tremble clef

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bananarama, "Young At Heart" (1983)

"But all I wanted to do when I was old was to/Walk out the door."

When I was seventeen or eighteen, I startled my classmates during a literature lesson by apparently announcing, in the middle of what was probably a discussion of Philip Larkin, that I didn't expect to live beyond the age of thirty-two. I say "apparently," because I don't have that clear a memory of the event. But my classmates really, really do, and even at a recent reunion, a couple of people brought it up ("Hey! You're not dead!"). (Yes, I realize that makes me sound like I'm goddamn Pink.) It's not exactly that I've forgotten the occurrence; it's more that the (to me) casual statement made more of an impression on my friends, to the point where I feel like I mostly "know" the event through their recollections of it.

I don't doubt that what partially motivated the statement was typical teenage melodrama. Who among us hasn't, during our self-centered younger years, visualized our own funerals, for instance? But when it came to believing that I would die young, it was actually a feeling about which I was largely rational and staid. Indeed, I didn't feel especially dismayed about the possibility -- the conviction -- that I was going to be leaving early. It just kind of was. Nor did I particularly look for an explanation for why I felt that way, even if my friends pressed me to, or tried doing so for me. (One suggested that I had some sort of Christ complex, but she seemed to have been confused about the age at which Jesus died.)

Years later, when I got to college, I took several classes, coincidentally but aptly once again in literature, with a professor who had a theory -- would in fact go on to publish work -- about what he considers to be a prevalent feeling among many gay men that they are doomed. Tennyson's "In Memoriam," for example, configures homosexual desire as "just a phase" -- a configuration that not only has lasted into our time, but also, he argues, easily blurs into the notion that it is gay men themselves who are, like those phases, liable to pass (on). Gay men, our culture seems to imagine, are always already extinct. (In a later article, he goes on to meditate on how this complicates the work of mourning in the age of AIDS, and a subsequent book both broadens and narrows the argument, looking at Wilde's style of "managing desire.") I wouldn't say that I experienced an epiphany and my life and beliefs suddenly made perfect sense, but the idea certainly resonated. I did think about that announcement I made at eighteen, seventeen. And I thought about how I had been obsessed as a teen with Joe Orton.

I didn't die, as it turns out, at thirty-two. (Spoiler!) Nor at thirty-three, or thirty-five, or..."so on." I sometimes still think about how I wouldn't particularly mind if I left at a relatively young age. It's not like I have a death wish, or am suicidal. I guess my life is frequently ruttish enough that I -- I know, I know, stupidly -- feel like I should just exit stage left, not because I despair, but because I'm at a loss about...what to do next. As I said: stupid. Then I think about how ridiculous and meglomanical it is to imagine -- even if only for a moment, and even if the thought is post-faced by the qualifer "for me, at least" -- that there's nothing else worth accomplishing or doing. And I think about all the great people I know who did so much "late" in their lives. And I hold on to those thoughts. (While eating some birthday cake, or something.)


  • I don't agree with you that gay men 'are always already extinct' (unless I read 'always already' in a playful, post-structuralist way about identity). Come on. But young men are reckless aren't they? God, school reunions--a terrifying thought as I was so bloody weird...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:26 PM  

  • That's Jeff Nunokawa's argument about the way Western culture tends to regard gay men -- and, just to be clear, it's a reprehensible cultural construction. It's not an empirical claim about gay men.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 7:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home