Strength of Some Kind

Christopher had his worst moments of depression when he was with the weak. In ordinary life, he enjoyed their company; they made him feel protective, especially when they were charming and young. But now he needed to be with the strong. All his friends had strength of some kind and could transmit it to him.

Christopher Isherwood, Christopher and his Kind

I’m returning to this blog after a decade. A DECADE!!! I don’t know if ALL CAPS needs an exclamation mark — so I added three.

I found the above passage in my Drafts. The reason I copied it out is elusive. In 2010 I’d returned from Japan via China and New York to live in a new place, just as foreign: Sydney. My parents were a fresh divorce, all my friends lived next to, above, or below me in a cramped townhouse with cockroaches in the toaster — that’s the Sydney rental market for you — and rent needed to be serviced by a full-time job. Full-time! Job! Ugh!

I guess I felt weak. And needed some strength. And was jealous that it seemed “all [my] friends had strength of some kind” and wouldn’t “transmit it to [me]”. Perhaps they would have if I had the strength to share how weak I felt.

In the intervening decade I experienced the power of social media to amplify the Self. I became what I had once jokingly dubbed: the attention artist. It went hand in hand with the competitive comedy world. The unreality, anxiety and lack of sleep that followed ruined relationships, first with myself and then with others.

I often balk at the long posts on FB decrying mental health issues (exacerbated perhaps by the platform it’s posted on). And sometimes there is a shared connection. An unnameable feeling is articulated, an experience I find more in books. This happened around the time of the summer bushfires. Now I couldn’t tell you who wrote the post or what my relationship with them was (old friend? virtual acquaintance? content provider?). I can’t even remember what it said that moved me. I’m sure I took a screenshot. It’s somewhere on my desktop…

Some kind of strength comes from the relationship. In the last year so I’ve withdrawn from social media. Not that the urge has gone to share with everyone how strong, weak, proud, ambivalent with everyone — sometimes that feels necessary. It’s that the strongest people I know know my weak points intimately.

It only took a decade to learn that.

Christopher and Wystan

Christopher could never have done alone what Wystan was doing. He was too timid to have taken such a step independently. Would he have gone to Spain with Wystan, if it hadn’t been for Heinz? I think he would, despite his timidity, because he could have found no other good enough excuse for staying behind. As things were, he didn’t feel guilty about this, only regretful for what he was missing.

Christopher wasn’t seriously afraid that Wystan would be killed in battle. The government would probably insist on his making propaganda for them, rather than fighting. Still, Byron and Brooke had died by disease, not weapons, and a war-zone is full of potential accidents.

This was a solemn parting, despite all their jokes. It made them aware how absolutely each relied on the other’s continuing to exist.

Their friendship was rooted in schoolboy memories and the mood of its sexuality was adolescent. They had been going to bed together, unromantically but with much pleasure, for the past ten years, whenever an opportunity offered itself, as it did now. They couldn’t think of themselves as lovers, yet sex had given their friendship an extra dimension. They were conscious of this and it embarrassed them slightly — that is to say, the sophisticated adult friends were embarrassed by the schoolboy sex partners. This may be why they made fun, in private and in print, of each other’s physical appearance; Wystan’s ‘stumpy immature fingers’ and ‘small pale eyes screwed painfully together’; Christoper’s ‘squat’ body and ‘enormous’ nose and head. The adults were trying to dismiss the schoolboys’ sex-making as unimportant. It was of profound importance. It made the relationship unique for both of them.

On January 13, Christopher saw Wystan off on the train. Wystan had a bad cold but was otherwise cheerful. His only anxiety was about his luggage, which had been sent ahead, by mistake, to the Franco-Spanish frontier. He was afraid that it was lost forever. Luckily, he was wrong.

– Christopher IsherwoodChristopher and his Kind

She Wasn’t Hard-boiled

It was a picture of Faye Greener, a still from a two-reel farce in which she had worked as an extra. She had given him the autograph willingly enough, had even autographed it in a large, wild hand, “Affectionately yours, Faye Greener,” but she refused his friendship, or, rather insisted on keeping it impersonal. She had told him why. He had nothing to offer her, neither money nor looks, and she could only love a handsome man and would only let a wealthy man love her. Tod was a “good-hearted man,” and she liked “good-hearted men,” but only as friends. She wasn’t hard-boiled. It was just that she put love on a special plane, where a man without money or looks couldn’t move.

The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith

I Like Your Work

6. If you’re an artist, critic, or curator, someone will inevitably ask you what you’re working on. It’s good to have either two projects that can be mentioned briefly, or one project that can be mentioned in more depth—though still kept within the bounds of appropriate party chatter. In different cities, artists, critics, and curators take different tacks on describing their workload. In Los Angeles, artists must always look like they are rested and fresh. In New York, the more haggard and hardworking you look the better. It’s always appropriate to be on your way to or to have just returned from international travel, e.g., “I just got back from being in this biennial in Prague, but I’ve only a couple of weeks to get on my feet before I have to have some meetings in London.”

I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette

When Will I Be Blown Up?

Bohemia Lies By the Sea, Anselm Kiefer

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Nobel Banquet Speech, William Faulkner