Tag Archives: Moab Is My Washpot

in the spirit

don’t say i didn’t warn you. once i get started on Moab, i simply can’t stop. here are 3% of the gems from Moab that resonate with me. some readers and reviewers complain that his writing style is too verbose. i can see why they think so – the word count alone is daunting to a casual reader. However, what is continuously astonishing to me (with each reread) is his remarkable ability to say precisely what i didn’t know about myself. I hate to say this, because it is untrue to some extent – but i relate to him. i say “untrue” because the context of his youth and mine are so astronomically different – and so our sets of worries and joys are also unidentical. but the feeling. Sigh.

i found these on the net (goodreads, etc – i rec that you buy the audiobook. nothing can beat fry’s own voice reading his own life. btw, his reading of the Fry Chronicles isn’t nearly as good. his voice thinned… because of the pipe smoking?)

“Life is sometimes novel-shaped, mocking the efforts of those authors who, in an effort to make their novels life-shaped, spurn the easy symmetry and cheap resonance of reality.”

“As I go clowning my sentimental way into eternity, wrestling with all my problems of estrangement and communion, sincerity and simulation, ambition and acquiescence, I shuttle between worrying whether I matter at all and whether anything else matters but me.”

“I used many times to touch my own chest and feel, under its asthmatic quiver, the engine of the heart and lungs and blood and feel amazed at what I sensed was the enormity of the power I possessed. Not magical power, but real power. The power simply to go on, the power to endure, that is power enough, but I felt I had also the power to create, to add, to delight, to amaze and to transform.”

“None of this is important in itself, but I feel somewhere that it has a lot to do with why I have always felt separate, why I have always felt unable to join in, to let go, to become part of the tribe, why I have always sniped or joked from the sidelines, why I have never, ever, lost my overwhelmingly self-conscious self-consciousness. It’s not all that bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing – they are not all bad. Those devils have also been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”

“People who can change and change again are so much more reliable and happier than those who can’t”

“It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering with.”

“And then I saw him and nothing was ever the same again.

The sky was never the same colour, the moon never the same shape: the air never smelt the same, food never tasted the same. Every word I knew changed its meaning, everything that once was stable and firm became as insubstantial as a puff of wind, and every puff of wind became a solid thing I could feel and touch.”

“Well I don’t know about you, but when I recall childhood pain, I don’t recall the pains of toothache, a thrashed backside, broken bones, stubbed toes, gashed knees or twisted ankles – I recall the pains of loneliness, boredom, abandonment, humiliation, rejection and fear. Those are the pains on which I might and, still sometimes do, dwell, and those pains, almost without exception, were inflicted on me by other children and by myself.”

“Choking with dry tears and raging, raging, raging at the absolute indifference of nature and the world to the death of love, the death of hope and the death of beauty, I remember sitting on the end of my bed, collecting these pills and capsules together and wondering why, why when I felt I had so much to offer, so much love, such outpourings of love and energy to spend on the world, I was incapable of being offered love, giving it or summoning the energy with which I knew I could transform myself and everything around me.”

“Music is everything and nothing. It is useless and no limit can be set on its use. Music takes me to places of illimitable sensual and insensate joy, accessing points of ecstasy that no angelic lover could ever locate, or plunging me into gibbering weeping hells of pain that no torturer could devise. Music makes me write this sort of maundering adolescent nonsense without embarrassment. Music is in fact the dog’s bollocks. Nothing else comes close.”

“Music was a kind of penetration. Perhaps absorption is a less freighted word. The penetration or absorption of everything into itself. I don’t know if you have ever taken LSD, but when you do so the doors of perception, as Aldous Huxley, Jim Morrison and their adherents ceaselessly remind us, swing wide open. That is actually the sort of phrase, unless you are William Blake, that only makes sense when there is some LSD actually swimming about inside you. In the cold light of the cup of coffee and banana sandwich that are beside me now it appears to be nonsense, but I expect you to know what it is taken to mean. LSD reveals the whatness of things, their quiddity, their essence. The wateriness of water is suddenly revealed to you, the carpetness of carpets, the woodness of wood, the yellowness of yellow, the fingernailness of fingernails, the allness of all, the nothingness of all, the allness of nothing. For me music gives access to everyone of these essences, but at a fraction of the social or financial cost of a drug and without the need to cry ‘Wow!’ all the time, which is LSD’s most distressing and least endearing side effects.

…Music in the precision of its form and the mathematical tyranny of its laws, escapes into an eternity of abstraction and an absurd sublime that is everywhere and nowhere at once. The grunt of rosin-rubbed catgut, the saliva-bubble blast of a brass tube, the sweaty-fingered squeak on a guitar fret, all that physicality, all that clumsy ‘music making’, all that grain of human performance…transcends itself at the moment of its happening, that moment when music actually becomes, as it makes the journey from the vibrating instrument, the vibrating hi-fi speaker, as it sends those vibrations across to the human tympanum and through to the inner ear and into the brain, where the mind is set to vibrate to frequencies of its own making.

