ my work or my thinking to start with, I would consider it more a ‘putting it out there’, or ‘on the table’), they still did not think that either they could offer me anything or I them; this peeved me, just a tad, absolutely, but it did not surprise, nor really in all seriousness did it irk, me.

The fact that my Greek Science Communicator Friend is now doing his MA is neither good news nor bad news as far as I am concerned, it just means he’s now back in London, and so am I. I am reminded of him, partly because he gets back in touch and proposes a catchup, and partly because I am reading a book which Stevie, my first ex and still very good friend, has given to me. It’s called Becoming a Londoner – a Diary and it’s written in an easy-going, relaxed, near conversational prose by David Plante, who had come to London from the United States in his twenties during the early sixties and quickly started a live-in relationship with Nikos, a sophisticated Greek man of a similar age, whom he nevertheless appeared to somewhat look up to, if nothing else intellectually. The diary is rich in anecdotes about the London literary and art world of the day and although I came to London nearly twenty years later, much of what he writes about and much of the way he writes about it resonates with me strongly. Also, he visits places that I have been to, in some cases frequently, such as Lucca, or Paris.

The insights into the lives of people like Francis Bacon and, most particularly, Stephen Spender, with whom both he and Nikos had a close friendship, makes Becoming a Londoner not only an enjoyable read but possibly also an invaluable historical document.

I read this book – as I read most books – in the bath, because only in the bath do I really have the peace of mind and composure to sit down with a book while also being awake enough not to fall asleep over it. And each time I read in this book I am a little reminded of my Greek friend and my fantasy of being together with him. Today, I was hoping to see him for an event at Lights of Soho, which I’ve recently become a member of. I’d suggested to him that we go there and he’d said, in his usual, non-committal way ‘this sounds interesting’, but already flagged up the fact that he normally had a seminar at college on a Tuesday and he didn’t know when this would end. I’d parked the idea more or less assuming he wouldn’t come out with me Tuesday, and indeed, when I sent him a message on Tuesday, he declined, saying he couldn’t get away. I was a little deflated but also quite relieved, since by then I had decided that unless he were to come along, I myself wouldn’t go either and had started to hope, almost, that my assumption would prove correct and he wouldn’t come out, so I didn’t have to go either.

Instead, I had a bath and read in my book, which reminded me of him, and then sat down in my white towelling dressing gown which I hardly ever wear and when I do then only ever after I’ve had a bath, and poured myself a glass of white wine and put on an old vinyl record with Eugen Bochum conducting Mozart and realised that I am very content, almost happy. I discover a message from him, in response to mine saying not to worry as I was getting too comfortable on my sofa and might not go out myself, in which he says: “Yeah, you should be one with the sofa.” And I agree, I am fairly much one with the sofa, right now.

The funniest line so far that I’ve read in David Plante’s book is about Auden, staying with the Spenders: “Stephen said that once, when Auden was staying at Loudon Road, Natasha rang him up to say she would be late, and would he put the chicken in the oven? Auden did – he simply put it in the oven, didn’t put it in a pan, didn’t put the heat on.”

I so relate to Auden.

And I adore Stephen Spender who at this point “is teaching at the university, but feels he is doing so badly he wants to go into the loos and write on the walls SPENDER MUST GO!”

51 Indiscretion

The man who runs the studio where we’re filming has everything he needs to be happy today. A smoothie, the sun and a freshly cleaned lounger. His is an oasis of rare and extraordinary freedom, and encroaching on it, from all sides, is the capital, the investment, the development, the oppressive tentacles of material wealth.

‘Do you live here?’ I ask him.

‘Yes,’ he says. And then, after a moment’s reflection: ‘you know, if you’re an artist, you have to live differently, otherwise I’d be working for some client now in some graphic design studio.’

