Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seventeen: Season's Ghosts

The holiday season has begun, and I had a birthday just as Thanksgiving week began. Every birthday brings its own ghosts. I have enough of my own, I know. There are memories of other cities and other times, of lovely young companions from the past. Memory is a dangerous thing, after all. It's too easy to live inside memories, too easy to be trapped by them. Joan Didion has made a career out of pointing out that memory is always a trap, and that only selective amnesia enables one to go on with life.

A friend wrote once of a Christmas Eve where she was aboard a train from Chicago to Syracuse, listening to her iPod and sobbing helplessly in the upper bunk of her sleeping car. She was traveling away from one lost affair to a city where there was still the remembered pain of another. Another friend told me once that she'd spent empty nights wandering through Montreal, looking at her reflection in shop windows and wondering who this ghostgirl was, asking herself what--- in a short story, in a film ---this girl had lost.

Year's-end is a season for ghosts. Kisses on New Year's Eve, hotel suite weekends in a city lit up with Christmas lights, the ritual of parties and gifts... All those things are ways of dealing with ghosts, with the memories accumulated during a year. Year's-end offers a set of rituals for romance, but there's always a hint of desperation. That kiss on Christmas Eve, the stroke-of-midnight kiss as the crowds cheer in Times Square, the coatroom kiss at the party--- they're done to exorcise the bad memories of a given year, to drive away the ghosts of loss and solitude.

There are lovely girls there reflected in shop windows, lovely girls in long coats moving through the winter night, beautiful girls across a table in a restaurant--- and there are kisses implicit in their presence. As there should be, of course. But each one of them is a ghost for another year, just as you'll be a ghost in their memories.  We haunt one another, and we haunt ourselves.

That's one of the things to remember as the year gutters out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sixteen: The Reverse Of The Medal

A phone call inbound tonight from a young friend at Savannah. She called to ask me for literary advice, though there was something of the interview in it as well. Imagine, she said, that you were out on a date with someone my age. What drink would you order for them? That's not hard to answer. Jameson's on ice on a first date. But if the girl was someone I found truly compelling, then a good single-malt Scotch. There was bright laughter on the other end of the phone. Thought you'd say that, she said. That's always a thing older lovers do, isn't it: teach girls like me about Scotch. I had to laugh at that, though it is true. It is something I do. Something gentlemen of a certain age do.

I need to know that, she said. I'm writing about someone like you. I need to know what goes into being an older lover. I could imagine her sitting cross-legged on her bed with her new MacBook Air and her iPhone, glasses pushed up onto her forehead. It's complicated, isn't it, being an older lover?

She's probably right about that. That's something that does bear thinking about. There across a table, I'm the one who's the target of the gaze. I'm the one who's performing, the one with the established role. The young companion is the one reading me, determining what I am. I know what I'm looking for when I see a lovely girl. But there's always the mystery of what my young companion sees there on a first night.

That's a question I'll have to pose to young companions. It has to be separated from vanity; I think that's a clear thing to be wary of. But the gaze runs both ways. I want to read my lovely interlocutor's story when she's done with it. And I'd like very much to know how she reads the character of the older lover she's put into her story. I will be thinking about that, and probably writing about it here: what do I look like, what are my codes and semiotics from the other side of the table...?