Love and Marriage: A Discourse

“There I was,” recalls the time traveler. “A married man, despite my vexed relationship to marriage as sacrament and institution.”

“Okay,” nods the narrator, eyebrows raised, trying to intuit from what he knows of the traveler’s past what might lie on the other side of “vexed” if that word was hyperlinked. “You’ll have to say more at some point—but go on.”

“Sarah and I had exchanged our vows seventeen years prior,” explains the traveler, “outdoors, in a state-sanctioned but otherwise nonreligious ceremony, with the blessing of friends and family.”

The traveler pauses, proceeds haltingly here in his telling, reliving again the flowers, the arbor, the sunshower afterwards. “I wasn’t seeking to marry,” he adds. “That wasn’t part of any future I’d imagined for myself in my youth.”

Narrator considers this, nods again approvingly, asks what he’d imagined in its place.

“As far as I can remember,” muses the traveler, “all I’d wanted was to write.” He smiles, picturing himself hunched over his notebooks in years past.

“But you and Sarah fell in love?” asks the narrator.

“Yes,” confirms the traveler, “no denial of that on my part. And there we were, in the final months of our Master’s program: both of us wanting to pursue PhDs in English, with hopes of earning a living, despite already mounting debt, by continuing to teach courses at the college level.”

“Fair enough,” says the narrator, elbows propped on the arms of his chair, fingers arched to form a pyramid. “But how did you get from there to the decision to marry?”

“The immediate stress in those days,” breathes the traveler, voice achieving new resolve, “was that we were drawn toward different programs. Mentors dear to us at the time advised us to go our separate ways. ‘Sarah should go to Buffalo,’ they told us. ‘Matt should go to Brown.’”

Narrator purses his lips, tries to conceive the traveler’s dilemma.

“I remember us crying afterwards upon leaving those meetings,” murmurs the traveler. “Neither of us wanted to live apart.”

Traveler looks up here in his telling, eyes glinting. “And so it happened.”

“Just like that?” inquires the narrator. Traveler nods. “Just like that,” he replies, snapping his fingers as if to illustrate. “Over dinner one evening: we agreed to marry.”

Having a Coke With You

Inspired by José Esteban Muñoz’s reading of Frank O’Hara’s poem “Having a Coke With You,” I decide to include O’Hara’s Collected Poems in a bag of books that I carry north with me on my trip to New York. O’Hara is, after all, a defining figure of the New York School. His is a poetry of parties, acts, and encounters. A friend writes about him in her book. Words of hers capture my thoughts for a moment — nay, linger still, all these hours later, here in the future, among what has become of the words of he who is lost in the story. I imagine again the characters in the O’Hara poem, “drifting back and forth / between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles.” If one’s attention is not to hold and be held by such things, one must actively turn away.

The Garden as it Ripens

Wake up, little bunnies! Mr. Gloom, be on your way! Beaches, pools, campgrounds: ’tis time to have fun. Picture the garden as it ripens. Imagine those tasty veggies, those delicious leaves of lettuce. There are reasons for our bellies to feel full again. Pizzas and milkshakes in New York; salads here at home. Meals will become again things we savor. We’ll go motorboating; we’ll become godparents (ceremony in a church — the whole bit). When I wake each morning, it will be to the light of the sun as it shines on the roof of my tent.

Escape from Space and Time

“What about the future?” thinks the time traveler. Could binaural beats be of use, as the Monroe Institute claimed? The narrator has cassettes of theirs in his basement, and could be cajoled into playing them for the time traveler as the latter reclines on a futon at Dada’s House on the night of a full moon.

“The Monroe people seem sort of creepy, though,” warns the narrator. They allege that their “Gateway Experience” enables escape from space and time. CIA thought the technique had some degree of merit, didn’t they? Enough, certainly, to warrant an investigation. The results of that investigation have been declassified and are available now through the CIA website. Thobey Campion reviewed the agency’s findings about the Institute several months ago in a piece for Vice.

Free Jazz vs. Circuit City

The time travel narrative dredges up pain from the past. A bizarre love triangle rhymes without repeating. “The story needn’t go there,” thinks the narrator. If the machine or device is the narrative itself, then (to honor Moor Mother’s terms) let it draw us toward free jazz rather than circuit city. Let the “trance-script as time machine” be a liberation technology. Let it be a spirit-force that helps us heal.

Into the Woods

Sarah suggests I camp alone for a few days in a state park while she and Frankie visit with family up north. This would be the third week of July. Some time to myself. Time to go off into the woods. It could be an adventure, assuming I plan it right. To prepare, I read Visionary Love: A Spirit Book of Gay Mythology and Trans-Mutational Faerie.