The nothingness of music can be moulded by the mood of the listener into the most precise shapes or allowed to float as free as thought; music can follow the academic and theoretical pattern of its own modality or adhere to some narrative or dialectical programme imposed by a friend, a scholar or the composer himself. Music is everything and nothing. It is useless and no limit can be set to its use. Music takes me to places of illimitable sensual and insensate joy, accessing points of ecstasy that no angelic lover could ever locate, or plunging me into gibbering weeping hells of pain that no torturer could ever devise. Music makes me write this sort of maundering adolescent nonsense without embarrassment. Music is in fact the dog’s bollocks. Nothing else comes close.”

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mix and match

“I quote others only to better express myself.”

― Michel de MontaigneThe Complete Essays

I have a lot of things on my mind and they’re all a bit”up in the air” so my sleep has been fretful lately. I was falling asleep to Moab Is My Washpot and he was lamenting the fact that some folks willfully lead a life un-“illuminated by ideas”.

I’m not sure what sort of trajectory I am on. In a way, I want to defy classification, just to avoid being judged. People always smile tightly when I tell them I am a fiction writer. And the word poet sounds high-flung, for some absurd reason. I despise talking about myself (and by that I mean biographical details).

 

When I was in the States, I went to church twice. I am in no way religious. Spiritual, maaaybe, but I do not belong to any particular religious denomination. The church I went to serviced an astonishing number of people and I was swept up in the feeling on communion. I loved the feeling of singing hymns in a group 500 hundred strong. Everyone was peaceful, and open, and to be honest, going to the service did in fact relax me some what. Being an agnostic, I tuned out the more obvious worship sections of the service, but the rest was lovely. Is it weird that I feel this way? That church felt like meditation?


Dearest absurd child

 

(because my post from earlier this afternoon urged me to revisit some of my favourite Stephen Fry pieces) – from the Guardian but abridged by my own selfish tendencies. His craft of words never fails to astonish me. He and I are so different, and yet somehow I am able to relate to this darling darling adolescence in ways I am not able to with the people in my own reality. I love you, Stephen.

I hope you are well. I know you are not. As it happens you wrote in 1973 a letter to your future self and it is high time that your future self had the decency to write back. You declared in that letter (reproduced in your 1997 autobiography Moab Is My Washpot) that “everything I feel now as an adolescent is true”. You went on to affirm that if ever you dared in later life to repudiate, deny or mock your 16-year-old self it would be a lie, a traducing, treasonable lie, a crime against adolescence. “This is who I am,” you wrote. “Each day that passes I grow away from my true self. Every inch I take towards adulthood is a betrayal.”

Oh, lord love you, Stephen. How I admire your arrogance and rage and misery. How pure and righteous they are and how passionately storm-drenched was your adolescence. How filled with true feeling, fury, despair, joy, anxiety, shame, pride and above all, supremely above all, how overpowered it was by love. My eyes fill with tears just to think of you. Of me. Tears splash on to my keyboard now. I am perhaps happier now than I have ever been and yet I cannot but recognise that I would trade all that I am to be you, the eternally unhappy, nervous, wild, wondering and despairing 16-year-old Stephen: angry, angst-ridden and awkward but alive. Because you know how to feel, and knowing how to feel is more important than how you feel. Deadness of soul is the only unpardonable crime, and if there is one thing happiness can do it is mask deadness of soul.

I finally know now, as I easily knew then, that the most important thing is love. It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether that love is for someone of your own sex or not. Gay issues are important and I shall come to them in a moment, but they shrivel like a salted snail when compared to the towering question of love. Gay people sometimes believe (to this very day, would you credit it, young Stephen?) that the preponderance of obstacles and terrors they encounter in their lives and relationships is intimately connected with the fact of their being gay. As it happens at least 90% of their problems are to do with love and love alone: the lack of it, the denial of it, the inequality of it, the missed reciprocity in it, the horrors and heartaches of it. Love cold, love hot, love fresh, love stale, love scorned, love missed, love denied, love betrayed … the great joke of sexuality is that these problems bedevil straight people just as much as gay. The 10% of extra suffering and complexity that uniquely confronts the gay person is certainly not incidental or trifling, but it must be understood that love comes first. This is tough for straight people to work out.

Straight people are encouraged by culture and society to believe that their sexual impulses are the norm, and therefore when their affairs of the heart and loins go wrong (as they certainly will), when they are flummoxed, distraught and defeated by love, they are forced to believe that it must be their fault. We gay people at least have the advantage of being brought up to expect the world of love to be imponderably and unmanageably difficult, for we are perverted freaks and sick aberrations of nature.They – poor normal lambs – naturally find it harder to understand why, in Lysander’s words, “the course of true love never did run smooth”.