He reminds me of me when I was young, just as young as I was when I was sitting across from me at the Beyoğlu. Except he’s nowhere near as young. He’s maybe late thirties? The space where he has made his room at the back looks and feels like the kind of place that is about to fall victim to the machine that is parked outside the ramshackle rust-eaten gate. He keeps the gate locked with a chain and a padlock, ‘because it’s market today.’ But as we’re having a break, he unlocks it so those who want to can leave; and some do, while I’m having my lunch in a moment of quiet in the little courtyard, in the shade.

A young man with an oddly styled haircut confidently opens the gate and confidently crosses the yard. He has the knack: he has done this before. Confidently, a little, perhaps, cocky, he strides to the staircase that’s next to the door that we use and that leads up to the first floor.

Earlier on, our host had shown us a picture of the series he was taking this afternoon. It showed a man completely, fully encased in latex. Not some latex suit or fetish costume, but encased in a frame which was covered in latex, from beneath which all the air had been drawn. The man was at the complete mercy of our host and photographer. ‘I could kill him,’ he says, betraying no intention of doing so. ‘It’s incredible, the amount of trust.’ And it’s incredible, the amount of trust. Earlier still, he had been chatting to us about the gate and the need for keeping it locked, certainly on a day like today, when ‘it’s the market.’ Then he’d said, ‘I better get back, I’ve left somebody in there, he’s waiting now.’ 

That was earlier on. Right now, nobody was waiting, but the noticeably confident young man had stridden past me and our host looks troubled. ‘That’s not a good sign,’ he says, this time only to me, because there is nobody else around at the moment. We’d already been made aware that we needed to treat the ‘issue’ of ‘upstairs’ with diligence. ‘If there’s any issue,’ we’d been instructed, ‘tell me, and I will go and talk to him.’ The he in question was a gentle looking creature whom I’d briefly met, the day before. I had just arrived and was not quite yet in the process of setting up, when the door at the top of a short flight of steps inside the building opened and down came a young man who looked not unlike you’d imagine Harry Potter aged 23, sans scar.

‘Do you have a safety pin?’ he asked me, which I counted as one of the less usual opening gambits, but not without charm. He then proceeded to explain to me in terms almost apologetic that the top button of his shorts had come off, though I didn’t quite catch the actual circumstance of this miniature calamity. I could not, regrettably, help him with his request, but suggested that our host might have a safety pin for him, with which the young man concurred, wholeheartedly.

The next thing I heard was that there was always the potentiality of something of an ‘issue’ with ‘upstairs’, and I naturally assumed that this must entail some ogre, some burly old man, some exceptionally unreasonable and possibly violent landlord, and so I was not unsurprised to learn that the ‘issue upstairs’ concerned none other than this young and tall and a little lanky young man. By now I had met him a second time and enquired after his shorts, which he was pleased to inform me had since been mended. Again, I somehow did not quite catch everything that he said, so just how or by whom or when precisely the button had been decalamitised I still didn’t know, but I fancied it was a matter of not such great import as to warrant my further enquiry.

Now, through the arrival of confident lad who had crossed my metaphorical path in a striding fashion and who had responded to my ‘hello’ with a curiously curtailed, not necessarily curt, ‘hello,’ in which I detected not curiosity, not friendliness, but a perfunctory, it seemed to me, utilitarian tone that signalled the greeting was there purely because by convention it needed to be, while he, in his stride, cared neither for me nor for the convention. I’d thought not much more of it at that particular moment, because there is only so much significance you assign to a greeting, the greeter’s stride not so withstanding, but it had registered as slightly odd, slightly off, to be more precise, and so now it did not altogether surprise but nevertheless a little perturb me that our host had so quickly assumed an expression of quite so much worry. ‘That is not a good sign,’ he said and I could tell from the way that his eyes glanced t’ward the windows upstairs that he meant it. Still I envisioned the ogre; a hideous mountain troll.

‘Why,’ I asked, doing my best to sound light of heart, ‘is this not a good sign.’

