Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Thinning Veil Between Worlds

I've had the oddest sense lately, making love to my partner, of the two of us being in a roomful of men.

When I say odd, I mean it's not exactly the fantasy of sharing him with a group, and sharing a group with him, that's coming forward for me. Nothing odd about that: let's be clear right at the start, the prospect turns my crank, and if it suited him as well--which it doesn't--we'd explore it.

Partly, it's the enduring presence of his former partner in his life, and by extension in mine. Bob died a little over ten years ago. His books line the shelves that cover whole walls of the house where we live summers, many of them inscribed to him by their authors, some of them annotated in his hand. His photographs hang throughout the house. A few summers back, we finally poured Bob's ashes into the bay, floating in a kayak together with Bob's first high school lover and lifelong friend, reading Whitman to each other in a light drizzle and watching a white heron flying low over the water toward an island at the mouth of the creek. I've come to say, only half jokingly, that I'm in a threeway relationship: sometimes one of us being dead makes it less challenging; sometimes more so.

Partly it's the long, slow repair of my friendship with my own former partner, now coupled up again himself, and the approaching prospect early next year of finally leaving the house I bought with him fifteen years ago, and the garden we created together before we separated. No question, I'm still in love with him too. It took me six years to admit that to myself.

Partly, it's the wider awareness of all the other men I've let into my heart, and into my pants, over the years--some of whom I dated; some who became soulmates on the short, intense coller-coaster rides of workshops; some whose names I only learned while we were having sex, or never learned at all, and never saw again. Thery're very much present in the room. Objects that represent them sit on my altar in the corner: the icon G. gave me on my fiftieth birthday; the crystal pendant cross S. brought me on a visit eight years ago; the natural phallus of stone, ground smooth by the tide, that A. found walking on the beach and saved for me; W.'s tuning fork.

Partly, it's the awareness that my partner's erotic history has been even richer and more varied than my own--and that now and then my nose is pressed to the glass with envy about that.

And in the shadow of all these, it's something else, something more. It's the sense that when we're making love, though we're two isolated individuals, we're also part of something larger, something more general. Something that embraces the other men who dwell within us: those who've slipped away, carried elsewhere on the diverging currents of our lives; even those who've passed beyond the veil of death--the"waves of dying friends" that the late poet Michael Lynch so movingly commemorated in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

I can't describe more precisely what I'm sensing so strongly of late within/behind/ beneath/beyond the experience of being with this particular man I love deeply, with whom I most intimately share my life. But whatever it is, it flies in the face of the romantic cult of the couple as a self-sufficient unit. It's radically opposed to the notion that we find one person who somehow completes us, so that anything else becomes an admission of emotional failure and defeat. I can't help but feel that our current obsession with marriage rights (as necessary politically as that may be) threatens to flatten and suppress the richness of this broader web of emotional, erotic, and spiritual connection.

Strangely, I'm reminded of what Plato said about (gay) love in the Symposium: that we start by loving an individual, progress by loving many individuals, and end (ideally) by loving what we find embodied in them all. That's one of the few things I can take away from Plato at this point in my life without vehement disagreement.

And perhaps even more strangely--weirdly, in fact--I connect what I'm feeling to this moment in the year--Hallowe'en, All Souls, the Day of the Dead, Samhain--when the curtain between what's present and what's vanished from our daylight lives is pulled aside, and we're in communion with the dead--and by extension, with the otherwise departed, and with the alternative worlds of our unrealized longings. If Bob's ever in bed with us, surely it's now. I'm glad for the thought he's there. Along with all those others, alive and dead, across town or across the continent, at the far-flung corners of my life and my beloved's, the men of our queer tribe, who nestle and nuzzle around us.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Living Soulfully

Last Sunday afternoon, I spent two hours in a church basement with thirteen other men, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. Maybe the fact that we'd come together wasn't exactly miraculous. But as we went around the circle introducing ourselves and sharing what had led us to gather, the hope I heard most of us voice seemed rare and precious.

Many though not all of us had in common that we'd spent time at Easton Mountain; or else at least we shared curiosity about Easton's mission of building more vibrant, more spiritually engaged, more inclusive community among gay men. But more immediately, what had brought us together was the desire to find such connection closer to home than the seven-hour drive from Toronto to Easton itself.

Easton's own programs, and the programs it hosts, are extraordinary and precious resources for personal growth and transformation, for the formation of new friendships, for the weaving of wider communal bonds. But as with so much of our experience of spiritual community as gay and otherwise queer men, these brief, finite opportunities to build our own culture are here one day and over the next, as we move back again from such gatherings into a world that we haven't made for ourselves, where we stand at the margins, where we're not quite fully at home.

There's a wistfulness that's an almost inevitable hangover from the peak experiences of "workshop culture. " It's a longing to walk more easily, and more often, into the space of deep connection. It's a dissatisfaction that the texture of everyday life allows so little space to integrate deep friendship, queer eros, faith, playful abandon, and resolve to change the world.

A place like Easton Mountain,to offer sustained hope for the transformation of queer men's spiritual realities, has to find ways of becoming more than itself--more than a few acres of land in upstate New York, however beautiful and peaceful they are; more than a week or two at a time of celebration and release from the constraints of life in a heteronormative world; more even than the few men who live on its land and hold space, ready to welcome those who come. It has to spread itself out as a widening network of complex, interwoven, multiple connections, like rhizomes just under the surface of the soil.

That's my prayer for what the fourteen of us in Toronto, together with those who find their way to us in coming weeks and months, might become: a web of roots strong enough to hold together, vibrant enough to send up fabulous green shoots into the gay sunshine, extensive enough to link us to men who share our vision at the foot of a mountain in upstate New York; in Boston; in Philadelphia; in New York City; in Florida; in New Jersey.

Chapters of Living Soulfully, an organization of men whose lives have been touched by the promise of Easton Mountain, offer fellowship and opportunities for local community in a growing number of cities and regions: see and the Facebook pages of local groups.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stanley Kunitz: The Snakes of September

Faced with the mortality of one of my dearest friends--made more vivid by the bad news from the last CT scan--I have only these lines of Stanley Kunitz, who was still hauling compost along the paths of his Provincetown garden at the age of 100, until his death in 2006.

All summer I heard them
rustling in the shrubbery,
outracing me from tier
to tier in my garden,
a whisper among the viburnums,
a signal flashed from the hedgerow,
a shadow pulsing
in the barberry thicket.
Now that the nights are chill
and the annuals spent,
I should have thought them gone,
in a torpor of blood
slipped to the nether world
before the sickle frost.
Not so. In the deceptive balm
of noon, as if defiant of the curse
that spoiled another garden,
these two appear on show
through a narrow slit
in the dense green brocade
of a north-country spruce,
dangling head-down, entwined
in a brazen love-knot.
I put out my hand and stroke
the fine, dry grit of their skins.
After all,
we are partners in this land,
co-signers of a covenant.
At my touch the wild
braid of creation