Sexual availability, so long an impossible dream in your age, becomes the norm in the late 70s and early 80s, only to be shattered by a new disease whose horrors you cannot even imagine. You would little believe that I can say to you now across the gap of 35 years that we are the blessed ones. The people of Britain are happy (or not) because of Tolpuddle Martyrs, Chartists, infantry regiments, any number of ancestors who made the world more comfortable for them. And we, gay people, are happy now (or not) in large part thanks to Stonewall rioters, Harvey Milk, Dennis Lemon, Gay News, Ian McKellen, Edwina Currie (true) et al, and the battered bodies of bullied, beaten and abused gay men and women who stood up to be counted and refused to apologise for the way they were. It has given us something we never thought to have: pride. For a thousand years, shame was our lot and now, turning on a sixpence, we have arrived at pride – without even, it seems, an intervening period of well-it’s-OK-I-suppose-wouldn’t-have-chosen-it-but-there-you-go. Who’da thought it?

I know what you are doing now, young Stephen. It’s early 1973. You are in the library, cross-referencing bibliographies so that you can find more and more examples of queer people in history, art and literature against whom you can hope to validate yourself. Leonardo, Tchaikovsky, Wilde, Barons Corvo and von Gloeden, Robin Maugham, Worsley, “an Englishman”, Jean Genet, Cavafy, Montherlant, Roger Peyrefitte, Mary Renault, Michael Campbell, Michael Davies, Angus Stewart, Gore Vidal, John Rechy, William Burroughs.

So many great spirits really do confirm that hope! It emboldens you to know that such a number of brilliant (if often doomed) souls shared the same impulse and desires as you. I know the index-card waltz of (auto)biographies, poems and novels you are dancing: those same names are still so close to the surface of my mind nearly four decades later. Novels, poetry and the worlds of art and ideas are opening up in front of you almost incidentally. You spend all your time in the library yearning to be told that you are not alone, and an unlooked for side-effect of this just happens to be a real education achieved in a private school designed for philistine bumpkins. Being born queer has given you, by mistake, a fantastic advantage over the rugger-playing ordinaries who surround you. But those rugger-playing ordinaries have souls too. And you should know that. I know you cannot believe it now. They seem so secure, so assured, so blessedly normal. They gave Cuthbert Worsley the Kipling-derived title of his overwhelmingly important (to you) autobiography The Flannelled Fool: “these are the men that have lost their soul/ The flannelled fool at he wicket/ And the muddied oaf at the goal”.

You look down at the fools almost as much as you fear them. The ordinary people, whose path through life is guaranteed. They won’t have to spend their days in public libraries, public lavatories and public courts ashamed, spurned and reviled. There is no internet. No Gay News. No gay chatlines. No men-seeking-men personals. No out-and-proud celebs. Just a world of shame and secrecy.

Somehow, as you age, a miracle will be wrought. You will begin by descending deeper into the depths: expulsion, crime and prison – nothing really to do with being gay, but everything to do with love and your inability to cope with it. Yet you will, as the Regency rakes used to say, “make a recover” and find yourself at university, where it will be astonishingly easy to be open about your sexuality. No great trick, for the university is Cambridge, long a hotbed of righteous tolerance, spiritual heavy-petting and homo hysteria. You will emerge from Cambridge and enter a world where being “out” is no big deal, although a puzzlingly small number of your coevals will find it as easy as you to emerge from the shadows. Before you damn anyone for failing to come out, look to their parents. The answer almost always lies there. Oh how lucky in that department, as in so many, you are, young Stephen.

But don’t kid yourself. For millions of teenagers around Britain and everywhere else, it is still 1973. Taunts, beatings and punishment await gay people the world over in playgrounds and execution grounds (the distance between which is measured by nothing more than political constitutions and human will). Yes, you will grow to be a very, very, very, very lucky man who is able to express his nature out loud without fear of hatred or reprisal from any except the most deluded, demented and sad. But that is a small battle won. A whole theatre of war remains. This theatre of war is bigger than the simple issue of being gay, just as the question of love swamps the question of mere sexuality. For alongside sexual politics the entire achievement of the enlightenment (which led inter alia to gay liberation) is under threat like never before. The cruel, hypocritical and loveless hand of religion and absolutism has fallen on the world once more.

So my message from the future is twofold. Fear not, young Stephen, your life will unfold in richer, more accepted and happier ways than you ever dared hope. But be wary, for the most basic tenets of rationalism, openness and freedom that nourish you now and seem so unassailable are about to be harried and besieged by malevolent, mad and medieval minds.

You poor dear, dear thing. Look at you weltering in your misery. The extraordinary truth is that you want to stay there. Unlike so many of the young, you do not yearn for adulthood, pubs and car keys. You want to stay where you are, in the Republic of Pubescence, where feeling has primacy and pain is beautiful. And you know what … ?

I think you are right.