‘He’s a pusher,’ our host explained unequivocally. That meant nothing to me. This must have shown on my expression, involuntarily blank:

‘Do you know what a pusher is?’

‘No.’

‘He sells drugs.’

I wondered – though only a little later, not right at this moment, because right at this moment my brain was still trying to process the to me as yet causally unrelated facts that a) there is an ogre, a cataclysmic beast of doom, living upstairs, and b) there is a ‘pusher’, somebody who sells drugs, with a strident gait, now up there with that Thing of Terror – why he was calling him a ‘pusher’ and not simply a ‘dealer.’ To me somebody who came to your house or your place of work or leisure delivering drugs would either be a delivery person, such as a courier, or a dealer, or a dealer’s courier, or maybe assistant. I had no experience of anyone ever coming around to my house or place of work or leisure delivering drugs and so I could not be entirely certain, but ‘pusher’ was a term I would have reserved for somebody who hangs around school yards and ‘pushes’ drugs on kids who would not otherwise want them.

This was as much an explanation for the perception, on the part of our host, of the circumstantiality of our shoot having acquired an additional layer of anticipated complication, as was for the time-being forthcoming; and he said: ‘I’ll give them half an hour until quarter past three, and if they’re still here then, I’ll go and have a word.’

What there might be to be said to the ogre, who surely by then would have devoured stride-boy, high on the drug same boy had delivered, I could not imagine but I let that be as constructive a prospect as was to be entertained for the while, and in any case I remembered clearly the serious counsel that we were not to – under any circumstances, as was implied – approach the upstairs den and who or whatever dwelt in it ourselves. And I had no intention of doing so, ever, under any circumstances.

At one point a little later, newly-buttoned-shorts man and the unlikely though strideous ‘pusher’, together with somebody I hadn’t yet seen or met, left the building, the delivery boy, to my mind incongruously, holding two cardboard boxes of a smallish-to-medium size, one under each arm. He looked every bit now the delivery boy, and whatever was in those boxes, I thought, if that’s drugs, then you three are going to have one hell of a Sunday afternoon.

The ‘issue’ had thus left ‘upstairs,’ at least temporarily, but when I told our host this, the next time I caught his attention, he was neither convinced nor impressed. To my ‘I’ve seen three of them leave, I think they’ve locked up’ (an impression I got from the fact that they took pains to put the chain and the lock on the gate upon leaving), he, our host, with that ominous glance t’ward upstairs, said, portent weighing on his voice: ‘they haven’t. They’ll have to come back.’

By now, I had me a regular mystery. Since mysteries, regular or not, can only be entertained for so long before curiosity gets the better of their recipient, I now asked him outright what the ‘issue’ was, with ‘upstairs’. Young Shorts Man, to me, I volunteered, seemed like a thoroughly harmless guy.

‘Oh he, is; he’s all right. The problem is just that he likes to get high,’ and then he revealed a personal predilection of the young man’s and what he enjoyed having done to him when high, over his desk, that didn’t shock me for being unusual, because that unusual it was not, but startled me a little for coming – after all the mystery – as a delightfully insouciant indiscretion, of the kind that plants an image in your mind that is maybe just a smidgeon too personal, too, maybe even, graphic, to entirely belong there.

It still took me another moment to compute why any of this happening ‘upstairs’ should, if it were to be occurring even this afternoon, be such an ‘issue’ for us: clearly no monster had there his habitat, just a friendly young man who liked to have sex at his place of work while on drugs. Until the penny dropped and it occurred to me that the ‘issue’ in question was entirely one of sound intrusion. And maybe a little bit of dust too, because the floor boards of the ‘upstairs’, which were old and creaky, were also our ceiling and we were shooting a dialogue scene of quiet intensity.

They didn’t come back, after all. Or maybe they came back later when we’d already wrapped. There was no ‘issue’, that afternoon, happening ‘upstairs.’ Yet still, the images linger…