Apparent Retrograde Motion: A Way Forward

José Esteban Muñoz finds a way forward through cruising: the gay subcultural practice of seeking sexual encounters in public places or online.

“I know little of my sexuality,” thinks the time traveler. “Catholicism got in there and fucked my shit up years ago – hence these sexless days and nights.”

Is that a thought to be made public or kept private? Fear not, dear readers. Have I any decency? Yes I do.

“Aspects of Love’s Body have been occulted, occluded, hidden from consciousness,” thinks the time traveler. “So, too, have years prior. Trance-scripts of years past have gone unpublished. They appear to me now as I sit here reading them like repressed memories manifesting as pages of old journals – and thus times to which I can journey. Hence the trance-scripts ahead.”

Hopework

So thinketh one of our time travelers. The one who relives the past. Let there also be a traveler who seeks and conceives here in the dailiness of his lived experience a utopian future. As Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini note in their foreword to the 10th Anniversary Edition of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, “Hope is work; we are disappointed; what’s more, we repeatedly disappoint each other. But the crossing out of ‘this hoping’ is neither the cancellation of grounds for hope, nor a discharge of the responsibility to work to change present reality. It is rather a call to describe the obstacle without being undone by that very effort” (x). The obstacle is a challenge we must both survive and surpass, Muñoz argues, “to achieve hope in the face of an often heart breaking reality.”

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

That song keeps resounding in my head: “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” the one a friend posted the other day. Is mine a whoring heart, too giving in its longings, too unheeding of its misgivings, too promiscuous in its affections? Now that the song has happened to me, various forces drawing it to me at this point in my narrative, I must attend to it. The song interpellates, hails its listener. One finds oneself drawn into a situation as one identifies temporarily with its “you.” And of course this stings. One doesn’t want to be a bloody mother fucking asshole. And we know ourselves to be more than that, as we identify equally with Martha: we, too, have been wronged. We, too, wanted to be good: “To do everything in truth.” For Martha is also the other Martha, the one in Luke 10:38-42, said to be distracted by all the preparations that she thought had to be made upon arrival at her home of Jesus and his disciples. The Martha in the parable, incensed by the sight of her sister Mary “sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said,” complains “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Lord replies not unlike a bloody mother fucking asshole, gaslighting her, treating her like an hysteric, trying to hail her as one “worried and upset about many things” which, to the Lord, are of no importance, no concern, no consequence. “Mary has chosen what is better,” says the Lord, “and it will not be taken away from her.” Martha is wronged in this parable, and the Wainwright song can be heard as a kind of rejoinder. Wainwright said she wrote the song in reply to her father, fellow singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Hear Martha’s song alongside Loudon’s “Daughter,” a song he released two years after Martha’s, and one achieves momentary apprehension of the Rashomon-like nature of the totality: each of us a face of the one true thing. In a 2005 article in The Guardian, Martha wrote, “For most of my childhood Loudon talked to me in song, which is a bit of a shitty thing to do […]. Especially as he always makes himself come across as funny and charming while the rest of us seem like whining victims, and we can’t tell our side of the story. As a result he has a daughter who smokes and drinks too much and writes songs with titles like Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.” One could imagine the Biblical Martha responding similarly to Christ’s fondness for speech through parable. Martha’s isolation and uncertainty are conditions she thinks are hers alone, things about which others of us cannot know — those of us in particular who, in our act of fantasizing, occupy temporarily the position of the asshole father character: Loudon, Christ, and yes, we ourselves, to the extent that we have ears that can hear. “You have no idea,” sings Wainwright in a wonderful riff on Dylan: “No idea how it feels to be on your own / In your own home / With the fucking phone / And the mother of gloom / In your bedroom / Standing over your head / With her hand in your head / With her hand in your head.” That “mother of gloom” line haunts me each time I hear it. For I, too, feel in my more wretched moments this figure’s presence. The feeling is one I know to be false and ungenerous in its appraisal of reality (the mother, after all, is as deserving of forgiveness as the rest of us) — yet I feel it nonetheless. Thinking analogically, we might read this mother figure in the Wainwright song as a variant of the Mary character from the parable.

Backstory

The backstory to the story is the story of the House on Shady Blvd. This is the past to which the author must return. He must tend to old wounds to enable future flourishing. Do we need a Time-Turner like the one used by Hermione Granger? Or is the Device that enables travel simply the trance-script itself? Does the author sift through unpublished entries from the past? Or have we gotten ahead of ourselves, trying to lead when what the story demands is that we let ourselves be led?